Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I'm in the mood for.... APSA

Blogging will be erratic for the next couple of days as I wend my way to the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Washington, DC. Lucky me, I have two panels tomorrow and then can truly enjoy the conference.

If you feel the need to get into the APSA mood -- and don't we all feel that way sometimes -- go click on the following:

1. Henry Farrell's dining recommendations for APSA.

2. Marc Lynch's (a.k.a., Abu Aardvark) disquisition from last month on the IR debate between rationalism and constructivism -- and why "constructivism has won, at least in the security policy realm." I would agree with Marc that seemingly non-material factors -- such as nationalism and ideology -- have become more important in international politics as of late. However, Lynch overstates the case in two ways: 1) These factors could merely be intervening variables for material power conditions (much like soft power is a function of hard power); and 2) Saying that non-material factors count doesn't make them as plastic as most (but not all) constructivists believe.

3) My advice to APSA rookies from two years ago. I think it still holds up pretty well.

4) The APSA paper archive -- it's just like going to the conference, without the overpriced morning coffee!! Already, there are 28 papers on blogs archived, but my favorite title is "Blogs and the Bloggers Who Blog Them."


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

Racking up those blogging perks

Since I've started blogging, there is no doubt that I've received an increased number of free books. Yesterday I received three -- one on education reform, one on why Europe will run the 21st century, and galleys on why emerging democracies are more war-prone than other kinds of governments.

However, those paled beside the following e-mail:

My name is ------ and on behalf of Simon & Schuster I'm currently helping spread the word about Pamela Anderson's latest work, Star Struck. I noticed that "pop culture" was part of your weblog's repetoire and thought your site's target audience would really get a kick out of this book. Would you be interested in receiving a free copy of a Pam's book in exchange for a piece on your site? Maybe several copies for a contest?

You may want to write a review about the book, hold a book contest, write a small blurb and feature it somewhere on your site, or something along those line (if you come up with another idea, please let me know.) In return for your kindness and help, I will happily send you a copy.

I knew blogging about Anderson's first novel would pay off!! Take that, Michiko Kakutani!!

Readers are invited to think of an appropriate contest.

posted by Dan at 10:46 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Copter parents at two o'clock!!

When I was teaching at the University of Colorado, I had to deal with a student who wanted me to change his/her class grade from a C+ to a B-. The student's primary argument was not that s/he deserved a better grade for the class, but that his/her GPA had dropped below the minimum required to qualify for CU-Boulder's study abroad programs. Needless to say, this was not a terribly persuasive argument -- not to mention grossly unfair to all the students who had actually earned their B- grades -- so I said no.

I said no several times.

A week after the student's final plea, I received another phone call asking me to reconsider -- from the student's mother. The mother evinced little concern about her child's academic performance -- she just wanted to see her progeny spend a semester in Florence. I was more than a little surprised by the attempt, and got off the phone as quickly as possible.

I haven't had a problem like that with a parent since the start of the millennium, but I tell this story because of Justin Pope's AP story on 'copter parents.' What are these creatures?:

They're called "helicopter parents," for their habit of hovering, hyperinvolved, over their children's lives.

Here at Colgate University, as elsewhere, they have become increasingly bold in recent years, telephoning administrators to complain about their children's housing assignments, roommates and grades.

Recently, one parent demanded to know what Colgate planned to do about subpar plumbing her daughter encountered on a study-abroad trip to China.

"That's just part of how this generation has been raised," said Mark Thompson, head of Colgate's counseling services. "You add a $40,000 price tag for a school like Colgate, and you have high expectations for what you get."

For years, officials here responded to such calls by biting their lips and making an effort to keep parents happy.

But at freshman orientation here last week, parents heard a different message: Helicopter parenting has gotten out of hand, and it undermines non-classroom lessons on problem-solving, seeking help and compromising that should be part of a college education.

Those lessons can't be learned if the response to every difficulty is a call to mom and dad for help.

"We noticed what everybody else noticed. We have a generation of parents that are heavily involved in their students' lives, and it causes all sorts of problems," said Dean Adam Weinberg.

College should be "a time when you go from living in someone else's house to becoming a functioning, autonomous person," Weinberg added.

Read the whole thing. I'm not completely unsympathetic to the parental position -- on the list of parental sins, being "heavily involved" in their childrens' lives is far down the queue. Plus, when parents are spending the kind of money for higher education they are spending now, a little monitoring of one's investment is to be expected.

That said, wheedling for better grades on behalf of their children would seem to cross the line. In Clueless, at least the father had the good sense to make his daughter Cher argue her own case.

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

In praise of mild hypocrisy in foreign policy

The Economist's Global Agenda has a story about negotiations over UN reform. It appears the U.S. would like to make some changes:

If there was still any question that America is taking a new line with the United Nations, the answer now seems clear. Next month, 175 world leaders will gather in New York to consider a raft of reforms for the world body. But just weeks before the summit is to begin, America has asked for extensive changes to the draft “outcome document” that many other negotiators felt was almost finished. Many detect the hand of John Bolton, America’s controversial new ambassador to the UN, who offered the proposed changes on Wednesday August 24th. But Mr Bolton is probably more symptom than cause—George Bush sent him to the UN as a signal that business-as-usual would no longer be acceptable.

There is talk of crisis in many of the media reports about America’s proposed changes. The Washington Post reported that 750 such edits had been made to the draft “outcome document”. In truth, the majority of these are nitpicking wording changes that have little effect on the content. But some of them would change the declaration considerably, particularly regarding development efforts and intervention to stop human-rights catastrophes....

The superpower’s critics note that it has once again lined up with a rogue's gallery of badly behaved states to oppose a human-rights agreement: in this case Pakistan, Egypt, Cuba, Iran and Syria. But even the vaguer American version of "responsibility to protect" would be the first-ever clear international agreement that outside countries should be willing to act to stop atrocities in a country whose government cannot or will not stop them itself. This could form the political basis for a future intervention, possibly even military intervention, should the Security Council be presented with, say, Darfur or its successors.

So the atmosphere is not as bad as some of the more breathless talk of crisis indicates. Nonetheless, America has annoyed many with some seemingly needless niggling points—cutting “respect for nature” from a legally meaningless laundry-list of the world’s basic values, for example. Critics say that the deletion is emblematic: America is taking an overly lawyerly approach to a non-binding political document on which all have made compromises. An American spokesman responds that “mumbo-jumbo” does no one any good, and that America may support a shorter statement instead of the current 36-page draft.

Time is now limited. A document must be substantially complete before national leaders show up on September 14th, and there remains procedural wrangling about which countries (approximately 30) should be in a core group negotiating these last-minute changes. Diplomats are firing up their coffee pots, preparing to work through nights and weekends. It will be a long and harrowing two weeks. But everyone agrees that the UN needs reform. Failure to achieve consensus in September would be a sadly wasted opportunity for all concerned.

Read the whole thing to see the substantive points of difference.

Here's the thing that bothers me: the Bush administration can make a credible case for many of the substantive changes. By throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, however, and by doing so at such a late hour in the negotiations, the U.S. winds up alienating more countries than it needs to. This is one of those examples where good diplomacy can grease the wheels to advance U.S. interests -- and instrad there's going to be trouble.

Part of the problem, ironically, is that the Bush administration takes these international agreements way too seriously. Early in the administration many commentators praised the Bushies for being forthright about rejecting agreements they had no intention of honoring.

There's such a thing as going too far in the rejection of hypocrisy, however. Think of small hypocrisies as the international equivalent of pork-barrel politics. Sometimes you agree to an empty platitude in return for tangible progress on some issue.

The danger for any administration is that the platitude takes on a life of its own. This happens, however, less frequently than the administration thinks it does.

UPDATE: David A. Schwartz has a piece in the Weekly Standard explaining why the existing reform proposal falls short of the mark. Schwartz was a member of the 2001 U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, so he's worth reading on this point. [On the other hand, the 2001 delegation did not cover itself with glory -- the U.S. lost its seat on the commission, while China, Sudan, Syria and Cuba were elected.--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:50 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Open hurricane porn thread

CROW-EATING UPDATE: The post below was written 24 hours before the waters of Lake Ponchatrain broke through the levee, devastated New Orleans, and video footage came in on damage to the Mississippi Gulf coast. I must concur with James Joyner that the coverage of this hurricane was not overhyped in the end, and at this point is a rather trivial issue compared to the damage at hand.

I maintain that my general point stands on extreme weather coverage, but not with this case. Whether there is a "weatherman crying wolf" phenomenon taking place is also worthy of further thought.

Click over to FEMA's list of charities to help out those affected -- or even better, Glenn Reynolds' list of charities

Comment away on Hurricane Katrina -- or even better, the coverage of it. If this report is any indication, the original estimates of potential damage appear to have been overstated (though the New Orleans Times-Picayune has a different take). This is of small comfort to rural residents of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but better news for oil traders -- who appear to have panicked and then reassessed -- as well as consumers.

This overestimation would be consistent with the growing problem of hurricane porn:

This kind of coverage was understandable with regard to a titanic bastard of a storm like Allison [a 2003 hurricane--DD], but it was only the latest in the local networks' long-standing pattern of milking every possible bit of fear and suspense out of viewers at the approach of tropical weather systems. It hardly seems to matter that computer models are roughly as accurate as a Ouija board while a storm is more than 48 hours out, or that storms like Allison are rare beasts indeed, for these days our doughty weatherpersons breathlessly report every developing tropical depression as if the End Times were upon us. Coverage increases in intensity until the tension is almost to much to take.

I call it "hurricane porn."

First, there's the foreplay, which (unlike in actual pornography) can take several days. It starts with Doppler radar and satellite images that grow progressively larger and, dare I say it, more tumescent as the system approaches the coast. Cloud cover grows and the winds pick up, and most TV stations will have reporters positioned along the coast in areas projected to be in the storm's path. These hardy souls eye the camera with come hither looks of dire urgency (I wish I could find screen captures of local ABC reporter Jessica Willey standing on a pier in Galveston during Claudette's rainy approach wearing a soaked-through white blouse - more than ratings were rising that evening, let me tell you). The anticipation continues to build in this fashion until landfall, which is where you get...

Hot hurricane action: water crashes furiously over the sea wall, palm trees whip back and forth in an orgiastic frenzy and street signs waggle suggestively in the wind. Meanwhile, the rhythmically swaying area street lights almost seem to keep the beat for the omnipresent frenzy. This is the period where one sees the most pervasive coverage. TV stations will often interrupt regular programming in order to cut to live shots of their other reporters, who can be found "braving" the storm by standing right in the middle of the heaviest wind and rains. Speaking only for myself, I'd have a lot more respect for a newsperson who did their report from a bar, sipping a beer and leading off with, "You know, you'd have to be a real idiot to be outside on a night like this..." Maybe someday.

Fortunately, the actual hurricane footage can only last so long, as most systems weaken rapidly once they make landfall. This is why television stations are so desperate for that money shot. You'll know it when you see it: a roof flying off a department store and disintegrating, or one of those aforementioned reporters getting blown into a ditch. If the networks are really lucky, they'll get film of a fireman rescuing a baby from a rooftop, or a woman pulled from her car just before it's covered by rising floodwaters. After something like that, you can't help but feel spent.

Once the storm has blown inland, you can finally bask in the afterglow: blue sky shots of boats beached thirty feet above the tide line, hapless shmoes sweeping water out of their bedrooms, and the weatherman telling us it "could've been worse." That's when you light a cigarette and compare property damage with your neighbors.

I'm waiting for the NOAA to extend hurricane season by a month and a half so it can include May and November sweeps.

I think this blogger actually underestimates the problem -- it's not just local news, it's the cable nets as well. See Michelle Catalano for more.

Readers are invited to submit the most.... er.... pornographic moment of coverage they've seen to date.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds believe that Katrina was worth the hype. And several commenters have pointed out that the blanket coverage probably saved lives in convincing people to get the heck out of the Big Easy. Valid arguments.... except I've been so inured to prior hurricane porn that it's now tough for me to distinguish between a genuine menace to mankind vs. some weathermen breathlessly claiming that some tropical depression could be huge.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Alas, I spoke too soon about New Orleans.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (7)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Regarding the CIA's latest self-assessment

Amy Zegart -- who is writing a book on intelligence reform and is's official go-to source on this issue -- e-mailed me her thoughts on the CIA's latest effort at self-criticism:

Say it ain't so.

The CIA has just finished an internal review of 9/11, and may be gearing up for disciplinary action against some former big wigs, including CIA Director George Tenet, Jim Pavitt, who headed the agency's spy branch, and Cofer Black, who used to run the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. I can hear the drums and chants already : "Hold them accountable!"

Let us leave aside for a moment the irony that the fate of these men now rests in the hands of Porter Goss, the current CIA chief who chaired the House Intelligence Committee before 9/11 -- and who was "shocked shocked" to discover so many failures in the agency he was so vigilantly overseeing. Let us also leave aside the fact that these guys don't exactly come across as the most sympathetic figures, slam dunking their way to presidential medals and all. The fact is that holding a few people responsible for the failures of 9/11 is comforting but dangerous. Comforting because it makes us feel safer that there's someone to blame. Dangerous because it leads us to believe that if only a few individuals had done their jobs better, 9/11 could have been averted. The reality is much worse: yes, individuals made mistakes. But it was the system that failed us. And until we fix these systemic problems, nobody should be sleeping well at night.

Case in point: why didn't the CIA watchlist Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, 2 of the 9/11 hijackers that first came to the attention of agency officials back in January 2000, when they attended a terrorist meeting described by one intelligence official as "the al Qaeda convention"? The simplest answer: keeping track of foreign terrorists had never been standard practice or a high priority. For more than 40 years, the Cold War had dominated both the thinking and operation of the CIA and the other agencies of the US intelligence community. When the Cold War ended and the threat changed, US intelligence agencies were slow to change with it. Before 9/11, in fact, there were no formal training programs or well honed processes for identifying dangerous terrorists and warning other US government agencies about them before they reached the US. CIA officers let Mihdhar and Hazmi into the country not because they failed at their jobs, but because they never considered watchlisting to be a part of their jobs.

CIA leadership could only do so much to fix these kinds of problems because they were decades old and built into the structure, fabric and thinking of the intelligence community. Tenet, for example, actually did try to improve longer-term, strategic analysis in the CIA's counterterrorism center before 9/11, but his efforts were doomed before they ever began. Three reasons explain why:

1) Location. When the Counterterrorism Center was created in 1986, it was housed in the Directorate of Operations, the CIA's spy branch, rather than inside the agency's analytic division. For analysts, this was like operating behind enemy lines. The Directorate of Operations was home for people who ran spies, stole secrets, and conducted clandestine operations, not for egghead analysts who sat in cubicles piecing together information about distant threats. Location ensured that the Counterterrorism Center would give short shrift to strategic analysis from day one.

2) Culture. Nowhere was the "need to know" and aversion to information sharing more deeply rooted than inside the clandestine Directorate of Operations. Clandestine officials for decades had viewed analysts with suspicion, even disdain. So deep was the divide between them and analysts that when the Counterterrorism Center was first created, clandestine officers assigned there requested additional safes and procedures to keep their information out of the hands of analysts working alongside them.

3) Career incentives. For analysts, the fast track to promotion required focusing on current intelligence and staying close to home. During the 1990s, the rise of 24 hour news cycles put so much pressure on analysts to provide current information, many joked that the CIA had become "CNN with secrets." For a savvy career minded analyst, the only thing worse than getting assigned to do longer term strategic analysis was getting assigned to do longer term strategic analysis outside the CIA's analytic branch--precisely what Tenet was trying to do in 2000 and 2001. Little wonder he found strategic analysis in counter-terrorism so weak, and why he struggled with such little success to fix it. After 9/11, the congressional intelligence committees found that on average, counter-terrorism analysts had less than half the experience of analysts in the rest of the CIA. Ironically, career incentives meant that the unit most in need of experienced analysts did not have them.

Tenet and company may not deserve any medals. But let's not kid ourselves: searching for a few bad apples will not fix what's wrong in US intelligence.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Those French intelligence officials....

The Financial Times carries an interview with France’s top anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière. One piece of information -- which the FT is hyping -- is that Al Qaeda is ostensibly planning an attack on a financial center in the Pacific Rim.

However, the meat of the interview contains an interesting observation about the distinctions between civil law and commonlaw countries in dealing with terrorism:

France since 1986 we have deliberately put the legal system at the center of the struggle. That is how we have developed a pro-active policy, which means giving the arm of the law the ability to apply pressure in a policy of prevention.

This means doing away with the distinctions between repression done by the judiciary and prevention as carried out by the intelligence services. The barrier no longer exists. The advantage of this is that the legal system is more credible and less contested. By working more closely with the secret services the legal system is reinforced.

Our system is much more flexible as it is civil law rather than common law. The source of the law are legal texts, not jurisprudence of previous decisions. We don’t have to bow to legal precedents, as in the UK or US, which prevents their system from evolving. As a result the US and UK have been forced to seek other answers to the new threat, some of which are often outside the law.

All the debate in the common law systems will be about the admissibility of evidence. In the French system all types of evidence are admissible but they do not have the same weight. As a result, sharing intelligence information in the law enforcement area is not an insurmountable obstacle and can be a starting-point for our enquiries....

Our offence of ‘criminal association with a terrorist enterprise’ is much stiffer than the British offence of conspiracy. It includes any activity, whether logistics or financial, that helps a terrorist activity, whether or not the group or its objective has been identified.

In France we can hold a suspect for four days without them being charged or gaining full access to a lawyer. Every year France has disrupted terrorist threats, such as the attempt in 2000 to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg. We have not suffered a terrorist attack since 1996. We do not have a system that is as tough as the British for expelling radicals.

Readers are invited to comment on the tradeoffs between the two legal traditions in dealing with national security issues. On economic growth, there are other tradeoffs, btw.

posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The future of computer science?

On of the common laments about offshore outsourcing is that it is causing a decline of interest in computer science and related engineering tasks.

Via Slashdot, I see that Steve Lohr had an interesting piece in the New York Times earlier this week that provides some support for this lament -- but the market is doing interesting things to the study of computers:

Jamika Burge is heading back to Virginia Tech this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, but her research is spiced with anthropology, sociology, psychology, psycholinguistics - as well as observing cranky couples trade barbs in computer instant messages.

"It's so not programming," Ms. Burge said. "If I had to sit down and code all day, I never would have continued. This is not traditional computer science."

For students like Ms. Burge, expanding their expertise beyond computer programming is crucial to future job security as advances in the Internet and low-cost computers make it easier to shift some technology jobs to nations with well-educated engineers and lower wages, like India and China.

"If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable," said Thomas W. Malone, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of "The Future of Work" (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). "But if you can combine business or scientific knowledge with technical savvy, there are a lot of opportunities. And it's a lot harder to move that kind of work offshore."

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in India, the returns to offshoring are declining because of rising wages, according to CNN's Parija Bhatnagar:

A new report from market research firm Gartner, Inc. warns that a labor crunch and rising wages could erode as much as 45 percent of India's market share by 2007.

Indian industry watchers acknowledge that the country's outsourcing industry -- its golden goose of the moment -- is indeed facing a "serious" problem.

In an interview with CNN/Money from New Delhi, Kiran Karnick, president of the National Association of Software and Service companies (NASSCOM), said he's concerned that these challenges could stymie India's strong double-digit growth in outsourcing services....

India can't afford to rest on its laurels, said Sujay Chohan, one of the authors of the Gartner report and vice president and research director of offshore business process outsourcing with Gartner in New Delhi.

Unless India devises a long-term roadmap to improve infrastructure and consistently grow its skilled labor force, he said India will see some of its offshore BPO clients shift business elsewhere.

"Although India's infrastructure is improving, it is not keeping pace with the rapid growth of the industry," the report said.

See Ed Frauenheim's reaction on CNET's Workplace Blog

posted by Dan at 11:52 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

The President's suggested reading

The Washington Examiner asked losers who check their e-mail in late August political junkies what they thought George W. Bush's summer reading should be in Crawford. You can read the responses -- including mine -- here.

I will say, though, that Bush's actual selections -- "John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Edvard Radzinsky's Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" -- aren't too shabby. The first choice, in particular, might have some policy relevance for the future.

That said, Jonathan Rauch's selection is the one that stands out.

posted by Dan at 08:37 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Beloit College needlessly reminds me of my age

I have a summer birthday, and I am creeping ever closer to 40. Curiously, I seem to be the oldest member of my peer group, and so all of my friends take great delight in saying "Dude, you're old." at the appropriate moment.

In that spirit, it seems fitting to link to the Beloit College Mindset List for this year:

It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Director of Public Affairs Ron Nief.

McBride, who directs Beloit’s First Year Initiatives (FYI) program for entering students, notes that "This year’s entering students have grown up in a country where the main business has become business, and where terrorism, from obscure beginnings, has built up slowly but surely to become the threat it is today. Cable channels have become as mainstream as the 'Big 3' used to be, formality in dress has become more quaint than ever, and Aretha Franklin, Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Carter have become old-timers."

“Each year,” according to Nief, “When Beloit releases the Mindset List, it is the birth year of the entering students that is the most disturbing fact for most readers. [Most students entering college this fall were born in 1987--DD] This year will come as no exception and, once again, the faculty will remain the same age as the students get younger.”

My highlights from this year's list:

They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

Boston has been working on "The Big Dig" all their lives.

Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.

The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.

Condoms have always been advertised on television.

Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7% interest.

Southern fried chicken, prepared with a blend of 11 herbs and spices, has always been available in China.

Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

Entertainment Weekly has always been on the newsstand.

They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.

They have grown up in a single superpower world.

And, in conclusion:

They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Global Fund depresses me on Uganda

For many of the blights that bedevil sub-Saharan Africa -- AIDS, poverty, corruption -- Uganda has been considered an exception. However, Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker implied that much of this success would not necessarily be self-sustaining.

It's with that in mind that I was saddened but not surprised to see this Alan Beattie story in the Financial Times:

The Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has suspended its grants to Uganda, a pioneer of Aids treatment, after an investigation uncovered evidenceof “serious mismanagement” of funds.

The investigation by the organisation's “local fund agent” (LFA), the business services firm PwC, found a string of problems with the grants, the FT was told.

The fund has disbursed about $45m (€37m, £25m) to Uganda over several years.

The report found that when dollar grants were converted into Ugandan shillings, discrepancies between the exchange rate reported and actual market exchange rates meant that there was a shortfall of some $280,000....

Uganda, one of the aid darlings of Africa in the recent past, has been praised for its efforts in tackling Aids. The Global Fund said that, in spite of the report, Uganda's programmes had successfully treated thousands of sufferers, and said it would try to ensure that such programmes were not disrupted. It also defended its central role in the global fight against Aids. But Uganda has come under increasing criticism for the continued perceived prevalence of corruption, as measured by surveys such as that of the campaign, Transparency International. Some officials and campaigners are raising questions about giving debt relief and aid without strict conditions on use.

You can read this Global Fund press release, as well as this additional Q&A, which cites "inappropriate, unexplained or improperly documented" expenses.

posted by Dan at 03:22 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

OK, I think I've got Pat Robertson's cycle figured out...

So, I see Pat Robertson has spoken out in favor of offing Venezuelan President/strongman Hugo Chavez.

Hmmm... about two years ago, Pat Robertson spoke out in favor of supporting indicted war criminal, former Liberian President/strongman Charles Taylor.

And two years before that, there was the whole 9/11 commentary (although Robertson later said that he had "not fully understood" when he was agreeing with his guest Jerry Falwell).

Readers are invited to identify the target of ire or defense that will make Robertson look like a foreign policy jackass in the summer of 2007.

posted by Dan at 12:04 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iran's smoking gun goes poof

Three weeks ago today Dafnia Linzer had a Washington Post front-pager on an National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran wasn't nearly as close to developing nuclar weapons as previously thought.

Three weeks later, Linzer pours even colder water on Iran's WMD progress:

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met in secret during the past nine months to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Recently, the group, whose existence had not been previously reported, definitively matched samples of the highly enriched uranium -- a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon -- with centrifuge equipment turned over by the government of Pakistan.

Iran has long contended that the uranium traces were the result of contaminated equipment bought years ago from Pakistan. But the Bush administration had pointed to the material as evidence that Iran was making bomb-grade ingredients.

The conclusions will be shared with IAEA board members in a report due out the first week in September, according to U.S. and European officials who agreed to discuss details of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. The report "will say the contamination issue is resolved," a Western diplomat said.

U.S. officials have privately acknowledged for months that they were losing confidence that the uranium traces would turn out to be evidence of a nuclear weapons program. A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran is further away from making bomb-grade uranium than previously thought, according to U.S. officials.

The IAEA findings come as European efforts to negotiate with Iran on the future of its nuclear program have faltered, and could complicate a renewed push by the Bush administration to increase international pressure on Tehran.

Link via David Adesnik, who asks, "The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"

posted by Dan at 06:07 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 22, 2005

What's the best way to deal with broadband?

Earlier this year Thomas Bleha published a provocative essay in Foreign Affairs that argued the U.S. had lost its technological leadership on the Internet:

[T]he United States has fallen far behind Japan and other Asian states in deploying broadband and the latest mobile-phone technology. This lag will cost it dearly. By outdoing the United States, Japan and its neighbors are positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life.

The September/October issue of Foreign Affairs has an interesting exchange of letters between Bleha and Philip Weiner on how best to rectify the situation. Bleha prefers "top-level political leadership" and "a national broadband strategy with bold deployment goals." Weiner offers some excellent cautions to this strategy, including this fascinating bit of protectionist trivia:

The current fcc is not to blame for the lack of spectrum available for wireless broadband; U.S. broadband policy is hamstrung by a series of protectionist decisions that Congress and earlier commissions made years ago to govern the transition from analog to digital television. These decisions, intended to protect U.S. television manufacturers from Japanese competition, dedicated large swaths of spectrum to television broadcasters, which now reach only approximately 15 percent of their viewers "over the air" (as opposed to via satellite or cable connections)....

Bleha's most troubling argument is his claim that the U.S. government should support certain technologies as part of its economic development strategy. To appreciate how risky the proposal is, consider the rise of advanced television and advanced mobile-phone service, both of which prompted regulatory strategies of the kind Bleha champions -- and both of which ultimately backfired.

It was the threat of Japan's rise in the 1980s that spurred the course toward digital television that the United States still follows today. Washington committed wide swaths of spectrum to digital television, leaving U.S. mobile-phone providers with less bandwidth than they needed and only about half the amount of their European counterparts. The entire effort assumed that Americans would continue to watch television shows broadcast over the air. Yet over the past two decades, more U.S. consumers have begun to watch cable and satellite television, undermining the rationale for this expensive policy, which has also delayed innovation and imposed unjustifiable costs on the nation.

Meanwhile, the European regulatory authority decided that the advent of digital, second-generation cell phones required governments to promote the technology known as the global system for mobile communications, or gsm, to ensure a compatible system throughout Europe. Wisely, the United States refused to favor any given technology and instead allowed marketplace experimentation to guide development. That strategy yielded the superior code division multiple access (cdma) technology developed by the California company Qualcomm, which uses spectrum more efficiently. The transition to the next generation of mobile telecommunications standards (which are based on cdma technology) will be much smoother for those U.S. companies that have adopted cdma, such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, than for their European counterparts.

Bleha also urges Washington to commit to supporting the installation of ultra-high-speed fiber connections to one-third of U.S. households by 2010. But his proposal may be foolhardy: even though fiber appears to be a promising technology today, such technologies have failed in the past for a variety of reasons, leaving investors with little to show for their money. (Remember digital audio tape recorders?) The U.S. government should be leery of endorsing particular technologies -- or even certain transmission speeds -- before it knows more about them and whether the market can support them.

Read the whole exchange.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Does China contradict the liberal paradigm, part deux

Following up on my post a few months ago on whether China's economic liberalization will lead to democratization, the Economist asks similar questions about the trajectory of Hu Jintao's government -- and comes up with the same muddled answer:

Mr Hu's (in fact, fairly consistent) conservatism has been evident in his belief that the Communist Party, riddled with corruption and other abuses of power, is quite capable of cleaning up its own act without the need for any checks or balances. This year, for instance, he has ordered millions of party officials to take part in many hours of mind-numbing ideological training designed to tighten party discipline (known as the “education campaign to preserve the advanced nature of Communist Party members”)....

Publicly, Mr Hu's comments have been moderate in tone. But he has been tougher at closed-door gatherings, such as during a meeting of the party's Central Committee last September. The plenum was of crucial symbolic importance for Mr Hu. It appointed him as the supreme commander of China's armed forces, thus completing his takeover of the country's three top positions, following his appointment as party leader in November 2002 and president in March 2003. The contents of Mr Hu's maiden speech have not been published in full. In the still secret portion, Mr Hu reportedly railed against “Western hostile forces” and “bourgeois liberalisation”. It was a worrying throwback to the paranoid language that suffused official rhetoric in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989....

Yet for all Mr Hu's rhetoric, he has yet to strike out at perceived wayward tendencies with anything like the vigour shown by Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or even Jiang Zemin, whose crackdown on Falun Gong, a spiritual movement, in 1999 sent many thousands to labour camps. The complaints of Beijing's intellectuals are offset by other signals that China's economic reforms are continuing, even if government enthusiasm for the kind of mass privatisation of state-owned enterprises that occurred in the late 1990s and early this decade may have abated. In February the government issued new guidelines for private investment in areas hitherto the preserve of the state. This month it issued a draft of China's first law on property rights, aimed at protecting individuals and companies from arbitrary appropriations by the state. Many say the new law is inadequate, but it is still something of a concession to a growing middle class.

Even in the realm of privatisation, the government continues to experiment. In May, a new attempt was launched at off-loading state-owned shares in the 1,400 companies listed in China's stockmarkets. The government has indicated that the reform plan will not mean selling off its controlling stake in “key enterprises”. But it will relinquish at least some of its firms.

Given the increasingly conspicuous inequalities emerging in China as a result of the country's embrace of capitalism, it suits Mr Hu to appear to pour cold water on the idea of laisser-faire economics, blamed for a growing gap between rich and poor, between regions and between urban and rural areas. In the past couple of years there has been an upsurge in the number of protests triggered by these disparities, as well as by rampant corruption. Mr Hu is trying to strengthen the party's legitimacy by stressing its sympathy for the disadvantaged.

Mr Hu's catchphrase is “balanced development”. This will be a central theme in a new five-year economic plan (a still cherished relic of the central-planning era) due to be discussed by the Central Committee in October and ratified by the legislature next March. It will be Mr Hu's first opportunity to put his stamp on a long-term economic strategy. But rapid growth will remain his first priority. Mr Hu has shown no sign of retreat from the core belief of party leaders since the early 1990s: that growth is essential to social stability and thus the party's survival. If redistributing wealth were to jeopardise that, even the conservative Mr Hu would back off.

posted by Dan at 08:30 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Media Wars, Episode II: The Media Strikes Back

Three weeks after Judge Richard Posner's disquisition on the media in the New York Times Book Review, the responses are in.

The NYT Book Review publishes five letters, including Eric Alterman, Bill Moyers, and NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller. Posner chose not to respond, which is a bit surprising, since the letters all have their flaws.

Let's take Keller for an example:

The saddest thing is that Judge Posner's market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I've witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.

Would he be so cynical about a world he actually knows? Is the behavior of the American judiciary explainable purely as a response to economic self-interest? Should we assume that all judicial rulings are panderings, either to the voting public or to the executives who hand out judicial appointments? Or should we allow that reverence for the law, a respect for how democracy functions, a sense of fairness, the satisfaction of a well-reasoned argument — judgment — have some relevance to how judges behave?

I'm not sure I completely buy Posner's original thesis, but this response by Keller is cartoonish and uninformed. Of course journalists can write stories contrary to their personal prejudices -- one of Posner's points in the initial review was that market competition forces journalists to put aside their prior beliefs. As to whether media is capable of "standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers)," I'm pretty sure that Posner's theory would allow for this possibility -- but it's always the exception and never the rule. Posner's trying to explain the overall trend, not the exceptions.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure Posner would be eminently comfortable with theories that postulate "the behavior of the American judiciary [is] explainable purely as a response to economic self-interest?" There's a small-but-emerging literature in political science about explaining opportunistic behavior among judges -- click here for one example.

How do I know that Posner would be comfortable with this argument? See Richard A. Posner, "What Do Judges Maximize? (The Same Thing Everybody Else Does)," Supreme Court Economic Review, vol. 3 (1995), pp. 1-28.

posted by Dan at 09:10 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Guest-blogging this week: Joseph Britt

I'm on vacation with the family this week. Joseph Britt -- a.k.a., the commenter also known as Zathras -- has been tasked with the job of guest-blogging.

In a former life, Britt did policy work in the Senate as well as with a couple of state governments. He's now a freelance writer; last spring he guest-blogged at Belgravia Dispatch.


posted by Dan at 06:31 PM

So what do international relations specialists think?

After being in a news black hole for a week, I'll be getting back into blogging a bit slowly.

However, here's something for the academics in the audience: last year a group of IR profs put together a survey of what other IR profs thought about the field, current affairs, etc.

The preliminary results can be found in this paper by Susan Peterson and Michael J. Tierney, with Daniel Maliniak entitled, "Teaching and Research Practices, Views on the Discipline, and Policy Attitudes of International Relations Faculty at U.S. Colleges and Universities"

Some of the interesting topline results:

1) Teaching moves more slowly than research. Even though scholars recognize that contructivism is a much more active research program than Mrxism, the latter is taught more frequently in introductory IR classes.

[This is because the academy is all lefty, right?--ed. Well, the survey has the median IR prof between "liberal" and "slightly liberal", so there's a small grain of truth to that. However, I suspect this has more to do with academics being small "c" conservative, and therefore reluctant to change syllabi that have been entrenched for years.

2) "Eighty-seven percent of respondents—exactly the same percentage in the previous question who reported that the war in Iraq will decrease U.S. security—report that the Iraq war has hurt the war on terrorism."

3) "Despite the fact that most respondents believe that the war in Iraq has hurt US security and the war on terrorism, few (17 percent) believe that terrorists are better able to attack the United States today than before 9/11."

4) "The foreign policy consensus among international relations scholars observed in the previous questions about Iraq extends to the issue of free trade. More than three-fourths of all respondents report that free trade agreements have been a good thing for the United States, while only 7 percent report that they have been a bad thing."

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 06:07 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Signing Off

I want to close with a question that has been percolating between my ears for a while now. People who followed politics in 30 and 40 years ago could have identified such a thing as a "Humphrey Democrat," a "Jackson Democrat," even a "McGovern Democrat." None of these men ever got elected President -- only Humphrey came close -- but all of them had substantial accomplishments in their political careers, accomplishments that could not have been theirs if positioning themselves for a run at the White House had absorbed their whole attention.

What is a Kerry Democrat? For that matter, what is a Gore Democrat, or an Edwards Democrat? Immediate family members of the gentlemen in question surely count, as must a number of their paid staff and -- technically -- Democrats who by coincidence share the last name of Kerry, Gore or Edwards. But that's about it.

There may not be any political implications flowing from this. It may just be that Presidential politics has changed; the people who get nominated for President now are those who establish a foothold through their relation to someone else, their election to a safe seat in the Senate, or their campaigning skills, and then wait around for their moment to strike. It just occurs to me when reading thought pieces about what position Democrats should take on Iraq, or health care, or taxes that parties don't adopt positions on important issues until people do. Whether ideas go anywhere depends on whether their advocates are smart and capable, not on whether their party's strategic direction is right where it should be. There is no shortage of chiefs in the Democratic Party, or Indians either. I just don't see any leaders.

That's all for me. Dan has returned from his vacation: rested, refreshed and ready to resume his rightful place as a titan of the blogosphere. My thanks to him for loaning me this fine platform, and to his readers for their attention and many thoughtful comments.

posted by Joseph Britt at 12:07 PM | Comments (9)

The Great Healer Strikes Again

What is the point of this?

Yes, I know Bill Frist -- excuse me, Dr. Bill Frist, also known as The Great Healer -- is thinking about running for President. I know that in addition to his unusual albeit dubiously relevant credential of heart transplant expertise he is anxious to add the approbation of those evangelical activists who believe that Christian evangelism is aided by teaching in public schools a theory of the origin of life that does not mention Christ or anything about faith in daily life. And I know that traditional Republican reluctance to impose ideas from Washington on local school districts is, like opposition to runaway spending and support for simplifying the tax code, somewhat out of fashion these days.

But history ought to teach us that voters at the national level do often give politicians credit for showing some personal dignity. The Senate Majority Leader is under no obligation to say anything about an issue he is not prepared to legislate about other than he thinks local school districts should be left alone to deal with it as they see fit. Groveling to interest groups, which losing Democratic Presidential candidates have raised to an art form over the last 20 years, isn't a good tactic for Republicans either. It can bring them applause, but at the end of the day it makes them look like wimps.

After his performance in the Schiavo affair, The Great Healer is beginning to look like a recidivist groveler who should not be allowed any nearer the Oval Office than the public tour.

posted by Joseph Britt at 11:45 AM | Comments (4)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Red On Red

Assume, as most but not all people do, that the American commitment in Iraq cannot and should not be sustained indefinitely whatever happens. What should the American military be doing there in the meantime?

I'd like to think that if I were lugging a rifle and a pack around Baghdad in the middle of the night my mission would be something a little more specific than "staying the course," "showing resolve," and "spreading freedom." Marking time until the Iraqis "stand up" seems somehow inadequate as well. What should our military's objective be in its operations in Iraq right now?

There is nothing original or even very clever in my idea that priority No. 1 should be to increase tensions between Iraqi Sunni Arabs and non-Iraqi jihadis. We know these tensions exist. We see evidence of them popping up occasionally in the mainstream media and in the Iraqi section of the blogosphere. To some extent they supply the answer to a question I asked last spring:

"...what is the likely impact of (apparently) widely divergent objectives on the part of different groups of insurgents on the future of the insurgency?"

Sunni Arab Iraqis may be fighting to avenge perceived humiliation, to restore Sunni political domination of Iraq or because they have nothing else to do, but they aren't fighting to become subjects of Saudi clerics and Jordanian professional terrorists -- and the foreign jihadis in turn are not fighting and dying just to uphold the honor of local tribal leaders or to restore a secular Baathist regime. They have had a common enemy, but no common goals.

Does this situation present some opportunities for us? Well, it ought to. But the difficulties are very considerable. Intelligence assets needed to identify exploitable areas of tension are evidently limited. This has to be partly because the enemy is aware of potential tensions between Iraqi and other fighters and is taking steps to keep them under control, and the uncertain political situation may be another reason. Probably the biggest, actually, is the thing that has plagued American intelligence since March 2003: the language barrier. In any event the desirability of encouraging "red-on-red" hostility is much clearer than are the things we need to do this.

In fairness to the many journalists, bloggers and others now arguing fiercely about levels of commitment, withdrawal timetables and so forth, these are much easier to grasp than are the tactical issues. It is easy enough to sit here on the East Coast and advise attempting to disengage from insurgents in areas where these are known to be entirely Iraqi while seeking out non-Iraqi fighters to attack; identifying likely gathering points on the insurgent "rat line" across the Syrian border and striking them from the air; or leaning on the Iraqi government to make sure that the non-Iraqi jihadis they capture never make it home. Whether any of these things is practicable I do not know. It is, again, easy to advise an offensive posture -- sitting around or patrolling up and down the same roads waiting to be attacked is neither good for morale nor likely to lead to a won war. Implementing this advice is easier said than done.

The other question I asked last spring was:

" what point does the enthusiasm of some Sunnis for massacring Shiites become a factor in our relations with Iran?"

I'm inclined to think now that this train left the station long before I posed this question. Iraqi Shiite leaders who did not fear assassination or massacres of their followers were much less likely to submit to Iranian influence than the ones we have now. Zarqawi and his followers have their own reasons for murdering Shiites Muslims in large numbers; Sunni Arab Baathists do too, and while these reasons may not be the same they do seem to have been compatible to this point (what appears to be the rather short moral distance between the most dedicated Baathist and the most zealous Wahhabi is probably a large obstacle to any plan to divide the two). Shiites seeking protection from terrorism will not rely on the American military; they know the mullahs in Tehran will want to fight their enemies, and know the Iranians will be there long after the Americans are gone.

There is a limit to how much we can do to limit Iranian influence in Iraq under these conditions. Actually, we may have been lucky -- if that idiot Muqtada Sadr hadn't thrown away many hundreds of his best men in frontal confrontations with American main force units last year we might already have a full scale Shiite/Sunni war in Iraq. In any event we share some interest with secular Shiite leaders and some Shiite clerics in avoiding a situation where a future Iraqi government becomes dependent for its survival on Iranian support, giving us, perhaps, another potential partner in an effort to separate our Iraqi enemies from our Islamist ones.

posted by Joseph Britt at 06:21 PM | Comments (2)

A Realist By Any Other Name

My former host Greg Djerejian introduces a New York Times Op-Ed by the managing editor of Foreign Affairs briskly, thus:

"Gideon Rose cuts through a lot of chaff today in the New York Times..."

Let's pause right there. On the theory that every aspiring statesman requires the aid of a Bernard Woolley, let me point out that if you cut through a lot of chaff all you get is a lot of chopped up chaff. Chaff is the husk of wheat and other grains; to mill the grain the chaff must be separated from the grain. In metaphor, chaff is often opposed to wheat to suggest the distinction between unworthy people or ideas and those of quality. It is true that after grain has been threshed out, chaff may then be chopped up and used as bedding, feed for farm animals, or ground cover for erosion control, but these uses are too obscure to be metaphor material in a discussion of foreign policy.


Gideon Rose takes the kind of academic approach to recent American foreign policy that makes me cringe when I hear it applied to any public policy subject. This approach is based on the contention between schools of thought -- in this case between foreign policy "realists" (good) and "idealists" (bad) -- in other words between things that can be analyzed in an academic context with minimum reference to the people involved. Understand the school of thought a given group of officials subscribes to and you have a good idea whether the administration they serve is on the right or the wrong track.

What does this approach miss? Think of it this way: you would never say Steve DeBerg was a quarterback in the Joe Montana tradition because like Montana he played for the 49ers and ran the West Coast offense. Why not? Simply because Montana was a far more talented player; he saw the field more completely and executed his plays better. Similarly it would be highly misleading to describe Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, as an Achesonian without noting his old boss's superior skill, intellect, and force of personality. Consider, in light of this, Rose:

"George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft then offered an updated and nonpathological version of the Nixon-Kissinger approach and presided over the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, and the reversal of the occupation of Kuwait. Their reward? To be hounded from office after one term and derided as cold-blooded amoralists. They, too, were succeeded by a left-wing idealist (Bill Clinton) and then a right-wing one (George W. Bush), who once again loudly dedicated themselves to moralism in foreign policy and had more than their share of failures."

There are a number of things wrong with this picture, but let's observe just one of them. Henry Kissinger when in office hired a large number of people competent to staff him but not to replace him as an architect of American foreign policy: Alexander Haig, Robert McFarlane, Tony Lake, Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush himself. All of these people made their limitations abundantly clear when they attained high office themselves; none of them, with the possible exception of McFarlane, really grasped them, attributing the difficulties they encountered to factors beyond their control.

Looking specifically at the first Bush administration, let's remember that in foreign policy as in most other things offense is a lot harder than defense; attempting to change an unsatisfactory status quo is far more difficult than passively awaiting events. The Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy, begun under the enormous burden of the war in Vietnam, was nonetheless on offense more often than not. The first Bush administration essentially left the Reagan administration's foreign policy on autopilot. When a problem like the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan or the Iran-Iraq war seemed to go away, the Bush administration invariable followed the path of least resistance, disengaging from the first and pursuing normal relations with an Iraqi government that should never have been treated as anything other than a disposable ally of convenience. When Yugoslavia began to implode Bush neither warned breakaway republics that they could expect no American recognition or help, nor did he mobilize allied governments against Serbia in an effort to let the country dissolve without bloodshed.

To be fair, Bush was aided by a Secretary of State with a genuine talent for diplomacy. And in some respects, events were kind to his administration. Bush's instinct for passivity and reaction and his tendency to allow American foreign policy follow lines suggested by persuasive allies led to successful policy toward the reunification of Germany; it at least did no harm as newly independent states emerged in Eastern Europe. But having called for a New World Order Bush had few ideas as to what it should look like. And his wretched judgment and loss of nerve at the end of the Gulf War led to a human catastrophe in Iraq and a permanent, profitless commitment to contain a regime Bush had just sent half a million men halfway around the world to fight. His admirers were celebrating that fiasco as a triumph of foreign policy long before his son's administration proved it is possible to screw up in other ways; Rose appears to be still doing it.

Politically, Bush was done in by the way his passivity and zeal for repose was perceived in domestic affairs, not by foreign policy. The fact remains that in both areas his administration was what might have been expected from a lifelong ticket-puncher accustomed to being a spokesman and occasionally an implementer of policies designed by other men. If we are to draw correct lessons from it they will not concern foreign policy doctrine.

The same thing applies to his son's administration. The Bush Doctrine is a piece of paper that academics can study. This doesn't mean it explains the war in Iraq. For that, we must look at a President largely ignorant of foreign policy when he took office, badly rattled by 9/11, and determined to do something dramatic about in response. Everything after that has been improvisation.

Not all complaints about the limited vision of self-identified "realists" are wrong, nor is it evident that the current administration's "idealism" is the wellspring of its policies as opposed to an ex post facto justification for them. Effective foreign policy requires an understanding of what you want to do, a strategy for getting it done, and the ability both to distinguish the battles that can be won from those that cannot and to distinguish the situations where America can impose its will from those in which we must respond to events. It is not an accident that the period of greatest American success in foreign policy have come when the people running it -- Marshall, Acheson, Nixon, Kissinger -- have had these things and something else that is mostly lacking today, an understanding that a foreign policy made with one eye on campaign politics is bound to run into trouble regardless of what doctrine it proclaims. The people, not their doctrines, make the policy.

posted by Joseph Britt at 01:02 PM | Comments (8)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The things we think and do not say

Somewhere in the field of American foreign policy there is room for a paper with the title of that document with which Tom Cruise's character Jerry MacGuire began a major career transition. The subject of the paper would be human rights catastrophes in what used to be known as the Third World, particularly the genocide in Darfur.

What do we think but do not say? Well, for starters, we think that Arabs do not care very much about human rights. To be more precise, and more accurate, Arabs feel deep and genuine outrage when an Arab male is treated with something less than respect by a non-Arab and especially by a Jew; Arabs mistreated by other Arabs are of less concern. Non-Arabs being shot, blown-up, gang-raped or starved by Arabs are no problem at all, whether they are Muslim or not and perhaps especially if they are black Africans.

Many cultural attitudes, including this one, have deep historic roots; these are not my primary concern here. What matters instead is that keeping silent about large things carries a heavy price.

The New Republic ran a useful primer on the Darfur situation on its web site a short while ago, by Smith College Professor Eric Reeves; his assessment of where things stand now in Sudan -- this also contains material on the north-south civil war that has gone on there since the early 1980s -- is well worth reading as well.

Reeves is an expert on this subject; I am not. Yet even Reeves fails to note what to the casual observer appears fairly central to this grim story -- namely, that the protracted war against a civilian population of Darfur is considered an outrage, a horror, and an affront to humanity by the United States, by European peoples and governments, and by several African states, but by no Arab government and hardly any Arab media. Arabs are not represented among relief workers or peacekeepers in Darfur, all of whom come from countries much farther away than Egypt or Saudi Arabia; Arab contributions to humanitarian relief funds, according to a UN report, have been negligible. Terrorism has, rather late in the day, become a major issue of Arab Muslim theologians and intellectuals; not so genocide carried out by Arab Muslims against a mostly Muslim population over more than two years.

Let us note the most obvious consequence of this before saying anything else -- it makes action to stop genocide exponentially more difficult for the United States and other countries who would like to when the Arab government in Khartoum feels no pressure from other Arab governments or Arab media. This is true intellectually and morally; it is also true physically, since humanitarian relief and peacekeeping in Darfur cannot stage through nearby Egypt or Libya and must instead be maintained across the whole breadth of the Sahara Desert, like a dumbbell held at arm's length.

Now, it is very likely that the great majority of people in the Arab countries do not support genocide in Darfur. Many of them may not even know where it is. It is not something that the media available in Arab countries has covered extensively. And silence by Arab governments and media has not been challenged by Western governments and media.

I don't mean to pick on The New York Times here; there are worse offenders. But it does seem oddly symbolic that of the two Times columnists who write most frequently about the Arab world one -- Nick Kristof -- has published many pieces about genocide in Darfur without ever writing one about Arab indifference to it or what that might mean, while the other --Tom Friedman -- writes "whither the Arabs" commentary regularly without mentioning Darfur at all.

With respect to governments, it is tempting to suggest that this would be a good subject on which to unleash one of John Bolton's famous tirades on the United Nations. There is no reason, though, that other governments must be silent unless the United States speaks. Distasteful and occasionally repellent though the task can be, the United States often has to do business with the more barbarous governments of the world -- it was central to brokering the fragile settlement of Sudan's north-south civil war, for example. It should not be too much to expect Canada, say, or Germany to do something useful for a change and challenge Arab indifference to genocide in the UN or some other international forum.

Are we talking fundamentally about an Arab issue here? Looked at globally, we are not. Other human rights disasters are taking place as I write this -- the destruction of Zimbabwe, the decades-long nightmare of North Korea -- and the conduct of South Africa and China, respectively, toward these situations is inexplicable without mention of the indifference of these governments to human rights and human suffering. A humane, stable world order is unlikely to establish itself if only North American, European and a few other governments are willing to build it. And that is the case right now.

Arab indifference to Arab genocide does not, of course, excuse inadequate efforts by Western countries to aid its victims. Nor does South Africa's weak and cowardly support of Zimbabwe's kleptocrats or Beijing's embrace of its comrade in Pyongyang mean the West has no responsibilities in these situations. But surely one of those responsibilities is to lay aside our reflexive political correctness and say something about the things we know to be true.

posted by Joseph Britt at 06:02 PM | Comments (25)

Some Forgotten History

This is a little out of step with the news cycle, but bear with me. I wanted to talk a little bit about the Soviet legacy in the Arab world.

Soviet foreign policy in the 1945-1985 period will not be remembered for its contributions to humanity. Actually it poisoned nearly everything it touched. Its triumphs led to devastating wars and grim, durable dictatorships; its failures drained Soviet resources and exposed Soviet limitations. Committed to upsetting the status quo without the will or power to determine what would replace it, determined to initiate confrontations without the desire to end them, the Soviet Union left a residue of tyranny, misery and a really astonishing quantity of personal weaponry around the world.

I was prompted to think of the Soviet legacy in the Arab countries by President Bush's oft-made and widely praised repudiation of 60 years of American policy that allegedly had pursued order at the expense of freedom in the Middle East. You don't need a Ph. D. in Arab history to understand that freedom was not the alternative on offer during most of that time -- secular, sometimes viciously anti-religious Soviet-backed regimes were.

Egypt's Nasser eagerly sought Soviet arms and economic assistance beginning in the 1950s; later Syria's Assad, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadhafi did the same. Part of Yemen actually had a Communist government for a time, and some of the Palestinian factions within the PLO were openly Marxist as well. The internal security practices of all these regimes bore marked similarities to those of the Soviet Union at various points in its history, and of course the great majority of the weaponry the Israelis confronted in 1973 and later, Iran faced when Iraq attacked in 1980 and we saw during the Gulf War was of Soviet provenance.

The history behind this, beginning with Khruschev's effort to "leapfrog containment" during the 1950s and '60s is familiar to students of the Cold War. Conversely the specifics of, for example, KGB influence on the Syrian government's means of controlling information or the former Iraqi regime's efforts to assassinate dissidents abroad must await archival and other research that I'm not sure anyone has done yet.

Here's the point, though: The Soviets were not subtle about the way they exercised influence. They carried with them an ideology proven to be highly useful as a means of asserting state control; offered unqualified diplomatic backing for whatever the most radical Arab governments wanted; and distributed some economic aid as well as vast quantities of weapons. Experts in crushing freedom and inciting conflict, they passed their expertise along to willing clients for decades. They left footprints, big ones; yet to listen to the President, administration neoconservatives and frankly every media commentator I've heard talk about the Middle East one would think the Soviets had never been there.

Why does this matter? One reason might be the fact that Arab nationalism is so often being defined right now as requiring hostility to the United States. Partly this is due, of course, to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; another part has to do with Islamist ideology. But an important part -- the one the Bush administration has bought into -- involves the idea that the lack of freedom in the Arab world is America's fault.

This is no more than just barely arguable with respect to America's closest Arab allies, countries like Jordan and Morocco. Even in Saudi Arabia the United States was not so much complicit in suppressing democracy as unwilling to invent a democratic movement where one did not exist. And with respect to the Arab countries that have been most disruptive in recent years -- Syria, Libya, Iraq perhaps most of all -- the Bush administration's premise is not only wrong but absurd.

People who question whether attempting to democratize the Arab world is the answer to terrorism -- I am one of them -- often base their skepticism on the negligible Arab democratic tradition. But Arab political tradition did not evolve in a vacuum, and the Soviet influence on it was as powerful as any since World War II. Liberalization or even democratic reforms might have been a little easier in Iraq and many other Arab countries if it had been presented less as America's gift to Arabs and more as an opportunity for Arabs to repudiate the toxic Soviet legacy.

At a minimum it is tactically unfortunate for the United States to
have forgotten and allowed everyone else to forget that legacy. It cannot be wise to force every Arab seeking liberalization, democracy and greater respect for human rights to defend these as American-inspired departures from Arab tradition (though to some extent they are exactly that) and a dramatic, therefore suspicious reversal of American policy, rather than as corrections to the unfortunate influence exercised by Soviet Communists in earlier times and reflective of values America has always championed even where we could not impose them.

America should have but did not reap much credit in the Muslim world for its essential contribution to defeating the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, and this is but another aspect of that
problem. Major change, even when it is beneficial, is often disruptive and painful. No agent of change is well-advised to take the whole blame for it on himself if it can be avoided. If blame can be shared with a party no longer around to defend itself or make trouble, so much the better.

posted by Joseph Britt at 05:26 PM | Comments (19)

The Meaning of "Sensible"

Austin Bay desribes his idea of a sensible approach to the possible threat of Iranian or North Korean nuclear missiles threatening the United States:

"What happens if Iran goes nuclear and puts a warhead on a missile? What can Japan, South Korea, and the US do if North Korea deploys nuclear-armed intermediate range missiles, or ICBMs? Sure– pray for success in political negotiations, and retain “offensive options” — slang for attacking the rogues’ nuclear sites. But a defensive capability is also very useful. We’re not talking Reagan-era Star Wars with hundreds of Soviet missiles arcing over the Pole. An Iranian or North Korea “missile pulse” would probably consist of six to twelve missiles (at the most). A “thin shield” anti-missile defensive system could handle this type of “limited” attack.

To do that, however, means increasing the range of inteceptors. According to Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, the [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or] THAAD anti-missile program managers intend to explore increasing the missile’s range. THAAD is still very much in the developmental stage – it has a flight test scheduled for this fall."

My definition of "sensible" is probably a little different. It includes, among other things, some idea of how likely the potential threat is to become an actual threat (conceivable, eventually, in the case of North Korea; extremely unlikely in the case of Iran). It includes a requirement that the technology in question show some promise of actually doing what we want it to do -- promise shown outside a computer simulation. It includes some reckoning of how much more money the United States is going to have to borrow from the Communist Chinese central bank to pay for this project, and of the likelihood that this money will follow all the rest of the funds spent so far on missile defense in the last twenty years down the rathole.

In short: Do we need to do it? Are we able to do it? Can we afford to do it? In my book you don't have a "sensible" government program -- especially a multi-billion dollar program -- if the answer to each of these questions is "probably not."

posted by Joseph Britt at 10:51 AM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Congratulations.... Glenn Reynolds on his wife's graduation. My dad was required to take a similar course of study, though he was admitted to it for somewhat different reasons, and completed it successfully several years ago. Graduation in this case is a pretty significant milestone, and is I'm sure a big relief to Glenn and his family.

posted by Joseph Britt at 04:45 PM

A Thin Reed

I understand John Roberts is not an easy target. But isn't this reaching just a bit?

Every now and then -- I have no idea why -- one of my own jokes bombs. I limit the damage by never putting too much effort into them. Bruce Reed, for whose new blog at Slate I have high hopes, clearly takes a different approach; researching Roberts' prep school record is way more work than I would have done just to get a laugh. And if he was serious....well, I doubt that.

In any event since Reed was writing for Slate and not working for NARAL, the NAACP or one of the other organizations Zell Miller calls "the groups," there is no danger that his musings on what the 17-year-old Roberts' opposition to co-ed education portended for the Supreme Court will show up in slightly altered form in one of Pat Leahy's or Ted Kennedy's statements to the Judiciary Committee next month. I don't think.

posted by Joseph Britt at 11:57 AM | Comments (7)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Strong Presidency?

How strong a President is George W. Bush?

It's a complicated question. Generally I subscribe to the 20-Year Rule for evaluating Presidents, reasoning that about that much time has to pass before all the consequences of any one administration become clear. But it's never too early to think about this.

In one sense, obviously, Bush is a stronger President than any of his recent Republican predecessors, because he can work with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. He and his associates have near-total control of the Republican electioneering apparatus for all national and some state races; while very unpopular with Democrats, Bush has only some occasional critics among Republicans. He has no determined opposition. Finally he has, evidently at the instigation of Vice President Cheney, consistently sought to limit the amount of information made available to the press, ostensibly to restore some of the Presidential authority over access to internal governmental deliberations that drained away as a result of the Iran-Contra investigation and the scandals of the Clinton administration.

But all these things suggest a rather negative kind of strength -- a mastery of means but not necessarily of ends. Consider the veto, used by every President since Garfield to block enactment of legislation the President opposed. Bush has never used the veto even once. By contrast Bill Clinton vetoed 37 bills in eight years, Ronald Reagan 78 in eight years, Bush's father 44 in four years (the Chirstian Science Monitor has a handy reference chart and some context). One could argue that this merely signifies that Bush has such mastery over political Washington that Congress only passes the legislation he wants. To me it looks more like he has a talent for surrender.

Past Republican Presidents faced off against Congressional advocates of more spending. Bush doesn't. It doesn't matter what kind of spending, or how large the deficit is. If Congress can agree on a highway bill, a farm bill, or any appropriations measure, Bush will sign it. Some of the traditional Republican rhetoric on behalf of small government and fiscal responsibility remains in Bush's public statements, but he doesn't mean any of it.

What about the fight against terrorism, Bush's signature issue? I use that expression advisedly; as an issue, it has been by far his greatest political advantage since 9/11. But the actual fight has been mostly left up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not only the strategy and tactics for meeting terrorists in battle but for most of Bush's administration the foreign policy as well. Driving some of that foreign policy within the administration has been Vice President Cheney, whose role and influence is vastly greater than any modern Vice President and arguably much greater than any in our whole history. Past Presidents have been reluctant to give any substantive responsibility to the one subordinate that cannot fire. It is fair to wonder if Cheney has had such a large role because Bush is wiser than all his predecessors, or because he has no choice. Rumsfeld's dominance of the central issue facing Bush's administration should inspire the same question.

Lastly, consider this year's Social Security campaign. You don't need to be a master accountant to figure out that private social security accounts, the creation of which was sold in 1999 and 2000 as an innovative way to spend the federal government's surplus, were going to be a much tougher sell now that the surplus is a distant memory. What was the point of the campaign, then? You could argue it was a campaign of conviction, but that seems to me an argument from faith.

The obvious visual evidence this spring indicated that for Bush the campaign was its own reward. Bored with the routine of the White House, disengaged from both the legislative process and the day-to-day management of the fight against terrorism, Bush sought a reason to do what he loved doing -- giving stump speeches to, exchanging banter with and absorbing adulation from adoring, pre-screened audiences. That his Social Security proposal wasn't going anywhere was almost beside the point.

I'll discuss later the reasons I don't think Bush is particularly unusual among politicians at the highest levels today. For now, though, let's just say that he is a very talented candidate, who has put a lot of thought and work into becoming a very successful candidate. In an era when the business of campaigning for office appears to swamp most aspects of government, this orientation has taken him to the top of American politics.

But being a strong candidate and being a strong President have never been the same thing. Right from the beginning Bush has been a tiger with respect to measures most American supported, or at least those that appealed to Republican activists and contributors. Presidents don't get to take only the popular side of public issues, though, or only push measures their strongest supporters endorse. They can't expect success either from making bold proclamations and leaving all the work of making them good to others, or from extending the campaign months or years beyond the last election. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan -- none of the strongest modern American Presidents, and only a few of the others, would have found any of this worthy of discussion. They would, I suspect, have recognized weakness in the White House when they saw it. We are seeing it now.

posted by Joseph Britt at 12:19 PM | Comments (13)

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Darkness Before Sunset

This piece by the fine Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Katherine Skiba was one I really didn't want to read.

As Dan mentioned in introducing me, I did some work in the Senate years ago. William Proxmire was the senior colleague of my boss, Republican Bob Kasten (R-WI). Prox was an revered figure in Wisconsin politics at that time, known for never soliciting campaign contributions and for running to and from the office every day. He was also a very good colleague to have, in the sense that he didn't have much interest in claiming credit for appropriations and grants coming into the state or even in attending to constituent mail.

These things he mostly left to Kasten's office, which as our boss approached his reelection campaign we found very convenient. It was also a little unusual, of course, but Prox was unusual in many ways. He had his causes over the years, some of them very good ones -- we largely have him to thank for the fact that the United States never wasted billions on a supersonic transport program -- that he pursued with the aid of a talented but small staff. I figured at the time that Prox felt so secure politically that he didn't need to worry about reelection and liked doing his annual press release announcing how much of his clerk hire allowance he was returning to the Treasury. It occurred to me later that with his forceful but somewhat distant personality and, perhaps, the early stages of his illness he might just have found a small staff made up of familiar faces easier to deal with.

Prox was reliably liberal on a lot of issues, but having fought battles early in his political career against Joe McCarthy never felt he had to prove his loyalty to liberal causes, or to the Democratic Party either. I wonder what he would have thought of today's interest group-driven Senators campaigning and fundraising throughout their six-year terms like so many Congressmen. His would be a good voice to hear about politics today.

We won't hear it, sadly. Like Ronald Reagan, Proxmire suffers the curse of a strong constitution, able to withstand any injury or illness except the one he has. It's a terrible thing to contemplate.

posted by Joseph Britt at 11:02 PM | Comments (4)

The Late Great Embed Program

I'm not sure I believe the figure given toward the end of this New York Times article and attributed to Associated Press managing editor Mike Silverman, of three dozen embedded journalists remaining with American forces in Iraq compared to 700 when the war began.

Three dozen, or a little more than one journalist for every 4,000 American troops in Iraq, is, well, not very many. If good things are happening in Iraq, it's a good bet that the small number of journalists there would contribute to their being unreported on by the American media, as Austin Bay suggests . Would bad things be underreported as well? Probably. It's not a question of bias or even the attraction to journalists of what Bay calls "police blotter reporting." It's a question of resources.

I'm not an expert on the embed program, and remember that a lot of embedded reporters early in the war were in theater but not in Iraq. Two years ago, though, the large number of embedded reporters made available much good coverage of the combat zone that is mostly absent now. The Times's article rightly notes that this is only one aspect of the decline in reporting from Iraq. And I don't really know if the present low level is mostly a product of the military having become more reluctant to host embeds (for reasons suggested in a Wall Street Journal article from 2003 -- thanks to Phil Taylor for that) or media organizations being less willing to send them. Comment from knowledgable readers is invited.

Incidentally, one of the papers that still has journalists embedded with units in Iraq is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose reporters with the 48th Brigade Combat Team have maintained a blog since the 48th deployed four months ago. The 48th is a National Guard unit attached to the 1st Armored Division and drawing most of its soldiers from Georgia; it is stationed at bases in the Baghdad area. The blog entry for August 12 -- and especially the comments -- provide a glimpse of deployed life, both for the troops and for their families.

posted by Joseph Britt at 09:37 PM | Comments (12)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

TEFRA and Iraq

I expect to make two or three observations about Iraq this week, as it is deservedly the leading item in the news. The Washington Post goes anonymizing in Sunday's edition, citing several administration sources who decline to be named in a front page story about lowered American expectations of what is possible in Iraq.

TEFRA, for the whippersnappers in our audience today, is the acronym for the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, a package of what were then euphemistically called "revenue enhancements" aimed at mitigating the effect on the federal deficit of the previous year's large tax cut package. It was obviously a package of tax increases, that were not called tax increases mostly because President Reagan would not accept anything labelled "Tax Increase." This fact did not prevent Reagan administration officials and Republican allies in the Senate from writing most of the package themselves.

This trip down memory lane was inspired by the discordant note in the Post story about Iraq, helpfully supplied by President Bush himself in his radio message Saturday:

"The establishment of a democratic constitution is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance. Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed. We're hunting down the terrorists and training the security forces of a free Iraq so Iraqis can defend their own country. Our approach can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation....

The terrorists cannot defeat us on the battlefield. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve. That will not happen on my watch. Withdrawing our troops from Iraq prematurely would betray the Iraqi people, and would cause others to question America's commitment to spreading freedom and winning the war on terror. So we will honor the fallen by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, and by doing so we will ensure that freedom and peace prevail."

This and the rest of the radio address is boilerplate, repeating language Bush has used many times in the past. It is also at considerable variance from the tone set by the Post's sources. For example:

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."


"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."

and again

"We've said we won't leave a day before it's necessary. But necessary is the key word -- necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us," a U.S. official said.

What is going on here? The best case scenario is probably the TEFRA scenario: Bush, like Reagan determined to maintain control of the presentation of policy, is allowing subordinates to gradually alter the substance of policy. Other possibilities are less hopeful. Administration officials may be speaking anonymously out of desperation, using a traditional Washington tactic to get a message through to a President reluctant to heed it; they could also be getting encouraging signals from a White House that nevertheless has not decided to do what they recommend, the reasoning here being that Bush still believes in staying the course but knows he cannot afford to lose too many more people from his thin national security team.

I don't know; I only hope. At this point the TEFRA scenario looks pretty good to me. I will confess a bias -- I never considered the creation of a stable, liberal democracy in Iraq, let alone one that would serve as a beacon for the rest of the Arab world, to be an attainable objective. Foreign policy, as Henry Kissinger said, should not be confused with social work, and the rehabilitation of a culture backward to begin with and deeply traumatized by decades of Baathist rule is social work on a massive scale, requiring far more time and resources than we can prudently commit to one mid-sized Arab country.

The commitment having been made, however unwisely, the United States has an obligation to try to make it good. We have other obligations too, though, that we cannot afford to subordinate indefinitely to this one. In addition, without the pressure of knowing that American forces will not be there indefinitely Iraqi political factions are less likely to proceed in a timely manner to agree on a constitution and a political arrangement to govern the country. At some point we have to find out if the Iraqis can establish a stable government, or not. It's at least a little bit encouraging that some administration officials are aware that point is fast approaching.

posted by Joseph Britt at 06:15 PM | Comments (14)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Institutional Advocacy

My thanks to Dan, first of all, for turning his blog over to me this week. There are hundreds of bloggers on the Web today discussing politics and policy issues, but people looking to learn something new, to have the essentials of complex issues clarified or just to read good writing are regularly rewarded by only a few. Dan has been one of those for almost three years now (it will be three years next month), which considering the many other demands on his time is just remarkable.

In a polity grown used to overheated rhetoric it takes a major effort to step so far over the line of propriety that one's own allies object. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) made such an effort this week with its television ad charging that John Roberts had been a patron of abortion clinic bombers in the 1990s. The New York Times today asked that NARAL apologize; The Washington Post called the ad a "smear." Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter said NARAL's ad was"...blatantly untrue and unfair." Mildly conservative but pro-choice John Tierney now describes himself as "pro-choice but anti-NARAL."

Well, there's one blow struck for civility: NARAL pulled the ad. But on NARAL's own web site, targeted at its fundraising base, the message hasn't changed at all:

"Roberts argued in support of the violent clinic protesters at Operation Rescue who have tried to block women's access to basic health care services with bombs and threats of murder."


"At the time, Roberts ignored widespread clinic violence and please [sic] from women and state law enforcement."

NARAL is an experienced and competent lobbying organization; its leadership knows it will probably lose the confirmation battle over Roberts. Why the vitriol? Sen. Specter's August 11 letter to NARAL head Nancy Keenan nails the issue in one sentence:

"I have...previously raised questions about using Supreme Court nominations as fundraising events without appropriate regard for the subject matter involved."

The playing to the activist base that Tierney and other commentators criticize as a political tactic is not primarily that. It is instead a fundraising tactic; NARAL used, and continues to use, violent rhetoric to its most committed (or most gullible) supporters, seeking not votes against John Roberts but money for itself.

There are dozens of institutions in Washington doing the same thing. If an issue that can be used as a hook for fundraising doesn't exist, one can be invented. It isn't enough for institutional advocates to be effective; they also have to look busy. An example of this phenomenon in action is legislation passed last year in the House striking down gun laws in the District of Columbia. The institutional advocate behind this is, of course, the National Rifle Association, which has been successful enough on its big issues that it now has to keep the money rolling in by conjuring up new mortal threats to gun rights, in this case local laws and ordinances that have been in place since 1976.

Media coverage of hot-button issues usually skirts this aspect of them. There may not be a good way for a reporter to ask a source who works for one of Washington's institutional advocates whether his employer is only taking a position on some bill or nomination to pay for a new building or a bonus for the senior management. Elected officials have little interest in raising the subject either; facing low-turnout elections in which interest group money and activist voter turnout can be decisive, Senators and members of Congress would have powerful incentives to ignore the self-interest behind institutional advocacy even if they had strong views of their own about the issues in question. And more often than not, they don't.

The easy thing to do is to take institutional advocacy at face value, something most observers of Washington learned long ago is often a mistake with respect to advocacy from business, labor groups or other organized interests with a stake in legislation and government policy. Controversy itself is the stake for institutional advocates, many of which may indeed have other reasons for the positions they take, but all of which need a certain level of alarm, hostility and bitterness in Washington in order to prosper and grow.

posted by Joseph Britt at 01:56 PM | Comments (8)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Incentives do matter -- the oil edition

With oil pushing $67 a barrel, one might ask what the effect has been on the U.S. economy. The aggregate answer would seem to be a surprising "not much" -- pergaps because, as in the seventies, petrodollars are being recycled back into the U.S. economy.

Brad Setser, however, does observe one subtle change in oil imports from June's trade data:

The US -- obviously - is spending a lot more to import oil. The US oil import bill in the first half of 2005 was about $29 billion more than the US oil import bill in the first half of 2004. All told, I expect the US to spend about $57 b more on imported oil in 2005 than in 2004.

The story is a bit different if you look at the amount of oil the US imports, not how much the US pays for it. Oil import volumes grew by 7.3% in 2003, and 5.7% in 2004. The pace of increase so far this year. Only 2.3%. Higher prices are having an impact.

Brad also has some good things to say about U.S. export performance.

Readers are invited to speculate whether oil at, say $70 a barrel, would have stagflationary effects.

posted by Dan at 04:12 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

"I was just made by the Presbyterian Church"

You'll just have to click here to find out the meaning of the post title.

It reminds me of an episode from a criminally underrated television series, News Radio. In the "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" episode, Jimmy James needs to read his own autobiography after it was translated into Japanese and then re-translated into English.

And you at home can play this game too!! Just go to Alta Vista's Babelfish page, pick a favorite piece of dialogue, translate it and then retranslate it.

posted by Dan at 12:10 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

When negotiations suck eggs....

Time magazine's Romesh Ratnesar has a long story on Condoleezza Rice and her growing foreign policy clout:

Rice has wrested control over the tone and direction of U.S. foreign policy away from war-cabinet hard-liners, curbing their unilateralist bluster. She persuaded President George W. Bush to support negotiations with North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs, though both countries have balked at offers from the U.S. and its allies. In the process, she has cemented her status as the President's most trusted lieutenant, a relationship that makes her the most influential Secretary of State in more than a decade.

For Ivo Daalder, this turn to negotiations is all to the good -- thought that's not because they're guaranteed to succeed:

The purpose of negotiations in these kinds of situations is really two-fold: to try to resolve the issue through a mutual give-and-take and arrive at an outcome that both parties see as preferable to the status quo or, failing that, to demonstrate that you are looking for such an outcome and thus place the onus for failure squarely on the other side.

The main reason why Rice may have been able to convince Bush and Cheney that a demonstrable commitment to negotiations was now necessary is that the North had succeeded in isolating us rather than themselves. For now, the tables have turned -- opening up the possibility that the North reassesses the value of giving in or, at the very least, making clear that they rather than we are to be blamed if negotiations fail. In the latter case, we will have laid the for gaining support for a more coercive strategy, should that be desirable.

This all sounds eminently sensible.... except for a one teensy little problem -- what happens if our allies shift their position during the negotiations? Both the Iran and North Korea cases require active consultation and coordination with allies that might, just might, change their minds about what constitutes unacceptable behavior.

David Adesnik points out that with regard to Iran, even the Washington Post's editorial team thinks this:

the editors of the Post argue that

The experience of letting the Europeans do it their way, offering trade and economic incentives before bringing in sanctions or making any military threats, has been enormously important...Now, any steps taken to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons will have international credibility.

Finally, the Post adds a caveat

What remains to be seen is whether the Europeans will come through, as they have promised they would, with a tough-minded push for sanctions.

Consider, for a moment, the tension between those last two statements. What if the Europeans don't follow through? If, at that point, we strike out on our own, will we no longer have "international credibility"? In other words, is the price of credibility that we always follow the European lead?

With regard to North Korea, there is the tricky problem that South Korea has now decided to back North Korea's demands for a peaceful nuclear program. This is an logical outcome of South Korea's sunshine policy -- a problem that I mentioned two years ago.

Won Joon Choe and Jack Kim explain in the Christian Science Monitor why the South Koreans have been acting in such a peculiar manner:

Many South Koreans no longer see North Korea as a threat. Instead of a mortal enemy, North Korea has become transmogrified into a sympathetic brother in the South Korean imagination.

This transmogrification is mainly government-induced. Since the election of the longtime dissident Kim Dae Jung to the presidency in 1997, Seoul has pursued the "Sunshine Policy" - a policy designed to appease Pyongyang's murderous regime through massive economic bribery.

To sell this policy to a skeptical electorate, Kim spearheaded a comprehensive propaganda campaign to reconstruct the South's image of the North. This campaign included government censorship and intimidation of those who would criticize North Korea. As a result of this ongoing campaign, South Koreans are now increasingly kept in the dark about the true nature of Pyongyang's gulag state.

Even more troubling, however, is Seoul's belief that it may actually benefit from the North Korean nukes....

These differences between Washington and Seoul regarding Pyongyang's nukes will continue to frustrate the Bush administration's attempt to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. While it is unlikely that Pyongyang would give up its nukes without a credible threat of military action, the current leftist government in Seoul, headed by Kim Dae Jung's successor Roh Moo Hyun, would never back a military solution. Given that Seoul bankrolls Pyongyang, it would also be difficult for the US to impose workable economic sanctions. Even the Chinese, whose influence the Bush administration has come to rely on as the last best hope, have complained that Seoul's appeasement emboldens Pyongyang and renders it less amenable to Beijing's pressure. (emphasis added)

So, contrary to Daalder, there is another possible outcome from negotiations besides a fair settlement and a shifting of blame -- the possibility that our allies back down leaving the U.S. in the lurch.

[So you're saying screw negotiations, right?--ed.] Alas, no -- for the North Korean case in particular, negotiations are a lousy, rotten option -- until you consider the alternatives -- which Fred Kaplan did last month in Slate:

In the case of the United States, the Bush administration's top national security officials—Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush himself—just didn't want an accord with North Korea, didn't want even to sit down and talk. Kim Jong-il is an evil dictator; he'd broken an agreement by resuming his nuclear program; merely negotiating with him would be rewarding him for bad behavior; signing a treaty with him would legitimize and perpetuate his reign. Bush's policy in the first term was to wait for Kim's regime to collapse and, in the meantime, to take a look at the war plans.

Then three things happened. First, Kim's regime didn't collapse. Cheney tried to convince the Chinese to cut off aid, which might have done the trick; but they didn't want millions of North Korean refugees to pour across their borders. Second, the Joint Chiefs told President Bush that the war plans were too risky; nobody knew where all the targets were, and Kim Jong-il had thousands of artillery rockets a few minutes away from Seoul; if he retaliated, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans could die. Besides, the South Korean government announced that it would not endorse—or allow its territory to be used for—a U.S. airstrike or invasion.

In other words, "regime change" wasn't happening, and war didn't look like a real option.

So my point is this -- the U.S. is favoring negotiations right now not because they're such an alluring alternative -- it's because given our resource constraints and the countries we are dealing with, the negotiation option is the best of a rotten set of alternatives.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

I've got my red phone... what about you?

Earlier this week, India and Pakistan announced confidence-building measures tp prevent nuclear war, which include "hotlines between their foreign secretaries and director generals of military operations next month to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks of mishaps." according to Pakistan's Daily Times.

Yesterday, North Korea and South Korea announced that theu had "successfully tested a hotline on Wednesday aimed at helping avoid naval confrontations in the Yellow Sea by allowing direct contact between the two militaries," according to Reuters.

Quick, before hotlines jump the shark, readers are strongly encouraged to suggest the next pair of enduring rivals that should acquire a hotline.... and no, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie do not count.

posted by Dan at 12:29 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A very important post about.... my early gender confusion

Focus on the Family's Focus on the Child has ever so helpfully set up a web site entitled "Is My Child Becoming Homosexual?" There are some very useful tips for parents:

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

1. A strong feeling that they are “different” from other boys.

2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even “think” effeminately.

7. A repeatedly stated desire to be — or insistence that he is — a girl.

Well, as a child, I certainly suffered from 1, 2, 4, 5, and maybe 6 (Depends how you define "think effeminately").

If you'll excuse me, I have to go tell my wife and children about my latent homosexual qualities and accompanying gender confusion. I fear that my son will probably cry and feel different.

Readers, talk amongst yourselves -- in particular, how boys who like the "the roughhousing that other boys enjoy" could never be gay.

Hat tip to Giblets at Fafblog, who provides additional tips for detecting future homosexuals in our nation's children:

Dunk your son into a deep pool of water. If he floats to the top, he is full of buoyant gaymotrons (identified by physicists as the gay particle) and therefore gay. If he sinks to the bottom and drowns, he is a poor swimmer and unathletic and therefore gay. If he begins to sink and then just sorta hangs there, the water is gay.

UPDATE: Another topic for discussion -- did this historical character display gender confusion as well?

posted by Dan at 04:59 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (3)

The Chinese step closer to currency transparency

That's the message contained in this Financial Times report:

China stepped up the pace of its effort to liberalise its currency regime, allowing more financial institutions and companies to trade foreign currencies in the spot market and introducing renminbi forward contracts and swaps into the onshore interbank market.

The announcement follows the landmark move by the central bank three weeks ago to scrap the renminbi’s decade-long peg to the US dollar, and is in line with Beijing’s pledge to gradually introduce broader currency reform.

It also coincides with a speech by Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank governor, who was reported by several news agencies to have revealed more details of the make-up of the currency basket to which the renminbi is referenced after it was de-pegged from the US dollar.

The US dollar, the Japanese yen, the euro, and the South Korean won are the dominant currencies in the basket, news agencies quoted Mr Zhou as saying in Shanghai. The basket also includes Singapore dollar, sterling pound, the Malaysian ringgit, the Russian rouble, the Australian dollar, the Thai baht and the Canadian dollar, the reports said.

Click here to read Zhou Xiaochuan's speech.

UPDATE: This April 2005 World Economy paper by Michael Funke and Jörg Rahn suggests that even if the renminbi were allowed to float, its appreciation would be far less than many believe.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (3)

Ping away!!

For the last few weeks the trackback feature on the blog has been out of order. My apologies -- it should be working now.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

When capital and labor are substitutes

Keith Bradsher has an interesting piece in the New York Times on GM's recent success producing and selling cars in China. The interesting fact is the way in which China's relative abundance of labor altered GM's capital investment:

In this obscure corner of southern China, General Motors seems to have hit on a hot new formula: $5,000 minivans that get 43 miles to the gallon in city driving. That combination of advantages has captivated Chinese buyers, propelling G.M. into the leading spot in this nascent car market....

To build the cars, G.M. helped gut and rebuild a former tractor factory in ways that could become a model for automobile production in China for years to come.

Long white halls erected in 1958 during Mao's Great Leap Forward still stand here, the paint peeling in places, the wood window frames warped and the windowpanes cracked and broken. Inside, however, is a factory that combines old and new management techniques. Small, plastic racks of parts delivered several times or more a day have replaced large bins of parts delivered to the assembly line in big shipments every few days. This way, the factory can keep low inventories and order quick design changes, if necessary, from nearby suppliers.

The assembly process has only one robot, for sealing windshields, relying mostly on workers earning $60 a month, above average for this impoverished region. That comes after G.M.'s experience in Shanghai, where it installed four dozen robots for its first assembly line only to find them much costlier and less flexible than people; G.M.'s second assembly line there was built with only four robots.

"Low cost doesn't just mean low wages, it means low investment," Mr. [Stephen] Small [the G.M.-appointed chief financial officer of the joint venture] said.

Worker safety in most Chinese factories is abysmal by Western standards. But workers at the factory here wear safety glasses, and the equipment has automatic cutoffs to prevent workers from losing fingers.

The depressing fact is that, naturally, GM is punishing the guy that came up with the process and product ideas behind the minivan in the first place:

Their development was led by an American, Philip F. Murtaugh, a native of Ohio and a maverick executive who was willing to zig while the rest of G.M. was zagging. Mr. Murtaugh was able to create in China the kind of innovative environment that G.M. has struggled for decades to achieve in its American operations. But whether G.M. can duplicate elsewhere its achievements in China or even keep its pace here is unclear.

In what may be a telling sign of the corporate culture at G.M., Mr. Murtaugh's success in China led not to promotion but to his departure from the company. G.M. declined to discuss personnel matters, but both it and Mr. Murtaugh said he resigned and was not dismissed.

A soft-spoken man in a company known for autocratic leaders, Mr. Murtaugh ran the China operations for more than nine years from his base in Shanghai, repeatedly making some of the best calls in the industry. Now he finds himself unemployed and living in a small community in rural Kentucky.

His resignation in March, at the age of 49, came shortly after senior company executives reorganized management to give more power to Detroit executives to oversee design, engineering and various manufacturing disciplines all over the world, including operations in China.

In a world where local knowledge about consumer demand and the most efficient way to mix factor endowments are important, the GM decision to centralize its management structure seems particularly brain-dead.

Read the whole piece.

UPDATE: A 2003 McKinsey Quarterly essay by Vivek Agrawal, Diana Farrell, and Jaana K. Remes touches on this concept of reorganizing production processes to exploit local factor endowments. The auto sector in China is one example:

Certain automotive original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in China use robots for only 30 percent of the welding in car assembly, as compared with 90 percent or more in US or European operations. (BMW’s plant in South Africa employs the same line of attack.) In India, domestic car companies have reduced the need for automation throughout the manufacturing process: they use more manual labor to load and change dies in pressing, body welding, materials handling, and other functions—while suffering no discernible loss of quality in the finished product. In this way, these companies manage to cut their assembly costs by 4 to 5 percent or even more and save themselves millions of dollars annually.

Ultimately, companies might completely redesign the sequence in which tasks are performed, in order to leverage the opportunities above more fully. Consider the simple example of a call-center agent who manages customer accounts. In high-wage countries, each customer call is routed to an agent who listens to the request, opens up a computer database, and updates the account in real time. Neither the computer nor the telephone is used efficiently, since the agent is either talking or typing but not both.

Offshore, an agent equipped with only a telephone could write the customer request by hand into a tracking log and move on to the next call. Telecom costs are reduced because the agent spends less time on calls and customers less time on hold. Another agent, working at a computer station used around the clock, could enter the information into the database. While the new process requires more agents to handle requests, expensive computer hardware and software and telephone lines are used more intensively. Added wages are more than offset by savings on computers, software licenses, and telephone connections (Exhibit 4). The economics of an Indian call center suggest that this simple change could actually boost current profit margins for offshoring vendors by as much as 50 percent.

These examples point to a big warning sign that should be put on any news story about job creation in offshored sectors in low wage countries:


posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Your new blog for the day

Through rigorous market surveys, the hard working staff here at knows that its readership wants to find blogs discussing foreign aid and economic development. [Well, that and the occasional mention of Salma Hayek--ed]

Without further ado, click over to Private Sector Development Blog, an inelegantly-named but interesting read by Tim Harford and Pablo Halkyard, two economists at the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (that's the bank with the Bank that lends to private sector entities).

This post links to a new study on health care in India that concludes:

[T]he gap between what doctors do and what they know responds to incentives: Doctors in the fee-for-service private sector are closer in practice to their knowledge frontier than those in the fixed-salary public sector. Under-qualified private sector doctors, even though they know less, provide better care on average than their better-qualified counterparts in the public sector. These results indicate that to improve medical services, at least for poor people, there should be greater emphasis on changing the incentives of public providers rather than increasing provider competence through training.

Go check out the blog.

posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Is there a grand compromise on immigration?

Tamar Jacoby thinks the answer is yes. She explains why in the Weekly Standard:

[E]ven with politicians as diverse as President Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Senators Kyl, Cornyn, McCain, and Edward Kennedy weighing in--there is much more consensus on immigration than is generally recognized.

We're not quite at the point yet where, as is said about the Israeli-Palestinian problem, "everyone knows what the solution is--the only difficulty is getting there." But there is increasing agreement about the contours of the problem and even about critical elements of the solution.

The emerging consensus starts with a shared grasp not just that the system is broken, but also why its breakdown is unacceptable to Americans: because of what it means for the rule of law and for our national security.

Gone are the days when one side in the debate was concerned about immigrants and the other about angry native-born voters--when one side wanted expansive annual quotas and the other wanted tighter control over the system. Today, reformers as different as Kyl and Kennedy (cosponsor of the McCain legislation) recognize that robust immigration is a boon to the U.S. economy, but that we must construct a system--a more regulated, orderly system--that permits foreign workers to enter the country in a lawful manner. Both sides recognize that we need immigrants and the rule of law--that we need foreign workers, but also control. The war on terrorism demands this better control, and so, increasingly, does the public. From the Minutemen volunteers on the Arizona border to angry suburbanites in Herndon, Virginia, and on Long Island, voters are expressing frustration, and lawmakers in both parties know they must respond.

Second, and even more encouraging, politicians as far apart as the president and Senator Kennedy grasp the paradoxical nature of the remedy: namely, that the best way to deliver control is not, as many reflexively think, to crack down harder, but rather to expand the channels through which immigrant workers can enter the country legally. This consensus is reflected in the competing bills in the Senate, and it is at the heart of the White House's position (a position reiterated in recent weeks in a series of private meetings with legislators). All of the current reform proposals rest on two central pillars: a guest worker program and much tougher enforcement. (emphasis added)

There might be a consensus at the elite level, but I'm very skeptical that this consensus extends down to the populace. Click here for why I'm skeptical.

The interesting question is if Jacoby is correct, whether public hostility would derail any proposed reform.

posted by Dan at 01:18 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 8, 2005

Will Singapore remain the outlier?

Whenever people start talking about the interrelationships between regime type, the rule of law, economic development, and political corruption, the outlier is always Singapore.

Think that economic development inexorably leads to freedom of the press? Hello, meet Singapore.

Think that authoritarianism automatically leads to corruption? Have you met Singapore?

Think that no government can plug its country into the Internet while still retaining a vast web of censorship? Yes, yes, that is Singapore over there in the corner giving you the raspberry.

[So what do political scientists say whenever the Singapore is brought up as the counterexample to the general rule?--ed.] There are a few options available:

OPTION #1: "Oh, you say a small city-state violates my covering law? I say 'feh.' All statistical relationships will have outliers. The general observation still holds."

OPTION #2: "Unless Lee Kuan Yew can be cloned, this is a unique example of political leadership that doesn't generalize beyond the borders of Singapore."

OPTION #3: "Oh, Singapore won't remain an exception for long. A one party state cannot be combined with information technology and a free market and live to tell the tale. You just wait.... yes, you wait right over there in the corner."

OPTION #4: "Singapore is merely the exemplar to demonstrate that these kind of feel-good generalizations break down when applied outside of OECD countries. Deal with it."

Some of these options are not mutually exclusive.

My thought piece on information technology and regime type takes some steps towards the third position. So I'm pleased to see that Associated Press reporter En-Lai Yeoh is also moving in that direction:

Singaporeans are seeing "Sex and the City" on TV. Actors may utter four-letter words on stage. Opposition parties can gather without police permission--as long as they do it indoors.

Tiny and famously disciplined Singapore is turning 40 on Tuesday, and continuing to lighten up. Gone are the days when chewing gum and long hair were banned. Singaporeans are even being allowed to bungee-jump and dance on bar tables.

In April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained: "We risk being relegated to the second league if we rely only on past achievements. We must continue to reinvent ourselves."

Political analyst Ho Khai Leong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies says the ruling People's Action Party is being pragmatic without relaxing its grip on power over the island and its 4.2 million citizens.

"It can't remain authoritarian when globalization is on your doorstep," he said. "There is a dynamic to the desire to be more open."....

The Internet puts the government in a quandary. It knows the future depends on an Internet-savvy public but recognizes the Web's power to bypass state-controlled media and foment its own kind of people power.

The Internet effect was evident in June, when an online petition became a driving force behind the ouster of the head of the largest government-backed charity, the National Kidney Foundation, for allegedly misusing funds.

"Rarely have Singaporeans showed such unanimous purpose in demanding change, and it worked--an undeniable plus for democracy," said political commentator Seah Chiang Nee.

I'm not holding my breath anytime soon for displays of Singaporean people power. But this story suggests that maybe there are limits to how far Singapore's exceptional identity can be maintained.

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

The CIA meets the Department of Common Sense

Timothy Burger reports in Time on a recent initiative by Porter Goss:

In what experts say is a welcome nod to common sense, the CIA, having spent billions over the years on undercover agents, phone taps and the like, plans to create a large wing in the spookhouse dedicated to sorting through various forms of data that are not secret--such as research articles, religious tracts, websites, even phone books--but yet could be vital to national security. Senior intelligence officials tell TIME that CIA Director Porter Goss plans to launch by Oct. 1 an "open source" unit that will greatly expand on the work of the respected but cash-strapped office that currently translates foreign-language broadcasts and documents like declarations by extremist clerics. The budget, which could be in the ballpark of $100 million, is to be carefully monitored by John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who discussed the new division with Goss in a meeting late last month. "We will want this to be a separate, identifiable line in the CIA program so we know precisely what this center has in terms of investment, and we don't want money moved from it without [Negroponte's] approval," said a senior official in the DNI's office.

On the one hand, this seems like an excellent idea.

On the other hand, I keep wondering why the hell something like this wasn't instituted, oh, ten twenty thirty sixty years ago??!!!!

posted by Dan at 12:53 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Peter Jennings, R.I.P.

The longtime anchor of ABC news died on Sunday, four months after announcing he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

His career tracked a lot of recent history, as the ABC obit observes:

As one of America's most distinguished journalists, Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world. He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the '90s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and '80s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time. He has worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland's communist leaders were forced from power. And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.

On Dec. 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC's Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, "ABC 2000." Some 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television event ever. "The day belonged to ABC News," wrote The Washington Post, "&with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring." Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.

Jennings also led ABC's coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and America's subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network's longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him "the center of gravity," while the Washington Post wrote, "Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage." The coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.

I am not and never have been a big network news watcher, but my preference was always ABC, and the Jennings' detached, analytical demeanor was the reason. He will be missed.

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Good news on the whole pandemic thing

I've expressed concern in recent months about the possibility of a pandemic of avian flu emerging from the birds of East Asia. So it's only fair to point out when there is good news on this front. Lawrence K. Altman provides some on the front page of the New York Times:

Government scientists say they have successfully tested in people a vaccine that they believe can protect against the strain of avian influenza that is spreading in birds through Asia and Russia.

Health officials have been racing to develop a vaccine because they worry that if that strain mutated and combined with a human influenza virus to create a new virus, it could spread rapidly through the world. (The vaccine cannot lead to such a situation because it is made from killed virus.)

Tens of millions of birds have died from infection with the virus and culling to prevent the spread of the virus. About 100 people have been infected, and about 50 have died from this strain of the avian influenza virus, called A(H5N1). So far there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission, but that is what health officials fear, because it could cause a pandemic. And that fear has driven the intense research to develop a vaccine.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, said that although the vaccine that had undergone preliminary tests could be used on an emergency basis if a pandemic developed, it would still be several months before that vaccine was tested further and, if licensed, offered to the public.

"It's good news," Dr. Fauci said. "We have a vaccine."

posted by Dan at 01:00 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The law of comparative advantage is not dead

That's the message Jagdish Bhawgati delivered in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Friday, responding to Thomas "The World is Flat" Friedman.

[I]t is wrong to infer from this that the world has gone "flat," and that there is no comparative advantage left. The notion of a flat world is as wrong metaphorically now as it was when Copernicus showed it to be literally wrong. To be more precise than his metaphor, Mr. Friedman has on his mind not the world but a large fraction of it -- India and China. He believes that the gradient which the citizens of these countries had to climb to get to our shores and out-compete us has now disappeared, giving way to a level playing field that we ignore at our peril.

But he takes too literally his friends in Bangalore. They flex their muscles on IT the way Popeye does on spinach, and tell him that some Indians can now do anything that the Americans can do. But it is a leap to translate this into the proposition that several Indians will now do everything that the Americans do. Then again, we have Intel Chairman Craig Barrett talking about 300 million Indians and Chinese professionals who will hurtle down the flat road. And Clyde Prestowitz, in his latest book, carries the argument to its logical conclusion with the American nightmare that there will be three billion Indians and Chinese capitalists soon down that road.

In truth, the flat road is not flat at all. Take the supply of educated manpower in India. Of the numbers in the age cohort for college education, only about 6% make it to college. Of these, only two-thirds graduate, and just a small fraction can read English. Of these, a further fraction can speak it; and of these, a smaller fraction still can speak it in a way which you and I can understand. The truth of the matter, therefore, is that even for the call-answer and back-office services, the numbers who will compete are only a very small fraction of the numbers being thrown about. India's huge size and the dazzle of the few Institutes of Technology are totally misleading. The road is not flat; the gradient becomes steep as wages rise for those who can manage while others cannot qualify.

Again, just think back on why China has not managed to break into IT the way it has on a range of manufactures, while India has. Surely, that has to do with the fact that India is democratic and hence IT can flourish. By contrast, the CP (the Communist Party) is not compatible with the PC: Authoritarian regimes are fearful of IT -- a gigantic pothole in the road!

Such fears of a flat road were rampant when many thought that Japan would be a fearsome Godzilla, trampling over our activities all around. But then it turned out that the Japanese were real klutzes in the financial sector. They still are. And remember that while the Chinese and Indians have lower wages, we have better infrastructure, stronger venture capital markets, an ability to attract talent from around the world, and a culture of inventiveness. Comparative advantage persists; the road is simply not flat.

The best rebuttal to Bhagwati's argument, by the way, is not Thomas Friedman, but labor economist Richard Freeman. So go check both of them out.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 5, 2005

Obscure economic indicator... cool...

Like everyone else a few people serious geeks econ geeks, I have an avid interest in unconventional indices that measure conventional economic phenomenon. For example, the Economist's Big Mac index -- which develops exchange rates based on the price of a Big Mac in different countries -- is a crude but pithy way of demonstrating the difference between market exchange rates and purchasing power parity. Even better, it accomplishes a pedagogical task that does not come easily to economists -- providing an intuitive way to appreciate economic phenomenon.

I bring this up because Daniel Gross has an excellent piece in Slate that details an interesting yet obscure leading indicator for economic growth -- parking rates:

Moore began an effort to systematically assess the state of the national parking market. For five years, he's been publishing an annual guide to the ins and outs of parking. If you want to know how much a monthly reserved spot in a covered garage in the Raleigh, N.C., central business district costs, check out Moore's 2005 North America CBD Parking Rate Survey.

But the survey doesn't simply tell you how much it costs to stow your SUV in a garage in Milwaukee for a day ($7). It can tell us something about what's going on in the economy—and about the relative health of the business and consumer sectors. Moore checks out the prices only once a year, but by keeping an eye on prices more frequently, sidewalk analysts might be able to get a leg up on some trends.

The survey charts several rates in 58 markets—monthly reserved and unreserved spots, and daily parking rates. Moore believes that the price for monthly spaces—occupied primarily by commuting workers—moves in sync with the health of the office market. But the daily rates—occupied by theatergoers and shoppers, tourists, people attending conferences, and roving consultants—generally track the health of the broader, consumer-based economy....

parking rates can make a good economic indicator. Parking is a highly competitive business with lots of pricing transparency—as with gasoline, the price is generally displayed on a large public sign. Managers and owners thus have the ability and incentive to react quickly to changed market conditions. As a result, a spurt in growth or a sudden downturn is more likely to show up at the parking garage more rapidly than it would in a GDP number or a company's quarterly earnings. If you see a rash of discounts on monthly reserved spots, it's a sign that companies in the area may be doing poorly. Or if daily prices spike in a garage attached to a downtown retail complex, it's probably good news for the companies inside.

My only objection is that I think Gross might be exaggerating the transparency -- compared to gas stations, parking garages are most likely to have their Early Bird specials in big print to onscure their ordinary rates.

Still, it's a nifty metric.

posted by Dan at 04:41 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

My Normblog profile

Norman Geras has added me to his long list of profiles.

If you're dying to know my favorite proverb or my one useful piece of life wisdom, go check it out

posted by Dan at 09:12 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2005

August's Books of the Month

The general interest book is -- [um, like, it's August. Could you please suggest something that's less.... non-fictiony?--ed.] I'll do that suggestion one better -- I'm not going to recommend a book. Instead, I'm strongly recommending that you go out and purchase Firefly -- the Complete Series -- a DVD of Joss Whedon's sci fi series from 2002. I confess that I missed the show when it first came out, but thanks to Tyler Cowen's suggestion I checked it out and am now completely hooked. There are many, many, many paeans to Firefly in the blogosphere if you're interested in them. Anyone who likes Battlestar Galactica needs to watch this show in order to understand the debt, both in terms of themes and visual style, that Galactica owes to Firefly (this is not meant to diss Galactica, which is a fine show, but rather point to its influences). At its core, Firefly is Whedon doing what Whedon does best -- making his watchers forget the multiple layers of irony they are used to in popular culture and care very deeply about what happens to the little world he has created. Be sure to check out Whedon's commentary tracks for some of the episodes as well -- you'll see that he cares even more about the characters than you do.

[So why now, why not save this until the fall?--ed.] Because Whedon has also accomplished something extrardinary -- he managed to convince a major movie studio to commit a fair amount of money and let him make a movie, called Serenity, based on the show. Here's the synopsis:

Joss Whedon, the Oscar? - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family ?squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Whedon even contributed a final entry on the making-of-the-movie blog.

You can watch the Serenity trailer here. I suspect it will be an entertaining film regardless of whether you have seen Firefly -- Whedon also wrote the screenplays for Speed and Toy Story -- but I bet it will be an even better viewing experience if you have seen all 14 episodes of the show (the Sci Fi channel is also airing them).

[How in the hell did Whedon convince a studio to convert a failed TV show into a movie?--ed.] The best answer I've seen is in this Weekly Standard article by M.E. Russell. Besides the most succinct description of the show I've seen yet, ("Think of it as Star Wars, if Han Solo were the main character, and he still shot Greedo first."), Russell explains why Universal thinks this is worth doing:

Budgeted at a mere $40 million, Serenity will almost certainly break even once box office, home-video, and other aftermarket revenues are counted--which means Universal can afford to use the film to beta-test a new way of selling movies.

Rough-draft versions of films--with temporary music, editing and "placeholder" special effects that look like Nintendo 64 screenshots--usually have a carefully controlled release only to tightly-monitored focus-group screenings. They're never shown repeatedly to their core audiences (paying core audiences, mind you) four months in advance of their official release dates. Nor do actors and producers attend these screenings with barnstorming vigor: But in Serenity's case, all the major cast members have made surprise appearances during the screenings--signing autographs and holding lengthy Q&A sessions afterwards.

At the May 26 showing in Portland, some significant studio brass were on hand. Universal Pictures marketing bigwig Julie Brantley and Serenity executive producer Chris Buchanan introduced the film and watched it from café £hairs on the side of the auditorium....

And even if the producers are worried, it's a calculated gamble. The June 23 wave of previews has been expanded to 35 cities--including a couple in Canada--but the movie has still only been seen by a small percentage of hard-core fans. So the screenings create the illusion of scarcity and keep the fan message boards alive by relieving pre-release suspense in little kettle-steam puffs. It creates all-new sub-hierarchies of fans with "I saw it before you did" bragging rights. It inspires free advertising in the form of entertainment-press stories (including, well, this one) about the "Browncoat phenomenon." And, best of all for Team Whedon, revenue from these screenings will very likely be applied to Serenity's opening-weekend gross.

The marketing plan rises to evil-genius levels when you realize all the ways the move from April to September pried open six months' worth of free-publicity for the entire Firefly/Serenity franchise. Since the fan screenings began, Firefly DVD sales have shot up the genre charts at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. In July, a Dark Horse Serenity comic book, written by Whedon, will hit shelves, and the Sci-Fi Channel will soon start broadcasting the 14 Firefly episodes--all of them, in order.

None of which cost Universal a dime.

Of course, by blogging about this, I've become an unwitting pawn to the whole viral marketing approach.

Mmmm.... unwitting pawns....

Join the Browncoats, and go buy the goram DVD.

This month's international relations book is one that's been killing me for the past few weeks as I've been working on my APSA paper -- Susan Sell's Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights.

Sell's book is about the role that software, pharmaceutical, and entertainment firms played in having the United States lobby for the creation of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property system (TRIPS) within the World Trade Organization -- and then the counter-lobbying by developing countries and transnational activist networks that led to the November 2001 Doha Declaration, which explicitly carved out an exception to TRIPS "to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all."

It's the second part of the story that drives me crazy -- because if Sell's narrative is correct, it falsifies the argument I make in my own book on globalization and global governance. When the regulatory status quo is embraced by the two largest trading powers (the US and EU) and by powerful economic sectors embedded in those economies, there is no way that weaker countries and NGOs should be able to budge the status quo. And yet, if Sell's account is correct, that's exactly what happened (Any USTR folks who know otherwise, kindly e-mail me).

It's because Sell's account is so compelling that I'm in the middle of doing something that should happen more often in political science -- examining the cases that cut against my own hypothesis. Either this case is emblematic of a larger problem or it suggests a minor anomaly that I didn't account for in the original model, or the significance of the case is overblown. Reading through, I think it's a combination of the latter two, but it's a credit to Sell's book that she's making me sweat this case. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)

Medicine and the modern pitcher

On his 43rd birthday, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens has become his generation's Nolan Ryan, the Official Hero to American Middle-Aged Men everywhere.

No Red Sox fan can have an uncomplicated opinion of Clemens -- however, this Alan Schwarz article in provides a nice illustration of how medical advances made Clemens' long career possible:

[F]or most of baseball history, a "sore arm" was like a malevolent genie who visited pitchers in the night, entered their joints and corroded their futures from the inside with no explanation or recourse. Johnny Beazley, Karl Spooner, Mark Fidrych ... they all faded into anonymity before medicine could fix them, medicine we now take for granted. When you consider that almost every top modern pitcher has gone under the knife at some point -- heck, some throw harder after ligament-transplant surgery -- you realize what a lucky era we're in.

So lucky that most people forget that Roger Clemens could have been one of those pitchers we never heard from again. It was 20 years ago that he and his throbbing shoulder lay on the operating table -- before any 20-strikeout games, before any Cy Young awards and before arthroscopy was a sure thing. Before Dr. James Andrews was sure he could fix him....

In June 1985, Clemens learned that a shoulder tendon and nerve were rubbing together, causing "the nerve to rise and get as big as shoelaces," Clemens said then. He tried to pitch through it but ultimately couldn't. On Aug. 23, he was told that he had a "flap tear" in his shoulder and was reportedly "devastated" by the news. The only good news was that the arthroscope, which originally had fixed knees in the 1970s, had come far enough that it could be used, instead of the more invasive scalpel, to shave down the damaged tissue.

"We had very little knowledge [about pitchers] -- they hurt and that's about all we knew," recalls Dr. Andrews, who performed the hour-long surgery on Clemens. "We began to arthroscope shoulders and started being able to see what was inside. Roger was one of the early ones."....

Clemens has been such a machine for the past 20 years that many people can't (or don't want to) believe how close we were to losing him. I asked Andrews to consider what might have happened had Clemens been born just 10 years earlier and hurt his shoulder before the scalpel gave way to the arthroscope.

"We probably wouldn't have been able to fix it," Andrews says sadly. "He probably would have fallen by the wayside."

posted by Dan at 04:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The quaint old coup

Mauritania is a not-so-pleasant reminder of a relatively pleasant fact: military coup d'etats are a post-Cold War rarity. According to Patrick McGowan (‘African Military Coups d’Etat, 1956–2001: Frequency, Trends and Distribution’, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 41, issue 3, 2003.):

[T]he military coup is today almost exclusively an African phenomenon. Once frequent and widespread in the global South, since the mid-1980s successful military coups d’e´tat have become relatively rare in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia; whereas between 1985 and 2001 SSA [sub-Saharan Africa] experienced 21 successful coups and 41 failed coup attempts.

Outside of Africa, the only successful coups in the past decade have been in Haiti and Pakistan. Interestingly, the only countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been independent for 25 years and have avoided coups are Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius -- all of which are multiparty democracies. [UPDATE: Hmmm..... this previous sentence came straight from the McGowan article, but Jacob Levy is right to wonder why South Africa isn't on this list. One possibility is that McGowan includes attempted coups, and there might have been one in the late eighties/early nineties that escapes our collective memory.]

Even inside Africa, there is relatively good news -- although the pace of coup activity has not abated, according to McGowan the relative success of coup attempts has declined. In other words, there are as many coup attempts as in the past, but fewer of them succeed.

Why? One obvious reason for the decline in coups is the absence of great power support for them. Another reason might be contained in this London Times story by Jenny Booth:

The African Union today suspended the membership of Mauritania after yesterday's bloodless military coup deposed President Maaouiya Ould Taya.

The AU Peace and Security Council said that the suspension would remain in place until "constitutional order" is returned to the west African state.

"In light of the coup d’etat that took place on August 3... Mauritania’s participation in all AU activities should be suspended until the restoration of constitutional order in the country," the council said in a statement.

Here's a link to an earlier AU condemnation of the coup.

Whether this will actually alter the behavior of the coup plotters is doubtful at this point, but it's worth remembering that even this gesture would never have taken place ten years ago. And such gestures in the past have helped to thwart coups in Latin America.

The rest of the world's response has been along similar lines to what's happened in Mauritania.

Alas, focusing on Mauritania itself, it seems pretty clear that the coup does not do wonders for U.S. foreign policy, according to Booth's report:

The quick return to calm appeared to suggest there was widespread acceptance of President Taya’s overthrow. Islamic opposition parties celebrated the deposition of a ruler who had looked increasingly to the West, in response to alleged threats from al-Qaeda linked militants with ties to radical groups in Algeria.

On the other hand, this International Crisis Group report from March 2005 suggests that fears of radical Islamic activity are overblown. See also Princeton Lyman's CFR briefing on the coup.


posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Trade, China, and steel

The Chicago Tribune has two articles in its business section on trade with China -- both of which show that all is not what it seems when you analyze a bilateral economic relationship between two large countries.

The first story by Ameet Sachdev looks at the decision by Nucor to barnstorm in favor of the administration "getting tough" with China:

Under a big white tent adorned with American flags on the grounds of a steel mill, a school choir sang patriotic songs and a dinner of bratwurst and potato salad was laid out for hundreds.

But first, speeches about the economic threat from China.

Mixing an all-American theme with an ominous message, the chief executive of North Carolina-based Nucor Corp. came to the company's plant in Illinois as part of an unusual corporate barnstorming campaign designed to keep everyone focused on what Nucor sees as unfair competition.

"All too often jobs are being sent overseas because foreign competitors refuse to obey the law," said Dan DiMicco, a huge American flag draped behind him. "Too few people are saying anything about it, let alone trying to change it."

While DiMicco rarely mentioned China in his speech, he made it clear that he was referring to China and how it was looking to gobble up his company's jobs....

Manufacturers like Nucor continue to lobby politicians intensely on Capitol Hill about how China's currency controls and state-run companies give it an unfair advantage in global trade.

Nucor's grass-roots campaign in small towns like Bourbonnais is striking because of the commitment DiMicco has made to getting his message out. He has held seven such rallies in the past year, crisscrossing the country to visit towns where the company has steel operations, such as Crawfordsville, Ind., Berkeley, S.C., and Jewett, Texas.

Of course, as the story goes on, things get a bit more complicated:

Once a maker of nuclear testing equipment, Nucor has spent more than $1.1 billion since 2001 to purchase 10 steel plants, including the one in Bourbonnais, from troubled sellers. Thanks to surging steel prices last year the company's profits soared to $1.1 billion, from $62.8 million in 2003.

One of the reasons for high steel prices has been the unprecedented demand from China, though, a fact that was not mentioned at the rally....

[E]conomists say Nucor's statistics don't tell the full story.

"I would say most of the people who have studied this conclude that China is responsible for a very small portion of those job losses," said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C.

"The bigger problem we have is that exports to Europe have fallen," he said.

In a sidebar, Michael Oneal looks at how U.S. firms across the board will react to a further devaluation of the yuan. Turns out there won't be much of areaction:

Jean Blackwell, chief financial officer for Cummins Inc., of Columbus, Ind., said she's all for free trade and a free currency. But she also said it makes little difference in the company's decision-making.

Most of the engines and generators Cummins builds in China are sold in China, taking advantage of the country's economic growth. There is no currency effect.

Where currency does come into play is in the buying of parts. Cummins sources as many components as possible in China and the price of those parts went up along with the currency. On the other hand, demand for Cummins engines in China has been so robust that the company has had to bring in engines made in the U.S. and elsewhere to meet orders. Those products are now priced a little bit more competitively....

Philip Franklin, the chief financial officer at Littelfuse Inc. in Des Plaines, said it is possible a strong enough yuan could make heavy manufacturers selling goods in the U.S. reconsider moving production to China to chase low costs.

But for Littelfuse that wouldn't make sense.

The reason Franklin's company has two plants in China is that all of its customers--electronics makers--manufacture their products there.

If it looked like the yuan was having a negative effect on the economics at its China plants, Littelfuse could shift production to an even lower-cost plant in the Philippines. It wouldn't force production back to the U.S.

For Ralph Faison at Andrew Corp. in suburban Orland Park, the biggest concern these days is the soaring price of the copper Andrew uses in its telecom cable products.

A 100 percent spike in the price of copper over the past couple of years--partially due to soaring demand in growing markets like China--caught Andrew off guard in the most recent quarter, depressing earnings and hammering its stock price.

When it comes to China, however, Andrew is as bullish as it's ever been.

Andrew has three design centers in China and three manufacturing facilities. About a third of its total employment is in the People's Republic. Andrew sells in China a lot of what it makes there, "so we have a natural currency hedge," Faison said.

posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

"Where do you find the time to blog?"

This is the question I field the most when the topic of blogging comes up at cocktail parties and BBQs.

The answer is embedded in this CNN story:

Broadband Internet surfers in North America watch two fewer hours of television per week than do those without Internet access, while those using a dial-up connection watch 1.5 fewer hours of TV.

The data come from a Forrester Research study released Tuesday that uses what it calls the longest-running survey of its kind, counting nearly 69,000 people in the U.S. and Canada as participants.

Broadband Internet users watch just 12 hours of TV per week, compared with 14 hours for those who are offline, according to the study, "The State of Consumers and Technology: Benchmark 2005."

The Forrester page is of little use for those of us who aren't Forrester clients, but if you click on the video, you learn an interesting fact: according to their survey, only 2% of households in the United States read a blog once a week.

I should note that my lovely wife has a different answer to the title question -- "it's the time he would otherwise have used to pick up his socks."

posted by Dan at 04:56 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Following up on the avian flu

A follow-up post to June's discussion of the threat of an avian flu pandemic. There's some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that, according to the Financial Times' Clive Cookson, containing the spread of a pandemic is quite feasible:

A human outbreak of avian flu could be “nipped in the bud” preventing the deaths of millions of people in a pandemic if local public health measures are implemented quickly enough, two international research teams reported on Wednesday.

The scientists, based at Imperial College London and Emory University in Atlanta, said their computer modelling revealed two key conditions that must be met to stop an outbreak at source.

First, medical experts would need to identify the new viral strain a mutation of avian flu that spreads easily between humans when fewer than 40 people had been infected.

Second, preventative capsules of the antiviral drug Tamiflu would have to be given to thousands of people who might have come into contact with those infected. This would require the World Health Organisation to build an emergency stockpile of 3m courses of Tamiflu to be deployed anywhere at short notice, said Neil Ferguson, head of the Imperial College team.

At present the WHO holds just 120,000 courses of Tamiflu the only antiviral medicine that works well against all flu strains and can be taken by mouth but it is negotiating with Roche, the drug's Swiss manufacturer, to expand the stockpile to 1m doses or more. The company is expected to donate some or all of the Tamiflu to the WHO.

The bad news is that the computer simulations were based on "an outbreak in rural Thailand of flu caused by the H5N1 avian strain." I'm not sure how they would cope with where the strain has actually migrated. Douglas M. Birch explains in the Baltimore Sun:

A strain of avian influenza virus that can be lethal to humans has spread from Southeast Asia to poultry flocks in Russia and Kazakhstan, a scientific journal reported yesterday, leading a British researcher to warn that the virus may be approaching Europe.

"If we are seeing an expansion in range, that is something we should be concerned about," Ian Brown, head of avian virology at the United Kingdom Veterinary Laboratories Agency, told the journal Nature in an article published yesterday on its Web site.

A Kazakh man who works on a chicken farm recently fell ill with the symptoms of bird flu, Nature reported. The man lives in a village in the Pavlodar region of northeast Kazakhstan, near the Russian border....

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said it was too early to conclude whether the events reported in Nature represent a widening of the outbreak that has struck Southeast Asia.

If a pandemic were to spread this year, it is far from clear whether the United States or the rest of the world would be able to cope.


posted by Dan at 01:21 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

So what do Americans think about their foreign policy?

Foreign Affairs has launched a joint project with Public Agenda to gauge the American public's attitudes towards U.S. foreign policy. The "Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index" is designed to poll public attitudes repeatedly over time, so this first poll mostly serves as a useful baseline.

So what did they find out? Well, according to the press release, Public Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich says:

Americans are broadly uneasy about the quality of our relations with the rest of the world, especially Muslim nations. The questions reveal widespread doubts about the country’s current course. But there is no consensus on which direction to take.

Yankelovich has clearly been using the Pundit Handbook -- replace "the country’s current course" with any public policy problem you like and that sentence can be recycled (I have no doubt Yankelovich also believes that baseball players "just need to play one game at a time").

Seriously, the big news seems to be that Americans are concerned about how non-Americans view their country:

Contrary to conventional wisdom that the American public doesn't know and doesn't care how it is seen abroad, strong majorities of the public believe the view of the United States is suffering abroad and large majorities are worried about it. Three-quarters say they worry that "the U.S. may be losing the trust and friendship of people in other countries" and that "there may be growing hatred of the U.S. in Muslim countries." In both cases, four in ten say they worry "a lot" about this, compared to the one-quarter who say they don't worry at all. A smaller majority, six in ten, say they're at least somewhat worried that accusations of torture against the U.S. will hurt our reputation.

Indeed, at this graph suggests, Americans also seem to prefer using "soft power" approaches to combat radical Islamists:


The irony, of course, is that when asked about some of these economic measures -- say, trade and immigration -- our mercantilist impulse kicks in.

Consider immigration:

58% say tighter controls on immigration would strengthen national security "a great deal." Another 30 percent said tighter immigration would at least "somewhat" strengthen security. Of all the security proposals cited in the survey, this is second only to improving U.S. intelligence operations (65% said that would help a great deal). Another 41% think it would improve security a great deal to have tighter controls on foreign students in American universities. (emphasis added)

Then there is trade:

When it comes to American jobs and the global economy, the best words to sum up public attitudes are frustration and fatalism. The public doesn't believe the government is protecting U.S. jobs, but then again, it seems cynical about whether anyone can.

Half of Americans give the U.S. a "D" or "F" grade on protecting American jobs from going overseas (and three in ten chose "F"). The grades are better, but hardly great, on making international trade agreements that benefit the U.S. Slightly more than half (53%) give the U.S. a grade of "C" or worse.

The immigration questions focus primarily on illegal kind of immigration, and the trade questions have less to do with trade and more to do with jobs, so maybe America's schizophrenia is overrated. But it's certainly there.

Click here to explore the rest of the report.

UPDATE: Yankelovich also has an essay in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs summarizing the poll's findings. One nugget of information that seems interesting:

Americans are at least as polarized on foreign affairs as they are on domestic politics. More surprisingly, this polarization seems to track the public's religiosity: the more often Americans attend religious services, the more likely they are to be content with current U.S. foreign policy.

posted by Dan at 12:01 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Now the President gets intellectually curious

Three weeks ago, the New Republic's Ben Adler asked a group of prominent conservatives what they thought about the "intelligent design" theory of the Earth's creation.

Apparently, Adler could have asked President Bush as well, because it turns out he has some thoughts on the matter:

President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.

During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Glenn Reynolds lists some other "schools of thought" that might be worth teaching our nation's children. Readers are encouraged to come up with other "schools of thought" that might challenge evolution.

I'll just close with Charles Krauthammer's response in Adler's essay:

The idea that [intelligent design] should be taught as a competing theory to evolution is ridiculous. ... The entire structure of modern biology, and every branch of it [is] built around evolution and to teach anything but evolution would be a tremendous disservice to scientific education. If you wanna have one lecture at the end of your year on evolutionary biology, on intelligent design as a way to understand evolution, that's fine. But the idea that there are these two competing scientific schools is ridiculous.


UPDATE: Well, Bush also doesn't believe that Rafael Palmeiro used steroids.

posted by Dan at 05:31 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

Who wants their Gore TV?

Fourteen months ago, Al Gore announced his plans to create a new cable tv channel. That channel -- called Current TV -- launched yesterday. Salon's Heather Havrilesky sums up what Gore is after:

The programming is broken down into short segments, or "pods," generally less than 10 minutes long, which focus on everything from style to newlywed experiences to money management to profiles of inspiring individuals. As each pod progresses, an indicator (like the one you see in QuickTime or iTunes) demonstrates how much time is left in the segment. If you've never seen your TV imitate your laptop before, that's just the beginning: The network hopes to receive a lot of its content from viewers, who are encouraged to shoot short pieces on video and upload them to the Current TV Web site. Viewers will vote on the best segments, and first-time contributors will make $250, while regular contributors will make around $1,000 per pod.

At the press conference for his new cable network, Gore explained in earnest yet detached terms just how revolutionary he intends his venture to be: "I personally believe that when this medium is connected to the grass-roots storytellers that are out there, it will have an impact on the kinds of things that are discussed and the way they are discussed."

Well, Mo Ryan is certainly discussing Current TV in the Chicago Tribune -- and it sounds like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch can rest easy for now:

For a channel that is supposed to be aimed squarely at 18 to 34 year olds and reflect their views and concerns, Current's remarkably clueless and elitist. And a fair amount of the content could be found just about anywhere else.

We meet a couple of newlyweds who drive a Lexus and fight over whether to get a $1,200 icemaker (the expensive ones, you see, make clear ice, not cloudy ice). Young couples in New York City -- news flash! -- find the real-estate market daunting. We meet a couple who's just had a baby. Baby poop is, apparently, very smelly.

Thanks, Current, for blowing my mind.

Havrilesky dumps on the on-air talent:

[T]he Current hosts are too sexy for their cable network. And not only do they introduce each segment with inane, bubbly comments that make it sound far more fluffy and empty than it is, but they reappear after each segment to sum up their feelings about what happened. This is why we know that watching a pod about dating in Iran makes former Miss USA Shauntay Hinton realize "how lucky I am to be free to do what the hell I wanna do! Yeah!" and watching a segment on suicide in Japan "pretty much took the wind right out of my [host Johnny Bell's] sail." Bell adds, "Not much more to say, but it's tragic." As a result, tuning in to Current TV sometimes feels like going to see a moving documentary with a semiliterate preteen who insists on recasting the entire story in the shallowest of terms the second the credits start to roll.

Hmmm.... this almost makes the hosts sound like.... bloggers. And yes, the channel has its own blog.

In the interest of providing greater depth than the semiliterate preteen, check out Chip Crews in the Washington Post if you want a somewhat more charitable view of their first day.

And, if they manage to hang around for more than a decade, you just know that someone is going to write a TV column that begins, "Remember when Current TV used to run pods?"

posted by Dan at 04:57 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's the deal with Iran's nuclear program?

The past few days have seen a lot of hand-wringing over Iran's decision to defy the principal EU countries and IAEA and proceed with "uranium enrichment activities" as the FT's Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr put it.

Ordinarily, this development would fill the Bush administration with glee. After all, the administration cut a deal with the Europeans agreeing to let them have the negotiation lead with Iran, and even remove the block from Iran's WTO candidacy -- provided that if the talks ever broke down, the EU countries would back at U.S. resolution to bring the matter to the UN Security Council.

Now, however, I see this front-pager by Dafna Linzer in today's Washington Post:

A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.

The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal. The new estimate could provide more time for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. President Bush has said that he wants the crisis resolved diplomatically but that "all options are on the table."

....At no time in the past three years has the White House attributed its assertions about Iran to U.S. intelligence, as it did about Iraq in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to years of Iranian concealment and questioned why a country with as much oil as Iran would require a large-scale nuclear energy program....

The new estimate extends the timeline, judging that Iran will be unlikely to produce a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient for an atomic weapon, before "early to mid-next decade," according to four sources familiar with that finding. The sources said the shift, based on a better understanding of Iran's technical limitations, puts the timeline closer to 2015 and in line with recently revised British and Israeli figures.

The estimate is for acquisition of fissile material, but there is no firm view expressed on whether Iran would be ready by then with an implosion device, sources said.

If you read the whole article (oh, and here's a Q&A with Linzer about the story) , you'll see that the big question Bush officials are asking is whether there will be regime change in Iran before that country acquires a nuclear capability.

I have a different question -- is it possible that the mullahs are copying Saddam Hussein? Recall that even though Iraq's WMD program turned out to be relatively moribund, Hussein repeatedly refused to cooperate fully with UN officials. Among the many possible motivations, one hypothesis was that Hussein was unwilling to expose his relative weakness.

Right now every country in the Middle East fears Iran's growing power -- could the mullahs have an incentive to exaggerate perceptions of that power?


UPDATE: Frank Foer, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, frets that the new NIE will be counterproductive to the "broad consensus that the mullahs must be stopped."

posted by Dan at 12:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Chevron wins the rent-seeking war

David Barboza reports in the New York Times that the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has withdrawn its offer for Unocal:

The giant Chinese oil company Cnooc today ended its $18.5 billion takeover bid for the Unocal Corporation of America, citing fierce political opposition to its bid in Washington that it called “regrettable and unjustified."

The decision, which was announced this morning in New York, ends a fierce takeover fight between Cnooc and the Chevron Corporation, which have both been vying to acquire Unocal’s valuable oil and natural gas assets, much of which are based in the United States and Asia.

The move now clears the way for the Chevron Corporation of America to finalize its acquisition of Unocal for about $17 billion in cash and stock, much less than the Chinese bid but an offer that comes with none of the political opposition that Cnooc has encountered in the United States....

People familiar with Cnooc’s decision to pull out of the bidding say the Chinese company was reluctant to increase its own initial bid because Washington seemed unlikely to approve the deal and had even adopted legislation that would slow the approval process. Unocal’s board of directors had also done little to favor Cnooc.

Now I don't doubt that a great deal of hostility towards CNOOC's takeover bid had to do with a fear of China's rising power -- but Barboza's story suggests that it also might have been because while Chevron did not outbid CNOOC for Unocal, they did outbid CNOOC for much Congress:

Cnooc officials pleaded with Washington and Unocal officials, saying that they were attempting a “friendly” takeover of Unocal with a higher bid, and would even pay the $500 million fee if Unocal agreed to break its earlier agreement with Chevron.

Cnooc officials also said they were willing to dispose of most of the United States-based assets of Unocal if that was necessary for Washington’s approval.

Cnooc even hired high-powered Washington lobbyists and had the backing of two of Wall Street’s most powerful investment banks, Goldman Sachs and J..P. Morgan, to help push its deal.

But Chevron came equally armed with Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. A host of Congressmen who were recipients of Chevron political money also argued in Washington against the Cnooc deal, saying it could threaten America’s long-term energy interests. (emphasis added)

Chevron played this game well -- they spent way less that the $1 billion gap between their offer and CNOOC's, but by pushing Congress in a direction it probably wanted to go anyway, still got Unocal.

Whether Unocal's shareholders benefited is another question entirely.

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

Monday, August 1, 2005

That's ambassador Bolton to you

President Bush made the first-ever recess appointment of a UN Ambassador and named John Bolton today. Essentially, this means that Bolton will serve until January 2007.

The myriad political responses to the decision include a lot of apoplexy from Democrats. Ted Kennedy said:

The abuse of power and the cloak of secrecy from the White House continues. ... It's a devious maneuver that evades the constitutional requirement of Senate consent and only further darkens the cloud over Mr. Bolton's credibility at the U.N.

I am shocked to report that Lincoln Chafee -- never thought of as the sharpest tool in the shed -- had the most sagacious comment: "We filibustered the nomineee. We exercised our perogative under the law. He [Bush] exercised his perogative under the law."

Over at Steve Clemons' Washington Note -- and Steve has been leading the blog war against Bolton -- Charles Brown recaps the winners and losers from the Democrat perspective. Ed Kilgore at TPM Cafe is pretty teed off as well.

On the right, Paul Mirengoff thinks this was the right call, though even he's depressed about the long run implications:

We may be moving towards a system in which presidential appointees who have 60 votes will be confirmed and those who can't obtain that many will serve temporarily. That's not a good system, but it's where the Senators Schumer, Dodd, Leahy, Kennedy, etc. seem to be taking us.

My views on Bolton remain unchanged -- from the Bush administration's perspective, this is an unwanted man being sent to an unwanted institution. Given the administration's attitude, it's not clear to me whether anyone else would have been more effective.

posted by Dan at 03:22 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Richard Posner's forthcoming book

Eleven months ago, Richard Posner's review of the 9-11 Commission Report appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. And lo and behold, Posner spun that review into a book of his own on homeland security, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11.

I bring this up because Judge Posner has another lead review in the NYT Book Review. So in case anyone was curious about the topic of Posner's new book, it appears to be about the political economy of the media.

The mainstream media are predominantly liberal - in fact, more liberal than they used to be. But not because the politics of journalists have changed. Rather, because the rise of new media, itself mainly an economic rather than a political phenomenon, has caused polarization, pushing the already liberal media farther left.

The news media have also become more sensational, more prone to scandal and possibly less accurate. But note the tension between sensationalism and polarization: the trial of Michael Jackson got tremendous coverage, displacing a lot of political coverage, but it had no political valence.

The interesting questions are, first, the why of these trends, and, second, so what?

The why is the vertiginous decline in the cost of electronic communication and the relaxation of regulatory barriers to entry, leading to the proliferation of consumer choices. Thirty years ago the average number of television channels that Americans could receive was seven; today, with the rise of cable and satellite television, it is 71. Thirty years ago there was no Internet, therefore no Web, hence no online newspapers and magazines, no blogs. The public's consumption of news and opinion used to be like sucking on a straw; now it's like being sprayed by a fire hose.

Go read it all -- there's a healthy number of paragraphs about blogs and the media that Glenn Reynolds discusses as well. I'll post an update once I've semi-digested Posner's analysis.

UPDATE: Well, I'm still cogitating -- but Laura McKenna has posted her thoughts on the matter. Be sure to check out her typology of how experts interpret the rise of the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, Jack Shafer rips Posner's essay apart in Slate. Some of it is carping, but this paragraph raises an alarm bell that also went off in my head when I first read it:

When Posner declares that media competition has pushed the established press to the left, he gives only one example: Fox News making CNN more liberal. Has Posner lost his cable connection? The success of Fox News convinced CNN of the opposite. CNN realized that the demographic that has the time and interest to watch a lot of cable news tends to be older and more conservative, as this Pew Research Center report indicates. If anything, the one-worldist CNN of founder Ted Turner has been vectoring right in recent years. Lou Dobbs, for one, now blabs a Buchananesque position on trade and immigration five nights a week. Over at MSNBC, which dumped overt liberal Phil Donahue in 2003, they've given every nonliberal listed in the Yellow Pages a show in hopes of boosting ratings (examples: Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Ventura, and now, Rita Cosby).

posted by Dan at 01:04 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)