Saturday, December 31, 2005
Closing the year on a good note
It seems wrong to end the year with a post on the ten worst Americans - so let me close out the year on the blog by highlighting three people who I know and respect. All of them have written something constructive about Iraq in the past week:
1) Andrew Erdmann -- about whom I've blogged in the past -- had an op-ed in the New York Times earlier in the week on Iraq's parliamentary elections:Read all three pieces -- combined, their advice point the way towards a sober but hopeful picture of Iraq.For better or worse, in the election's aftermath, the United States will almost certainly begin to withdraw its military from Iraq in 2006. But that does not mean that the time has come to disengage. On the contrary, a broader, more diverse engagement with Iraqi society is needed to help Iraqis develop the institutions, practices and values essential to real and enduring democracy....2) A few years ago I was fortunate to have an office next door to Major Scott Cooper of the U.S. Marine Corps (we were both Council on Foreign Relations fellows). Cooper represents the best the Marines have to offer. On Christmas Day, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland relayed a long e-mail Cooper sent to him about how he views Iraq:
The ten worst Americans
So I see there's a meme going around the blogosphere on the "10 worst Americans." This seems as fitting a top 10 list as any to end the year. It was worth perusing some of the other lists, as they refreshed my historical memory a bit. That said, here's my list, without comment, in alphabetical order.
UPDATE: OK, two quick comments. First, I added Ames to Angleton because I was blanking on the former's name when I first put this together. They are perfect döppelgangers, however.
Second, I do find it interesting that the majority of my names come from the Cold War era.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The greatest quote whore who ever lived
In the University of Chicago Alumni magazine, Amy M. Braverman has an excellent profile of Robert Thompson, Syracuse’s trustee professor of radio, television, and film in the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.
Thompson is better known as being the best quote whore in the business -- seriously, the could be asked to comment on wallpaper paste -- or That 70's Show -- and he'd come up with something worth putting in the first two paragraphs of a story.
What Braverman reveals, however, is that Thompson devotes considerable time and effort to hone this skill:
[A] large portion of his day is devoted to talking with reporters. Most mornings, after waking up at 5:30 to read a novel (favorite authors include Don DeLillo, Nicholson Baker, and Alison Lurie), he makes scheduled calls to a few radio shows. “If you’re a professor holding office hours,” he says, “you’ll talk to anyone who comes in. This is the same thing. If I have three calls—one from the student newspaper, one from the New York Times, and one from CNN, I’ll return them in that order.” When big television events occur, he’s inundated. After the 2004 Super Bowl, for example, “Janet Jackson gets her blouse ripped off, and that killed Monday.” In fact, the Janet calls continued for two weeks. For that particular story, he considered it important “to get another voice out there.” Nobody else, he says, was discussing how the Super Bowl “has always been a raucous, rowdy broadcast with cameras lingering on cheerleaders and crass commercials. What are you going to worry about more—the breast flashing at 50 yards or the countless commercials about beer and the good life? To me there’s no question.”....The webbed aluminim lawn chair. Wow.
I humbly bow before the greatest quote whore who ever lived.
[Isn't there a price to be paid for this kind of slavish attention to media entreaties?--ed. I dunno. On the one hand, Thompson does seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject domain, thanks in no small part to his willingness to talk to the media. At the same time, attempting to render a two-sentence judgment on any media trend or phenomenon under the sun might carry a cost in terms of deeper thought -- a point Josh Korr makes here and here. Er, can't you say the same thing about bloggers?--ed. I'll leave that question for the comments.]
UPDATE: Thompson might be the most prolific quote whore ever, but I'm pretty sure Virginia Postrel will win the award for most profitable.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
What's wrong with this sentence?
Vincent J. Schodolski has a story in today's Chicago Tribune about the unothrodox sentences judges sometimes impose on defendants. Here's how it opens:
There is a song in Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera "The Mikado" in which the title character reveals that one of his goals is "to let the punishment fit the crime." It appears that a number of judges around the country share that objective.Am I the only one who believes that ten days in jail stretched out over ten years is an extraordinarily lenient sentence for vehicular manslaughter?
At first I thought this was an error in the Trib story -- but it's not:
Tiffany Nix, 25, was ordered to spend every September 28 through 2015 in jail for the 2004 death of 9-year-old William "Isaac" Brian.As an aside, those tougher penalties don't seem to be working.
A question to the prosecutors in the audience -- given the circumstances, is this kind of jail time par for the course for a manslaughter conviction?
[Do you have any better ideas?--ed. Well, my wife, upon reading the story, had the instinctive reaction: "Put her in solitary for a few years, but on the date the child died release her into the general inmate population and tell everyone what she did." But you should see how responds if the kitchen is really messy.]
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
It is with a hard head but a heavy heart that I relay this Financial Times report from Leslie Crawford:
Spain’s Socialist government on Tuesday officially abolished the siesta, the extended lunch break.While I suspect the 8% figure is an exaggeration, it seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.
At the same time, the Burkean conservative in me mourns a loss. The siesta is such a lovely conceit for lazy people like myself -- who have a strong belief in the restorative and stimulating powers of the long lunch -- that it will be hard to imagine its disappearance from its country of origin.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
What are the lessons of Munich?
Encouraged by the positive reviews it has received from film critics, my wife and I went to see Munich today, and perhaps the most accurate thing I can say about it is that it is, in every way, a lesser movie than the one in Spielberg's prior oeurve it most resembles, Saving Private Ryan.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]
A movie based on or inspired by historical events is always judged on two levels -- the extent to which the film hews to historical accuracy, and the larger meaning that is derived from the current context through which the film is viewed. Munich fails pretty badly on the first point -- as Aaron J. Klein points out in Slate, "Munich is not a documentary. Indeed, it is full of distortions and flights of fancy that would make any Israeli intelligence officer blush." (Check out Klein's interview with NPR as well.) The idea that the Mossad relied exculsively on a private organization for its intelligence and logistics is pretty absurd. The biggest difference might be that the Mossad agents who engaged in the Munich response did not evince any of the moral qualms that Spielberg assigns to his assassination squad. Ironically, this is less of a problem with Saving Private Ryan, even though the main narrative of that film is complete fiction. It is through the journey of trying to find Ryan that the protagonists and the movie-watching audience is exposed to the abject brutality of war.
So, what is Spielberg's larger meaning? There's lots of evidence here. As Edward Rothstein points out in the New York Times:
"There's no peace at the end of this," warns Avner, the morally anguished Mossad assassin, as Steven Spielberg's new film, "Munich," draws to a close. And by "this" he means the targeted killings that Israel is said to have begun after 11 of its athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympics by members of the Palestinian Black September offshoot of Fatah.It's not just movie critics who have interpreted Munich in this way. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, after viewing the film, said:
My reaction to it in some ways is less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more about the larger context of dealing with terror. In many ways this is a historical event. And for the Israelis and Palestinians, while it will move many, you look at the demographics of both peoples and you'll find this is ancient history for them. So, it doesn't have an immediate relevance for them per se, but it does have a relevance in terms of highlighting what happens when you're confronted with a horrific act of terror and you have to do something about it. My reaction to it from the beginning was much more about terror and the responses to terror, and much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.In the movie, Spielberg suggests two dilemmas with the Munich response. The first is that terrorizing the terrorists carries with it a moral and ethical price that cannot be easily dismissed (ironically, this is best demonstrated in the film not through any speech but through the last murder the team successfully carries out). The second is that the practical results of such an operation are counterproductive -- they merely encourage one's adversary to escalate its campaign of terror, and those involved in the mission succumb to the grip of paranoia.
The problem with Munich is that neither of these dilemmas is accurately portrayed. Practically, there is evidence that the gains of the campaign outweighed the costs. Klein says that, "The numbers show a steep slide in the frequency of terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli institutions abroad from 1974 to the present." That fact matters in any utilitarian calculation of these actions, but it is never mentioned in the film.
As for the moral dilemma, none of my fellow moviegoers bought the idea that the Israelis would develop any remorse or inner conflict over what they did, and the historical record bears them out. This doesn't mean that in a world of Abu Ghraibs, the question shouldn't be asked. But just as critics of recent wars have argued that what happened at Munich in 1938 is an imperfect metaphor for policy responses, what happened after the Munich tragedy of 1972 is a badly flawed metaphor for the ethical dilemmas we face today.
Ross gets it right when he says, "the choices are hard, and sometimes you pick the best of the bad alternatives." Not even Steven Spielberg, however, can turn that lesson into a compelling movie.
Why is Russia still a member of the G-8?
Both houses of the Russian legislature have passed a law (about which I have blogged before) that will impose formadible oversight and make it next to impossible for small or midsized NGOs to accept monety from Western donors.
Earlier this month The National Interest's Nikolas Gvosdev provided a weak defense of the proposed new law in the pages of the International Herald-Tribune:
[L]et's be honest - the crux of the matter lies with about 2,000 NGOs in Russia that deal with human rights and democracy issues, as well those groups unable or unlikely to get funding from Russian sources who rely on Western aid. And the proposed legislation is the clearest signal yet that Putin's vision for Russia - at least in the short term - is not liberal democracy but managed pluralism - a self-contained system where the Kremlin can set down red lines and can determine the amount of space different points of view will be allowed to occupy in the Russian political system. (Think Mexico in 1976 or Singapore under Lew Kuan Yew).I wonder what Gvosdev -- who also blogs -- would say about this Reuters report:
An outspoken aide to President Vladimir Putin resigned on Tuesday, saying he did not want to work for a state that had ended democracy and basic freedom.That bolded section raises an interesting point -- why is Russia still a member of the G-8?
It makes no sense from a liberal institutionalist perspective -- Russia has become less and less democratic over the past decade, and shows no sign under Vladimir Putin of trending in a constructive direction anytime soon.
It makes no sense from a realist pespective as well -- Russia is an economic lightweight with interests that diverge from the advanced industrialized nations in a number of areas. Russia so obviously does not belong in that grouping that it has never been allowed to participate in the most relevant G-7 grouping, that of the finance ministers.
Kicking Russia out of the G-8 would not necessarily accomplish a great deal -- it's not like Putin is suddenly going to smack himself on the forehead and say, "Gosh, you're right! I am monopolizing power within my country!" However, such a move would highlight the extent to which Russia has drifted away from the liberal democratic values it's government has lauded for fifteen years. It would not compromise any important component of U.S. foreign economic policy. And it might even revitalize a grouping that has been somewhat moribund during the Bush years.
Monday, December 26, 2005
The reorganization of U.S. foreign aid
Over the past few weeks there have been a trickle of stories coming out about a reorganization of U.S. foreign aid policies.
For example, there's Caroline Daniel and Guy Dinmore's Financial Times piece from December 11th:
President George W. Bush on Wednesday announced that the State Department would lead all US post-conflict reconstruction, a move that supersedes the controversial decision to give that task to the Pentagon in Iraq following the 2003 invasion....
Then there's this write-up of an FT interview with outgoing USAID head Andrew Natsios:
The US Agency for International Development will unveil early next year a comprehensive strategy for improving democracy and governance in developing countries.I'm not sure how far the Bush administation is going to get in its reorganization, but the proposals raise an interesting question -- should the primary focus of U.S. foreign aid be on reconstruction and democratization? One could argue that this leaves out a whole lot of other aims -- literacy, disease prevention, and economic development, for starters. One could also argue, however, that reconstruction and democratization are prerequisites for the other stated aims of foreign aid. One could also argue, however, that democratization is the result and not the cause of those other goals.
Whenever you have a chicken-egg problem like achieving multiple development goals, it strikes me as wrong-headed to put all of your resources in one half of the equation. If the administration's proposal is to create such a balance, fine with me. If the idea is to make reconstruction and democratization the sole aim of foreign aid, though, then I'm not sure it's such a hot idea.
One final bureaucratic thought. The attempt to create logistical capabilities for aid and reconstruction within the State Department would have a significant effect on the traditional rivalry between State and Defense. The latter has always had an edge in terms of capabilities and resources. If State develops its own parallel means to deliver man and material somewhere, one of DoD's unspoken advantages in bureaucratic politics will be dented just a little bit.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Merry Christmas!! The streets are ours!!
Wonder what those of the Jewish persuasion do on Christmas day? Click here and watch the video to find out.
Worst tradecraft ever
John Crewdson has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune on the extent to which the CIA left footprints in their rendition of an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric commonly known as Abu Omar. This exercise has led Italy to issue 22 arrest warrants for alleged CIA officers for what they did.
Without getting into the normative debate about whether such renditions are appropriate or not, Crewdson's story suggests that the CIA's tradecraft is so bad it couldn't smuggle a ham sandwich out of a foreign country without getting detected by local police. The lowlights:
The trick is known to just about every two-bit crook in the cellular age: If you don't want the cops to know where you are, take the battery out of your cell phone when it's not in use.It is comforting, however, to know that the CIA agents lived high on the hog while screwing up this badly, as Crewdson points out in a sidebar:
Italian prosecutors wrote in court papers that the CIA spent "enormous amounts of money" during the six weeks it took the agency to figure out how to grab a 39-year-old Muslim preacher called Abu Omar off the streets of Milan, throw him into a van and drive him to the airport.
The University of Chicago flunks George W. Bush
The Chicago Tribune asked three economists linked to the University of Chicago -- Ed Snyder, Michael Mussa, and Austin Goolsbee -- to grade various aspects of the Bush administration's economic performance for the past calendar year. The results aren't pretty:
While conservative economists like Mussa and Snyder say the president's tax cuts and stimulus package helped lay the foundation for the current economic expansion, they tend to join [former Kerry advisor] Goolsbee in lamenting that the administration's lack of spending discipline is mortgaging the nation's future....Read the whole thing -- here's the report card in brief:
A new front in the war on terror?
The global war on terror has many fronts -- including, apparently, the pages of the January 2006 issue of GQ magazine:
The person you see above is Wafah
On a hot August afternoon, aspiring pop star Wafah Dufour walks into the media lunch hub Michael’s, in Midtown Manhattan. Accompanied by her publicist, Richard Valvo, the slender, exotic young woman with long dark hair in a high ponytail à la I Dream of Jeannie is dressed in a white tank top, green love beads, lacy miniskirt, and backless pumps. Conversations continue as heads look up to check her out.Lest you think this is some attempt at a put-up job by a deep cover Al Qaeda agent, Gurley provides some additional info:
She has no contact with most of her relatives, including her father, doesn’t speak Arabic, has an American passport… The list goes on. “At the end of the day, I believe that the American people understand things and they have compassion and they see what’s fair,” she says. “They’re very fair, and that’s why I love America, and that’s why my mom loves America.”The entire staff here at danieldrezner.com wishes Ms. Dufour the best of luck in all of her endeavours -- and we hope in particular that word reaches her notorious uncle. As Reuters reports, "Asked how he would react to her posing for racy pictures in a glossy magazine, she said, 'I think he would have a heart attack.'"
Saturday, December 24, 2005
So much for the market clearing price
On this last half-day of the holiday shopping season, I gazed upon my son with horror as he broke the spine of The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. This has symbolized my reaction to my son's recent interest in my paperback Calvin and Hobbes collections -- joy at watching him read combined with a mild dose of horror at the way he's treating the books. [Dude, he's only five--ed. I didn't say I blamed him -- I said I watched him, mute and helples, as it happened.]
However, I decided to take this as a sign to go online and buy The Complete Calvin and Hobbes from Amazon.com. They were listing used & new from $149.99 with the following note:
Due to the number of copies printed, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is currently unavailable. The publisher is planning to reprint this title in April 2006 and copies will become available soon afterward.On a lark, I checked to see if Barnes and Noble had it. Not only were they carrying it, but at bn.com it was marked down to $105.
I confess to being surprised that there was this much of a price and quantity spread between Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It does make one wonder if the Economist is correct to crow about the advantages of being number two in a business.
Readers are hereby encouraged to post the greatest price spreads they've ecountered in their shopping activities among established online merchants.
UPDATE: Thanks to Rhett in the comments section for offering a plausible explanation for the discrepancy in prices.
Friday, December 23, 2005
"The judicial equivalent of a bitch slap"
That's Jacob Sullum's assessment of what 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge Michael Luttig delivered to the Bush administration in denying their request to transfer Jose Padilla from military to civilian custody. Orin Kerr concurs.
Luttig was on Bush's short-list for Supreme Court nominees, but as Sullum points out:
The rebuke is richly deserved. Even a court that was prepared to recognize the detention authority asserted by Bush is not prepared to let him submit his policies to judicial review only when he feels like it.Indeed, just about every branch or bureaucracy of government is bitch-slapping George W. Bush this month on national security issues.
There's the judicial branch. Beyond Luttig, another federal judge resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in reaction to the NSA domestic surveillance program, forcing the administration to brief the rest of the FISA judges before they faced a full-blown judicial revolt.
There's the legislative branch. As Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington point out in today's Washington Post:
This week's uprising against a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act was the latest example of a new willingness by lawmakers in both parties to challenge Bush and his notions of expansive executive power.Finally, there's the permanent bureaucracy. As David Ignatius pointed out earlier this week in the Washington Post the torture question has revealed a clash between the Bush administration and national security professionals (link via Kevin Drum):
The national security structure that the Bush administration created after Sept. 11, 2001, began to crumble this month because of a bipartisan revolt on Capitol Hill. Newly emboldened legislators forced the administration to accept new rules for the interrogation of prisoners, delayed renewal of the Patriot Act and demanded an investigation of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.The great thing about the American system of government is that whenever one branch exceeds its traditional scope of authority, that branch is eventually brought to heel by the other parts of government.
This is one of the iron laws of politics that George W. Bush is now facing.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Why panics, pandemics, and policy don't mix
Concerns about a looming avian flu pandemic have prompted a lot of commentary and blog chatter over the past few months (including from yours truly) about whether governments are adequately pepared to combat an outbreak of avian influenza. However, panicked calls for governments to "do something" without contemplating the costs and risks that come with each strategy generally leads to bad policy.
Consider, for example, that many developed-country governments have been scrambling to load up on the drug Tamiflu as a way to treat the H5N1 variant of the bird flu. In the Financial Times, however, Andrew Jack explains why this might be a problem:
Fresh doubts were cast on the efficacy of Tamiflu as a treatment for bird flu on Wednesday night when one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals published new reports of resistance to the drug and deaths in patients in Vietnam.Here's a link to the actual NEJM paper for all of the M.D.s in the house. Dr. Anne Moscona has a commentary on the paper in the NEJM that's worth reading for non-doctors as well. One disturbing implication:
It is therefore worrisome that personal stockpiling of oseltamivir [Tamiflu] is likely to lead to the use of insufficient doses or inadequate courses of therapy. Shortages during a pandemic would inspire sharing of personal supplies, resulting in inadequate treatment. Such undertreatment is of particular concern in children — the main source for the dissemination of influenza within the community, since they usually have higher viral loads than adults and excrete infectious virus for longer periods. The habit of stopping treatment prematurely when symptoms resolve (a well-established tendency with antibiotic therapy) could also lead to suboptimal treatment of influenza and promote the development of drug resistance....
Is now the winter of my baseball discontent?
When my New York Yankee-loving brother starts posting random comments goading me to blog about baseball, you know it's not a good sign for the Boston Red Sox.
Indeed, Johnny Damon's decision to join the Yankees has prompted quite the media backlash against the performace of Red Sox management since Theo Epstein's departure as GM. One commenter on Jacob Luft's SI.com blog put it well:
So right now, the Sox have four guys who played second last year (Graffanino, Loretta, Cora and Pedroia) and three guys who played third (Lowell, Youkilis, and Marte); no real first baseman, no clear shortstop, no center fielder, a disgruntled left fielder and no leadoff hitter.The New York Daily News' Bill Madden sounds a similar theme:
[A]s of now, [the Red Sox] have no center fielder, no shortstop, no first baseman, no bona fide closer and seemingly no game plan.Lest you think the criticism is coming only from Yankee-lovers, consider this Tony Massarotti rant in the Boston Herald (link via David Pinto):
[T]he 2006 Red Sox look like an 84-78 squad with a management team that is playing rotisserie baseball. The Sox still can go out and get players, but there seems little regard for how they fit together. And until we learn otherwise, there is simply no way to know that Mark Loretta and Mike Lowell can shine in Boston, that Julio Lugo or Coco Crisp is coming (or that they, too, can succeed), that Kevin Youkilis can play every day or that Keith Foulke can close again....Ouch.
Is there any hope for Red Sox Nation? I think the answer is yes, but it takes a little work.
First, consider that each of the individual trades/signings that the Red Sox have made this offseason can be defended. No one except the Yankees thought Johnny Damon was worth $13 million a year. Trading a backup catcher for a former All-Star second baseman seems like a shrewd move. Renteria was never comfortable in Boston, and in trading him the Red Sox got one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball. Getting Josh Beckett was worth the costs in prospects -- especially since the Sox also got a premier set-up man and a Gold Glove third baseman. The problem isn't with the individual moves -- it's whether one can see an overall plan when the moves are combined.
Second, left unsaid in all the critiques is the fact that the Sox have done a very good job of rebuilding their pitching staff. In the past few months the Sox have lost Mike Myers and Chad Bradford while acquiring Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, and Jermaine Van Buren via trade, re-signing Mike Timlin, signing Rudy Seanez, and picking up Jamie Vermilyea via the Rule V draft. They have also developed a raft of quality arms -- Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester -- from their own farm system. That's a set of pretty decent moves made at low cost given the way the market for pitching has gone as of late. And while it may be overly optimistic to expect Curt Schilling or Keith Foulke to perform at their 2004 levels, it would be way to pessimistic to see them be as bad as they were in 2005. To be sure, not all of these pitchers will pan out, but enough of them will for the 2006 pitching staff to look better than the 2005 version.
Third, the off-season is only half over. The $64,000 question is whether the Red Sox can trade from their strengths (pitching, second base, third base, farm system) to improve their weaknesses (leadoff hitter, centerfieldier, shortstop, first base) between now and February. The big concern here is whether these obvious deficiencies will force the Sox into desperate moves in January and February. However, it's also worth remembering that the Sox had uninspiring production from two of those positions in 2005 and still made it to the playoffs.
Finally, it's worth remembering that at this point last year everyone was trashing White Sox GM Ken Williams for a series of moves that laid the foundation for the 2005 team. The only thing that matters is the how the team performs on the field between April and October.
[How convinced are you by your own analysis?--ed. About 55% -- the other 45% of the time I'm with Massarotti.]
UPDATE: Sam Crane offers Confucion and Taoist perspectives on the Damon signing.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Open Bolivia thread
I would be remiss in not mentioning that Bolivia just elected a former coca farmer turned socialist politician as president. Among his many campaign pledges are to decriminalize coca production and to renationalize the commanding heights of the national economy.
Comment away on the implications of this power transition in Andean region. Noah Millman offers various reasons for why this should concern the United States.
[Hey a few years ago you were pretty sanguine about the rejection of the neoliberal model in Latin America. How about now?--ed.] Well, the spread of Chavez-like politicans throughout Latin America would be intrinsically bad. At the same time, this Associated Press report suggests just how difficult it will be to foster regional solidarity by pursuing a policy of economic nationalism:
The winner of Bolivia's presidential elections has repeated his vow to nationalize oil and gas and said he will void at least some contracts held by foreign companies "looting" the poor Andean nation's natural resources.So, the new Bolivian president's first move is to alienate his top foreign investor, who happens to be.... Brazilian. The last paragraph suggests that staying this course will retard other foreign investors. And note that no U.S.-based multinational appears on that list.
Even if Hugo Chavez lends a hand, I don't think this strategy is going to inspire a lot of solidarity elsewhere in the continent.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
And you thought Heidi Fleiss' little black book was bad
If this Anne Kornblut story in the New York Times is true, then there are a lot of people inside the beltway who are going to be feeling very, very nauseous for the next few weeks:
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say.
Christmas in the Pacific Rim
I'm back from Hong Kong, and seriously jet-lagged. Before I stop thinking about that jewel of a city, however, I have a question for any cultural anthropologists in the crowd -- what's the deal with Christmas in the Pacific Rim?
The city of Hong Kong -- never shy of neon -- was engulfed in Christmas decorations the week I was there. This web site points out::
Christmas in Hong Kong is the time for the tasteless, the season for the syrupy, the holiday for the horrific -- if we're talking about lights and decorations, that is. There may be another city that can equal Hong Kong in the banality of its Christmas decorations, but it's sure to fall short in terms of sheer volume.I was told that I would see the same thing in Tokyo as well.
Many Westerners who attended the WTO Ministerial expressed distaste about this phenomenon as well -- not on religious grounds, but rather because to them it epitomizes the homogenization of western tastes.
I think this is much ado about nothing. I doubt that any North American city, with the possible exception of Las Vegas, would festoon itself in the same way Hong Kong has -- but then again, no other American city is as in love with neon as HK. However, to repeat my question to Tyler Cowen or anyone else who would know -- why is Christmas so big in so many non-Christian countries?
My hunch is that it's a marketing opportunity, but I'm open to other suggestions.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Drezner gets results from Pakistan!
I bring this up only because of some new poll results released by Terror Free Tomorrow:
In the first poll in Pakistan since the earthquake of October 8, 2005, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the United States than at any time since 9/11, while support for Al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani earthquake victims....Click here to see the full results in .pdf format.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Is there a deal or not?
After a long night, the Associated Press is prematurely reporting that a trade deal has been reached:
Negotiators at the World Trade Organization have agreed on a sweeping trade deal dismantling barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services, India's trade minister said Sunday....CNN reports that there's just one sticking point remaining:
Just one issue remained unresolved as World Trade Organization negotiators worked to reach a series of agreements to end agricultural, manufacturing and service trade barriers, according to a WTO official Sunday.This sounds great... except I just talked to an EU official who's making the rounds in the press room and apparently that sticking point ain't going anywhere for a while. The sticking point remains ending agricultural export subsidies, and that the EU did put forward 2013 as the end date. The problem was that at the last minute Brazil pushed for an earlier date -- and it all fell apart.
My hunch is that Humpty Dumpty has a decent chance of being put together again -- I think the EU is trying to tell the Brazilians and others it's either 2013 or no deal, and I suspect the Brazilians will take what they can get. One possible explanation for Nath's statement is that the Indians are trying to publicly signal to the Brazilians to accept the deal on the table. That said, the EU folks are exceedingly grumpy right now, so I wouldn't place a great deal of faith in that hunch.
The hard deck for the Ministerial will be 5 AM Hong Kong time on Monday (4 PM Sunday EDT). That's when the Convention Center here has to prep for its next booking.
A side note: one of the amusing features of being in the press room is seeing the pack mentalityof journalism in action. If a sufficient number of journalists are congregating around person A, then that group starts acting like a powerful magnet attracting the individual iron fillings of other journalists. Sometimes this makes a great deal of sense -- as when the EU tspokesman contradicts the India statement. Sometimes it makes no sense -- as when a great throng materialized to get their hands on... a schedule of the Ministerial's closing ceremonies. No one gives a flying fig about that.
WTO negotiators reached a breakthrough on the most contentious issue of their six-day talks, agreeing that wealthy countries would eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013, according to a final draft of the accord. The deal paves the way for a broader agreement to cut trade barriers across various sectors.
So this is what it's like to be in a lockdown
Despite the fact that the WTO negotiations are, at best, making marginal progress, the Korean Peasants Association appears bound and determined to wreak havoc in Wan Chai (the neighborhood where the Ministerial is being held).
The result is that Hong Kong's Secretary for Security made an announcement for the public to leave Wan Chai. Which is great, except for those of us staying in hotels in Wan Chai.
The result is that I've spent this evening looking at policemen sheathed in protest gear -- gas masks, body-length Plexiglass shielding, truncheons, etc. -- while drinking and dining at the hotel buffet along with a healthy number of WTO delegates. It's more than a bit surreal.
The truly bizarre thing is that, having ventured out earlier in the evening, I'm quite certain that the number of curious onlookers outnumbers the actual protestors, the press contingent outnumbers the protestors, and the police most definitely outnumber the protestors. The Korean protestors are certainly causing inconveniences beyond their numbers, but this is a much smaller contingent of activists than were present at either Seattle in 1999 or Cancun in 2003. And any press report suggesting otherwise is full of it.
Do check out Simon's World for a link-rich post on the Ministerial.
Wherein the University of Chicago defies all reason
A few months ago when the whole tenure and blogging question became a hot topic (I'm still fielding press inquiries) I tried to reiterate the same point over and over again -- it's possible that blogging played a role in my own denial, but I seriously doubt it was the overriding factor.
I bring this up again because Jacob Levy has gone public with his own denial of tenure. Read the whole thing, but Jacob closes his post with the following:
Mainly I'm putting this up because the publicity around Dan Drezner's case led to a lot of e-mailed questions and some blog speculation about mine. If you're looking for things in common between Dan's case and mine, don't look to blogging; and don't look to our libertarian politics.... Look to the fact that both political economy and liberal political theory are outside the emerging, Perestroikan, sense of what this department's about.I've blogged about perestroika and political science in the past -- check out those posts for my take on the debate.
I can neither confirm nor deny Jacob's hypothesis about perestroika's deletrious effects on my department. After witnessing my department's treatment of Jacob's case, I'm afraid that the primary hypothesis I cannot falsify is that a majority of my senior colleagues
Friday, December 16, 2005
When trade negotiators get cranky
What happens when you stick great power trade ministers in a green room in a strange city, deprive them of sleep, and then throw some spanners into the negotiating machine?
They get damn cranky is what happens.
I just left a series of press conferences, and pretty much everyone was tired, frustrated, and occasionally pissed off. The Americans, the Brazilians, the West Africans, and especially the Europeans were all upset. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had the following utterances at his press conference:
Some people in Hong Kong will lose their strategic gains by pursuing tactical maneuvers.... The level of ambition [in the Doha round] is going backwards.... [There is] no clear basis for negotiations.... Hard to see where progress can be achieved in Hong Kong.If I were WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, I'd suggest a nice "time out" for tomorrow. And maybe some snack time.
UPDATE: The Independent publishes a day in the life of Peter Mandelson that reaffirms this point: [Mandelson] has been asleep for five hours and ahead of him are 10 meetings spread over at least 18 hours. Welcome to the mad, mad world of global trade negotiations....
Mr Mandelson is also garnering a reputation of squashing journalists whose questions he doesn't like. On Tuesday he destroyed a German reporter and now he shows his exasperation at an Indian journalist who asks a question that, in fairness, he has answered twice already.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Everything you always wanted to know about Aid For Trade
A big issue that's come up at the Hong Kong Ministerial is the idea of Aid For Trade. What is Aid for Trade? According to paragraph 51 of the draft Ministerial text of the WTO:
Aid for Trade should aim to help developing countries, particularly LDCs [Least Developed Countries], to build the supply-side capacity and trade-related infrastructure that they need to assist them to implement and benefit from WTO Agreements and more broadly to expand their trade. Aid for Trade cannot be a substitute for the development benefits that will result from a successful conclusion to the DDA [Doha Development Agenda], particularly on market access. However, it can be a valuable complement to the DDA.That's still a bit vague, so I've asked Paul Applegarth, a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States -- and the former CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation -- to explain the idea in a bit more detail:
It has long been agreed that this WTO round should be a Development Round, benefiting the poorest people and the poorest countries in the world. Ironically, even as the on-going talks at the Hong Kong Ministerial struggle with issues important for development like agricultural Market Access and trade-distorting subsidies, there has been an increasing recognition that freer trade alone is not enough. Any trade agreement will need to be accompanied by a development financing package to help the poorest countries build the capacity to participate in freer markets.
It's déjà vu in Hong Kong... or is it?
A former U.S. trade negotiator during the Uruguay round sent me an e-mail that contained the following:
I haven't keep current, thank goodness, on ag trade policy issues for more than 10 years. However, I suspect the lay of the land hasn't changed much: - Agricultural trade, as usual, is the biggest block to freer trade for agricultural products... but also non-agricultural products since the agricultural stalemate is holding up progress in non-agricultural talks:Given the current stalemate in talks -- and Peter Mandelson's intransigence on the EU taking the next step on ag subsidies -- it would seem that everything old is new again. However, there are two new wrinkles to current negotiations as opposed to prior rounds.- The EU is the biggest block to freer trade in ag products.
First, small countries have figured out that they can use the need for consensus to threaten walkouts if they don't get something. For example, The Independent's Philip Thornton reports that the west African country of Benin is now a major player:
The mood soured [at the WTO meetings] further when Benin indicated it was prepared to walk out of the talks over the failure of the US to meets its demand to end cotton subsidies.Second, the "advanced" developing countries are getting just as good at being hypocrites on trade issues as the developed world. Consider these excerpts from Victor Mallet's FT story on Indian commerce minister Kamal Nath:
Kamal Nath, India’s commerce minister, said there would be no deal at the WTO talks in Hong Kong unless developed nations stop demanding concessions from poor countries in exchange for reducing agricultural and other protectionism that should not be there in the first place.This sounds great -- but let's reconsider what Arvind Panagariyapointed out in Foreign Affairs about levels of protection in the developing and developed world.
Take sugar, for example: Sugar is highly protected in virtually all major developed and developing countries. It is subject to the following MFN rates, for example: 72 percent in South Africa, 60 percent in India and Japan, 56 percent in high-income developing Asia, 43 percent in the United States, 23 percent in Central America and the EU (and 74 percent in other European countries), 18 percent in China, and 17 percent in Argentina and Brazil. Thus, reforming tariffs on sugar will require virtually all WTO members to liberalize. The EU and the United States are major offenders, but others -- including developing countries -- are not without blame....When Nath blames EU intransigence on agriculture for the talks not going anywhere, he's half right -- because at this point India deserves just as much of the blame.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I sound very smart in German. Not so much in English.
A few months ago I gave an interview to Norweigan journalist Olav Anders Øvrebø on the politics of blogs in the United States. For those of you who understand German, it's now up at the Netzeitung web site. Among other things, I say:
Das Bloggen ist aber kein ausschließlich demokratisches Phänomen. Es ist einfacher bekannt zu werden, wenn man quasi offiziell zur Elite gehört, zum Beispiel als Professor. Aber das alleine reicht nicht. Man muss schreiben können, und das im Blog-Stil. Einige meiner Kollegen haben versucht zu bloggen, haben aber offenbar nicht verstanden, dass ein wissenschaftlicher Artikel als Blog-Eintrag nicht funktioniert. Man braucht einen guten Stil - und man muss bereit sein, Fehler einzuräumen und zu korrigieren.[Wow, sounds very erudite. What does it mean?--ed.] Well, translated through Babelfish:
The Bloggen is however none excluding democratic phenomenon. It is more simply admits to become, if one belongs quasi officially to the elite, for example than professor. But that alone is not enough. One must be able to write, and in the Blog style. Some my colleagues it have tried to bloggen, however obviously did not understand that a scientific article does not function as Blog entry. One needs a good style - and one must be ready to grant and correct errors[That sounds.... less erudite--ed.] Readers are encoraged to find the sentence in the interview that sounds the most ridiculous when re-translated into English.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is getting some bad press -- again
Poor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president just can't escape his press stereotype. Marc Wolfensberger has the latest story for Bloomberg:
The West has "fabricated a myth under the name 'Massacre of the Jews,' and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves,'' Iran's leader told thousands of supporters in the south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, state television showed in a live broadcast.Now, far be it for me to pass up an opportunity to poke some fun at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but if I were his spinmeister, I'd stress that he really didn't say anything new in these statements. He's articulated his belief that the Holocaust did not happened, and he's articulated his belief that Israel should be removed from the Middle Eastern region. All Ahmadinejad did in his recent utterances was reaffirm his previous positions. So, I'd make darn sure the press got the following bullet point:
The President of Iran has not ratcheted up his anti-Israeli rhetoric -- his views on Israel have remain unchanged since he took office.
The good news about tsunami aid
With the one-year anniversary of the Asian tsunami upon us, it's worth following up on the outpouring of aid that took place. All too often the topline numbers look impressive, but the follow-through is weak -- money is either misallocated or not spent at all.
So how has the tsunami aid worked out? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee has tracked oficial aid flows, and reports that the aid got to where it was supposed to go:
Two-thirds of the aid which the European Commission and the 22 member governments of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee pledged to countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami has been spent or ear-marked for specific projects, according to statistics gathered by the OECD....Click here for a glance at the country-specific tables.
Has the money done any good? Over at Foreign Policy's web site, Karl F. Inderfurth, David Fabrycky, and Stephen P. Cohen say yes:
[T]he danger existed that the tsunami relief story would play out like too many others: Aid pledges are made following the disaster, only to go unfulfilled as interest and attention wane. But tsunami relief has been sustained. Donors are keeping their pledges, NGOs have billions in the bank to spend on projects, and survivors continue to be cared for relatively well. Substantial government aid packages have been complemented by an astonishing level of private giving. For example, the U.S. government has pledged a total of $857 million, and U.S. private and corporate donations total at least $1.48 billion....When too much money is a problem, it's safe to say the aid effort has been remarkably successful.
Alas, as these charts demonstrate, the outpouring of aid for the tsunami has not been matched in other disasters. Whereas more than 80% of funding requirements for the tsunami have been met, aid levels for the victims of the South Asian quake have at only 30% of needed levels.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Ag subsidies revealed!!!
We know that a sticking point in the WTO negotiations is the resistance by the developed world to reduce their agricultural subsidies. Within that simple statement, however, the nature of ag subsidies is incredibly opaque. If you read Arvind Panagariya's Foreign Affairs essay, you discover that there are different "boxes" of subsidies. You also discover -- according to Cato's Daniel A.Sumner -- that many of these subsidies could soon be ruled as in violation of existing U.S. commitments to the WTO.
For now, however, these subsidies are here -- but who, exactly, gets them?
For that answer, I encourage you to check out the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database. Through many, many FOIA requests, they have produced. an interactive website chock full of interesting facts. For example:
EWG also has an interesting proposal to reallocate the ag money away from subsidies but towards rural areas where farmers actually generate high value-added goods already.
[Yes, we know U.S. subsidies are bad. What about EU ag subsidies?--ed.] Until recently, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy was way more opaque in terms of its allocation of funds. However, there's a new website called FarmSubsidy.org, which provides as much info on CAP subsidies as is available (shockingly, countries like France have ignored an EU directive and refused to make their subsidy records available to the public).
Among the more useful tidbits of info:
Go check it all out.
Monday, December 12, 2005
What happens at a WTO Ministerial -- day one
One would assume that a minister-level meeting of a big international governmental organization like the WTO would consist of a lot of big plenary sessions combined with backroom, smoke-filled, coffee-laden negotiations. This is probably true, but in the era of NGOs and mass media coverage, there's a new wrinkle to these kind of meetings -- all of the NGO-related public panels designed to attract NGO reps and reporters who cannot attend the back-room sessions.
The result is a weird amalgamation of quasi-academic workshop and floating press conference. NGOs supply a bevy of panels, roundtables, and speeches -- the goal being to attract as much press coverage as possible (see Victor Mallet and Justine Lau's story in the Financial Times for more on this). The conundrum is that the substance of trade issues are so mind-numbingly boring that just uttering the word "modalities" sends most reporters into a coma.
The result is that the events that capture the most attention are the ones with the greatest celebrity or the greatest divergence of views. Yesterday, for example, OxFam attracted a great deal of press coverage for its handoff of a petition to WTO Director General Pascal Lamy. Part of this was because Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal was there as official OxFam presenter (Bernal also succeeded in generating a fair amount of swooning from many of the female attendants and not a small number of male ones).
For an example of divergence of views, there is the debate that I'm sitting in as I type this, between WTO official Alejandro Jara (he's fer trade) vs. director of Focus on the Global South Walden Bello (he's agin' it). At this debate, the press outnumbers the attendants 4 to 1.
The trick at these sort of meetings is to separate the wheat from the chaff -- most of the time, these meetings are an exercise in repeating talking points. Occasionally, someone will say something edifying. In this case, the only illuminating statement was made by Jara, who pointed out that despite the image of horsetrading among member countries during the Doha round, there have been no new commitments to liberalize for the Doha round -- just a commitment to lock in prior, autonomous, unilateral moves towards liberalization. This does not bode well for these meetings -- because without some horse trading, nothing's gonna happen.
There was a defender of ag subsidies at the meeting, however. A U.S. soybean farmer piped up halfway through, arguing that international competition ruins the small family farmer. This has a grain of truth to it in the developed world, but I don't see why agriculture is so special -- last I checked, there are no subsidies for hunter-gatherers being proposed. The farmer's cure for this was "supply management," which as near as I could discern was a polite term for.... government support for family farms.
What's the difference between Time and Newsweek?
So I see that Time and Newsweek have dueling cover stories about George W. Bush, his recent political misfortunes, and his plans for the future. Both of them focus on Bush's insularity, his unwillingness to change course, and his general disdain for critics.
As near as I can discern it, there are four differences:
1) Tumulty and Allen seem to have slightly better sources within Bush's inner circle;Readers are encouraged to read both stories and post their thoughts.
Note to self: avoid Seth Mnookin
Seth Mnookin has a long Vanity Fair story about the Judith Miller saga at the New York Times. Few people at the Times look good, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr.comes off looking like an insecure, incompetent ass. That said, I still think that Mnookin does the biggest number on Miller. The devastating part is below:
Miller, it soon became clear, was not going to be an easy source to deal with. She initially refused to speak with [Times reporter Adam] Liptak because, she said, his story about her release from jail implied that she hadn't gotten a better deal from the prosecutor than the one that was available to her before she was imprisoned. She refused to speak with [Times reporter Janny] Scott because, she told friends, Scott had not bothered to write to her when she was in jail. (She also told people that she knew Scott was "judging" her.) At various points she wouldn't speak with [Times reporter Don] Van Natta either. On Tuesday afternoon, Van Natta approached Miller in the Times's newsroom. Miller immediately gave Van Natta a hug. "I'm so glad you're involved in this," Miller said. "Well, I'd really like to talk to you, now, if you have time," Van Natta replied. "I can't do it now," Miller answered. "I'm running off to go meet with Barbara Walters."Note to self: if Seth Mnookin calls me about anything, answer in full.
Miller now has a quasi-blog -- I'll be curious to see if she responds to this piece. [Actually, Mnookin characerizes judithmiller.org as a website, "contain[ing] self-justifying posts and cherry-picked, laudatory articles"--ed. The man is clearly unfamiliar with blogs.]
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Notes from Wan Chai
There's nothing watching a city gearing up for a major economic meeting. Hotels in Wan Chai -- the neighborhood near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where the WTO meetings will be held -- have set up X-ray scanning machines in the lobbies to check for... well, I'm not sure what, exactly but it's definitely a pain.
Protestors started coming out in force two days before the official events even begin. According to The Standard's Doug Crets and Leslie Kwoh, the protests were peaceful but:
Police said they were... alarmed by the mysterious disappearance of uniforms belonging to janitors, watchmen and others from local laundries and dry cleaners. The AFP news agency quoted police as saying protesters might use the uniforms to infiltrate the talks.Meanwhile, the presence of the protestors has also encouraged some investment firms based in Wan Chai to give their employees an early Christmas break. One commentator on Bloomberg TV said, "Happy Holidays -- and thank you, protestors!" And, of course, the strip clubs in the downtown area seem crowded with more raucous Westerners than usual. [How would you know?--ed. I swear, I walked by them to get to dinner last night.]
Of course, in Hong Kong, there are some additional measures taken in the wake of a big meeting. In my NGO accreditation materials, there's a lovely "Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Kit" put out by Hong Kong's Department of Health. According to this document, "If one has not come into close contact with infected live poultry or birds or their droppings, there is no need to be unduly alarmed about acquiring avian flu." So if any pigeons get near me, there's going to be trouble.
But all of this is great for the local economy, right? Well, not according to The Standard's Andrea Chiu:
Wan Chai residents said that, while they welcome the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference and the thousands of protesters in ideological tow, so far they aren't getting much out of it.Well, at least something of substance will be achieved at the WTO Ministerial itself, right? Er, not according to the Financial Times' Frances Williams:
For many of the ministers gathering in Hong Kong for the World Trade Organisation’s biennial jamboree, which opens on Tuesday, the accession ceremony for tiny Tonga could be the highlight of their week.. One last note -- if you're coming to Wan Chai, try to avoid staying at the Novotel Century Hotel. If you took a slab of concrete and wrapped it up in Kevlar, it would still be softer than my mattress from last night
Friday, December 9, 2005
Books worth buying
The hard working staff here at danieldrezner.com has noticed a trend in recent e-mails, along the lines of, "Say, Dan, what books would you recommend for the holidays?"
Well, I can't help much with the holiday-themed books. What I can do is recommend the books I've been reading recently:
Ian Urbina, Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore. Back in March I blogged about one of Urbina's New York Times stories about the small rebellions against petty annoyances. Urbina's story must have struck a nerve -- six months later he's got a short book chronicling more examples. Do check out his website at www.lifeslittleannoyances.comThat's all for now -- read those and report back while I wend my way to Hong Kong.
The ne plus ultra in outsourcing
David Barboza of the New York Times wins my Outsourcing Outrage of the Year award with, "Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese" :
One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.Read the whole thing. This is the perfect outsourcing story to generate outrage among perennially indignant. Why?
1) The story highlights the apparent sloth and excessive affluence of Americans that inflames the passiuons of the puritanical left and right;I eagerly await the first calls for legislation banning this kind of offshore outsourcing.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
I'm always the last to find out....
Virginia writes, "I don't expect to win, but I do hope to beat Dan Drezner." I'm getting creamed, so this is indeed a possibility.
[Any way to boost your numbers?--ed. Well, Megan McArdle has a foolproof approach to getting votes: "Please go vote for us. Because if we don't win, I'll cry. Big, fat tears rolling out of my dewy green eyes, staining my porcelain cheeks as my body racks with sobs. No one wants that." Alas, you have neither green eyes nor porcelain skin--ed. No.... but think of my lovely wife, who has green eyes, porcelain skin.... and dimples that disappear when she's sad. Vote for me -- don't make my wife's dimples go away. Oh, man, that's low--ed.]
This week in the Ahmadinejad follies...
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the gift that keeps on giving as far as I'm concerned. According to Reuters's Paul Hughes, Ahmadinejad put his foot in his mouth in Saudi Arabia today:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.I confess to being confused with Ahmadinejad's actual policy towards Israel -- does he want to relocate it to Europe or just wipe it off the map entirely?
UPDATE: The AP's Ali Akbar Dareni has a long story nicely detailing the variors international and domestic actors who have had it up to here with Ahmadinejad. The list includes the U.S., Europe, Russia, Saudia Arabia, the IAEA, Iranian moderates, and "[e]ven some of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative allies." This quote, however, is really priceless: "Saudis fumed Friday that Iran's hard-line president marred a summit dedicated to showing Islam's moderate face by calling for Israel to be moved to Europe."
Our comparative advantage in risk
Paul Blustein frets in the Washington Post that many developing countries are heading for another financial bubble:
International money managers are pouring funds at a record pace into the emerging markets of Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Cash is gushing into mutual funds that specialize in emerging markets, and billions of dollars more are flowing into such countries from giant insurance companies and pension funds.Lachman's article is mostly about Latin America -- but this paragraph captures his jitters pretty well:
What is also surprising is how little attention Latin American investors seem to be paying to the gathering storm clouds over the global economy. How long do they think that global economic growth can be sustained at its recent pace with international oil prices likely to remain at their currently heady levels? Or how long do they think that international commodity prices will remain well bid in a world in which the Chinese economy slows under the weight of its deep macro-economic imbalances and in which Europe stagnates at a time of internal dissension and policy paralysis?There appears to be an enormous irony in the pattern of global investment flows right now. As Alan Greenspan recently noted, there has been a decline in the home bias of investment:
The decline in home bias is reflected in savers increasingly reaching across national borders to invest in foreign assets. The rise in U.S. productivity growth attracted much of those savings toward investments in the United States. The greater rates of productivity growth in the United States, compared with still-subdued rates abroad, have apparently engendered corresponding differences in risk-adjusted expected rates of return and hence in the demand for U.S.-based assets....The irony is that this home bias is affecting U.S. investors as well -- the Blustein article demonstrates that even as massive sums of savings from the developing world are making their way to the safe haven of the United States, institutional investors in this country are channeling more funds to the developng world.
Does this make any sense? Most people would instinctively say no, and Blustein's implication in his article is that this crazy. My hunch is that it makes a fair amount of sense, because U.S. capital markets and financial institutions possess both a comparative and absolute advantage in coping with risk. This allows them to place large bets in developing country equity markets and earn a higher rate of return than those investing in the U.S.
Then again, I don't have large sums of money invested in the Turkish stock market. Large, wealthy investors are heartily encouraged to post comments on how sanguine they feel about global equity markets.
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Everything you always wanted to know about trade but were afraid to ask
Foreign Affairs has just released a special issue pertaining to all things about multilateral trade -- no subscription required. Contributors include Jagdish Bhagwati, Peter Sutherland, Carla Hills, and Charlene Barshefsky,and William Cline.
The common assertion that agricultural liberalization in rich countries would bring large benefits to LDCs is mistaken. These states -- many of them poor African countries -- benefit from the current regime because they can sell their exports at the high EU prices and buy imports at the low world prices. (Cotton is perhaps the sole exception: U.S. subsidies hurt poor countries because the EU tariff on cotton is zero and therefore its internal price for cotton is the same as the world price.) Gains to those developing countries not in the Cairns Group would accrue principally from their own liberalization. The principle of comparative advantage applies just as much to agriculture as to industry. Moreover, because developing countries do not currently enjoy trade preferences in one another's markets, they stand to gain from access there.Bergsten's essay provides an autopsy of the underlying political pressures that ail the Doha round:
The main problems that undermine the prospects for a successful Doha Round, however, lie outside the negotiations themselves. Three factors stand out: the massive current account imbalances and currency misalignments pushing trade politics in dangerously protectionist directions in both the United States and Europe; the strong and growing antiglobalization sentiments that stalemate virtually every trade debate on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere; and the absence of a compelling reason for the political leaders of the chief holdout countries to make the necessary concessions to reach an agreement. Progress on each front is necessary for the Doha negotiators to have a chance of succeeding.[Sure, the Foreign Affairs essays tell you what the elite thinks. But what about average, ordinary, hard-working Americans?--ed.] Well, then, scoot on over to the German Marshall Fund's latest survey results on how Americans feel about trade and poverty reduction. Some of the more interesting results:
Despite broad agreement (73%) that freer trade helps to boost prosperity, clear majorities in France (74%), Italy (65%), Germany (59%), and the United States (57%) believe that freer international trade decreases total jobs in their country. In a related question, 37% of European and 46% of American respondents favor protecting domestic jobs by raising tariffs, even if this means higher consumer prices....UPDATE: One last article worth reading -- Christina Davis makes the paradoxical argument in the International Herald-Tribune that the prospects for trade liberalization would improve if the Hong Kong meetings failed:
Patching over the differences in order to avoid headlines about a negotiation collapse would send the wrong signal. It would allow leaders in France to think that they can coddle the farm sector with exceptions for every special product and still pretend to care about development goals. It would allow leaders in Japan to believe that they can refuse a 100 percent ceiling on agricultural tariffs and still say they are committed to upholding the world trade system. It would allow the United States to continue spending $19 billion annually on its farmers while pointing fingers at other governments who fail to liberalize.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
I'll be on the radio tonight
From 9-11 this evening I'll be one of the guests on Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg on WGN Radio this evening. The other guests will be the lovely and talented Eszter Hargittai and fellow U of C blogger Sean Carroll from Cosmic Variance.
[So whatcha gonna talk about?--ed. According to Milt's blog, "[they] will discuss their forays into blogging, examine blogs as a cultural phenomenon, and relate how their blogs have influenced their life and our world." Draw your own conclusions. UPDATE: Sean's conclusions: "the view of the blogosphere we'll be offering will doubtless be narrow and unrepresentative, but fascinating nonetheless." How can you pass that up?]
George Carlin probably wouldn't call this a sport
God bless the trend reporters at the Los Angeles Times -- particularly Jeffrey Fleishman, who has a story on a brand new sport -- chess boxing:
Martin "Amok" Thomas is jabbing a right, but Frank "so-cool-he-doesn't-need-a-nickname" Stoldt is as elusive as a ribbon in the wind. He can't be hit.The World Chess Boxing Organization provides more detailed rules:
In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on. In every round of chess the FIDE rules for a ´Blitz game´ apply, in every boxing round the AIBA rules apply with the following extensions and modifications: In a contest there shall be 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess, 5 rounds of boxing. A round of chess takes 4 minutes. Each competitor has 12 minutes on the chess timer. As soon as the time runs out the game is over.And, of course, there is a chess boxing blog. If you're interested in participating in a sanctioned chess boxing match, click here!
[I detect some mild mockery in this post;you really want to piss off the chessboxers?--ed. On the contrary, this could sell. Thirty years ago no one took beach volleyball seriously, and now it's a professional sport.... that advertises on blogs. So would you ever watch chess boxing?--ed. Er, probably not -- but I could be tempted to watch celebrity chessboxing. Just think of Naomi Watts vs. Salma Hayek. Yes, just think......]
Monday, December 5, 2005
Political science enters the White House
Scott Shane had a New York Times front-pager on Sunday about the chief architect of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that was released earlier this week. Turns out it's a political scientist that I know:
There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."This is roiling elements of the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere. It's telling that the Indianapolis Star, running the same NYT story, has as its headline, "Iraq plan appears intended to win the war at home" (the NYT has the more neutral "Bush's Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst"). Laura Rozen, for example, scoffs that, "The strategy is mostly designed as PR for the American public." The indictment would seem to be that the Bush administration is more concerned with the domestic politics of the Iraq war than with actually winning on the ground in Baghdad.
As someone who's been more than a little displeased with the administration's handling of Iraq, let me state that this charge is absolutely true. The implication that this is somehow misguided is a bunch of horses**t.
Yes, this week's events were aimed primarily at a domestic audience. But that's because, as Shane points out in the Times piece, the military already knows what its mission is in Iraq -- doing everything possible to supply security in the short run and training the Iraqis to provide security in the long run (with logistical and air support from the U.S.). For all the analogies to Vietnam that are floating around, the administration's actual plan is almost a Vietnam in reverse -- to move from 1968 (having U.S. forces doing the bulk of the fighting) to 1961 (having U.S. forces providing a training, advisory, and logistical role). As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, this goal has actually started to seep into the military's strategic culture. One could even argue that this plan has achieved quite a bit.
Now it's true that there are other plans out there for consideration. It's also true, as James Fallows points out in the December Atlantic, that the administration didn't really have an actual plan until the summer of 2004, and the administration deserves all the hell it can catch for that Mongolian cluster-f**k. But the plan it has now has been in place for some time. John Dickerson points out in Slate that this fact is bedeviling certain Democratic critics:
There are reasonable grounds for criticizing the Bush/Casey strategy for dealing with the insurgency as flawed. It may be too little too late, or it may be based on rosy assumptions. But Kerry doesn't challenge it on any substantive basis. He can't, because to do so would acknowledge that Bush is offering a solution to the problem of U.S. troops inspiring insurgents.Which brings us to the purpose of this week's events.
The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more.... creative explanation).
The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.
So, yes, in part what happened last week was an exercise in public relations. But it was also a completely proper use of PR.
Blegging for help on Hong Kong
I'll in Hong Kong all next week to take a first-hand look at the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference. I'll be representing the Geman Marshall Fund of the United States as an "NGO observer" -- those of you who have read my scholarly work on globalization can drink in the rich ironies of that designation pour moi.
Anyway, while I won't have oodles of free time, I might have the occasional hour or two off. So I'm asking you, good readers, to fill me in on what must be seen and done in Hong Kong, or even Shenzen. Sure, the New York Times' Keith Bradsher provides some useful tips, but I have every confidence that the collective intelligence of danieldrezner.com readers can improve on Bradsher's advice.
UPDATE: Hmmm.... Justine Lau and Frances Williams have a report in the Financial Times implicitly suggesting that the NGO protestors might get a bit unruly:
Peter Yam, the police director of operations, said he expected at least three large demonstrations to take place, each of which could draw as many as 10,000 people.
Do the insurgents really want the U.S. to withdraw?
Time's Michael Ware has a long profile of the Iraqi insurgency and U.S. strategies to cope with it. The single most depressing sentence: "After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, the U.S. still can't say for sure whom it is up against."
The basic thrust of the article is that the U.S. believes that a fair amount of the insurgency consists of "Sunni rejectionists," an odd word choice given that they are nevertheless interested in participating:
The vast majority of those groups fall into a category the military dubiously refers to as Sunni "rejectionists." Mostly Baathists, nationalists and Iraqi Islamists, they oppose the occupation and any Baghdad government dominated by Iraqis sheltered from Saddam by foreign-intelligence agencies, such as Iran's or the U.S.'s. But they don't oppose democracy in Iraq. Many voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and have plans to participate in the Dec. 15 election. Few see a contradiction between voting and continuing to battle U.S. forces. "I voted in the referendum, and I'm still fighting, and everybody in my organization did the same," says Abu Marwan, the Army of Mohammed commander. "This is two-track war--bullets and the ballot. They are not mutually exclusive."Here's the most revealing paragraph:
Evidence of shifts within the insurgency in some ways presents the U.S. with its best opportunity since the occupation began to counter parts of the Sunni resistance. Adopting the long-standing attitudes of secular Baathists, some Sunni leaders tell TIME they have lost patience with al-Zarqawi and would consider cutting a political deal with the U.S. to isolate the jihadis. "If the Americans evidenced good intent and a timetable [there's that word again--DD] for withdrawal we feel is genuine, we will stand up against al-Zarqawi," says Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars. "We already stood up against him on the Shi'ite issue, and if he doesn't follow us, it will be a bad path for him." Baathist insurgent leader Abu Yousif, who has met with U.S. intelligence officers, says, "The insurgency is looking for a political outlet--once we have that, we could control al-Qaeda."Color me skeptical about these assertions, for one simple reason -- the Sunnis will be the big losers when/if the United States were to withdraw. It would be irrational of them to give up the extralegal strategy of insurgency, precisely because such a tactic has garnered them influence beyond their number to date.
Assume the withdrawal goes well. in any electoral democracy, the Sunnis will lose because they are vastly outnumbered by the Shia and the Kurds. Now assume the withdrawal goes poorly -- the insurgents will face a Shia majority pefectly willing to use extralegal means to ensure that they control the levers of power. Either way, the insurgents are better off right now than they will be when the Americans leave.
The one possibility of a U.S. withdrawal contributing to the Sunnis laying down their arms is if there's some kind of grand bargain behind the scenes in which the Shiite parties basically pledge to keep their militias from engaging in any kind of a pogrom -- but if I was Sunni, I'd take my chances playing cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military instead. Indeed, my strategy would be not to engage with U.S. forces at all, but do as much damage to Shia-predominant military units as possible.
[What about the possibility that Iraqis are now in the mood to vote for secular, non-sectarian parties?--ed. Again, great for the Sunnis, if true -- but the disturbing thing about both the Time piece and the Christian Science Monitor story linked above is that neither of them have any hard data -- just assertions by the reporter. Also remember that the supposed beneficiary of this secular trend -- former PM Iyad Allawi -- just got pelted with shoes in Najaf.]
Sunday, December 4, 2005
It's good to look at the big picture every once in a while
I've blogged previously about the fact that there has been a secular trend in the world towards reduced interstate and intrastate violence -- i.e., there's a lot less war going on. Oxblog links to a new endeavour -- the Human Security Report, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K. The overview is chock-full of heart-warming statistics:
[So, is there any bad news?--ed.] Sure -- the rate of reported rapes has more than doubled in the past eight years. [Couldn't that also be, in an odd way, a good thing? Rapes might not be more frequent so much as that they are now reported, which implies a greater acceptance of the notion of rape as acrime?--ed.] The optimist in me would like to agree with this, but the fact that the doubling has taken place in the last seven years makes me very suspicious. One would assume that improved reporting should lead to a slow secular increase (which is the long-term trend) rather than the current spike. Unless a big country like China or India suddenly improved its data collection, that spike is definitely worrisome. UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link. Some of the commenters are suggesting that this peaceful trend ended in 2001. I'm happy to report that this is not true -- it's just that some of the data listed above ended in 2001. Overall, let me quote from Gregg Easterbrook's TNR essay on this subject from six months ago:
Everyone agrees that the worst moment for human conflict was World War II; but how to rank, say, the current separatist fighting in Indonesia versus, say, the Algerian war of independence is more speculative. Nevertheless, the Peace and Conflict studies name 1991 as the peak post-World War II year for totality of global fighting, giving that year a ranking of 179 on a scale that rates the extent and destructiveness of combat. By 2000, in spite of war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, the number had fallen to 97; by 2002 to 81; and, at the end of 2004, it stood at 65. This suggests the extent and intensity of global combat is now less than half what it was 15 years ago.
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Kadima is doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed.
I've been remiss in not blogging about Israel, because I do so love the roiling comments section such posts generate. However, I have only one thing to say about Shimon Peres' decision to leave the Labor party and join Ariel Sharon's brand-spanking new Kadima Party -- it can only mean Kadima is doomed to implode.
Why do I say this? Because the one constant in Israeli politics is that Shimon Peres might be the single-worst politician in the brief history of the Israeli state. By this I don't mean Peres is a bad policymaker or leader -- I mean the man couldn't win an election to save his life. This is a guy who couldn't beat Mr. anti-charisma, Yitzhak Shamir. He couldn't beat Bibi Netanyahu after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish zealot.
If Peres keeps his mouth shut and goes into a bunker until the election is over, maybe Kadima has a chance. But unless the focus is completely on Ariel Sharon, Kadima will have a very short half-life.
UPDATE: Omri Ceren has an Israeli politics blogg, Mere Rhetoric, that is worth checking out. He's more optimstic about Peres than I am.
Friday, December 2, 2005
Let's talk about trade
I have an article in the latest issue of The American Interest on American attitudes about international trade. It's called "Trade Talk."
As the opening suggests, I'm not optimistic:
American perceptions about international trade have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Presidents can no longer craft positions on international trade issuesforeign economic policy in a vacuum. Trade now intersects with other highly politicized issues, ranging from the war on terror to environmental protection to bilateral relations with China. Old issues such as the trade deficit and new issues such as offshore outsourcing have made a liberal trade policy one of the most difficult political sells inside the Beltway.Alas, the rest of it is behind a subscription firewall. But go subscribe -- or buy this issue from anewsstand -- and then check it out.
The gold bug variations
Despite its romantic allure, gold has historically been a pretty lousy investment. Since the invention of interest-bearing assets portfolio diversification, there is very little financial incentive to hold large amounts of gold. The one exception to this rule, however, is when it seems like high inflation is imminent at the same time that everything else in the global political economy going to hell in a handbasket. The last great gold rush -- when it hit $850 in 1980 -- came at a time of double-digit inflation in the U.S., a stagnant global economy, and geopolitical instability.
Gold appears to have risen in value in recent months and years -- is this a sign of the current global political economy crashing and burning? The Economist's opinion page says I should relax:
Nothing swells the breast so much as the thought that you have been proved right at last. After riding high at the start of the 1980s, gold bugs had a miserable couple of decades. The price declined relentlessly, mocking their credo that the security of the financial system ultimately depends upon the yellow metal. Lately, though, the faithful have enjoyed their reward. In the past five years the price of gold has doubled. This week in Asian trading it briefly surpassed $500 a troy ounce—a level last breached in 1987. You can almost feel the bugs' excitement as the message sinks in: gold is back.So do I feel better? Yes and no. While the Economist is correct about gold in particular, I'm more concerned about the fact that "investors have put money into a wide range of metals." This could be because China's growing demand for raw materials has driven up the price of all commodities. But it could also be because risk-averse investors have figured out that they can buy something besides gold as a hedge against high inflation and political instability.
I strongly suspect that Chinese economic growth is the primary driver, because U.S. inflation right now is much lower than it was in 1980. On the other hand, a lot more foreigners hold dollars than they did in 1980, and the difficulty of predicting when the dollar will start to fall has me wondering if something else is going on.
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Your must-read blog post of the day
Scott Eric Kaufman, "My Morning: A Play in One Uncomfortable Act."
My only suggestion would have been to have inserted the word "unconsummated" somewhere in the title.
Wal-Mart is good for the poor
That's the basic conclusion of Jason Furman's essay "Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story" posted at the Center for American Progress website:
Productivity is the principal driver of economic progress. It is the only force that can make everyone better off: workers, consumers, and owners of capital. Wal-Mart has indisputably made a tremendous contribution to productivity. From its sophisticated inventory systems to its pricing innovations, Wal-Mart has blazed a path that numerous other retailers are now following, many of them vigorously competing with Wal-Mart. Today, Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the country, the largest grocery store in the country, and the third largest pharmacy. Eight in ten Americans shop at Wal-Mart.Read the whole thing. One quick cavil -- while Clinton deserves credit for the EITC's passage, I've always thought of the idea behind it as a conservative one.
Furman's analysis is of a piece with Global Insight's study of Wal-Mart's effect on the U.S. economy that was released last month:
Global Insight reviewed a wide range of previous studies that indicated that the efficiencies that Wal-Mart has fostered in the retail sector have led to lower prices for the U.S. consumer. These results were supported by statistical analysis which found that the expansion of Wal-Mart over the 1985 to 2004 period can be associated with a cumulative decline of 9.1% in food-at-home prices, a 4.2% decline in commodities (goods) prices, and a 3.1% decline in overall consumer prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index-All Items, which includes both goods and services.To be fair, Global Insight also invited outside papers, some of which are more critical of the Wal-Mart effect.
Needless to say, having John Kerry's principal economic advisor issue such a pronouncement has roiled other progressives. Matthew Yglesias has posted what looks like the most honest reply -- which is that the danger of Wal-Mart to progressives is not a question of economics but but politics. If Wal-Mart helps to weaken the power of unions, then it degrades one of the chief organzational pillars of the left.