Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Open SOTU thread

Post away your own comments on the State of the Union.

[What about your thoughts?--ed. I'm afraid I have some books to complete -- I'll catch the transcript later.]

UPDATE: This is funny -- at least to me, as my son is now old enough so that we do Mad Libs together.

posted by Dan at 09:10 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

It's quite the day for multilateralism

The U.S. scored two multilateral victories yesterday. First, the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russian Federation, and the United Nations) issued a statement on the Palestinian elections:

[T]he Quartet concluded that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.

The Quartet calls upon the newly elected PLC to support the formation of a government committed to these principles as well as the rule of law, tolerance, reform and sound fiscal management.

Meanwhile, the permanent five members of the Security Council and the European Union adopted a common position on what to do with Iran for now. Kevin Sullivan and Dafna Linzer explain in the Washington Post:
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany, agreed Monday night to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear program.

The decision, reached in London through a compromise with Russia and China, was a victory for the United States and its European allies, who had pressed for the matter to be sent to the council. But Russia and China were able to soften the agreement by stipulating that the Security Council not take up the matter until March. That gives Iran more time to comply with U.N. nuclear inspectors and avoid the threat of sanctions.

Still, a senior U.S. official said the announcement reflected "growing frustration" among all the parties over Iran's defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. watchdog.

"I think Iran's on the defensive. Iran did not expect this," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Judging by Iran's reaction to the news, I think that's a safe estimate (here's a link to the formal statement by the P-5)

Readers are formally invited to speculate about which multilateral entreaty will work better. My money is on the Quartet -- they have far greater leverage in sanctioning the Palestinian Authority than the United Nations has over Iran. At thesame time, though, this FT story by Daniel Dombey , Harvey Morris and Roula Khalaf suggests the EU might buckle on Hamas before the Chinese and Russians do on Iran.

posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Who gets the Roger this year?

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning -- click here for the full list.

Last year, I blogged about "a new interactive feature -- who did work that merited a nomination at the very least but got completely shut out." So, who gets a Roger this year???

The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has perused the list and.... well, we're having an admittedly tough time dredging anything up. The most glaring omission was Maria Bello as Best Supporting Actress for A History of Violence -- but then again, I wasn't that huge a fan of the movie. Sin City didn't get nominated for anything -- I would have thougt it merited a technical nomination or two, and if you ask me Elijah Wood was far scarier in that flick than William Hurt was in A History of Violence. I would have liked to have seen The Aristocrats nominated for Best Documentary, but I can't get too worked up about that -- especially with Murderball getting a nod.

So, I'll leave it to the readers -- who merits a Roger?

UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog has generated a list of its own -- including Joan Allen for The Upside of Anger. Having just seen that movie last night on DVD -- and being a big Joan Allen fan -- I'd argue that she'd have had a better chance if the movie had something resembling a coherent theme or plot.

posted by Dan at 09:19 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 30, 2006

The conservative take on Off Center

The editors of The Forum -- Berkeley Electronic Press' online-only journal of applied research in contemporary politics -- had an interesting idea for how to review Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. They asked the few Republican political scientists they knew what they thought of the book, with the idea that Hacker and Pierson would reply.

While a nice idea, I suspect many people -- including Hacker and Pierson -- got too busy to participate. [UPDATE: Pierson writes in to say that their reply is coming soon!!] Still, you can read my review. And you can read John J. Pitney's as well. They actually complement each other quite nicely.

Here's the key paragraph of my review -- which picks up on a point that Henry Farrell made about the book last fall:

Hacker and Pierson are attempting something unusual and even laudatory in political science (and I say this as a Republican). They are trying to use the tools and data of political science to make an explicitly political argument. This is refreshing, for the dirty little secret of our profession is that there is not a whole lot of politics in the academic study of political science. Most scholarship is written with the attitude of the detached observer; concepts like “blame” or “responsibility” – or even “good” and “bad” – rarely appear in our professional discourse. By injecting normative factors back into their analysis of the body politic, Hacker and Pierson have written a polemic that is light years better than anything Michael Moore or Sean Hannity could ever dream of publishing. This does not mean that their analysis is correct – indeed, Off Center suffers the flaws of most polemics, topped off with a few even bigger flaws. But this is a book that cannot and should not be ignored by either political scientists or pundits.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Hey, I actually do know Jack

Fifteen months ago, Dana Milbank had a Washington Post story that touched on the tension that existed between David Addington, Vice President Cheney's longtime lawyer and new chief of staff, and other national security lawyers in the administration:

Even in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy, Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president....

On the job, colleagues describe Addington as hard-edged and a bureaucratic infighter who frequently clashes with others, particularly the National Security Council's top lawyer, John Bellinger. Officials say disputes between Addington and Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, led Goldsmith to resign after eight months in the job; Addington had sought to persuade OLC to take a more permissive line on torture.

Still, even foes admire Addington's work ethic and frugality; he takes Metro from his home in Alexandria instead of using his White House parking space.

I dredge this up because Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas have written a much fuller account (and some regretfully overripe language) of this tension within the administration for Newsweek (link via Orin Kerr):
James Comey, a lanky, 6-foot-8 former prosecutor who looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. The press and public hardly noticed. Comey's farewell speech, delivered in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, contained all the predictable, if heartfelt, appreciations. But mixed in among the platitudes was an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people," said Comey, "know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way."

One of those people—a former assistant attorney general named Jack Goldsmith—was absent from the festivities and did not, for many months, hear Comey's grateful praise. In the summer of 2004, Goldsmith, 43, had left his post in George W. Bush's Washington to become a professor at Harvard Law School. Stocky, rumpled, genial, though possessing an enormous intellect, Goldsmith is known for his lack of pretense; he rarely talks about his time in government. In liberal Cambridge, Mass., he was at first snubbed in the community and mocked as an atrocity-abetting war criminal by his more knee-jerk colleagues. ICY WELCOME FOR NEW LAW PROF, headlined The Harvard Crimson.

They had no idea. Goldsmith was actually the opposite of what his detractors imagined. For nine months, from October 2003 to June 2004, he had been the central figure in a secret but intense rebellion of a small coterie of Bush administration lawyers. Their insurrection, described to NEWSWEEK by current and former administration officials who did not wish to be identified discussing confidential deliberations, is one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.

These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage.

Read the whole thing. I have nothing to add but this -- I've known Jack Goldsmith for many years from his time at the University of Chicago. If you think that Goldsmith is either a RINO or a squishy "must kowtow to all forms of international law" kind of guy, well, then you don't know Jack.

The fact that Addington, Cheney, and by extension Bush managed to force out people like Goldsmith and Comey means that the legal consensus within the administration is way, way outside the legal mainstream.

Oh, and one other thing: Henry Farrell is right. Those who criticized Goldsmith's appointment to Harvard Law School on ethical grounds (click here for one example) have a hell of a lot of crow to consume.

posted by Dan at 02:35 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

What is it that blogs do?

There's been another spasm of output on whether the blogosphere does anything better or different than the mediasphere.

Arnold Kiling believes that blogs function well as a distributor of information across the ideological spectrum:

Certain information is more valuable to me than it is to others. We can represent this concept by thinking of everyone as being located at different points on a circle. The points closest to you in the circle are people with similar interests. They might be workers in nearby cubicles, or they could be people located at a great physical distance but working in the same field.

I live in the economics neighborhood of the circle. My neighbor to the left is Brad, and my neighbor to the right is Virginia. All communication is via blog.

Every day, each of us receives new information. Think of this as news, or as a flash of inspiration. I post my new information to my blog. This information has value that consists of two random components. One component is its general value--which is equal for everyone on the circle. The other component is local value, which means that the farther it gets from me, the lower its value becomes. However, I only observe the total value of a piece of information to me. It is impossible for me to distinguish between the two components, so I do not know who else might be interested in the information.

I also read my neighbor's blogs. I evaluate each piece of information that I find on Virginia's blog. If its value to me exceeds some threshold value, then I link to it, which makes it available to Brad. If its value does not exceed the threshold, then I do not link to it. In this way, I act as a filter of information moving from right to left. I also do the same thing with information moving from left to right.

This filtering process makes all of us more efficient.

Meanwhile, Henry Farrell thinks the importance of blogs is not just as a provider of information, but as part of a conversation -- a fact that journalists have yet to comprehend:
The point is that they have very different – and clashing – notions of where authority and responsibility come from. Each newspaper article has the form of a discrete statement, which is supposed to be as authoritative as possible on its own ground. Each blogpost has the form of an intervention in an ongoing conversation – the blogger’s authority rests in part on her willingness to respond to others and engage in argument with them. A blogger who doesn’t respond to good counter-arguments is being irresponsible (of course many bloggers are irresponsible in this way; there isn’t much in the way of formal policing of this norm). These forms of authority are difficult to reconcile with each other, because the latter in large part undermines the former. If journalists start systematically responding to their critics, and getting drawn into conversations about whether or not they were right when they made a particular claim, then they’re effectively admitting that the articles they have written aren’t all that authoritative in the first place. They’re subject to debate and to revision. Thus, in part, the tendency for journalists like Jack Shafer to dismiss criticism from bloggers and their commenters as “organized riots” and lynch mobs. It’s a fundamental threat to their notions of where journalistic authority comes from.
Shafer, meanwhile, has a column in Slate suggesting that while journalists might not get the conversational aspect of bloggers, they do recognize the existential threat posed by the blogosphere:
Like the long-gone typesetters, today's newspaper guild members believe that their job is somehow their "property," and that no amateur can step in to perform their difficult and arduous tasks. On one level, they're right. John Q. Blogger can't fly to Baghdad or Bosnia and do the work of a John F. Burns. But what a lot of guild members miss is that not everybody wants to read John F. Burns, not everybody who wants to read about Baghdad is going to demand coverage of the quality he produces, and not everybody wants Baghdad coverage, period. If you loosely define journalism as words and graphics about current events deliverable on tight deadline to a mass audience, the price of entry into the craft has dropped to a few hundred dollars. Hell, I can remember renting an IBM Selectric for $100 a month in the late 1970s just to make my freelance articles look more "professional" to my editors.

So, when newspaper reporters bellyache about shoot-from-the-hip bloggers who don't fully investigate the paper trail before writing a story or double-check their facts before posting, they're telling a valuable truth. Bad bloggers are almost as bad as bad journalists. But the prospect of a million amateurs doing something akin to their job unsettles the guild, making it feel like Maytag's factory rats whose jobs were poached by low-paid Chinese labor.

It's not just the best of the blogosphere drawing away big audiences that the guild need worry about. If Chris Anderson's Long Tail intuitions are right, the worst of the blogosphere—if it's big enough—presents just as much (or more) competition. Michael Kinsley made me laugh a decade ago when he argued against Web populists replacing professional writers, saying that when he goes to a restaurant, he wants the chef to cook his entree, not the guy sitting at the next table. I'm not laughing anymore: When there are millions of aspiring chefs in the room willing to make your dinner for free, a least a hundred of them are likely to deal a good meal. Mainstream publishers no longer have a lock on the means of production, making the future of reading and viewing anybody's game. To submit a tortured analogy, it's like the Roman Catholic Church after Gutenberg. Soon, everyone starts thinking he's a priest.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Seven different ways of looking at Dog Days

Flying back from a conference today, I finished Ana Marie Cox's Dog Days. Here are my seven different ways of looking at the book:

1) It is the perfect airplane book -- provided you don't have a prurient ten-year old reading over your shoulder;

2) Chistopher Buckley was right and P.J. O'Rourke was wrong -- as DC novels of manners go, it's pretty decent.

3) Weirdly, the novel it most reminded me of was Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City -- except for the fact that the protagonist is a woman instead of a man, the book is set in DC rather than in New York, and the characters are addicted to Blackberries rather than cocaine.

4) I'm pretty sure Oprah will not be choosing Dog Days as her book of the month -- although it would certainly make people forget her connection to James Frey. This is a shame -- I, for one, would pay cash money to have Oprah ask Ms. Cox, "So, Ana, when did you first get interested in a@#-f%&?ing as a trope for your fiction?"

5) The single truest line I read in the book was this observation about DC: "You have to remember, no one here will ever admit they don't know something. It's considered a major faux pas to admit being uninformed."

6) I can't figure out why, after creating a fictional blog for the book called Capitolette, the book publicists didn't get more creative with the actual URL.

7) I hereby copyright the name "Eva Marie Dix" for that roman a clef I'll eventually write.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Those trade ministers mean business!!

Wow, some real progress was made at the Davos Economic Forum for pushing the Doha round of trade talks towards completion. Why, Alan Beattie reports for the Financial Times that trade ministers have agree to.... a new deadline:

Ministers on Saturday set themselves a tight new deadline of the end of April to come up with a framework deal under the faltering Doha round of global trade talks.

Meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, around 25 trade ministers from the World Trade Organisation’s 149 member countries promised that they would start making the key trade-offs that will underpin the final agreement.

The end-April target for agreeing the numerical formulas that will cut tariffs will require a huge acceleration in the talks, which started in 2001. “It is not going to happen unless there is a significant change in style, pace and content,” said Rachid Mohammed Rachid, the Egyptian minister who co-ordinates African countries in the talks.

Well, thank God -- the real problem with this round of trade talks had been the lack of deadlines.

Seriously, Bloomberg's Rich Miller provides some detail on what needs to be done:

Among their goals are resolving 33 differences over agricultural subsidies and 15 questions on industrial products by April 30th. "We've got a big number of topics to be addressed,'' Pascal Lamy, director general of the WTO, told reporters in Davos. ``Most of that has to be done in the first half of this year.''

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters that ministers agreed they needed to act together to strike a deal rather than wait for each to move first.

"They all know they have to move,'' said Lamy. ``That is the widest secret here.''

Indian Minister of Commerce Kamal Nath said the onus should be on the U.S. and Europe to slash agricultural subsidies which are hurting developing nations.

"The European Union and U.S. must move,'' he said. "Developing countries cannot accept any more paying a price for the U.S. and EU to stop doing what they shouldn't be doing anyway.''

Portman is correct about the need for cross-issue linkage -- but until the ministers in Nath's camp acknowledge this fact, I'm not holding my breath waiting for progress.

posted by Dan at 07:25 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tom Friedman faux pas watch!

David Rothkopf is blogging about the Davos Economic Forum for Foreign Policy's web site. I bring this up because Rothkopf caught the ultimate moderator faux pas earlier this week:

Late this afternoon, there was a packed session chaired by Tom Friedman that included Queen Rania of Jordan, Pakistan’s President Musharraf, Afghanistan’s President Karzai, and Hajim Alhasani, President of the Iraqi National Assembly. The topic was Muslim societies in the modern world, but the discussion was wide ranging. There was a uniformly negative reaction to Iran getting nuclear weapons—highlighted by the awkward moment when, after arguing that no nations in the region should have nuclear weapons, Friedman realized that sitting four feet away from him was Musharraf, who does.
UPDATE: Turns out Foreign Policy was in error, and it was Karzai and not Friedman who made the faux pas. See here for more.

posted by Dan at 05:41 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Hamas thread

I'm at a conference all day today, which means I conveniently do not have the time to post deep thoughts on Hamas' electoral victory in Palestine. So I'll let me readers comment instead. Go to it!!

But click here and here if you want an inkling of what I think. And click here for Esther Pan's concise summary of the situaion at cfr.org.

UPDATE: Michael Herzog has a very pessimistic take at Foreign Affairs:

Optimists argue that Hamas' participation in mainstream Palestinian politics will spur the group to moderate its radical goals and terrorist tactics. But history shows that political participation co-opts militants only under very specific conditions -- and almost none of those exist in the Palestinian Authority today.

posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

So what do people think about rebuilding New Orleans?

Some of my colleagues here at the University of Chicago have been conducting some veeery interesting public opinion research on post-Katrina New Orleans. Here are some snippets from the press release:

The process of deciding how to rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is undermined by sharp racial gaps between blacks and whites about what should be done, according to new research by political scientists at the University of Chicago.

Their project, the 2005 Racial Attitudes and the Katrina Disaster Study, is the first to analyze racial differences in reactions to the reporting of the tragedy and people’s attitudes toward the responsibilities of the victims to avoid the disaster. The research is being conducted by the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and headed by Michael Dawson, the John D. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science; Cathy Cohen, Professor in Political Science; and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science....

Some of the reasons the national consensus is still unresolved may come from the way the disaster was initially reported, Harris-Lacewell suggested. Shortly after the hurricane struck, people were shown images of both black and white people being rescued as well as reports that either described them as refugees or referred to them as Americans.

To test how reporting on the tragedy influenced people’s reactions, survey participants were shown separate television images of both black and white families and asked two questions: “The federal government should spend whatever necessary to rebuild the city and restore these Americans to their homes,” or “Although this is a great tragedy, the federal government must not commit too many funds to rebuilding until we know how we will pay for it.”

Whites who viewed the images of white victims described as refugees were 6 percent more likely to support rebuilding than they were if they viewed a black family described as refugees. Blacks had similar responses, whether people were described as refugees or as Americans, but were 5 percent more likely to support rebuilding if they were shown a black family.

Overall, blacks supported the federal government spending whatever is necessary to rebuild and restore people to their homes by 79 percent. Only 33 percent of whites held that position.

Among blacks, 89 percent felt that the reason blacks were trapped by Katrina was that they didn’t have resources to escape, while 56 percent of whites held that view....

In addition to the work of the team analyzing data, Harris-Lacewell traveled to New Orleans in November 2005 to interview people and attend community meetings. She found attitudes and responses divided racially as well.

“African-Americans blamed local government. They felt that the local authorities had not maintained the levees or else blew them up so that their neighborhoods were flooded,” she said. Whites were more likely to attend meetings at which a plan with modest goals to restore the core tourist section of the city was given priority, she said.

posted by Dan at 08:23 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Is the world really getting more pacific?

Slate's Fred Kaplan has an essay that tries to debunk claims made in last year's Human Security Report that the world is becoming more pacific. Among his many points:

The report's main exhibit, Figure 1.1, is a graph showing the numbers of wars—international, civil, and colonial—from 1946-2002. The authors summarize this graph as follows:
It reveals that the number of armed conflicts increased steadily decade by decade throughout the Cold War. Then in the early 1990s, a steep decline started that continues to this day.

Well, let's look at this graph. (Click here to follow along.)

First, yes, the number of armed conflicts has declined since 1992—from 50 to 30. But this merely puts the world at the same level of turmoil as in 1976. I don't remember anybody thinking of that era as particularly tranquil.
This sounds like a nice debunking, but it's pretty unconvincing to me, for two reasons:
1) If you look at the figure, it seems like the world was more peaceful 60 years ago -- but that's only because the total number of states in the system was much smaller than today. It's not surprising that the number of intrastate conflicts increased from 1946 to 1991 -- that's because the number of states in the system increased as well. What's interesting about the post-1991 system is that it's gotten more peaceful even as the number of states has increased. True, a lot of these new countries are microstates like Tonga -- but they also includes the former Soviet and Yugoslav republics.

Kaplan's focus is on the numerator -- but you have to look at the denominator as well. That's what makes the decline in wars so surprising.

2) Unstated in the Human Security Report, but vital to the perception of a "peace epidemic," is the absence since 1945 of the most deadly form of international conflict -- a genuine great power war. For the near future, the U.S. won't be fighting China, India, Russia, or even the European Union. Great power wars are indeed rare, but the current peace of 60 years is the longest stretch of time without one breaking out since the birth of the modern state system.

Kaplan is correct to point out that the current downturn in armed conflict might not be permanent -- but it's still a downturn.

UPDATE: Andrew Mack -- Director of the Human Security Centre at UBC and the one responsible for the report that's being debated -- has taken the time and trouble to post his response to Kaplan in the comments section. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 01:23 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Legalizing domestic surveillance

Mike Allen repots at Time.com that the Bush administration is looking to gain Congressional approval of its warrantless wiretapping problem program:

Even as the White House launches a media blitz to portray its controversial wiretapping program as a perfectly legal weapon in the war on terror, administration officials have begun dropping subtle hints—without explicitly saying so—that President Bush could go to Congress to seek more specific authority to listen in on U.S. citizens who are suspected of entanglement with terrorists. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales added to such speculation Tuesday by asserting during a series of television interviews that the law setting up an apparatus requiring warrants for such eavesdropping—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA—might be outmoded. "I think we all realize that since 1978, when FISA was passed, there have been tremendous changes in technology," he said on CBS's "The Early Show." "We are engaged in a debate now, a conversation with Congress about FISA and about these authorities."

During a speech a few hours later at Georgetown University Law Center, Gonzales made another reference to the possible need to update the law, pointing to the authorization Congress gave Bush to pursue terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of the justification for the current program. "It is simply not the case that Congress in 1978 anticipated all the ways that the president might need to act in times of armed conflict to protect the United States," said Gonzales, who also said Bush was simply following in the footsteps of such presidents as Washington and FDR who had also used military surveillance without warrants. "FISA, by its own terms, was not intended to be the last word on these critical issues."

No such move is imminent, a top aide stressed. But administration lawyers are said to be debating whether the President would be better off putting the monitoring on more solid footing, or whether seeking additional latitude would amount to admitting the government had not been following the law. The most likely route would be an amendment to FISA, sources said. Lawyers following the controversy perked up their ears when Gonzales said at Georgetown that the government could begin monitoring based on whether there was a "reasonable" basis to believe the subjects were linked to terrorism. Some lawyers contend that is lower than the "probable cause" standard established by FISA. Gonzales said that the "terrorist surveillance program involves intercepting the international communications of persons reasonably believed to be members or agents of al-Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations." But he added: "'Reasonable basis to believe' is essentially the same as the traditional Fourth Amendment probable cause standard."

Three thoughts on this:
1) If I were a Bush political advisor, I'd advise him to ask for congressional approval. It's the smart political move, because it engages in political jujitsu -- it ends the debate about the legalit of what happened in the fall of 2001 and refocuses attention on the merits of amending FISA. The liberal bloggers I read have allowed that amending FISA to allow what the NSA is currently doing might be appropriate. Like the House vote on Murtha's withdrawal proposal a few months ago, this kind of vote forces Bush critics to put up or shut up.

2) I still don't understand why Bush didn't include a FISA amendment in the Patriot Act when it was first passed in the fall of 2001. Can anyone explain this? Really, I blegging here.

3) Kevin Drum has been doing some excellent blogging on this topic. I can't really disagree with his characterization of the state of play right now.

UPDATE: The initial title to this post was a misnomer -- apologies.

posted by Dan at 08:16 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

I see Pejman Yousefzadeh has a suggestion for me:

Following Professor Ignatieff's lead, there is no reason whatsoever why we in America cannot elect academics to Congress. Indeed, now that Daniel Drezner will be decamping to Massachusetts, and given the fact that Ted Kennedy will be up for re-election this year . . .

Well, I don't have to draw a picture for you, do I?

Which is what inspired the title to this post. And also this link to a William Tecumseh Sherman quote.

[You're afraid of all the rumors involving you, Salma Hayek, and the butterscotch toppng, aren't you?--ed.] No, I've met politicians, and I know I'm not one of their breed.

I don't say this in a haughty, superior way, but rather with a sense of awe at the drive required to run for elected office in modern America. A few years ago I spent some time with a guy who was planning on running for Congress a year later. This guy wasn't a political legacy or anything, just someone who wanted to be a politician. What I remember about him was the focus, energy, and almost-animal appetite he brought to the task. He reveled in he things about campaigns that I would find infuriating. I found the experience akin to being in a room with the biggest, baddest alpha dog you've ever seen.

Sure, once you get elected, the advantages of incumbency are pretty powerful. But to get to that point, you not only have to desire the office, you have to desire making the journey as well. That's not me.

And so I teach instead....

[Wow, that was deep.... so what you're really afraid of are all the rumors involving you, Scarlett Johansson, and the buttersco--ed. Oh, give it up.]

posted by Dan at 10:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

A typology of glory walls

Slate's John Dickerson dissects the photos of George W. Bush with Jack Abramoff reported so breathlessly in Time. Far more important, however, is Dickerson's useful anthropological report about the hierarchy of Washington's "glory walls":

Are the photos the meaningless trinkets given out to big contributors? Or are they the meaningful trinkets that are a crucial part of the dance of influence between the White House and the lobbyists it uses to promote its agenda?

Understanding the Abramoff pictures requires investigating the absurd Washington phenomenon known as the "glory wall." Also called the "wall of fame," "me wall," and "ego wall," the glory wall is where members of the establishment flaunt their connections by displaying photos of themselves with more famous people. Lobbyists have glory walls in the office to impress clients. Staffers have them to impress other staffers. Socialites have their glory walls on the piano....

The truly famous have vast walls with candid photographs of themselves with presidents, jurists, and world leaders, usually with handwritten inscriptions scrawled at the bottom. Famed White House photographer Diana Walker has the most aesthetically pleasing glory wall: Her personal inscriptions are at the bottom of her own stunning photographs. Jack Valenti, a former Lyndon Johnson aide and former superlobbyist for the Motion Picture Association, has perhaps the most impressive photo of proximity to power. In the iconic photograph of Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after Kennedy's assassination, Valenti is in the background, staring directly in to the camera.

Which brings us to the glory-wall hierarchy. Certain photos are worth more than others. Take presidential photos, for example. The Valenti photo is at the top: a picture that places you at a world-historical event. Next in prestige: you and the president, in casual clothes. After that: a shot of a president at your house. Below that, you and the president on Air Force One or in the Oval Office. And last: shaking hands with the president at some enormous, impersonal event.

The Abramoff-Bush pics are clearly in the bottom categories. The most potent picture, as described by Time, shows Abramoff, the president, several unidentified people, and a tribal leader in the Old Executive Office Building. Abramoff tried to sell such meetings to his clients as consultations with the president—that Bush was inviting the tribal leaders to Washington to get their views. Hooey. The president's performance at such meetings is brisk: pleasantries, remarks, handshakes, and he's out.

Bush doesn't need to stay long because the events are all about the picture, which is why the pictures are a political problem for the White House. Such pictures are a part of the reward system that help the White House run. White House officials know that when they give Abramoff or other lobbyists and political backers such photographs, they're going to use those photos out in the real world to claim that they have big-time access to Bush. For giving Abramoff this little bragging right, White House aides put influence in the bank.

posted by Dan at 01:22 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

No more "buy American"

What with Ford planning to lay off a few people over the next few years, there's going to be a lot of navel-gazing this week about the state of the U.S. auto sector.

Rick Popely and Deborah Horan have a story in today's Chicago Tribune that points out one big problem GM and Ford have -- the "Buy American" campaign doesn't work at crunch time anymore:

When domestic automakers had their backs to the wall 25 years ago, they could count on a "Buy American" sentiment to keep some customers from defecting to fuel-efficient foreign cars.

Today, many loyal domestic vehicle owners say they would be comfortable buying an import....

For one thing, it isn't even clear anymore what "Buy American" means when it comes to cars and trucks. Many of those new models from Toyota and others are built in places like Kentucky, Indiana and Alabama, while the Chevrolet Aveo is imported from South Korea. Meanwhile, some Dodge Ram pick-ups are built in Mexico. Dodge, of course, is a domestic brand, but it's owned by Germany-based DaimlerChrysler.

This blurring of vehicle origin means that Ford or GM can't rely on a "Buy American" marketing campaign.

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research, says the confusion over national origin means consumers are less likely to try to help fellow Americans by buying a domestic vehicle.

"Basically, they throw their hands in the air and just buy what they like," Spinella said.

The lack of stigma attached to buying a foreign product goes beyond the auto industry.

Compared to the early 1980s, consumers face shelves stocked with foreign-made products--from televisions to running shoes. Often they don't notice the origin of what they purchase.

When CNW surveyed shoppers coming out of Wal-Mart stores, 75 percent said they preferred to buy American, yet an inspection of their purchases found that 90 percent were made in China.

"They don't even look to see where the stuff is made anymore. It's the price that matters," Spinella said.

It's not only price that matters, though, as the story points out later:
Though domestic brands get on the shopping lists of two-thirds of car buyers, Spinella said 20 percent of those people wind up buying an import because of better styling, a lower price or a unique feature.

For example, when Honda got into the pick-up market last year with the Ridgeline, the truck came with a novel lockable trunk in the cargo floor that holds a 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs.

"Ford has been building pick-up trucks for a hundred years, yet no one thought to do that," Spinella said.

The only way Ford and GM can combat their Asian rivals is with innovative features like that, or with exciting models like the Chrysler 300, which looks like a Bentley luxury sedan.

"They just need to build some products people want to buy, something that people are excited about," Spinella said....

Ford has such a hit with the Fusion, a new midsize sedan that attracts one-third of its buyers from Asian and European brands, according to CNW, and GM's Pontiac division is attracting attention with the stylish Solstice, a two-seat sports car.

Ford and GM have steadily closed the quality gap with the leading Japanese brands in owner surveys like J.D. Power and Associates' initial-quality study, yet consumers are still leery.

"You can generate interest and excitement with styling and new products, but when it comes time to purchase, people demand a higher level of confidence and security," said Alexander Edwards, chief executive of Strategic Vision, a San Diego consulting firm.

That is one reason the Toyota Camry is America's favorite car, despite frequent criticism that it is bland. Consumers have confidence in the car and "trust in the brand," Edwards said, while domestic brands have failed to build similar trust.

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Michael Ignatieff.... elected official

Ten days ago I blogged about Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff's quixotic campaign for parliament seat in Canada, as a member of the Liberal Party..

Well, the elections were yesterday, and the Liberals didn't do so well, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Canadian voters, saying they were fed up with financial scandals and ready for a change, ended the 12-year run of the ruling Liberal Party on Monday, ousting Prime Minister Paul Martin in favor of a Conservative Party likely to steer a path closer to the United States.

Nearly complete returns in the national election gave a strong victory to Conservative leader Stephen Harper, 46, an economist and political strategist from western Canada who jokes about being dull.

He shrugged off Martin's accusations that he is too cozy with U.S. conservatives for liberal-leaning Canada--the same accusations that crippled his candidacy in 2004.

While this is bad news for the Liberal party, CTV reports that Ignatieff weathered the backlash against the party and is now an elected official:
Liberal Michael Ignatieff, touted as a potential future party leader, passed his first political test Monday, shaking off a campaign marred by accusations of opportunism and ethnic slurs to win a west Toronto riding.

The 58-year-old political neophyte and Harvard academic kept Etobicoke-Lakeshore in the Liberal fold, defeating Conservative John Capobianco and NDP candidate Liam McHugh-Russell.

The Ignatieff win took on a new significance after Liberal Leader Paul Martin said early Tuesday he would soon step down.

"Now he's got to stick around and live up to the expectations that he might be the leader-in-waiting,'' said David Docherty, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Ignaieff must now suffer the cruel fate of having political scientists talk about him in the media. [Could be worse..... could be bloggers!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 10:38 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bill Clinton is responsible for the Iran mess

So I see Brad DeLong is intervening intellectually outside his home area of expertise. Here are his latest thoughts on Iran (riffing off a Fareed Zakaria column):

Back in the George H.W. Bush administration the end of the Cold War broke the mold of world politics, and made new modes and orders of world affairs possible. George H. W. Bush and his advisors worked like dogs to establish two principles:
1. Aggression and conquest across national borders would be rolled back by the world community.

2. Superpowers would not intervene militarily outside their home regions without the blessing and support of the entire U.N. Security Council.

With these two principles in place, there was sound hope--well, some hope--that nonproliferation policy would succeed: diplomats could point out to countries thinking of developing nuclear programs that such programs (a) were expensive, (b) increased the chances that their citizens and cities would suffer thermonuclear death (are Pakistani and Indian citizens safer now that both have nuclear weapons? I do not think so), and (c) did not add to their national security--unless their government thought that it was so despicable and tyrannical that the entire Security Council would agree on its overthrow.

The George W. Bush administration broke principle number 2. It declared that there were three governments--Iraq's, Iran's, and North Korea's--that constituted an "axis of evil." North Korea's government claimed to have a nuclear deterrent and has survived. Iraq's government could not claim to have a nuclear deterrent and was overthrown. And Iran's government--and every other government--has drawn the natural conclusion: the threat of nuclear retaliation is the only protection against being overthrown by a U.S. president.

Let's clear some brush here:
1) DeLong's principle number 2 has not and likely never will be a cardinal element of American foreign policy, and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.

This is not to say that the U.S. doesn't like the Security Council's imprimatur when it can get it. But neither George H.W. Bush nor Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush would ever say the Security Council gets a veto on out-of-theater military operations.

[But this allows other states to act in a similar manner!--ed. Yes, but since no other country has the logistical infrastructure to take military action against a country 3,000 miles away, that's a tradeoff most presidents can live with).

In fact, the two terms of the Clinton administration was one long, slow shift away from the Security Council's tendrils and towards clubbier multilateral institutions (NATO) as well as unilateral action. The Clinton team was fully prepared to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea in 1994 even though China would have vetoed any Security Council resolution authorizing force. They unilaterally struck both Afghanistan and Sudan following the 1998 embassy bombings. And, of course, they intervened in Kosovo with the blessing of NATO but not the Security Council.

By DeLong's logic, it's the Clinton administration's bellicose actions and rhetoric that forced the Iranians into proliferating. [UPDATE: Just to be perfectly clear -- I'm not really blaming Bill Clinton. I'm just taking DeLOng's argument, which I believe to be faulty, to its logical conclusion.]

2) DeLong's counterfactual is that if the Bush administration had not created an "Axis of Evil" or invaded Iraq, Ian would not be pursuing nuclear weapons. Yeah, not so much, no. Iran's nuclear ambitions -- and its weapons program -- did not spring forth from Bush's Axis of Evil speech. It comes from the fact that a) Iran is not located in the most stable region in the world; b) Iran's existential enemies -- the U.S. and Israel -- both have nukes; and c) The United States seems to be invading countries awfully close to Iran. I agree with DeLong that the administration is responsible for (c), but let's not kid ouurselves -- this was going to be a problem at some point.

3) I'm going to have to check, but I haven't been reading about any other countries -- or "every other government" -- frantically trying to acquire nuclear weapons since the invasion of Iraq. In fact, some countries -- such as LIbya -- have changed their minds and scrubbed their WMD programs. Other countries that one would expect to start proliferating, such as Japan, have not chosen to do so. This is partly due to the administration moderately successful Proliferation Security Initiative -- and it could also be due to the knock-on effect from invading Iraq. In fact, if memory serves, the Iraq invasion actually prompted the Iranians to want to cut a deal with the United States on its WMD program. An offer the Bush administration foolishly rejected.

There's a lot of blame to pin on the Bush administration for a whole bunch of policy sins. There's no need to invent nonexistent foreign policy doctrines for the administration to violate in the process.

UPDATE: Brad responds in good humor with this post. His key piece of evidence is a quotation from pp. 489-90 of Bush and Scowcroft's A World Transformed:

Trying to eliminate Saddam [Hussein in 1991], extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs.... We would have been forced to... rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy".... Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish...
To which I must reply -- look at p. 356, Brad!!:
We would ask the [Security] Council to act only if we knew in advance we had the backing of most of the Arab bloc and we were fairly certain we had the necessary votes. If at any point it became clear we could not succeed, we would back away from a UN mandate and cobble together a independent multinational effort built on friendly Arab and allied participation. The grounds for this would be the initial UN resolution condemning Iraq, the subsequent resolutions, and Article 51, along with a request from the Emir of Kuwait. In the end, if sanctions failed and it came to using force, [Richard] Haass and [Bob] Kimmitt reminded us that our ability to rally the necessary political support, with or without UN endorsement, would be enhanced significantly if we were seen to have tried hard to make diplomacy work [with Hussein].
I fear this intervention is turning into a quagmire for Professor DeLong :-)

posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

That's some interesting Islam in Morocco

Der Spiegel's Helene Zuber has an interesting story about how Morocco's government recent efflorts to fuse Islam, modernization, and civil rights. So far, it seems to be working:

Religion is making a comeback in Morocco, and more and more young, well-educated Moroccans are devouring the Koran. The new piety, no longer limited to the mosque or prayers at home, is evident in full public view. More and more women are wearing headscarves, even in Casablanca's western fashion enclaves and Rabat's gleaming shopping centers. The designers of expensive caftans -- creations of brocade and silk, embellished with gold thread -- are now selling their products as luxury couture for the next party, and their clientele is no longer limited to wealthy tourists.

Morocco's 42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of modernizing his society -- and progress through piety seems to be the order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa's northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran....

The Conseil Supérieur des Oulémas, or council of religious scholars, which the king installed a year and a half ago, has been issuing fatwas on the most pressing questions of the 21st century -- and, surprisingly, they've been well-received by both young people and hardened Islamists. If the king's reform plan succeeds, Morocco could become a model of democratic Islam....

Traditionally women are not permitted to speak out during prayer, so as not to "provoke" the men, explains Fatima al-Kabbaj, a graduate of the time-honored Islamic theological University of Karaouine in Fez and the first woman in the 16-member Council of Religious Scholars. Kabbaj instructed the king and his siblings in the laws of faith. She says that the monarch has recognized that women are better able to gain the trust of the illiterate, most of whom are also women. Besides, says Kabbaj, devout women are also more effective with the rural population and Morocco's four million poor than inaccessible imams....

But can the plan succeed? Can the Moroccan king control the interpretation of the Koran in a country where anyone can gain access to competing foreign views on the internet? The palace, at any rate, is willing to try anything. It's even set up a website that will enable the faithful to chat with religious scholars at 1,000 key mosques. In addition, Radio Coranique Mohammed VI has been broadcasting religious programming for more than a year. And during the last fasting period, the king not only had a woman lead the traditional religious discussion panel at the palace, but also inaugurated an Islamic satellite TV station.

Another tool in Mohammed's battle for the souls of his subjects is the "National Initiative for Development." Although officially more than half of the government's budget is spent on social projects, Morocco is still ranked 124th on the United Nations Human Development Index. With a budget of just under €25 million in immediate aid and another billion euros between 2006 and 2010, the government hopes to reduce poverty by half within the next five years.

If the king has his way, Moroccans will liberate themselves from the slogans and handouts of radical Islamist preachers. Although they may represent a threat to Mohammed VI's reform policies, the only Islamist party seen as capable of succeeding in next year's parliamentary election is the Justice and Development Party.

The party's young leaders are using the Turkish ruling party, AKP, and the German Christian Democrats as their model. In the eight cities controlled by the Islamists, they have already dispensed with prohibitions on serving alcohol, Western films and provocative swimwear -- knowing full well that Morocco's economy depends on tourism.

posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The state of Afghan public opinion

The Program on International Policy Attitudes commissioned a survey in Afghanistan on how they feel about things. The results are pretty overwhelming:

A new WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of the Afghan public finds an overwhelming majority opposes al-Qaeda and the Taliban, endorses the overthrow of the Taliban and approves of the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Eighty-one percent of Afghans said they think that al-Qaeda is having a negative influence in the world with just 6% saying that it is having a positive influence. An even higher percentage—90%—said they have an unfavorable view of Osama bin Laden, with 75% saying they have a very unfavorable view. Just 5% said they have a favorable view (2% very favorable). These levels were slightly lower in the country’s war zone, the eastern and south-central part of the country: three in five (60%) in those areas had a very unfavorable view of bin Laden.

The poll was developed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and fielded by ACSOR/D3 Systems, Inc. from November 27 to December 4, 2005, with a sample of 2,089 Afghan adults.

The fundamentalist Taliban that governed Afghanistan from 1996 until it was overthrown with the help of US forces in October 2001 received equally poor ratings. Eighty-eight percent said they have an unfavorable view of the Taliban (62% very unfavorable). Only 8% said they have a favorable view. In the war zone, a lesser 47% described their view of the Taliban as “very unfavorable,” but 81% were unfavorable nonetheless.

Perhaps most telling, 82% said that overthrowing the Taliban government was a good thing for Afghanistan, with just 11% saying it was a bad thing. In the war zone, 71% endorsed the Taliban’s overthrow while 16% saw it as a bad thing; in the north, 18% saw it as a bad thing.

These views were held by large majorities of all ethnic groups, including the large Pashtun and Tajik groups and the smaller Uzbek and Hazara groups. The Pashtuns were less emphatic in their rejection of the Taliban, with 51% expressing a very unfavorable view of the Taliban as compared to 66-79% for the other groups.

Equally large percentages endorse the US military presence in Afghanistan. Eighty-three percent said they have a favorable view of “the US military forces in our country” (39% very favorable). Just 17% have an unfavorable view.

International agencies also get a warm endorsement. An overwhelming 93% gave the United Nations favorable ratings (57% very favorable). International agencies providing aid for reconstruction were rated as effective by 79%, with 38% saying they are very effective.

Steven Kull, director of PIPA and principal investigator of the study comments, “It is remarkable that the country that was for years subjected to the totalitarian fundamentalism of the Taliban and hosted the al Qaeda as it planned 9-11, is now overwhelmingly rejecting them and welcoming the presence of the US and international agencies. Clearly this is a positive portent for the struggle against extreme fundamentalism.”

Click here for the topline results a a brief note on methodology.

posted by Dan at 11:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cuba gets to play ball

The Associated Press reports that Cuba will be allowed to participate in the World Baseball Classic:

The Bush administration is letting Cuba play ball.

The Cubans will be allowed to participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic after the U.S. government reversed course Friday and issued the special license necessary for the communist nation to play in the 16-team tournament.

One slightly bizarre aspect to this was the reasoning the Bush administration gave for rejecting the first application back in December:
"The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed."

The license was required by 45-year-old American sanctions against Cuba designed to prevent Fidel Castro's government from receiving U.S. currency. At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the initial rejection was based on concerns Cuban spies might accompany the team.

I understand the concern about profit. But spying? Even if there are Cuban spies, what are they going to find in Puerto Rico?

I, for one, welcome Cuban participation -- because I want to see them get whipped by the capitalist teams. Scanning the team rosters and the schedule of games, I'm fairly confident that if they're very, very lucky, the Cubans will get creamed in the semifinals by the Dominican team.

posted by Dan at 08:46 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Man, the DOJ has some strange lawyers

Mike Hughlett reports in the Chicago Tribune that the Justice Department would like to access Google's records:

Google Inc. is refusing to obey a Justice Department demand that it release information about what people seek when they use the popular search engine, setting up a possible battle with broad implications for Internet privacy rights.

The Justice Department asked a federal court this week to force Google to turn over a trove of information on how people use the Internet. A subpoena, first sought over the summer, seeks activity on Google's search engines for a single week, a request that Google says could lead to identifying millions of people and what they were looking at.

The government, which says its request will not result in identifying individual computer users, wants to use the information to resurrect an online pornography law shot down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. It wants to search Google queries to see how often users inadvertently run across sexual material.

The Internet's rise has raised issues of whether users would be vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping of all kinds, but Google's stand represents the first big public face-off between the world's leading search engine and the government....

Yahoo, which has the second most popular Internet search engine, acknowledged Thursday it has complied with the government on a "limited basis."

Other Internet search engines also appear to have complied with the request, said Chris Winfield, president of 10e20 LLC, a New York-based search engine marketing firm. "It looks like Google against everyone," he said.

Oddly, Google has issued no official comment. [UPDATE: check out this San Jose Mercury News story, however.]

I'm not competent to comment on the legality of the request, but the thing that struck me is that the DOJ is being unbelievably lazy.

The DOJ wants to show that online searches lead to inadvertent stumbles into porn. It is true that the best way to show this would be to retrieve a sample of searches. However, almost as good would be for the DOJ to commission some social scientist to do the research for them. It would not be hard for a researcher to run an experiment to gather this kind of data, and the results would be just as useful to the Department of Justice.

There's something else that disturbs me about this request. If Yahoo! and other search engines have already complied, then the DOJ doesn't really need Google's data. All of the search algorithms are pretty much identical -- which means that Justice already has a sufficiently large sample. Even if the differences are more important than I think, the companies cooperating with the DOJ already represent a larger combined market share than Google, so it's not clear that their cooperation is really necessary for the DOJ to make its evidentiary argument.

So why continue to press Google?

I see one of two possibilities:

1) The data they have doesn't support the administration's supposition, and they're hoping Google will bail them out;

2) They don't care about the data for this case as much as they do about establishing a legal precedent and/or intimidating Google into compliance.

Readers are encouraged to try and diving what the DOJ is thinking.

UPDATE: One other quick thought -- although I doubt they acted for these reasons, this is brilliant PR for Google. Their spectacular growth and ever-increasing range of activities had threatened to turn cultural perceptions against the firm. By resisting the Bush administration -- in contrast to Yahoo's capitulation -- Google will look very, very good to all the syberlibertarians oiut there.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Say it's so, Theo!!!

Three an a half months ago Theo Epstein left the Red Sox. And while I haven't been gnashing my teeth as much as other Red Sox fans, I admit I was a bit concerned about the long-term direction of the club.

So it's nice to say that Theo's back, baby!!!

Principal Owner John Henry, Chairman Tom Werner, President/CEO Larry Lucchino and Epstein issued the following joint statement:

"As you know, we have spoken frequently during the last 10 weeks. We have engaged in healthy, spirited debates about what it will take over the long-term for the Red Sox to remain a great organization and, in fact, become a more effective organization in philosophy, approaches and ideals. Ironically, Theo's departure has brought us closer together in many respects, and, thanks to these conversations, we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision for the organization's future that did not exist on October 31. With this vision in place, Theo will return to the Red Sox in a full-time baseball operations capacity, details of which will be announced next week."

Here's a link to the AP story as well.

David Pinto asks all the right questions:

So is he going to be somewhere between Lucchino and the co-GM's? Will he get a seven-figure salary? Are the differences smoothed over? Join us next week for another episode of As the Sox Turn.
UPDATE: For those of you who know about sabremetrics, this is pretty funny: "You had me at VORP."

posted by Dan at 09:53 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Is Al Qaeda acting generous or desperate?

Is it my imagination or does this AP report by Lee Keath suggest that Osama bin Laden is getting desparate?:

Al-Jazeera on Thursday broadcast portions of an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden, saying al Qaeda is making preparations for attacks in the United States but offering a possible truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

The voice on the tape said heightened security in the United States is not the reason there have been no attacks there since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.

"The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures. But the operations are happening in Baghdad and you will see them here at home the minute they are through (with preparations), with God's permission," he said.

"We do not mind offering you a long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to," he said. "We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America."

The speaker did not give conditions for a truce in the excerpts aired by Al-Jazeera.

Now, if you click over to the Al Jazeera version of the story -- which has longer excerpts from the tape -- bin Laden says he's making this offer out of the goodness of his heart:
"This message is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end those wars," it began.

"It was not my intention to talk to you about this, because those wars are definitely going our way.

"But what triggered my desire to talk to you is the continuous deliberate misinformation given by your President [George] Bush, when it comes to polls made in your home country which reveal that the majority of your people are willing to withdraw US forces from Iraq.

"We know that the majority of your people want this war to end and opinion polls show the Americans don't want to fight the Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their (US) land.

"But Bush does not want this and claims that it's better to fight his enemies on their land rather than on American land.

"Bush tried to ignore the polls that demanded that he end the war in Iraq.

"We are getting increasingly stronger while your situation is getting from bad to worse," he told the US, referring to poor US troop morale and the huge economic losses inflicted by the war.

"The war in Iraq is raging and the operations in Afghanistan are increasing."

"In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.

"We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war."

....Addressing Americans again, he said: "If your desire for peace, stability and reconciliation was true, here we have given you the answer to your call."

That is just so generous of Al Qaeda.

I'm very wary of sounding triumphalist, but this sounds much more like bad spin control and concern about losing the war than an act of benevolence.

I'll trust the readers to judge for themselves.

UPDATE: Fox News has a partial transcipt.

The BBC obseves that taped Al Qaeda messages are receiving less coverage from the Arab media -- and what coverage there is has become decidedly more negative.

Meanwhile, Time's Tony Karon thinks bin Laden has surfaced because he's worried about his own standing among the jihadists:

The message — relatively "moderate" by Jihadist standards, in that it appeared to stake out a hypothetical negotiating position and the prospect of coexistence with the U.S. at the same time as warning of new violence — was notable less for its content than for the fact that it was released at all. Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists.... in the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week.
Idunno... this sounds like international relations analysis using the mindset of a Hollywood publicist.

LAST UPDATE: Greg Djerejian articulates a few points that had been knocking around in my head as well: [W]hen I hear the word "truce" emit from UBL's lips (or, perhaps, whatever impersonator is doing a stand-in on his behalf), I conclude that we are winning the battle against al-Qaeda....

[A] U.S. attack would be a plus for al-Qaeda strategically, no doubt, if for no other reason than it would re-assert its ability to shed blood on American shores. Fine, no argument there. But now UBL has raised the ante, again, and he risks becoming the Boy Who Cried Wolf one time to often. If he can't execute a major attack in the relatively near future, even despite his explications regarding long operational cycles (it has now been over four years and counting since 9/11), his credibility continues to erode. If he pulls it off, yes his credibility is enhanced in terms of his showcasing continuing operational capability far from his current base, but still, however, he will not achieve his desired goal of dividing the U.S. public so as to precipitate a US withdrawal from Mesopotamia....

Ultimately, however, one is left thinking what a sad life bin Laden leads trafficking in human misery, or, of late, reduced to threatening mass carnage via episodic videotapes basically dumped in front of Al-Jazeera's offices. So I guess I disagree somewhat with Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, who says to the NYT: "The fact that he was able to record the message, deliver it and broadcast is in itself a victory for him". Well, yeah, maybe. But that's really defining victory down quite a damn lot, isn't it? It increasingly smells of desperation, of a man espying a tightening noose.

posted by Dan at 12:02 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The reorganization of foreign aid, continued

Last month I posted on subterranean rumblings about a reorganization of foreign aid.

Guy Dinmore reports in the Financial Times that the first public step in this reorganization starts tomorrow:

The Bush administration is expected to announce on Thursday a controversial restructuring of its foreign aid system under Randall Tobias, a retired pharmaceuticals executive who currently heads the US global Aids programme.

Mr Tobias will be named the new head of USAID, the state aid agency with a $14bn (£8bn) budget, replacing Andrew Natsios, who resigned last week. Mr Tobias will also be appointed to the newly created position of deputy secretary for development as Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, pursues what she calls her assertive strategy of “transformational diplomacy”.

The Bush administration wants its multibillion-dollar aid programmes to serve its foreign policy goals better. Critics are worried that by in effect merging USAID into the State Department, the agency will lose some of its independence, and development will become purely politicised.

I'll hold off on commenting until I see more of the proposal. What interests me about Dinmore's story is what comes next:
Ms Rice was expected to announce the changes on Thursday, officials said, following a keynote speech to George­town University on Wednesday in which she sketched out a “sweeping and difficult” transformation of US diplomacy and its institutions.

As part of those changes, 100 US diplomats will be transferred this year from Europe and Washington to countries including China, India, Nigeria and Lebanon. Hundreds more will follow over five years. A senior official compared the shift to the Pentagon’s drawdown of forces from Europe after the cold war.

“In the 21st century, emerging nations like India and China, and Brazil and Egypt, and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history,” Ms Rice said.

The US global posture did not reflect these changes, she said, noting that the US had nearly the same number of diplomats in Germany, with a population of 82m, as in India, with 1bn people....

She defined diplomacy as seeking “to change the world itself”, not simply reporting on it. Drawing on the lesson of Afghanistan and how it provided a haven for al-Qaeda, Ms Rice said she had an “expansive vision” for the State Department’s new office of reconstruction and stabilisation, mandated to deal with post-conflict situations.

“Should a state fail in the future, we want the men and women of this office to be able to spring into action quickly,” she said....

Diplomats had to get into the field, she said, noting that there were 200 cities with more than 1m inhabitants but no US diplomatic presence. “This is where the action is today, and this is where we must be,” she said.

Here's a link to Rice's speech. I still need to digest all of it, but I do like the reallocation of diplomatic personnel towards the large developing countries.

posted by Dan at 11:47 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner's Third Law of Blog Motion

Every vituperative blogger will generate a blog reaction of equal and opposite rhetorical strength.

[With profuse apologies to Sir Isaac Newton--ed.]

UPDATE: In the interest of preventing a similar kind of reaction to this blog, do check out this post as well.

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Will the Pakistani airstrike be worth it?

So there was an airstrike in Pakistan over the weekend that was intended to kill Al Qaeda #2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri -- but the strike missed the target. This caused thousands of Pakistanis to protest the airstrike the next day. The Pakistani press has also been up in arms.

With goodwill earned in-country from the earthquake relief, it seems as though a single airstrike could vitiate the shift in public opinion. The Council on Foreign Relations has a web page declaring, "MISSILE STRIKE PUTS U.S. ON DEFENSIVE."

Which leads us to this tidbit of information from ABC News:

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan.

Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of Damadola early last Friday morning....

"He wants to cause mayhem, major death, and he puts his expertise on the line. So the fact that we took him out is significant," said former FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an ABC News consultant, who was the senior agent on the FBI's al Qaeda squad. "He's the man who trained the shoe bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, as well as hundreds of others."

Pakistani officials also said that Khalid Habib, the al Qaeda operations chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Abdul Rehman al Magrabi, a senior operations commander for al Qaeda, were killed in the Damadola attack. Authorities tell ABC News that the terror summit was called to funnel new money into attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"Pakistani intelligence says this was a very important planning session involving the very top levels of al Qaeda as they get ready for a new spring offensive," explained Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry and now an ABC News consultant.

There is no word on whether Mursi was also Al Qaeda's number three official.

Question for readers -- assuming this information is accurate and becomes common knowledge in Pakistan, will it blunt the downturn in public opinion?

[What do you care? The bad guys are dead!!--ed. Yeah, but I want the whole megillah.]

posted by Dan at 08:35 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

The Bush administration wants to be like France

Marc Perelman has a piece on Foreign Policy's web site comparing and contrasting the American and French approaches to homeland security. One big difference is how the problem was viewed prior to 9/11:

In 1988, the FBI invited Alain Marsaud, then France’s top antiterrorist magistrate, to speak about terrorism to the bureau’s new recruits at its academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Marsaud, now a conservative lawmaker, told the audience of would-be feds of the deadly threat that radical Islamist terrorist networks posed to Western societies. His talk was an unmitigated flop. “They thought we were Martians,” recalls Marsaud, who chairs the French Parliament’s domestic security commission. “They were interested in neo-Nazis and green activists, and that was it.”

Then there are the differences in approach now. It turns out the Bush administration wishes the U.S. system was more like the French:
In the French system, an investigating judge is the equivalent of an empowered U.S. prosecutor. The judge is in charge of a secret probe, through which he or she can file charges, order wiretaps, and issue warrants and subpoenas. The conclusions of the judge are then transmitted to the prosecutor’s office, which decides whether to send the case to trial. The antiterrorist magistrates have even broader powers than their peers. For instance, they can request the assistance of the police and intelligence services, order the preventive detention of suspects for six days without charge, and justify keeping someone behind bars for several years pending an investigation. In addition, they have an international mandate when a French national is involved in a terrorist act, be it as a perpetrator or as a victim. As a result, France today has a pool of specialized judges and investigators adept at dismantling and prosecuting terrorist networks.

By contrast, in the U.S. judicial system, the evidence gathered by prosecutors is laid out during the trial, in what in effect amounts to a make-or-break gamble. A single court, the “secret” panel of 11 judges, established by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) more than two decades ago, is charged with reviewing wiretap requests by U.S. authorities. If suspects are spied on without permission in the interest of urgency, the authorities have 72 hours to file for retroactive authorization. The Bush administration’s recourse to extrajudicial means—military trials, enemy combatants—partly stems from an assessment that the judicial system is unfit to prosecute the shadowy world of terrorism. The disclosures that the Bush administration skirted the rules to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects at home is apparently the latest instance of the government’s deciding that rules protecting civil liberties are hampering the war on terror. French police and intelligence services, in contrast, operate in a permissive wiretapping system. In addition to judicially ordered taps, there are also “administrative wiretaps” decided by security agencies under the control of the government. Although the French have had their own cases of abuse—evidence has exposed illegal spying by the François Mitterrand government in the 1980s—the intrusive police powers are for the most part well known by the public and thus largely accepted, especially when it comes to national security....

Bush administration officials argue that the FISA law in its current form does not effectively counter the terrorist challenge. Yet, the administration has not made serious efforts to amend the law or push for broader reform of domestic counterterrorism. Doing so would no doubt be difficult politically and may require regular tweaking, as the French experience shows. But such an effort could pay dividends, for both law enforcement and the American people’s trust in their government.

In recent years, French authorities claim they have thwarted a number of terrorist plots by using their forward-leaning arsenal, from a series of alleged chemical attacks planned by Chechen operatives against Russian interests in Paris to a recently reported ploy by French Muslims linked to a radical Islamist group in Algeria to target one of the capital’s airports. “The French have a very aggressive system but one that fits into their traditions,” says Jeremy Shapiro, the director of research at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “They seem to be doing the best job in Europe.”

The problem is that the French system doesn't fit very well with American traditions -- so I don't think grafting this system onto the American Constiution is going to work all that well.

posted by Dan at 12:15 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Assisted suicide and the war on terrorism

Orin Kerr has a good post up explaining why the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling in Gonzales v. Oregon favor of Oregon's assisted suicide law could be a harbinger for how the Court will rule on NSA surveillance or other executive-legislative disputes.

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has a good post up on what the ruling reveals about Scalia's jurisprudence.

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Trade law and cyber-realism

My future colleague Joel Trachtman has a new blog on international trade law that is worth checking out.

[What could possibly be interesting about an international trade law blog?--ed.] Well, Joel was smart enoough to link to this Christopher Shea piece in the Boston Globe about Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's forthcoming book on national regulation of the Internet:

[F]orget all that talk about a borderless utopia and about blogs dissolving dictatorships-or at least tamp it down. When it comes to the Internet, ''The story of the next 10 years will be one of rising government power," says Tim Wu, a former marketing executive for a Silicon Valley company who now teaches law at Columbia. While some countries are committed to a fundamentally ''closed" Internet, others want it open. Since technology permits both approaches, Wu adds, ''I wouldn't be surprised if we saw an Internet version of the Cold War."

Wu is coauthor, with Harvard law professor Jack L. Goldsmith, of the iconoclastic forthcoming book, ''Who Controls the Internet?" (an excerpt of which appears this month in Legal Affairs magazine). The book, to be published in March, could be called an example of ''cyberrealism" in two ways. It grafts the hard-nosed ''realist" school of foreign policy-states and state interests are what matters-onto an analysis of what's going on with the Web today. It also tries to deflate hype by arguing that most of the supposedly unprecedented issues raised by the Internet can be handled by existing concepts in international law.

Go check it all out.

posted by Dan at 01:07 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Liberal absurdities on Iran

Perusing the liberal blogosphere over the past week, I see a lot of skepticism regarding U.S. policy towards Iran.

Atrios seems convinced the Bushies are planning a reply of how Iraq played in the 2002 elections. (UPDATE: See Atrios' comment below.)

Josh Marshall -- with strong endorsements from Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias -- believes the Bush administration is too incompetent to handle Iran:

The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this administration in place.

Do you trust this White House's good faith, priorities or competence in dealing with this situation?

Based on everything I've seen in almost five years the answer is pretty clearly 'no' on each count. To my thinking that has to be the starting point of the discussion.

Now, I certainly have had my doubts about this administration's foreign policy competence in the past few years. Gven the administration's policy to date on Iran, however, this line of argument strikes me as pretty much bulls**t.

Consider what the U.S. has done vis-à-vis Iran:

1) Deferring to the EU-3 on negotiations towards Iran;

2) Backing away from having the IAEA refer Iran's noncompliance to the UN Security Council unless and until there was overwhelming international support from key members in that organization for the move;

3) Sharing their intelligence about Iran's nuclear ambitions with all the relevant governments;

4) Endorsing a Russian compromise proposal that would have allowed Iran to continue a nuclear energy program;

5) Securing the support of China and Russia in ratcheting up the rhetoric towards Iran.

The approach the Bush administration has pursued towards Iran -- multilateralism, private and public diplomacy, occasionally deferring to allies -- is besotted with the very tropes that liberals like to see in their American foreign policy. I'm still not sure what the end game will be with regard to Iran, but to date I can't see how a Kerry administration would have played its cards any differently than the Bush team.

Just to annoy Atrios, let's close with something Peter Beinart observed in a TNR essay on the Democrats and national security:

Kos and MoveOn have conveniently convinced themselves that the war on terrorism is a mere subset of the struggle against the GOP. Whatever brings Democrats closer to power, ipso facto, makes the United States safer. That would be nice if it were true--but it's clearly not, because, sometimes, Bush is right, and because, to some degree, our safety depends on his success. National security will never be reducible to the interests of the Democratic Party.
Kevin Drum thinks liberals need to think seriously about what the appropriate policy should be towards a noncompliant Iran. I think he's right.

[But don't the opportunity costs of Iraq show that the Bush administration can't handle Iran?--ed. For this to be true, you'd have to convince me that:

a) If we hadn't invaded Iraq, Iran would not have tried to develop a nuclear weapons program;

b) If we hadn't invaded Iraq, the United States would have been ready, willing and able to invade Iran;

c) The administration's foreign policy apparatus has learned nothing from the mistakes made in Iraq.

I don't buy any of these suppositions.]

UPDATE: To avoid making blanket statements about liberals and Iran, I should point out that Brad Plumer provides an interesting and liberal analysis of Iran. Plumer recommends engagement:

Would security guarantees and real economic incentives from the United States convince the Iranian government to give up its nuclear program—or, at the very least, outsource its uranium enrichment to Russia? Maybe. Maybe not. What I don't understand is why this isn't worth trying. The United States would have to negotiate directly with Iran, which would contradict the Bush administration's longstanding preference not to "appease rogue regimes," true, but a little loss of face is about the worst that would come of trying. If it fails, then move on to step two. But the upsides to a serious attempt at engagement are very high.
There is also this op-ed by Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian in last week's New York Times. Zahedi and Memarian think sanctions would hurt Iran more than I do:
[T]he plummeting Iranian economy will only worsen if the United States succeeds in referring Iran's nuclear file to the Security Council, whether or not meaningful sanctions follow. Such a referral would accelerate capital flight, deal a blow to the country's already collapsing stock market, devastate its hitherto booming real estate market, and wipe out the savings of a large part of the middle class. It would also most likely result in galloping inflation, hurting Iran's dispossessed, whom the Ahmadinejad administration claims to represent.
The problem with this logic is that the group most affected by sanctions is also the strata of society with the least amount of influence over the Iranian government.

On the other hand, Zahedi and Memarian suggest an alternative pressure strategy:

Just as Iran can use the Shiite card to create mischief in the region, the United States could manipulate ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iran, which has significant, largely Sunni, minority populations along its borders.

Many of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities see themselves as victims of discrimination, and they have not been effectively integrated into Iranian economic, political or cultural life. Some two million disgruntled Arabs reside mainly in the oil- and gas- rich province of Khuzestan. The United States could make serious trouble for Tehran by providing financial, logistical and moral support to Arab secessionists in that province. Other aggrieved Iranian minorities would be emboldened by the Arabs' example - for example, the Kurds and the Baluchis, or even the Azeris (though the Azeris, being Shiites, are better integrated into Iranian society). A simple spark could suffice to set off centrifugal explosions.


LAST UPATE: Stratfor's George Friedman (subscription required) has an interesting view on both the rationality of Ahmadinejad and a surprising take on how Iran is doing in Iraq:
One of the ways to avoid thinking seriously about foreign policy is to dismiss as a nutcase anyone who does not behave as you yourself would. As such, he is unpredictable and, while scary, cannot be controlled. You are therefore relieved of the burden of doing anything about him. In foreign policy, it is sometimes useful to appear to be insane, as it is in poker: The less predictable you are, the more power you have -- and insanity is a great tool of unpredictability. Some leaders cultivate an aura of insanity.

However, people who climb to the leadership of nations containing many millions of people must be highly disciplined, with insight into others and the ability to plan carefully. Lunatics rarely have those characteristics. Certainly, there have been sociopaths -- like Hitler -- but at the same time, he was a very able, insightful, meticulous man. He might have been crazy, but dismissing him because he was crazy -- as many did -- was a massive mistake. Moreover, leaders do not rise alone. They are surrounded by other ambitious people. In the case of Ahmadinejad, he is answerable to others above him (in this case, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), alongside him and below him. He did not get to where he is by being nuts -- and even if we think what he says is insane, it clearly doesn't strike the rest of his audience as insane. Thinking of him as insane is neither helpful nor clarifying....

Tehran's position in Iraq is not what the Iranians had hoped it would be. U.S. maneuvers with the Sunnis in Iraq and the behavior of Iraqi Shiite leaders clearly have created a situation in which the outcome will not be the creation of an Iranian satellite state. At best, Iraq will be influenced by Iran or neutral. At worst, it will drift back into opposition to Iran -- which has been Iraq's traditional geopolitical position. This is not satisfactory. Iran's Iraq policy has not failed, but it is not the outcome Tehran dreamt of in 2003.

posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (129) | Trackbacks (0)

The Chivas Regal of board games?

Major in economics in college, and you'll likely hear the story about Chivas Regal, a brand that was struggling back in the seventies and hired a consultant to diagnose its ills. The consultants came back with two recommendations: change the label, and raise the price of a bottle of whiskey by 20%. The logic was that consumers would take the higher price as a signal of higher quality, and demonstrate a willingness to pay. Sure enough, the strategy worked.

I bring this up because Mary Umberger has a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune about a new board game that makes the Chivas Regal price change look miniscule:

"OK, everybody, grab a rat," announced an organizer who had brought a dozen aspiring property magnates together.

The group, crowded around tables in a Naperville sandwich shop on a recent Saturday morning, reached for their game markers--little plastic rats--to play Cashflow 101, a board game some devotees credit with changing their lives.

The brainchild of investment guru Robert Kiyosaki, author of the extraordinarily popular "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books, Cashflow 101 has spawned clubs around the world.

Members play regularly, learning the accounting principles Kiyosaki insists are key to shrewd investing, while honing their get-rich-quick fantasies....

"I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of until I sat down to play it," said Paul Strauss of Naperville, a full-time real estate investor and a founder of the Windy City club, which isn't affiliated with Kiyosaki but whose Web site links to Kiyosaki's. "But the game teaches you how to get out of the rat race, and I did."

The prospect of learning the secret to wealth has unlimited appeal in a culture that has embraced real estate investing as sort of a fiscal sport. Some economists tied novice speculators to as many as one-fourth of real estate transactions in 2004.

This has led to boom times for pitchmen of books, videos, seminars, DVDs and trade shows. Among those at the top of that big heap is Kiyosaki, who preaches that schools fail to teach financial literacy.

His solution was to create Cashflow 101.

Though it has dice, markers and a colorful board, it's not a typical game--it's more Monopoly on steroids. For one thing, it costs $195, as opposed to the industry average of $15 to $39.

Kiyosaki said that when he was developing the game, a consultant told him it was too complex for the public.

"He said, `Raise your price. Make it ridiculous,'" Kiyosaki recalled. "`That would make people perceive it as a value.'"

So, is the game worth the coin? I haven't played it, so I can't say for sure. Snippets from the Tribune story make me skeptical, however:
Cashflow also departs from routine games through the detailed accounting each player must do. The object of the game, like Monopoly, is to make money through investments. But players must keep meticulous financial statements, updating them constantly as they flip apartment buildings, negotiate complicated partnerships and juggle debt....

Financial planners complain that he scorns 401(k) plans, mutual funds and other traditional forms of saving in favor of more risky real estate and franchise endeavors.

Critics say his books are long on platitudes and short on specific investment strategies, beyond developing passive income from real estate and stocks....

Julie Canoura, a Naperville real estate agent, is a believer in the game. She said she's using her individual retirement account to invest in property in Belize and has learned investment strategies from other players. (emphasis added)

For the past five years -- the period of Kiyosaki's fame -- real estate investment was a pretty shrewd move. However, anyone who banks their retirement income on property in Belize is much more comfortable with risk than I am.

To be fair, if you root arounf Kiyosaki's web site, he's quite aware of the real estate bubble. However, this letter suggests to me that his financial success seems based on the Chivas Regal argument:

Presently, although Kim and I are still buying real estate, we are also selling our "junk" real estate. Eight months ago, Kim put on the market a small apartment house valued at $1 million, for $1.4 million. People complained and no one bought it. So four weeks ago, she raised the price to $2.0 million and it sold in one day for full price.
Hmmmm.... maybe my belief in the power of incentives is misplaced, but I just don't buy this. I can accept that the Chivas Regal effect works for... Chivas Regal. Maybe I can accept the idea that it works for an overpriced board game. But the idea that someone was able to sell a piece of real estate only after jacking the price up by $600,000 doesn't pass my smell test.

For anyone curious about Kiyosaki's current investment strategy:

I am getting rid of my U.S. dollars. As you may know, the U.S. dollar has lost nearly 40% of its value against other currencies in the last four years. That means if you have $10,000 in savings in the year 2000, it is worth about $6,000 in purchasing power. Rather than holding cash in the bank, Kim and I have been holding our excess cash in gold and silver bars. Why? Because you will know that the dollar is falling because the price of gold and especially silver will begin to rise. When silver goes higher than $8.50 an ounce and gold reaches $500 an ounce, you will know the end is near. When the crash comes, the currency of many countries will go down in purchasing power as the price of these two precious metals rise in value.

posted by Dan at 08:36 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 16, 2006

It's been a busy day for Iran-watchers

Let's see what's been going on with regard to Iran for the past day or so, in order from tragedy to farce:

1) The BBC reports that Britain, France and Germanyt will request an extraordinary session of the IAEA in order to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

2) In an interview with Newsweek's Christpher Dickey, IAEA head Mohammed El Baradei -- who was quite the skeptic when it came to whether Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons -- makes it clear that he's pissed at the Iranians:

DICKEY: You've said you're running out of patience with Iran. What does that mean?
ELBARADEI: For the last three years we have been doing intensive verification in Iran, and even after three years I am not yet in a position to make a judgment on the peaceful nature of the [nuclear] program. We still need to assure ourselves through access to documents, individuals [and] locations that we have seen all that we ought to see and that there is nothing fishy, if you like, about the program.

At one site called Lavizan, facilities were bulldozed by Iran before you could look at them, and you weren't allowed to run tests in the area.
We clearly need to take environmental samplings from some of the equipment that used to be in Lavizan. We need to interview some of the people who have been engaged in Lavizan. We have [also] gotten some information about some modification of their missiles that could have some relationship to the nuclear program. So, we need to clarify all these things. It is very specific. They know what we want to do, and they just have to go and do it. I'm making it very clear right now that I cannot extend the deadline, which is ... March 6.

With all due respect, the Iranians don't seem to care what you think.
Well, they might not seem to care. But if I say that I am not able to confirm the peaceful nature of that program after three years of intensive work, well, that's a conclusion that's going to reverberate, I think, around the world....

What if the Iranians are just buying time for their bomb building?
That's why I said we are coming to the litmus test in the next few weeks. Diplomacy is not just talking. Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them. Of course, this has to be the last resort, but sometimes you have to do it.

You're angry.
No, I'm not angry, but I'd like to make sure the process will not be abused. There's a difference. I still would like to be able to avoid escalation, but at the same time I do not want the agency to be cheated; I do not want the process to be abused. I think that is clear. I have a responsibility, and I would like to fulfill it with as good a conscience as I can.

This would be more persuasive if ElBaradei didn't make this point every month or so.

3) Iran has expelled CNN from working in Iran because of a slight mistranslation problem, according to the AP's Nasser Karimi:

Iran said Monday it is barring CNN from working in Iran "until further notice" due to its mistranslation of comments made by the president in a recent news conference about the country's nuclear research.

In a speech Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended Iran's right to continue nuclear research. State media have complained since the speech that CNN used the translation "nuclear weapons" instead of "nuclear technology."

The ban by the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry was read in a statement on state-run television.

"Due to mistranslation of the words of Ahmadinejad during his press conference, activities of the American CNN in Tehran are banned until further notice," the statement said.

CNN acknowledged that it had screwed up -- but this does strike me as overkill.

4) Finally, in a separate story, the AP's Karimi reports that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decided to make his contribution to genocide studies:

Iran announced plans yesterday for a conference to examine evidence for the Holocaust, a new step in hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's campaign against Israel -- one that could deepen Tehran's international isolation.

Ahmadinejad already has called the Nazis' World War II slaughter of European Jews a ''myth" and has said the Jewish state should be wiped off the map or moved to Germany or the United States....

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi did not disclose where or when the Holocaust conference would be held, and he would not say who would attend or what had prompted Tehran to sponsor it.

Ahmadinejad, who took office in August, caused an international outcry in October by calling Israel a ''disgraceful blot" that should be ''wiped off the map."

You just know this will be one of those invitation-only kind of conferences where only the cream of the Holocaust-deniers will be asked to attend.
If Iran keeps this up -- making news, kicking out competitors -- they're going to exhaust that poor AP guy based in Tehran.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Major league baseball has some bad, bad lawyers

The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball:

A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers' batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold.

In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics.

The company claims baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn't have to pay for the right to use them....

CBC, which has run the CDM Fantasy Sports leagues since 1992, sued baseball last year after it took over the rights to the statistics and profiles from the Major League Baseball Players Association and declined to grant the company a new license.

Before the shift, CBC had been paying the players' association 9 percent of gross royalties. But in January 2005, Major League Baseball announced a $50 million agreement with the players' association giving baseball exclusive rights to license statistics....

Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to "commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles" of big league players....

Ben Clark, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights, said a win by Major League Baseball could "send a shudder through the entire fantasy industry," he said.

On the other hand, he said, it stands to lose the rights to any royalties for use of statistics.

"You just wonder whether it's a fight Major League Baseball wants to have," he said.

I find it hard to believe that MLB could win this in court -- and the PR backlash from going after fantasy baseball operators isn't going to win them any plaudits either.

Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto has some useful links, including this nugget of information that appears to completely undercut MLB's case:

IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB's right to use the names and stats of historical players. "A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated," Goss said. "But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001)."
In other words, five years ago MLB was making the opposite argument of what it's saying now.

This leads me to a question I can't answer -- what on earth prompted baseball to adopt such a hard-line position on an issue it knows it probably can't win in the courts?

posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

How public corruption and 9/11 are linked

Timothy J. Burger has a short item in Time on why the FBI has had such success in recent years at nailing high-profile public corruption targets, such as Jack Abramoff. Turns out that 9/11 had something to do with it, in a roundabout sort of way:

Since 2002, the FBI has engineered a surge of more than 40% in public-corruption indictments, with 2,233 cases pending nationwide, compared with 1,575 four years ago.

Much of that increase stems, strangely, from 9/11. As the FBI turned more of its attention and manpower to counterterrorism, the bureau handed off most of its drug-related inquiries to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since only some of the former drug agents were moved to the counterterrorism division, the shift in focus freed up 200 additional agents to combat public corruption, says special agent Chris Swecker, the criminal-division chief. By 2003, senior FBI officials were fanning out to field offices across the U.S. to drive home the point that public corruption was now the criminal division's No. 1 priority.

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

Anatomy of an unbelievable scene

The New York Times' Arts section has three articles by three Times movie critics "looking deep inside three of the year's most haunting scenes."

In "Dark Truths of a Killing Love," Manohla Dargis looks at what most critics consider the pivotal scene in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]:

Until the staircase sex, Mr. Cronenberg has encouraged us to look at Tom the way Edie sees him, to believe the image she has unquestioningly accepted of the good father, the loving husband, the Everyman and the hero. "You are the best man I have ever known," she whispers to Tom after their first lovemaking. Through her ignorance and slow awakening, Edie has served as our surrogate, but in this scene she becomes something else, something other. In a story of blood and vengeance, Mr. Cronenberg asks us to look at those who pick up guns in our name, protectors who whisper they love us with hands around our throats. And then, with this scene, he goes one better and asks us to look at those who open their hearts and bare themselves to such a killing love.

Edie's transformation from helpmate into a gangster's moll with a taste for a little rough trade is one of the more shocking turns in a film filled with hairpin turns of mood and tone. Throughout the staircase clash, Mr. Mortensen visibly changes from Tom to Joey and back again, his face and caresses alternately gentle and brutal. When Edie unleashes her fury with that slap she's reacting as much to Tom, the husband who has betrayed her, as to Joey, the stranger who has brought havoc into her life. Yet Tom's secret self is no noir-like contrivance; it's a manifestation of all that lies beneath, the ooze and shadows, the desire and dread, one that, in turn, bares Edie's secret self too. Here, in a simple American home, the repressed returns with a vengeance.

Dargis does a lovely job of deconstructing the scene, showing how details like Edie's wardrobe act as a harbinger for what's about to happen. And I suspect that Dargis' interpretation of what Cronenberg is going for are perfectly accurate.

There's just one thing -- that scene completely destroyed my willing sense of disbelief in the movie. Until that point, Maria Bello as Edie acts as our emotional barometer for the events that take place, and I found her responses completely believable -- indeed, they're the best thing in the film.

The idea, however, that at that particular moment on the staircase her character was going to find the violence and identity switches a turn-on was pretty damn ludicrous. Critics might have liked it because it touches on the theme of violence's hidden role in the American heartland, but as a resident of said heartland, the scene looked like pure Hollywood tripe. Edie's first reaction to the discovery of her husband's true identity -- in the hospital room -- was far more convincing.

The staircase moment in the film might have been perfectly staged, brimming with craftsmanship, and well acted -- but without the emotional resonance, it was impossible to be as invested in the characters for the rest of the flick. I think Maria Bello deserves an Oscar nomination -- for everything she did but that scene.

Everyone reacts to movies in different ways, so I'll ask the readers -- particularly the (five or so) women who read this blog and have seen A History of Violence. Did that scene make sense to you?

posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

And the dumbest thing said by a Senator is.....

The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com would like to thank the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for their performance this past week. They provided a lot of grist for contest-entrants and commentators alike.

It's telling that the week ended with numerous pieces on how to improve the confirmation process -- even though Alito proved relatively forthcoming in his answers. Dahlia Lithwick reminds Democratic Senators that members of the Federalist Society are not teeming with hate and rage; T.A. Frank suggested at TNR Online that the way to rescue the dignity of the hearings is to remove television from the equation.

My one good government suggestion -- give both the majority and minority counsel for the Judiciary Committee an hour or two to question the nominee. That'll never happen, of course, but it might actually generate some useful back-and-forth.

Now, on to the contest -- on Monday, readers were encouraged to submit "the single dumbest thing a Senator says during the hearings." A lot of very worthy entrants were submitted. In the end however, there can be only one.

And the Senator who said the dumbest thing is.....

Congratulations to Senator Diane Feinstein of California for this exchange with Alito:

FEINSTEIN: So if I understand this, you essentially said that you wanted to follow precedent, newly established law in this area. And you left a little hedge that if Congress made findings in that law, then that might be a different situation.

If Congress did make findings, would you have agreed that that statute would been constitutional?

ALITO: What I said in the opinion and what I will reiterate this afternoon is that it would have been a very different case for me. I don't think I can express an opinion on how I would have decided a hypothetical case.

FEINSTEIN: It's not hypothetical. I'm just asking you, if there were findings as you said, you might have sustained the law.

ALITO: And I reiterate that...

FEINSTEIN: And I'm just asking you would you have sustained the law...

ALITO: I don't think that I can give you a definitive answer to the question because that involves a case that's different from the case that came before me.

Feinstein had some tough competition -- The Kennedy/Specter exchange over mail delivery, Tom Coburn's auto accident metaphor, anything that came out of Chuck Schumer's mouth, and what I can only figure was Joe Biden's attempt to win a bet in which he could use the word "Princeton" in every sentence he used for an hour. And I confess I might be biased in favor of Feinstein because of her runner-up status during the Roberts confirmation. Let me stress that dumber things might have been said this week -- but the folks here at danieldrezner.com could only judge the submissions we received.

In the end, Feinstein's ability to deny the existence of a hypothetical in her question about... a hypothetical was what swayed the judges. To be fair, Feinstein was talking about a counterfactual, but I think it's safe to say that counterfactuals were included in Altio's definition of hypotheticals.

Congratulations to Millers Time for being the first to submit the winning entry! [What's his prize?--ed. What all bloggers desire -- links and attention! Plus, you gotta check out this other post of his -- it's the funniest blonde joke I've ever seen.

posted by Dan at 10:44 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Why are Americans better at FDI?

Matthew Higgins, Thomas Klitgaard, and Cédric Tille have an article in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's December 2005 edition of Current Issues in Economics and Finance on net flows in international investment income. Given the fact that foreigners currently have a net claim on $2.5 trillion in U.S. assets, onme would expect the U.S. to be paying out a lot more in interest, dividends, and profits to foreigners than Americans would receive from their investments.

The weird thing is that, so far, this hasn't been true. Last year the U.S. earned $36 billion more on their foreign investments than foreigners earned in the United States. The question is, why?

Higgins et al have a simple answer and a more complex answer. The simple answer is that foreigners are investing heavily in fixed-income, interest-bearing assets, while Americans concentrate their outflows in riskier but more rewarding areas -- foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment. This result is actually consistent with a point I was trying to make before about the comparative advantage Americans hold in risk attitudes.

What really intrigues me, however, is this fact -- even if one limits the discussion to FDI, Americans do better abroad than foreigners do here:

[T]he rate of return on U.S.FDI assets has consistently been higher than that on FDI liabilities (Chart 4). Since 1982, the rate of return on FDI assets has, on average, exceeded that on FDI liabilities by 5.6 percentage points, and not once during this period has the differential dropped below 3.2 percentage points. Surprisingly, perhaps, there is no consensus about the reason for this large and persistent difference in rates of return....

Since 2000, the U.S. rate of return on FDI has risen from 5.4 percent to 8.6 percent, an increase of 3.2 percentage points; the foreign rate of return on FDI in the United States has risen from 2.0 percent to 4.3 percent, an increase of 2.3 percentage points.Had rates of return on FDI remained at their 2000 values, U.S. net income receipts would have been $33 billion lower in 2004....

Seeking to shed light on the puzzle, we examine FDI returns by industry and country. Unfortunately, our analysis deepens the puzzle rather than solves it: with few exceptions, the U.S. rate of return advantage holds across industries and countries. of U.S. firms at about the advanced-economy average.

This puzzle is pretty damn important. The gap in returns is significant enough so that Harvard economists Ricardo Hausmann and Federico Sturzenegger talking about this as "dark matter", explaining why the U.S. has been able to run a persistent current account deficit without any decline in the U.S. surplus on investment income.

Higgins et al proffer some possible explanations -- tax differentials, less experienced foreign investors, U.S. firms are better governed and more efficient, or the U.S. market is just more competitive and so profits will be lower here. Only the last argument persuades me much.

Higgins et al also don't think this situation will persist. Haussman and Sturzenegger, on the other hand, push the argument that US has a comparative advantage in FDI very hard:

Imagine the construction of EuroDisney at the cost of 100 million (the numbers are imaginary). Imagine also, for the sake of the argument that these resources were borrowed abroad at, say, a 5% rate of return. Once EuroDisney is in operation it yields 20 cents on the dollar. The investment generates a net income flow of 15 cents on the dollar but the BEA [Bureau of Economic Analysis] would say that the net foreign assets position would be equal to zero. We would say that EuroDisney in reality is not worth 100 million (what BEA would value it) but four times that (the capitalized value at our 5% rate of the 20 million per year that it earns). BEA is missing this and therefore grossly understates net assets. Why can EuroDisney earn such a return? Because the investment comes with a substantial amount of know-how, brand recognition, expertise, research and development and also with our good friends Mickey and Donald. This know-how is a source of dark matter. It explains why the US can earn more on its assets than it pays on its liabilities and why foreigners cannot do the same. We would say that the US exported 300 million in dark matter and is making a 5 percent return on it. The point is that in the accounting of FDI, the know-how than makes investments particularly productive is poorly accounted for....

In a nut shell our story is very simple. The income generated by a country’s financial position is a good measure of the true value of its assets. Once assets are valued accordingly, the US appears to be a net creditor, not a net
debtor and its net foreign asset position appears to have been fairly stable over the last 20 years. The bulk of the difference with the official story comes from the unaccounted export of knowhow carried out by US corporations through their investments abroad, explaining why the US appears to be a consistently smarter investor, making more money on its assets than it pays on its liabilities and why the rest of the world cannot wise up. In addition, the value of this dark matter seems to be rather stable, indicating that they are likely to continue to compensate for the measured trade deficit.

Globalization has made the flows of dark matter a very significant part of the story and the traditional measures of current account balances paint a very distorted picture of reality. In particular, it points towards imbalances that are not really there, making analysts predict crises that, for good reason, remain elusive.

They might be right -- but they don't have any evidence that this is true beyond the persistence in the gap between U.S. and foreign rates of return in FDI.

This is a really, really interesting puzzle, however -- and I'm very surprised some B-school professor hasn't written something so definitive on the topic that the book is a must-read. Maybe I'm out of it, but I haven't seen any book like this.

In lieu of a tome, commenters are free to figure out and post on this puzzle for themselves.

posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm asserting that you should read this

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has released its State of the News Media 2005 online.

Here's a link to the executive summary, in which five trends are delineated. Here are two of them:

There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward these which are faster, looser, and cheaper. The traditional press model—the Journalism of Verification—is one in which journalists are concerned first with trying to substantiate facts. It has ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new Journalism of Assertion, where information is offered with little time or attempt to independently verify its veracity. Consider the allegations by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” and the time lag of weeks required in reporting to find the claims were unsubstantiated. The blogosphere, while adding the richness of citizen voices, expands this culture of assertion exponentially, and brings to it an affirmative philosophy: publish anything, especially point of view, and the reporting and verification will occur afterward in the response of fellow bloggers. The result is sometimes true and sometimes false. Blogs helped unmask errors at CBS, but also spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the GOP stole the presidential election in Ohio. All this makes it easier for those
who would manipulate public opinion—government, interest groups and corporations—to deliver unchecked messages through independent outlets or their own faux-news web sites, video and text news releases and paid commentators....

The rise in partisanship of news consumption and the notion that people have retreated to their ideological corners for news has been widely exaggerated. A year ago we mentioned a third, older form of news regaining momentum—the Journalism of Affirmation. Here the news is gathered with a point of view, whether acknowledged or not, and audiences come to have their preconceptions reinforced. In 2004, this notion gained new force when Pew Research Center survey data revealed that Republicans and conservatives had become more distrustful of the news media over the past four years, while the perceptions of Democrats, moderates and liberals had remained about the same. This led to the popular impression that independent journalism was giving way to a European style partisan press, in which some Americans consume Red Media and others Blue. The evidence suggests this perception is grandly overstated. The overwhelming majority of Americans say they prefer an
independent, non-partisan news media. So, apparently, do advertisers and investors. In addition, distrusting the media does not correlate to how or Not only do Republicans and Democrats consume most news media outlets in similar levels, but those in both parties who distrust the news media are often heavier consumers of these outlets than those who are more trusting. The only exceptions to this are talk radio and cable news, where Republicans
have tended to congregate in one place, Fox. For most other media, the political orientation of the audience mirrors the population. The political make up of the network news audience, for instance, matches that of the Weather Channel.

I'll leave the assertive responses to this report to the commentators.

posted by Dan at 12:01 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The unasked question about Mexican expatriates

Lurking among the many fears of anti-immigration advocates -- and Sam Huntington -- is the fear that the large influx of Mexican immigrants into this country will have divided loyalties -- or worse, develop no sense of American identity. Another fear is that this is a conscious policy of the Mexican government in order to wield influence in the United States.

This brings me to a story by Oscar Avila and Hugh Dellios in the Chicago Tribune about Mexican government efforts to get expats to vote in Mexican elections. Apparently it's not going so well:

At a registration drive in Pilsen, radio host Javier Salas tried to energize his countrymen about their historic opportunity to vote in Chicago for their homeland's next president. "Let's hear it!" he shouted into his microphone Thursday. "Viva Mexico!"

But Salas later acknowledged that few are tuning in to that message: Three days before the registration deadline, it appears that the widely heralded debut of Mexican expatriate voting has fizzled.

Since registration started in October, only about 15,500 Mexicans in the U.S. have registered to vote by mail in the July presidential election, of an estimated 4 million eligible voters.

When the Mexican Congress approved the plan last year, organizers predicted a turnout of about 300,000 voters....

It's possible that many would-be voters are waiting until the last minute, election officials say, or that the final publicity push will create momentum.

But for now, an experiment billed as a celebration of Mexican democracy has devolved into fingerpointing on both sides of the border, while casting doubts on the commitment of expatriates to their homeland.

No one seems happy with the process, which required immigrants to register by paid certified mail and travel to Mexico to get electoral cards, effectively shutting out undocumented immigrants, who cannot easily go home.

"This has all been a failure," grumbled activist Oscar Tellez of the Chicago-based United Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "It is better to have no vote than this turnout."

The hand-wringing has spread to Mexico, where lawmakers and pundits have questioned whether it is worth the government's expense to organize expatriate voting when so few signed up. Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute has spent $10 million on organizing the effort.

The story blames cumbersome bureaucratic procedures for the low turnout, but I have to wonder -- how much of this is due to the fact that Mexicans coming to the United States don't really care about Mexican politics any more?

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Should Cuba play in the World Baseball Classic?

I wrote about the World Baseball Classic back in July, so I suppose I should comment on the recent low-level decision to ban Cuba from participating in the 16-game tournament, and whether this is the right thing to do or not. Short answer -- yes, let the Cubans play even if they make a buck off of it.

This is a post of obligation, however, because it requires me to talk about one of my least favorite topics -- the Cuba embargo.

Some background: for the "Yes, let's ban them," go check out Roberto González Echevarría's op-ed in the New York Times from earlier this week (hat tip to David Pinto, who's been keeping close tabs on the issue). For the "let 'em play" argument, check out prett much any sportswriter you can find -- Sports Illustrated's Frank DeFord is serviceable enough here.

Those who want to ban Cuba have a leg to stand on. There's no question that the Castro regime is pretty thuggish. And there's some evidence that denying them opportunities like participation in the World Baseball Classic could have a negative effect on the Castro regime. There's a scholarly literature out there that argues the apartheid regime in South Africa lost its base of support once they were banned from various sporting events, including the Olympics.

The thing is, the World Baseball Classic is just getting started, so I don't think preventing Cuba from participating will have much of an effect on the regime -- whereas it would have a deleterious effect on the tournament itself. The International Baseball Federation is threatening to pull its imprimatur from the event, which could trigger the withdrawal of other countries.

More importantly, denying them from participating is a self-inflicted wound. The WBC is a rare opportunity to highlight the common sports heritage the U.S. shares with Latin America and the Pacific Rim. It's an opportunity to popularize a sport that originated in the United States. It's even, dare I say, a chance for the United States to build up a little soft power -- if our pitching holds up.

This is particularly true with regard to Cuba. Consider:

1) While their best players might be good enough for Olympic gold medals in baseball, they're going to face American and Dominican squads stacked with all-stars if they participate in the WBC. My hunch is that they won't do so well in the standings.

2) Their delegation is going to be obsessed with not having any of their players defect in the middle of such a sporting event.

3) Anyone who thinks the Cuban regime is loathsome should feel free to protest that fact at their games.

Let the Cubans play ball -- and let them get their butts whipped.

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Michael Ignatieff.... politician

David Sax has an essay on Foreign Policy's web site about Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff's quixotic move towards politics. Ignatieff is the flip-side of all the anti-war/anti-Bush protestors who threatened to move to Canada and then didn't; he supported the war but has decided to move to Canada... and run for Parliament:

Canadians normally don’t get fired up about foreign policy in their parliamentary elections. Then again, Michael Ignatieff is not a normal candidate. Last fall, the professor left his post as director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to run for parliament in his native Canada. His new office is in a bare-bones campaign headquarters on an industrial corner in suburban Toronto, where he prepares for the January 23 election. Ignatieff, a Liberal Party candidate who is considered by many to be one of the best minds Canada has ever produced, wants Canada to assume a greater role in world affairs....

“In the foreign policy of the 21st century, the key thing to be is a producer of good ideas,” says Ignatieff. “As a middle power, our policy is not leveraged by power but by ideas.” Unfortunately for Ignatieff, many Canadians don’t like his ideas. Ignatieff supported the Iraq war, which an overwhelming majority of his compatriots opposed. He backed the proposed continental missile defense shield, which the Liberal government refused to endorse. And he’s been taking heat for his controversial endorsement of interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation that are, he says, “lesser evils” than torture. His critics paint him as a neocon in humanitarian clothing. At his nomination rally in late November, hecklers shouted, “American,” “Torture lite,” and “Illegal war.”

The heckling set the tone for a tumultuous campaign. Already tagged as a carpetbagger (he has never lived in the district in which he’s running) handpicked by the Liberal Party, Ignatieff hurt himself when he told the Harvard Crimson that he might return to Harvard if he were to lose—a statement he later retracted, saying it was a joke. Still, the comment helped his opponents who portray him as disloyal to Canada. Rather unexpectedly, he has also faced protesters who claim his 1993 book on ethnic nationalism, Blood and Belonging, is insulting to Ukrainians, a group that accounts for 7 percent of his district.

If he wins, even bigger challenges await; there is already talk of Ignatieff eventually becoming leader of the Liberal Party. But Ottawa is not Harvard, and if elected, Ignatieff would find it difficult to bring his ideals into policy. “[It] will be a test of whether principled intelligence can survive the Lilliputian reality of Canadian politics,” wrote the columnist Robert Sibley in the Ottawa Citizen at the start of the campaign.

Ignatieff is aware of the difficulties. “I’ve gone into politics to test what you can achieve if you believe certain things,” says Ignatieff. “If I’m asked to do stuff that just seems to be in the dishonorable compromise realm, then I should get out. If I forget these noble words, my wife will kick me in the backside.” That is, only if the voters don’t do so first.

Ignatieff is in a can't lose situation. Wither he wins and climbs the ladder of Liberal Party politics -- or he loses and writes a book that's excerpted in the New York Times Magazine about what it's like to be a candidate who speaks truth to power.

posted by Dan at 09:55 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The good news about avian flu

There have been a series of avian flu cases reported in Turkey over the past week, and oddly enough there's been some good news from this development.

First, World Health Organization officials are convnced that this isn't a sign of human-to-human transmission:

World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said that the 14 cases of avian flu recently discovered in Turkey were contracted through contact with infected animals and that there is absolutely no evidence that human-to-human transmission is occurring.

The officials said there are different locations where the outbreaks have been confirmed, showing that it is poultry that is infected and that the deadly disease continued to be spread by infected birds and not through contamination between humans.

Link via Glenn Reynolds, who has more here about US preparedness. I remain convinced that calling for the US to engage in crash preparedness can lead to more harm than good.

Second, Elizabeth Rosenthal of the International Herald-Tribune reports on a very interesting development among some of the avian flu diagnoses -- they're not getting sick:

Two young brothers, aged 4 and 5, are being closely watched at the gleaming new Kecioren Hospital here, a police car at the entrance guarding a potential scientific treasure. Though both boys have tested positive for the H5N1 virus after contact with sick birds, neither has any symptoms of the frequently deadly disease.

Doctors are unsure if - for the first time - they are seeing human bird flu in its earliest stages, or if they are discovering that infection with the H5N1 virus does not necessarily lead to illness.

In any case, the unusual cluster of five cases detected in this capital city over the last three days is challenging some doctors' assumptions about bird flu and giving them new insights into how the virus spreads and causes disease.

These cases have raised the possibility that human bird flu is not as deadly as has been thought, and that there may be many mild cases that have gone unreported....

A study released Tuesday in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that the H5N1 virus might cause a wide spectrum of disease, but that doctors in Asia might only detect the severest cases, the ones that went to the hospital. The four children in Ankara bolster that theory

Here's a link to the medical study abstract cited in the article. Their conclusion is a touch more neutral: "Our epidemiological data are consistent with transmission of mild, highly pathogenic avian influenza to humans and suggest that transmission could be more common than anticipated, though close contact seems required. Further microbiological studies are needed to validate these findings."


posted by Dan at 11:39 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A very important post about.... how I wasted an hour today

So I stumbled across MyHeritage.com today -- which claims to have a face recognition program that lets you upload a photo and tells you which celebrities you look like.

Of course, I couldn't resist. After uploading the picture on the front of the web site, here's the list of celebs I was told I resemble:

Matt LeBlanc
Dustin Hoffman
Antonio Banderas
Usama bin Laden
George Clooney
Pierce Brosnan
Jason Biggs
Roberto Rossellini
Hugh Grant
Tom Stoppard
If you've managed to contain yourself to this point, well, you have better self restraint than I.

Needless to say, their technology appears to be heavily dependent upon the angle of the face in the photo, hair length, facial hair, the presence of eyeglasses, etc. In other words, it's pretty much rubbish. When I uploaded a Salma Hayek photo, the program declared her to be only a 74% match with... Salma Hayek.

So this was a waste of time..... until I realized that I could upload pictures of other bloggers and see who they resembled. The resulting lists of names are pretty friggin' funny.

Glenn Reynolds:

Ward Cunningham
Yossi Beilin
Alan Alda
John Major
Franz Kafka
Pierre Curie
Linus Torvalds (this was the one photo where I really thought the program worked)
Marshall McLuhan
Sidney Lumet
Henry Kissinger
Virginia Postrel:
Diane Keaton
Eva Peron
Alicia Keys
Agam Rudberg
Renee Zellweger
Meryl Streep
Preity Zinta
Andie MacDowell
Andrew Sullivan -- no matches. I tried two different photos, and Andrew stumped the computer.

Matthew Yglesias:

Leonardo DiCaprio
River Phoenix
Danny Elfman
Orlando Bloom
Vaclav Havel
Elton John
Tyler Cowen
Boris Trajkovski
Rudolph Nureyev
Benjamin Netanyahu
Cary Grant
Alec Baldwin
Benicio Del Toro
Zoran Djindjic
Kevin Bacon
Arvo Part
Roy Orbison
Ana Marie Cox:
Annette Bening
Kirsten Dunst
Angelina Jolie
Gwyneth Paltrow
Megan McArdle:
Katie Holmes
Neve Campbell
Liv Tyler
Demi Moore
Grace Kelly
Kate Winslet
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Lauren Bacall
Oh, and as a final check, I uploaded this photo of Henry Farrell and myself:

Henry and Dan.jpg

For Henry:

George Clooney
Art Garfunkel
Michael Jackson
Heitor Villa-Lobos
George Lazenby
Chet Baker
For myself: Henry
David Thoreau
Federico Garcia Lorca
Shahrukh Kahn
Chet Baker
Michael Douglas
Keanu Reeves

posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 9, 2006

Those young, whiny whippersnappers

I'm roughly the same age as Daniel Gross, and I'm not surprised to see that I had roughly the same reaction as he had in Slate to the latest Generation Y laments about how hard it is to find a financially rewarding job:

The economic jeremiad written by a twentysomething is a cyclical phenomenon. People who graduate into a recessionary/post-bubble economy inevitably find the going tough, which compounds the usual postgraduate angst. And with their limited life experience and high expectations, they tend to extrapolate a lifetime from a couple of years. I know. Back in the early 1990s, when my cohort and I were making our way into the workforce in a recessionary, post-bubble environment, I wrote an article on precisely the same topic for Swing, the lamentable, deservedly short-lived David Lauren twentysomething magazine. If memory serves, the headline was something like "Generation Debt."....

Now, today's twentysomething authors are clearly onto something. College is more expensive today in real terms. There's been a shift in student aid—more loans and fewer grants. The Baby Boomers, closer to retirement, are sucking up more dollars in benefits. There's more income volatility and job insecurity than there used to be. So, why are these books—Generation Debt in particular—annoying?

....[M]any of the economic issues the authors identify—job insecurity, low savings rate, income volatility, the massive ongoing benefits cram-down—affect everybody, not just twentysomethings. And the people hurt most by these escalating trends aren't young people starting out. They're folks in their 50s and 60s, middle-managers at Delphi whose careers have ended, coal miners in West Virginia who face death on the job, the people at IBM who just saw their pensions frozen.

Today's twentysomethings, by contrast, have their whole lives in front of them. Want a cheaper house? Quit Manhattan and move to Hartford, Conn. Want to make more money? Pick a different field.

In [Anya] Kamenetz's book [Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time To Be Young], there are plenty of poor, self-pitying upper-middle-class types, disappointed that they can't have exactly what they want when they want it. Sure, it's tough to live well as a violinist or a grad student in New York today; but the same thing held 20 years ago, and 40 years ago. To improve their lot, twentysomethings have to do the same things their parents should be doing: saving more, spending less, building skills that are marketable, and aligning aspirations with abilities. It's tough to have a bourgeois life at 26....

Kamenetz complains that: "No employer has yet offered me a full-time job with a 401(k), a paid vacation, or any other benefits beyond the next assignment. I have a savings account but no retirement fund. I can't afford preschool fees or a mortgage anywhere near the city where I live and work." Of course, Kamenetz doesn't have kids to send to preschool. And chances are, by the time she does, she'll be able to afford preschool fees. Most people in their 20s don't realize that their incomes will rise over time (none of the people I know who have six-figure incomes today had them when they were 25), that they will marry or form a partnership with somebody else, thus increasing their income, and that they may get over having to live in the hippest possible neighborhood.

Look. It's tough coming out of Ivy League schools to New York and making your way in the world. The notion that you can be—and have to be—the author of your own destiny is both terrifying and exhilarating. And for those without marketable skills, who lack social and intellectual capital, the odds are indeed stacked against them. But someone like Kamenetz, who graduated from Yale in 2002, doesn't have much to kvetch about. In the press materials accompanying the book, she notes that just after she finished the first draft, her boyfriend "proposed to me on a tiny, idyllic island off the coast of Sweden." She continues: "As I write this, boxes of china and flatware, engagement gifts, sit in our living room waiting to go into storage because they just won't fit in our insanely narrow galley kitchen. We spent a whole afternoon exchanging the inevitable silver candlesticks and crystal vases, heavy artifacts of an iconic married life that still seems to have nothing to do with ours." The inevitable silver candlesticks? Too much flatware to fit in the kitchen? We should all have such problems.

Lest one think Gross is being overly Panglossian about the economy, click on his blog. [But you're Panglossia about life in your thirties, right?--ed. No, families and potentially higher incomes do not come without their tradeoffs.] His larger point, however, is that people -- particularly educated people who try to write books in their twenties -- tend to make a significant move up the income chain when they hit their thirties.

UPDATE: Check out Gross' e-mail exchange with Kamenetz on the latter's blog. Kamenetz thinks she can "declare victory," after the exchange, but I don't find her response either persuasive or elegant.

One last point -- the crux of the issue appears to be the rising cost of college education. There is no doubt that the retail price of a 4-year college education at a private university has drastically risen over the past two decades. However, that overlooks a few key questions:

1) What percentage of college students pay the retail price? To what extent does student aid reduce the burden, even if there's been a shift towards "more loans and fewer grants"?

2) To what extent is tuition at a four-year competitive state institution out of the reach of middle-class America?

3) Given the rising gap in wages between those with a college education and those without, doesn't a rising premium on college tuition make sense?

posted by Dan at 10:04 PM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (0)

Senate Judiciary Committee contest!!!

Ah, I see that Samuel Altio's confirmation hearings begin before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

When the hearings were held for John Roberts last year, there was a lot of silliness uttered by a lot of people -- mostly members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com announces its first contest -- finding the single dumbest thing a Senator says during the hearings.

For example, my winner for the Roberts confirmation would have been Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who averred, "[I am using] my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under." Diane Feinstein gave Coburn a run for his money, but this was stupidity in its purest form.

So, listen closely and post your nominations in the comments below. Be sure to provide a link to the source of the quotation for our legal staff here. [What does the winner receive?--ed. Hmmm.... suggest your own reward as well, and I'll see what the staff can whip up.]

To kick things off, consider this example from Patrick Leahy's opening statement:

Last October, the President succumbed to partisan pressure from the extreme right of his party by withdrawing his nomination of Harriet Miers. By withdrawing her nomination and substituting this one, the President has allowed his choice to be vetoed by an extreme faction within his party, before hearings or a vote. That eye-opening experience for the country demonstrated what a vocal faction of the Republican Party really wants: They do not want an independent federal judiciary. They demand judges who will guarantee the results that they want.
Right. I'm pretty sure that:
a) Opposition to Harriet Miers was across the board;

b) The most significant pressure came from.... members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

c) Patrick Leahy apparently believes that all NARAL really wants is for justices to "vote their conscience."

This should be an easy one to top -- get to it, readers!!!

UPDATE: Click here to find out who won!

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Talk about reviewer whiplash

So do I go buy Ana Marie Cox's novel Dog Days? The dearly departed Wonkette has already cost me a great deal of money when I made the mistake of letting her order the menu at the dinner after our APSA blog panel from 2004. Should I plunk down an additional $17.00?

Well, Christopher Buckley -- who knows a thing or two about comic novels set in DC -- says yes in the New York Times Book Review:

In "Dog Days," Cox's brisk, smart, smutty, knowing and very well-written first novel, the 28-year-old protagonist Melanie Thorton, a Democratic presidential campaign staffer, diverts media attention from her candidate's political troubles - and her own romantic ones - by creating a fictitious blog supposedly written by a local libertine calling herself Capitolette. (Yes, rhymes with toilette.)

....At times, Melanie sounds like a funnier, more self-knowing Maureen Dowd. And I like Maureen Dowd....

I don't spend much time in the old blogosphere myself, and to be honest hadn't clicked onto Wonkette until now. But if this sparkly, witty - occasionally vicious - little novel is any indication of Wonkette's talent, then Cox ought to log out of cyberspace and start calling herself Novelette.

Sounds promising.

But wait!! P.J. O'Rourke, writing in the Washington Post Book Review, dissents:

Washington's pretensions, blown so large in skins so thin, should produce bursts of hilarity when poked with the dullest of tools, and Dog Days is that....

Ana Marie Cox made her name writing a political blog, Wonkette.com. I've never seen it. As far as I can tell, no one has. Admitting reading political blogs is like admitting watching daytime TV. Yet somehow, as with "Oprah," everyone knows all about Wonkette....

Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words "Write what you know" is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don't. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad, how much combat do you think he saw?

But in Dog Days 's favor -- and there must be something -- Cox has written a stirring polemic for those who think Washington is inherently mindless and greedy and who believe that the dim, envious, self-cherishing mess that is politics should be employed only as society's last, desperate resort. In this, Dog Days is comparable to Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Albeit the prose makes Hayek's seem elegant and pellucid. But Hayek's first language was German. Cox's first language is blog.

Well, this is a quandry. Furthermore, if you read both reviews, you'll find many positive nuggets contained within O'Rourke's pan and quite a few backhand compliments contained in Buckley's thumbs-up.

In the end, I suspect I'll grab a copy, because a) The excerpts I've seen do match Cox's spicy wit; and b) The last political novel I recall O'Rourke panning was Primary Colors -- which wasn't a great work of literature but is an extraordinary read and remains, in my opinion, the piece of writing that best captures Bill Clinton (and this includes his memoirs). So, I'm going to judge Buckley's acumen as slightly more on target than O'Rourke.

That said, P.J. does have a paragraph that goes a good way towards explaining why there are so few good novels set inside the beltway:

The problem is that fiction, especially comic fiction, concerns why people do what they do. The more unlikely or bizarre the reasons the heart has, the better. Why people do what they do in Washington is so obvious that a beginner novelist would be advised to take up a subject that involves more complex motivations. Breathing, for example.
This might answer the question Chrisopher Lehmann raised a few months ago in The Washington Monthly about the state of American political fiction.

Lehmann, of course, is Ana Marie Cox's husband.

Ah, now the circle is complete.

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 7, 2006

January's Books of the Month

This month's general interest book is by my colleague Eric Oliver -- Fat Politics: the Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic. The real story, according to Oliver, is that there is no such thing as an obesity epidemic -- rather, this appears to be a whopping case of medical experts confusing correlation with causation.

This write-up in the U of C Chronicle does a fair job of providing a precis:

Oliver contends there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people who are currently classified as “overweight” and even most Americans who qualify as “obese” are under any direct threat from their body weight.

Oliver explains that this is partly because the current standards of what is “overweight” and “obese” are defined at very low levels—George Bush is technically “overweight,” while Arnold Schwarzenegger is “obese.” But it also is because most people confuse body weight with the real sources of health and well-being—diet and exercise, he says.

In most cases, the relationship between fat and disease is simply an association, says Oliver. People who are overweight may also have heart disease, for instance, but there is no proof that being overweight causes the heart disease.

“There are only a few medical conditions that have been shown convincingly to be caused by excess body fat, such as osteoarthritis of weight bearing joints and uterine cancer, which comes from higher estrogen levels in heavier women, although this can be treated medically without weight loss,” he says. “For most medical conditions, it is diet, exercise and genetics that are the real causes. Weight is merely an associated symptom.”

Yet Americans continue to be told that they need to lose weight, Oliver believes, partly because weight is so much easier to measure than diet and exercise. It also is because of American values that consider overweight a sign of sloth and thinness a mark of social status, he says. “But the most important factor,” Oliver argues, “behind America’s ‘obesity epidemic’ is the weight loss industry and public health establishment.”

Read the whole thing -- Oliver's deconstruction of the body mass index (BMI) as the basic metric for determining obesity is particularly useful. The one mystery that remains for me is why powerful economic sectors -- like processed food services and restaurant owners -- haven't fought harder against the obesity myth.

Oh, yes, in case you were wondering, Eric didn't write this as a massive justification for his own body tpe -- he's quite svelte.

The international relations book is Michael Mandelbaum's The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century. There's a book excerpt in the January/February 2006 issue of Foreign Policy in which Mandelbaum spells out his basic hypothesis:

The gap between what the world says about American power and what it fails to do about it is the single most striking feature of 21st-century international relations. The explanation for this gap is twofold. First, the charges most frequently leveled at America are false. The United States does not endanger other countries, nor does it invariably act without regard to the interests and wishes of others. Second, far from menacing the rest of the world, the United States plays a uniquely positive global role. The governments of most other countries understand that, although they have powerful reasons not to say so explicitly....

To be sure, the United States did not deliberately set out to become the world’s government. The services it provides originated during the Cold War as part of its struggle with the Soviet Union, and America has continued, adapted, and in some cases expanded them in the post-Cold War era. Nor do Americans think of their country as the world’s government. Rather, it conducts, in their view, a series of policies designed to further American interests. In this respect they are correct, but these policies serve the interests of others as well. The alternative to the role the United States plays in the world is not better global governance, but less of it—and that would make the world a far more dangerous and less prosperous place. Never in human history has one country done so much for so many others, and received so little appreciation for its efforts....

If a global plebiscite concerning America’s role in the world were held by secret ballot, most foreign-policy officials in other countries would vote in favor of continuing it. Though the Chinese object to the U.S. military role as Taiwan’s protector, they value the effect that American military deployments in East Asia have in preventing Japan from pursuing more robust military policies. But others will not declare their support for America’s global role. Acknowledging it would risk raising the question of why those who take advantage of the services America provides do not pay more for them. It would risk, that is, other countries’ capacities to continue as free riders, which is an arrangement no government will lightly abandon.

In the end, however, what other nations do or do not say about the United States will not be crucial to whether, or for how long, the United States continues to function as the world’s government. That will depend on the willingness of the American public, the ultimate arbiter of American foreign policy, to sustain the costs involved. In the near future, America’s role in the world will have to compete for public funds with the rising costs of domestic entitlement programs. It is Social Security and Medicare, not the rise of China or the kind of coalition that defeated powerful empires in the past, that pose the greatest threat to America’s role as the world’s government.

Mandelbaum's thesis is, in many ways, an updating an old warhorse in international relations scholarship, hegemonic stability theory (HST).

The funny thing about HST is that almost no one in the discipline would claim to buy the whole argument. Realists don't buy it because the theory posits that a hegemonic actor provides global public goods even though it knows that other states, by free riding off those goods, will catch up in terms of relative power. Liberals don't buy it because the evidence that international regimes collapse when a hegemon is in decline turns out to be pretty meager. Constructivists don't buy it because the root of the theory is a state's material power and not its power over norms is what drives the model. Rationalists don't buy the hegemon's motivations -- why provide public goods and tolerate free riding when an actor can coerce others into chipping in?

That said, the model is still around when academics talk about policy, because at some level there's a ring of truth to it. It's the difference between pure theory and policy-relevant scholarship -- which is a topic too big for this blog post.

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 6, 2006

There is no engineering gap

Last year there was a lot of hysteria among the business press over the fact that China and India were allegedly graduating hundreds of thousands of engineers a year, while the U.S. could only muster around 70,000 or so.

I blogged last October about how even outsourcing critics were skeptical of these numbers. Now, courtesy of Duke University's Engineering Management Program, there are some harder numbers on this subject -- and it turns out there's not much reason to panic (link via the Wall Street Journal's Carl Bialik). Here's the report abstract:

The effect of the dynamics of engineering outsourcing on the global economy is a discussion of keen interest in both business and public circles. Varying, inconsistent reporting of problematic engineering graduation data has been used to fuel fears that America is losing its technological edge. Typical articles have stated that in 2004 the United States graduated roughly 70,000 undergraduate engineers, while China graduated 600,000 and India 350,000. Our study has determined that these are inappropriate comparisons. These massive numbers of Indian and Chinese engineering graduates include not only four-year degrees, but also three-year training programs and diploma holders. These numbers have been compared against the annual production of accredited four-year engineering degrees in the United States. In addition to the lack of nuanced analysis around the type of graduates (transactional or dynamic) and quality of degrees being awarded, these articles also tend not to ground the numbers in the larger demographics of each country. A comparison of like-to-like data suggests that the U.S. produces a highly significant number of engineers, computer scientists and information technology specialists, and remains competitive in global markets.
And this is from the text of the report itself:
The outsourcing debate has been complicated due to conflicting definitions of the engineering profession....

Through our research, we have identified two main groups of engineering graduates: dynamic engineers and transactional engineers. Dynamic engineers are individuals capable of abstract thinking and high-level problem solving using scientific knowledge. These engineers thrive in teams, work well across international borders, have strong interpersonal skills, and are capable of translating technical engineering jargon into common diction. Dynamic engineers lead innovation. The majority of dynamic engineers have a minimum of a four year engineering degree from nationally accredited or highly regarded institutions.

Transactional engineers may possess engineering fundamentals, but not the experience or expertise to apply this knowledge to larger problems. These individuals are typically responsible for rote and repetitive tasks in the workforce. Transactional engineers often receive associate, technician or diploma awards rather than a bachelor’s degree....

Graph 2 depicts the annual production of bachelor’s and subbaccalaureate degrees in Engineering, CS and IT awarded per million citizens. These data imply that per every one million citizens, the United States is producing roughly 750 technology specialists, compared with 500 in China and 200 in India....

Outsourcing creates a clear threat to certain professions and it is likely that this trend will continue. It seems that the jobs of transactional engineers are easily outsourced and are routinely being taken by relatively low paid engineers in countries like India and China. However, the outsourcing of high-level engineering and IT professions is another story. These jobs often require specialized dynamic engineers: individuals with strong interpersonal skills, technical knowledge and the ability to communicate across borders....

The great majority of engineers involved in outsourced professions hold a minimum of a four-year degree. As a result, one could argue that approximately half of China’s and India’s annual engineering and IT graduates are capable of competing in the global outsourcing environment. However, a recent McKinsey global labor market study
argues that this estimate is far too generous. McKinsey concluded that only 10% of Chinese engineers and 25% of Indian engineers can compete in the global outsourcing arena.

So, to conclude, offshore outsourcing will take place when the tasks can be segmented into discrete, simple and rote tasks, and does not pose a threat to engineers at the B.S. level or above.

Damn, that sounds familiar.

posted by Dan at 03:44 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

"Unassisted human intuition is a bomb"

I blogged last month about Philip Tetlock's book Expert Political Judgment. Reviews of the book suggested that Tetlock's two main conclusions were:

1) Experts are really bad at making predictions; and

2) Experts who typified Isaiah Berlin's "hedgehogs" did far worse than those who were "foxes." (and no, that doesn't mean Salma Hayek or Scarlet Johansson -- we're talking about indifferent kinds of foxes here).

Today, Carl Bialik -- the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy -- has a follow-up story that corrects one potential misperception about the utility of experts: they might not be great predictors, but they are still better informed than you are -- which means they are still better predictors.
The New Yorker's review of [Tetlock's] book surveyed the grim state of expert political predictions and concluded by advising readers, "Think for yourself." Prof. Tetlock isn't sure he agrees with that advice. He pointed out an exercise he conducted in the course of his research, in which he gave Berkeley undergraduates brief reports from Facts on File about political hot spots, then asked them to make forecasts. Their predictions -- based on far less background knowledge than his pundits called upon -- were the worst he encountered, even less accurate than the worst hedgehogs. "Unassisted human intuition is a bomb here," Prof. Tetlock told me.
And that's your quote of the day.

posted by Dan at 01:12 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

And the dollar watch starts for 2006

The Financial Times has two reports that provide contradictory signals on what the Pacific Rim economies will be doing about the dollar.

On the one hand, Geoff Dyer and Andrew Balls report that China is planning on diversifying its foreign reserve holdings away from the dollar -- really:

China indicated on Thursday it could begin to diversify its rapidly growing foreign exchange reserves away from the US dollar and government bonds – a potential shift with significant implications for global financial and commodity markets.

Economists estimate that more that 70 per cent of the reserves are invested in US dollar assets, which has helped to sustain the recent large US deficits. If China were to stop acquiring such a large proportion of dollars with its reserves – currently accumulating at about $15bn (€12.4bn) a month – it could put heavy downward pressure on the greenback.

In a brief statement on its website, the government's foreign exchange regulator said one of its targets for 2006 was to “improve the operation and management of foreign exchange reserves and to actively explore more effective ways to utilise reserve assets”.

It went on: “[The objective is] to improve the currency structure and asset structure of our foreign exchange reserves, and to continue to expand the investment area of reserves.

“We want to ensure that the use of foreign exchange reserves supports a national strategy, an open economy and the macro-economic adjustment."

Here's a link to China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, but damn if I can find the announcement in question.

On the other hand, Song Jung-a reports that South Korea is moving in exactly the opposite direction:

South Korea’s finance ministry said on Friday it would mobilise all possible means to curb the won’s recent sharp appreciation against the US dollar.

The statement came a day after the currency hit an eight-year high against the greenback, intensifying concern among government officials that the stronger won could hurt exports, which account for more than a third of Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

“We’re deeply worried about moves in the foreign exchange market that can’t be seen as normal,” said Kwon Tae-shin, a vice finance minister, after chairing an emergency meeting with central bank and trade ministry officials and other regulators. “The market has seen an excessive herd mentality because of speculative forces.”

Mr Kwon said the government would look into speculative trading forces and further ease regulations on overseas investment as part of efforts to spur dollar outflows from the country.

The government will immediately raise the ceiling on individual overseas investment from US$3m to US$10m and double the amount that individuals can spend to buy overseas property to US$1m, with an aim to completely abolish the ceilings within this year.

“In case the market fails to return to normal on its own, we will seek stability through cooperation with relevant government agencies,” the finance ministry said in a statement.

China's dollar position is more significant than South Korea's, but my bet is that Beijing will move as slowly as possible in its diversification -- which means that South Korea's move in the opposite direction could leave the dollar pretty much where it is now.

This, by the way, is the dream scenario for China -- it can comply with U.S. requests, diversify away from an asset that will fall in the future, and still have the dollar be relatively strong against the yuan in the short term.

Click over to Brad Setser for more dollar analysis -- but be sure to read his list of what he got wrong (and right) about the dollar last year.

posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Find the fool in the IAEA!!

Elaine Sciolino reports in the New York Times that those wachy Iranians are up to their old tricks on nuclear nonproliferation:

Iran threw negotiations over its nuclear program into disarray today, abruptly canceling a high-level meeting with the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency in Vienna as the head of Iran's negotiating team was said to have returned home to Tehran.

The unexpected turn of events stunned and frustrated both International Atomic Energy Agency officials and foreign diplomats. They scrambled to make sense of the Iranian's failure to attend the meeting, which was scheduled so that Iran could explain in detail its formal decision to restart sensitive nuclear research and development activities next Monday.

"There was no explanation," an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said in a telephone interview from Vienna. "We're still seeking clarification."

One explanation is that Iran has decided to defy the rest of the world and plunge ahead with nuclear activities that risk international censure or sanctions. That decision could shatter a 14-month agreement with France, Britain and Germany under which Iran agreed to suspend most of its nuclear work in return for promised rewards.

Another explanation is that in the face of strong international criticism, Iran's negotiating strategy is in disarray. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power last year, Iran's national security apparatus, including its nuclear negotiating team and dozens of its ambassadors, has been largely replaced with people who are driven by rigid, hard-line views and lack extensive diplomatic experience.

Those last two paragraphs nicely encapsulate the underlying question before us: is this a case of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad burning through what remains of his diplomatic capital, or is this an example of Iran calling the bluff of the IAEA, the EU, and the UN Security Council, confident that the rest of the world has no endgame strategy?

Of course, one possible answer is "all of the above."

posted by Dan at 07:04 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What a difference a decade makes

Blogging over at Andrew Sullivan's web site, Julian Sanchez has a young riff about Doug Bandow's bravura final column in the wake of his admission that he took Abramoff money in exchange for writing op-eds favoring Abramoff's causes.

Why do I say young? In a counterintuitive analysis for a libertarian, Sanchez concludes that money is not his greatest corrupting fear as a rising policy wonk in DC:

[T]here is, as Bandow observes, a big gray area involving indirect support by way of institutions, or more tenuous links where a writer has previously done unrelated work from some party with an interest in a topic she later writes about.

I don't worry a great deal about these things. I do occasionally worry, in my own case, about the self-reinforcing nature of Beltway opinion work....

[T]he market value of my opinion is low enough that nobody's ever bothered to try buying it—but if they did, I expect it would be an easy enough lure to resist precisely because it would be so obvious and clear-cut, the devil approaching with horns protruding and eyes glowing red. It's the background pressure of an ideological community that I find more worrying, because the way it operates is far more subtle. At the end of the day, you can't really be sure you wouldn't have changed your mind on this or that issue in a different context, because there's no big flashy crisis point—instead you're looking for the dog that didn't bark, the internal dialogue you didn't bother having because (as you and all your friends know) such-and-such counterargument isn't worth taking all that seriously anyway.

That kind of pressure, I hasten to add, is pretty clearly not "improper" in the sense of running counter to canons of journalistic ethics. It's probably an inevitable upshot of having a commmunity or a social network. But from the point of view of personal, more than professional, integrity, it's the kind of "contamination" I find most troubling.

A few thoughts:
1) My all-too-brief interactions with Sanchez, combined with the very fact that he is worried about social conformity at all, suggests to me that he is unlikely to alter his views because of social pressure.

2) It's just a matter of time before someone wants to pay Sanchez good money for the use of his pen.

3) As someone with a decade on Sanchez in terms of life experience, I'd strongly recommend the book and movie Thank You For Smoking to him in order to understand the ways in which getting married and having children affects one's world view (side note: the trailer looks pretty good, and Aaron Eckhardt seems perfectly cast). The protagonist's mantra, when asked why he'd be a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, is simple -- "I have a mortgage." As previously noted, the financial rewards of a successful policy wonk are not exactly meager, but they are not commensurate with the money people with similar education levels earn in the private sector. And this would be fine.... until you start looking at your children and calculating just how much it costs to pay their way through an elite four-year institution for higher learning.

Sometimes children aren't even necessary -- as David Brooks pointed out in Bobos in Paradise, intellectuals who climb to the top of their professional pyramid develop Status-Income Disequilibrium, craving the material rewards that other successful people appear to reap.

I'm not saying that all policy wonks are destined to take money the way Bandow did -- merely that the temptation is a bit more imposing once there are dependents in the equation.

[This means you've leased your pen out, doesn't it?--ed. No, I haven't, unless shilling for Pamela Anderson counts. But I am receiving more substantial offers, and it's something I'm going to need to guard against for the future.]

UPDATE: This Laura McKenna post does point out one small counter-trend to what I blogged about -- the guilt that comes with ever-increasing consumption. But I suspect that most wonks are not as angst-ridden about it as the ever-charming Ms. McKenna.

posted by Dan at 11:07 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Kadima is doomed -- the sequel

It appears that Ariel Sharon has suffered from a massive, debilitating stroke -- Omri Ceren has the tick-tock on the latest medical news.

The AP reports that a full recovery is highly unlikely.

Looking a few steps ahead, this will leave Shimon Peres as the leader of Kadima -- which compels me to repeat what I blogged a few weeks ago:

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....

[U]nless the focus is completely on Ariel Sharon, Kadima will have a very short half-life.

posted by Dan at 07:23 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Will Rasmussen is 50% correct

Over at TNR Online, former Beirut Daily Star correspondent Will Rasmussen argues that Hezbollah's performance in the Lebanese government confounds predictions by democracy activists that Islamist movements will moderate once they get involved in governing:

Should radical groups in nascent democracies be allowed to participate in politics? This has long been a central dilemma in the Middle East; and as Islamist parties have demonstrated their electoral power in Egypt and Iraq, the question has only grown in importance. One common response to this quandary has been to argue that bringing radical groups into politics can serve to moderate them. In TNR, the Carnegie Endowment's Marina Ottaway has argued that "there is ample evidence that participation in an electoral process forces any party, regardless of ideology, to moderate its position if it wants to attract voters in large numbers and avoid a backlash." In a recent editorial, the Financial Times echoed this sentiment: "The Islamists are part of the future of the region and their participation in the political process remains the best hope of moderating their often radical views." The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, published by the Middle East Forum and the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon, has asserted that there is "reason to believe that Islamist movements become more moderate when they are allowed opportunities to participate in a democratic political system."

Recent events in Lebanon suggest that this analysis is mistaken. In July 2005, the Shia terrorist group Hezbollah claimed a cabinet position in Beirut for the first time, taking over the energy ministry. Far from moderating, Hezbollah has only grown more strident and disruptive during the last five months. But the party's failure to moderate has also yielded an unexpected benefit: Lebanese are increasingly fed up with Hezbollah's behavior. In other words, bringing Islamist parties into government can sometimes pay dividends not because they will moderate once offered a share of power--but rather because they won't.

I'm pretty sure most democracy activists would dispute Rasmussen's characterization of their position. The argument isn't that democratic participation will cause radical Islamic movements to moderate - it's that radical Islamic movements will either moderate or lose their base of support.

Something that got pruned out of this piece is worth stating: no radical Islamic movement, upon taking office, has succeeded at the mundane tasks of governing. Iran's Ahmadinejad, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Sudanese under Turabi -- they have all sucked at governing.

I suspect democracy activists are perfectly comfortable with the outcome in Rasmussen's piece.

posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

There's money and then there's Abramoff money

Last month I prophesized some nausea inside the Beltway if Jack Abramoff cut a deal. And now it appears that has come to pass.

Howard Fineman provides a pithy but accurate explanation in MSNBC on why Abramoff will be so damaging:

[T]he thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fed’s plea-agreement papers correctly, that’s the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts.

You may not believe this, but in this city, that is an unheard of amount of money for a lobbyist to haul in — and the number itself signifies a troubling change in the nature of life in the capital of our country.

The denizens of D.C. deal in trillions of dollars. But they are YOUR dollars: tax receipts and federal spending. Lawyers and lobbyists here do well. Still, they haven’t generally been in the same league as money-power types in, say, New York or Los Angeles. This was a city in which official position meant more than a plush vacation home; in which a Ph.D. or J.D. meant more than a BMW. Traditionally, the locals have been more like Vegas blackjack dealers than the greedy people sitting on the other side of the table.

Well, Abramoff jumped the table — and the result will be the biggest influence-peddling scandal to hit Washington in recent times.

I don't buy Fineman's thesis that a third party movement will be born, but he's right about the money and the social mores of DC.

UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan really doesn't like Fineman's third party suggestion. He's probably right, but I think the term "insipd" is a touch overblown. To play devil's advocate, the current set of conditions -- massive deficits, disenchantment with Congress, official scandals, a Bush in the White House -- do evoke the environment that allowed Ross Perot to make a splash in 1992. That's a long way from a real third party, but it's not nothing either.

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping....

In Newsweek, Mark Hosenball has obtained copies of the sildeshow senior White House officials saw connecting Al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein:

The White House slide, dated September 2002, cites publicized allegations from a post-9/11 Czech intel report that Atta met the April before 9/11 with Iraqi spy Ahmed al-Ani, and asserts the United States had "no other" intel contradicting the report. The slide offers purported details about Atta's activities in Prague (including two earlier, confirmed visits). It says that during one visit al-Ani ordered an Iraqi intelligence officer to "issue funds to Atta." The slide also includes previous unpublished allegations that Atta met the Iraqi Embassy charge d'affaires and that "several workers at Prague airport identified Atta following 9/11 and remember him traveling with his brother Farhan Atta."

Four former senior intel officials who monitored investigations into Atta's alleged Iraqi contacts say they never heard the airport anecdote. One official (all asked not to be named while discussing intel issues) says intel analysts had "rejected" the anecdote about al-Ani's giving Atta money. Former Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith says he was told (and other officials confirmed) that the slide was prepared from reports obtained through normal intel channels.

Here's a link to the actual slides.

After reading the report, Mickey Kaus is puzzled:

It's always hard to believe top government officials actually make big war/no war decisions based on these simplified slide show briefings, as opposed to drilling down and assessing the veracity of the underlying raw intelligence. Did Cheney (who stuck with the Atta-in-Prague story) really not want to learn of any possibly-inconvenient doubts about what the briefings told him? Or are briefings less important than reporters tend to think they are?
My hunch is that there were two things going on. The first thing is that Kaus is partially correct: Cheney really, really wanted to believe that there was a connection, and the slide provided it.

The second thing is more mundane but nevertheless true -- the higher you go up the policy food chain, the less detail in the memos. The reason is that the most precious commodity of cabinet-level officials is time. They're scheduled to within an inch of their lives -- the last thing they have time for is "assessing the veracity of the underlying raw intelligence."

This is why stovepiping is so dangerous. Even with a decision as momentous as going to war, a president is rarely going to devote the time to assessing the accuracy rate of intelligence briefings. More likely, they'll assume that if it gets to their desk there must be something there there.

I'm not saying that there wasn't a willful blindness in parts of the White House about this intelligence. But never underestimate the cognitive limitations of policy principals that time crunches create.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Psst.... anybody interested in a dissertation topic?

Every once in a while a natural disaster has a significant impact on international relations. We've seen in the past year how U.S. humanitarian assistance can improve America's public image in the affected countries. The 1999 earthquake that affected Greece and Turkey -- and the outpouring of cross-border assistance -- led to a thaw between those two enduring rivals.

Of course, not every natural disaster has such an effect. The Bam earthquake in Iran, for example, led to no diplomatic thaw -- neither did the French heat wave of 2003 nor hurricane Katrina in 2005.

This leads to an interesting question for a dissertation -- under what circumstances will a truly exogenous shock lead to a lessening of international or internal conflicts?

The December 2004 tsunami presents an interesting comparative case study. In Indonesia, Nick Meo reports for the Australian on the budding peace in Aceh:

The head of the feared Indonesian military in Aceh was doing what was almost unthinkable only a year ago: telling its people that the war - one of Asia's longest and, until last year's tsunami, most intractable - was over.

There was a bigger surprise for the departing 3500 soldiers on Thursday. Irwandi Yusuf, leader of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), who 12 months ago was one of their deadliest enemies, was there to shake hands with the hard men in fatigues before their ships slipped away from the jungle-covered hills of Aceh, probably forever.

The event was stage-managed but nobody could doubt the sincerity, part of an extraordinarily successful peace process that has confounded the pessimists and inspired a people who suffered more than any other in the tsunami.

Thinks have not worked out quite as well in Sri Lanka, as the Economist observes:
One year on from the tsunami that devastated large parts of Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 there, the South Asian island’s people are facing another looming disaster: the revival of a brutal civil war that has killed around 65,000 since it began 22 years ago. A fragile ceasefire, brokered by the government of Norway three years ago, is close to breaking-point after a string of recent attacks by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island.

On Thursday December 29th the head of the ceasefire-monitoring team, Hagrup Haukland, gave a warning that, if the spate of violence were not halted, “war may not be far away.” In the most serious of the recent attacks, 12 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed in a landmine attack in the Jaffna peninsula on Tuesday and, four days before that, 13 sailors were killed with mines and rocket-propelled grenades in a rebel attack in the north-west of the island. On Sunday, a parliamentarian linked to the Tigers was assassinated at a Christmas mass in Batticaloa.

I have absolutely zero knowledge about either conflict, but I do find it interesting that the tsunami clearly pushed one case towards a more peaceful equilibrium while having no appreciable effect on the other case.

Looking at both cases, John Quiggin proposes a different dissertation topic:

It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.

posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 2, 2006

Talk about frozen in time

When I was living in Ukraine in the early nineties, Russia was trying to exploit Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy to extract economic and political concessions from that country -- minor things like control over key industrial groupings and the Black Sea Fleet. Russia and the government gas provider, Gazprom, would periodically threaten to shut off supplies.

While it sounds like Russia had all the leverage, there was one problem -- Russia exported much of its gas to Southern and Eastern Europe through the gas pipeline that ran through Ukraine -- and Russia could do very little to prevent Ukraine from siphoning off these supplies... except bluster a bit.

A decade later, of course, all of this seems like ancient history. Oh, wait....

Now, back then, all of the involved parties would muddle through -- Ukraine would proffer some token concessions without making its economy more energy-efficient, Gazprom would punt on raising prices in the near abroad, and the crisis would be deferred for a year.

Let's see what develops this year.

UPDATE: Well, that was fast:

A heavily-criticised Russia on Monday promised to restore full gas supplies to Europe after Germany warned that its dispute with Ukraine over deliveries could hurt its long-term credibility as an energy supplier.

With winter demand already high, gas supplies through Ukrainian pipelines to Europe started to fall off dramatically as a result of the Russian blockade, prompting Western fears about insecurity in the energy sector.

Russia, which took over the G8 chairmanship for the first time this month and has sought to promote itself as a reliable energy source, cut its neighbor's gas supplies on Sunday after Ukraine rejected Moscow's demand for a fourfold price rise.

As criticism mounted, the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom said it would restore full gas supplies through the pipeline to Europe by Tuesday evening, and that it had piped across an extra 95 million cubic meters of gas.

But it made clear it held Ukraine responsible for the problem.

"With the aim of preventing a possible energy crisis caused by Ukraine illegally taking gas, Gazprom has taken the decision to deliver additional gas into the gas transport system of Ukraine," the company said in a statement.

"We stress that the additional delivery of gas is not designed for Ukrainian consumers but is meant for transit through the territory of Ukraine for delivery to consumers outside the borders of Ukraine."

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)