Sunday, April 30, 2006
Thoughts big and small about the Brussels Forum
The perfect time to dish about a conference full of high-level muckity-mucks is when you're really, really jet-lagged. So, without further ado:
1) After close first-hand observation, I can now confirm that Senator John McCain has the equivalent of rock star status among policy cognoscenti. How do I know this? During the past 24 hours, I observed the following:
a) Richard Holbrooke taking great pains to say that he agreed with everything John McCain said at one of the sessions;2) There's no question that the official rancor between the United States and much of Europe that was on full display in 2003 is now gone. At the same time, as someone smarter than myself pointed out during one of the sessions, we now live in a world where Bush has 33% approval ratings, the French government is even more unpopular, the German and Italisn governments look unstable, and Tony Blair is a lame duck. Hardly the idea situation for getting anything of substance accomplished.
3) The Federal government of Belgium gave all of the participants an enormous coffee table book, written in Flemish and French, about Belgian horticulture. I regret to report that I may have left my copy in my hotel room.
4) Here are links to the keynote speechs given by John McCain and John Edwards. Come to think of it, here is the link to all the transcripts from the meeting. So, dear readers, you can pretend like you were in Brussels too -- minus the massive coffe-table books.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Notes from Brussels
John McCain gave the opening speech of the Brussels Forum yesterday. It was notable in two ways -- an off-hand comment that he thhought the global war on terror would last "for the rest of this century", and some pointed comments about the decline and fall of Russian democracy.
The general tenor of the conference so far has been to focus less on transatlantic frictions and more on the geopolitical and geoeconomic difficulties that Russia and China are posing to the West as a whole.
More later, but a question to readers -- will the realpolitik of a rising China and a renegade Russia (though click here for an intriguing development) be the ultimate driver for a closer transatlantic partnership? And should that be the main driver?
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Another week, another overseas conference, another open thread
Blogging will be light for the next couple of days, as I'll be wending my way to the GMFUS Brussels Forum on Transatlantic Challenges in a Global Era. It's a pretty interesting agenda/lineup of participants.
So, while I'm gone, a question to readers: which issues would like to see discussed more frequently -- or at all -- here at danieldrezner.com?
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The Tony Snow test
I will ask my readers to correct me, but I believe that Tony Snow will have had the highest pre-appointment profile of any press secretary to date. Certainly, Snow's relations with his former fellow members of the press will be better than anyone else currently working in the West Wing. Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that George Stephanopolous (??!!) is blogging about Snow:
The fact that Tony has criticized the President in print helps Bush much more than it hurts him. Proves he's reached beyond the Austin circle for some independent advice. Snow doesn't just tolerate his former colleagues in the press corps; he likes them. He's smart but not overbearing and speaks with style and a smile. All that should help Bush in the briefing room. Perhaps even better for Bush, Snow is a movement conservative with a real following in the country. The GOP and the President need to pump up enthusiasm at the grassroots before November. Having Snow at the podium and on the airwaves every day should help at the margins.The social scientist in me would phrase it differently -- this is an ideal test of whether the messenger can triumph over the message. I've seen Tony Snow peform, as it were, on the air and off -- he's sharp and well-spoken. Bush's current poll numbers are pretty friggin' low. What does it mean if Snow, the second most visible face of the White House, can't provide at least a mild bump for Bush in the polls? It means that the press secretary really is the political equivalent of an offensive lineman -- the only time (s)he'll be noticed is when (s)he screws up.
Readers -- will Snow provide any bump for Bush at the polls?
What is so special about gas prices?
Brad DeLong provides the most concise and correct analysis of the political economy of gas prices I've ever seen:
Democrats are (because of the environmentalist wing of the party) generally in favor of higher gasoline taxes and higher gasoline prices--except when gasoline prices are high). Republicans are in favor of letting oil markets "work"--except when gasoline prices are high.The interesting question is why this is true. As Nick Shultz points out in Forbes, energy is an increasingly less important component to the American consumer (link via Glenn Reynolds):
According to the Bureau of Economic Affairs (see chart here), American consumer spending on energy as a fraction of total personal consumption has declined considerably since 1980. Whereas 25 years ago, one in every ten consumer dollars was spent on energy, today it's one in every 16. In other words, what it takes to heat and cool our homes and drive to and from our jobs and vacation destinations is relatively less costly than it was then.Furthermore, as Virginia Postrel pointed out ten years ago, when the price of other commodities spike up, no one talks about it being a crisis:
The government interventions that distorted energy markets in the 1970s, and put drivers through hell, have disappeared.So, here's my question to readers... why is a spike in gas prices considered such a political crisis?
[You're the political scientist... why don't you have an explanation?--ed.] I have one, but it's a bit loopy: gasoline is a unique commodity in three ways. First, it's tied into the politics of the Middle East, which allows media coverage to always give it that extra political twist... though during the Cold War, the only sources for platinum were the Soviet Union and South Africa, but no one fretted about the political implications.
Second, oil is one of the few commodities that's subjected to a supplier cartel... though I don't hear anyone besides myself complain about, say, the diamond cartel.
Third (and by far the loopiest), gasoline is the one commodity in which Americans of both genders possess close to full information. It's therefore the one commodity that might mobilize the mass public into seeking a political solution.
I place very little confidence in my explanation, however: readers are welcomed to chime in.
UPDATE: Megan McArdle weighs in with her thoughts, which match the commentators' point about the short-term price inelasticity of demand. While true, it avoids the point Schultz makes, which is that as a percentage of income, the current price spike is less traumatic than what happened thirty years ago.
So why the immediate political response? The best answer might be that whatever is being proposed now is still less intervenionist than what happened in the seventies (even/odd days, anyone).
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
My questions about the latest plagiarism scandal
I'm late to the party on the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal now unfolding at Harvard. Long story short -- a Harvard student who published a teen chick lit book -- How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life -- has been discovered to have cribbed from another chick lit writer, Megan McCafferty. Click here for examples of the plagiarism.
Viswanathan has now copped to the "unconscious" plagiarism. However, if this Newark Star-Ledger story by Vicki Hyman is accurate, Viswanathan must have been really unconscious when writing her book:
In a statement issued by her publicist yesterday, Viswanathan said she read and loved McCafferty's novels "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," but said she was "very surprised and upset" to learn about the similarities between the two works and her debut.And, naturally, there's been some bizarre quasi-blogging behavior on this point as well.
While all of this makes for dishy reading, the fact that both my lovely wife and I focused on was the fact that Viswanathan got a two-book, $500,000 contract while she was in high school."
Here's my question about this scandal: why, exactly, would Little, Brown throw that much money at a young, unpublished author? Why would any publisher do that? I know the teen and chick lit markets are booming, but dear me, that seems like a lot of money to throw around.
The Labor Department (sort of) concedes the obvious on offshoring
I've debated a lot of people on the whole offshore outsourcing issue, and regardless of the position one takes, there has been unanimity on one subject: if the Labor Department provides Trade Adjustment Assistance to manufacturing workers displaced by trade, the program should be extended to include service-sector workers affected by offshore outsourcing.
According to this Paul McDougall story in Information Week, it appears that the Department of Labor has finally recognized this fact as well:
The federal government appears to have reversed a long standing policy that prevented thousands of "outsourced" computer programmers from collecting the same employment benefits routinely extended to factory workers who've seen their jobs disappear amid a flood of cheap, manufactured imports.Here's a link to the notice in the Federal Register. The notice suggests the effect of the ruling is still limited:
The Department stresses that it will continue to implement the
Monday, April 24, 2006
Osama's latest tape
Initial reports suggest that Osama bin Laden's latest tape doesn't seem to have had much of an impact. In the tape, Bin Laden talked about how the West was destroying Palestine and Sudan. According to this Washington Post by Craig Whitlock, terrorism experts seemed unconvinced:
Counterterrorism analysts said bin Laden was trying to portray himself as a champion of oppressed Muslims around the world, even though al-Qaeda has avoided involvement in many of the conflicts that he has decried. For example, bin Laden has largely ignored events in Sudan since he and his network were expelled from the country a decade ago. Similarly, al-Qaeda has no record of activity in the Palestinian territories.Indeed, the BBC reports that bin Laden's message "has been disowned by the Sudanese government and Hamas." Marc Lynch notes that, "[This is] a fairly typical example of the refusal of many entrenched Islamist movements to accept al-Qaeda's claims to lead the Islamist umma."
So this would seem to fit with Al Qaeda's slow descent into Tampa Bay Devil Rays metaphor territory (though, to be fair, at least the D-Rays are now under new management). The real test, however, will be to see whether anyone heeds bin Laden's call for attacks on Western citizens.
Question to readers: if there is no spectacular terrorist attack in the next year -- on a par, say, with either the London or Madrid bombings -- is it safe to say that the threat from Al Qaeda should be seriously downgraded?
UPDATE: Alas, the Egyptian bombing is tragic, but does not exactly fit the parameters of what I was asking.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
An interesting weekend for global economic governance
The Financial Times has a few stories on the ups and downs of global economic negotiations. Negotiations about trade barriers appear to be going in one direction, while negotiations about global imbalances seem to be going forward.
Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, will on Monday ask WTO members to work for a crucial deal on farm and industrial goods by early summer, after key trading powers acknowledged their self-imposed April 30 deadline was out of reach.On the other hand, the spring meeting of the IMF and World Bank seems to have produced a small breakthrough, according to Chris Giles and Krishna Guha:
Leading countries secured a breakthrough in the governance of the global economy at the weekend, transforming the role of the International Monetary Fund and putting it at the centre of a more co-operative effort to resolve trade imbalances.Click on this companion story by Giles and Guha, which seems devoted to explaining why the deal is so great.
I need to look into the nature of the agreement a bit longer, but to indicate the daunting nature of what's involved here, consider this paragraph from the IMF communiqué:
Following the discussion at the Global Imbalances Conference held at the IMF on April 21, the Committee confirms that the agreed policy strategy to address imbalances remains valid. Key elements include raising national saving in the United States—with measures to reduce the budget deficit and spur private saving; implementing structural reforms to sustain growth potential and boost domestic demand in the euro area and several other countries; further structural reforms, including fiscal consolidation, in Japan; allowing greater exchange rate flexibility in a number of surplus countries in emerging Asia; and promoting efficient absorption of higher oil revenues in oil-exporting countries with strong macroeconomic policies. Given economic interlinkages, all countries and regions will have a role to play by increasing the flexibility of their economies and adapting to changing global demand patterns.Accomplishing this kind of integrated policy outcome will require
Thursday, April 20, 2006
An open debate about U.S. Mideast policy
I must attend a conference at a truly deadful location for the next several days, so blogging will be light or nonexistent.
Here's a harmless topic: assume there exists an identifiable national interest for the United States. What set of policies towards the Middle East would best serve that interest?
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A temporary coda on the Mearsheimer/Walt debate
In recent days, there have been a few more musings about "The Israel Lobby". I wasn't happy with the debate threads from the last time I posted about it, so I'm going to give it one more try.
Reading through the latest volley:
a) the letters to the LRB;I actually think there's more common ground on assessing the paper than most commentators believe.
There appears to be a general assessment that Mearsheimer and Walt have gotten two things right:
1) You need to factor in interest group politics when you try to explain U.S. policy towards Israel and/or the wider Middle East -- including, most obviously, AIPAC;I haven't read a critic of the M/W thesis not acknowledge that interest group politics plays some role in influencing policy in the region. As Levy says about AIPAC's lobbying power, "There's nothing anti-Semitic about reaching that conclusion." And Goldberg quotes the editor of the Forward as acknowledging that Walt and Mearsheimer are "right that the Jewish community and the pro-Israel lobby, separately and in different ways, make it hard to have a debate, partly on purpose and partly because there's a level of emotion there."
There also appears to be a general assessment that the paper has a couple of conceptual flaws. One is the rather slippery definition of the term "Israel Lobby." Cole points out:
The authors' use of the term "Israel lobby" is at times too broad, simultaneously trying to encompass classic pressure politics and much fuzzier belief systems and taboos. Their tendency to use the term in this slightly elastic, one-size-fits-all way explains the caveats of even some outspoken critics of the Israel lobby, like the Nation's Eric Alterman. Their insistence that America's Middle East policies are centered on Israel ignores the importance of oil. Nor do they explore the history of the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S. and the way that Israel has become a myth in the American mind, to the point where it is perceived by many as being actually part of America. The belief in the "special relationship," which is a powerful force, is not entirely the product of the Israel lobby.Cole goes on to say that these weaknesses are "minor," but as Goldberg points out:
This is an enormously sensitive subject, but Walt and Mearsheimer's approach is too often clumsy and crude. That's especially true in their discussion of the divided loyalties of some American Jews, and of the pro-war manipulations of the lobby. They conflate groups that are merely sympathetic to Israel with those that actively back the hard-line policies of the Likud. Though they try to draw distinctions between the lobby and American Jewry more generally, they occasionally use the two terms interchangeably, citing Jewish campaign donations, for example, as evidence of the lobby's power.M/W also do not adequately address alternative explanations for U.S. policy towards the Middle East -- concerns about oil, actual ideational beliefs, etc. This would be less important if M/W were merely pointing out that the influence of groups like AIPAC have been underestimated. But they argue that these groups "almost entirely" explain U.S. policy in the region. That's quite a strong claim. Judt, who's sympathetic to their argument, allows that M/W's assertions "can be debated on [their] merits." He goes on to note:
[D]oes pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment. Prominent Israeli leaders and their American supporters pressed very hard for the invasion of Iraq; but the United States would probably be in Iraq today even if there had been no Israel lobby. Is Israel, in Mearsheimer/Walt's words, "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states?" I think it is; but that too is an issue for legitimate debate.Finally, the normative assertions that the U.S. alliance with Israel has been a strategic liability, or that Israel has no moral advantage over other countries in the region, are also "subject to debate." The more I think about it, the more M/W's strategic logic doesn't hold up -- if the friendship with Israel has been such a strategic liability to the U.S., then why has Europe borne the brunt of the post-second intifada terrorist attacks? Still, again, subject to debate.
The funny thing is that "The Israel Lobby" is written in such a way as to foreclose such a debate. As Levy points out:
The structure of the paper is:So, we're left with the rough consensus that this is a touchy topic to bring up -- and yet M/W did so in a rather ham-handed fashion. Which is the basic thesis of Goldberg's essay:
On one level, then, the attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer are examples of the very phenomenon the writers describe. Yet for anyone who hopes for a more open and critical discussion of the Israel lobby, their paper presents profound problems. This is not just a case of brave academics telling taboo truths. In taking on a sensitive, fraught subject, one might expect such eminent scholars to make their case airtight. Instead, they've blundered forth with an article that has several factual mistakes and baffling omissions, one that seems expressly designed to elicit exactly the reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more likely.The editors of LRB mention that, "Mearsheimer and Walt will reply to the correspondence we’ve published and discuss the wider response to their article in the next issue." I'll be very curious to see whether their response acknowledges their factual and conceptual errors or not. Their choice will either promote or forestall a policy debate.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
So I'm thinking Doha is dead
This morning George W. Bush announced a new director of the Office of Management and Budget:
President Bush today selected U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, moving quickly to revamp his team now that his new chief of staff is in place....Here's a link to the transcript of the announcement.
Portman has done an excellent job at USTR for the brief time he was there, and his move to OMB might be, on the whole, a good thing for fiscal policy. That said, Bush and Bolten have decided to switch teams at USTR in the weeks before various deadlines for the Doha round of trade talks come up. This is a bad, bad sign for the likelihood of those negotiations to succeed.
UPDATE: Many commenters point out that Schwab will likely preserve continuity on trade talks. This may be true, but the optics look very bad to other countries and to Congress.
Rob Portman’s unexpected removal from the post of US trade representative on Tuesday evoked concern among governments and trade experts that the US was downgrading the importance of the so-called “Doha round” of World Trade Organisation talks....The European carping should be taken with a small grain of salt -- they'll jump on any excuse to evade blame for Doha collapsing.
The US on Tuesday named Rob Portman, the politically savvy trade representative, to head the White House budget office, a move that signals growing concern over runaway federal spending and a downgrading of trade policy in the administration’s second term....
Why has there never been a hit television show based on an academic's life?
View the first minute or two of this Brad DeLong video post about how he spent his day yesterday and you'll get an excellent answer (You'll also get a nice precis of Marty Weizman's explanation of the equity premium).
This is not to diss Brad -- I too have children to ferry to school, a dog to walk, assignments that are overdue, and bureaucratic minutiae to finish. It's just that, to the rest of the world, it probably looks as exciting as paint drying.
You'll know the reality TV craze has passed when they air a show called The Professor.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Open Edward Luttwak thread
OK, the Mark Steyn thread on what to do about Iran generated just a few comments. So, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that Iran is now developing really good centrifuges, here's another point of view.
In Commentary, Edward Luttwak argues that there are several good reasons not to attack Iran anytime soon. He gives three reasons. First, geopolitics renders Iran a natural ally of the United States over the long haul. Second, the Iranian regime wants a U.S. attack for the rally-round-the-flag effect.
The third reason is the most convincing for me: despite three decades of effort, the Iranians haven't made much progress at developing strategic industries, much less a workable nuclear device:
[I]n spite of all the industrial assistance it received, it is not clear that the Iranian nuclear organization can manufacture centrifuge cascades of sufficient magnitude, efficiency, and reliability. There are many talented engineers among the Iranian exiles in the United States and elsewhere in the world, but perhaps not so many in Iran itself. Besides, demanding technological efforts require not just individual talents but well-organized laboratories and industrial facilities.Lest one think Luttwak is being too sanguine, here's the closing part of the piece:
There is thus no indication that the regime will fall before it acquires nuclear weapons. Yet, because there is still time, it is not irresponsible to hope that it will.Read the whole thing. I think Luttwak is underestimating the ability of the Iranian regime to stay in power, but it's food for thought.
The exaggerated externalities of illegal immigration
Via Kevin Drum, I see that Eduardo Porter has a myth-busting piece in the New York Times on the effects that illegal immigration has had on the wages of the least educated Americans. Here's how it opens:
California may seem the best place to study the impact of illegal immigration on the prospects of American workers. Hordes of immigrants rushed into the state in the last 25 years, competing for jobs with the least educated among the native population. The wages of high school dropouts in California fell 17 percent from 1980 to 2004.And here's how it closes:
"If you're a native high school dropout in this economy, you've got a slew of problems of which immigrant competition is but one, and a lesser one at that," said Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.Read the whole thing. Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics.
The ins and outs of media whoring
Jennifer Jacobson has an excellent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the travails faced by academics who make regular media appearances. It's the perfect mix of serious and amusing.
The amusing stuff:
During the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, appeared on television regularly to argue that impeaching President Bill Clinton was wrong.Ravitch's last quote raises an interesting question -- as Americans get more and more of their news off the Internet, will more public intellectuals start up blogs? [Duh--ed.]
On the serious side, it turns out that junior faculty should be wary of doing too much television. Who knew?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
What to read about economics for this week
Barry Eichengreen, "Global Imbalances: The New Economy, the Dark Matter, the Savvy Investor, and the Standard Analysis," Journal of Policy Modeling, forthcoming. Here's how it concludes:
This paper has reviewed four perspectives on global imbalances. The standard analysis suggests that the U.S. current account deficit cannot be sustained at current levels. It suggests that there will have to be significant adjustments in asset prices to compress U.S. spending and significant changes in relative prices to crowd in net exports. At the same time, nonstandard analyses, focusing on the profitability of investment in the United States, the profitability of U.S. foreign investment, and the differential returns on U.S. foreign assets and liabilities suggest that U.S. current account deficits may be easier to sustain than implied by the standard analysis.While I've been travelling, I see that Greg Mankiw -- Harvard economist, former Chairman of the Council on Economic Advisors, and probably some other title I've forgotten -- now has a blog. It's worth checking out.
Mankiw is an honest broker -- he highlights a Dallas Federal Reserve study on globalization and governance, which finds that countries that are open to globalization are also among the best governed. However, Mankiw correctly points out that these are merely correlations -- globalization does not necessarily cause good governance (the other problem with the study is that it relies on A.T. Kearney's measure of globalization, which conflates a few causes an effects).
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Remind me again.... why hasn't Rumsfeld resigned?
The official position here at danieldrezner.com has been that Don Rumsfeld should have resigned about two years ago.
Thomas Ricks reports in the Washington Post that this has increasingly become the public position of Army commanders who have served in Iraq:
The retired commander of key forces in Iraq called yesterday for Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down, joining several other former top military commanders who have harshly criticized the defense secretary's authoritarian style for making the military's job more difficult.Peter Spiegel and Paul Richter put this into context in the Los Angeles Times:
The officers said that challenges to civilian policy were not new — similar opposition flared during the Clinton administration, particularly around the issue of gays in the military. But many of the latest condemnations come from officers who served in the Iraq war, and the controversy has split the ranks over whether attacks by those officers so soon after retiring are appropriate.The general has a point.... but then again, don't Batiste and others have a point as well?
Question to Rummy-supporters: how can this kind of criticism be ignored? Why should Rummy still be the Secretary of Defense?
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Open Mark Steyn thread
OK, the Sy Hersh thread seemed to prompt some vigorous discussion... so let's try the same thing with Mark Steyn's new essay in City Journal arguing that the Bush administration is correct to contemplate military action against the mullahs.
The key paragraphs:
The bad cop/worse cop routine the mullahs and their hothead President Ahmadinejad are playing in this period of alleged negotiation over Iran’s nuclear program is the best indication of how all negotiations with Iran will go once they’re ready to fly. This is the nuclear version of the NRA bumper sticker: “Guns Don’t Kill People. People Kill People.” Nukes don’t nuke nations. Nations nuke nations. When the Argentine junta seized British sovereign territory in the Falklands, the generals knew that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power, but they also knew that under no conceivable scenario would Her Majesty’s Government drop the big one on Buenos Aires. The Argie generals were able to assume decency on the part of the enemy, which is a useful thing to be able to do.Discuss amongst yourselves.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The realist tradition in American public opinion
Remember my query about journalists' attitudes towards U.S. foreign policy from a few weeks back? It was a very small part of a paper I've written entitled, "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion", which I'll be presenting at Yale tomorrow. Here's the abstract:
For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their theory is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons – national history, American exceptionalism – realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite of public opinion. This paper takes a closer look at the anti-realist assumption by examining survey data and the empirical literature on the mass public’s attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and worldviews, the use of force, and foreign economic policy. The results suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans might be most comfortable with the logic of realpolitik. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.One of the many germs from which this paper grew was from this blog post from two years ago.
Horror stories about anonmous peer review
Henry Farrell links to a Chronicle of Higher Education story by Jeffrey Young about how Microsoft Word's tags have eroded anonymity in peer review. Henry adds:
Word documents preserve a lot of metadata, including, very often, the author’s name – so that if you submit your review via a Word email attachment (as many journals ask you to these days), and the journal forwards the review unchanged to the article’s author, he or she can figure out who you are without having to play the usual guessing game. I’ve been aware of this for a couple of years (I carefully strip all data before sending reviews out, just in case) – but I suspect that many academics aren’t (some of them may not even realize that Word collates this data automatically).I've been outed once as a reviewer after I rejected a piece, but it was not due to anything as high-tech as MS Word metadata.
I faxed the journal -- which shall remain nameless -- my review. The journal then faxed it to the paper-writer -- who shall also remain nameless. The problem was that the journal's fax to the writer contained my department's fax number and identification -- and from there it was pretty damn easy to identify the referee.
Here's a link for potential referees about how to stay anonymous if you electronically submit your referee reports.
Monday, April 10, 2006
The market for matchmakers
Craig Wilson has a story in USA Today about how high-end personal shoppers have added new functions -- such as trying to marry their clients off:
[Claire] Wexler's concierge service helps the wife-seeking man deal with, well, just about everything he needs in his search, from what flowers to send ("Not roses, they're trite") to what shoes to wear ("Brown goes with almost everything"). And if he has less romantic desires like finding a good doctor or choosing new appliances, she can handle that, too.Three thoughts (beyond the obvious reference to Tyler Cowen's "markets in everything" meme):
1) You have to think that some Hollywood executive read this article today and immediately conceived of a romantic-comedy-starring-Rachel-McAdams-kind-of-like-The-Wedding-Planner-but-funnier-and-with-more-heart.
Open Sy Hersh thread
I am on the road and will not be blogging up a storm for the next few days. However, continuing our conversation on Iran, readers should avail theselves of this Sy Hersh story in the New Yorker on U.S. preparations to attack Iran and comment away.
The two paragraph that stood out for me:
A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”I think I'm at the point where I don't want any more legacies from the Bush administration.
UPDATE: Tyler Cowen offers his thoughts. Here's another question for readers: even if the intel on Iran is a slam dunk -- is anyone else bothered by the prospect of using tactical nuclear weapons as bunker-busters to ensure that Iran doesn't acquire nukes?
Saturday, April 8, 2006
April's Books on the Month
This month's international relations book is Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. Here's the Publisher's Weekly summary:
Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.I think Goldsmith and Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code.... at least, that's what I said on the back cover. So go check it out.
If you need further convincing, check out Wu and Goldsmith's exchange in Slate with Glenn Reynolds from last week.
For a change of pace, the general interest book is a novel: Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I've been a big fan of Goodman's for quite some time, but this is her best novel by far, because this time around Goodman marries her impeccable narration to a great plot. It's about a struggling cancer lab, a post-doc that stumbles into an apparent breakthrough, the ways in which that breakthrough disrupts the dense network of friendships that allows the lab to function, and what happens when the breakthough is called into question. With Intuition, Goodman managed to pull off the double-coup of earning rave reviews from the Economist and Entertainment Weekly.
Here are three reasons why Intuition is so good (there are many more than three). First, Goodman nails both the quotidian and the big picture aspcts of what it is like to do research for a living. Joy, despair, jealousy, competition, curiosity -- she gets it. Second, and more important, Goodman has created characters with motivations that are simple and yet not so simple. One can try to come up one-sentence explanations for why the protagonists do what they do, and fail -- because real people don't operate like that most of the time. Third, Goodman manages to convey the horrors of what happens to everyone involved when accusations of scientific malfeasance become public knowledge. For anyone who's held a research position, that section of the book will be a gripping read.
Go check them out!
Friday, April 7, 2006
Trade, development... and free ponies!!
The latest Cato Unbound features New York University's William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden, on "Why Doesn't Aid Work?" There will also be reaction essays from the World Bank's Branko Milanovic, Deepak Lal of UCLA, and the Center for Global Development's Steve Radelet. Go check it out -- you can read my review of Easterly's book here.
On a related topic, I see that Robert Reich reviewed Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton's new book Fair Trade for All. As Reich recounts the book's policy prescriptions, it appears that Stiglitz and Charlton believe in free ponies:
Stiglitz and Charlton show that standard economic assumptions are wrong when it comes to many developing economies. When markets in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere are opened, people often can't move easily to new industries where the nation has a comparative advantage. Transportation systems that might get them there are often primitive, housing is inadequate and job training is scarce. They're vulnerable in the meantime because safety nets are weak or nonexistent. Most people lack access to credit or insurance because financial institutions are frail, so they're unable to start their own businesses or otherwise take advantage of new opportunities that trade might bring. Many poor countries are already plagued by high unemployment, and job losses in the newly traded sector might just add to it.The problem with this argument is the same as the problem with Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents and Sachs' An End to Poverty -- they recognize that markets in the developing world lack vital infrastructure, but fail to recognize that developing governments suffer from even greater institutional deficits. Expecting these governments to determine when their proteted sectors should become unprotected from a welfare economic perspective is wishful thinking -- in large part because these governments will not want to give up the rents that they extract from trade protection.
[But states like Japan and South Korea pulled this off!--ed. That's a matter of some debate, but accept the premise as given. The states that could pull this off have already done it. I ask my readers to identify states with well-developed institutional capabilities that have yet to hit the fast track of economic growth.]
While Stiglitz and Charlton are at it, they should also wish for some ponies.
A slippery slope for the Passover diet?
The Passover holiday starts next week. As Jews -- and philo-Semites -- begin to think about the Seder, they should check out this Joan Nathan story in the New York Times from a few days ago. It's about how Orthodox rabbis are lightening up on baking for Passover:
When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used during Passover.This is all to the good... indeed, as someone who, after careful empirical research, has determined that everything tastes better with bacon, I can only hope that small steps like the easing of Passover restrictions lead to larger reforms in the Kosher dietary laws.
Mmmmm..... baking powder.....
Thursday, April 6, 2006
What, exactly, is the U.S. strategy for the U.N. Human Rights Council?
Warren Hoge reports in the New York Times on a head-scratching policy decision by the Bush administration with regard to the newfangled United Nations Human Rights Council:
The United States said Thursday it would not be a candidate for the new United Nations Human Rights Council, which was approved last month by the General Assembly with Washington nearly alone in opposition.I haven't paid a lot of attention to the negotiations surrounding the new Human Rights Council, and I'm guessing that the Bush administration has some valid reasons to object to the criteria for election to the new Council (Hoge reports that Cuba is running).
That said, can anyone explain the logic in Bolton's statement, because I confess it escapes me. This seems to fall under the category of mindless unilateralism that Max Boot lamented about earlier this week?
UPDATE: Brett Schaefer and Nile Gardiner argue in a Heritage WebMemo that the U.S. made the right call:
With the vulnerabilities of the new Council, the U.S. has made the right decision in adopting a wait and see approach. China, Cuba, and Iran, all notorious human rights violators, have already announced their intention to run for seats on the Council. Should they gain membership, it will be a clear sign that the new Council will be just as impotent as its predecessor. If their applications and those of other dictatorships are rejected, it will demonstrate that UN member states are taking the Council more seriously than the old Commission and that the new body may merit the effort necessary to secure a seat in the future.
When is "a major health problem" good news?
When it's not as bad as a national catastrophe. Tyler Cowen links to a Washington Post story by Craig Timberg on how AIDS infection rates in most of Africa have been wildly overestimated:
Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.It should be stressed that HIV/AIDS infection rates on Southern Africa are alarmingly high.
That said, this is still unambiguously good news.
Thank God for the Guardian's watch on the American Academy!!
The headline of the Guardian's special report on free speech in the American academy by Gary Younge is "Silence in class." The subhead:
University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?Wow, this sounds pretty bad. Oh, wait, let's get to the text of the piece:
Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.Read the whole article -- it's a compendium of the current attacks on various academics. It seems like small beer to me, and not exactly worthy of a Guardian special report. In the words of one academic who has been verbally attacked -- history professor Ellen DuBois: "It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals."
Or am I underreacting? I'll leave that to the commenters.
In the interest of promoting an open debate....
I'm not commenting on the Walt/Mearsheimer article again... just linking in the interest of promoting an open debate:
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE WALT/MEARSHEIMER THESIS:
The gravest indictment is that the screed is anti-American. For campaigning on behalf of this or that U.S. foreign policy is as American as apple pie....2) Eliot Cohen, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic," Washington Post, April 5, 2006:
Oddly, these international relations realists -- who in their more normal academic lives declare that state interests determine policy, and domestic politics matters little -- have discovered the one case in which domestic politics has, for decades, determined the policy of the world's greatest state. Their theories proclaim the importance of power, not ideals, yet they abhor the thought of allying with the strongest military and most vibrant economy in the Middle East. Reporting persecution, they have declared that they could not publish their work in the United States, but they have neglected to name the academic journals that turned them down [Several press reports have stated that it was The Atlantic Monthly, which is not a peer-reviewed journal -- but then again, neither is the LRB--DD]....
3) Alan Dershowitz, "Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt 'Working Paper', "Harvard Faculty Responses to Working Papers, April 5, 2006:
One of the authors of this paper has acknowledged that “none of the evidence [in their paper] represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews” – a surprising admission, considering that professors at great universities are judged by the originality of their research. Moreover, the paper is filled with errors and distortions that should be obvious to any critical reader, all of which are directed against Israel and the Jewish Lobby. As I will show, there are at least three major types of errors: First, quotations are wrenched out of context (for example, the authors distort a Ben-Gurion quote to make him appear to favor evacuation of Arabs by “brutal compulsion,” when he actually said that, because an evacuation would require “brutal compulsion,” it should not become “part of our programme”). Second, facts are misstated (for example, that Israeli citizenship is based on “blood kinship,” thus confusing Israel’s law of citizenship with its Law of Return; fully a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish). And third, embarrassingly poor logic is employed (for example, whenever America and Israel act on a common interest, it must be the result of pressure from “the Lobby,” and that “the mere existence of the Lobby” is proof that “support for Israel is not in the American national interest”ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE WALT/MEARSHEIMER THESIS:
.......crickets chirping....... [But see update below--DD]
Seriously, I ask commenters who believe that Walt and Mearsheimer are making valid points to provide links to substantive online commentary that buttresses their position. I've seen articles defending their right to say it, and articles applauding their bravery for tackling the issue. I've seen nothing that rebuts criticism made of their piece.
An no one likes a one-sided open debate.
[Yeah, but Robert Pape defended them in the Chicago Maroon, calling them "philo-Semites of the first order"!!--ed. Well, that's not really a substantive defense. Plus, while I certainly don't think they're anti-Semites, to my knowledge
UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed a few suggestions that provide a partial defense of the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis. Here they are:
The tone of the report is harsh. It is jarring even for a self-critical Israeli. It lacks finesse and nuance when it looks at the alphabet soup of the world of American-Jewish organizations and at how the "Lobby" interacts with both the Israeli establishment and the wider right-wing echo chamber....2) Mark Mazower, "When vigilance undermines freedom of speech," Financial Times, April 3, 2006:
What is striking is less the substance of their argument than the outraged reaction: to all intents and purposes, discussing the US-Israel special relationship still remains taboo in the US media mainstream....3) William Pfaff, "Israeli lobby and U.S. foreign policy" Korea Herald, April 6, 2006:
It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy policy is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers, exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Will the U.S. be bombing Iran anytime soon?
I used to think that the Bush administration wasn’t seriously considering a military strike on Iran, because it would only accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. But what we're seeing and hearing on Iran today seems awfully familiar. That may be because some U.S. officials have already decided they want to hit Iran hard.Kevin also links to this Daily Telegraph report by Sean Rayment asserting that the U.K. is gearing up as well:
The Government is to hold secret talks with defence chiefs tomorrow to discuss possible military strikes against Iran.
Over at The Washington Note, Clemons
In the past, I've been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued.Is this the administration's end game? If so, is it an effective end game?
I have my doubts... a bombing raid might throw a wrinkle or two into Iran's nuclear program, but it won't halt it, and it would give Ahmadinejad a rally-round-the-flag effect.
I have my doubts about the other options on the table, however. Clemons suggests that Ahmadenijad's rule in Iran is more fragile than commonly believed.... but the "domestic unrest brewing in Iran" meme is about a decade old now, and I've seen nothing to suggest that the mullahs will be relinquishing power anytime soon.
Barry Posen argues a la Walt/Mearsheimer that we can live with a nuclear Iran. Of course, realists also argued that nukes would stabilize the subcontinent.... just before the 1999 Indo-Pakistani war broke out.
To me, all policy options still stink.
I'm so glad the moderate Al Qaeda faction is in charge
Foreign Policy magazine has started up a blog with the catchy name of Passport. Perusing the posts, I think it will have to go up on the blogroll.
Among other posts, Davide Berretta informs us about Abu Zarqawi's apparent demotion within the ranks of Al Qaeda:
Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings.Berretta thinks this is a good thing, because "Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.
Continuing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays metaphor, I look forward to Zawahiri issuing a press release confirming that Zarqawi will be staying on as a consultant, and that the demotion is not really an organizational shake-up.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
What's the upside of a guest worker program?
It's considered a truism that the United States has been far more successful at integrating immigrants than Western Europe. Fareed Zakaria's column in yesterday's Washington Post elegently explains why:
Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late '90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year. Naturally, they expected that tens of thousands more Indians would soon be begging to come, and perhaps the quotas would have to be increased. But the program was a flop. A year later barely half of the 20,000 cards had been issued. After a few extensions, the program was abolished.While we're on the topic, be sure to check out Carl Bialik's Wall Street Journal column to see how the number of illegal immigrants are measured.
The American Red Cross gets a spanking
The New York Times' Stephanie Strom reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross is none too pleased with how the American Red Cross performed during Katrina:
The American Red Cross's response to Hurricane Katrina was poorly planned, relied too heavily on inexperienced managers and often failed to meet the needs of victims, say reports by international Red Cross officials who were dispatched to assist their American counterparts.You can access the report by clicking here. A few thoughts:
1) It is just me or is has the Red Cross become the NGO equivalent of the Department of Energy -- i.e., a bureaucracy that, through some internal alchemy, seems guaranteed to generate a scandal every few years?
My very first satellite radio show
I'll be on Open Source Radio with Christopher Lydon on that satellite radio thing the young people talk about so much. My assignment is to
[I thought you said you weren't talking about this any more?!--ed. No, I said I wouldn't blog about this. Talking on the radio is completely different. While I'm at it, though, it's worth linking to this Guardian story by Peter Beaumont that clears up one aspect of the paper that I did think was borderline anti-Semitic: the capitalization of "The Israel Lobby":
[London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay] Wilmers rejects the accusation by Hitchens, Ross and others that the Mearsheimer-Walt article has done little more than attempt to join up a disconnected list of people and organisations lobbying on different aspects of Israeli concern into a central 'Israel Lobby' - capitalised by the LRB. She admits now, however, that it would have been better to use a lower case 'l' for the word 'lobby' - to have avoided the risk of being misunderstood.
Bill Thomas reads Doha its obituary
In a speech last month, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said that the Doha round was approaching a "moment of truth"
Christopher Swann and Edward Alden report in the Financial Times about what House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas told the truth to an audience at AEI about the future of U.S. trade policy:
Bill Thomas, President George W. Bush’s most important congressional ally on trade liberalisation, is urging the administration to focus its energy on concluding bilateral trade deals, warning on Monday that the Doha multilateral round of talks was heading for failure because of conflicts between the US and the European Union.That's the uderstatement of the day.
Monday, April 3, 2006
So how's it going in Lebanon?
Christine Spolar takes a look in the Chicago Tribune at what's happened in Lebanon since Syrian troops left the country. Spolar takes a pesimistic view of politicians dithering while the people suffer -- but after reading the article, I didn't see a lot of heft to that claim.
The interesting part of the story was about how Hezbollah is coping with normal politics:
The pressure is on the Lebanese political class to recapture the promise of a lost spring. Leaders from all parties in parliament are in round-table talks, the first national dialogue in decades, in hopes of translating last year's street protests for "freedom, sovereignty, independence" into some kind of progress.I'm not holding my breath waiting for Hezbollah to disarm -- but then again, I never thought I would have ever heard a Hezbollah strategist praising the "natural give-and-take" of politics.
Sunday, April 2, 2006
Blegging for research help
Blogging has been light because I'm putting the finishing touches on a research paper... and there's one small question that's nagging at me. Are any readers aware of surveys done in the past decade of the attitudes of American journalists towards American foreign policy?
The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has a great quadrennial series of polls about American elites, but the reports do not break out responses for journalists.
I'm also aware of the surveys and research into reporters' domestic ideological affiliation, and the volumnious literature on media bias, but that's no good to me -- attitudes towards domestic policies don't translate well into international relations.
I need to see polling numbers of journalists' opinions about foreign policy priorities, the use of force, and/or foreign economic policy. I vaguely recall reading about a few of these, but my numerous searches have produced zilch so far. So, I hereby delegate this to knowledgeable readers.
[What do they get if they find something useful?--ed. A big, big thank you in the acknowledgments.]