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;

b) Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez taking great pains to plow over anyone and everyone separating her from McCain as we were all leaving dinner so she could sit next to him on the ride back to the hotel.

c) On the plane back to the United States, the man sitting next to me asked in an excited Belgian accent, "Do you know that Senator McCain is on this flight?"

d) Despite all the adulation from Democrats and Europeans, the Republicans in attendance all seemed happy to see him as well.

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.

posted by Dan at 08:49 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

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?

posted by Dan at 06:37 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

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

posted by Dan at 01:46 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

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?

posted by Dan at 09:33 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

This goes a long way toward explaining why even when gas prices rise this summer--higher than they were throughout the 1990s--people will still be driving more; it's much more of a value than it was a generation ago.

What's more, so-called energy intensity is declining rapidly. That means we produce more with less energy. According to, "The U.S. economy has undergone major structural changes over the last two decades, becoming more energy efficient, thus reducing its overall dependence on energy. … The energy intensity of the U.S. economy has declined by roughly 40% since the first oil crisis (as of 2001)."

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.

This crisis isn't a crisis. It's just a price increase, the sort of signal consumers adjust to every day. No hysteria is called for.

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).

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

"I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious," said Viswanathan, who signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Co., reportedly worth $500,000, following her high school graduation from Bergen County Academies in Hackensack.

She plans to revise the novel with publisher Little, Brown and Co. to eliminate the similarities, and apologized to McCafferty and to readers who felt misled.

Viswanathan could not be reached directly yesterday. But when asked in an interview with The Star-Ledger last week about what books may have helped inspire "Opal Mehta," Viswanathan said, "Nothing I read gave me the inspiration."

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.

posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

In a turnabout from earlier decisions, the Department of Labor—in a note published this month in the Federal Register—said that four employees of IT services vendor Computer Sciences Corp. that were laid off in 2003 from a facility in East Hartford, Conn., are eligible to apply for benefits under the Trade Adjustment Act. The act provides a number of relief measures for workers who've lost their jobs to cut-rate foreign competition, including extended unemployment payments, federally funded retraining, and relocation allowances.

The department has long held that programmers who've lost jobs to cheaper, foreign workers aren't eligible for the TAA program because their employers, or employer's customers, are not importing a physical good in the same way as, say, steel manufacturers. A number of federal and state lawmakers have introduced bills that would automatically grant eligibility under the act to IT workers and other white collar professionals, but none has become law.

The labor department initially said that although CSC moved production of its Vantage-One insurance software from East Hartford to CSC India, the software was not an imported "article" as defined by the act. In a lawsuit, the workers asked the U.S. Court of International Trade to overturn the department's ruling. In January, trade court judge Nicholas Tsoucalas ordered the department to revisit the case, noting that, "Labor's interpretation of the law, that software code must be embodied on a physical medium to be an article under the Trade Act, is arbitrary and capricious."

In a Federal Register note published April 11, the Labor Department conceded the point and ruled that the four CSC workers would be eligible to apply for TAA assistance. In ruling, the department said it would henceforth look upon software, whether shipped into the U.S. on a disc or transmitted into the country via telecommunications networks, as a physical product.

"Software and similar intangible goods that would have been considered articles for the purposes of the Trade Act if embodied in a physical medium will now be considered articles regardless of their method of transfer," the department wrote.

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
longstanding precedent that firms must produce an article to be certified under the Act. This determination is not altered by the fact the provision of a service may result in the incidental creation of an article. For example, accountants provide services for the purposes of the Act even though, in the course of providing those services, they may generate audit reports or similar financial documents that might be articles on the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. Because the new policy may have ramifications beyond this case of which the Department is not fully cognizant, the new policy will be further developed in rulemaking.

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

"Bin Laden is a master craftsman at recognizing issues and knowing how to exploit these issues for his own purposes," said M.J. Gohel, a London-based analyst and chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a security policy group. "He's trying to enlarge the global conflict and is trying to incite and anger the Muslim world against the West."

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist and director of the Washington office of the Rand Corp., a California-based research group, said al-Qaeda is confronting the same challenge that all terrorism networks face: how to remain relevant as a radical movement over time.

"It's entirely cynical," he said of bin Laden's rallying cry on behalf of Darfur and Hamas. "He's got to say something about someplace. They've got to keep talking or else they're going to be irrelevant, especially when they're not directly involved in the fighting."

"These are contentious contemporary issues that he can glom onto and milk for his own ends," Hoffman added. "It's more rhetorical than factual. Bin Laden is no friend of the Sudanese. They told him to leave in 1996 and took his money. And Hamas has basically told al-Qaeda to mind its own business."

Counterterrorism officials and analysts said al-Qaeda's leaders have also become more outspoken in recent months because they fear losing their influence in the fragmented world of Islamic fundamentalism. Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician, have been effectively sidelined since the Sept. 11 attacks while other radical groups and figures, such as Hamas and Jordanian fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, have stolen the limelight, the analysts said.

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.

posted by Dan at 12:54 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Frances Williams reports on the backtacking on Doha:

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.

The meeting on Friday, attended by about 25 rich and poor WTO members agreed to call off plans for ministerial talks this week.

The US and European Union blamed each other for the setback. Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, accused the US of lacking realism on agriculture, while the US trade representative’s office said it wished the EU would put the same energy into the negotiations as it did in finger-pointing.

In Geneva, diplomats said failure to agree detailed guidelines for cutting farm subsidies and agricultural and industrial tariffs was disappointing but not “the end of the world”.

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.

The IMF was given a mandate to start immediate negotiations between the countries with the largest trade imbalances. Its goal will be to secure agreements to reform economic and exchange rate policies to close trade gaps and prevent a global financial crisis. If successful, it could lead to big changes in economic policies, including an appreciation of China’s renminbi.

Causes of global imbalances will come under the spotlight in the first IMF “multilateral consultation”, including low levels of US savings, the inflexibility of the Chinese exchange rate and surpluses in Japan, Germany and among oil producers. Participating nations will use the IMF as a forum to seek solutions to these problems.

Rodrigo Rato, IMF managing director, said the IMF’s analysis would be published, putting additional pressure on countries to agree, since it would not have any tools to force policy changes.

All IMF members, including China, supported the new procedures. IMF members also agreed that some emerging countries should be given greater ownership and voting rights.

Mr Rato said the changes to the fund’s purpose in addressing global imbalances was “a very important step in the role of the fund in tackling global imbalances but also in producing an encouraging, co-operative response to global issues”.

The US, in particular, is pleased at the growing recognition that its record trade deficit is the product of global forces, not just its own government deficit, and has to be resolved in a way that sustains global growth.

A senior US official said: “I think that surplus countries are beginning to understand that there will be no adjustment unless they are a part of it.”

Even senior G7 officials sceptical about the chances of progress were delighted.

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 a minor miracle considerable international policy skills.

posted by Dan at 09:08 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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?

posted by Dan at 12:28 AM | Comments (49) | Trackbacks (0)

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;
b) Tony Judt's New York Times essay defending parts of the Mearsheimer and Walt (M/W) thesis
c) Juan Cole's discussion/defense of the M/W argument in Salon;
d) Michelle Goldberg's dissection of the piece in Salon; and
e) Jacob Levy's blog post on the topic -- and the comment thread it inspired on Crooked Timber.
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;

2) Mentioning this fact can put one at risk of being called anti-Semitic, which stunts debate on the topic.

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.

The Lobby also has significant leverage over the Executive branch," they write. "That power derives in part from the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections. Despite their small numbers in the population (less than 3 percent), they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates 'depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 percent of the money.'" This treatment of Jewish money as a monolithic force is both ugly and misleading; the agenda of liberal donors like George Soros and Peter Lewis is quite different from that of a hardcore Israel supporter like Jack Rosen, head of the American Jewish Congress....

They note the difference between the two, but then they ignore it, writing, for example, "There are also Jewish senators and congressmen who work to make U.S. foreign policy support Israel's interests." They argue as if there's no need to point out the distinction between, say, Joe Lieberman, one of the Iraq war's staunchest supporters, and Russ Feingold, one of its steadiest opponents. In their formulation, the fact that a congressman is Jewish creates suspicion of dual loyalties.

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:

Why does the United States provide [so much] support to Israel?
1. Such support is not [in our view] genuinely strategically warranted.
2. Such support is not [in our view] genuinely morally demanded.
3. Such support must be explained by the presence of actors who place the interests of Israel ahead of the interests of the United States.

The mistake is astonishingly elementary, but it pervades the whole paper. The snarky way to put it is: M&W treat their say-so about strategic and moral considerations as if it was naturally entitled to such overwhelming political deference that the fact that the polity hasn't accepted their say-so is deeply anomalous. The probably-fairer way to put it is: M&W proceed as if the political system has some very strong natural tendency to reach true beliefs and justified policies about strategy and morality-- such a strong tendency that, if it fails in some case, there must be an unusual explanation, such as an unusually intense and effective Lobby that includes people willing to deliberately place the interests of a foreign power over that of their own country, and that includes powerful politicians, media figures, and so on who can make their preferred policies come about.

M&W profess to treat strategic considerations, moral considerations, and The Lobby as alternative explanations of U.S. support. For those to really be comparable itsmes, they'd have to be something like "relevant actors' beliefs about strategic considerations," "relevant actors' beliefs about moral considerations," and "lobbying/ interest group influence." But beliefs don't show up. M&W's discussion of whether Israel is a morally nice place or not is neither here nor there in understanding what brings U.S. support about. "Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens" and "The Lobby" are answers to questions of completely different sorts-- one evaluative, one explanatory.

M&W's rejoinder could be: "Well, since we're right about strategic and moral considerations, if other people's beliefs about those considerations lead them to support Israel, then their beliefs are wrong. Such widespread belief in false propositions is itself anomalous and must be explained by the activities of The Lobby." Now, however, I think the implausibility of the account becomes more apparent. Politics is often marked by good-faith disagreement about hard questions. And it's often marked by people getting things wrong. One doesn't need a Lobby to explain political actors believing and acting on false propositions about morality or prudence.

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.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

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....

Bush, at a morning announcement at the White House, said Portman would "have a leading roll on my economic team."

As Portman's replacement as trade representative, Bush chose deputy trade representative Susan Schwab, a veteran from the administration of George H.W. Bush who has also worked in the private sector for Motorola, among other companies. Schwab was president and chief executive officer of University System of Maryland Foundation before joining the current Bush administration.

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.

Two FT reports -- one by Alan Beattie and one by Caroline Daniel -- make this point.

Beattie first:

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....

Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, issued a barbed statement that qualified praise of Mr Portman and Susan Schwab, currently deputy trade representative and Mr Portman’s nominated replacement, with implied criticism about the timing of the move. “I have very much enjoyed working with Rob Portman and I shall be sorry to see him go from this post,” Mr Mandelson said. “We will of course manage without him, but at this stage in the round, it would have been easier to manage with him.”

Privately, other EU officials were less diplomatic, suggesting that the move sent out a clear signal that the US regarded the Doha round as dispensable. “On the face of it, this looks like bad news for the talks at a time when negotiations are at a fragile point and it is bound to lead to further uncertainty,” one official said. The official said that the one bright spot could be that the US would use the change of personnel as cover to moderate its demands for wholesale farm liberalisation in the Doha round....

Lobbyists and trade experts in Washington said that Ms Schwab was technically very well qualified to succeed Mr Portman. But several said that although she had good contacts on Capitol Hill, she would not enter the job with the same political influence as her predecessor....

Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, said: “To me it sends a signal that things aren’t moving as smoothly as anticipated on the trade deal. It may be a realisation that Doha is not going to be the success that the administration hoped it would be.”

The European carping should be taken with a small grain of salt -- they'll jump on any excuse to evade blame for Doha collapsing.

Now Daniel:

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....

“There is an awful lot of negativism now about the prospect of trade liberalisation and a backsliding on trade,” a leading Republican strategist confirmed. “There is a sense of giving up on bilateral trade deals and on Doha.”

Clay Shaw, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, told Congress Daily: “If the Doha round is doomed for failure ... this may be a case of looking for where [Portman’s] talents, which are extraordinary, can best be used.”

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Organization is indeed Iran’s weakest point, with weighty consequences: after a century of oil drilling, for example, the state oil company still cannot drill exploratory wells without foreign assistance. In another example, even though the U.S. embargo was imposed almost 25 years ago, local industry cannot reverse-engineer spare parts of adequate quality for U.S.-made aircraft, which must therefore remain grounded or fly at great peril—there have been many crashes. Similarly, after more than sixty years of experience with oil refining at Abadan, existing capacity still cannot be increased without the aid of foreign engineering contractors, while the building of new refineries with local talent alone is deemed quite impossible. Iran must import one third of the gasoline it consumes because it cannot be refined at home.

In sum, there is no need to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations at this time. The regime certainly cannot produce nuclear weapons in less than three years, and may not be able to do so even then because of the many technical difficulties not yet overcome.

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.

By the same token, however, it is irresponsible to argue for coexistence with a future nuclear-armed Iran on the basis of a shared faith in mutual deterrence. How indeed could deterrence work against those who believe in the return of the twelfth imam and the end of life on earth, and who additionally believe that this redeemer may be forced to reveal himself by provoking a nuclear catastrophe?....

These, then, are the clear boundaries of prudent action in response to Iran’s vast, costly, and most dangerous nuclear program. No premature and therefore unnecessary attack is warranted while there is still time to wait in assured safety for a better solution. But also and equally, Iran under its present rulers cannot be allowed finally to acquire nuclear weapons—for these would not guarantee stability by mutual deterrence but would instead threaten us with uncontrollable perils.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:43 PM | Comments (66) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

But before concluding that immigrants are undercutting the wages of the least fortunate Americans, perhaps one should consider Ohio. Unlike California, Ohio remains mostly free of illegal immigrants. And what happened to the wages of Ohio's high school dropouts from 1980 to 2004? They fell 31 percent.

As Congress debates an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, several economists and news media pundits have sounded the alarm, contending that illegal immigrants are causing harm to Americans in the competition for jobs.

Yet a more careful examination of the economic data suggests that the argument is, at the very least, overstated. There is scant evidence that illegal immigrants have caused any significant damage to the wages of American workers.

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.

Mr. [Lawrence] Katz agreed that the impact was modest, and it might fall further if changes in trade flows were taken into account — specifically, that without illegal immigrants, some products now made in the United States would likely be imported. "Illegal immigration had a little bit of a role reinforcing adverse trends for the least advantaged," he said, "but there are much stronger forces operating over the last 25 years."

Read the whole thing. Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics.

posted by Dan at 05:41 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Then he got sick of it. He was bored with the cameras, sitting in the studio had lost its novelty, and, to top it off, his earpiece kept falling out. So after CNN asked him to appear yet again, he said he would agree only on one condition: that his dog join him on the air.

The network agreed. During the commercial break, the phones were ringing off the hook, Mr. Sunstein recalls. Viewers wanted to know where they could buy a dog like Perry, Mr. Sunstein's Rhodesian Ridgeback. "He was a big TV star," says Mr. Sunstein. The experience, he says, was "the highlight of my television career." [I must stipulate here that Perry is indeed a gorgeous dog... though not as gorgeous as Chester--DD.]....

On television-free days, Diane Ravitch doesn't wear much makeup — no eyeliner, eye shadow, or mascara. Some days, she says, she does not even apply lipstick.

She is not a fan of getting made up for television; in fact, she says "that's the worst part." There is, however, an upside to it, Ms. Ravitch says: The skillfully applied products make her look 20 years younger — for three minutes.

She realizes that is not a lot of time to share her views with the public. But it is a chance to reach a national audience, she says. Besides, most Americans get their news from television. "So if you can say something that's educational and valuable for them to hear," she says, "that's more than they'll hear for the rest of the day."

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?

posted by Dan at 08:24 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

As for which view is correct, only time will tell. But uncertainty about whether a disorderly correction is imminent does not justify inaction. That a Category 5 hurricane strikes only once a generation does not absolve the responsible homeowner, living in a flood plain, from putting his house on stilts or investing in flood insurance. For the United States, insuring against a disorderly correction would involve progressively tightening fiscal policy and thus gradually narrowing the gap between absorption and production. The best way for China and other East Asian countries that export to the United States to meet this deceleration in U.S. absorption growth would be by loosening fiscal policy (increasing spending on social security, health care, education, rural infrastructure and the like) and thus stimulating demand at home. With demand growth slowing in the United States and accelerating in Asia, relative prices, in the form of the dollar exchange rate, will tend to adjust. The argument for gradual adjustment starting now to limit the risk of a sharp, disruptive adjustment later is still sound even if an eventual hard landing is less than certain.

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).

posted by Dan at 08:17 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Remind me again.... why hasn't Rumsfeld resigned?

The official position here at 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.

"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, said in an interview. "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."

Batiste noted that many of his peers feel the same way. "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," he said earlier yesterday on CNN.

Batiste's comments resonate especially within the Army: It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld. Also, before going to Iraq, he worked at the highest level of the Pentagon, serving as the senior military assistant to Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense.

Batiste said he believes that the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles, such as unity of command and unity of effort. In other interviews, Batiste has said he thinks the violation of another military principle -- ensuring there are enough forces -- helped create the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal by putting too much responsibility on incompetent officers and undertrained troops.

His comments follow similar recent high-profile attacks on Rumsfeld by three other retired flag officers, amid indications that many of their peers feel the same way. (emphasis added)

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.

One current general who has debated the issue with high-ranking colleagues spoke, like others, on condition of anonymity when discussing actions of other officers.

"If every guy that retires starts sniping at their old bosses and acts like a political appointee, how do you think senior civilians start choosing their military leaders?" the general said. "Competence goes out the window. It's all about loyalty and pliability."

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?

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (83) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

But in any contretemps with Iran the other party would be foolish to make a similar assumption. That will mean the contretemps will generally be resolved in Iran’s favor. In fact, if one were a Machiavellian mullah, the first thing one would do after acquiring nukes would be to hire some obvious loon like President Ahmaddamatree to front the program. He’s the equivalent of the yobbo in the English pub who says, “Oy, mate, you lookin’ at my bird?” You haven’t given her a glance, or him; you’re at the other end of the bar head down in the Daily Mirror, trying not to catch his eye. You don’t know whether he’s longing to nut you in the face or whether he just gets a kick out of terrifying you into thinking he wants to. But, either way, you just want to get out of the room in one piece. Kooks with nukes is one-way deterrence squared.

If Belgium becomes a nuclear power, the Dutch have no reason to believe it would be a factor in, say, negotiations over a joint highway project. But Iran’s nukes will be a factor in everything. If you think, for example, the European Union and others have been fairly craven over those Danish cartoons, imagine what they’d be like if a nuclear Tehran had demanded a formal apology, a suitable punishment for the newspaper, and blasphemy laws specifically outlawing representations of the Prophet. Iran with nukes will be a suicide bomber with a radioactive waist.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

posted by Dan at 07:26 AM | Comments (127) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 11:33 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

"Our concept is to build a one-stop shop of resources," says Barbie Adler, founder of 6-year-old Selective Search, where 100 well-heeled men — CEOs, professional athletes and the like — pay an annual fee of $10,000 for 15 "introductions" to some of the 30,000 "bright and talented" women she has in her database.

"They're not just arm candy, although we have that, too," she says. The women, called "affiliates," pay nothing to get in the game. Over the years, Wexler has found them mostly through word of mouth.

"We're the surrogate females in (clients' lives) until we can get them a female of their own," Adler says. "Our client is busy. They believe in outsourcing."

"We're the wing women," Wexler adds.

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.

Some free advice for Ms. McAdams: "Run!! Run like it's a nekkid Vanity Fair cover shoot!! Run!!"

2) There's a Laura McKenna-type comment on the social significance of such services... but I'll just task this to Laura and any commenters willing to venture forth.

3) One of the suggestions that Alan Blinder makes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about how to deall with the long-term impact of offshoring is to gear education towards jobs that require face-to-face interactions. This seems like the ne plus ultra of Blinder-style jobs. [That's all you're going to say about the Blinder article?--ed. I'll have more later in the week.]

posted by Dan at 09:55 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

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?

posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (0)

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!

posted by Dan at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Hence, the authors argue, the pace at which poorer nations open their markets to trade should coincide with the development of new institutions — roads, schools, banks and the like — that make such transitions easier and generate real opportunities. Since many poor nations can't afford the investments required to build these institutions, rich nations have a responsibility to help....

Moreover, they warn, one size does not fit all. Richer nations should not force all poorer nations to abide by the same market-opening rules and timetables. Poorer nations have different needs. They are at different stages of economic development (subsistence agriculture in much of Africa and parts of Asia, export-oriented agriculture in Latin America and other parts of Asia, early-stage industrialization elsewhere). They have different political and institutional capacities.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Not so, said Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, a member of a prominent rabbinic dynasty, who oversees the company's ritual observances. Let the cookies and cakes rise, he told her. Let there be baking soda and baking powder.

"He acted like I was crazy," Ms. Moore said.

The biblical prohibition against leavened bread at Passover — which begins on Wednesday night — has kept observant Jews from using any leavening at all. Cakes and cookies of matzo meal (ground matzo), matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground) and nuts can be tasty, but dense.

So it will surprise many Jews — it certainly surprised me — that among the profusion of products that most Orthodox certification agencies have approved for Passover are not just baking soda, but also baking powder.

Some rabbis are lifting other dietary prohibitions that they say were based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of biblical sanctions, and because they want to simplify the observance.

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.....

posted by Dan at 05:33 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said the United States would sit out the first election for the council in May but would support other countries with strong human rights records and would probably run for a seat next year.

The council, which will hold its first meeting in Geneva in June, replaces the Human Rights Commission, which had been widely discredited for allowing notorious rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe on the panel....

Thursday's announcement by the State Department followed weeks of intense consultations throughout the Bush White House that appeared to many United Nations officials to be preparing the ground for American participation on the panel.

Several members of Congress, including some of the United Nations' harshest Republican critics, had joined rights groups in lobbying the Bush administration to make the United States a candidate.

Although it voted against the council last month, saying that the new membership requirements still would not do enough to keep major human rights violators out, the United States had agreed to help finance the panel and pledged to support it....

Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, said it was a mistake for the United States to wait for future elections to run.

"All key decisions about serious reform issues, from the curtailment of inappropriate bodies to whether and how countries are scrutinized, will be made in the first year," she said.

Countering that argument, John R. Bolton, the United States envoy, said, "I believe rather strongly that our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running and sending the signal 'this is not business as usual' this year than if we were to run."

Among the Republican critics who had counseled joining the panel were Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who has frequently called for Secretary General Kofi Annan to quit; Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman; and Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who is sponsor of a bill that would withhold United States dues from the United Nations. (emphasis added)

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.

For now, however, that seems unlikely. As the New York Times editorialized, while skewering the failure of international human rights group such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to hold the UN to a higher standard, the Council proposal was “so watered down that it has become an ugly sham, offering cover to an unacceptable status quo.” The U.S. can use its diplomatic resources more profitably than to pursue now a seat on this unpromising body....

There are no criteria for membership on the Council. New members of the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is barred from membership—even states under Security Council sanction are not excluded. UN member states are simply instructed that a state’s human rights record should be “taken into account” when they vote for prospective Council members. Some UN member states have pledged to oppose human rights abusers seeking Council membership, but they are unlikely to have the votes necessary to block their election.

posted by Dan at 08:29 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa....

Most of the studies were conducted by ORC Macro, a research corporation based in Calverton, Md., and were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, other international donors and various national governments in the countries where the studies took place.

Taken together, they raise questions about monitoring by the U.N. AIDS agency, which for years overestimated the extent of HIV/AIDS in East and West Africa and, by a smaller margin, in southern Africa, according to independent researchers and U.N. officials.

"What we had before, we cannot trust it," said Agnes Binagwaho, a senior Rwandan health official.

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population.

The new studies rely on random testing conducted across entire countries, rather than just among pregnant women, and they generally require two forms of blood testing to guard against the numerous false positive results that inflated early estimates of the disease. These studies also are far more effective at measuring the often dramatic variations in infection rates between rural and urban people and between men and women.

It should be stressed that HIV/AIDS infection rates on Southern Africa are alarmingly high.

That said, this is still unambiguously good news.

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

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.

"In some respects it's more dangerous," she says. "McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It's very dangerous because it's reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies."

Either way, a growing number of apparently isolated incidents suggests a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

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:


1) Josef Joffe, "Common Denominator," TNR Online, April 6, 2006:

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....

The central issue raised by "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is: Who is in, and who is out? Whose voice is legitimate, and who speaks with treasonous intent? In the end, this 83-page pamphlet reads almost everybody out of the American congregation of 298 million. Once you subtract the Daughters of the American Revolution and the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the rest of America is hyphenated in one way or another, divided by regional, ethnic, and religious identities.

Would they all have to apply to the self-appointed guardians of the national interest for certification as true Americans? Do they have to be a Hancock or Huntington if they want to speak up? Let's say I am a Ukrainian-American. Am I automatically suspect because I plead for an American policy that would resist Russian pressure against Kiev? I certainly would want to be opposed on the basis of my analysis, and not of my presumed ethnic loyalties....

Democracy is about "We the People." In the American case, "We" are no longer white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The secret of this oldest democracy, give or take a Civil War, is the universalism that has preempted European-style religious and ideological bloodshed. In America, everybody has a share, and it's all voting stock.

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]....

Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of The Lobby as a conspiracy between the Washington Times and the New York Times, the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican-leaning American Enterprise Institute, architects of the Oslo accords and their most vigorous opponents. In this world Douglas Feith manipulates Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney takes orders from Richard Perle. They dwell on public figures with Jewish names and take repeated shots at conservative Christians (acceptable subjects for prejudice in intellectual circles), but they never ask why a Sen. John McCain today or, in earlier years, a rough-hewn labor leader such as George Meany declared themselves friends of Israel.

The authors dismiss or ignore past Arab threats to exterminate Israel, as well as the sewer of anti-Semitic literature that pollutes public discourse in the Arab world today. The most recent calls by Iran's fanatical -- and nuclear weapons-hungry -- president for Israel to be "wiped off the map" they brush aside as insignificant. There is nothing here about the millions of dollars that Saudi Arabia has poured into lobbying and academic institutions, or the wealth of Islamic studies programs on American campuses, though they note with suspicion some 130 Jewish studies programs on those campuses. West Bank settlements get attention; terrorist butchery of civilians on buses or in shopping malls does not. To dispute their view of Israel is not to differ about policy but to act as a foreign agent.

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”

.......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 my Zionist overlords learned Jewish scholars have yet to award them that distinction yet. What do you get as a philo-Semite of the first order?--ed. Free parking at all kosher delis in the United States -- and you get to run Hollywood.]

UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed a few suggestions that provide a partial defense of the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis. Here they are:

1) Daniel Levy, "So Pro-Israel That It Hurts," International Herald-Tribune, April 3, 2006:

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....

Here are some talking points that can already be suggested for this debate:

First, efforts to collapse the Israeli and neoconservative agendas into one have been a terrible mistake. The turmoil in Iraq and Al Qaeda's foothold there; growing Iranian leverage and the strengthening of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority are only a partial scorecard of the products of this collaboration.

Second, Israel would do well to distance itself from our "friends" on the Christian evangelical right. When one considers their support for Israel's extremists, the depiction of our prime minister's physical demise as "punishment from God" and their belief in our eventual conversion, or slaughter, this alliance is exposed as sickening irresponsibility.

Third, Israel must not be party to the bullying tactics used to silence policy debate in the United States, such as the policing of academia by groups like Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch. If nothing else, this is deeply un-Jewish. It would in fact serve Israel if the open and critical debate that takes place over here, in Israel, was exported to the United States.

Fourth, the lobby denies Israel something many other countries benefit from - the excuse of external encouragement to do things that are politically tricky but nationally necessary.

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....

The reasons for, and high costs of, this problem warrant further consideration.

If fear of being tarred as an anti-semite – and there is no more toxic charge in American politics – blocks the way, what anti-semitism actually implies in today’s America is increasingly unclear. Over the past century, secularisation, wealth and prestige have bolstered the place of American Jewry in national life. Polls suggest that seriously anti-semitic views are now found only among a small minority of Americans. Yet, fear of anti-semitism has not vanished. Where once it was suspected – and often found – in the workplace and the domestic political arena, it is now expressed in terms of sensitivity towards criticism of the Jewish state. Often ambivalent about the methods of lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jews generally share the committee’s ultimate goal of maintaining a high level of US support for Israel. As Earl Raab, the veteran commentator, has noted, there is a sense that if America abandons Israel, it also may be in some way abandoning American Jewry itself. In the process, the line between anti-semitism and criticism of Israeli policy has become blurred. Defending what Bernard Rosenblatt, the distinguished interwar Zionist, predicted would be “the Little America in the East” is seen by many as synonymous with defending Jews as a whole.

A striking illustration of this occurred in the run-up to the 2004 US presidential elections. At that time Congress passed the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, in spite of strong objections from the State Department. The foreign service did not see why any one form of discrimination should be singled out for official US concern. It was equally troubled by the Act’s language, which asserts that “strong anti-Israel sentiment” or indeed “Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories” should count as evidence of anti-semitic attitudes....

Most sensible people of course recognise that opposition to Israeli policies is quite different from anti-semitism. For those who think they are linked, it has proved hard to fix the precise boundary between the two. The Global Anti-Semitism Act talks about a line separating the latter from “objective criticism” of Israel but does not spell out where this line lies. Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, castigated “profoundly anti-Israel views” for being “anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent”. Others refer to “disproportionate” criticism and vilification. But none of these terms are self-evident in their application. Because the costs of stepping over the line are high, the result is that debate is put under surveillance and inhibited. I came to appreciate that this may cause serious damage to life in the classroom and to pedagogy as a whole when I served on a faculty committee looking into such matters last year.

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.

U.S. Cuba policy is decided by the Cuban lobby in Florida, and policy on Armenia by Americans of Armenian descent. The Middle East, or at least its part of it, belongs to Israel.

However, in the Israeli case, the lobbying effort is linked to a foreign government, even if the lobbyists sometimes take a policy line not that of the government. Moreover, the lobbying involves issues of war and peace.

President George W. Bush said a few days ago that, in connection with the supposed threat of Iran, his concern is to protect Israel. Critics ask why Israel should not protect itself. The same has been asked about Iraq.

In this respect, the controversy over the Israeli lobby is potentially explosive. This is why denials, secrecy and efforts at intimidation are dangerous. David Levy is right when he says that Israel itself would be served "if the open and critical debate that takes place over here (in Israel) were exported over there," meaning the United States.

posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Will the U.S. be bombing Iran anytime soon?

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Joseph Crincione is saying at that a military strike against Iran might be more likely than previously thought:

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.

A high-level meeting will take place in the Ministry of Defence at which senior defence chiefs and government officials will consider the consequences of an attack on Iran.

It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Teheran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.

Over at The Washington Note, Clemons wants a more powerful Israel Lobby makes a decent case that Israel's human intelligence on Iran is better than ours, so we might want to listen to them:

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.

However, in this instance on Iran, Israel's national security thinkers and diplomats are on the side of logic -- and it is in American national interests to hear the Israeli position and consider the roots of their surprising position.

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.


posted by Dan at 06:03 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 04:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

I told the German official at the time that I was sure the initiative would fail. It's not that I had any particular expertise in immigration policy, but I understood something about green cards, because I had one (the American version) myself.

The German Green Card was misnamed, I argued, because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. green card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming American (after five years and a clean record)....

Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration -- perhaps without realizing it. Guest workers, penalties, sanctions and deportation are all a part of Europe's mode of dealing with immigrants. The results of this approach have been on display recently in France, where rioting migrant youths again burned cars last week. Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism. The immigrant communities deserve their fair share of blame for this, but there's a cycle at work. European societies exclude the immigrants, who become alienated and reject their societies.

One puzzle about post-Sept. 11 America is that it has not had a subsequent terror attack -- not even a small backpack bomb in a movie theater -- while there have been dozens in Europe. My own explanation is that American immigrant communities, even Arab and Muslim ones, are not very radicalized. (Even if such an attack does take place, the fact that 4 1/2 years have gone by without one provides some proof of this contention.) Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

The United States has a real problem with flows of illegal immigrants, largely from Mexico (70 percent of illegal immigrants are from that one country). But let us understand the forces at work here. "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world," writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces -- think of drugs -- simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand -- that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:50 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

The unusually harsh reports, prepared in late summer and the fall, detailed mismatches between the needs of victims and the supplies the Red Cross had arranged, the absence of a plan to guide the distribution of supplies and a lack of record-keeping, which allowed inventory to go astray.

"What is clear is that the basic needs of the beneficiaries are not being met," Mike Goodhand, head of the international logistics division of the British Red Cross, wrote on Sept. 15.

The reports, which were provided to The New York Times by a former American Red Cross official who insisted on anonymity, closely echo concerns raised by volunteers in the disaster area....

The Red Cross, which had 235,000 volunteers in the field after Hurricane Katrina, received roughly 60 percent of the $3.6 billion that Americans donated for hurricane relief.

Mr. Goodhand's report described a case in which victims in Mississippi, where his team had been sent, were requesting prepared meals and the only food that Red Cross volunteers could offer was bananas. Volunteers driving out into neighborhoods were asked for water and juice, but had only bleach on hand, he wrote.

"All efforts to address the situation were rebuffed," Mr. Goodhand wrote. He said that when his team offered its expertise on distributing supplies, it was instead assigned to hand out the supplies, work that could have been done by less experienced volunteers.

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?

2) Is it just me or is the new New York Times web redesign actually useful? UPDATE: Nope, not just me.

posted by Dan at 09:32 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

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 repeat my Zionist overlord's talking points discuss the substance of "The Israel Lobby." You can listen in live from from 7-8 PM Eastern by clicking here. Other participants will be Steve Clemons and Daniel Levy.

[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.

posted by Dan at 04:25 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

“The US and the EU have irreconcilable differences on trade, and when you have irreconcilable differences the best thing you can do is call it off,” said Mr Thomas, Republican chairman of the influential House ways and means committee, who will retire from Congress this year.

He also warned about the growing influence of protectionism in the US, saying the “anti-free trade forces” were poised to capture control of Congress in this year’s election.

The pessimistic conclusions from Mr Thomas, who has repeatedly come to the rescue of the Bush administration in pushing controversial trade deals through Congress, will not be reassuring to the administration’s efforts to conclude the Doha round negotiations.

That's the uderstatement of the day.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

After bitter delays, they are debating whether President Emile Lahoud, a former commander of the Lebanese armed forces allied with Syria, should be forced from office. They are also questioning for the first time whether the militant group Hezbollah needs its decades-old armed wing.

The discussions are difficult but necessary, according to those involved in the talks and observers keen to see results.

"We never even sat with some of these people before," said Galeb Abou Zeinab, a Hezbollah strategist. "Just sitting and talking is positive . . . and opens people up to a natural give-and-take."....

The United States and France are sponsors of a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the disarming of Lebanese militia, including Hezbollah. But Hezbollah says it needs to maintain its fighters to guard against possible Israeli incursions.

When others argue that weapons are unnecessary since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah leaders point to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as evidence of Israeli ambition, and they see no reason that Israel would not return to the south if Hezbollah forces disappeared.

Such words appeal to many Arabs in Lebanon, who view Israel as an enemy, and the estimated 350,000 Palestinians who live in refugee camps in Lebanon.

Like other Islamist parties in the Middle East, Hezbollah made inroads in recent elections, claiming 14 seats in the 128-member parliament. Party members are heading ministries for the first time.

But Hezbollah's strength in these internal talks also is due to its history. It has been one of the few political forces in Lebanon to connect with people over the issue of land and sovereignty. When Israeli troops left, Hezbollah leaders were quick to claim credit.

"Everyone will be looking to maneuver," political scientist Makdisi said about the historic dialogue. "Hezbollah may know that at some point they will give up the arms--but the question is: How do you use them as a bargaining chip?"

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.

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

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.]

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)