Friday, June 30, 2006

There ain't nothing soft about the power of Elvis

In a world fraught with short-term crises piled upon long-term crises, it's occasionally nice to blog about diplomacy going right.

Which brings me to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's trip to the United States. Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports on the first leg of the trip for the New York Times. I think she had as much fun writing up the trip as I had reading it:

In the annals of international diplomacy, it was not exactly Yalta. But today's visit to Graceland — the ticky-tacky Elvis Presley mansion here — by President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan brought a little bit of shake, rattle and roll to American foreign relations.

Mr. Koizumi, whose penchant for belting out Elvis on a karaoke machine is well known, couldn't resist trying out his moves on Mr. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush as the three of them made their way through the manse, escorted by none other than Priscilla Presley, Elvis's former wife, and Lisa Marie, his daughter.

"Looove mee tenderrrrr," the prime minister crooned, as Mr. Bush, not one for letting loose in public, cracked up. When Lisa Marie Presley showed the prime minister her father's trademark sunglasses, he promptly donned them and thrust his hips and arms forward, an earnest imitation of a classic Elvis stage move.

"I knew he loved Elvis," Mr. Bush told reporters afterward. "I didn't realize how much he loved Elvis."....

The White House left no detail unattended for the visit. The breakfast fare on Air Force One was peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a recipe straight from Elvis's kitchen. Elvis movies — "Love Me Tender" and "Viva Las Vegas" — were available for viewing. And Elvis music was playing loudly over the speakers, until Mr. Bush asked that the tunes be turned down.

My only objection is Stolberg's use of the word "ticky-tacky" to describe Graceland. I had the honor of visiting the Jungle Room back in the nineties, and although there are many, many adjectives that could be used to describe Graceland, ticky-tacky ain't one of them.

Thank you very much.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pssst.... want to listen to a podcast?
Did the New York Times endanger national security by publicizing the existence of the US government’s SWIFT program, designed to track the funding of international terrorists? Or was the news organization simply an agent of the public’s right and need to know the actions of the US Government?
You can hear my (muddled) take on this question in Pajamas Media Blog Week in Review, which I taped with Austin Bay, Eric Umansky, and La Shawn Barber. Other topic discussed include the Bus Uncle.
posted by Dan at 11:05 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Hamdan thread

Comment away on the Hamdan decision and its implications.

No, wait, before you do that, click over to see what Randy Barnett, Orin Kerr, and Jack Balkin think about the decision (Pajamas Media has a big roundup post as well).

Balkin first:

What the Court has done is not so much countermajoritarian as democracy forcing. It has limited the President by forcing him to go back to Congress to ask for more authority than he already has, and if Congress gives it to him, then the Court will not stand in his way....

I repeat: nothing in Hamdan means that the President is constitutionally forbidden from doing what he wants to do. What the Court has done, rather is use the democratic process as a lever to discipline and constrain the President's possible overreaching.

Both Barnett and Kerr observe how Hamdan highlights the Bush administration's strategic miscalculations on this issue. Barnett first:
It has long seemed clear to me and many others who are otherwise sympathetic to its policies that the Bush administration made two colossal errors in prosecuting the general war on terror.

First: Not seeking quick explicit congressional authorization for such policies as incarceration, military tribunals, etc. The Hamdan case was just one result of this failure. Now, such involvement is much more difficult to accomplish; then it would have been relatively easy. Just not as easy as going it alone, which has proved to be the harder course in the long run.

Second: Not involving the American public directly in supporting the war....

The administration essentially opted for a one-branch war, and the country is now paying the price for that decision. While the failure to involve Congress is merely hard to rectify at this point, the failure adequately to involve the public may now be impossible to remedy.

Neither of these observations is original to me. Both points were made by others when the GWOT began, which is why it is not hindsight to point them out on a day that a very large chicken has come home to roost.

Finally, Orin Kerr:
The combination of the Mayer article and the Hamdan case today brings up an interesting question: To what extent did lawyers in the Administration expect the courts — and in particular, the Supreme Court — to agree with the Addington view of the law? Did they think there were five votes in support of the Addington approach, or that the Court would stay away from the issues? Alternatively, did they figure that the first priority was to do what was needed to protect the country in the short term, and that it was better to push the envelope and have the Courts strike down their efforts than not to push at all?
Talk amongst yourselves.... and play nice.

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge ponders next steps for Congress.

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

Now I'll pick on Congress

My last post took the side of the legislative branch over the executive branch when it comes to how this president uses signing statements. So let's pick on Congress a little.

Here's a trivia question: how many legislative mandates govern U.S. policy towards the International Monetary Fund?

Answer below the fold....

A new GAO report gives us the magic number:

Since 2001, we reported that the United States had maintained nearly 70 legislative mandates prescribing U.S. policy goals at the IMF. These mandates covered a wide range of policies, including policies regarding combating terrorism, human rights, international trade, and weapons proliferation....

The mandates date from 1945 to 2005, with the majority enacted in the last decade. Some mandates address multiple policy issues, sometimes overlapping each other.

The truly surprising thing is that this is actually one fewer mandate than last year.

Click on the report to see the specific mandates. Most of them are perfectly unobjectionable -- but with this many constraints, it's a miracle that Treasury can keep track of them all, much less comply with them. Plus, the aggregation of hard constraints makes it difficult for the U.S. to have the policy flexibility that makes it easier to lead the institution.

Not surprisingly, the executive branch would like a little more latitude. In their response to the GAO, Treasury said:

As noted in the past, the extensive mandates tend to undermine our effectiveness in influencing the IMF. We would welcome efforts by the Congress to effect a consolidation of the legislative provisions to remove unnecssary mandates.

Full disclosure: the author of Treasury's response was one of my bosses when I worked there.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Your scary quote of the day
"It is often not at all the situation that the president doesn't intend to enact the bill."
Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, testifying before a Senate pane on presidential signing statementsl, as quoted in the New York Times.

Getting rid of the double negative, and this translates into, "the president often intends to enact the bill." Not always, but often. Which is great, but I always thought that when Congress passes a law -- no matter how stupid that law might be -- the president is always supposed to implement it. UPDATE: Obviously, the president can veto a bill. Signing a bill and only partially implementing it, however, is another kettle of fish entirely.

To be fair, let's see how Boardman expands on her comments:

Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, said the statements were "not an abuse of power."

Rather, Ms. Boardman said, the president has the responsibility to make sure the Constitution is upheld. He uses signing statements, she argued, to "save" statutes from being found unconstitutional. And he reserves the right, she said, only to raise questions about a law "that could in some unknown future application" be declared unconstitutional.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the current president is operating under a theory of executive branch power that is way, way out of the mainstream.

I'm not opposed to signing statements in principle -- indeed, they probably serve as useful guidance for executive branch agencies. However, quotes like the one above give me hives.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Appalled Moderate for adding more context to Broadman's comments.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Orin Kerr puts his finger on the larger problem:

It seems to me that the Bush Administration’s approach to Article II powers has two features: (1) an unusually broad view of Article II powers and (2) a refusal to explain in detail the Administration’s broad view of Article II powers. Most criticism of the Administration’s approach has focused on (1). I’m no expert on these issues, but my sense is that, from a structural perspective, the real difficulty is the combination of (1) and (2).

posted by Dan at 08:10 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 26, 2006

The blogosphere, R.I.P.--- wait, this sounds familiar

Less than six months ago I observed that many media outlets seemed to be burying the blogosphere. Maybe it's a cyclical thing, but blogs are being buried... again.

There was the whole TNR-Kos debate, but that's so last week. As an bizarre offshoot of that dogpile, there is Lee Siegel's badly written and badly reasoned rant over at TNR. Siegel says in his first post that "The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus." Er, in my book, the one thing fanatics don't lack is focus. That's without trying to deconstruct the "fascism with a Microsoft face" metaphor. Siegel doesn't help matters in his follow-up post.

A more interesting critique comes from Alan Jacobs in Christianity Today:

Whatever one thinks about the structure of the internet as a whole, it is becoming increasingly clear that the particular architecture of the blogosphere is the chief impediment to its becoming a place where new ideas can be deployed, tested, and developed. Take, for instance, the problem of comments.

The industry-standard blog architecture calls for something like this: a main area on the page where the blogger's own posts are presented, with the newest post at the top of the page; then, at the left or right or both, various supplements: links to other sites, personal information about the blogger, and so on. At the bottom of each post will be the hyperlinked word "comments," usually followed by a parenthesis indicating the number of responses to the post: click on the word and you get to see all those comments. That's where the real conversation is supposed to take place. And sometimes it does; but often it doesn't—or rather, the conversation just gets started and then peters out before it can really become productive. And this happens not because of inertia, but largely because the anatomy of a blog makes a serious conversation all but impossible....

Architecture is of course not everything here; human nature is at work too. I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.

Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage. Also—and this is a problem especially on the political blogs—commenters can find themselves confronted with very different beliefs than the ones they encounter in everyday life, where they often are able to select their own society. A right-winger wandering into a comment thread on is likely to get a serious douse of vitriol for his or her trouble; ditto a liberal who plunges into the icy waters of No Left Turns. And the anonymous habitués of a given site are unlikely to show much courtesy to the uninvited guest....

Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather "news") can be tested and evaluated and revised, as we have seen repeatedly, from cnn's firing of Eason Jordan to the discrediting of Dan Rather's story on President Bush's National Guard service. But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture. Even on a site with the brainpower of Crooked Timber, what happens more often than not—indeed, what happens so often that I've taken the site from my rss reader and only check it once or twice a month—is the conversion of really good scholars into really lousy journalists. With few exceptions, posts at the "academic" or "intellectual" blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.

Jacobs has a point about the architecture -- though I would say that the spammers have feasted on the architecture much more than the trolls.

On the development of ideas, Jacobs is both right and wrong. Of course blogs are imperfect vehicles for the long-form development of ideas. However, they are a great place for the germination of ideas. Most of them might be bad ideas, but occasionally I'll come up with something in a blog post that ripens into something even better in a different format.

A final point, before I undoubtedly have to dredge up this topic six months from now. It it just me, or does much of the critical curdling towards the blogosphere evoke how intellectuals of the fifties turned against television? Elite critics went from praising the educational possibilities of the medium to complaining about the "vast wasteland" of television. Perhaps blogs, like TV, will never live up to the hype that was churned out in its technological infancy. However, no one today would think of bashing television as a medium when the variety of programming is so diverse.

Why, then, do critics fall into this trap when they talk about blogs?

posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Nationalism comes from behind!!

Ah, just as Europe takes a step to reject economic nationalism, we turn back to Latin America.

The Financial Times' Andy Webb-Vidal reports that the U.S. Southern Command is worried about "resource nationalism" in the region:

Future supplies of oil from Latin America are at risk because of the spread of resource nationalism, a study by the US military that reflects growing concerns in the US administration over energy security has found.

An internal report prepared by the US military’s Southern Command and obtained by the Financial Times follows a recent US congressional investigation that warned of the US’s vulnerability to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s repeated threats to “cut off” oil shipments to the US.

The Southern Command analysis cautions that the extension of state control over energy production in several countries is deterring investment essential to increase and sustain oil output in the long term.

“A re-emergence of state control in the energy sector will likely increase inefficiencies and, beyond an increase in short-term profits, will hamper efforts to increase long-term supplies and production,” the report said. So far this year, Venezuela has moved to double the level of taxes levied on oil production units operated by multinationals, Bolivia has nationalised its oil and gas fields, and Ecuador has seized several oilfields from Occidental Petroleum, the largest foreign oil company in the country.

The report also noted that oil production in Mexico, which faces elections next weekend, is stagnating be-cause of constitutional re-strictions on foreign investment.

Latin America accounts for 8.4 per cent of daily world oil output, according to the US Energy Information Administration, but energy supplies from the region make up 30 per cent of US energy imports, or about 4m barrels a day....

That the US Southern Command, which oversees military relations with Latin America, has embarked on a detailed study of the subject underscores the view that energy has become a key facet of US national security.

“It is incumbent upon the command to contemplate beyond strictly military matters,” said Colonel Joe Nuñez, professor of strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

An exception to the trend, the Southern Command study noted, is Trinidad & Tobago, whose policy of opening its doors to foreign investment has allowed it to become the top supplier of Liquefied Natural Gas to the US. Analysts have warned that, while the wave of resource nationalism in Latin America is allowing governments to grab a greater share of the energy price boom, tighter control will curb output in the future if, or when, oil prices fall.

“Pending any favourable changes to the investment climate,” the Southern Command study concluded, “the prospects for long-term energy production in Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico are currently at risk.”

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Capitalism 1, Nationalism 0

One of the great things about capitalism is that when there is enough money at stake, national prejudices fall by the wayside.

Which brings us to Mittal Steel's latest acquisition. Heather Timmons and Anand Giridharadas explain in the New York Times:

A new steel giant is being created out of a bitter battle, after Arcelor agreed today to a merger with its rival Mittal Steel in a deal valued at 26.8 billion euros, or $33.5 billion.

The merger combines Arcelor — a symbol of successful, pan-European cooperation and economic revival, with operations that span Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Spain — with a fast-growing conglomerate founded by the India-born Lakshmi Mittal, who built a fortune turning around troubled steel plants in expanding markets from Trinidad to Kazakhstan.

The deal is the latest sign that shareholder activism is reaching into the once staid boardrooms of Europe. The agreement to pair with Mittal caps a wrenching turnaround for Arcelor's board and its management, who once dismissed the idea of a merger with a "company of Indians" but were forced to backtrack after shareholders threatened to revolt.

It has also silenced politicians in Europe who once criticized Mittal, raising hope that protectionist barriers may be softening in Europe....

In the end, Arcelor's foot-dragging has led to expensive concessions from Mr. Mittal. The agreed offer is nearly 40 percent higher than his initial offer in January, which was 27 percent higher than Arcelor's stock price at the time. The sale price also represents a hefty premium to Mr. Mittal's last offer of about 36 euros a share, and to Arcelor's last trading price of 35.02 euros a share.

Timmons and Giridharadas also raise The Big Question in the closing paragraphs:
The fight for Arcelor was closely watched around the world, as it evolved into a clash between two major forces shaping the world economy: the ascendancy of India and China as sources of new business models and ambitious new companies, and a rising tide of protectionism in the West, fueled by anxiety that new competition will erode a way of life.

"These are all tremors of the fact that the world system, which has been maintained by the United States and Europe, has suddenly got to adjust to the rise of China and India, and it ain't going to be easy," said Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean ambassador to the United Nations.

Business leaders have watched the deal closely as a bellwether for emerging-market companies seeking to acquire their slower-growing Western counterparts. Once this deal is completed, analysts expect a surge of acquisitions attempts by multinationals rooted in the developing world.

"The emerging markets are running the big surpluses, they are accumulating capital and they will be spending abroad," said Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

The situation also spotlighted changing standards of corporate governance in Europe, where boards and management are being forced to pay attention to a growing number of activist shareholders, after decades of running companies as they pleased.

The deal will "make a very powerful statement that no matter what the games, shenanigans and interventions, at the end of the day if you're determined enough the best price will prevail," Mr. Ross said. "That is a message that has not always been clear" in European deal-making, he said.

posted by Dan at 05:16 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Are you addicted to A Capella?

There is help. And I'm proud to say that my alma mater is at the forefront of this disorder that plagues at least 30% of all graduates of northweastern liberal arts colleges.

Click here for a useful (and entertaining) infomercial.

posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 23, 2006

A libertarian move by the Bush administration.... really, I'm not kidding

Reuters reports that President Bush has decided that the federal government won't take advantage of the Kelo ruling. Reuters' Jeremy Pelofsky explains:

President George W. Bush issued an executive order on Friday to limit the U.S. government from taking private property only for the benefit of other private interests, like corporations.

The order came exactly a year after a divided Supreme Court ruled a city could take a person's home or business for a development project to revitalize a depressed local economy, a practice known as eminent domain.

"The federal government is going to limit its own use of eminent domain so that it won't be used for purely economic development purposes," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

She said more than 20 states had already enacted laws that prohibit the use of eminent domain for purely economic development purposes and four states have proposed constitutional amendments on November election ballots.

Here's a link to the actual executive order.

Happy as I am about this, two aspects of this move puzzle me:

1) Why did it take a whole year?

2) Why release this news on a Friday afternoon in the summer? That's normally the time a White House would dump out garbage it didn't want to receive a lot of press coverage. Maybe my libertarianism is clouding my judgment, but I don't see this move as prompting much of a backlash.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin is not impressed:
Read carefully, the order does not in fact bar condemnations that transfer property to other private parties for economic development. Instead, it permits them to continue so long as they are "for the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken."

Unfortunately, this language validates virtually any economic development condemnation that the feds might want to pursue.

posted by Dan at 08:09 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the hard balancing going?

For the past fifteen years, the big question in international relations is why no balancing coalition has emerged against the United States.

The answer you get depends on who you ask. During the nineties, some liberals credited the existing framework of international institutions as forming binding constraints on the U.S., assuaging the concerns of other states. Other liberals credited America's "soft power" in getting other countries to want what we want. Still more liberals would have answered with variations on the democratic peace. Realists didn't say much about the topic during the nineties, other than to warn that a balancing coalition was sure to come, you betcha.

With the arrival of George W. Bush, the September 11th attacks, the U.S. response, and the Iraq war, just about everyone has been predicting a balancing coalition. And yet the funny thing is that it hasn't happened.

Sure, some realists have claimed the existence of "soft balancing," but that's really just a fancy term for self-interested diplomacy. Plus, it's just plain odd to read realists who would otherwise pooh-pooh the existence of international organizations suddenly claim that the diplomatic activity taking place within those organization really matters. The lack of appreciable evidence is also kind of a problem.

This head-scratcher has caused people to start looking for hard balancing coalitions in out of the way places -- inside sofa cushions, under rocks, near Central Asia, you name it. The latest example is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which the Guardian's Simon Tisdall breathlessly reports as follows (link via Peking Duck):

China's president, Hu Jintao, says the SCO represents "a new security concept" based on mutual trust and benefit. "Experience has shown that the SCO is an important force in safeguarding regional and world peace," he said last week. Sino-Russian relations, increasingly the group's cornerstone, had never been better, he said. It was not exclusive and did not target third parties.

It looks different from Washington, whose applications for SCO observer status have been refused, and Japan, the western ally with potentially the most to lose. "The SCO is becoming a rival bloc to the US alliance. It does not share our values. We are watching it very closely," a Japanese official said.

Russia and China are suspected of using the SCO to shut the US and its allies out of fast-developing central Asian energy markets, thereby monopolising supply. Beijing, for example, is offering $900m (£480m) in soft loans to central Asian partners. At a deeper level, US strategists see a threat that might one day produce renewed, cold war-style confrontation between opposing east-west poles. In some analyses, the SCO is a born-again Warsaw pact; Russia has already been "lost"; India and Pakistan are swing voters; and Iran is the wild card.

Tisdall is not the only commentator to think of the SCO in this way.

Over at, however, Stephen Blank points out that the SCO suffers from even greater inrernal tensions than, say, NATO (hat tip to Passport's David Bosco):

Beijing and Moscow have differing visions for the SCO, but these differences are being papered over at present by both countries’ shared desire to drastically reduce, or eliminate altogether US influence in Central Asia. Russia wants to transform the SCO into a club of energy producers, of which it would be the dominant partner. This notion, of course, not only goes against the interests of Central Asian producers, it also poses a threat to China and India, both of which are major consumers of Russian and Central Asian energy.

In sharp contrast to the Russians view, China wants to use the SCO as a facilitator of regional trade and investment, something that would enable Beijing to play the leading role. In political terms, China sees the SCO as a catalyst for the establishment of a new pan-Asian order, in which American military power and calls for democratization are either excluded, or are negligible.

Prior to 2005, Russia did not take the SCO so seriously, tending to see it as Beijing’s creature. But with the sudden turn of events in 2005, which saw the United States lose its military base in Uzbekistan, while China pursued bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Russian interest in the SCO rapidly increased. Moscow found itself determined to breathe new life into the SCO and advance its own agenda for the organization. Russia favors a US withdrawal only from Central Asia, not the entire Asian continent. Keeping a US presence on the Korean Peninsula, for example, would serve as a check on China’s growing power-projection capabilities. Russian officials worry that without a US presence in East Asia, China would establish itself as the dominant partner in the SCO and other multilateral groupings -- an unsavory prospect for Russian elites.

Thus, behind the shared anti-American feelings, China, Russia and the other SCO members and observers harbor serious differences of opinion. Given these, it is unlikely that the SCO can develop anytime soon into an anti-NATO-like grouping along the lines of the Warsaw Pact. The SCO’s consensus is a negative one, in which the parties agree only on what they don’t like.

A negative consensus is sufficient for a hard balancing coalition when the threat is so pre-eminent that state survival is at stake. The United States does not constitute that threat.

UPDATE: Drat!! Dan Nexon beat me the blog punch on this. Go check out his post as well.

posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My third concentric circle in hell

No words that can accurately convey my reaction to this video.

Well, I have five six -- Connie Chung is no Michelle Pfeiffer.

posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Now the circle of co-optation is complete

Way back in August 2004, Henry Farrell and I wrote the following:

We predict that as blogs become a more established feature on the political landscape, politicians and other interested parties will become more adept at responding to them, and, where they believe it necessary, co-opting them. To the extent that blogs become more politically influential, we may expect them to become more directly integrated into ‘politics as usual,’ losing some of their flavor of novelty and immediacy in the process.
That pretty much sums up what's happening with the allegations of "blogola" -- excessive chumminess betweek Markos Moulitsas, Jerome Armstrong and whoever hires Armstrong as a political consultant.

For links on what's happening, see Mickey Kaus, James Joyner, NRO's Jim Geraghty, Ann Althouse, and Jason Zengerle at TNR's The Plank (this post about Kos' marketing power is particularly interesting). UPDATE: Thanks to Bob McManus for providing links to the left half of the blogosphere -- Ezra Klein, Max Sawicky, Stirling Newberry, Duncan Black, and Kos himself (see this Kos post on Zengerle's Plank posts as well).

Read all the links. What's going on is not illegal, or even out of the ordinary in Washington, DC. It's politics as usual. The only reason the story is noteworthy is because bloggers like Kos have persistently said that they and theirs -- a.k.a., the netroots -- are not about politics as usual.

Over time, however, that claim looks less and less viable. The question is whether bloggers like Kos find that their legions of readers are turned off by these kind of revelations, or whether they comfortably adjust into being middleweight power brokers.

UPDATE: Commenters seem to be very upset that I'm accusing Moulitsas and Armstrong of corruption. I find this puzzling since I specifically did not do that. All I'm saying is that as Armstrong and Moulitsas rub elbows with powerful Democrats on a repeated basis, it becomes tougher and tougher for them to play the role of independent outsiders without a stake in the system. As Markos himself points out:

I have friends that work or are closely allied with every single 2008 candidate. I have friends working in every single high-profile Senate race this fall. And at the DCCC, DSCC and DNC. Fact is, in this biz, I've made a s***load of great friends. And I won't tell them to f*** off because they work for a campaign. In fact, I ENCOURAGE my friends to work for campaigns. It's -- gasp! -- a good thing.
Garance Franke-Ruta makes this same point in Tapped. In other words, the gates have been crashed.

This is pretty much what Henry and I predicted, and it's coming to fruition (and it's certainly not limited to the left half, either).

posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Ozzie Guillen's unique gift of gab

Ozzie Guillen is the manager of the Chicago White Sox, and congenitally incapable of going two days without doing or saying something controversial.

Last week he got into hot water in a game against the Texas Rangers because Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was hit by pitches twice in the game. Sean Tracey, a White Sox rookie, was in the game with instructions to drill Texas' Hank Blalock. He didn't do it (he tried, but darnit, he got Blalok to ground out). TV cameras showed Guillen screaming at Tracey in the dugout. Tracey apparently broke into tears and was sent to the minors the next day.

That's nothing, however, compared to his latest screw-up. explains:

On Tuesday to reporters, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen referred to Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Around the Horn contributor Jay Mariotti as a derogatory name for a homosexual.

Angry with a recent column by Mariotti critical of Guillen's handling of recently demoted relief pitcher Sean Tracey and upset with Mariotti with columns of the past, Guillen said to reporters when referring to Mariotti before Tuesday's game with the Cardinals, "What a piece of [expletive] he is, [expletive] fag."

Sports columnist Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times puts this latest statement in context -- and then gives Guillen enough rope to hang himself:
The issue is that Guillen said the wrong thing, and he does it often and it never sticks to him. That's just Ozzie, we hear. And the Sox tend to chuckle about this stuff, as if we can just forgive him. Why? Because English is his second language?

Not good enough. Last year in New York, he referred to someone as homosexual and a child molester, equating the two.

He took some heat for that one, briefly. So he should have known.

Guillen is not dumb. Let's not insult him. He knows what he's saying, and he certainly knows that it's not acceptable. He has been in this country for a quarter of a century. This offseason, I went to his swearing-in as a U.S. citizen....

After the game, I told Guillen what I was planning to say here, and I gave him a chance to explain. Here's what he said:

"I don't have anything against those people. In my country, you call someone something like that and it is not the same as it is in this country.''

Guillen said that in Venezuela, that word is not a reference to a person's sexuality, but to his courage. He said he was saying that Mariotti is "not man enough to meet me and talk about [things before writing]."....

He also said that he has gay friends, goes to WNBA games, went to the Madonna concert and plans to attend the Gay Games in Chicago. (emphasis added)

Wait a minute, he attends WNBA games? He gets a pass from me then!!

Seriously, to answer Couch's question -- the reason people tolerate Guillen in Chicago is that his team is winning. The moment that changes, Guillen, like Billy Martin before him, will quickly get frogmarched out of town.

What is it about managers of Chicago baseball teams, anyway?

UPDATE: Ozzie apologizes -- in an Ozzie kind of way:

Before Wednesday night’s game, Guillen acknowledged that his use of the word might have offended some.

“I shouldn’t have mentioned the name that was mentioned, but I’m not going to back off of Jay,” Guillen said, using another profanity to describe Mariotti.

“The word I used, I should have used something different. A lot of people’s feelings were hurt and I didn’t mean it that way.”

Guillen said he had spoken to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about the incident.

“Jay, I think I made this guy a lot of money and he’s famous. If not for Ozzie Guillen, no one would have heard of him,” Guillen said. “If I hurt anybody with what I called him, I apologize.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Mariotti responds in his Thursday column:
I can shrug it off as an occupational hazard, knowing I'm called meaner things at the coffee stand every morning. I also know it places me on an extraordinarily long list of people the Blizzard has dissed or launched into, including Magglio ("Venezuelan [bleep]'') Ordonez, Buck Showalter, Phil Garner, Sean Tracey, the Los Angeles Angels, every American League umpire, the reporter he threatened to rub out last winter and, by not showing up at the White House for a ceremony, the President of the United States.

Ozzie? He makes Mark Cuban seem like Virginia McCaskey.

But I am not the story here in the latest chapter of OzFest, a farce that is averaging two new targets a week and will have another co-star as soon as tonight. The story is Guillen's mouth and the warped diatribes of a man who thinks slurs are an acceptable means of retaliation in American life, like one of his dugout-ordered purpose pitches. Twice in less than a year, Guillen has dropped derogatory homosexual terms in his public dealings as White Sox manager. Last year at Yankee Stadium, he claimed to be greeting a friend warmly when he said, "Hey, everybody, this guy's a homosexual! He's a child molester!'' Two New York-area columnists took offense, as they should have, and so did I -- the only writer in Chicago who did, which is often how it works in a town softer and more politically driven by the sports franchises than a genuinely tough, independent sports media town such as Boston....

The time has come for a two-week suspension, long enough for human sensibility and decency to kick in. It's more important the Sox send a message about what they stand for than what Guillen's absence might mean in a pennant race. Let Ozzie think about life a little. Send him out for some professional sensitivity training, not what is being attempted by unskilled shrinks in the public-relations office. Tell him why it's fine to admonish a media person all he wants -- a critic should accept criticism, naturally -- as long as Guillen doesn't step over the line and slur gay groups. Most importantly, explain what happened to Schott, Al Campanis and Jimmy "The Greek'' Snyder when they made insensitive comments.

Eric Wilbur thinks Mariotti is being too kind to Boston beat writers.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Wacky government incentives, continued

A quick follow-up to my post on the bizarre tax incentives for hybrid vehicles.

As fate would have it, David Leonhardt at the New York Times looks at this scheme and confirms the explanation made by many commenters in the last thread -- the goal of the tax credit is to help the domestic auto industry, not energy conservation:

The first thing to understand about the hybrid tax credit is that it was never really intended to reduce oil imports from the Middle East or slow the effects of global warming. The credit was created to prop up Detroit while giving conservation a nod.

Last summer, when Congress was completing an energy bill, Toyota's and Honda's hybrids were already winning people over in the marketplace, and it was clear that any tax credit would go overwhelmingly to buyers of Japanese cars. So members of Congress, with help from Detroit's lobbyists, came up with an ingenious solution. They created a cap, a maximum number of hybrids that any single manufacturer could sell — 60,000 — before a clock started ticking, causing the credits for that carmaker to begin disappearing two quarters later.

The idea, Mark Kemmer, a G.M. lobbyist, told Automotive News, was to keep any one company from getting "a runaway benefit."

Toyota hit the 60,000 mark last month, less than five months after the Jan. 1 start of the program, and the credits for its hybrid buyers will be cut in half on Oct. 1. (Because there are waiting lists for the Prius and Camry Hybrid, people who buy one in August or September may get their car after Oct. 1.) On April 1, 2007, the credits will be cut in half again. On Oct. 1, 2007, they will vanish. Honda, for its part, will probably hit the cap next year.

And the Big Three? Combined, they have sold fewer than 15,000 eligible vehicles so far, all by Ford, largely because their hybrids have not impressed buyers. Rather than building highly efficient hybrids like the Prius, Detroit has tinkered with gas guzzlers like the Chevrolet Silverado, adding hybrid technology to them so that they get slightly better mileage.

Come next year, then, the government will pay you to buy a Silverado hybrid (which gets about 16 miles per gallon) or a Ford Escape Hybrid (which gets about 26, according to Consumer Reports), but not a Prius (44) or a nonhybrid Corolla (29).

I'll close this post with an e-mail excerpt from a good friend and high-powered Chicago lawyer who shall remain nameless:
Much of the law has a kind of internal coherence. The common law, especially, is a kind of organic effort to rationally work out social ordering. Federal statutes are often broad efforts to impelement a basic policy objective -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Because the law "makes sense" much of the time, one can usually infer the "purpose" of a law from its provisions.

When I took tax in law school, I learned exactly one thing: Do not spend any time trying to make sense of tax law. It has no coherence. It is pure sausage. Special interests get the most they can get away with, and if what they fail to get often does not reflect any argument they lost but instead reflects the limits of their power weighed against other budgetary considerations.

posted by Dan at 01:56 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

So what's it like outside of the Green Zone?

The leaked memo from the Baghdad embassy to Condoleezza Rice on the situation for Iraqis in Baghdad makes for very sobering reading.

Read it and comment away. The first thought that came to mind for me: please, please tell me that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has sources of intel on the situation there beyond the locals working at the embassy.

I hope Dick Cheney is right when he says that 10 years from now people will look back at 2005 and say, "That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq." Memos like the one linked above, however, make Cheney's assertion look pretty out-of-touch.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Who's the best briber at the International Whaling Commission?

At academic conferences, when the whiskey and the port run low, and all the international relations specialists bask in the warm glow of having power-schmoozed all day vigorously debating important scholarly and policy debates of the day, inevitably the question comes up:

"What's your favorite international governmental organization?"
OK, that never actually happens -- we're not that geeky, and most IR types I know are oenophiles rather than whiskey-drinkers, and on the whole we can't afford good port.

This is too bad, because I have an answer -- the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC has a fun history. Originally set up by countries with active whaling industries, powerful members shifted policies once environmentalists became a more influential domestic lobby than whalers. By 1986, the IWC had institued a ban on all commercial whaling.

At present, the United States supports a ban on the commercial hunting of all whales to protect the endangered species. Because of their politically powerful whaling industries – and consumer preferences for whale meat – Japan and several Scandinavian countries prefer reversing the ban. Japan has tried to circumvent this rule by authorizing the hunting of more than 500 whales in the North Pacific, ostensibly for scientific research – but much of the whale meat harvested from these scientific hunts has found its way into commercial restaurants.

In an effort to alter the status quo, Japan has attempted to pack the IWC membership with loyal votes, paying membership dues so microstates such as Dominica, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands can join. These countries have consistently supported Japan’s position in return for large dollops of official development assistance, preventing the creation of new sanctuaries for whales in the South Pacific.

This, by the way, is why I love the IWC -- it's not that there isn't vote-buying in other venues (including the UN Security Council), it's just that the bribery at the IWC is so wonderfully blatant.

This leads us to today's plenary meering. Let's start with the Independent's rather hyperbolic coverage:

The environment movement suffered one of its greatest reverses late last night when pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, gained control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and immediately began undermining the 20-year-old international whaling moratorium.

In a stunning diplomatic coup, Japan and its allies, including Norway and Iceland, won a voting majority in the IWC for the first time, as a result of a remorseless 10-year Japanese campaign to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean countries in exchange for multimillion-dollar foreign aid packages.

At the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, the pro-whalers scraped home on a catch-all resolution that condemned the moratorium as invalid, blamed whales for depleting the fish stocks of poor countries, and attacked environmental pressure groups campaigning against whaling such as Greenpeace.

The vote on the so-called "St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" was won by 33 votes to 32, with one nation - China - abstaining. The Japanese had been widely expected to achieve a majority in the meeting after bringing three new states into the IWC this year to vote on their side - Cambodia, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala - but they had lost four earlier votes by narrow margins.

Yet that does not matter now. The simple 51 per cent majority they have now secured will not allow them to scrap the moratorium directly - for that they need a majority of 75 per cent. But for them it is an enormous moral victory, and its significance was immediately realised by opponents and supporters of whaling alike.

I think the Independent is hyperventilating just a bit (click here for the more buttoned-down AP report). Here's why.

First, the pro-whaling coalition still needs to get another 25% of the membership on their side.

Second, the pro-whaling coalition has a point -- there are some species of whales which are not endangered. The Economist (subscription required) points out that not even Japan is proposing hunting blue whales or other endangered species right now. UPDATE: This Joshua Kurlantzick piece from 2004 in The New Republic makes the policy and gastronomic case for why the whaling ban should be partially lifted.

Third, the United States and other anti-whaling countries have not begun to bribe (though they have in the past). I therefore predict a vast expansion of the IWC's membership over the next few years, as both pro and and anti-whaling countries sponsor members.

Which leads to the question at the top of this post.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Wacky government incentives

In moving to Massachusetts, the Drezner family needs to buy a second car, and we're thinking about a Prius (like Virginia Postrel, I like the styling as well as the gas mileage).

This caused us to stumble onto one of the odder tax credit schemes I've seen, the 2005 Energy Policy Act's credit for qualified hyrbid vehicles. The credit is based in part on the fuel-efficiency of the hybrid vehicle, which makes sense... sort of (why someone should get a tax credit of over $1,500 for a Lexus GS 450h when its gas mileage is below a lot of non-hybrid cars on this list is beyond me).

What makes no sense to me at all is the tax credit's half-life. Here's the IRS's explanation:

Consumers seeking the credit may want to buy early because the full credit is only available for a limited time. Taxpayers may claim the full amount of the allowable credit up to the end of the first calendar quarter after the quarter in which the manufacturer records its sale of the 60,000th vehicle. For the second and third calendar quarters after the quarter in which the 60,000th vehicle is sold, taxpayers may claim 50 percent of the credit. For the fourth and fifth calendar quarters, taxpayers may claim 25 percent of the credit. No credit is allowed after the fifth quarter.
Unless it was designed to reduce the fiscal impact of the tax credit, this makes no sense to me. All it does is give people an incentive to buy cars in the first half of the year. If anything, the incentive penalizes brands and models that perform well -- since they would hit their cap quicker than less appealing brands.

Knowledgable readers are implored to comment on any rational reason for puting a quantity cap on the tax credit.

It should be stressed, however, that this is not the most bizarre government incentive scheme in recent years. No, you're going to have to click here to read about the government incentive scheme that generated the most bizarre, disturbing -- and yet thoroughly predictable -- response.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

You wanna know why America is unilateralist?

After a timid and embarrassing peformance against the Czechs, the United States tied Italy in its World Cup match today, 1-1. In doing so, the US team earned its first point in a World Cup tournament held in Europe.

The outcome of the game also helps to explain the source of the occasional American impulse towatds unilateralism -- when Americans agree to play by the rules, the rules are suddenly changed to stack the deck against the Americans. The U.S. team outplayed Italy in this game, and might have won if the friggin' ref hadn't gotten red-card happy. Apparently the British commentators were even more cheesed off about the bad refereeing in the game than ABC, according to Frank Foer. His comment about the refereeing is on point:

How can we account for his Mickey Mouse performance? What hint of corruption will be turned up? Was this a display of anti-Americanism? Or just sheer incompetence? Clearly, his miscues affected both sides--and clearly they affected one side more than the other.
I implore the referees to announce prior to the U.S.-Ghana game that they will be vigilant and even-handed -- otherwise, I can see either Bruce Arena authorizing a pre-emptive raid against FIFA or George W. Bush authorizing a pre-emptive strike against Ghana.

posted by Dan at 12:23 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is politics really a beauty contest?

Today I received the following e-mail request from Niclas Berggren:

Several studies document that beauty plays a role in the labor market: beautiful people earn more than others. Three economists are conducting a study to see whether there is a beauty premium in politics as well, such that beautiful candidates have greater electoral success. You, humble readers of daniel, are hereby invited to participate in the study, run by Associate Professor Niclas Berggren (The Ratio Institute), Dr. Henrik Jordahl (Uppsala University) and Professor Panu Poutvaara (University of Helsinki).

Click over to -- and please write DREZNER when asked how and where you heard about the study.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Just how much do Democrats and Republicans differ?

In a previous post on partisanship, I asserted the following:

This is where I break ranks with both [Tom] DeLay and [Marc] Schmitt -- I don't think Democrats and Republicans disagree on the first principles of governing. I'm not even sure they disagree on second principles. There are policy differences, to be sure -- but Carl Schmitt (not relation to Marc) does not travel well to these shores.
Evidentiary standards in the blogosphere are pretty low, but still, I should probably back up this assertion a bit.

Now I can, thanks to Greg Mankiw, who posts the following:

John McCain gave a speech to the Economic Club of New York yesterday....

The whole speech is worth reading. Here are my two favorite passages:

A tsunami of entitlement spending is threatening our economy, while providing no real security to retirees. We have made promises that we cannot keep. Under moderately optimistic scenarios Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will in the decades to come grow as large as the entire government is today. Someday the government will be forced to make drastic cuts in these programs, or crippling increases in taxes on workers – or both. The longer we wait to make the hard choices necessary to repair these programs, the harder the problem becomes. My children and their children will not receive the benefits we will enjoy. That is an inescapable fact, and any politician who tells you otherwise, Democrat or Republican, is lying....

A global rising tide of protectionism and a retreat from market-based economic policy is threatening the entrepreneurs of developed and developing countries alike. Free trade is the key to global economic growth, and a key to U.S. economic success. We need stand up for free trade with no ifs, ands or buts about it. We let trade and globalization be politicized at our own peril.

By my reckoning, any candidate who is not willing to put some version of these two paragraphs into his or her speeches doesn't pass the test of intellectual seriousness. McCain passes with flying colors.
As fate would have it, two months ago Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago about similar issues.

If one takes Clinton and McCain to be the standard-bearers fopr their respective parties in two years -- a stretch, but not a wholly unreasonable one -- it would be useful to compare and contrast the content of the two speeches.

CLINTON ON GLOBALIZATION: "[T]oday we have no choice about whether or not to embrace globalization. It is happening. We can't pretend it's going away. We can't wish it away. It is occurring. But as in earlier times, we do have a choice about how we deal with globalization and the competitive threat that it poses. We can choose to unleash the power of innovation and enterprise in ways that promote our economic growth and our values so that all Americans share in the prosperity."

MCCAIN ON GLOBALIZATION: "[D]espite all the defeatist rhetoric, America is the world’s biggest exporter, importer, producer, saver, investor, manufacturer and innovator. Americans do not shy from the challenge of competition: they welcome it. Because of that, we attract foreign investment from all over the world. Our government should welcome competition as the people do, and not resort to mindless protectionism.

While we embrace free trade, it is important to recognize that trade can lead to painful dislocations for some individuals. We must remain committed to education, retraining, and help for displaced workers all the while reminding ourselves that our ability to change is a great strength of our nation. We cannot let fear and the appeals of protectionists lead us backward."

CLINTON ON FISCAL POLICY: "Now, I think a return to fiscal discipline, living within our means, is essential for our long-term health. It is also critical to whether or not we control our own destiny as a nation.

Over the long-term and maybe the median term, red ink fiscal policies will undermine America's competitiveness. We have to ask ourselves whether our taxing and spending policies are in line with our economic goals. Do we have the right priorities and values in the federal budget?....

You know, we can do this. But we've got to forge a new bipartisan consensus. In the 1990s we did have tremendous economic growth underpinned by economic policies geared toward deficit reduction. That's why I support a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules in the Congress.

Every institution needs rules. And when the pay-as-you-go rules expired, all bets were off in the Congress. One of the ways we were able to obtain a balanced budget and a surplus in the Congress in the 1990s was you could not cut taxes or raise spending unless you could pay for it. A very old fashioned idea, but one which I hope we can begin to return to."

MCCAIN ON FISCAL POLICY: "While booming entitlement spending threatens us in the long run, our short term fiscal situation is terrible as well. In the past six years, government spending has gone from irresponsible to utterly indefensible. The numbers should shock us, and government’s indifference to them should shame us. According to the latest figures, spending in the 2005 fiscal year was $683 billion higher than it was in 2000. If we had simply held spending growth in check we would not have a budget deficit today.

Some of this money has necessarily been spent on the war on terror that was unexpected and has been obviously and hugely expensive. While at the same time we know we must focus most of our defense spending on tomorrow’s threats, not yesterday’s. But when Ronald Reagan increased defense spending to win the Cold War, he slowed non-defense spending growth at the same time. This time, we have fallen again for that most alluring delusion, we have tried to have our cake and eat it too. Non-defense spending, often on the most unnecessary projects, is out of control.

Legislators pass pork-filled bills without the fear of public retribution or presidential veto. Federal spending, and the special interest earmarks that destroy the budget process and waste taxpayer dollars by the billions continues at a breakneck pace. Sadly, we haven’t reformed the bankrupt “tax and spend” policies decried by Ronald Reagan. We have, it is now evident, merely replaced them with a new and even more insidious scheme of “borrow and spend.”

We are fooling no one, my friends. Inevitably, the bill will come due. In the mean time, we rack up big debts. With those debts come higher and higher interest payments each year. Instead of spending the tax payers’ dollars on real priorities, more and more of them will be devoted simply to keeping the bill collectors at bay. Bills that perpetuate wasteful spending should be vetoed – not some of them, all of them."

CLINTON ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "We need a national energy strategy that is more than one line in the State of the Union. Energy costs hurt everyone's bottom line. And over the past 30 years, the ups and downs of the global oil market have cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion -- enough to pay off almost all of our national debt. The U.S. chemical industry says national gas price hikes over the last two years alone have cost it $10 billion and $50 billion in sales lost to cheaper foreign competition. Meanwhile, the average family is spending 75 percent more on transportation costs than it did five years ago.

We need a drive for smart energy that starts right now. The way to reduce our oil addiction is through technology, and we need a much more aggressive strategy. We have a National Institutes of Health. Why don't we have a National Institute of Energy? I think we need a major energy research program similar to what President Eisenhower did after Sputnik went up because we are suffering through what might be called -- and some have -- silent Sputnik. And the energy issue is one of those.

If we had a major energy research program, it would create a portfolio of cutting edge energy research technologies that would reduce our oil dependence, increase our efficiency and reduce green house gas emissions."

MCCAIN ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "Recent events have also made it clear that rising energy costs and our dangerous dependence on an unreliable supply from unstable parts of the world is potentially crippling to our economy. When Wall Street wants to limit risk, it diversifies. The obvious approach to resolve our energy problems is to increase and diversify our sources of power and look for ways to reduce our demand. We have promising technologies in development, but also proven alternatives at hand – the most obvious of which is nuclear.

Genuine improvement in our energy security, must respect markets and avoid the temptations of nearsighted politics. While it is tempting to assail windfall profits and executive compensation, it is not a substitute for a viable and long-term energy strategy. We will never be fully independent of global energy markets. But we must work for the day that energy supply volatility no longer imperils our economy and our security."

Is it just me, or is there a lot of similarity here?

To be sure, these quotes do not mean that Clinton and McCain are carbon copies of each other. If you read the speeches back-to-back, you see Clinton keeps mentioning fiscal discipline, but the bulk of her policy proposals are about substantive increases in "infrastructure" spending. McCain seems more emphatic about deficit reduction, but as Mankiw correctly points out, he's a bit vague on the details. Clinton wants to subsidize manufacturing; McCain doesn't. Read the two speeches yourself and see if you can spot other differences (and, for the record, I strongly prefer McCain's speech on the points of divergence).

The differences, however, are one of small degrees, not orders of magnitude. They are not differences of first principle.

posted by Dan at 12:58 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

How to make people read about economic concepts

Megan McArdle has two posts today on economics that are worth checking out -- both for their substantive content and for the excellent way in which she lures readers who might be put off by economic jargon into perusing them anyway.

For example, in this post on comparing the U.S. macroeconomic situation to the developing world, there is this great passage:

It is common, and silly, for people worrying about America's current account deficit to make statements like this:
If the US were a developing nation, it would have been IMFed by now.
And if I were Anna Nicole Smith, I would have absolutely ENORMOUS . . . vacation homes. This is not very relevant to my current summer plans.
Check out this post on stagflation as well. It's a moment of convergence between Megan and Kevin Drum.

posted by Dan at 03:43 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In honor of Flag Day....

The Senate is going to vote today on a flag-burning amendment, an act that even the conservative base knows is meaningless. Seriously, is this really a problem in this country? Utah Senator Bob Bennett points out the obvious: "The only time there's any significant amount of flag burning is when the flag amendment is introduced and people go out and burn flags in opposition to the amendment."

If you must think about this kind of nonsense, go read this Julian Sanchez post about the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. And then try to think of an even sillier amendment to the Constitution and post it in the comments.

UPDATE: Thanks to the reader who linked to this John Scalzi post from last year on this very topic.

posted by Dan at 04:19 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Fewer Americans are going postal

Frances Williams reports in the Financial Times about some interesting trends in workplace violence in the developed world:

Physical and psychological violence in the workplace is on the rise worldwide and has reached “epidemic levels” in many industrialised countries, according to a study published on Wednesday by the International Labour Organisation.

The study says violence at work, including bullying, sexual harassment and physical assault, may be costing anywhere between 0.5 and 3.5 per cent of countries’ gross national products in absenteeism, sick leave and lower productivity....

The study says available data, though patchy, show a clear upward trend in bullying, harassment and intimidation of workers, affecting more than 10 per cent of the European workforce, for example.

In developing countries, women, migrants and children are most vulnerable, with sexual harassment and abuse reported as a big problem in places as varied as South Africa, Malaysia and Kuwait.

At the same time, the study notes that physical violence declined in the US and UK in recent years. In the US, the number of workplace homicides has fallen from more than 1,000 a year a decade ago to about 630 in 2003.

In England and Wales, incidents of workplace violence dropped from 1.3m in 1995 to about 850,000 in 2002-03, according to the British Crime Survey.

Here's a link to the ILO press release, as well as the introductory chapter. I wouldn't describe the data cited in the report as "patchy" so much as "completely incommensurate between countries."

Putting that caveat aside for a moment, would any readers like to posit why workplace violence appears to be on the decline in the Anglosphere but on the rise elsewhere?

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Mnew blog

Seth Mnookin has started up a blog on his web site that's worth checking out if you like the Boston Red Sox, baseball in general, and savvy media criticism.

[Besides you, who's interested in that stuff?--ed. Um... I'm guessing David Pinto, Bill Simmons, and maybe Mickey Kaus if he likes baseball. That's at least three. It's a trend, then!!--ed.]

UPDATE: In other blog news, Matthew Yglesias is clearly making a buck off of his blogging and discovers to his irritation that he has to pay the government some of it.

posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

For the philosophers in the audience....

Luc Bovens has a fascinating article in the Journal of Medical Ethics about whether strict pro-life activists -- i.e., those who are as concerned about embryonic death as they are about fetuses -- can ethically endorse the rhythm method as a means of family planning. Why?

Pro-lifers oppose IUDs because their main mode of operation is to make embryonic death likely. Now suppose that we were to learn that the success of the rhythm method is actually due, not to the fact that conception does not happen—sperm and ova are much more long lived than we previously thought—but rather because the viability of conceived ova outside the HF period is minimal due to the limited resilience of the embryo and the limited receptivity of the uterine wall. If this were the case, then one should oppose the rhythm method for the same reasons as one opposes IUDs. If it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by making the uterine wall inhospitable to implantation, then clearly it is callous to use a technique that makes embryonic death likely by organising one’s sex life so that conceived ova lack resilience and will face a uterine wall that is inhospitable to implantation. Furthermore, if one is opposed to IUDs because their main mode of operation is to secure embryonic death, then, on the assumption that one of the modes of operation of the pill is to make embryonic death likely, one should be equally opposed to pill usage. This is essentially Alcorn’s argument and assuming that the empirical details hold, consistency does indeed drive IUD opponents in this direction. If, however, our empirical assumptions about the rhythm method hold, then one of its modes of operation is also that it makes embryonic death likely. And if embryos are unborn children, is it not callous indeed to organise one’s sex life on the basis of a technique whose success is partly dependent on the fact that unborn children will starve because they are brought to life in a hostile environment?
This rests on the belief that the rhythm method works because of embryonic death rather than a failure to fertilize an egg in the first place. Amanda Schaffer's article in the New York Times about the Bovens paper discusses the scientific lay of the land on that question.

I have no idea whether Bovens' empirical assertion is correct -- but if it is, it would seem to pose a very interesting quandry for some pro-life activists.

UPDATE: The comments tend to run towards the distinction between sins of omission and sins of commission. Just to be really subversive, try applying that framework to this question and see if your views remain internally consistent.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

The Bush administration's whack-a-mole on data privacy

In less than a month, the Bush administration has had two gaffes on the security of electronic data.

Last month there was the DVA fiasco. This month it's the Energy Department's turn. The AP's H. Josef Hebert reports:

Energy Department officials have informed nearly 1,500 individuals that their Social Security numbers and other information may have been compromised when a hacker gained entry to a department computer system eight months ago, a spokesman said Monday.

The workers, mostly contract employees, worked for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency within the department that deals with the government's nuclear weapons programs.

The computer theft occurred last September, but Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and his deputy, Clay Sell, were not informed of it until last week. It was first publicly disclosed at a congressional hearing on Friday....

The security breach occurred in a computer system at a service center in Albuquerque, N.M. The file that was compromised contained the names, Social Security numbers, security clearance levels and place of employment of 1,502 people working throughout the government nuclear weapons complex.

The system contained sensitive, but not classified material, department officials said. The NNSA also has a more secure computer system that includes nuclear weapons data and other classified material.

NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks told a House hearing on Friday that he learned of the security breach late last September, but did not inform either the two men to whom he reports - Bodman or Sell.

posted by Dan at 11:27 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

In which direction is Bush headed?

As of late, George W. Bush has suffered a few bad news cycles days weeks months years. If you don't count Rasmussen, Real Clear Politics' archive has his polling numbers consistently below 40% for the past three months.

So what does the future hold? There are two takes on the web today.

In The New Republic, Jonathan Chait argues that conservatives have ditched the sitting president:

The American Spectator recently published a special issue devoted mostly to detailing the litany of Bush sins. One recent book (Impostor, by conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett), a forthcoming book (Conservatives Betrayed, by right-wing activist Richard Viguerie), and innumerable op-eds (e.g., "HOW THE GOP LOST ITS WAY," by Reagan biographer Craig Shirley) condemn the president as an ideological turncoat.

Of course, conservatives have been demanding greater fidelity from Bush since he first ran for president. But that was all part of the normal give-and-take of conservative politics--the true believers staying ever-vigilant to ensure their three-quarters of a loaf does not get whittled down to half. What's happening now is different. Conservative intellectuals and activists, the right's ideological vanguard, have decided that Bush is not Reagan's son after all. Indeed, they have discovered that he is not, and never has been, a conservative, but rather that he is a fraud masquerading as one.

Meanwhile, John Dickerson at Slate notices a small countertrend:
Boy, that Josh Bolten is good. Since taking over as White House chief of staff, he has successfully installed a new spokesman, landed a Wall Street wizard to run the Treasury Department, killed the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, got the Iraqis to form a government, and brought about the exoneration of Karl Rove. Political observers search for a turning point. When the narrative is written, Bolten's promotion will seem like the moment everything changed for the White House.

Bolten, of course, had nothing to do with the good result for Rove, or the developments in Iraq, but he did play a role in creating an atmosphere that allows White House aides to perhaps enjoy today's news. After months of relentless bad headlines, disappointments, and public failures, Bush officials have been reluctant to embrace glimmers of good news, knowing they would be quickly overshadowed. There is a sense now in the White House, though, that they may be back on their game or at least back off their heels. "People are just more confident," says one top White House aide.

This could be wishful thinking. With the president's approval ratings still low, Republicans in a funk, and Democrats energized, there's an incentive for West Wing aides and partisans to overplay good news. But their optimism springs more from the other event that took place on Rove's good day, which poses more troubling problems for Democrats in November than the absolution of the president's chief political adviser. George Bush flew to Baghdad Tuesday to highlight the coming together of the Iraqi government. The trip came after meetings at Camp David between Bush and his military advisers, meetings that are almost certainly the prelude to a pre-November announcement that troops in Iraq will start coming home.

So is the wheel turning or not?

My two cents is that it actually doesn't matter. In 2004, the residue of George W. Bush as the resolute post-9/11 leader was strong enough for him to eke out an electoral victory. I suspect the hangover from the Iraq occupation will be so massive that there is little Bush could do between now and November to affect the Republicans' political fortunes.

But I could be wrong... and I welcome readers telling me that.

posted by Dan at 04:23 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Rauch, realpolitik, and realism

Eugene Volokh links to "an interesting and thoughtful column" by Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal.

Rauch argues that current policymakers should pay more attention to realism -- which requires him to define the term and then explain why it's been neglected:

[T]he United States would do well to recall and learn from President Kennedy. But which President Kennedy? The idealist who made the speeches, or the realist who made the decisions?

The idealist was the JFK of the 1961 Inaugural Address, whose clarion rhetoric -- "We shall pay any price, bear any burden... to assure the survival and the success of liberty" -- leads in a straight line to President Bush's second Inaugural Address: "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.... So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

The rhetorical kinship is evident (and not coincidental). But look more closely. Bush's call to end tyranny everywhere is revolutionary in scope and ambition. It proposes not just to make the world safe for democracy but to make the whole world safely democratic.

Kennedy, by contrast, promised to "bear any burden" to defend the free world against communism -- not to free the whole world. And notice, in JFK's 1959 remark, the telling qualifications: "If we can hold out for the long run there will be sufficient evolutionary changes... to give us some hope of success."....

In the golden haze of his speeches, one too easily forgets that JFK the practitioner was a hard-boiled realist. So were Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and, for the most part, FDR and Truman.

For 30 years, nonetheless, realism has been in bad odor. Liberals have scorned it for betraying human rights and drawing the country into Vietnam (though whether the flinty-eyed JFK would have embarked on LBJ's massive escalation in Indochina is questionable). Conservatives have scorned it for tolerating communism (though containment ultimately brought down the Soviet Union).

Ironically, the one presidential nominee in recent times to campaign explicitly as a realist was George W. Bush, who in 2000 derided "nation building" as tangential to U.S. interests and rejected as "arrogance" the notion that America should reform the world. But the realist revival was brief. Bush soon converted to the Bush Doctrine, which seeks to make the world peaceful by making it free....

Lacking mainstream advocacy, realism has indeed fallen into the hands of cranks on the left and the right, who propound bastardized versions -- the Far Left out of pacifism and hatred of Bush, the Far Right out of isolationism and cultural chauvinism. The pity is that no one in public life is making the respectable case for what is an eminently respectable doctrine.

Or, really, a respectable attitude. Realism is not so much a doctrine, aspiration, or policy as a sense of how the world works. Properly understood, it does not define U.S. interests narrowly or cynically, dismiss human rights as sissy stuff, or espouse indifference to regimes' internal structure. The essence of realism, rather, is seeing the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Specifically, realism understands that:

· U.S. influence is a limited resource that needs conservation, and that using it requires leaders to make distasteful trade-offs and to deal with bad guys.

· Because human beings are not easily governable and because chaos is a first-order strategic menace, stability should be a top-tier priority, never a mere afterthought.

· However idealistic its self-image, America has too many status quo interests ever to be a revolutionary power.

· Except in the short run, the American people care more about interests than ideals and will tolerate idealistic adventurism only briefly.

Realism does not imply giving up on democratic reform or noble ambitions. It does imply pursuing revolutionary goals on a geological time scale. The Cold War, a classic instance, spanned five decades. It was counter-revolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature. It was primarily anti-communist, not pro-democratic. And, as conservatives often complained, it was a "let burn" policy toward communism, not a policy of extinguishment.

Human rights? Important, of course; that is a lesson that realists have taken on board since President Carter....

From a realist point of view, neoconservatives and unilateralists are too aggressive, isolationists and pacifists too passive, idealists and moralists too scrupulous, and Wilsonian reformers too destabilizing. Realists can be criticized for not proffering a specific agenda of their own, and that, too, is a fair rap. Realism does not define, and should not limit, America's aims in the world.

It is, however, an indispensable ingredient of a grown-up foreign policy. If realism had the advocacy it deserves, it would be enjoying a renaissance it has earned.

Much as I admire Rauch's writings, there are a few problems with this column, and at the risk of stepping into some paradigm wars, I think it's worth pointing them out:
1) The far left and right aren't the only ones to embrac realism. Rauch overlooks a gaggle of sober, respectable policymakers and public intellectuals who would be considered realists. Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger certainly fit this mold.

Indeed, far from being out of vogue, realism has enjoyed quite the renaissance in Washington. Two years ago this week, in fact, Lawrence Kaplan felt compelled to write in The New Republic, "Indeed, it appears nearly everyone in Washington is a realist now." (though Kaplan's definition of realism was equally problematic)

2) Contrary to Rauch's assertion, realism is very much a doctrine as well as a sense of how the world works. Furthermore, academic proponents of realism are quite clear in defining U.S. interests narrowly, dismissing human rights (or at least the active promotion of h.r. beyond our borders), and espousing indifference to regimes' internal structure. Not that there's anything wrong with that or anything, but that's in the core of the realist paradigm.

What Rauch describes as realism is what I would label realpolitik... or even just "realistic". The terms are often used synonymously, but I've always viewed realpolitik as more in keeping with Rauch's theme of the husbanding of American power. Someone who embraces a realpolitik worldview does not disagree with liberal internationalists or neoconservatives about the desired ends of American foreign policy -- they merely disagree with the utility of the means. A realist disagrees over ends as well.

3) Finally, while Rauch wisely parses the gap between words and deeds in the Kennedy administration, he fails to do the same with the Bush administration. To quote myself here:

In the case of the Bush administration, the emphasis on fostering “a balance of power that favors human freedom” and “extend[ing] the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent” in the National Security Strategy must be contrasted with actions taken by the administration to prosecute the war on terrorism. In order to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has befriended several authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, including China, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. The administration has trumpeted Libya’s return to the fold of respectable nations in exchange for relinquishing its WMD program – despite the fact that Libya essentially remains a one-man dictatorship. Values may be invoked as a means to rally support for a strategy – but that does not mean these values are consistently implemented across the spectrum of foreign policy. (This is a fact that is embraced by even the most diehard neoconservatives. In 2004, Charles Krauthammer observed, “The danger of democratic globalism is its universalism, its temptation to plant the flag of democracy everywhere. It must learn to say no. And, indeed, it does say no.”)
Indeed, this fact roils some of the true believers among the neocons.
The Bush administration may not be pursuing a strictly realist foreign policy, but its behavior suggests they're well aware of the concept that Rauch is trying to promote.

posted by Dan at 09:03 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

The tragicomedy of North Korea

In the Financial Times, Demetri Sevastopulo, Stephen Fidler and Anna Fifield report that Kim Jong Il would like the United States to pay more attention to North Korea now, please:

North Korea is preparing for a possible test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to hit the US, according to Washington officials.

A senior official said there were “enough indications” to suggest that Pyongyang was getting ready to fire a Taepodong-2 missile from a launch pad in eastern North Korea. It would be the Stalinist state’s first test of a longer-range missile since 1998 when Pyongyang generated an international crisis by unexpectedly firing an intermediate-range Taepodong-1 over Japan....

Pyongyang – which is keenly aware that the US can monitor its preparations by satellite – could be bluffing. Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, has a history of performing eye-catching stunts when he feels he is being ignored, which has happened recently as Washington focuses on resolving nuclear tensions with Iran. Another US official said he might be “playing games” to get attention.

The title of this post aside, there's actually nothing funny about this... unless your mind wanders involuntarily to certain movie musicals.

Team America references aside, the most obvious indication that this is serious is that the South Koreans are not downplaying it:

Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, last week said the preparations were of “great concern” – comments that underscored South Korean anxiety given that Seoul has traditionally played down the chances of any inflammatory actions by the North. The official said the US wanted to avoid creating a crisis because “ that is what North Korea wants”.

posted by Dan at 08:12 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What happens when I go on vacation

Tyler Cowen describes what he believes to be a new-fangled type of trip:

I am toying with a new concept, namely The Work Vacation. Pick some exotic locale and bring your laptop. Write your book and blog as usual. Go out every now and then to see some sights. In essence seeing sights replaces the time at home you would spend doing chores and taking care of family.
This is almost but not exactly what my vacations are like.

Indeed, the joke in my family is that the only difference between me working and me on vacation is that I read a slightly different set of books.

posted by Dan at 09:05 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 9, 2006

Drezner gets results from Richard Lugar!!

Senator Richard Lugar has an op-ed in the International Herald-Tribune that sounds a theme familiar to readers of -- high energy prices hurt the developing world a hell of a lot more than the developed world:

As we in the West contend with spiraling world crude prices, we must remember that they can be devastating to developing countries, blunting the effectiveness of foreign aid and the push for democracy. This is more than a humanitarian issue - it is also a global security concern that demands our urgent attention.

By stunting development and increasing poverty, high world oil prices contribute to instability that can lead to internal civil strife and regional conflict. More ominously, they help build the resentments and frustrations that breed terrorism. That's why the United States' quest for energy security must encompass global energy security too. Lessening America's petroleum use will not have its maximum potential geopolitical impact if others simply consume the oil we save, keeping markets tight and prices high, with the producers in control and the poor- country importers impoverished.

posted by Dan at 10:55 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 8, 2006

The role of partisanship in American politics

It's been a busy day for the partisanship meme today.

In The American Prospect, Marc Schmitt points out what many have observed in the past -- the rising ideological purity of both Democrats and Republicans:

If there is a voter backlash against the GOP this November, it will be aimed at the far-right Republicans who've been running the party. But, like a quail-hunting Dick Cheney, it will instead take out an unintended target—the so-called "moderate" Republicans who are somewhat pro-environment, more or less pro-choice, and sometimes labor-friendly leftovers of the genteel GOP tradition. Generally speaking, these are the only Republicans in vulnerable districts.

Shed no tears for the Republican moderates. As Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a Prospect-sponsored breakfast in May, they are "enablers" of the culture of corruption. But the disappearance of Republicans who were willing to deviate occasionally from right-wing orthodoxy will mark a major change in our political life and culture. Back in 1994, many conservative Democrats were wiped out in the election and the party switching that followed. This year, whether Democrats win enough seats to control the House or not, the second shoe will drop. The hardening of our country into a parliamentary democracy, with two parties representing distinct ideologies and political traditions, will be complete.

Is this a bad thing? Polarized partisanship makes it hard to get things done, unless one party controls everything, as in a real parliament. Or could it be a good thing? In 1950, political scientists issued a plea for American parties to become just like this—ideologically coherent and "responsible," modeled on the British parliamentary parties. The answer doesn't matter; this is the way it's going to be. It may turn out that the political framework of the 20th century—in which conservative and moderate factions in each of the two parties overlapped, and shifting bipartisan coalitions were always the way things got done—was the anomaly, a living fossil dating from the peculiar history of the post-Reconstruction South.

Anomalous or not, that framework is exactly what almost everyone in Washington was trained for. We were all brought up knowing that the first thing you must do to pass legislation is to build a solid bipartisan coalition. But soon, whether we choose partisanship or not, we will all be absorbed into a more partisan world, and those who fight that trend will be left behind....

One of the arguments of the 1950 political scientists was for this very result, to reduce the influence of "the pressure groups," because ideas would move through the parties rather than through external, unaccountable groups. But the political framework of the late 20th century had a lot going for it. In theory if not always in practice, it could find consensus and more stable solutions to public problems. But it's going, and in its place we will have a more rigid system in which the parties themselves dominate. The conservatives probably figured this out first and embraced it, thus explaining much of their political success in the last decade. Liberals can lament the loss of the old pluralist world, but we had better move on and deal with the new.

Oddly enough, partisanship is also the theme of Tom DeLay's valedictory address to the House of Representatives. I've never been a big fan of DeLay, but his address offers an interesting rejoinder to Schmitt:
In preparing for today, I found that it is customary in speeches such as these to reminisce about the "good old days" of political harmony and across-the-aisle camaraderie, and to lament the bitter, divisive partisan rancor that supposedly now weakens our democracy.

I can’t do that. Because partisanship, Mr. Speaker — properly understood — is not a symptom of a democracy’s weakness, but of its health and strength — especially from the perspective of a political conservative....

Indeed, the common lament over the rise in political partisanship is often nothing more than a veiled complaint instead about the rise of political conservatism. I should add here that I do not begrudge liberals their nostalgia for the days of a timid, docile, and permanent Republican minority. If we Republicans had ever enjoyed the same luxury over the last twelve years… Heck, I’d be nostalgic, too!

Had liberals not fought us tooth and nail over tax cuts and budget cuts and energy and Iraq and partial-birth abortion, those of us on this side of the aisle can only imagine all the additional things we could have accomplished. But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, they didn’t agree with us.

So — to their credit — they stood up to us. They argued with us. And they did so honorably, on behalf of more than 100 million people, just like we did against President Clinton, and they did against President Reagan....

The point is: we disagree. On first principles, Mr. Speaker, we disagree. And so we debate — often loudly, and often in vain — to convince our opponents and the American people of our point of view. We debate here on the House floor. We debate in committees. We debate on television, and on radio, and on the Internet, and in the newspapers. And then every two years, we have a HUGE debate… and then in November we see who won.

That is not rancor.

That is democracy!

You show me a nation without partisanship, and I’ll show you a tyranny.

For all its faults, it is partisanship — based on core principles — that clarifies our debates, that prevents one party from straying too far from the mainstream, and that constantly refreshes our politics with new ideas and new leaders.

Indeed, whatever role partisanship may have played in my own retirement today — or in the unfriendliness heaped upon other leaders in other times, Republican and Democrat, however unjust — all we can say is that partisanship is the worst means of settling fundamental political differences… except for all the others.

Now, politics demands compromise, Mr. Speaker, and even the most partisan among us have to understand that. But we must never forget that compromise and bipartisanship are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles.

It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first-principle. For true statesmen, Mr. Speaker, are not defined by what they compromise, but what they don’t.

Two cavils to DeLay's farewell address. First, the defense of "higher principles" would have a better ring to it if the Hammer hadn't played such a large role in policies that served no ideological purpose other than dishing large slabs of pork to favored constituencies.

Second -- and this is where I break ranks with both DeLay and Schmitt -- I don't think Democrats and Republicans disagree on the first principles of governing. I'm not even sure they disagree on second principles. There are policy differences, to be sure -- but Carl Schmitt (not relation to Marc) does not travel well to these shores -- no matter what Alan Wolfe says.

If Marc Schmitt is correct, then the next few years will be an interesting test of my beliefs.

posted by Dan at 08:39 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Zarqawi thread

Accoding to both U.S. and Iraqi officials, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an airstrike today.

Question to readers: what effect, if any, will this have on the security situation in Iraq?

UPDATE: I do like this AP headline: "Around the world, al-Zarqawi death praised"

ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has some instant analysis that is worh reading.

posted by Dan at 08:01 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Is Mark Malloch Brown really a diplomat?

Yesterday Kofi Annan's deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, gave a speech in which he asserted the following:

[A]s someone who has spent most of his adult life in this country, only a part of it at the UN, I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is meant: as a sincere and constructive critique of US policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer. Because the fact is that the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the UN one way or another....

Americans complain about the UN’s bureaucracy, weak decision-making, the lack of accountable modern management structures and the political divisions of the General Assembly here in New York. And my response is, “guilty on all counts”.

But why?

In significant part because the US has not stuck with its project -- its professed wish to have a strong, effective United Nations -- in a systematic way. Secretary Albright and others here today have played extraordinary leadership roles in US-UN relations, for which I salute them. But in the eyes of the rest of the world, US commitment tends to ebb much more than it flows. And in recent years, the enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage.

As someone who deals with Washington almost daily, I know this is unfair to the very real effort all three Secretaries of State I have worked with –- Secretary Albright, Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice -– put into UN issues. And today, on a very wide number of areas, from Lebanon and Afghanistan to Syria, Iran and the Palestinian issue, the US is constructively engaged with the UN. But that is not well known or understood, in part because much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. That is what I mean by “stealth” diplomacy: the UN’s role is in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Exacerbating matters is the widely held perception, even among many US allies, that the US tends to hold on to maximalist positions when it could be finding middle ground.

Democracy Arsenal's Suzanne Nossel was at the conference where Brown gave his speech, and it even made her cringe a little:
He argues that the UN's role is a secret in middle America because of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's disinformation campaigns. That's true, but its been true for years despite efforts by organizations like the UN Foundation and UN Association to address the ignorance and publicize the UN's important contributions. What we need is creative and new ideas for how to turn this around, not more ranting about why American perceptions of the UN aren't what they should be.

He's acknowledging that the Group of 77 developing countries have opposed vital reforms to, for example, give the SYG the authority to properly manage the UN, for example by being able to hire and fire and shift around posts to meet priorities. I hope he doesn't attribute their recalcitrance wholly to resentment toward the U.S. . . . yup, he just did. He argues they oppose reasonable proposals just because we back them. But there's more to it. Those obsolete posts are filled by country-nationals who often have their home missions in thrall.

He's calling for no more take-it-or-leave-it demands by the US. Yet often take-it-or-leave-it is all that works. It was Holbrooke's approach to getting an agreement on US dues to the UN paid.

So, if Nossel thinks the speech was overblown, how do you think John Bolton is going to react?

Let's go to the AP and find out!!:

It was a rare instance of a senior U.N. official directly and openly criticizing a member state. An unwritten U.N. rule says high-ranking officials don't name names or shame nations.

Yet Malloch Brown and even Annan have done so in the past. Last year, with the U.N. under intense criticism over the Iraq oil for food program, Annan said opponents of the U.N. had been "relentless," and the world body wasn't fighting back enough.

U.S. officials, including Bolton, said they were especially upset that Malloch Brown, a Briton, mentioned "Middle America."

Bolton said Malloch Brown's "condescending, patronizing tone about the American people" was the worst part about the speech.

"Fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant," Bolton said. "It's just illegitimate."....

Bolton warned that Malloch Brown's comments could undermine the reforms that Annan wants and that the United States supports.

"To have the deputy secretary-general criticize the United States in such a manner can only do grave harm to the United Nations," Bolton said. "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations."

I wager to say that Bolton is hopping mad about this. How do I know? Because I, a lowly blogger, was e-mailed this story by Bolton's deputy press secretary. And I'm guessing others were as well.

Bolton might be mad, but he's also right -- the speech will hurt the UN more than it will help it in this country. Brown's speech will do for U.S. attitudes towards the UN what Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" article did towards elite attitudes towards U.S. policy towards the Middle East -- it will roil everyone up, but the kernels of insight contained in the speech (Brown makes a good point about the merits of UN peacekeeping) will be safely ignored because of the rhetorical and conceptual overkill.

There is one big difference, however -- Mearsheimer and Walt were academics trying to be provocative -- Brown is ostensibly a UN diplomat. He says his speech was meant as, "a sincere and constructive critique of US policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer," but in characterizing Middle America as moronic xenophobes, he's creating the very attitude he seeks to change.

UPDATE: Kyle Spector at FP's Passport points out that Bolton's reaction might be equally overdramatic:

Brown's speech, including the criticism that the US uses "the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics" was, for Bolton, the "worst mistake" in 17 years by a UN official.

Right. Never mind the now scandalous oil-for-food program or the failure to prevent a genocide in Rwanda.

posted by Dan at 02:16 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (0)

What is new and essential in international relations?

Tyler Cowen worries that after a burst of innovation in the late eighties, economics has gone a bit stale:

I see mid-1980s as the end of a great era in economic theorizing. Take game theory, principal-agent theory, and the economics of information, and apply them to everything, for better or worse. This was an exciting, indeed intoxicating, time to learn economics. While applications continue, we have run out of new ideas on those fronts. Experimental economics is completely Nobel-worthy, but it is now over forty years old. What are the next breakthroughs or the breakthroughs which have just been made?
Readers have requested more IR theory posts, so let's take Tyler's question and apply it to international relations. What has been written in the past decade that is essential reading for an up and coming IR grad student?

[What do you think?--ed. I'll add my picks in a few hours. For now I'll just observe that my thoughts run to books rather than articles, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.]

posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Davos has so jumped the shark

Rob Long has a very amusing piece at on how celebrities can maximize their star poweer to pursue foreign policy agendas:

Welcome to the fascinating world of foreign policy! It’s wonderful that Hollywood has taken such an interest in world affairs—the hotel lobbies and corridors of Davos have never been so glittering, and hotspots in Africa and the Middle East are sprinkled with stardust. Boffo kudos, as we say in the business.

The world, though, is a complicated and treacherous place. It’s impossible, really, to convey the pitfalls and booby traps waiting out there as you venture far outside the 310 area code. Playing to the lefty Academy Awards crowd is fine, but that instinct may get you into trouble in, say, Caracas or Pyongyang. If you say something that delights a Fidel Castro or a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chances are it’s going to go over badly back home—and for good reason.

Still, your success in navigating the ferociously competitive world of Hollywood is the ideal training for global activism. Think about it: The entertainment industry is characterized almost entirely by shrieking egomaniacs, psychotic dictators, money-losing operations, clueless bureaucrats, corrosive nepotism, enormous travel allowances, and fraudulent accounting practices—not unlike most large nongovernmental organizations, the World Economic Forum, and the continent of Africa. You are well prepared to succeed on the world stage.

Apparently, going to the Davos Economic Forum is a no-no:
Honestly, Davos is a no-win situation for you. You won’t be the most famous person there; that honor will inevitably go to Bill Clinton. You won’t be the richest; that honor will go to Bill Gates. You won’t really get the respect or the attention that you deserve. It’s sort of like going to the Oscars when you’re not nominated. No matter how famous you are, people will wonder what, exactly, you’re doing there. You’ll be photographed in a swank hotel lobby with a lot of short men in dark suits. Someone will try to hire you to appear in a commercial in Bahrain. The scientists and techies will ignore you. The Economist will print something snarky about you. Davos is a terrible costar.
Read the whole thing.

[Do you have any more advice?--ed. Oh, yes... lots of very valuable advice... but I'm saving myself for a particular Academy award-nominated actress.]

posted by Dan at 08:12 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Has Al Qaeda acquired a new base?

I've occasionally riffed about how Al Qaeda acts like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Kansas City Royals of world politics. However, this was predicated on the assumption that Al Qaeda had lost their base in Afghanistan and failed to acquire a new one.

Which brings me to Somalia, and the takeover of Mogadishu by an entity called the Union of Islamic Courts. There are some very disturbing parallels between what's happening in Mogadishu, Somalia right now and what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul. Consider this BBC report:

The Islamic Courts say they want to promote Islamic law rather than clan allegiance, which has divided Somalis over the past 15 years.

However, all but one of the 11 courts is associated with just one clan - the Hawiye, who dominate the capital....

The Union's public face is its chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate who sought to assure Somalis and the international community this week that the Islamic Courts were no threat and only wanted order.

But the Union does contain radical elements.

Two of the 11 courts are seen as militant; one is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, on an American list of terrorism suspects because he used to head al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, which was linked to al-Qaeda.

Mr Aweys says al-Itihaad no longer exists and also denies accusations from some western diplomats and observers that there are training grounds for Islamic fighters in Somalia.

He is, however, strongly critical of the United States and its "war on terror"....

During the years of warfare and anarchy, many Somalis have increasingly turned to their faith for some sort of stability.

One visible sign is that before the civil war began in the 1980s, very few women wore headscarves in Mogadishu.

Now, almost every woman wears a headscarf and an increasing number are wearing veils covering their faces, with just narrow slits for the eyes.

Even those Mogadishu residents who are wary of Islamic extremism may welcome a single group being in control of the capital for the first time in 15 years, saying there will at least be some authority.

And many will prefer Islamic preachers to the warlords who have fought over and in many cases systematically looted the city since 1991.

This July 2005 report from the International Crisis Group about Somalia does not make me feel any more sanguine.

James Gordon Meek has a roundup of U.S. intelligence views in the New York Daily News:

"Now you've got a safe haven for al-Qaida," said a defense intelligence official monitoring the country that was used as a base to stage attacks on two U.S. embassies and an Israeli resort in East Africa. "It's definitely a concern."

However, current and former U.S. officials told the New York Daily News that Osama bin Laden's terror network isn't firmly established in Somalia, though the country hasn't had a central government in 15 years.

U.S. Special Forces teams have found no signs of a firm al-Qaida presence, such as terror training camps, sources said.

"Probably our worst fears have not materialized," said recently retired CIA counterterrorism official Paul Pillar.

But Pillar said events in Mogadishu this week are "somewhat similar" to how the Taliban ended infighting by Afghan warlords in the 1990s, brought peace to a war weary country and gave sanctuary to bin Laden's training camps. Pillar said the CIA is likely telling its operatives to "collect, collect, collect" intelligence urgently.

"Having a place to stage attacks in that area is going to be attractive" to al-Qaida, warned former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan.

Developing.... and not in a good way at all.

posted by Dan at 07:55 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 4, 2006

So long, Chicago

As of today, my family and I are no longer residents of Chicago.

It is a bittersweet departure, for obvious reasons. However, it's also a good time to reflect on what I will miss and what I won't miss about the place....


1) The workshop system. This will always be the U of C's comparative advantage. The paper workshops -- especially PIPES -- were a place where ideas and theories were ripped apart and then stitched back together by the faculty and graduate students. I will sorely miss the looks of shock and awe from visiting presenters when they see their paper expertly dissected by a 2nd-year graduate student.

2) My walk to work in the spring. When the miniature lilac bushes bloom on 57th street, the scent is one of the best stress-reducers around. Plus, any commute that requires walking past Robie House every day is a good thing.

3) My synagogue. I would not have thought this five years ago, but as it turned out our synagogue was the way through whivch we got to know our community. I'll miss the building, I'll miss the people... I'll even miss the unrelentingly liberal sermons at Kol Nidre.

4) Istria cafe. Those guys could whip up a mean skim mocha.

5) A competitive market in air travel. I've travelled anough in recent years to appreciate the fact that I was in a city serviced by almost every airline -- which meant I could usually find a nonstop, reasonably priced flight to anywhere I needed to go.

1) The Co-op supermarket. There is one supermarket in the Hyde Park neighborhood, and it is just awful. How awful? We stopped shopping there after our first few years in Chicago -- as this Chicago Maroon essay points out, "how can a supermarket chain that charges higher prices and offers lower quality products sustain itself?" Never have I seen a better advertisement for the evils of barriers to entry than that sorry excuse of a store.

2) The traffic. At least the Big Dig is done.... but the Dan Ryan will be under construction for years.

3) The anti-business culture in the South Side. Click here for one example. Ask the owners of Istria about how long it took them to open up their store for another example.

4) The short springs. This past May was typical -- cold as hell for the first two weeks, then oppressively hot and humid for a week, and then one nice week of spring. On the other hand, as one cabbie put it to me, "Of course the weather stinks in Chicago. If it didn't, 20 million peiople would live here."

5) Not enough Red Sox games on television. I didn't say my complaints were reasonable, they're just complaints!!

Time to turn the page. On to Boston!!

posted by Dan at 09:03 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Soccer Wars

That's the title of my essay in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section. It bears more than a passing resemblance to this blog post from earlier in the week. The punchline:

Soccer will never bring about peace on its own. The flip side is also true -- by itself, soccer cannot start a war. The World Cup, like the Olympics, suffers from a case of overblown rhetoric. Bono's assurances to the contrary, the passions inspired by the World Cup embody both the best and worst forms of nationalism.
A few citations, beyond those found in the earlier post. Joschka Fischer's quote about the World Cup can be found in Goldman Sachs' The World Cup and Economics 2006

Click here or here to find information about the soccer game that was played during the 1914 Christmas Truce.

Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN discuss Pele's ability to inspire a temporary cease-fires in Biafra. Thanks to commenters who brought up both examples in the prior post.

Here's a link to the Edmans, Garcia, and Norli paper demonstrating the correlation between international soccer losses and poor stock market performance. And here's a link to the 1973 Richard Sipes paper, "War, Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories" that appeared in American Anthropologist.

For more on the World Cup and international relations, check out Michael Moran's useful and link-rich summary at, and Pablo Halkyard's linkfest at PSDblog.

Finally, a thank you to Frank Foer for getting on the phone and chatting with me about Frank Rijkaard spitting on Rudi Voller -- though Frank always enjoys talking about soccer. And let me once again praise Foer's How Soccer Explains the World as a good read regardless of whether you like watching soccer.

And yes, between this and my Newsday op-ed on the World Baseball Classic, I plan on cornering the public intellectual market on sports and international relations. Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!

posted by Dan at 07:21 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Hugo Chavez wants to impoverish the developing world

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants OPEC to join his anti-American bandwagon. The Financial Times' Carola Hoyos reports that he hasn't been all that successful:

Ministers of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the oil cartel, on Thursday united against Venezuela to reject its call to cut the group’s production.

The vast majority of the 11 delegates meeting in Caracas on Thursday said they were set to agree to keep pumping at nearly maximum capacity. Opec produces 30m barrels a day of oil, about 40 per cent of the world’s total.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, led the cartel’s efforts to counter Venezuela and Iran’s attempts to use Opec as a tool against the US.

Oil prices are at near record highs and a reduction in Opec’s production would have led to a further rally, analysts said. They warned that this could have undermined world economic growth and pushed up inflation.

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s populist president, has tried to use Opec to spread his anti-Washington message and to push energy nationalism.

One way he has done this is to back Bolivia to join Opec as an observer and Ecuador, which was a member of the group from 1973-1992, to rejoin as a full member. Both countries have recently moved to wrest more control of their energy assets from international companies. Bolivia in March sent its military to take over its gas fields.

Mr Chávez, in addressing Opec ministers, said: “We are third world countries, countries that for years and years have suffered colonialism, countries that are condemned by much more powerful states.”

He added: “The life of our organisation has not been easy. We are under an unfair way of exploitation. Oil is the reason of the permanent aggression of the US empire. Oil did not benefit the Venezuelan people while the US empire was drinking our oil,” Mr Chávez said.

Like a tenor reaching the climax of his aria, Mr Chavez grew more and more animated: “Opec is a liberator of countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East,” he concluded.

The faces of other Opec ministers revealed their unease with such inflammatory rhetoric. Saudi Arabia, especially, has tried to stop Venezeula from hijacking the meeting to push its nationalist cause and its spread its criticism of the US, Opec’s biggest customer. Many Opec countries do not consider themselves third world nations. (emphasis added)

Read the whole thing, because there's some interesting bits of info about the possible expansion of OPEC's membership.

For now, however, let's focus on Chavez's bolded statement, because it's pretty much the opposite of the truth. If one posits that the cartel's reason for existence is to keep the price of oil at artificially high levels, then OPEC does little for the third world except to impoverish countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East that are not members of OPEC.

How is Africa fairing with past year's rise in oil prices? Let's check with the African Development Bank:

According to the African Development Bank (ADB), current oil prices will certainly translate into a higher average inflation of 2.6 percentage point for oil-importing African countries in 2006. High oil prices will exert a heavy toll on the finances of many oil-importing African countries. Increasing oil prices spell real economic danger for these countries as many companies faced with higher energy bills may attempt to cut down on cost and one way of achieving this is to lay off some workers. In the event of such a situation, governments of affected countries will see their tax bases eroded. Lay-offs in one sector of the economy could have huge and devastating effects on the entire economy and many African countries already caught up in the throes of an economic crisis, may have to deal with more complex economic and political situations.

Lower employment prospects and higher inflation rates will obviously lower the purchasing power of the poor and this will have a ripple effect on the entire economy. Clearly, higher petroleum cost will increase commuting cost, and in the case of agricultural economies, – which many African economies are – the cost of getting the harvest to the markets will rise, pushing therefore the cost of food up and making it well beyond the means of the underprivileged who, prior to the escalating oil prices, were already living in very straightened financial circumstances.

Similarly, another danger that escalating oil prices pose to many African economies stems from the fact that even development banks such as the ADB, which finances many projects on the continent, will be affected. Firstly, many ongoing thermal power production projects which are being implemented on the basis that oil, the main input in those power plants, will be affordable. Secondly, higher energy prices will certainly affect a number of other key inputs which affect both the rate of return of existing projects and the choice of future ones. Infrastructure programs will cost more because construction materials are energy-intensive and this will reduce the Bank’s ability to handle many development projects on the continent. This situation is certainly bad news for many struggling African economies which have benefited from projects financed by ADB. The financial injections that ADB-financed projects bring to their economies may reduce or even dry up if world oil prices remain a huge challenge to the global economy.

Hmmm.... what about Asia? Well, the Asian Development Bank is not as sanguine as Mr. Chavez:
The region of developing Asia and the Pacific is potentially vulnerable to high oil prices. It is a large net importer of oil (in this section oil is taken to include petroleum energy products excluding natural gas) and much of its rapidly expanding energy needs are met by oil. Developing Asia produces about 11% of the world's crude oil, but consumes more than 20% of it, and this gap is widening. Economies in developing Asia are nearly as oil intensive in energy consumption and much less energy efficient than most industrial countries. For each unit of gross domestic product (GDP), measured at market exchange rates, developing Asia consumes nearly five times as much energy as Japan and nearly three times as much as the United States (US).

Despite its dependency on oil and a threefold increase in nominal oil prices since 2003, the region has performed well economically. But past resilience does not mean that developing Asia is immune to high oil prices. Signs of stress are indeed starting to surface: inflation is creeping up; fuel subsidies are beginning to cast a large shadow over fiscal prospects in some places; and high oil prices may become a prominent factor that will further prolong the region's generally anemic investment demand--outside the People's Republic of China (PRC)--that has prevailed since the Asian crisis.

Click here to see a more in-depth analysis by the ADB of the effect of higher oil prices on the region.

In fact, let's just excerpt this 2004 International Energy Agency report to see the effect of high oil prices on the non-OPC members of the developing world as a whole:

The adverse economic impact of higher oil prices on oil-importing developing countries is generally even more severe than for OECD countries. This is because their economies are more dependent on imported oil and more energy-intensive, and because energy is used less efficiently. On average, oil-importing developing countries use more than twice as much oil to produce a unit of economic output as do OECD countries. Developing countries are also less able to weather the financial turmoil wrought by higher oil-import costs. India spent $15 billion, equivalent to 3% of its GDP, on oil imports in 2003. This is 16% higher than its 2001 oil-import bill. It is estimated that the loss of GDP averages 0.8% in Asia and 1.6% in very poor highly indebted countries in the year following a $10 oil-price increase. The loss of GDP in the Sub-Saharan African countries would be more than 3%.
[Surely Chavez is correct about the Middle East, right?--ed. Er, no. According to this UN Development Program table, the Arab states have actually seen their energy efficiecy per unit of output decline by close to 50% in the past 25 years. Countries like Egypt and Jordan would get hammered as well.]

Hugo Chavez has zero interest in helping the countries of the developing world. And it's a good thing for the developing world that the rest of OPEC chooses to ignore him.

posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)