Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is it possible to forge a world of liberty under law?

You can add another grand strategy to the pile of candidates proffered in recent months -- "progressive realism," "ethical realism," "realistic Wilsonianism," etc. The Princeton Project on National Security released its final report, Forging A World Of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security In The 21st Century.

One factor that distinguishes the Princeton Project from these other approaches was the degree of consultation. UPI's Martin Walker provides a nice precis:

The new strategy seeks to absorb the rising powers like China, India, Brazil and others into a law-based global economic and diplomatic structure that avoids open conflict by making them stakeholders within the system, and thus encouraged in their own interests to play by the rules.

Known as the Princeton Project, the venture lasted over two years and brought in over 400 participants, and was chaired jointly by the Reagan administration's former Secretary of State George Shultz and by former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Tony Lake.

The strategy they have devised, titled 'Liberty Under Law," seeks to chart of long-term course in the way that George F. Kennan in 1946 drafted the concept of "containment" that broadly defined U.S. policy in the Cold War for the next 45 years.

"The difference is that we soon came to realize that there is now no single threat as there was in 1946, so there can be no single theme like "containment," Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school of public and international affairs and one of the directors of the project, and a former president of the American Society for International Law. [Slaughter co-directed the project with G. John Ikenberry--DWD.]

"There are now a series of threats, including global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, the rise of Asia, the energy crisis and threats emanating from the Middle East becoming too numerous to count," Slaughter added.

A lot of bloggers were involved in the project -- Steve Clemons, Christopher Preble of Across the Aisle, everyone at TPM's America Abroad, a couple of the Democracy Arsenal gang, Nikolas Gvosdev, and yours truly. To be clear, however, none of us would necessarily endorse everything that's in this report. I do, however, agree with the point Anne-Marie and John make about the multiplicity of threats.

Read it and debate away.

posted by Dan at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

What could be done on farm subsidies?

If the Doha round is ever to be resuscitated, it will require the United States to rethink its agricultural subsidies. The Financial Times' Doug Cameron reports on one possible rethink:

The US should offer to end distorting farm subsidies within five years in a bid to revive global trade talks and avoid a clampdown by the World Trade Organisation, according to a report released on Wednesday by an influential group of economists and agriculture officials.

Agricultural subsidies have emerged as the key barrier to progress in the stalled Doha round of multilateral trade talks, though such unilateral action by the US would face fierce opposition as the administration weighs new farm legislation next year....

The year-long study by the task force recommends a raft of measures to replace the existing US subsidy programme, which fed around $20bn to farmers last year, most of it focused on commodity crops such as cotton and corn.

Mike Johanns, the US agriculture secretary, has already stated that the system instituted by the existing farm bill in 2002 may have to change, targeting support at emerging sectors such as biofuels and avoiding further challenges by the WTO.

Brazil has already won at a case against US cotton subsidies through the WTO, and there are fears that this could trigger further challenges against crops such as rice and soyabeans.

“If we don’t take the lead in reducing and eventually ending trade-distorting subsidies, the WTO legal system will do it for us,” said Gus Schumacher, a task force co-chair and former USDA under-secretary who managed the farm subsidy programmes. “We’ll lose control of key farm policy tools and miss the export expansion opportunities in emerging markets that a successful Doha round could bring.”

The health of the US farm economy has improved after two years of bumper crops, rising exports to emerging markets and the boom in corn-derived ethanol, but influential lobbyists such as the American Farm Bureau are pushing for the existing subsidy regime to be extended.

The task force called for the system to be reformed to comply with WTO rules by introducing alternatives such as subsidised insurance programmes to counter poor harvests and sharp falls in global commodity prices. Other measures include new tax-efficient savings accounts for farmers and payments to support environmental initiatives.

Here's a link to the report from the Institute for International Economics and the organization formerly known as the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This is the interesting part from the executive summary:
We propose that the entire grouping of product-specific, tradedistorting income and support programs, including countercyclical and loan deficiency payments, price supports, and federal crop insurance and disaster payments, be replaced with a new portfolio of approaches that are nondistorting and compliant with WTO green
box rules, including:
Direct payments that are delinked from specific types of production and from market conditions so as to comply fully with green box standards and that are only used during a transition period until other approaches are fully developed

A universal revenue insurance program covering all commodities on a multiproduct basis that allows farmers to purchase coverage at subsidized rates to protect against losses in price and in production

A new land stewardship program that recognizes and rewards the value of the environmental contributions made by farmers and pays producers according to the kind and amount of environmental goods and services they provide

Farmer savings accounts similar in structure to tax-deferred 401(k) accounts that are backed by government matching contributions and that could be tapped for a variety of farm household costs, including health care, education, or retirement savings

A significant investment in public goods that benefit the entire farm sector, including research and infrastructure projects; not less than 20 percent of the federal baseline funds currently committed to trade-distorting domestic support programs (in addition to money spent on stewardship and conservation programs) should be redirected to investments in these sectorwide public goods

Transition measures to protect farmers and owners of rented farmland against investment losses such as declining land values as a result of the proposed changes to support programs

The proper development, experimentation, and implementation of these new programs will take time, but should be accomplished within the five-to-six-year term of the next farm bill.
If it was up to me, I'd transfer more money away from agricultural progams, but that's a political nonstarter. The Chicago Council ask force has a lot of pragmatic ideas. Unfortunately, given the American Farm Bureau's happiness with the status quo and opposition to any change in subsidies prior to Doha's completion, I fear this approach is a nonstarter as well.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Why are there no anti-Borat riots in Kazakhstan?

The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers looks at a question that I've wondered about from time to time -- what do the people of Kazakhstan think about Borat? The answer appears to be surprisingly liberal:

There is no Running of the Jews here. No one greets you with the expression “Jagshemash,” which is either nonsense, garbled Polish or mangled Czech; it’s hard to say. The country’s national drink is not made from horse urine, though fermented horse milk, or kumys, is considered a delicacy. (It tastes like effervescent yogurt.)

There is almost nothing, in short, remotely truthful in the satiric depiction of Kazakhstan popularized by Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian who plays a bumbling, boorish, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic Kazakh television reporter named Borat Sagdiyev.

And yet Borat — Mr. Cohen, that is — has managed to infuriate and confound the country’s officials. Their attempts to respond, to set the record straight, have resulted only in more attention here, where Borat’s antics, shown on British and American television and on the Internet, now make the rounds like samizdat from the long-gone days when the country was part of the Soviet Union....

“There is an unwritten rule that the president’s personality is never criticized,” said Baryz Bayen, a correspondent and editor for TV 31, a privately owned channel in Almaty.

Last fall Mr. Bayen prepared a six-minute feature on the controversy over Mr. Cohen’s MTV performance that included clips of the skit depicting Mr. Nazarbayev, borrowed from Russia’s NTV channel. Mr. Bayen cited a history of political satire dating to Molière and recalled an old refrain from Soviet times: “I have never read Solzhenitsyn, but I condemn him absolutely.”

“I do not feel any false patriotism,” said Mr. Bayen, who, like all ethnic Kazakhs, bears no resemblance to Borat whatsoever. “I saw portions of his show, and I can say it is funny.”

TV 31’s executive producer, Yevgeny Grundberg, said he hoped to send a correspondent to interview Mr. Cohen in character, reversing the roles in Borat’s acts, where his mock interviews have duped some subjects. So far, though, Mr. Cohen has not responded to his offer. He said Mr. Cohen’s satire was hyperbolic at best and wildly off the mark at worst but nonetheless served as an antidote to the articles and broadcasts that appear in official state media, where Kazakhstan is forever harmonious and prosperous.

“Most people take it normally,” he said, noting that those who have seen Borat remain a minority with access to the Internet or satellite television, where “Da Ali G Show” appears on Russian MTV, which is on cable television here. “The nation has changed enough for that.”

It is interesting that this Muslim country can take Borat with a grain of salt, whereas other jibes at Middle Eastern values provoke a more... frenzied response.

[Borat does not poke fun at Islam, whereas Mohammed cartoons do. You're comparing apples and oranges!!--ed. Maybe... except that nationalism can provoke just as much passion as religion, so I think the similarities are more important than the differences.]

Oh, and you can see the trailer for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by clicking here. As for Borat's reaction to the Kazakh government's denunciations, click here.

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Open NIE thread

Feel free to comment away on the declassified portion of the much-discussed NIE, now available online. I've already posted one tangential thought about it over at Open U.

The two obvious sections to highlight:

We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups....

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq "jihad;" (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims--all of which jihadists exploit.

Shorter NIE fragment: The good news is that Al Qaeda is a less viable network than it was before 9/11 -- because of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, moves to combat financial networks that assist terrorist groups, and improved homeland security and counterintelligence. The bad news is that the groups looking for Al Qaeda's imprimatur have a whole bunch of new reasons on top of the old ones to attack the United States -- because of Iraq.

Based on this NIE fragment -- and according to Jane Harman, this fragment is "broadly consistent" with the overall thrust of the document -- there is simply no way to claim, ceteris paribus, that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States more secure against terrorist attacks.

UPDATE: Props to Ghost in the Machine for coming up with the best post title on this subject.

ANOTHER UPDATE: David Ignatius' column in today's Washington Post makes an important point:

The issue raised by the National Intelligence Estimate is much grimmer than the domestic political game. Iraq has fostered a new generation of terrorists. The question is what to do about that threat. How can America prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven where the newly hatched terrorists will plan Sept. 11-scale attacks that could kill thousands of Americans? How do we restabilize a Middle East that today is dangerously unbalanced because of America's blunders in Iraq?

This should be the Democrats' moment, if they can translate the national anger over Iraq into a coherent strategy for that country. But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next. They act as if all those America-hating terrorists will evaporate back into the sands of Anbar province if the United States pulls out its troops. Alas, that is not the case. That is the problem with Iraq -- it is not an easy mistake to fix.

Kevin Drum is nonplussed by this argument. .

posted by Dan at 10:55 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

The dog that is not barking in financial markets

Brad DeLong makes a good point in highlighting one positive sign from the Amaranth collapse:

Amaranth blows up following a trading strategy that either had no method at all to it or was a failed attempt to corner next spring's natural gas market.

Yet there is not a sign of disturbance to the markets. Amaranth's investors have lost what is now said to be $6 billion. Some other people have the $6 billion--if they can, in turn, unwind their positions. But the system cruises on with no worries about liquidity or solvency and no changes in risk premiums.

Reassuring, I think.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's our Iran policy right now?

I blogged in the spring about my puzzlement and confusion regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. On the one hand, it was clear that certain elements of the Bush administration were not big fans of either direct or indirect dialogue.

On the other hand: [E]ven if this skepticism (towards negotiations and incentives) is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?
I'm even more puzzled today.

First, Bill Gertz has a Washington Times exclusive that is clearly designed to torpedo one diplomatic option:

Iran is close to an agreement that would include a suspension of uranium enrichment but wants the deal to include a provision that the temporary halt be kept secret, according to Bush administration officials.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, has been working with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on the enrichment-suspension deal that could be completed this week.....

According to the officials, the suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran would be for 90 days, so additional talks could be held with several European nations.

Many U.S. officials are opposing the agreement as a further concession to Iran, which continues to defy a United Nations' call for a complete halt to uranium enrichment. A Security Council resolution had given Iran until Aug. 31 to stop its enrichment program or face the imposition of international sanctions. Tehran ignored the deadline, but diplomacy has continued.

Some in the State Department are supporting the deal, which they view as a step toward achieving a complete halt to uranium enrichment.

However, other officials said that keeping any suspension secret would be difficult and that it would drag the United States into further negotiations with Iran.

The officials opposed to the deal want any agreement on uranium suspension to be announced publicly.

Also, any suspension of enrichment would require International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections to verify that work has stopped at Iranian facilities. The inspections would likely be disclosed, exposing any secret arrangement with Iran on suspension.

Failing to publicly announce the suspension also would be a face-saving measure for the Iranian government.

Officials said President Bush is not happy with the secrecy demand, although he continues to support the use of diplomacy to solve the problem.

I have to wonder if Gertz asked his editors to headline his article, "A Story That By Its Very Existence Will Alter The Facts Reported In Said Story."

OK, so clearly diplomacy is not the policy du jour of this administration when it comes to Iran. How about sanctions? Here we come to Condoleezza Rice's comments to the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

QUESTION: What do you think about a gasoline embargo on Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just – I don’t think that it was anything that you have to look at it in the near term and I’m not sure that it would have the desired effect. One of the problems that we have is if indeed you would like not to have a situation in which you reinforce the leadership’s desire to make their people feel that America is anti-Iranian people, then you want to stay away from things that have a bad effect on the Iranian people to the degree that you can. You know, we’ve talked – people have talked for instance about barring Iranian students or barring Iranian – there was at one point the World Cup, you know, bar them from the World Cup or something like that.

The Iranian regime has been pretty insistent on a line of reasoning that this is not between the United States and the Iranian regime; this is between the United States and Iran, the culture, the people, its great national pride. And that’s something we really do have to fight against and some believe a gasoline embargo might play into that.

If you read the whole interview, it's clear that Rice favors financial sanctions ("Iran is not North Korea. It’s not isolated and it is pretty integrated into the international financial system. And that actually makes its potential isolation more damaging to Iran than for instance North Korea which, as you notice, has not been too thrilled with even the rather modest financial measures that we’ve taken against North Korea.").

That said, rejecting the gasoline embargo strikes me as a huge mistake. Iran is also not like North Korea in that there's actually a middle class in Tehran and environs that like their cheap gasoline very much, thank you. I concede that the possibility of a nationalist backlash is there -- but just because Ahmadinejad is painting the conflict as a civilizational one does not mean that Iranians are buying it. There's a decent possibility that of a lot of Iranians taking out their economic frustrations against Ahmadinejad's government -- especially after Iran's government spends so much on Hezbollah.

So, to review: there are administration efforts to sabotage the available diplomatic option, and the most powerful economic sanction has been rejected in the near term. I don't think financial sanctions will bite as much as the secretary, in part because it always takes a long time to implement and after the 1979 asset seizures the Iranians have moved down the learning curve on evading those kind of strictures.

What's left in the policy tool kit besides force?


UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria offers some suggestions that I am quite sure will be ignored by the Bush administration.

posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Just a little of the old media bias

What does this distribution of cover stories imply about how Americans get their information about the world?

Hat tip: Passport's Carolyn O'Hara
posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 25, 2006

The latest step in scholar-blogging

John Holbo has introduced a new and interesting book imprint series that he will edit called Glassbead:

Glassbead will exemplify what academic book publishing should be in another sense: namely, healthy public intellectual culture. We will purvey a wide variety of content—ranging from academic specialist works to journalism to critical editions of public domain fiction to new fiction. But we aim to make our mark with works that solve intellectual circulation problems—within the ivory tower and without. We will make books that are maximally available, searchable, usable—by the public and by academics. We will make books the general reader (not so mythical as sometimes reported) and the academic reader will want to make use of.

Our most distinctive offerings—our first releases—will be "book events." Born on blogs as massive, multi-reviewer online seminars, the book events are hybrid creatures, unknown in a paper age. We are proud of the critical work they do, the range of participants they have attracted. And, after the fact, they look quite nice on paper. And we hereby demonstrate what an intellectual gift culture can do for the rest of academic publishing. Not all of these books will be narrowly academic, but the case for their intellectual functionality is clearest in the scholarly cases, and perhaps clearest of all in the humanities. Every book published in the humanities should be widely read, discussed, publicly reviewed—should have it's own lively comment box, not to put too fine a point on it. Because any scholarly book incapable of rousing a measure of sustained, considerate, knowledgeable, intelligent criticism and downright bookchat from a few dozen souls specializing in that area . . . needn't have been published, after all. Turning the point around: in an age in which technology assures any book worth publishing can be accompanied by such an event, any book that lacks one has been sadly failed by the academic culture in which it was so unfortunate as to be born. We hope to do our part and, even more so, set an excellent example of how to keep ideas circulating.

There are several interesting implications of this project. Among the more obvious:
1) It's another means through which blog outputs can be translated into scholarly capital, as it were;

2) I predict John Holbo is going to find that people will be much nicer to him than in the past;

3) There will be the interesting question of whether these collections are better to get in .pdf format or in hard copy. From the first effort, I suspect it might be the former:

Paper has been a bit of a puzzle. We have opted to make it typographically clear where links appear in the electronic version. Readers of the paper version who wish to follow links can download the PDF version of the book from Parlor Press, or check the original posts.
Over at Open U., Jacob Levy is also enthusiastic.

posted by Dan at 09:35 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Must.... stop.... consuming.... ideological analogies

Via Greg Mankiw, I see that Niall Ferguson was interviewed by Harvey Blume in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. An excerpt:

IDEAS: How do you understand radical Islamism? Is it, as some say, the successor to Marxism?

FERGUSON: It is. The great category error of our time is to equate radical Islamism with fascism. If you actually read what Osama bin Laden says, it's clearly Lenin plus the Koran. It's internationalist, revolutionary, and anticapitalist-rhetoric far more of the left than of the right. And radical Islamism is good at recruiting within our society, within western society generally. In western Europe, to an extent people underestimate here, the appeal of radical Islamism extends beyond Muslim communities.

IDEAS: To people who might once have been drawn to Marxism?

FERGUSON: And for much the same reason. Here is a way to reject the impure, corrupt qualities of western life and embrace a monotheistic zealotry. That's very satisfying.

Two quick thoughts:
1) Maybe, just maybe, radical islam is a kind of sui generis phenomenon tha would be best understood on its own terms rather than desperately trying to glom it onto secular totalitarian ideologies of the past;

2) Can anyone provide anything close to hard data to support Ferguson's contention that, "to an extent people underestimate here, the appeal of radical Islamism extends beyond Muslim communities"? That statement strikes me a very easy to say and very difficult to substantiate.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

The blogosphere as a labor saving device

Alex Tabarrok deconstructs how the mainstream media covers Wal-Mart's drug initiative -- so I don't have to.

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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The underwhelming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

I have discovered, through long and intensive soul-searching, that I would be a lousy pundit for a Sunday morning talk show. The reason is that my reaction to 99% of the topics discussed on such shows boils down to, "This too shall pass."

In other words, claims that individual leaders or individual political performances make a difference leave me, for the most part, unimpressed.

Which brings me to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Multiple sources have Ahmadinejad performing brilliantly while in NYC. Consider the New York Times' David Sanger:

Over the objections of the administration and Jewish groups that boycotted the event, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the man who has become the defiant face of Iran, squared off with the nation’s foreign policy establishment, parrying questions for an hour and three-quarters with two dozen members of the Council on Foreign Relations, then ending the evening by asking whether they were simply shills for the Bush administration.

Never raising his voice and thanking each questioner with a tone that oozed polite hostility, he spent 40 minutes questioning the evidence that the Holocaust ever happened — “I think we should allow more impartial studies to be done on this,” he said after hearing an account of an 81-year-old member, the insurance mogul Maurice R. Greenberg, who saw the Dachau concentration camp as Germany fell — and he refused to even consider Washington’s proposal for Russia to provide Iran with nuclear reactor fuel, and take it back once it is used.

See also Sanger's audio report.

Then there's Andrew Sullivan:

Watching the CNN interview with Mahmoud Ahamedinejad and reading about his meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations reinforces my sense of foreboding about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There's no point in denying that his trip to the U.S. has been a big media and p.r. coup for him. And there is a chilling slickness to him that is as disturbing as it is obviously formidable. The way he deflected questions always back toward the U.S., the way he skilfully used every awkward moment to pivot to the themes his domestic and international audience want to hear, the very image of the informal, mild-mannered, quiet-spoken, constantly smiling serenity: all these represent a very, very capable politician. There is a complete self-assurance to him that suggests he can neither be trusted as a diplomatic partner nor under-estimated as a global foe.
Even's Bernard Gwertzman:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sparred with a high-levelgroup from the Council on Foreign Relations for ninety minutes Wednesday on virtually every contentious issue between the United States and Iran.

There were no obvious changes in the responses given by Ahmadinejad, who has been granting interviews to major news organizations over the past week ahead of his trip to the opening session of the UN General Assembly. But the Iranian leader engaged in a protracted punch and counterpunch with the panel.

“I’m not sure we learned anything new,” said Richard N. Haass, the CFR president, in comments afterwards.

Color me mostly unimpressed. Ahmadinejad gets points for staying on message and not losing his temper. However, I judge whether someone has put in a good political performance based on whether they manage to persuade others of the merits of their worldview.

Looking at Gwertzman's account, I did not see that. Instead, I see Ahmadinejad getting pilloried by Matin Indyk, Brent Scowcroft, and Kenneth Roth -- not exactly a homogenous bunch. Which might explain Ahmadinejad's truculence at the end:

As the meeting drew to a close, the Iranian leader observed, “In the beginning of the session you said you are independent, and I accepted that. But everything you said seems to come from the government perspective.” Haass responded that there had been no advance coordination among the Council participants and that “the aim was to expose you to views of a broad range of Americans. It would be wrong for you to leave this meeting thinking that you heard unrepresentative views.”
Like Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad might be able to stoke his own supporters, but he seems to excel even more at creating and unifying his adversaries.

Ahmadinejad too will pass.

UPDATE: OK, I'll give Ahmadinejad credit for sartorially converting Matthew Yglesias.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A valid question running through the comments boils down to, "what if Ahmadinejad gets nuclear weapons?" I agree that this does not fall under the "this too shall pass" category -- however, we need to be clear about terms here. My (limited) understanding of the Iranian power structure suggests that on the nuclear question, Ahmadinejad is a) not the most important decision-maker; and b) holds the minority position of rejecting all compromise. So even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, I do not think this means Ahmadinejad is going to have his finger on the button.

Besides, I suspect Ahmadinejad has his own domestic troubles.

posted by Dan at 10:15 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

The comparative political economy of The Office

Liesl Schillinger has an interesting essay in Slate comparing and contrasting four different versions of The Office. In addition to the U.K. and U.S. versions, both French (Le Bureau) and German television (Stromberg) have produced variants on the show.

Schillinger's takeaway:

[T]he base-line mood of David Brent's workplace—resignation mingled with self-loathing—is unrecognizably alien to our (well, my) sensibility. In the American office, passivity mingles with rueful hopefulness: An American always believes there's something to look forward to. A Brit does not, and finds humor in that hopelessness. What truths, I wondered, might Le Bureau and Stromberg reveal about the French and German professional milieus?...

if any conjecture could be made about the cultural differences that these subtly contrasting programs reveal, it might be this one: These days, Germans and Americans are doing much of their living in and around their offices, while the Brits and French continue to live outside of them. Here, in broad strokes, are the chief differences. In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed. In the French version, nobody is working but even the idiots look good, and everybody seems possessed of an intriguing private life. In the German version, actual work is visibly being done, most of the staff is coupled up, and the workers never stop eating and drinking—treating the office like a kitchen with desks. Stromberg continually calls his staff "Kinder," or "children," further blurring the line between Kinder, Computer, and Küche.

While Michael Scott also sometimes calls his American office a "family," his staff knows he's the kid brother, not the father, and that if there's to be any Kinder in their lives, they're going to have to get busy with one of their fellow prairie dogs, because really—who else are they likely to meet, given the stretching parameters of the U.S. working day? We may still talk of "working like a dog," but the Russians lately have coined the expression, "to work like an American," reflecting our 24/7 on-call mentality. These days, for Americans, "home office" is not just a place, it's a state of mind. And it's perfectly reflected by our version of this global sitcom—in which work is ostensibly cared about (though skimped on), romantic tension simmers on numerous fronts, and the whole enterprise is gently inflated by a mood of eventual, possible progress in work and love—like a bowl of dough that could have used a little more yeast but is doing its best to rise. Vive la différence.

posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oh, Hugo....

So Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and George W. Bush walk into a UN General Assembly.... wait, that's not a joke, it actually happened.

Hugo gave a funny speech at the UN today -- that Noam Chomsky opening was a killer!

Here's the one part of the speech that actually made sense:

I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.

Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel's (ph) yesterday, or President Mullah's (ph). Yes, it's good for that.

And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world.

Readers are heartily encouraged to postulate what would happen if the UN General Assembly was actually given any real power.

UPDATE: CBS News reports on one interesting aftereffect of Chavez's tirade:

It’s rare to hear Congressional Democrats coming to the rescue of President George W. Bush. But a day after Venezuela's president called Mr. Bush a "devil" in front of the United Nations General Assembly, several prominent Bush critics are siding with the White House.

Rep. Charles Rangel – the Democrat who represents the New York City neighborhood that Hugo Chavez visited Thursday – took a swipe at the Venezuelan President for his behavior at the U.N.

Rangel said he wants to make it clear to the Venezuelan President that his comments on Wednesday were inappropriate and the American people are offended by his criticism of President Bush.

"I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president - don't come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State," Rangel said.

"Any demeaning public attack against him is viewed by Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us," Rangel said.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who spent most of the day criticizing the Bush administration's economic and environmental policies, told reporters that Chavez's performance at the U.N. "demeaned" himself and the his nation.

"He fancies himself as a modern day Simon Bolivar, but all he is an everyday thug," Pelosi said.

If this keeps up, I propose that Chavez be given a chance to vent at the UN every week!

posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The worst form of government in Thailand and Hungary

It's strictly a coincidence that third-wave democratic governments in Hungary and Thailand are having a spot of trouble today. There does seem to be a loose commonality in the underlying sources of the instability, however.

Why the attempted coup in Thailand? The BBC has a good backgrounder:

Thailand's latest political crisis traces its roots back to January when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold his family's stake in the telecoms firm Shin Corp.
The move angered many, mainly urban Thais, who complained the family avoided paying tax and had passed control of an important national asset to Singaporean investors.

It led to mass protests and calls for the resignation of the prime minister, who was already under pressure over his handling of a Muslim insurgency in the south and his extensive control over the media.

In a bid to tackle the crisis, and to show he still had widespread public support despite regular massive street protests in Bangkok, Mr Thaksin dissolved parliament in February and called a snap election for April.

Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party won 57% of the vote in the April election, but millions of Thais cast protest votes and the opposition refused to take part.

After weeks of limbo, Thailand's highly-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej called the situation a "mess" and ordered the courts to sort it out.

The election result was ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court and a new date was set for later this year.

As for the situation now, the BBC also reports that: An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups." To which I must say -- there are songs associated with military coups???

As for Hungary, here's the Associated Press explanation:

Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of Hungarian state television early Tuesday in an explosion of anger over a leaked recording of the prime minister admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said the overnight riots were "the longest and darkest night" for the country since the end of communism in 1989. About 150 people were injured, including 102 police officers, one of whom suffered serious head injuries, officials said....

The outpouring of rage may be linked to austerity measures Gyurcsany's Socialist-led coalition has implemented in order to rein in a state budget deficit expected to surpass 10 percent of gross domestic product this year — the largest in the European Union.

The government has raised taxes and announced plans to lay off scores of state employees, and introduce direct fees in the health sector and tuition for most university students.

Until the scandal suddenly broke this weekend, the 45-year-old Gyurcsany had been the Socialist Party's golden boy — a youthful, charismatic leader promising to lead his nation to the prosperity as a full EU member.

His coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats in April became the first Hungarian government to win re-election since the return to democracy in 1990.

The violence came after a mainly peaceful protest outside parliament attended by several thousand people began late Sunday, when a recording made in May was leaked to local media in which Gyurcsany admitted to repeatedly having lied to the country about the true state of the Hungarian economy to win April's elections.

In both countries, the formal electoral rules and laws seem incapable of dealing with shady behavior by duly elected officials.

A mark against democracy? Well, yes, but only until one considers Winston Churchill's thoughts on the matter.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Incompetence or impossibility in Iraq?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is coming out with a book on the CPA's experiences in Iraq called Imperial Life in the Emerald City. For a taste, check out Chandrasekaran's excerpt in Sunday's Washington Post, as well as his Q&A at today. He opens the latter by stating the following:

I believe that the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the U.S. occupation government in Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004 -- had a rare opportunity to resuscitate Iraq. It's hard to remember now, but back then the Iraqis were turly happy to be liberated from Saddam's government. They were eager for American help to reconstruct their country and they wanted U.S. forces to help establish order. But the CPA, in my view, squandered that goodwill by failing to bring the necessary resources to bear to rebuild Iraq and by not listening to what the Iraqis wanted -- or needed -- in terms of a postwar government. By sending, as I've written, the loyal and the willing over the best and the brightest, we hobbled our efforts there.
This is a theme I've touched on in the past (full disclosure: Chandrasekaran contacted me during the drafting of his book to get in touch with my sources at CPA, and I briefly acted as a go-between).

It also dredges up what will be an age-old debate -- was the failure in Iraq preordained because the mission was hopeless, or was it becaused the administration bungled the execution? Last year, Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld argued that failure was preordained.

Yesterday Jonathan Chait took the incompetence position in the Los Angeles Times:

The argument that the Iraq war had no chance to succeed has an undeniable surface appeal. Things are going so badly there that it's hard to imagine how it could have turned out differently.

But the more we learn about the war's conduct, the more we learn that the administration didn't just make the normal sorts of mistakes that inevitably occur in wartime; it was almost criminally negligent. The Bush administration literally refused to do any planning for the occupation. They invaded before all the available troops were in place, staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with underqualified hacks vetted solely on the basis of ideological loyalty and rashly disbanded the Iraqi army, which could have provided some early order.

One might counter that none of this was really decisive because Iraq is so deeply riven with sectarian feuds that brutal fighting between Sunnis and Shiites was inevitable. But this misunderstands a lot about human behavior. When the authority of government dissolves, people retreat to the safety of tribal solidarity, and under such conditions they can do savage things of which they never thought themselves capable. Once the expectation of chaos sets in, it can spiral out of control.

Yglesias responds here and here. One excerpt:
Let me just note that this is an extremely weak claim being made on behalf of the underlying policy concept. It "wasn't necessarily doomed" though it was bound to be "extremely difficult."

I'd be interested in seeing someone who thinks along these lines venture some vague probabalistic estimates. It wasn't "necessarily doomed" but was it likely to succeed? Or are we merely claiming that there was some chance of success? Ten percent? One percent? And how does that feed into policy analysis? Obviously, you wouldn't want to try and introduce a bogus false precision to these kind of calculations. Still, it seems to be that before launching a war of choice, you're going to want some better odds of success than "not necessarily doomed."

If you read what I've written on this subject, I obviously take the incompetence position -- Iraq could have gone much, much better.

To answer Matt's question, however, it seems to be that had the Bush administration:

a) Not been committed to proving Rumsfeld's thesis about warfighting, and thus had significantly more troops on the ground in the spring o 2003;

b) Staffed CPA based on meritocratic criteria as well as a conviction in having the mission succeed; and

c) Not disbanded the army

Then I'd say the odds of Iraq being at least as stable and open as, say, Ukraine would have been better than 50/50.

That said, I close with what I wrote two years ago:

[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.
Tell me, dear readers -- was it the idea or the implementation?

posted by Dan at 11:03 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Confusing headline of the day
"Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks," Times of London, September 18, 2006
Someone get Al Qaeda a dictionary and show them the word "redundant."
posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Damn that cheap European labor force!!

The Financial Times' Francesco Guerrera and Alan Beattie report on a new trend in offshoring:

Multinational companies are favouring Europe over Asia when expanding abroad – a sign that they want to be close to customers and suppliers rather than simply tap into cheap labour and plants, according to a new study of outward investment.

The surprising findings of the survey by IBM’s consulting arm, to be released on Monday, suggest that the recent boom in outsourcing of manufacturing and services to emerging markets such as China and India may be abating.

At the same time, western Europe, led by the UK and France, is regaining an edge in high-value areas such as research and development, putting pressure on developing economies to raise the skills and education levels of their workforce.

“The recent recovery in the global economy has made companies more interested in being close to their markets, suppliers and decision-makers rather than just looking for a low-cost base,” said Roel Spee, Europe’s leader for IBM’s global location unit.

The survey – the only study that looks at all announced foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies around the world – found that Europe attracted 39 per cent of all new plants and projects in 2005, with Asia-Pacific receiving 31 per cent and North America 18 per cent. In 2004, Europe and Asia were tied at 35 per cent each.

The results show that globalisation and the increase in capital and trade flows are enabling companies to exploit the competition between regions to reap the biggest rewards for their investments....

The UK was Europe’s biggest recipient of inward investment, especially in the research and development field, where it accounted for more than a quarter of all projects launched in the region last year, followed by France with 19 per cent.

posted by Dan at 09:01 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Will there be a TAFTA?

This week the Economist has an excellent survey by Pam Woodall of the global economy, and the increasingly powerful effects that the developing world are exerting on prices, wages, and interest rates:

Last year the combined output of emerging economies reached an important milestone: it accounted for more than half of total world GDP (measured at purchasing-power parity). This means that the rich countries no longer dominate the global economy. The developing countries also have a far greater influence on the performance of the rich economies than is generally realised. Emerging economies are driving global growth and having a big impact on developed countries' inflation, interest rates, wages and profits. As these newcomers become more integrated into the global economy and their incomes catch up with the rich countries, they will provide the biggest boost to the world economy since the industrial revolution....

In particular, the new ascendancy of the emerging economies has changed the relative returns to labour and capital. Because these economies' global integration has made labour more abundant, workers in developed countries have lost some of their bargaining power, which has put downward pressure on real wages. Workers' share of national income in those countries has fallen to its lowest level for decades, whereas the share of profits has surged. It seems that Western workers are not getting their full share of the fruits of globalisation. This is true not just for the lowest-skilled ones but increasingly also for more highly qualified ones in, say, accountancy and computer programming.

If wages continue to disappoint, there could be a backlash from workers and demands for protection from low-cost competition. But countries that try to protect jobs and wages through import barriers or restrictions on offshoring will only hasten their relative decline. The challenge for governments in advanced economies is to find ways to spread the benefits of globalisation more fairly without reducing the size of those gains.

Be sure to check out the podcast interview with Woodall, conducted by the dulcet tones of one Megan McArdle. Woodall thinks what's happening now will be "bigger than the industrial revolution."

One obvious implication to draw from the survey is that the relative (though not absolute) economic power of the US and EU will decline over time.

How will Washington and Brussels respond? The Financial Times' Bertrand Benoit offers one intriguing answer:

Spurred by concern about China’s growing economic might, Germany is considering a plan for a free-trade zone between Europe and the US.

A senior aide to Angela Merkel said the chancellor was “interested” in promoting the idea as long as such a zone did not create “a fortress” but rather “a tool” to encourage free trade globally, “which she is persuaded is a condition of Germany’s future prosperity”....

News that the free trade zone, last pursued by Sir Leon Brittan, when European trade commissioner in 1998, is being debated in the German chancellery testifies to the rapprochement between Washington and Berlin since Ms Merkel’s election last November.

This convergence of views was underlined this week when Wen Jiabao, Chinese premier, was politely chided by Ms Merkel for China’s poor human rights record and recent restrictions on foreign news agencies, during an official visit to Berlin....

Ms Merkel’s aide said it was “far too early” to tell whether the project of a transatlantic free-trade zone would be part of Germany’s priorities when it assumes the six-month presidency of the European Union and chairs the G8 group of leading industrial nations from January.

Two of Ms Merkel’s most senior advisers, Jens Weidmann on economic policy and Christoph Heusgen on foreign policy, have warned her the initiative could be construed as protectionism.

Yet the notion has struck a chord with Ms Merkel, who has often called for “a global framework of rules” – minimum social, environmental and ethical standards – to prevent competition from sophisticated yet authoritarian low-wage economies eroding western achievements in these domains.

“The west needs to pull together,” Gabor Steingart, Berlin bureau chief for the Spiegel weekly, told the FT yesterday. His book, World-War for Prosperity, a warning about the dangers of globalisation published this week, is credited with influencing the debate in the chancellery.

“What Nato did for the west under the cold war, Tafta (Transatlantic free-trade area) can do in the current battle.”

When I was in Berlin this summer I met with a few Bundestag and industry officials who were quite keen on the idea. The fact that Merkel is considering this suggests that the idea has gotten more traction in recent months.

There are many reasons to believe that TAFTA will never get off the ground. What Europe thinks should go into a free trade agreement is a bit more modest than what the U.S. thinks should go into one. I simply can't see agriculture included into any TAFTA. I can't imagine that France would ever let it go forward. Anti-Americanism on the continent could be enough to scotch it.

And yet, the idea is very intriguing. Even if it takes ten years to negotiate, the combined weight of a TAFTA in terms of both market size and rule-setting behavior would be formidable.


posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Trade policy, crazy conservatives, and UFOs

I have no idea what the three things in my post title have in common. All I know is that this morning I checked out my primer of U.S. trade policy at and discovered the following five books under the "Customers who bought items like this also bought" category:

F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare by Sam Seder

The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West by Joel Achenbach

Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean

If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb

Sight Unseen: Science, UFO Invisibility, and Transgenic Beings by Budd Hopkins

Readers are warmly encouraged to explain this set of rather odd correlations.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 15, 2006

If only Dubai Ports World could somehow run our ports

I'll just file this announcement from Dubai Ports World under "irony" and move on:

DP World, a leading global marine terminal operator, has become the first global company in the transport and logistics industry to gain certification to an international standard for its security management systems and operations. Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), an independent international certification body, has audited DP World for compliance with the international standard ISO/PAS 28000:2005 at both the corporate head office in Dubai, UAE, and its chosen site, Djibouti Container Terminal....

As a consequence of DP World’s adoption and implementation of the standard, its network of ports will have the ability to effectively implement mechanisms and processes to address any security vulnerabilities at strategic and operational levels, as well as establish preventive action plans. All terminals will also be required to continually assess security measurements in place to both protect its business interests and ensure compliance with international regulatory requirements such as the ISPS Code and other international supply chain security initiatives. The standard will complement all international security legislative codes DP World already conforms to at its terminals.

Hat tip: Michael Levi.

posted by Dan at 07:28 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's get some odds of the Pope being burned in effigy

The BBC reports that some Muslims are none too keen on what the Pope said yesterday... or rather, who the Pope quoted yesterday:

A statement from the Vatican has failed to quell criticism of Pope Benedict XVI from Muslim leaders, after he made a speech about the concept of holy war.
Speaking in Germany, the Pope quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor who said the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things.

Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution on Friday criticising the Pope for making "derogatory" comments.

The Vatican said the Pope had not intended to offend Muslims....

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the Pope's remarks "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world"....

In his speech at Regensburg University, the German-born Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The emperor's words were, he said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict said "I quote" twice to stress the words were not his and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added in the concluding part of his speech.

"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Click here for the controversial excerpts from the speech. And here's a link to the full text of the speech, as posted by the Vatican.

Question to readers -- will this be the sequel to the Muhammed cartoon controversy, something not quite as serious, or something even more serious?

UPDATE: OK, less than 24 hours for the burning of the Pope in effigy. If the Feiler Faster Thesis ever gets applied to world politics, I expect to see effigy-burning take place within an hour of whatever triggers the controversy.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole has little sympathy for the Pope, "The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations."

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Mexico returns to normality

James C. McKinley reports in the New York Times that after an interesting period of protest, Mexico is now returning to normal:

Supporters of a leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election this summer were tearing down five miles of tents on Thursday that have blockaded this capital’s central avenues for six weeks.

“It’s an emotional situation,” Juan Gutiérrez Calva, 45, a street vendor, said as he packed up his tent. “I’m calm. I’m not sad or happy. It was always clear that we were not going to advance much toward a real democracy in this country.”

The move signaled a shift by their leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, who says he was robbed of an election victory.

Having lost a legal battle for a full recount, and facing a steady defection of supporters, Mr. López Obrador is now striving to find a way to remain a political force over the coming six years, while Felipe Calderón, a conservative, serves as president.

It is an interesting irony that one of the reasons for this is Mr. López Obrador's self-defeating strategy -- by alienating so many of his supporters, he created a consensus for Calderón that did not exist at the time of the election:
Now even Mr. López Obrador’s aides acknowledge that he is losing some support among middle-class liberals and influential leftist politicians and intellectuals, as Mexicans seem prepared to move on from the election dispute, even if Mr. López Obrador is not.

The founder of his party, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, for instance, published a letter on Thursday accusing Mr. López Obrador and his inner circle of being intolerant of dissent.

“It worries me profoundly, the intolerance and demonization, the dogmatic attitude that prevails around Andrés Manuel for those of us who do not accept unconditionally his proposals and who question his points of view and decisions,” he wrote.

And Carlos Fuentes, the giant of Mexican letters, also assailed Mr. López Obrador this week for continuing to insist there was widespread fraud in the election, while he never challenged the elections of his party’s members to the Legislature.

“There could have been fraud in the Chamber of Deputies, there could have been fraud in the Senate, but there wasn’t,” he said. “There was only fraud for the presidency of the republic. How strange, no? I don’t believe it.”

There have been other signs of weakening support. Mr. López Obrador’s party voted down a slate of his closest allies for leadership positions in Congress, choosing the leaders of other factions. Two prominent governors from his party have also recognized Mr. Calderón’s victory.

The questioning extends to the voters. Several said in interviews that the prolonged blockade of the city’s central avenues and main square, as well as Mr. López Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat, only confirmed the accusations of his political enemies that he was autocratic and had little regard for courts or the law.

posted by Dan at 09:02 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Won't you take me to.... Think Tank Town?

I was recently made aware of a place called Think Tank Town. edits and publishes columns submitted by 10 prominent think tanks on a rotating basis every other weekday. Each think tank is free to choose its authors and the topics it believes are most important and timely.

For better or for worse, the Council on Foreign Relations chose me to provide a precis of U.S. Trade Strategy:

U.S. trade policy is at a crossroads between pursuing freer trade or fairer trade. A free trade approach would jumpstart Doha by cutting agricultural subsidies or allowing greater cross-border movement of foreign workers; pursuing free trade agreements with South Korea, India, or Japan if the Doha round cannot be restarted, and pledging an all-out political push for the renewal of TPA in early 2007. A fair trade approach would refuse to make further concessions in the Doha round of negotiations until developing countries and the European Union demonstrate a greater receptivity to American exports; halting bilateral free trade agreements with developing countries; and relying more on "managed trade" arrangements, unilateral trade sanctions, escape clauses and safeguard mechanisms to rebalance U.S. trade.

The free trade orientation provides a more coherent set of economic policies, but carries a significant political risk. Adopting a free trade orientation will promote economic growth, control inflation, and reaffirm U.S. economic leadership to the rest of the world. At the current moment, however, freer trade runs against the tide of public and congressional opinion -- the political price of this policy will be steep. The fair trade orientation provides a more popular set of policies, but carries a significant policy risk. Adopting a tough position on slowing down imports while boosting exports will resonate strongly with many Americans. Because almost any trade barrier can be advocated on grounds of fairness to some group, however, special interests can easily hijack this policy orientation. Internationally, such a policy will be viewed as an abdication of U.S. economic leadership. Slowing down imports will encourage other countries to erect higher trade barriers against U.S. exports. Any kind of global trade war would severely damage the American economy -- and American workers.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How much meritocracy is there in American politics?

In my last appearance, Mickey Kaus and I debated whether Paris Hilton's rise to fame was proof that there was a meritocracy within different American subcultures (Mickey and Bob Wright follow up on that question here).

This question came back to mind as I was perusing Chris Cillizza's blog on the latest primary results:

Famous Last Names: Last night's results in Rhode Island proved that the Chafee name is still a powerful brand in the state's politics. But Lincoln Chafee wasn't the only candidate who benefitted from his last name last night. Attorney John Sarbanes (D), the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), won the primary in the open 3rd District House seat in Maryland. The seat, which is being vacated by Senate nominee Ben Cardin, has a strong Democratic lean and Sarbanes should have little trouble winning it this November when a number of other political legacies are on the line. There are plenty of other famous last names on the ballot this fall. In Delaware, Beau Biden (D) -- son of Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- is seeking the state Attorney General's office. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, officially claimed the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in November. Across the Hudson in New York, another Cuomo looks likely to hold a statewide office.
Now, this penomenon has existed in one form or another since the dawn of the republic (see Adams, John Quincy). And the children of politicians have often acquitted themselves well as statesmen (again, see Adams, John Quincy -- as Secretary of State, not President).

Still, a question to my colleagues in American politics -- to what extent has politics become a hereditary sport?

posted by Dan at 08:06 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Paulson's big speech

Your humble blogger is now back in the USA, but jet-lagged and buried under lots of e-mail and lecture notes.

Sooo.... devoted readers of this space should read Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's big speech on the global economy. Paulson is headed to China next week, and this will be his template in future economic negotiations. It's worth noting that in the three months Paulson has been Treasury Secretary, he's received more attention than John Snow received during his last three years on the job.

One interesting part:

Protectionist policies do not work and the collateral damage from these policies is high. By closing off competition and blocking the forces of change, protectionism reduces the losses of the present by sacrificing the opportunities of the future. Jobs saved in the short term job are off-set by more job losses and a lower standard of living in the future.

I believe it is the responsibility of all nations to search for ways to moderate income disparities and help those who lose their jobs to international competition. We in America must think creatively about how to assist those who fall behind. As the President has repeatedly emphasized, the most effective method for generating new, high-quality jobs, and higher living standards, is to develop the skills and the technologies that promote economic competitiveness. This means helping people of all ages pursue first rate education and training opportunities.

Because I care deeply about the competitiveness of the U.S. economy I will be an outspoken advocate for maintaining – and extending – free and fair trade. The United States wants open markets. We welcome foreign investment. And we seek partners to join us in advancing a global agenda that will help realize the benefits of economic liberalization and competition. We will not heed the siren songs of protectionism and isolationism.

All well and good... but I am immediately suspicious of any politician who articulates a program of "free and fair trade." It's one of those terms of art that functions more as a Rorshach test of how people feel about trade -- everyone supports it, but no two people agree on precisely what it means.

posted by Dan at 06:05 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How do we classify the embassy attack in Syria?

Over at Open University, I posted the following question last week:

While security officials are largely focused on organized terror groups like Al Qaeda, lone attackers like Mr. Jaoura present a new challenge. They are hard to track and even harder to stop, making them an especially difficult target for the police and security officials.

"No force on earth could have prevented an attack like this," said a senior Jordanian security official, who said Mr. Jaoura was surprisingly forthcoming under interrogation. "He was not an Islamist. He was isolated, and he did it on his own."

With tensions soaring high in much of the Middle East in the aftermath of Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the risk of copycat attacks has grown higher....

If you read the whole story, this seems like the kind of attack that, in the United States, would qualify as a drive-by shooting rather than "Islamofascism."
Now, the Syrian attack does not qualify as a drive-by shooting. At the same time, the odds of success of such an enterprise in Damascus seem very low -- as the Guardian points out:
Peter Ford, Britain's ambassador to Syria, told CNN that the incident did not seem similar to an al-Qaida attack, but appeared to be "an operation by a small group".

Security forces have clashed with Islamist militants several times since last year, usually in raids carried out to arrest them.

Hugh Macleod, a freelance reporter at the scene, said hundreds of troops and other security personnel were at the embassy following the attack.

"This looks to have been a suicide mission by Islamist militants," Macleod told Guardian Unlimited. "This is one of the most heavily guarded streets in Damascus.

"President Bashar al-Assad has his office on the same street, the EU building is here ... there are a number of embassies, including the Chinese embassy, which is next to the US building."

So, either a) Al Qaeda's having a really bad draft year, or; b) This was a local operation with zero ties to AQ.

I'll leave it to the commenters to sort this out.

posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 -- five years on

In an odd twist of fate, five years after the 9/11 attacks I'm again out of the country, and again in the U.K.

I have no idea what to do with that information, but then again, I have no idea what to say about the five-year anniversary.

I am sure this lack of ability on my part will not impair my readers from imparting their comments.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the BBC broadcast part 1 of The Path to 9/11 last night. I'm vaguely aware that many Clintonites have complained about the drama portion of this docudrama, and that some have complained about the religious background of the miniseries director. Having seen Part I, my take is that these objections are either overblown or ABC responded adroitly to them.

Having watched it, I didn't see anything flagrantly wrong with the Clinton portion -- none of the policy principals look like fools or incompetents. Some of them look like they did not place Al Qaeda as their highest priority, which is certainly accurate of both the Clinton and Bush adminisatrations. On the whole, it was surprisingly gripping -- perhaps because, in part I, there were victories (the capture of Ramzi, etc.) as well as defeats.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Having now seen part two as well, it strikes me that the complaint a partisan Democrat could lodge against the program was not what was included but what was omitted. There was no shot of President Bush reading My Pet Goat or otherwise looking wobbly on the day of the attack. There was no scene of Sandy Berger briefing the Bush team about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat, etc. On the whole, however, it was a well-constructed docudrama, and Harvey Keitel and Patricia Heaton were particularly good.

David Greenberg makes an interesting criticism of the whole enterprise:

For my part, I think it's an abuse of history to place much blame on either the Clinton or the Bush administration for "not doing more to prevent September 11" (as both teams are often alleged to have done, or not to have done). Anyone can second-guess others' actions with the benefit of hindsight. But historians are supposed to try get into the minds of the actors of a bygone era--and the time before September 11, 2001, does represent, in the matter of counterterrorism, a bygone era. Everybody thought about terrorism differently back then, and it's a historical fallacy to blame Sandy Berger or Condi Rice for not having a post-9/11 mindset.
Actually, it's worse than that -- the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings.

posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Open CIA secret prisons/Gitmo thread

Blogging might be intermittent over the next few days, as I will be heading to Oxford as an outside reader for a dissertation viva.

In the meantime, comment away on:

  • President Bush's recent admission of secret CIA prisons;
  • Bush's transfer of these prisoners to Gitmo to try them;
  • Resistance to this proposal from both Congress and the military;
  • The fallout this will inevitably have on the European allies that housed the CIA facilities.
  • Bush's attempt to exempt CIA personnel from the Geneva Concention restrictions on torture.
  • posted by Dan at 04:18 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

    The trouble with implementing fair trade

    The Financial Times' Hal Weitzman has an interesting story about the failure to enforce "fair trade" labels on items like coffee:

    “Ethical” coffee is being produced in Peru, the world’s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.

    This casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage.

    It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.

    As the board member of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer told the FT: “No certifier can guarantee they will purchase 100 per cent of a co-operative’s production, so how can they guarantee that every bag will be produced according to their standards?”

    Though certified coffee makes up less than 2 per cent of the global coffee trade it has become increasingly mainstream as large retailers such as Starbucks and McDonald’s adopt it.

    The FT visited five Peruvian smallholdings, all of which have Fairtrade certification.

    Each farm hires 12-20 casual coffee pickers during the harvest season. All house and feed their workers, which allows them to deduct 30 per cent from their wages.

    After that reduction from the legal daily minimum wage for casual agricultural workers of 16 soles ($5), farm owners are still obliged to pay at least 11.20 soles a day. In four of the five farms visited by the FT, pickers received 10 soles a day, while the other farm paid workers 12 soles a day.

    Luuk Zonneveld, managing director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the Bonn-based body that sets fair trade standards, told the FT that the certification system “is not fool- and leak-proof” but said the problem should be put in context.

    “Poor farmers often struggle to pay their workers fairly,” he said. “Why are casual labourers there at all? There are wider issues here. We need to ask why this goes on and what we can do to help.”

    Click here for a companion story by Weizman that gets at the details of the problem. The most interesting section of the latter piece comes here:
    “No certifier is able to check that at no time are workers paid below minimum wage,” says Luuk Zonneveld, Managing Director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) in Bonn. “This issue comes up everywhere. Poor people struggle to pay their workers fairly.”

    The FT’s findings cast doubt on the certification process. “The low pay issue wasn’t picked up in our audit because it wasn’t done at harvest season,” says Chris Wille, Chief of Sustainable Agriculture at Rainforest Alliance. However, Mr Wille says his organisation is aware of the problem and is developing a plan to tackle it.

    “There no way to enforce, control and monitor – in a remote rural area of a developing country – how much a small farmer is paying his temporary workers,” says the founder of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer. “Many farmers are earning less than minimum wage themselves.”

    Although farmers were paying casual labourers less than the minimum wage in four out of the five certified farms visited by the FT, Mr Zonneveld contends that low pay is not systemic in the coffee sector. That is a view contradicted by Eduardo Montauban, head of the Peruvian Coffee Chamber, a private exporters’ group. “No one in the industry is paying minimum wage,” says Mr Montauban. “It’s simply not feasible for producers.”

    This suggests the following:
    1) If fair traders really want workers to receive what they believe is a living wage, they're going to have raise the price of properlylabeled coffee;

    2) The Rainforest Alliance can't be all that serious about enforcement -- why conduct an audit during off-harvest time unless you are trying not to find violations?

    3) Simply demanding that coffee owners pay higher wages won't work -- that's not the market price for labor. This isn't because of evil multinational corporations -- it's the nature of commodity markets in general, plus the labor market in Peru

    Is there a solution to the problem? My solution would be to raise the price of fair trade coffee such that everyone in the distribution chain can receive higher wages, and let consumers decide whether the higher price is worth it.

    A perfect solution? Hardly -- but it's the one that is the most honest while not restricting employment in poor economies like Peru.

    posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, September 8, 2006

    The New York Times blows the lid off of pissant think tank contributions

    I've been known to question the value-added of think tanks from time to time, so I looked with interest at Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom's New York Times story on how Wal-Mart is potentially buying ideological support through it's support of consevative think tanks:

    As Wal-Mart Stores struggles to rebut criticism from unions and Democratic leaders, the company has discovered a reliable ally: prominent conservative research groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute.

    Top policy analysts at these groups have written newspaper opinion pieces around the country supporting Wal-Mart, defended the company in interviews with reporters and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington.

    But the groups — and their employees — have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant discount retailer: financing from the Walton Family Foundation, which is run by the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s three children, who have a controlling stake in the company.

    [Uh-oh, another potential payola scandal in the think tank community. We're talking millions here, right?--ed.] As it turns out, not so much, no:
    At least five research and advocacy groups that have received Walton Family Foundation donations are vocal advocates of the company.

    The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, for example, has received more than $100,000 from the foundation in the last three years, a fraction of the more than $24 million it raised in 2004 alone.

    ....the Walton Family Foundation gave Pacific Research [Institute] $175,000 from 1999 to 2004....

    ....the $20,000 Heritage has received from the Walton Family Foundation since 2000 amounts to less than 1 percent of its $40 million budget....

    Conservative groups are not the only ones weighing in on the Wal-Mart debate. Ms. Williams of Wal-Mart noted labor unions have financed organizations that have been critical of Wal-Mart, like the Economic Policy Institute, which received $2.5 million from unions in 2005.

    In plain English, the Walton Foundation gave AEI an average of $33,000 a year, PRI $35,000 a year, and a whopping $3,667 a year to Heritage.

    Besides the fact that the story reveals no link between the donations and think tank outputs, besides the fact that these groups would be ideologically predisposed to support Wal-Mart anyway (just as EPI would support the union position), it's worth stressing that in the think tank world, these are nothing amounts. These sums of money buy a B.A.-level RA and some cocktail shrimp at a reception. After reading the article, I'm not amazed that Wal-Mart is giving money to these think tanks -- I'm amazed they'e giving so little.

    This leads to a fundamental question -- what on earth motivated the New York Times to put this article on the front page of its Business section? Properly headlined, an article that blares, "Little Money Flowing Between Wal-Mart and Washington Think Tanks" wouldn't even have run, much less on the front page. Instead, we get,"Wal-Mart Finds an Ally in Conservatives."

    In Congress, there's a threshhold below which legislators are not required to report gifts because they are so minor. The sums we're talking about here are below the threshhold to motivate a NYT story.

    UPDATE: For the record, I have received no money or gifts from Wal-Mart at any time.

    And frankly, I'm a little hurt.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Volokh, David Bernstein also has some fun with the article.

    YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's an example of a Heritage analyst -- the very same one who's cited as pro-Wal-Mart in the story -- adopting an anti-Wal-Mart position. Thanks to Heritage's Khristine Brookes for the pointer. [You remembered to ask her for cash, right?--ed. D'oh!!]

    posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Today's debate about the yuan

    In his "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, Tyler Cowen makes a counterintuitive argument:

    Contrary to popular opinion, China may be good for our trade balance. American consumers seem determined to spend money, and Chinese businessmen have made the bill cheaper.

    It is not the case that China is simply draining the United States of money. Most of the growth in Chinese exports to the United States has come from switching manufacturing and assembly from other, more expensive, Asian countries. In 1985, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea accounted for 52.3 percent of America’s trade deficit. By 2005, this percentage had fallen to 40.9 percent, in part because of cost savings from buying Chinese....

    The Chinese keep the yuan low, relative to the dollar, by buying up United States Treasury securities; as of early 2006, the Chinese central bank held up to $470 billion in Treasury securities. This huge accumulation of relatively low-yielding assets is the investment strategy of risk-averse bureaucrats, but it may bring longer-term benefits. Those assets can someday be sold or otherwise transferred to underdiversified Chinese financial institutions. The accumulation gives the Chinese a stake in American prosperity and signals that the Chinese are committed to long-term participation in the global economy. On the American side, the Treasury market is more liquid and the budget deficit can be financed at lower cost.

    The yuan should not, as matters stand, float freely with free capital movements. Large quantities of Chinese savings, currently restricted to the domestic currency, would probably flee the country, worsening the serious solvency problems at Chinese banks. The Chinese must first clean up their banking system before they can have free capital markets. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a market-determined value for the yuan might well be lower than today’s exchange rate, not higher....

    Revaluation advocates claim that the Chinese need a stronger currency to prevent their economy from “overheating.” China may indeed not be stable. But it is unlikely that the United States government can successfully micromanage another country of 1.3 billion people into a soft landing. Chinese economic data is very poor and Americans do not have a good record in advising transition economies. The Chinese recipe for economic growth, which encouraged exports, seems to be working, although it ran counter to efforts by American economists and policy makers to promote the privatization of state-owned companies.

    The climb of the Chinese economy out of Communism and into prosperity has brought the world, and the United States, a free lunch. Consumer goods of many kinds are cheaper and the Chinese are likely to generate many scientific and technical innovations. Steering the value of the Chinese currency — from Washington — is unlikely to increase those gains. The United States should not be spending its international political capital on yuan revaluation, which is at best a nonevent.

    This column has caused something of a ripple in the economics portion of the blogosphere. See Greg Mankiw for a supportive post.

    For more critical takes see Brad DeLong and particularly Brad Setser (Cowen responds to Setser here).

    I had to write about this issue in a white paper for U.S. Trade Strategy, so a few quick thoughts on the matter:

    1) Debating about what happens to the yuan if China liberalizes its capital markets is pretty much a red herring at this point, because it's not happening anytime soon. I lean towards Tyler's view that the yuan would likely fall, because the amount of Chinese savings that would leave would dwarf the amount of investment capital that would flow in (one of the scarier facts about the Chinese economy is that to my knowledge no one has any idea of how to gauge the efficiency of recent Chinese investments). Again, though, it's a red herring.

    2) The debate boils down to whether you believe a small shift in the trade balance, which would be caused by a small revaluation of the yuan, is worth the large amounts of political and diplomatic capital required to get China to move. The Brads think the answer is yes, because any nudge towards reducing global imbalances is a good thing, and such a reduction would prevent U.S. overinvestment in nontradables. Tyler thinks that U.S.policymakers should swallow a dose of humble pie and recognize that given the current domestic political economy of China, us nudging them to devalue might make sense in theory but not practice.

    On this point I'm moe sympathetic to the Brads, but in the end concur with Tyler that no poicy wonks have been willing to acknowledge the downsides of a devaluation gone wrong. Those scare me just as much as the long-term imbalances.

    I fully expect my readers to weigh in on the matter.

    posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, September 7, 2006

    When is it a civic uprising and when is it populism run amok?

    During the eighties there was a raging ideological debate within the United States about which regime was more brutal and/or repressive, El Salvador or Nicaragua. It was impossible to condemn or support both governments -- the ideological divide was too strong.

    I bring this up because there's an interesting contrast to make between developments in Mexico and Bolivia. In the former country, James C. McKinley offers a sympathetic explanation in the New York Times for why Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to keep a third of the country mobilized behind him:

    [W]hy do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?

    One reason is history. After decades of one-party rule sustained by fraudulent elections, many Mexicans still deeply distrust their institutions and courts. But it is also because Mexicans have a very different notion of electoral fraud than voters in the United States, a notion that goes beyond stuffing ballot boxes....

    For instance, most of Mr. López Obrador’s supporters complain bitterly about the “intervention” of President Fox in the election. They talk about “a state election” and the “imposition” of the candidate from Mr. Fox’s conservative party, Felipe Calderón, whom the electoral tribunal finally proclaimed president-elect on Tuesday.

    There is no doubt that Mr. Fox used his position as president and his official tours to campaign vigorously against Mr. López Obrador. Though he never mentioned the leftist candidate by name, he used code words for him, railing against populism, demagogy and false messiahs....

    The magistrates’ decision not to see the errors on tally sheets as evidence of fraud has fed suspicions that the court cannot be trusted, a theory that Mr. López Obrador reiterates in every speech and which is fortified by the country’s long history of corrupt judges, though no proof has been presented.

    Mr. López Obrador’s followers also have no confidence in the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized the election. In October 2003, when congressional leaders were making deals to appoint new members to the institute’s governing board, Mr. López Obrador’s party was shut out. Since then the leftists have regarded just about every decision the electoral institute makes with suspicion.

    In the end, the court ruling may have put Mr. Calderón in the president’s office, but it has not dispelled feelings among Mr. López Obrador’s supporters that they were robbed. “What more proof do you need?” said one López Obrador supporter, Enrique Ramírez, after the ruling. “At his rallies, Andrés Manuel has given us the proof of fraud, and we believe him, or at least I do.”

    Mr. López Obrador is now calling for a “national convention” this month to mount a civil disobedience campaign to “re-found the republic” and reform “institutions that don’t deserve any respect.”

    How far the movement can go and whether it can remain peaceful remains to be seen and may depend on how deep the suspicions of fraud, as seen in Mexico, run.

    What is sure is that Mr. López Obrador has defined himself for many voters as the candidate who lost the election, not through his own errors but because the entire apparatus of the state was against him. That is an old tune in Mexico, one that many know the words to.

    Depending on my readers' political inclinations, I have every confidence that they know whether they side with Calderón or Obrador.

    Now, we come to Bolivia, where there's a similar problem but the politics are reversed. Hal Weitzman explains in the Financial Times:

    Bolivia’s regional and social divisions may be deepened by allegations that President Evo Morales is seeking to dominate an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

    Four of the country’s nine departments have called a general strike for Friday in protest over proposals by Mr Morales’s allies in the Constituent Assembly to change the rules for voting within the body.

    The legislation passed by Bolivia’s Congress to establish the assembly specified that constitutional measures could be approved only with a two-thirds majority of the delegates. The governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) party wants to lower the limit to allow proposals to pass with a simple majority.

    The MAS controls 137 seats in the 255-seat body, short of the 170 votes it would need to have two-thirds of the assembly’s votes. Opposition parties say the proposed change in voting rules is a power-grab by what they view as an increasingly authoritarian government.

    The general strike has been called by departments in the eastern lowlands, where much of the opposition to Mr Morales is based. The four regions voted in June for greater autonomy from La Paz, and hope to use the assembly to entrench regional devolution in the new constitution. Many activists want to pull out of the assembly if they cannot secure autonomy.

    Mr Morales said the strikers “want to divide the country” and warned them he could use troops against civil unrest. “We call on the armed forces to assume their constitutional role to defend sovereignty and the national territory,” he said....

    Mr Morales’s approval ratings have fallen from 81 per cent in May to 61 per cent, according to a poll released this week by Apoyo, a respected regional pollster.

    My ideological predilections tell me to sympathize with the Bolivians as rejecting the erosion of the rule of law, but to tut-tut López Obrador’s supporters for similar (though not identical) actions.

    Question to readers: is there any non-fascist formulation whereby one can sympathize with either both governments or both protest movements?

    posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

    My top five foods at Trader Joe's

    One of the major perks of moving from the south side of Chicago to the west Boston suburbs is that even during rush hour, we are now less than 10 minutes away from Trader Joe's.

    In an ode to the store, Laura McKenna recently posted her top 5 favorite foods to get there. While I respect Laura's opinion on a great many matters, I fear that my list is very different from hers.

    Without further ado:

    1) Chocolate-covered espresso beans. Sweet Jesus, are they decadent. After many years of struggle and toil, my wife and I only consume these delectibles on the rarest of occasions. In a perfect world, however, I could scarf these things down every ten minutes with zero effect on my metabolism and BMI.

    2) Cuban-style black beans. Steam some rice, saute some onions, and heat these up -- you have a tasty side dish in no time.

    3) Lemonade. The perfect equipoise between sweet and tart, and a great treat during the summer.

    4) Frozen mushroom medley. Here I'll give a nod to Laura and say that for convenience's sake, having a bage of these in the freezer is good when there is a sudden emergency for a mushroom stir-fry.

    5) The rosemary-seasoned lamb roast. It's because of this product that my son once said, "There's nothing like some nice, cold lamb for dinner!"

    Now, if my children were doing this list, the Annie's Mac and Cheese and the frozen chicken nuggets would also be making appearances.

    posted by Dan at 02:46 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, September 6, 2006

    How to thoroughly annoy a potentially friendly Middle Eastern country

    In the past eight months, the United States has done a bang-up job of befriending the United Arab Emirates, a decentralized Gulf country that wants to be the trading hub for the Middle East.

    First, there was the whole Dubai Ports World fiasco.

    That, of course, helped the U.S.-UAE free trade agreement stall out.

    And now the Economist Cities Guide reports that the port of Dubai has further reason to be ticked off at the United States:

    Many Dubai residents are threatening to boycott American universities in protest against seemingly discriminatory security practices. The catalyst came on August 21st when immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport detained Saif Khalifa al-Sha’ali, a 26-year-old student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his wife and three children. The family was questioned for 26 hours until the UAE embassy intervened.

    Mr al-Sha'ali, who was completing a doctorate in computer science at Claremont University, also happens to be the nephew of Mohammad Hussain al-Sha’ali, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs. Scores of UAE nationals—and many expatriate residents—have written to local newspapers pledging to boycott American universities, which traditionally have been popular with Emiratis. The case has also inflamed general anti-American sentiment in the UAE—normally one of the more sympathetic Arab states—as it comes on the heels of the recent fighting in Lebanon, in which America was perceived to have backed Israel.

    posted by Dan at 10:57 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    I envy Jane Galt

    It's true, I have committed one of the seven deadly sins in thinking about Ms. Megan McArdle -- and it's not even one of the interesting sins.

    No, I am envious of her because she wrote this post, which contains this paragraph:

    I've had a taste of both academia and investment banking. The dominance hierarchy of banking is so strong that if you could get the bankers out of their pinstripes for an hour, you could have filmed your average pitch meeting for the Discovery Channel. Yet when it comes to hyper-obsession with invisibly fine status distinctions, no banker could hold a candle to the average academic--or journalist, for that matter.
    Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 10:27 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, September 5, 2006

    Are you safer than you were five years ago?

    The White House just released its new National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism. Here's the punchline:

    From the beginning, we understood that the War on Terror involved more than simply finding and bringing to justice those who had planned and executed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Our strategy involved destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement. Since 9/11, we have made substantial progress in degrading the al–Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support. Through the freedom agenda, we also have promoted the best long-term answer to al–Qaida's agenda: the freedom and dignity that comes when human liberty is protected by effective democratic institutions.

    In response to our efforts, the terrorists have adjusted, and so we must continue to refine our strategy to meet the evolving threat. Today, we face a global terrorist movement and must confront the radical ideology that justifies the use of violence against innocents in the name of religion. As laid out in this strategy, to win the War on Terror, we will:

  • Advance effective democracies as the long–term antidote to the ideology of terrorism;
  • Prevent attacks by terrorist networks;
  • Deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states;
  • Deny terrorists control of any nation they would use as a base and launching pad for terror; and
  • Lay the foundations and build the institutions and structures we need to carry the fight forward against terror and help ensure our ultimate success.
  • Given the supposed metamorphosis in the terror threat, why does only one of those bullet points address the "radical ideology" that is supposedly so threatening?

    Also worth checking out -- the Center for Strategic and International Studies balance sheet on Five Years After 9/11. There's a lot of congruence between the reports -- but CSIS does have the advantage of candor. For the Democrat take, click here.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, this GovExec interview with assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism Frances Townsend seems pretty candid to me.

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

    Inconveniently updating the truth my screw ups about global warming

    The Australian's Matthew Warren reveals that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is about to revise its global warming projections in a way that will be inconvenient for Al Gore:

    The world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years.

    A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained exclusively by The Weekend Australian, offers a more certain projection of climate change than the body's forecasts five years ago.

    For the first time, scientists are confident enough to project a 3C rise on the average global daily temperature by the end of this century if no action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Draft Fourth Assessment Report says the temperature increase could be contained to 2C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are held at current levels.

    In 2001, the scientists predicted temperature rises of between 1.4C and 5.8C on current levels by 2100, but better science has led them to adjust this to a narrower band of between 2C and 4.5C.

    The new projections put paid to some of the more alarmist scenarios raised by previous modelling, which have suggested that sea levels could rise by almost 1m over the same period.

    The report projects a rise in sea levels by century's end of between 14cm and 43cm, with further rises expected in following centuries caused by melting polar ice.

    Read the whole thing.

    Global warming is still a real phenomenon, and it will bring costs associated with it -- but any day when the worst-case scenario looks more than 50% better than it did yesterday is a very good day.

    UPDATE: OK, having read Tim Lambert and Gavin Schmidt, I'm withdrawing my endorsement of the Warren article. He appears to have "confused climate sensitivity (how much warming will eventually occur if we double CO2) with projected 21st century warming," according to Lambert. Which means the reduction of the worst-case scenario outcome is nonexistent.

    Apologies to one and all.

    posted by Dan at 04:35 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

    Blogging's become respectable... what a drag

    From today's Hotline Blogometer:

    Looking at the top 10 most trafficked blogs, only DailyKos, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, and Instapundit started out as lone blogger-hobbyists. The other 6 (including The Huffington Post, The Corner, and Think Progress) are either planned business enterprises, outgrowths of existing MSM pubs, or online presences of otherwise established orgs. Many may have a romantic ideal of bloggers as loners mashing away at a keypad in their pajamas, but the biggest and best blogs all feature intelligent professionals, often with advanced degrees, commenting on issues at least tangentially related to their field of expertise. As these enterprises gain in influence and profitability, should we really be that surprised as they become more professional as well?
    As one of those intelligent professionals with advanced degrees, my only regret is that I'm going to have to hear endless laments about how blogging was so much better during the early years... when it was about the music.

    UPDATE: More evidence of blogger professionalization (link via ISN's blog).

    posted by Dan at 02:15 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    The most blog-friendly country in Europe

    Here's a question: blogs have had the greatest political impact in which country in Europe?

    Answer after the jump....

    According to the Financial Times' Martin Arnold, the answer is... France:

    Next year's French presidential elections will be the first to take place since blogging caught the public imagination.

    With surveys showing the French are among Europe's the most active readers of blogs, the ruling UMP party for the first time invited 12 of the country's leading blogs to attend its youth convention in Marseilles as part of the press corps.

    The UMP's move is a sign that France is catching up with the US, where bloggers have been attending Republican and Democratic party conventions for years.

    "A big population of French people only get their news via the internet, so we wanted to reach them, as well as to create some excitement around the youth convention," says Thierry Solère, head of internet strategy at the UMP.

    Loïc Le Meur, author of one of France's best-known blogs - - says: "They have really created a buzz in the blogosphere. It is really very clever, as they have understood that they can reach several million people through us."....

    Last year campaigners in favour of the European constitution were caught out by the No campaign's domination of the online debate ahead of the French referendum that rejected the treaty.

    It has since become de rigueur for presidential candidates on left and right to start a blog. Ségolène Royal, the favourite to be the Socialist presidential candidate, has invited readers to submit ideas for a manifesto-style book she is publishing online....

    France has stolen a march on the rest of Europe in the blogosphère. More than 4.5m people have created a blog in France, or 18 per cent of the 26.9m people who have an internet connection, according to a study published last week by Ipsos.

    While 36 per cent of internet users visited blogs in France, this figure was only 24 per cent in the UK, 18 per cent in Italy and 9 per cent in Germany, according to a study in June by Média-métrie. France's blogging boom is being driven by the young: 80 per cent of French blogs were created by people aged 25 or under.

    Question to readers -- why France?

    posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, September 4, 2006

    Two steps forward for TNR Online

    Over the weekend, TNR Online has taken two steps forward to improve its online content.

    First, Lee Seigel got voted off the island. No point belaboring the utter stupidity involved here... though if you ewant an extra helping of schadenfreude , click over to this Brad DeLong post.

    Second, TNR has launched a new blog, entitled Open University. Here's its modus operandi:

    It's dedicated to thinking about not just the news of the day but also the news from the academy: Controversies in campus politics that warrant thoughtful discussion. Scholarship from our various disciplines that we think deserves a broader hearing. Ideas we had in doing our research that seem eerily relevant to something we read in The New York Times today.
    If you peruse the list of contributors, you'll see that Open University contains more than a few academics of some distinction.

    And then there's me.

    For my first contribution -- a response to Alan Wolfe -- click here.

    By academic standards, I'd label initial feedback as guardedly optimistic. As one commenter to the introductory post put it, "This is a good idea -- at least half the people on your contributors list should be worth reading."

    Trust me when I say that's a much higher percentage than you'd get at your typical university.

    Go check it out!!

    posted by Dan at 03:33 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    From Tragedy to Farce

    In response to more than a dozen requests at the American Political Science Association annual meeting to blog about this, here's a link to Dana Millbank's Washington Post piece from last week that catches up with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "Israel Lobby" road show:

    It was quite a boner.

    University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer was in town yesterday to elaborate on his view that American Jewish groups are responsible for the war in Iraq, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and many other bad things. As evidence, he cited the influence pro-Israel groups have on "John Boner, the House majority leader."

    Actually, Professor, it's "BAY-ner." But Mearsheimer quickly dispensed with Boehner (R-Ohio) and moved on to Jewish groups' nefarious sway over Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who Mearsheimer called " Von Hollen."

    Such gaffes would be trivial -- if Mearsheimer weren't claiming to be an authority on Washington and how power is wielded here. But Mearsheimer, with co-author Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School, set off a furious debate this spring when they argued that "the Israel lobby" is exerting undue influence in Washington; opponents called them anti-Semitic.

    Yesterday, at the invitation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they held a forum at the National Press Club to expand on their allegations about the Israel lobby. Blurring the line between academics and activism, they accepted a button proclaiming "Fight the Israel Lobby" and won cheers from the Muslim group for their denunciation of Israel and its friends in the United States.

    Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn't exactly scholarly.

    A few thoughts:
    1) Millbank's opening is nothing more than a cheap shot -- for the record, I thought "Beohner" was pronounced "boner" as well. It's that kind of snottiness that undermines the more trenchant factual critiques Millbank makes later in the piece.

    2) Millbank is a smart political reporter, and the fact that he and his editors opened the story in this way is indicative of the way the public debate over "The Israel Lobby" has transpired. Even though I think Mearsheimer and Walt had the kernel of a good idea in their original LRB essay, the essay was so riddled with slipshod rhetoric and historical inaccuracy that the idea was drowned out by claims of anti-Semitism and counterclaims of philo-Semitism.

    3) Mearsheimer and Walt's tendency to present this argument only to friendly fora -- and to use increasingly sloppy rhetoric to characterize their argument -- suggests that they have no intention of modifying their tone or their thesis. I'm not surprised, given the crap they've had to deal with on this topic -- but I am disappointed (indeed, one wonders if Mearsheimer and Walt's CAIR presentation is an example of Cass Sunstein's "echo chamber" effect).

    4) I think we're at the point where it is time to recognize that it will be impossible to have anything close to a high-minded debate on this topic when the starting point is "The Israel Lobby" essay. Don't get me wrong -- besides the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt badly defined their independent variable, miscoded one alternative explanation, omitted several other causal variables, poorly operationalized their dependent variable, and failed to fact-check some of their assertions, it's a bang-up essay. With this foundation, however, any debate is guaranteed to topple into the mire of anti-Semitic accusations, Godwin's Law, and typing in ALL CAPS.

    The hardworking staff here at will look forward, in a few months, to someone restarting this debate from a more reliable factual and conceptual base.

    posted by Dan at 07:35 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, September 1, 2006

    Thinking about The J Curve

    I have a review of Ian Bremmer's The J Curve in today's Wall Street Journal (alas, subscriber only):

    Ian Bremmer has a big idea, and the title of his book literally spells it out. He argues in “The J Curve” that the relationship between “stability” and “political and economic openness to the outside world” resembles nothing so much as the letter “J.”

    Countries that close themselves off completely from outside influence—North Korea, for instance—can retain a measure of political stability. They inhabit the low up-curl of the J’s left side. Countries that are completely open—liberal democracies like the U.S.—are even more stable. They occupy the highest precincts of J’s tall main stem. As countries move from closure to openness, though, political stability will fall before it rises—they slide downward, at least at first, to the low well of the J. In some cases, the fall is so precipitous that it leads to failed states, such as Yugoslavia, Somalia and Nigeria....

    For those who have paid little attention to the outside world for the past few years, “The J Curve” offers a useful primer. For everyone else, it will serve as a warning about the danger of fitting the world’s geopolitical complexity into a single letter.

    You'll have to read the review to see why I was not convinced. Or, click here to view an excerpt from the book and draw your own conclusions.

    I should also point out that I'm in the decided minority on being unimpressed, if these blurbs and these reviews are any indication.

    Full disclosure: Ian was a few years ahead of me in the Stanford Ph.D. program in political science -- and he was nice enough to put me on The J Curve's blogroll.

    posted by Dan at 09:17 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Talk about talking across generations....

    I attended a panel today entitled, "Reconstituting Intellectual Power in the Academy: A Conversation Across Generations," in which one of the elder members of the panel said (roughly) the following:

    You have to understand, when I was in school we all thought the U.S. government was corrupt and inefficient. We were all influenced by the Teapot Dome scandal.....

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