Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry reminds us why he lost in 2004

From David Stout, "Kerry and G.O.P. Spar Over Iraq Remarks," New York Times, October 31, 2006:

Debate over the Iraq war seemed to reach a new intensity today, with President Bush and other Republicans accusing Senator John Kerry of insulting rank-and-file American troops and Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, lashing back at some of his critics as “assorted right-wing nut jobs.”

The latest flap, in which Mr. Kerry accused Republicans of distorting what he said on the West Coast on Monday, was another example of the heated rhetoric surrounding the war issue as the Congressional elections approach. President Bush said Monday that a Democratic triumph in the races for the House and Senate would amount to a victory for terrorists.

Mr. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who is believed to be considering another run for the White House in 2008, set the stage for bitter back-and-forth as he addressed a gathering at Pasadena City College in California.

The senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Angelides, opened with several one-liners, joking at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas but now “lives in a state of denial.”

Then, Mr. Kerry said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

President Bush, campaigning this afternoon in Georgia for a Republican House candidate, condemned Mr. Kerry’s remarks as “insulting and shameful.”

“The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots — and Senator Kerry owes them an apology,” Mr. Bush said, according to the White House.

Earlier today, Mr. Kerry’s remarks were denounced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and, like Mr. Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, as well as by a group of House Republicans.

“Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. McCain said any suggestion that only the poorly educated would agree to serve in Iraq is “an insult to every soldier serving in combat.”....

But if anyone should apologize, Mr. Kerry said, it is President Bush and his administration officials who started the ill-conceived war. He said his remarks, which he conceded were part of a “botched joke,” had been distorted and called the criticism directed at him the work of “assorted right-wing nut jobs and right-wing talk show hosts.” (emphasis added)

[OK, on a gut level this is pretty offensive to someone in the military. But is Kerry right about a lack of education being correlated with military enrollment?--ed.]

The evidence seems mixed. Consider this Terry Neal summary in the Washington Post from last year:

David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland, said contrary to conventional wisdom both the poorest and the wealthiest people are underrepresented at the bottom of the military ranks, for completely different reasons. This trend held for both from the conscription years of Vietnam through at least the late 1990s.

Poorer people, he said, are likely to be kept out of the military by a range of factors, including higher likelihood of having a criminal record or academic deficiencies or health problems.

Back during Vietnam, "the top [economic class] had access for means of staying out of the military," said Segal. "The National Guard was known to be a well-to-do white man's club back then. People knew if you if joined the guard you weren't going to go to Vietnam. That included people like Dan Quayle and our current commander in chief. If you were rich, you might have found it easier to get a doctor to certify you as having a condition that precluded you from service. You could get a medical deferment with braces on your teeth, so you would go get braces -- something that was very expensive back then. The wealthy had more access to educational and occupational deferments."

Today's affluent merely see themselves as having more options and are not as enticed by financial incentives, such as money for college, Segal said.

The Army was able to provide socioeconomic data only for the 2002 fiscal year. Its numbers confirm Segal's findings that service members in the highest and lowest income brackets are underrepresented, but because those numbers chronicle enlistments in the year immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks, it's difficult to ascertain whether this was a normal recruiting year.

Also of note: Jerald G. Bachman, Peter Freedman-Doan, Patrick M. O'Malley, "Should U.S. Military Recruiters Write Off the College-Bound?" Armed Forces & Society 27 (July 2001): 461 - 476:
This article examines trends and relationships involving high school seniors' military service plans, their college plans, and their actual entry into military service. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the Monitoring the Future project show that, although individuals planning to complete college are less likely than average to plan on military service, the upward trend in college plans cannot account for many of the year-to-year changes in military propensity. Moreover, it now appears that the majority of young men expecting to enter military service also expect to complete a four-year college program. Most important, planning for college does not reduce enlistment rates among high propensity males, although for some of them it may delay entry by several years. These findings suggest that educational incentives for military service are now particularly important, given the high proportions of potential recruits with college aspirations.
And, finally, Meredith A. Kleykamp, "College, Jobs, or the Military? Enlistment During a Time of War," Social Science Quarterly 87 (June 2006):
This article questions what factors are associated with joining the military after high school rather than attending college, joining the civilian labor force, or doing some other activity. Three areas of influence on military enlistment are highlighted: educational goals, the institutional presence of the military in communities, and race and socioeconomic status.

The analysis uses data from a recent cohort of high school graduates from the State of Texas in 2002, when the United States was at war, and employs multinomial logistic regression to model the correlates of post-high-school choice of activity in this cohort.

Results confirm the hypothesis that a higher military institutional presence increases the odds of enlisting in the military relative to enrolling in college, becoming employed, or doing some other activity after high school. Additionally, college aspirations are clearly associated with the decision to enroll in college versus enlist and also increase the odds of joining the military rather than the civilian labor market, or remaining idle. Unlike previous studies, few racial and ethnic differences are found.

Voluntary military enlistment during wartime is associated with college aspirations, lower socioeconomic status, and living in an area with a high military presence.

Tim Kane, "Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005" Heritage Center for Data Analysis:
[I]t is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pen­tagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005....

the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) sup­port the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas.

Anyway, although I do like the description of Rush Limbaugh as "doughy," perhaps it would be best for the Dems if they took Kerry and locked him in a closet for the rest of the week.

UPDATE: Here's Kerry's explanation in fuller detail:

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.
OK, so the line as Kerry says he intended it is not as offensive as the New York Times story suggests. YouTube has video of Kerry making the quote in context.

The title to this post still stands, however -- this is a classic replay of Kerry's "global test" statement during the 2004 presidential debates. As Andrew Sullivan puts it: He

may not have meant it the way it came out. That doesn't matter. It's wrong to talk about the military that way - wrong morally, empirically and ethically. And the way he said it can be construed as a patronizing snub to the men and women whose lives are on the line. It's also dumb politically not to kill this off in one news cycle. Is Kerry not content to lose just one election? Does his enormous ego have to insist on losing two?

posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The Chinese tightrope walk on North Korea

People seem to be pleased about the DPRK decision to re-enter six-party talks.

Many commentators are also giving the credit to China for this breakthrough. Michael Moran at cfr.org points out:

China’s actions merit most attention. Susan Shirk, an Asian affairs specialist at the University of California, says “the North Korean nuclear test, by driving China to become part of the solution and averting conflict between China and Japan, shifted strategic ground in Northeast Asia” (YaleGlobal). More than ever, agrees CFR Vice President Gary Samore, China is in the driver’s seat.
This leads to an interesting question -- why did North Korea agree to jaw-jaw? I suggested earlier this month that Chinese economic pressure was the source for DPRK moderation. This New York Times report by Joseph Kahn does little to change my mind on this point:
China cut off oil exports to North Korea in September during heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Chinese trade statistics show.

The unusual move — the figures show China sold no crude oil at all to its neighbor in September — reduced sales for the year by about 7 percent from the similar period in 2005. China’s oil exports to North Korea, though uneven, had been averaging about 12,300 barrels a day.

North Korea depends on China for up to 90 percent of its oil supplies, much of which is sold on credit or for bartered goods, according to Chinese energy experts. Any sustained reduction could cripple its isolated and struggling economy.

There is no clear indication that the September figures represent a policy shift by China on providing vital food and fuel supplies to its neighbor and ally in the Korean War. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Oct. 9, after the period covered by the latest customs data.

But North Korea tested ballistic missiles in July, defying sharp warnings from Beijing. China supported a United Nations resolution condemning the missile tests, and urged that North Korea not take any steps that might “worsen tensions.”

“It is a sharp and sudden reduction at a sensitive time, so political considerations cannot be ruled out,” said He Jun, a Beijing-based energy expert and consultant. “China could be sending a clear signal.”

If that analysis is correct, it suggests that Beijing may seek to punish North Korea in a variety of ways, both open and unspoken, in the aftermath of its nuclear test.

Although China has long protected North Korea against outside pressure, analysts said the nuclear test surprised and angered the Chinese leadership. Many here considered North Korea’s nuclear technology primitive and argued that the country was using the threat of developing atomic bombs as an economic bargaining chip....

[L]ast spring Beijing followed Washington’s lead in freezing North Korean assets that the Treasury Department identified as connected to money laundering, according to Bush administration officials. Chinese officials never announced that they had done so, suggesting that they take some tough actions quietly.

Chinese experts on North Korea who took part in discussions of the nuclear issue this month said officials had discussed reducing oil shipments if North Korea continued to defy the outside world. Beijing’s response would be especially sharp if North Korea conducted more nuclear tests or declined to resume negotiations about dismantling its nuclear program, these experts said.

If Beijing was already using oil to warn North Korea in September, its response to the October test could be more severe.

What's really interesting about this is that the Chinese are denying any efforts at economic pressure.

I'd deny if I were them too -- because successful Chinese coercion opens up a can of worms Beijing does not want to see open. The moment that Chinese economic pressure against North Korea is perceived as successful, the question becomes, "When will China use its economic lever to put the squeeze on the DPRK regime?" Indeed, this was the point Anne Applebaum made a few weeks ago in Slate. If Chinese pressure turns out to have worked, then it becomes that much tougher for China to take a backseat to the United States on this issue.

The thing is, China -- and South Korea -- want the impossible. They want a declawed but intact DPRK to act as a buffer between Beijing and Seoul. If this were possible, then China wouldn't need to worry about the long-term regional threat posed by a unified Korea, and Seoul wouldn't have to worry about the costs of bankrolling North Korea's transition.

It's not possible, however, because this regime wants absolute domestic control, and that's incompatible with the kind of reforms that would be necessary to survive.

I don't have a great answer to this problem, by the way -- but Beijing doesn't either.

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Beware the reverse Michael Moore effect!!

Does everyone remember how the release of Fahrenheit 911 triggered a debate about whether its huge box-office success presaged Bush's downfall in the 2004 election?

I bring this up because of this Reuters report by Steve Gorman:

The provocative film "Death of a President," which imagines the assassination of George W. Bush, bombed at the North American box office with a meager $282,000 grossed from 143 theaters in its first weekend.

The pseudo-documentary played at 91 U.S. theaters and 52 Canadian cinemas during its first three days of release, averaging an estimated $1,970 per screen, according to distributor Newmarket Films, which reportedly paid $1 million for U.S. rights to the picture.

"That's a very poor opening," said Brandon Gray, an analyst at industry watcher Web site boxofficemojo.com....

Newmarket distribution chief Richard Abramowitz called the opening tally for "Death of a President" "a little disappointing" in light of the "enormous awareness" generated by the film since its premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Congress gets body-slammed in Foreign Affairs

Neither Peter Beinart nor Matthew Yglesias will make libertarians feel all that sanguine about how a Democratic takeover would affect U.S. foreign economic policy. Beinart fears, correctly, that any Democrat taking their economicpolicymaking cues from Lou Dobbs is going to wind up having to embrace a full-throated economic nationalism that in the end won't do much but lower economic growth. Yglesias fears, correctly, that Democrats have not properly appreciated the way in which trade policy helps advance U.S. security interests.

So I'm not feeling good -- and then I stumble across Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann's "When Congress Checks Out" in Foreign Affairs:

One of Congress' key roles is oversight: making sure that the laws it writes are faithfully executed and vetting the military and diplomatic activities of the executive. Congressional oversight is meant to keep mistakes from happening or from spiraling out of control; it helps draw out lessons from catastrophes in order to prevent them, or others like them, from recurring. Good oversight cuts waste, punishes fraud or scandal, and keeps policymakers on their toes. The task is not easy. Examining a department or agency, its personnel, and its implementation policies is time-consuming. Investigating possible scandals can easily lapse into a partisan exercise that ignores broad policy issues for the sake of cheap publicity.

The two of us began our immersion in Congress 37 years ago, participating in events such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's extended hearings on the Vietnam War. Throughout most of our time in Washington, tough oversight of the executive was common, whether or not different parties controlled the White House and Congress. It could be a messy and contentious process, and it often embarrassed the administration and its party. But it also helped prevent errors from turning into disasters and kept administrations more sensitive to the ramifications of their actions and inactions.

In the past six years, however, congressional oversight of the executive across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed. The few exceptions, such as the tension-packed Senate hearings on the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, only prove the rule. With little or no midcourse corrections in decision-making and implementation, policy has been largely adrift. Occasionally -- as during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year -- the results have been disastrous.

That Ornstein and Mann wrote this in Foreign Affairs is telling for two reasons.

First, Ornstein and Mann are about as mainstream as you can get in the world of congressional analysis. We're not talking partisan hacks here. To quote Joe-Bob Briggs, "These guys are the feedlot." For Mann and Ornstein to co-author this kind of article at this point is telling.

Even more telling -- that it ran in Foreign Affairs. I say this because if there's one thread that runs through most foreign policymaker wannabes, it's a desire to have Congress butt out of foreign policy. No one who works in the executive branch on foreign policy ever wants to deal with Congress on anything -- because it's a colossal pain. The natural inclination of most foreign policymakers is to work for the executive branch. And yet, this argument gets the Foreign Affairs imprimatur.

I don't like seeing U.S. foreign economic policy shift in a more populist direction, and I look forward to bashing Pelosi and company if that happens. But if forced to choose, I'll trade that off for greater congressional oversight.

UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett offers his support for gridlock as well.

posted by Dan at 12:15 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 30, 2006

The good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read recently

Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com have made their displeasure known to me about my lack of monthly book recommendations. When we last left off, I had posted my summer book recommendations -- and let's face it, we're pretty much past indian summer as well as the real thing. For this, I offer my profuse apologies and no good explanation, beyond the fact that I've been traveling a lot.

However, sitting around in airports waiting for planes has allowed me to read a fair number of books in recent weeks. So, without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read over the past six weeks:


1) The Elephant In The Room, by Ryan Sager. A dissection of the growing regional and intellectual fissures within the GOP. If Ryan is lucky, his book will be to the 2006 election what Tom Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas? was to the 2004 election.

2) America Against The World, by Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes. Polling guru Andrew Kohut and National Journal columnist Bruce Stokes compare and contrast American attitudes with those of twenty other countries that are polled in the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Their book is not only about questions of foreign policy – they want to know if Americans hold views on God and man that put them out of step with the rest of the world. The most intersting findings are the issues in which it is Europe, rather than the United States, that holds truly distinctive beliefs.

3) The Foreign Policy Disconnect, by Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton. A great companion piece to the Kohut and Stokes book, this one examines the gaps between the foreign policy beliefs of ordinary Americans and those of its policymaking elites. Compared to America Against The World, this book is both more scholarly and more ideological -- tucked inside one of this book's footnotes is an almost random suggestion for a "worldwide workers movement" as a way to close the foreign policy disconnect.

4) Blessed Among Nations, by Eric Rauchway. If Open University has done nothing else, it encouraged me to read this great short book by my co-blogger about how the United States was influenced by the globalization of the 19th century -- most obviously, it sustained the maket-friendly approach to economic policymaking. The empirical chapters are fascinating, and marred only by a truly bizarre conclusion where Rauchway bemoans the Federal Reserve's failure to keep around a World War One committee that had to approve major bank loans to the private sector!!

5) What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts? by Michael Bérubé. I'll have more to say about this book in the near future, but for now I'd just say that what's good about this book is Bérubé’s attempt to explain the actual craft of teaching American literature. The book shows that university teaching is a profession, with a set of rules, norms and practices that are not connected to one political ideology or another. Even if the academy is overwhelmingly populated by liberals, the professional norms evinced by Bérubé serve as the most important bulwark against political corruption.


1) Making Globalization Work, by Joseph Stiglitz. Think of nice thing to say, think of nice thing to say.... OK, this book is a marked improvement over Globalization and Its Discontents. It offers a much fuller articulation of how Stiglitz would like to see the global economy organized. The only problems are that there's very little treatment of the economic objections to his advice, and that the set of proposed recommendations creates so many political contradictions that the whole thing is a nonstarter. Beyond that, this book confirms the best short assessment of Stiglitz I've read, which comes on p. 193 of Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker:

Stiglitz had helped to create a branch of economics that explained the failure of standard market assumptions; he was like a boy who discovers a hole in the floor of an exquisite house and keeps shouting and pointing at it. Never mind that the rest of the house is beautiful--that in nine out of ten cases, the laws of suply and demand do work; Stiglitz had found a hole, a real hole, and he had built his career on it. Naturally, this had consequences for the way he viewed the world.
Making Globalization Work does a great job of explaining how to fix the hole, but doesn't ever address the question of whether fixing that hole would collapse the rest of the house.

2) Public Intellectuals: An Endangered Species?, Amitai Etzioni, ed. A cut-and-paste job of essays -- many of which are badly dated -- about public intellectuals going the way of the allosaurus.


1) Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is a great book, but I felt dirty reading it. The idea of highlighting Lincoln's greatness by examining how he treated both his political rivals (William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edwin Stanton, and Edward Bates) and his generals (McClellan, Grant, Meade) is ingenious. Goodwin suggests that two sources of Lincoln's greatness: his ego, which allowed him to tolerate with grace the machinations of his cabinet, and his political acumen, which allowed him to move on the slavery issue in such a way that he led the country without overreaching and antagonizing public opinion in the Union. This latter, populist skill is usually looked at askance in political commentary, so it was facinating to see a great man use it to good purposes.

And yet, after Goodwin's plagiarism scandals, I can't say I felt good after reading this book. There was always a part of me that was detached during my read, wondering who had written the page I was reading -- Goodwin, her RAs, or someone else entirely. Perhaps this book is a good example of Richard Posner's argument that plagiarism is an overrated sin. As a member of the academic guild, however, I fear I will never be able to embrace Posner's argument completely.

That should tide you all over for the month.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bill Parcells makes me very, very sad

As a New York Giants fan, I'll always harbor a soft spot for Bill Parcells.

However, after Parcells receives the Michael Lewis treatment in this long story for the NYT's new venture, Play Magazine, I feel mostly sadness and disgust for this man:

Right now he is living alone in what amounts to a hotel room in Irving, Tex., whose sole virtue is that it is a 10-minute drive to both the Cowboys’ practice facility and Texas Stadium. It’s just him and whatever it is that keeps him in the game. For the longest time he pretended that he didn’t need it. He walked out of two jobs without having another in hand, and he has played hard-to-get with N.F.L. owners more times than any coach in N.F.L. history. After he quit the Jets, in 1999, he said at a press conference: “I’ve coached my last football game. You can write that on your little chalkboard. This is it. It’s over.” Now, even as his job appears to be making him sick, he has abandoned the pose. “As you get older,” he says, pointing to a screen, where the play is frozen, “your needs diminish. They don’t increase. They diminish. I need less money. I need less sex. But this — this doesn’t change.”

What this is, he can’t — or won’t — specify. But when your life has been defined by the pressure of competition and your response to it, there’s a feeling you get, and it’s hard to shake. You wake up each morning knowing the next game is all that matters. If you fail in it, nothing you’ve done with your life counts. By your very nature you always have to start all over again, fresh. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s nonetheless addictive. Even if you have millions in the bank and everyone around you tells you that you’re a success, you seek out that uncomfortable place.... “It’s a cloistered, narrow existence that I’m not proud of,” says Parcells. “I don’t know what’s going on in the world. And I don’t have time to find out. All I think about is football and winning. But hey — ” He sweeps his hand over his desk and points to the office that scarcely registers his presence. “Who’s got it better than me?”

Note to self: no matter how successful you might be as a blogger, never have Michael Lewis write the following paragraph about you:
Right now he is living alone in what amounts to a hotel room, whose sole virtue is that it houses the ultimate blogging computer. It’s just him and whatever it is that keeps him in the blogging game. For the longest time he pretended that he didn’t need it. He walked out of two group blogs without having another in hand, and he has played hard-to-get with Rupert Murdoch more times than any blogger in history. After he quit Open University, he said at a press conference: “I’ve written my last blog post. You can write that on your little chalkboard. This is it. It’s over.” Now, even as his job appears to be making him sick, he has abandoned the pose. “As you get older,” he says, pointing to a screen, where the text is frozen, “your needs diminish. They don’t increase. They diminish. I need less money. I need less sex. But this — this doesn’t change.”

posted by Dan at 06:46 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Is it just me or did the earth move for everyone?

Ever since Bush and Cheney went to the Vietnam analogy well in talking about Iraq, it strikes me that the political ground has shifted.

In the past week alone, the White House has jettisoned the "stay the course" rhetoric, Bush has said in a press conference that he's dissatisfied with the current situation, and military commanders on the ground have painted an even bleaker picture.

From a policy perspective, it's good to see that the president is starting to think about other alternatives to simply staying the course. From a political perspective, however, my hunch is that this shift in rhetoric will be a disaster.

Why? For the past five years, Democrats have been vulnerable on national security issues. Bush and the Republicans projected a clear image of taking the war to the enemy, and never yielding in their drive to defeat radical Islamists. The Democrats, in contrast, projected either an antiwar position or a "yes, but" position. The former looked out of step with the American people, the latter looked like Republican lite. No matter how you sliced it, the Republicans held the upper hand.

The recent rhetorical shift on Iraq, however, has flipped this phenomenon on its head. If Bush acknowledges that "stay the course" is no longer a statisfying status quo, he's acknowledging that the Republican position for the past few years has not worked out too well. If that's the case, then Republicans are forced to offer alternatives with benchmarks or timetables or whatever. The administration has had these plans before, but politically, it looks like the GOP is gravitating towards the Democratic position rather than vice versa.

If this is what the political optics look like, then the Republicans will find themselves in the awkward position of being labeled as "Democrat lite" in their positions on Iraq. And in elections, lite never tastes as good as the real thing.

If these midterms really function as a referendum on U.S. foreign policy, then the GOP is in big trouble.

Of course, my political prognostications should be taken for what they are worth -- which is very little.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How bad off is Generation Debt?

Earlier this year I blogged about whether twentysomething were genuinely facing tougher economic times than their predecessors -- or whether they were just whiners (click here for the latest example).

There's been a few reports issued this month that touch on this issue... and the evidence ranges from mixed to favorable.

This report on asset accumulation and savings among young Americans by Christopher Thornberg and Jon Haveman suggest a worrisome trend -- Generation Y doesn't save as much as prior generations:

In 1985, about 65 percent of Americans aged 25 to 34 owned some form of savings instrument... including traditional savings, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, and other financial investments, such as stocks and bonds, Keogh, IRA, and 401(k) accounts. Between 1985 and 2000, the proportion of this population that owned one or another of these savings instruments fell from 65 percent to 59 percent, a decline of just under 6 percentage points. Between 2000 and 2004, the decline accelerated, when it fell another 4 percentage points, a pace two and a half times faster than in the previous 15 years.

This is consistent with a declining emphasis on savings within this group.... Table 2 indicates a decline in the use of regular interest-bearing savings accounts. At the same time the proportion of the population invested in stocks and bonds increased from 13.6 percent in 1985 to 14.7 in 2000, but dropped to just 12.8 percent in 2004. Those owning non-pension retirement accounts stayed roughly constant at just over 25 percent.

It is plausible that young Americans were more inclined to invest in the stock market between 1985 and 2000 because of the large returns that were available. However, this same logic would suggest a return to the safety provided by savings accounts in the early part of this decade, when the returns were not as good. Quite the opposite happened; the movement away from savings accounts continued.

An alternative explanation is a shift to other forms of asset accumulation, such as home ownership, real estate, or private business. Between 1985 and 2004, the rate of home ownership among these individuals increased from 37 percent to 39 percent, but ownership rates of other real estate and private businesses declined substantially.

Therefore, the explanation most consistent with observed declines in ownership of savings instruments is an overall reduced emphasis on saving....

The mean net worth for individuals between the ages of 25 and 34 increased by 4 percent between 1985 and 2004, much more slowly than income levels for this group. This is the exact opposite situation for the U.S. economy which has seen assets grow at a faster rate than income.

Sounds bad. However, Thornberg and Haveman dig into the reasons why young Americans aren't saving as much, and comes up with some interesting partial answers:
Contributing to the decline in median net worth are changes in demographic patterns among these young individuals. In particular, there are significant changes in three categories that are highly correlated with median net worth. Between 1985 and 2004, the proportion of the population aged 25-34 that was married declined by 8 percentage points, the proportion of whites declined by 17 percentage points, and the proportion with education beyond high school increased by 13 percentage points (Table 4). The decline in marriage rates and the increasing share of the population made up of people of color have contributed to the declines in net worth while increasing levels of education offset these declines. Taken together, these demographic shifts are responsible for just over one-quarter of the change in median net worth among young Americans.
Assets are only one side of the equation, however -- what about debt? Here the answer is more positive. The MacArthur Foundation has funded a study of Generation Y debt by Ngina Chiteji that suggests the Anya Kamenetz/Generation Debt thesis doesn't hold up:
Ngina Chiteji in her chapter in The Price of Independence takes a careful look at debt in young adulthood, finding that, contrary to popular perception, most of today’s young adults are not carrying an unusual or excessive amount of debt, at least not by historical standards or given their time in life, just starting out. The fraction of indebted young adult households age 25 to 34 has barely changed in 40 years, and while, in general, young households carry more debt than the population at large, this is consistent with the predictions of economic theory and most young adults appear to have manageable debt loads....

Because viewing debt levels or borrowing behavior in isolation may provide an inaccurate picture of the extent of the problem, Chiteji also asks not whether debt per se is a problem but whether there are young adults whose overall financial position is weak. About 17.5% of young adults could not meet three months’ worth of their existing debt repayment obligations with their current savings (if financial assets are used to gauge a household's savings). The comparable figure is about 16.5% if using net worth to measure household savings. Approximately 8.5% of young adults have no financial assets. Moreover, this group with no savings (or zero or negative net worth) owes almost $24,800 (on average), with an average monthly payment of $381. The median values are a bit lower—$14,650 and $300, respectively. However, these levels could still be considered troublesome given that these are households with no savings to cushion them should they lose a job or other sources of income.

As a whole, are young adults in trouble? On average, young adults use only 19% of their monthly income to service their debt. Typically, only households that need 40% or more of their monthly income to pay debts are considered to have burdensome debt levels (and to be experiencing "financial distress"). About 9.3% of young households are in financial distress, slightly lower than the 11% for U.S. households overall. Therefore, as a group, today’s young adults do not appear to have an unusually fragile or problematic financial situation. Young adult households are not remarkably different from other families in the nation. However, the research also finds that there are some young adult households whose financial situations appear troublesome. Policymakers and others certainly might want to direct their attention to these households.

Given that the data suggests --
a) More young Americans are buying homes;
b) More young Americans are going to college; and
c) "Young adults do not appear to have an unusually fragile or problematic financial situation."
-- I confess to remaining unpreturbed about the state of Generation Y's finances.

Question for Gen Y readers -- which report better conforms to you personal experiences and those of your cohort?

posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Blegging for stapler advice

In the process of moving to Fletcher, I received the standard allotment of office supplies -- printer paper, binder clips, highlighters.... and a f*&@ing stapler that can't seem to staple more that fifteen f#$%ing pages together without self-destructing!!!!

Sorry. This has been an ongoing problem for me -- I need a stapler that can reliable staple up to 40 pages with a miimum of fuss.

Sophisticated market research suggests that readers of danieldrezner.com work in an office environment, and therefore might be able to help me.

So, please, before I turn into this guy -- what's the best stapler out there?

posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The trade implications of the midterm elections

I received the following in an e-mail today:

Given your vast knowledge of international and domestic politics, I am shocked that you have not blogged on the possible repercussions on future free trade agreements as a result of this election. In this election, in the battleground states (Rhode Island, even Ohio, Montana, Missouri, and Virginia) the Republican incumbent in each state has a very good/ excellent record on free trade, while the Democratic challenger is advocating protectionist policies. Senator DeWine in Ohio is likely to lose in part because of his past support of trade agreements. Unfortunately in these states and in general, free trade has almost no constituency while the anti-trade movement has a large number of volunteers....

At this rate, there are going to be few politicians of any party promoting free trade. Why would Republicans or politicians of any stripe want to support these agreements if they are getting little credit and much condemnation for doing so?

The e-mailer has a point. Over at NRO, Jonathan Martin has a column about the trade implications of the midterms:
Democrats only need six seats to gain a majority in the Senate, but the election of five new Democrats and one independent in particular would have even greater ramifications. Should seats currently held by free-traders in Ohio, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Missouri go to “fair traders” — and should the sour environment for Republicans prevent them from gaining any seats from Democrats — the bipartisan commitment to free trade in the Senate would almost certainly end, torpedoing the prospects for any significant legislation in President Bush’s final two years and perhaps longer while fundamentally altering the character of the upper chamber.
After the midterms it's likely that both chambers of Congress will likely be more protectionist. This should matter to those crucial swing-libertarian voters.

Here's the thing, though -- it's not clear to me that it matters. Doha is at a standstill, and the FTAA has been in a coma for years. The only promising bilateral trade agreement is with South Korea, but I suspect that it's a dead letter as well -- because there's no chance in hell that the U.S. will accept goods from Kaesŏng. The president's Trade Promotion Authority is expiring in June of next year, and I don't think the president is willing to invest whatever political capital he's got left to have it renewed. Regardless of what happens in the Senate, I can't see Nancy Pelosi agreeing to anything that gives the executive branch more authority in Bush's final two years.

In other words, I'd rather not see the Senate go protectionist -- but a trade-friendly Senate will have only a marginal effect on U.S. trade policy over the next two years.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Diamond interdependence in the Middle East

In the interest of posting some good news about the Middle East, I found this AP story about the diamond trade between Israel and Dubai to be pretty interesting:

As Israelis and Arabs emerge from the war in Lebanon, a booming diamond exchange in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE,) 1,300 miles away, is hard proof that some Arab-Israeli ties have survived despite the region's tensions.

The two-year-old Dubai Diamond Exchange has put the Gulf emirate squarely inside a global business dominated by Jewish traders. And that, inevitably, means trade ties with Israel, another world diamond hub.

"There has been no visible platform for Arab-Jewish cooperation since the 1960s," said Chantal Abboud, Beirut-based representative of Antwerp's diamond industry in the Middle East. "Now, Dubai has created it."

Israeli Diamond Exchange president Avi Paz says diamonds and hospitality flow freely between Israel and Dubai.

"We came there, they came here. There is no problem at all," Paz said in Tel Aviv. "I wish that wherever I go, they'll host me like they hosted me in Dubai."....

The 34-day summer war in Lebanon, between Hezbollah and Israel, dulled sales in Dubai's diamond markets but only temporarily, industry officials say.

"People don't mix conflict with business. The war will not affect the diamond trade in any lasting way," said Abboud.

The relationship was highlighted in March, when controversy arose over Dubai Ports World assuming the management of ports in the United States. At the time the chairman of Israel's merchant fleet told U.S. senators that his ships called often at DP World-owned ports in Dubai and worldwide, and faced no problems.

The Dubai Diamond Exchange, the Arab world's first diamond bourse, seeks to serve the largely untapped but diamond-hungry Gulf market, the world's third largest for diamond jewelry, traders say.

So far, the exchange's tax-free transactions have coaxed more than 250 diamond dealers to become members, including Jewish-Americans, Belgians, Indians -- even Israelis with dual nationality, said Noora Jamsheer, the exchange's chief executive.

"Dubai is quickly growing to become a very important center for diamonds," Ernest Blom, president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, said by phone from Jerusalem.

The good Arab-Jewish vibes extend across the Atlantic. In June, The largely Jewish New York Diamond Dealers Club on Manhattan's 47th Street feted Ahmed bin Sulayem, deputy chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange, for his contribution to the industry....

Traders say Dubai has less red tape and is closer to the expanding Chinese, Arab and Russian markets.

It also competes directly with Antwerp, serving as a gateway for India's burgeoning diamond output. For example, Rosy Blue diamonds, a leading Antwerp-based business, is considering moving its headquarters to Dubai, said Pearl Chandrawansa, who heads the company's Dubai operations. (emphasis added)

The bolded section suggests that trade can trump enduring rivalries -- but it also suggests that trade won't cause enduring rivalries to go away, either.

[I thought this was a good news post!!--ed. Sorry,I failed to stay the course.]

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sports protectionism in Russia

It would seem that Russian President Vladimir Putin's hostility to certain forms of foreign investment extends to.... soccer. RIA Novosti explains:

The Russian president said Wednesday he was concerned over the large number of foreign nationals playing for Russia's soccer clubs.

Vladimir Putin, speaking at his annual televised question-and-answer session, said: "There are too many of them. We need to restrict their number, because when it comes to composing the national team, we do not have enough players."

Russian national soccer has achieved little success in recent years, in spite of reforms. The national team performed poorly at Euro-2004 in Portugal, and failed to qualify for this summer's World Cup in Germany.

Earlier the President of the Russian Football Union, Vitaly Mutko, said that the clubs in the Russian Premier League would not be allowed more than five foreign players by 2010, compared to the current limit of eight per club.

Mutko also said that as of next year, clubs will have to pay $30,000 to the union for each foreign player....

Soccer is not the only sport in Russia that has a large number of foreign players. Vyacheslav Fetisov, the head of the Russian Federal Agency for Physical Culture and Sport, highlighted the problem in December last year, saying that foreign nationals playing for Russian teams take $250 million in salary and compensation out of the country annually.

He said the excessive number of foreigners in Russian teams is hindering the development of sports in the country, and that the issue should be primarily addressed to regions and teams that pay large sums to foreign players, rather than financing their sports infrastructures.

Now it should be noted that MajorLeague Soccer also has caps on the number of foreign players allowed per team -- though those rules were liberalized recently.

As a general principle, however, this kind of policy strikes me as absurd. Imagine, for a second, imposing caps on the number of Dominican baseball players allowed into Major League Baseball, for example. The best way to have quality American ballplayers is to have them face the toughest competition imaginable. UPDATE: here's a report to back up this assertion.

Question to readers: is there an infant industry logic to protectionism in sports?

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Affordable housing.... good schools

The only funny section of an otherwise forgettable move called The Hebrew Hammer comes when the protagonist has his big seduction scene with his moll, Esther. From the screenplay:

ESTHER: Mordechai?

HAMMER: Yes Esther.

ESTHER: I want you to talk dirty to me.

HAMMER: Oh. Okay. (He thinks for a moment.) I want to have lots of children by you. Get a good paying, stable job. Settle down in Long Island somewhere. Someplace nice. Fancy. But not fancy schmancy.

ESTHER: Oohhh....

HAMMER: I want for our children to go to private schools and take music lessons. Little
Abraham will go to Stanford for college, Batya will go Ivy League, maybe Vassar.

ESTHER: Keep going.

HAMMER: Afterwards they'll make the decision as to whether or not they'd like to continue their religious studies in Israel. Because, hey, after all we'll have practiced the highly effective assertive democratic style of child rearing, sprinkled with a healthy dose of liberalism.

ESTHER: Oh god, yes! Keep going! Don't stop!

I bring this up because a) I still think it's funny; and b) Laura McKenna has a post up on "how parents can choose a good school for their kids." She has some fun words for opponents of school vouchers:
It's mildly amusing that strong voucher opponents argue against the notion of choice in schools, because truthfully the middle class and wealthy already have that choice. They choose their schools every time they decide which community to live in. The more money you have, the more choice you have. The wealthiest can even choose to send their child to a private school.
More here.

posted by Dan at 02:32 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Those fools.... those tenured, bureaucratic fools

I see that Harrison Ford says he's fit enough to play Indiana Jones in a fourth movie.

This leads to an interesting question... where shall we find the mature Dr. Jones? As Andy Bryan discovers in McSweeney's, Indy's antics don't play so well with the straightlaced academic crown of archaeologists:

January 22, 1939

Assistant Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Chapman Hall 227B
Marshall College

Dr. Jones:

As chairman of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, I regret to inform you that your recent application for tenure has been denied by a vote of 6 to 1. Following past policies and procedures, proceedings from the committee's deliberations that were pertinent to our decision have been summarized below according to the assessment criteria....

To summarize, the committee fails to recognize any indication that Dr. Jones is even remotely proficient when it comes to archaeological scholarship and practice. His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better. Marshall College has a reputation to uphold. I need not say more.

My apologies,

Prof. G.L. Stevens

You'll have to click on the link to see the case against Dr. Jones in full.

posted by Dan at 12:51 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Maybe blogs and diplomacy don't mix too well

The chief United Nations envoy for Sudan has been kicked out of the country because of what he's said on his blog. Warren Hoge explains in the New York Times:

Sudan’s government ordered the chief United Nations envoy out of the country today, saying he was an enemy of the country and its armed forces.

Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he was reviewing the letter from the Khartoum government and had requested the envoy, Jan Pronk, to return to New York for “consultations.”

The Sudanese order said he had to leave by Wednesday. United Nations officials confirmed he would depart before then.

Mr. Pronk, a blunt-spoken former Dutch cabinet minister, has been outspoken in reporting on the killings, rapes and other atrocities in Darfur, the region in the western part of Sudan where 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

He has become increasingly pointed in his comments because of the rise in violence across the area despite a May peace accord between the Sudanese government and a major rebel group, and because of the government’s refusal to grant permission for a new United Nations force to take over peacekeeping in the country from the overstretched African Union.

Mr. Pronk is known as a forceful presence at the United Nations from his frequent appearances before the Security Council, where he characteristically delivers unflinching accounts of the continuing mayhem and political breakdowns in Sudan in a rhetorical style that includes finger-jabbing and dramatic pauses for emphasis.

Sudan’s action against him was apparently provoked by an entry he made in his personal blog — www.janpronk.nl — last weekend that said Sudan’s armed forces had suffered two major defeats with extensive casualties against rebels in Darfur in the past six weeks. He also reported that generals had been cashiered, that morale had sunk and that the government had collaborated with the feared Janjaweed Arab militias, which are held responsible for pillaging villages and killing and raping their residents.

The Sudanese armed forces on Thursday cited the blog entry in calling Mr. Pronk a threat to national security and asking that he be expelled.

The fact that one of its top officials has put sensitive findings in a personal blog has embarrassed the United Nations and put its officials in an awkward position. When the matter arose Friday, United Nations officials resisted rebuking Mr. Pronk for the practice for fear that it would appear to be a vote of no confidence in the mission, rather than just in his professional lapse.

Questioned repeatedly on Friday over whether the United Nations stood by the statements in Mr. Pronk’s blog, Stéphane Dujarric, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, said, “Those views are expressed by Pronk, are his personal views.”

Mr. Dujarric indicated that this was not the first time a problem with Mr. Pronk’s blog had come up. “There have been a number of discussions with Mr. Pronk regarding his blog and the expectation of all staff members to exercise proper judgment in what they write in their blogs,” he said.

Here's the relevant section of Pronk's blog that raised the ire of the Sudanese government:
[The Sudanese Armed Forces] has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles with many wounded and many taken as prisoner. The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development. Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated. The use of militia with ties with the Janjaweed recalls the events in 2003 and 2004. During that period of the conflict systematic militia attacks, supported or at least allowed by the SAF, led to atrocious crimes.
I confess to mixed feelings about all of this.

On the one hand, it seems morally repugnant to blame Pronk for writing a blog that exposes Sudanese duplicity and moral depravity. Later in his story, Hoge observes, "commenting on the international campaign that has arisen to try to end the violence in Darfur, [Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir] said, 'Those who made the publicity, who mobilized the people, invariably are Jewish organizations.'" And as the Independent points out: "Observers says Pronk's direct style may have been a contributing factor in naming him the UN envoy to Sudan. He is often credited with keeping the crisis there high on the international agenda." It certainly seems like diplomats are shooting their mouths off with increasing regularity these days.

And yet, I'm pretty sure that one of the primary jobs of a diplomat is not to needlessly piss off an actor who has a seat at the negotiation table. By blogging about such a sensitive matter, Pronk gift-wrapped the Sudanese an excuse to expel him and delay dealing with the United Nations Security Council. How does this help anyone in Darfur?

This is not an issue to which I've paid a great deal of attention, so I'm issuing a bleg: for those who have been keeping tabs on Darfur, was Plonk's blog post a necessary or counterproductive action?

There are certain jobs that would not seem to agree with blogging at all, and being a diplomat might be one of them.

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

Your sexy sex quote of the day

I have to assume that Reuters reporter Claire Sibonney has sacrificed her first-born child to the hounds of hell, because the following is the kind of quote that would cause most reporters to agree to human sacrifice in order to obtain:

"It's not sexy sex sex, where we're talking about whips and chains, but we will talk about whips and chains," said graduating student Robbie Morgan, 33, who left her job teaching sex education in Chicago to attend the [University of Toronto's] Sexual Diversity Studies program, one of the largest of its kind in North America.

"We'll talk about whips and chains in a political, social, cultural, religious context of sexuality and how that sexuality affects those institutions."

Sibonney, "Sex ed gets a lot sexier at Canadian university"

posted by Dan at 09:07 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why Nancy Pelosi is the cure for all that ails us

My latest diavlog -- with the lovely Ann Althouse -- is up and running over at bloggingheads.tv. Among the topics discussed:

1) Why everything Hugo Chavez touches turns to ashes (SIDE NOTE: How bad is Chavez's streak? He's losing to bloggers!!);

2) How free should free speech be on campus?

3) Is reality TV like virtual reality?

4) Blogging tips from Ann and Dan!! and,

5) Why I think Nancy Pelosi will solve all our social ills.

Am I serious about Pelosi? You'll have to click and see!!

Among the exciting visual changes -- I move to a comfy chair and change my beverage of choice.

I might add that Professor Althouse, who is a generation older than I, looks about five years my junior in the video. No wonder she's constantly getting her picture taken for brochures.

posted by Dan at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

So you think you know something about world politics

Foreign Policy has a killer eight-question quiz to test your "global knowledge."

Go check it out. I only got six out of eight correct, and I confess that I guessed on more than one of them.

posted by Dan at 07:53 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

North Korea says they don't need no stinking tests

Despite reports earlier this week that North Korea had been planning three more nuclear tests, there are fresh reports that North Korea is saying there will be no more tests. From the Korea Times:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a ranking Chinese envoy that his country has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday (Oct. 20).

Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source in Seoul, Yonhap said Kim made the promise in his meeting with Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Pyongyang as Chinese President Hu Jintao's special envoy earlier this week.

"Kim was known to have clarified his stance that there will be no additional nuclear test," the South Korean news agency quoted the source as saying.

It said that if Kim's position is confirmed to be true, it will raise hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program and defuse the tension escalated by North Korea's detonation of a nuclear bomb on Oct. 9.

Reacting to the news, Glenn Reynolds asks: "Is it because diplomacy worked? (Yay, Condi!) Or is it because his scientists told him there was no chance of a pulling off a successful test any time soon?"

I'd say the answer is "none of the above." I'd have to go with "threats of Chinese economic coercion":

China is weighing tough measures to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, with government experts calling for the reduction of critical supplies of oil and food that have helped sustain its isolated, impoverished neighbor.

The options Beijing is considering mark a break from even the recent past in which China has preferred to use incentives rather than threats with Pyongyang. But the Oct. 9 nuclear test further frayed already damaged ties and strengthened the hand of critics who believe Beijing should take a harder line against a country they say has ignored Chinese interests.

On Friday, all four major Chinese state-owned banks and British-owned HSBC Corp. said they have stopped financial transfers to the North - a step beyond what U.N. sanctions require and a likely blow to a weak economy that relies on China as a link to the world financial system.

Even before the nuclear test, with its patience wearing thin, China reduced food aid by two-thirds to the chronically food-short North this year, according to the U.N. World Food Program. After voting last week for the U.N. sanctions that ban trade in military and luxury goods, China stepped up inspections of the trucks crossing into North Korea.

"There's no doubt that China is increasing pressure," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "If North Korea continues to behave in this way, go down this path, China will be forced to take more severe measures."

I shiuld confess that I have a theoretical stake in this answer -- but I don't think eirther diplomacy alone or Kim's worries about technical screw-ups are sufficient to explain this climbdown. Indeed, on the latter moltivation, one of the reasons to conduct nuclear tests is to figure out how to prevent mistakes in the future. The DPRK's first test -- which was a partial failure -- increased the incentive to conduct more tests.

Whether the DPRK returns to six-party talks remains to be seen.


posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Does losing Tom Friedman mean losing middle america?

It seems that a lot of people in the Bush administration read Tom Friedman's Tuesday column, which characteizes recent Iraqi insurgency tactics to, "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."

ABC reports that this came up in Bush's interview with Georege Stephanopolous:

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.

"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

"George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said. "And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here's how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw."

Meanwhile, in a Time interview, Dick Cheney brings up the analogy on his own:
The other thing that I'd mention, too, not really in response to your question: I'm struck by the fact that what's being attempted here is to break our will. (New York Times columnist Thomas) Friedman has got an interesting piece today on it, talking about the extent to which the enemy in this stage in Iraq aim very much at the American people... (they) use the media to gain access through technical means that are available now on the Internet and everything else to create as much violence as possible, as much bloodshed as possible and get that broadcast back into the United States as a way to try to shape opinion and influence the outcome of our debate here at home. And I think some of that is going on, too.
The U.S. military also seems obsessed with Tet, as Michael Luo reports in the New York Times (link via Kevin Drum):
The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.

Instead, attacks have actually jumped more than 20 percent over the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, compared to the previous three weeks, said Gen. William Caldwell, the military’s chief spokesman in Iraq.

In an unusually gloomy assessment, General Caldwell called the spike in attacks “disheartening” and added that the American military was “working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts.”....

General Caldwell also raised the possibility that insurgents have intentionally increased their attacks in recent weeks as a way of influencing political events in the United States.

“We also realize that there is a midterm election that’s taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur,” he said.

By almost any measure, the situation in the capital is in a downward spiral.

While it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies, there's a problem with comparing Iraq now to the Tet Offensive. The two ostensibly share the efforts by insurgents to affect the domestic political landscape of their adversary. Today's New York Times front page spells that out.

However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way? Even Cheney allows in his interview, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence, I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment. And it hasn't happened yet."

Question to readers: given current trends, is there any evidence that it will ever happen?

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

It's my virtual idea!! Mine!! Mine!!

It's been quite the week for news coverage of virtual world. Today the New York Times dogpiles on, with this story by Richard Siklos about how corporations are making their presence known in Second Life:

This parallel universe, an online service called Second Life that allows computer users to create a new and improved digital version of themselves, began in 1999 as a kind of online video game.

But now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost....

Philip Rosedale, the chief executive of Linden Labs, the San Francisco company that operates Second Life, said that until a few months ago only one or two real world companies had dipped their toes in the synthetic water. Now, more than 30 companies are working on projects there, and dozens more are considering them. “It’s taken off in a way that is kind of surreal,” Mr. Rosedale said, with no trace of irony.

Beginning a promotional venture in a virtual world is still a relatively inexpensive proposition compared with the millions spent on other media. In Second Life, a company like Nissan or its advertising agency could buy an “island” for a one-time fee of $1,250 and a monthly rate of $195 a month. For its new campaign built around its Sentra car, the company then needed to hire some computer programmers to create a gigantic driving course and design digital cars that people “in world” could actually drive, as well as some billboards and other promotional spots throughout the virtual world that would encourage people to visit Nissan Island....

Entering Second Life, people’s digital alter-egos — known as avatars — are able to move around and do everything they do in the physical world, but without such bothers as the laws of physics. “When you are at Amazon.com you are actually there with 10,000 concurrent other people, but you cannot see them or talk to them,” Mr. Rosedale said. “At Second Life, everything you experience is inherently experienced with others.”

Second Life is the largest and best known of several virtual worlds created to attract a crowd. The cable TV network MTV, for example, just began Virtual Laguna Beach, where fans of its show, “Laguna Beach: The Real O.C.,” can fashion themselves after the show’s characters and hang out in their faux settings....

All this attention has some Second Lifers concerned that their digital paradise will never be the same, like a Wal-Mart coming to town or a Starbucks opening in the neighborhood. “The phase it is in now is just using it as a hype and marketing thing,” said Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, 50, a member of Second Life who in the real world is a Russian translator in Manhattan.

In her second life, Ms. Fitzpatrick’s digital alter-ego is a figure well-known to other participants called Prokofy Neva, who runs a business renting “real estate” to other players. “The next phase,” she said, “will be they try to compete with other domestic products — the people who made sneakers in the world are now in danger of being crushed by Adidas.”

Mr. Rosedale says such concerns are overstated, because there are no advantages from economies of scale for big corporations in Second Life, and people can avoid places like Nissan Island as easily as they can avoid going to Nissan’s Web site. There is no limit to what can be built in Second Life, just as there is no limit to how many Web sites populate the Internet.

Linden Labs makes most of its money leasing “land” to tenants, Mr. Rosedale said, at an average of roughly $20 per month per “acre” or $195 a month for a private “island.” The land mass of Second Life is growing about 8 percent a month, a spokeswoman said, and now totals “60,000 acres,” the equivalent of about 95 square miles in the physical world. Linden Labs, a private company, does not disclose its revenue.

Despite the surge of outside business activity in Second Life, Linden Labs said corporate interests still owned less than 5 percent of the virtual world’s real estate. (emphasis added)

If corporations are moving into virtual worlds, it's just a matter of time before there are virtal anti-corporate protestors. And when that happens, well, then there's an opportunity for virtal professors of global political economy to enter the scene!!

Fletcher had better watch out. If I'm offered a virtual endowed chair, with the ability to mutate into any animal on earth, and a virtual Salma Hayek catering to my every whim... [You're going to the bad place again--ed.]

Somewhat more seriously, the growth of virtual worlds suggests an entirely new testing arena for social scientists. For example, the highlighted section suggests an intriguing experiment for a marketing professor: what is the power of branding independent of economies of scale?

An even more interesting meta-question -- does the virtual nature of the world remove ethical constraints that exist in real-world testing? Could someone run a virtual version of the Milgram study?

Question to international relations scholars who know something about these virtual worlds -- what IR hypotheses, if any, could be tested in these virtual worlds?

UPDATE: In related virtual news, the Joint Economic Committee has fired a warning show across the bow of the IRS on the question of taxing virtual profits. In related real news, further progress has been made towards an invisibility cloak.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

From now on, when you hear "Drezner," think of strength, security... and minty freshness!!

Stephen Bainbridge has decided that he needs to rebrand his blog:

After three years of blogging, it's time to do a major rethink. With the blogging "market" increasingly crowded, the model of an eclectic, general interest blog is a less viable one. Perhaps more importantly, I'm just getting tired of the punditry style of blogging. I'm not enjoying writing that style as much; for that matter, I'm not enjoying reading other punditry blogs very much these days....

[A]s far as day-to-day blogging goes, I've pretty much decided to rebrand ProfessorBainbridge.com by repositioning it as what it started out to be; namely, a niche blog focused on business law and economics. So I'll be taking a brief hiatus while I start the rebranding process.

I've always admired Bainbridge's blog, but this last sentence led to a Scrubs-like daydream:
BAINBRIDGE: So I'm thinking of doing more niche-blogging in business law and economics.

BLOG CONSULTANT: Sure, that's a direction you could go, absolutely. But can I just say three little words to you? Desperate Housewives blog. Our research shows that academics flock to blogs where the writer links to attractive pop culture celebrities while talking about them in an intellectual way. It's a whole Whore of Mensa kind of thing.

BAINBRIDGE: But my expertise is in business law -- I don't want that kind of image.

CONSULTANT: Well, I can see you're not really serious about this re-branding concept. I am so leaking this meeting to Variety! (leaves, slams door)

Seriously, for me, half of the fun of this blog is that I can talk about anything that comes into my head. Any thoughts I had to branding the blog disappear when I flash back to some advice Eszter Hargittai once gave me when I was thinking about bringing in guest-bloggers, which went something like: "Your blog is an expression of your identity -- why would you want to dilute or confine it?"

On the other hand, maybe I'm not taking this seriously enough. Writing in to Bainbridge, Bruce Bartlett adds:

I know that there are many blogs I used to read regularly that I now seldom read. The growth of partisanship is part of the reason, but there has also been a decline in substantive discussion.... The reason is simple: it’s hard work to be substantive. After a few months of blogging, most bloggers simply use up their substantive knowledge and must either rehash old hash or venture into areas where their knowledge is lacking.

I think we are overdue for a shake-out among bloggers. There are too many with too little to say. But until there is enough money to attract people who will consistently make the effort to be substantive, I think there is going to be a problem.

To mildly disagree with Bruce two posts in a row, I don't think he's got the whole story. Sure, some blogs burn out and fade away, while others become pale imitations of what they once were. Rather than think of these kind of inexorable trends, however, I suspect that blogs, like much of life, are cyclical. Attentive readers can surely point to days or weeks where it's clear that blogging has not been at the top of my priority list. This doesn't mean that I'm fading away... it (hopefully) means I'm acquiring new forms of substantive knowledge that trickle down onto the blog. That or I'm tickling my children.

Blogging doesn't get old for me because the world stays interesting. Taxes on virtual reality? Hugo Chavez suffering yet another diplomatic reversal? Mel Gibson following the path I've laid before him? I'm there!!

That said, maybe I'm wrong. A (dangeous) question to readers: which blogs do you think started out great but have devolved?

posted by Dan at 08:47 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

What if the Dems take over the Congress?

Bruce Bartlett has an op-ed in today's New York Times that spells out what will happen should the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress. Bartlett's answer: not much:

As a Republican, I have a message for those fearful of Democratic control: don’t worry. Nothing dreadful is going to happen. Liberals have much less to gain than they believe....

I didn’t make myself very popular by reminding people that Bill Clinton was still going to be president for at least another two years. How were we going to get these measures enacted into law over his all-but-certain veto? Flush with victory and convinced that they had a mandate from the American people to pass a conservative legislative agenda, my friends simply dismissed my concerns as defeatist.

Well, Cassandra wasn’t very popular, either, but she was right, and so was I. Within a year, the conservative revolution was all but over....

For starters, President Bush will still occupy the White House for the next two years. And although his veto pen may have been misplaced for most of the last six years, he found it again this summer.

For another thing, Democrats are unlikely to get more than a very thin majority in the House. If they get the Senate as well, it will not be with more than a one-vote margin. Consequently, effective control will be in the hands of moderates who often work with Republicans on specific issues. In a delicious bit of irony, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, lately excoriated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate.

As for impeachment and cutting money for Iraq, such actions would be politically insane and the Democratic leadership knows it. They will make the White House pay a price for Iraq, but will ensure that they don’t get blamed for any debacle resulting from failure to provide adequate money for our troops.

Democrats may have more success using Congressional committees to investigate accusations of wrongdoing by the Bush administration, but that will be much harder than they think. The Republicans cut thousands of committee staff positions when they took control, and it will take considerable time to find the money and staff to do any serious investigating.

Also, the Bush White House can simply use all the stalling techniques that the Clinton White House perfected to frustrate Congressional investigations by Republicans. The only thing left to worry about is expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which Democrats will certainly not want to extend. But most of them don’t expire until 2010, so there is no urgency. Anyway, there is no certainty that continued Republican control of Congress would assure extension of the tax cuts. If party control were all that mattered, they would have been extended already.

In short, there is really no reason for conservatives, businessmen or investors to worry particularly about a Democratic victory in November. Congress will be on automatic pilot for the next two years regardless of which party is in control.

Bartlett's take is correct as far as it goes, but it's a bit incomplete.

It is undoubtedly true -- as it was in 1994 -- that a political party can't really execute an ambitious governing strategy from the legislative branch. However, a Democratic Congress would alter the political and policy playing field in one certain and one uncertain way.

The certain way is that the Democrats would get some agenda-setting power. Even if Bush can veto a bill, the Democrats can send up bills that might be politically popular as a way to make Republicans look bad. This is one reason why everyone inside the Beltway believes that a Democratic takeover will lead to a hike in the minimum wage. Hearings will be an even cheaper way of doing this -- and the staffing issue that Bartlett raises seems pretty minor to me.

The uncertain way is that a Democratic takeover gives Nancy Pelosi an effective veto over anything Bush wants/needs from the Congress. What's uncertain about this is the effect it will have on actual policy. Will the Dems act as deficit-cutters beyond refusing to extend some of the Bush tax cuts?

I dunno -- I'll ask the Dems in the crowd to give their provisional answers.

UPDATE: Harold Meyerson's Washington Post column addresses this topic as well.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What do Boston and Bangalore have in common?

The demand for trained IT workers is having some interesting effects in both India and Massachusetts.

India first -- Somini Sengupta reports in the New York Times that skills shortages could act as a bottleneck for the Indian service sector:

As its technology companies soar to the outsourcing skies, India is bumping up against an improbable challenge. In a country once regarded as a bottomless well of low-cost, ready-to-work, English-speaking engineers, a shortage looms.

India still produces plenty of engineers, nearly 400,000 a year at last count. But their competence has become the issue.

A study commissioned by a trade group, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, or Nasscom, found only one in four engineering graduates to be employable. The rest were deficient in the required technical skills, fluency in English or ability to work in a team or deliver basic oral presentations.

The skills gap reflects the narrow availability of high-quality college education in India and the galloping pace of the country’s service-driven economy, which is growing faster than nearly all but China’s. The software and service companies provide technology services to foreign companies, many of them based in the United States. Software exports alone expanded by 33 percent in the last year.

The university systems of few countries would be able to keep up with such demand, and India is certainly having trouble. The best and most selective universities generate too few graduates, and new private colleges are producing graduates of uneven quality.

Many fear that the labor pinch may signal bottlenecks in other parts of the economy. It is already being felt in the information technology sector....

Demand is beginning to be felt on the bottom line. Entry-level salaries in the software industry have risen by an average of 10 to 15 percent in recent years. And Nasscom, which helps companies wanting to outsource find workers, forecasts a shortage of 500,000 professional employees in the technology sector by 2010....

Higher education is still available only to a tiny slice of India’s young. No more than 10 percent of Indians ages 18 to 25 are enrolled in college, according to official figures. Nearly 40 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are illiterate.

The industry is lobbying hard to allow private investment in Indian higher education. Right now the government allows only nonprofit ventures, and often they are of varying quality or are the brainchildren of politically connected entrepreneurs.

The Commerce Ministry has recently floated the idea of private foreign investment in higher education. Indians account for among the largest groups of foreign students in the United States, and India increasingly sends students to other countries, like Australia and Canada.

[Oh, sure, all this outsourcing to India means demand for jobs there, but not in the U.S.A.!!--ed.] Au contraire, my italicized friend -- the Boston Globe's Robert Gavin reports on what's happening to the tech sector in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts' economic recovery has gathered momentum in recent months, and there's a good reason: The technology sector is back....

Employment in professional and business services, comprising a variety of tech firms, has grown a healthy 2 percent in the last year, twice the rate of overall employment growth in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. Makers of technology products are bucking the trend of job losses in manufacturing and adding jobs -- more than 3,000 in the last year. Massachusetts tech exports are surging; foreign sales of semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment nearly doubled in the past year.

Technology has long driven the state's economy. The two technology-dominated employment sectors, professional and business services and manufacturing, account for about one-fourth of state employment, but they capture only a small part of the industry's impact because it increasingly reaches into areas from pharmaceuticals to financial services. High-tech machinery, instruments, components, and similar products account for nearly 60 percent of the state's exports.

Demand for technology workers, meanwhile, is growing. The state's most recent survey of job vacancies, at the end of 2005, showed openings for information technology occupations jumping 13 percent from a year earlier. Monster Worldwide Inc. , which operates the job-matching web site Monster.com, reported last month that on line job postings for IT workers grew 10 percent in Greater Boston over the year.

The Federal Reserve found in a recent survey of businesses that the supply of technical workers in the Boston region is shrinking to the point of companies boosting wages as much as 15 percent.

"It's not 2000, but it's also not 2001," said Larissa Duzhansky, regional economist at Global Insight of Waltham, referring to the tech boom and bust years. ``The sector has grown at a healthy pace and it's continuing to recover well."

Certainly, the state's technology sector faces a long road to recovery. Professional and business services so far have regained only about half the nearly 70,000 jobs the sector lost in the last recession. Tech manufacturing, which also shed about 70,000 jobs, has recovered only about 5 percent.

But analysts and industry officials add that today's technology industry is different from that of the dot-com craze, when it seemed any company with an Internet domain could attract millions of dollars from investors, regardless of whether they had profits or even products. Today's sector is more diverse and better grounded financially, reaching across an array of markets and technologies....

Global demand for technology products, from cell phones to MP3 players, also is boosting Massachusetts tech firms, which make the equipment for manufacturing such products. Booming electronics companies in China, for example, need the advanced manufacturing and testing equipment designed and made in Massachusetts. Those equipment sales have helped make China the state's sixth largest foreign market, as well as one of its fastest growing.

Sales to China and other Asian nations account for at least 70 percent of sales for Axcelis Technologies Inc., of Beverly, a maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, according to Mark Namaroff, senior vice president of strategic marketing. The company, which employs about 1,000 in Massachusetts, has reported double-digit revenue growth this year, while adding about 50 manufacturing jobs.

"Asia, particularly China, is hot," said Namaroff. ``Their growth has meant opportunities for us."

The tech rebound also means more opportunities for tech workers....

Greg Netland, chief executive of Sapphire's parent, Vedior North America of Wakefield, expects the market for tech workers to only get tighter. "The war for talent is back," he said.

This war for talent appears to be a global phenomenon -- be sure to check out the Economist's recent survey for more. Bloggers are mentioned.

posted by Dan at 12:33 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nice try, Hugo

The BBC reports that Hugo Chavez's efforts to win himself a rotating seat on the UN Security Council do not look like they are going to succeed:

A crucial fight for one of Latin America's UN Security Council seats remains deadlocked.
Guatemala leads the race even though its share fell to 110 votes in the fourth round, ahead of Venezuela's 75 but short of the 124 needed to win.

The race can now be thrown open to other regional candidates, including Costa Rica, Panama and Uruguay....

Diplomats told Associated Press news agency that the campaign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have hurt his country's chances.

President Chavez denounced George W Bush as "the devil" in a speech at the UN last month.

But Venezuela's UN ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas put the poor performance of Venezuela's candidacy down to lobbying by the US.

"We're not competing with our brother country [Guatemala]," he said. "We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet."

The US has been working behind the scenes to raise support for Guatemala, but the intensity of Washington's lobbying may have been counterproductive, our correspondent said.

It is true that Guatemala would likely be a more pliant U.S. ally than, say, Costa Rica or other compromise candidates. However, the gap between those countries and Venezuela on the UNSC is much, much larger.

So, in this case, the U.S. wins so long as Venezuela loses -- and that looks pretty much certain at this point.

For more on those who did win seats at the UNSC, click here.

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention -- the Chavez-backed candidate for the Ecuadorian presidency suffered a bit of a setback yesterday. Here's the AP report by Monte Hayes:

A Bible-toting banana magnate who favors close ties with the U.S. defied expectations by narrowly outpolling an admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election.

Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's wealthiest man, will head to a Nov. 26 runoff vote against leftist outsider Rafael Correa after neither won an outright victory in Sunday's election.

With slightly more than 70 percent of ballots counted, Noboa received 26.7 percent of the vote, compared with 22.5 percent for Correa, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. The winner needed 50 percent, or at least 40 percent and a 10-point lead over the rest of the field, to avoid a runoff.

Although a runoff had been expected, the result was unexpected because Correa had led recent polls....

"In the second round there are two clearly defined options," Noboa said. "The people will have to choose between Rafael Correa's position, a communist, dictatorial position like that of Cuba, where people earn $12 a month, and my position, which is that of Spain, Chile, the United States, Italy, where there is liberty and democracy."

Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the U.S. needs more adversaries like Hugo Chavez.

UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

The economics of worlds colliding

I have never played World of Warcraft, Second Life, or any other simulated online game -- the closest I've come was my year-long semi-addiction to Civilization II.

However, for some reason I'm in the middle of one of those punctuated equilibrium in which I become inundated with information about a phenomenon that I was only dimly aware of before the equilibrium was achieved.

So I'm going to inflict all these links on you.

1) Reuters' Adam Pasick reports that the market for virtual goods is beginning to draw the attention of real-world tax authorities (hat tip: Greg Mankiw):

Users of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft transact millions of dollars worth of virtual goods and services every day, and these virtual economies are beginning to draw the attention of real-world authorities.

"Right now we're at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise -- taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth," said Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.

The increasing size and public profile of virtual economies, the largest of which have millions of users and gross domestic products that rival those of small countries, have made them increasingly difficult for lawmakers and regulators to ignore.

Second Life, for example, was specifically designed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab to have a free-flowing market economy. Its internal currency, the Linden dollar, can be converted into U.S. dollars through an open currency exchange, making it effectively "real" money.

Inside Second Life, users can buy and sell virtual objects from T-shirts to helicopters, develop virtual real estate, or hire out services ranging from architecture to exotic dancing. Up to $500,000 in user-to-user transactions take place every day, and the Second Life economy is growing by 10 to 15 percent a month....

The rapid emergence of virtual economies has outstripped current tax law in many areas, but there are some clear-cut guidelines that already apply. For example, people who cash out of virtual economies by converting their assets into real-world currencies are required to report their incomes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or the tax authority where they live in the real world.

It is less clear how to deal with income and capital gains that never leave the virtual economy, income and capital gains that in the real world would be subject to taxes.

2) Indiana University's Joshua Fairfield and Edward Castronova have a draft paper entitled, "Dragon Kill Points: A Summary Whitepaper.":
This piece briefly describes the self-enforcing and non-pecuniary resource allocation system used by players in virtual worlds to allocate goods produced by a combination of player effort (the effort required to organize a group and overcome challenges) and the game itself (which “generates the good” – the input here is the time of the design staff).
3) Finally, I stumbled upon the South Park take on the whole World of Warcraft phenomenon. I got to see the entire episode before it was deleted for copyright reasons. This clip provides a nice precis of the show, however:

That is all.
posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Maudissez cette culture américaine séduisant!

In the International Heald-Tribune, Eric Pfanner reports that despite rising anti-Americanism in Europe, American television has actually become more popular, not less:

In the Parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have not been as popular since the 1980s heyday of "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

"What a difference," said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. "Five or six years ago you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels."

RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with "CSI: Miami," the latest installment in the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" franchise, which airs on the CBS network in the United States, and continues with "House," "Monk" and "Law & Order."....

U.S. producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to audiences in Europe, where American programming is often dubbed into the local language. With revenue from sales of U.S. rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover the costs.

Meanwhile, European programming budgets are getting squeezed. Advertising revenue at many of the leading channels is stagnant or falling as viewers defect to the Internet and other new media. Yet broadcasters have to fill many more hours of air time as cable, satellite and digital terrestrial channels proliferate. Buying the rights to American shows is much less expensive than producing original ones....

Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers were setting aside any anti-American leanings when they settled down in front of their TVs.

"We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America," he said. "In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture."

In other parts of Europe, the embrace may not be as hearty.

The largest broadcaster in France, TF1, added Disney's "Lost" series to its Saturday night lineup last year. Last month it went further, dropping the feature films that it had shown for years on Sunday nights in favor of three episodes of "CSI," lifting its ratings but prompting a backlash from French producers, who are supported with public funding....

In any case, analysts say, American shows again command the kind of universal appeal they last held when a fictional Texas oilman named J.R. Ewing swaggered across European television screens, helping shape stereotypes of America.

"The world and the U.K. were watching when J.R. was shot on 'Dallas,'" Thorogood said.

"Now that kind of thing could happen again."

It would appear that American television producers have pulled off the same feat as other American multinationals -- marketing their wares to anti-American publics.

My favorite quote from the story: "As recently as 1999, Zeiler said, the only American fare shown during prime time on RTL in Germany was reruns of 'Quincy.'"

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The Lancet study -- the sequel

I've been traveling quite a bit recently, so I'm quite late to the party on the eight page study published in The Lancet which concludes the following:

Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.
This is a follow-up to a 2004 study that raised a small ruckus prior to the presidential election claiming that the post-war mortality rate in Iraq was higher than the pre-war rate.

The boys at Crooked Timber, as well as Tim Lambert, have been vigorously defending the study against conservative critics. Megan McArdle is more skeptical, has a raft of posts that critique the study.

This post by Echidne of the Snakes is sympathetic to the study but also cognizant of its flaws, and is worth quoting on two points:

Nobody is happy about the study findings, of course. Let me repeat that: Nobody is happy about the study findings; nobody wants to imagine that many horrible deaths and the suffering that goes along with those or the effect on the survivors....

These point estimates are not as "respectable" as showing them in cold numbers might suggest to some. This is because they are based on sample data and sample data derived from a modified form of random sampling. The confidence intervals that are given in the summary above reflect the added uncertainty caused by this.

I have only one observation at this juncture. The problem with journalistic coverage of statistical analyses is that they tend to focus on the "headline number," ascribing a weight to it that it sometimes does not deserve. In this study, the 655,000 figure is much less important than the fact that the authors can claim with 95% certainty that at least 392,000 people have died in Iraq since the war started. That's the sobering fact.

Readers are hereby invited to comment.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen posts on The Lancet study as well -- and highlights another important fact that explains a large part of my disenchantment with the Bush administration:

[T]he sheer number of deaths is being overdebated. Steve Sailer notes: "The violent death toll in the third year of the war is more than triple what it was in the first year." That to me is the more telling estimate.

A very high deaths total, taken alone, suggests (but does not prove) that the Iraqis were ready to start killing each other in great numbers the minute Saddam went away. The stronger that propensity, the less contingent it was upon the U.S. invasion, and the more likely it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. In that scenario the war greatly accelerated deaths. But short of giving Iraq an eternal dictator, that genie was already in the bottle.

If the deaths are low at first but rising over time, it is more likely that a peaceful transition might have been possible, either through better postwar planning or by leaving Saddam in power and letting Iraqi events take some other course. That could make Bush policies look worse, not better. (emphasis added)

ANOTHER UPDATE: The folks at Iraq Body Count are skeptical.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Finally, I get to play Mousetrap

In today's New York Times Magazne, Neal Pollack has an amusing essay about how three-year olds play games:

Soon after coming into his Hungry Hungry Hippos stash, Elijah had a friend over. He was very excited to share with his friend, whom I’ll call Cinderella to protect her identity.

“Can I please play Hungry Hippos with Cinderella?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” I said.

“She likes Hungry Hippos! She likes it more than ice cream!”

“Yes, yes.”

In the few days since we’d purchased Hungry Hungry Hippos for Elijah, he’d made up his own rules. This shouldn’t have been a problem for a game that’s essentially a scale model of gluttonous Dadaist anarchy. Unfortunately, Elijah’s rules went: I always win, and you have to do whatever I say. Problems arose.

Elijah: Let’s play Hungry Hippos.

Cinderella: O.K.

Elijah: I get to be the pink one and the yellow one!

Cinderella: I want the pink one!

Elijah: The pink one is mine, Daddy.

Daddy: Don’t look at me, dude.

Elijah: Ahhhhhhhgggh! I want pink! I want pink!

At this point, Cinderella began whacking the pink hippo’s lever. Elijah became, like his favorite hippo’s jaw, unhinged. He, in return, began whacking Cinderella.

The whole essay is pretty funny, but I was struck by this passage about why today's parents buys these games: "This generation of parents, after all, is obsessed with reviving the pop-cultural experience of its own collective childhood."

Speak for yourself, Neal. I buy games for my children for a completely different reason -- I finally get to play the games I was denied as a youth for some reason or another. And as the title of this post suggests, Mousetrap is friggin' awesome.

posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Robert D. Kaplan's exaggeration of the day

Korea may be the most dismal place in the world for U.S. troops to be deployed—worse, in some ways, than Iraq.

Robert D. Kaplan, "When North Korea Falls," The Atlantic Monthly, June 2006.

UPDATE: Just to clear up any confusion, Kaplan is talking about being deployed in South Korea.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Boy, my tribe can be dumb sometimes

Michael Powell has a story in the Washington Post about how Tony Judt got prevented from speaking at the Polish Consulate last week:

Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained.

I might think Tony Judt is wrong about the Israel Lobby, and I think his one-state solution to the Israel/Palestinian problem borders on delusional, but if the ADL and AJC did what Powell implies, their behavior is absurd, counterproductive, and, frankly, un-American.

If they think Judt is wrong, say so, protest his talk, critique his arguments, the whole megillah -- but preventing him from speaking merely provides fodder for Judt's claim about the stifling of debate in this country.

UPDATE: Suzy Hansen has more background on what happened in the New York Observer. After reading the story, the extent of ADL and AJC pressure is still not clear to me.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hey, this Jew really does control Mel Gibson

From my August 1, 2006 blog post, "Dogpiling on Mel Gibson," here's the beginning of my predicted narrative arc for Gibson:

1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

c) Cries on camera.

From ABC News, "Mel Gibson Says He Feels 'Powerless Over Everything'":
In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Mel Gibson talks about his recent D.U.I. arrest, his battle with alcoholism and his anti-Semitic remarks.

Actor Mel Gibson is speaking out for the first time about the anti-Semitic comments he made to police when they booked him for drunken driving last summer.

Gibson tells ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview that his anti-Semitic statements were "just the stupid rambling of a drunkard."....

[Gibson] admits that staying sober is a constant struggle.

"Even fear -- the risk of life, family is not enough to keep you from it," Gibson says. "That's the hell of it. You're indefensible against it. If your nature is to imbibe. & So you must keep that under arrest, in a sense. But you cannot do it yourself. And people can help you. But it's God. You gotta go there, you gotta do it, or you won't survive. All there is to it."

I'm not right about a lot, but I was right about J. Lo, and now Mel comes through for me as well.

All I need is for Apocalypto to tank, and my claim to be this generation's Nostradamus will be complete.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm elsewhere in the blogosphere

If blog posts are light this week, it's for two reasons:

1) I'm trying to debug the comment spam problem (and tech-savvy readers, feel free to e-mail me advice on this one).

2) I'm blogging elsewhere.

At Open U., I'm explaining why the academy might not want to use the Moneyball approach to building a top-tier department.

At TPM Cafe, I'm participating in a book club on the Princeton Project on National Security's Forging A World of Liberty Under Law. Other contributors include David Rieff, Peter Trubowitz, and Stephen Walt

Go check them out!

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the Kyoto Protocol working out?

I'm shocked, shocked at this Associated Press report that some industrialized nations might not be living up to their Kyoto Protocol obligations:

With few exceptions, the world’s big industrialized nations are struggling to meet the greenhouse gas reductions they committed to in the embattled Kyoto pact on climate change. Europe is veering off course, Japan is still far from its target and Canada has given up.

he latest figures of heattrapping gases spewing out of chimneys and tail pipes are grim news for the agreement’s supporters and welcome ammunition for the told-you-so camp in such non-Kyoto nations as the United States and Australia....

Pro-Kyoto activists dismiss such conclusions, saying the targets are within reach if nations just try a bit harder....

The United States, the world’s biggest greenhouse generator, dropped out of the Kyoto accord, complaining it would hurt the U.S. economy, and that such big-polluter developing nations as China and India were not included.

Other nations decided to forge ahead regardless, and the latest U.N. figures show that as a group the 36 countries committed to the pact can meet the 5 percent target. That progress came mainly from a one-time boost in the 1990s, however, when excommunist states of Eastern Europe slashed greenhouse emissions by shutting down or modernizing heavy-polluting Soviet-era industries.

Elsewhere, the situation is more dire. Yvo De Boer, head of the U.N.’s climate change secretariat, said industrialized countries needed to ‘‘take a lot of action at home’’ to meet their targets.

‘‘But fortunately they do still have a number of years to meet those targets because in a number of cases it’s not going to be easy,’’ he said.

Among the worst off is Canada, the current president of U.N. climate change talks, which this year became the first country to announce it would not meet its Kyoto target of a 6 percent emissions cut on average over the years 2008-2012. Canada’s emissions have ballooned by 29 percent instead.

With oil production growing in the tar sands of Alberta, the Conservative government saw no other option than to jump the Kyoto ship. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has stated interest in a rival, U.S.-led pact, the Asia-Pacific Partnership, which has no targets, and said the government was working on a ‘‘made-in-Canada’’ solution.

Japan, too, has a long way to go to meet its reduction.

Hat tip: Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The report does observe that the EU as a whole could achieve its target -- provided that they "make full use of carbon credits for investing in clean technology projects in developing countries." However, another AP report by Charles Hanley points out the pitfalls of trading scheme as implemented:

As the world grows warmer, poorer nations are helping the rich by reining in heat-trapping gases in a multibillion-dollar "carbon trade" that is outrunning its U.N. overseers and founding principles, and spawning conflicts of interest and possible abuse....

The U.N. body [Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism] relies on private accounting and inspection firms to validate that projects will cut emissions and enhance economic development and the environment, and to verify later that gases are being reduced - all the while being paid by project participants. Specialist firms can act as developers for some projects and validators or verifiers for others. Critics see conflicts of interest.

"You're creating all kinds of incentives for corruption," said Daphne Wysham, a CDM expert at Washington's Institute for Policy Studies.

UPDATE: Ah, it appears that the EU has devised a new way to ensure countries honor their commitments to halt global warming. Sounds like some commissioners must have been talking to Joe Stiglitz.

posted by Dan at 01:17 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

China, China... what to do about China?

Cfr.org is hosting a debate between Stephen Roach and Desmond Lachman on "Is China Growing at the United States' Expense?" The (somewhat hyperbolic) overview:

The Chinese economic boom could change the global order and lift Beijing above Washington in economic might and influence. The United States is worried about China's tactic of undervaluing its currency to boost exports, but Beijing has resisted repeated calls to raise the yuan's value. The result has been a boost for U.S. consumers buying low-cost Chinese goods, as well as what some say is a severe trade imbalance. In addition, the overheating of the Chinese economy would have worldwide repercussions. The U.S. Congress has entertained threats of trade retaliation, but administration policymakers have adopted a more cautious approach.

Stephen Roach, chief economist and director of global economic analysis at Morgan Stanley, and Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute debate the seriousness of the challenge posed by China and appropriate steps to respond to its rise.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Are economic sanctions an option for North Korea?

Now that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, and now that China and North Korea are actually upset about it, what is the appropriate policy response?

First, let's acknowledge that a military strategy is not terribly viable. I suspect that North Korea's military, as in other communist societies, is not quite as fearsome as defense analysts assert. This suspicion includes whether their nuclear test was really as successful as they claimed. That said, I have every confidence that the DPRK could rain a hellfire of conventional missiles and artillery shells upon Seoul -- so there's no point going there.

When it comes to sanctions, the Guardian's Ewen MacAskill suggests that the UN Security Council will be reluctant to go all-out because it's haunted by the Iraq sanctions:

Negotiations between the council members will centre on a draft resolution prepared by the US that sets out punitive measures including a trade ban on military and luxury items, authorising the inspection of all cargo entering or leaving the country, and freezing assets connected with its weapons programmes. Mr Bolton last night distributed the document listing a broad range of sanctions.

The measures, some of the most restrictive in years, also included the banning of trade in any materials that could be used to make or deliver weapons of mass destruction. The document says the US wants the resolution to fall under chapter seven of the UN charter, which deals explicitly with threats to international peace and security.

But it will be difficult for the security council to find effective sanctions that will put pressure on the North Korean leadership while avoiding further punishing a population already close to the breadline in many regions. And if North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, has decided that possession of a nuclear weapon is more important than ties with the outside world, that may be a fact the world will have to live with.

This problem is pretty much a red herring, because of a grisly fact -- the DPRK leadership has essentially been sanctioning its own people for the past fifteen years. The only North Koreans who benefit from the current structure of the DPRK economy are the elite. Assuming that China and South Korea buy in, sanctions against North Korea would actually have a powerful effect.

Perhaps too powerful -- a point that Aditya Tiwathia raises ove at Passport:

So what can be done? Deepening its isolation, as Ian Bremmer points out in his book, The J-Curve, only shores up the regime. Even if sanctions succeed in regime collapse, that's the last thing that neighbors China and South Korea want. As Ivo H. Daalder points out, this would flood them with millions of destitute refugees and destabilize the region. That explains their minimal enthusiasm for Washington's hardline approach in the six-party talks.

....US policy needs to start reflecting this North Korean calculus and the fact that regime collapse is not necessarily the best outcome.

Tiwathia's positive analysis is correct, but her normative assessment is not. Given the history of the DPRK, regime collapse is the best policy outcome. An eventual DPRK metamorphosis into a peaceful, capitalist-friendly state would be the best outcome.... in Fantasyland. Here on the planet Earth, that's just not going to happen.

So, how to get China and South Korea to favor regime colapse? Ralph Cossa makes some good suggestions in the International Herald-Tribune:

Beijing should also note that economic sanctions imposed as a result of a nuclear test will be accompanied by an "open border" policy and the establishment of UN-sponsored refugee camps on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. China, at North Korea's insistence, presently forces most refugees to return, where they meet a most unpleasant fate. This policy must change.

Neighboring Russia and Mongolia can also provide safe havens and South Korea (along with the United States, Japan, and others) should be prepared to support refugee relocation.
Now it might be more cost-effective to pay off the DPRK periodically rather than pay to reconstruct the North. Given the DPRK's willingness to proliferate, however, I say sanction them. Sanction them now. And sanction them with the Security Council's imprimatur.

posted by Dan at 09:59 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open North Korea test thread

Comment away on North Korea's decision to see whether the rest of the world will pay attention to it now that it's apparently conducted a nuclear test. According to the official DPRK statement, "[The test] was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation.... It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it." Oh, so there's nothing to worry about then.

The Chinese response so far is interesting, in that it's clear they're pretty pissed off:

The DPRK [North Korea] ignored universal opposition of the international community and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test on October 9. The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to it.
We'll see if the South Koreans are equally perturbed.

More later if possible -- I have discivered my hell on earth and it is being trapped in the Miami International Airport waiting five hours with the kids for a flight for which we only have standby status.

UPDATE: Comments appear to be down. I'll try to get Movable Type on the case.

In the mean time, because Amos Bitzan took the time to e-mail me his comment, it goes in the post:

The Chinese may be pissed off but there is nothing they or the South Koreans can really do. Neither country wants the NK regime to collapse right now. They are just going to have to increase the shipments of food and energy to Pyongyang. In any case, it's another MASSIVE failure for the Bush administration. The US should have been at the table with North Korea, carrying out bilateral talks, a long time ago. I think the South Koreans will be more perturbed by further Bush bungling or by Japanese plans to beef up their military (or, God forbid, go nuclear themselves) than by the North Korean test. In any case, a military solution is simply not in the cards. If only Bush had not been so insistent on linking North Korea to Iran. Now there...that's a real problem. And now he's put himself in the position where a concession to NK also means a victory for Iran because - hey - they're both part of the Axis of Evil.

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

What is the utility of price stability?

In the Detroit Free Press, Alejandro Bodipo-Memba has an odd story about OPEC's declining influence over oil prices -- and why this might be a bad thing:

But as the price of crude oil -- the feedstock for gasoline -- creeps back up on news that several members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plan production cuts, it's clear that the cartel no longer wields the power over fuel costs that it once did.

For instance, recent announcements by OPEC members Nigeria and Venezuela that they plan to cut their combined production by 170,000 barrels a day in order to push oil prices back above $60 a barrel did not alter the per-barrel price.

For Michiganders, the diminishing power of OPEC has two key implications.

"In some sense, this is a good thing in that you are taking power away from an oligopoly like OPEC and lessening the influence the group has had on U.S. foreign policy," said Sudip Datta, finance professor and chairman of the T. Norris Hitchman Endowment at the Wayne State University School of Business Administration.

On the other hand, with no consensus among the world's leading oil producers, supplies fluctuate and domestic fuel prices are adversely affected.

Oil prices more than tripled from an average of $21.84 a barrel in 2001 to a record high of $78.40 in July. Meanwhile, pump prices in Michigan more than doubled to $3.11 a gallon this summer, as OPEC continued to cede its power to speculators in the petroleum market. Barring a major supply disruption because of a hurricane or an accident this fall, gas prices are expected to stay at $2 to $2.25 a gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration in Washington, D.C.

Part of OPEC's stated mission is to "coordinate and unify" global petroleum policies and "ensure the stabilization of oil prices" to provide a steady supply of product at a fair price.

The 11-member oil cartel said on its Web site that oil prices were "out of line" with supply and demand fundamentals. It also acknowledged that its influence over petroleum pricing was increasingly limited....

From 1975 to 1990 and the start of the Persian Gulf War, the price of imported oil rarely got above $32 a barrel and Michigan gas prices hovered between 50 cents and $1, in large part because of OPEC's use of production controls that often benefited U.S. consumers.

Today, hedge funds, pension fund managers and investment bankers are placing huge bets that oil prices will keep going up because political unrest in some OPEC countries and the emergence of China and India as major consumers of petroleum will continue to make oil a rare commodity.

This is an odd story for a few reasons.

First, the claim that "OPEC's use of production controls... often benefited U.S. consumers" is certainly an interesting one. Saudi Arabia was certainly responsible for whatever downward pressure there was on oil prices during this period -- but claiming that OPEC kept oil prices low during this period is certainly an interesting one.

Second, if you look at the OPEC statement cited in the story, it becomes clear that OPEC's motives might differ somewhat from what Bodipo-Memba ascribes to them:

The reasons for this protracted volatility are, by now, familiar to OPEC Bulletin readers and relate to an unusual convergence of factors: the exceptionally strong world economic growth and, in turn, oil demand growth, especially in developing countries; the slow-down in non-OPEC supply growth, although this is picking-up again; tightness in the downstream sectors of major consumer countries; geopolitical concerns; major natural disasters; and heightened levels of speculative behaviour....

OPEC is very much aware that the more prices are out of line with demand and supply fundamentals, the more likely they are to lead to increased volatility, and this can be damaging to all the players in the market.

However, the impact of OPEC’s measures varies according to the market conditions. Throughout the present volatile conditions, OPEC has ensured that the market has remained well-supplied with crude, as well as accelerating plans to increase production capacity, so as to help cater for the continued rise in demand forecast for the coming years. But, since other factors have been primarily responsible for the recent price rises, OPEC’s influence has been limited.

This assessment has some truth.... but it's also a way for OPEC to say, "Don't blame us for the high prices that are enriching our members."

Finally, Bodipo-Memba overlooks the obvious angle for why Michiganders would benefit from price stability, even if the price of oil is relatively high -- it provides a set of stable expectations for car manufacturers as they plan production for the future.

This raises a few interesting questions:

1) For which commodities is price stability a particular virtue?

2) What is the acceptable premium for keeping a price stable over prices that are lower on average but with greater volatility?

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

Friday, October 6, 2006

Matthew Yglesias drinks wine; I drink pink lemonade

My latest bloggingheads diavlog -- with Matthew Yglesias -- is now available online. Matt's beverage of choice is wine -- mine is lemonade.

The topics covered include:

1) Is Mark Foley really such a bad guy?

2) What's North Korea up to?

3) What's the fairest grand strategy of them all?

4) Why the new forms of watching TV are like crack?

5) How to talk about Bob Woodward without reading Bob Woodward.

As Matt says in the closing, he goes soft on Foley; I go soft on Wodward.

And, as I said in the diavlog, everyone reading this blog should go online and check out the pilot episode of Friday Night Lights. The entire show is shockingly good -- particularly Connie Britton

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's stop the hyperventilating about Hugo Chavez

Earlier this week Clay Risen wrote an alarming story for TNR Online about Hugo Chavez's threat to the liberal world order:

Far from being a pariah, Venezuela is increasingly in step with the world. Thanks to deep wells of anti-Americanism and Chávez's dogged diplomacy among the developing world, he's managed to build a large, loose coalition of states aligned not just against the United States, but against the liberal world order that is the real bedrock of American hegemony. Chávez's goal is not to destroy the American economy--cutting off our supply of oil from Venezuela would do more harm to Caracas than to us--so much as to replace the structures by which we hold sway over the world economic community. And while it makes headlines to talk about Chávez's military (and paramilitary) aspirations, his real successes--and his real threats--exist in the economic, rather than the military, realm....

too many parts of the world are seeing uneven internal growth (benefiting the elite but not the general public) or no growth at all, even as they make painful budget reforms and market concessions. This breakdown has given rise to a powerful challenge to the liberal economic order--at the center of which sits Hugo Chávez.

The most significant challenge, arising from the slow collapse of the WTO's Doha Round of trade negotiations, is Venezuela's plan to replace the international trade structure with a series of trading blocs. Many of its efforts have been the banal sort of bilateral deals that would go unnoticed--if they weren't with an eyebrow-raising set of partners: Vietnam, Nicaragua, Russia, Libya, and other countries at the edges of the liberal economic order. Just days before his U.N. appearance, Chávez signed some 20 trade accords with Iran, totaling more than $200 million. Iranian tractors are already under production in Venezuela, and the Iranian national oil company has spoken of investing up to $4 billion there. Chávez has promised a $500 million oil refinery in Uruguay, a country the United States has been courting for its own trade deal. And he has pursued countless oil-related deals with China--with the expressed goal of disengaging his country's oil sector from the United States.

Alongside his bilateral efforts, Chávez has pursued a set of multilateral trade agreements with the intention of displacing American economic hegemony in the western hemisphere. In 2005 Cuba and Venezuela created the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), also known as the People's Trade Agreement, which sets up zero-tariff trade among members. The ALBA has since expanded to Bolivia, and Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega has promised to join if he wins in November. Chávez has also signed onto Mercosur, the pact among several South American countries designed to challenge NAFTA and the EU. Mercosur is, for now, a fairly innocuous group, but Chávez has spoken frequently of transforming it into an anti-U.S. regional bloc. Trading blocs such as these, especially in light of the Doha collapse, not only undermine the structure and spirit of the liberal trading regime, but they also push the world back to the era in which politics, rather than growth-oriented national interest, determined trade policy, with all the economic and political instability that went with it.

Look, I can doom-and-gloom the demise of freer trade with the best of them, but in the thinking about existential threats to the world trading system, Hugo Chavez does not come to mind.

The key facts about Chavez's policy initiatives are as follows: 1) Sure, Chavez has signed a lot of trade deals -- but most of them are of the pissant variety. $200 million? Big whoop.

2) Sure, Chavez wants to diversify his imports and exports away from the United States -- but he's not going to succeed.

3) Sure, Chavez wants Mercosur to do his bidding -- but he can't, since Brazil is the key veto player in that trading bloc. Lula might not be America's biggest fan, but he's not really anti-American either.

4) For all of Chavez's wheelings and dealings, his foreign and economic policies alienate more politicians that they attract.

Hugo Chavez is an irritant, but it's silly to paint him as the big bad wolf of the global political economy.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2006

So what's going on in Ukraine?

Crooked Timber's Maria Farrell went on a study tour organised by the 21st Century Trust and the John Smith Memorial Trust to see what's going on in Ukraine nearly two years after the Orange Revolution. The group decided to create their own blog to record their thoughts on the trip.

If you're interested in the country, go check it out.

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

The most interesting spin control of the year

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) has come up with an interesting line of argumentation to protect himself from the Foley fallout: From Ray Long's story in the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois lawmaker who oversees the Congressional page program said Wednesday that teens who participate are "safer in our program than in a lot of homes."

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) defended his actions as chairman of the page board in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday, saying he moved quickly to confront former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida based only on information about 2005 e-mail traffic that wasn't sexually explicit.

Shimkus acknowledged he did not ask Foley if there were any other electronic exchanges with pages, such as the sexually suggestive instant messages from 2003 that first surfaced on Friday and led to Foley's swift resignation.

"The thing that's frustrating to me is that I'm not the bad guy here," Shimkus said. "Leadership's not the bad guy. The bad guy is whoever had these explicit instant messages that were done in 2003 and held them. That's the bad guy.... because those instant messages are what put these kids at risk."

He insisted the page program is safe. "They are as safe there as they are at home," he said. "In fact, in a lot of homes—they're safer in our program than they are in a lot of homes." (emphasis added)

Am i reading this incorrectly, or is Shimkus actually claiming that large numbers of parents of being so negligent that they'd be more likely to overlook a sexual predator than the United States Congress?

posted by Dan at 11:22 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

So much for Ahmadinejad's soft power.

It appears that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's performance for the past year has disenchanted some Iranians:

While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is busy running a high-voltage campaign against the United States and its policies, Iranians are wondering whether he will ever make good on election promises to crack down on corruption and distribute Iran's vast oil revenues more equitably.

"My whole family voted for Ahmadinejad because he promised to improve our lives. He said he was going to fight corruption and create jobs. He said oil money belonged to the people. I haven't seen any of the oil money in my house yet, but I have to deal with the ever increasing prices anyway," said a a 67-year-old pensioner who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm running a family of three on less than US$220 a month and the price of the cheapest cut of meat is $6 per kilogram. Thank God I'm not paying rent or we wouldn't have anything to eat."

A political analyst in Tehran said: "Dissatisfaction with the administration of President Ahmadinejad is not yet widespread, but it is growing fast. The hardline government that outran reformists on a plank to check inflation, lift living standards, create employment, and take a bite out of the corrupt and the rich and give it to the impoverished has not only failed to deliver those promises, but has clearly moved in the opposite direction."....

"Results of an opinion poll reported by Mehr News Agency in September show that in May, 61% of those asked found his team successful in the nuclear issue, 44% in managing inflation and only 37% in fighting corruption.

"The report doesn't mention percentages but says those asked consider unemployment and inflation the administration's most urgent problems. It seems Ahmadinejad has concentrated his efforts more in foreign policy rather than in the more challenging economic arena."....

Economic indicators now show a huge decrease in the stock-market value and private banks claim they are on the brink of bankruptcy resulting from lowered interest rates. The inflation rate is said to be just above 12% now, and is forecast to rise to 14% or 15%. There is a huge budget deficit, amounting to $8 billion. Even Iran's top judiciary has warned about capital drain. The highly subsidized, oil-revenue-dependent Iranian economy is struggling with inflationary stagnation, they believe.

"It's still too early to make a good assessment of the government's economic performance, but some of the contradictions resulting from lack of a clear economic theory are already becoming evident," said Saeed Leylaz, an economic analyst in Tehran....

Leylaz added: "On the other hand, the government's slogans and its domestic and foreign policies have scared away investment. The stock market has lost 50% of its total value compared to its peak time."

The huge amount of subsidies paid by the government is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, economists warn.

"The Iranian economy will be injected with around $50 billion worth of subsidies this year," Leylaz said. "But it will do little to help the poor. Fuel subsidies comprise one-third of the total subsidies paid by the government, and more than half the fuel subsidies, for example, will find their way into the pockets of the top 10% of the population who have and use cars, meaning that the top 10% are getting one-sixth of all subsidies.

Other polls seem to generate similar results: "Last year Ahmedinejad’s approval rating was 60%. Now it is down to 35%."

These findings suggest to me two things: 1) Fareed Zakaria might be onto something.

2) If push comes to shove, the administration is wrong to reject gasoline sanctions. Those sanctions would bite the precise segment of the population that benefits from Ahmadinejad's regime.

posted by Dan at 06:26 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The quickest way to dynamite the WTO out of existence

The Center for Global Development's Lawrence MacDonald blogs about Joe Stiglitz's new idea to scupper the WTO make trade "fairer":

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz urged at a CGD event that U.S. trade partners ask the WTO for authority to impose countervailing duties on exports of U.S. steel and other energy-intensive products that benefit unfairly from Washington’s refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol limiting carbon and other greenhouse gasses....

"One of the main purposes of the WTO is to create a level playing field; subsidies distort the playing field, which is why countries are allowed to offset subsidies through countervailing duties," Stiglitz explains in Making Globalization Work, the new book he was promoting at the CGD event. "This should be the case for hidden subsidies—not forcing firms to pay for the environmental damage they inflict—as well as for open subsidies."

The book contains a detailed explanation of the proposal--and an interesting discussion of the response his idea has received so far from senior officials:

I have discussed this idea with senior officials in many of the advanced industrial countries that are committed to doing something about global warming. And while, almost to a person, they agree with the analysis, almost to a person they also show a certain timidity: the proposal is viewed by some as the equivalent, in the trade arena, of declaring nuclear war. It is not. It would, of course, have large effects on the United States, but global warming will have even larger effects on the entire globe. It is just asking each country to pay for the full social costs of its production activities. Following standard practice, the pressure of trade sanctions could gradually be increased; and almost surely, as America recognizes the consequences, its policies would be altered--as they have been in other instances where the United States has been found in violation of WTO rules.
For a full transcript of Stiglitz's talk, click here. For an article-length treatment by Stiglitz, click here.

Stiglitz's proposal probably would improve the global warming situation -- but not the way he thinks. Assuming the WTO Appellate Body was willing to destroy itself, here is the chain of events that would improve the environment:

1) The WTO rules against the U.S.A.;

2) The U.S. refuses to comply, thereby weakening respect for the WTO's Dispute Settlement System;

3) As the Trade Diversion blog suggests, "once the litigation gates open, "hidden subsidy" will be a phrase that lawyers and protectionists love. Is the absence of labor standards in developing countries a "hidden subsidy" to exporters of labor-intensive manufactures?.... Costs are subjective; social costs doubly so." So, expect Canadian, American, Japanese, and European trade officials to file suit in the WTO over every "hidden subsidy" under the sun. Expect the target of a lot of these suits to be China?

4) The WTO, burdened by the collapse of the Doha talks and persistent noncompliance of dispute rulings, collapses.

5) The absence of multilateral trade rules encourages the emergence of economic blocs, as governments start applying "social tariffs" against countries that don't share their regulatory aims.

6) The ensuing, protracted slowdown in the global economy leads to significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

I'm thinking that there are better ways to solve the global warming problem.

This, by the way, is one of the basic problem I find with the parts of Making Globalization Work that I've read. There is a decent diagnosis of some of the ills caused by globalization -- but for a man who spent the past decade and a half in policymaking circles, he seems oddly oblivious to the massive political externalities many of his proposals would create.

UPDATE: My colleague Joel Trachtman explains why Stiglitz's plan is a legal non-starter.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Mankiw critiques another of Stiglitz's policy prescriptions.

posted by Dan at 10:22 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

My one post about Mark Foley

It's time for this blog to stop talking about sexy topics like trade policy and move to the serious, weighty, and potentially boring question of whether former U.S. Rep Mark Foley committed the legal act of pedohpilia or was just plain creepy.

Actually, let's leave that question to Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias. The best thing I've seen in the blogosphere on the Foley fall-out comes from this Robert George post.

Question to readers: will Mickey Kaus' Feiler Faster Thesis apply to the Foley scandal? In other words, will this still be an issue come Election Day?

UPDATE: Oh dear, this AP story is close to Hastert's worst nightmare:

A senior congressional aide said Wednesday he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office in 2004 about worrisome conduct by former Rep. Mark Foley with teenage pages -- the earliest known alert to the GOP leadership.

Kirk Fordham told The Associated Press that when he was told about Foley's inappropriate behavior toward pages, he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene."

The conversations took place long before the e-mail scandal broke, Fordham said, and at least a year earlier than members of the House GOP leadership have acknowledged.

Fordham resigned Wednesday as chief of staff to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

What I asked the USTR

When we last left your humble blogger, he was heading to DC to talk about trade with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and a few other folks at an AEI conference.

Alas, I was unable to access the internet this morning, and so had no opportunity to view the range of questions that I could relay one to the USTR (it would have been Zathras'). However, the following exchange did take place:

ME: There seems to be a catch-22 on reviving Doha. Other countries won't negotiate seriously with the United States unless they believe that we can get TPA renewed. At the same time, the only way that TPA is likely to be renewed is if Congressmen seen the outline of a Doha deal. How does one escape this conundrum?

SCHWAB: Good question. [Long pause.]

So, call me skeptical on the odds of Doha being completed anytime soon. I should stress that this isn't Schwab's fault... it's the hand she was dealt.

One last thought: As David Kane has observed, both Schwab and I are graduates of Williams College. When I was intriduced to the ambassador, I mentioned that we shared the same alma mater. And, for just a brief second, the wised-up, cautious face of a politician was replaced by the joyful look of recognition when one Eph recognizes another Eph.

posted by Dan at 07:54 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 2, 2006

Submit your question to the U.S. Trade Representative!!

Tomorrow I'll be a panelist for an AEI symposium, "The World Trading System after the Collapse of Doha: The WTO, Developing Countries, and Regionalism." The highlight will be a speech by the Honorable Susan C. Schwab, U.S. Trade Representative.

Other panelists include former under secretary of Commerce Grant D. Aldonas, AEI's Claude E. Barfield, former undersecretary of State Alan P. Larson, And Georgetown law professor Daniel K. Tarullo.

I believe I'll be dining with the USTR before her speech. So, readers are encouraged to submit concise, issue-appropriate, and polite questions to pose during the lunch hour.

UPDATE: OK, the lunch is over -- I'll be posting an after-action report later this evening.

posted by Dan at 04:37 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Does America have a social policy deficit?

I just noticed that Francis Fukuyama sorta joined the blogosphere -- he's occasionally posting over at The American Interest's blog.

In this post from last month, he issues a provocative question that remains relevant:

What is it that leaders like Iran’s Ahmedinejad, Hezbollah’s Nasrullah, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increases their local appeal? Anti-Americanism and an aggressive foreign policy are of course components. But what has really allowed them to win elections and cement their support is their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on, social policy—things like education, health, and other social services, particularly for the poor. Hugo Chavez has opened clinics in poor barrios throughout Venezuela staffed with Cuban doctors; Hezbollah has offered a complete line of social services for years and is now in the business of using Iranian money to rebuild homes in the devastated south of Lebanon. Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Evo Morales in Bolivia all have active social agendas. Organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas do not merely lobby the government to provide social services; they run schools and clinics directly while out of power.

The United States and the political groups that it tends to support around the world, by contrast, have almost nothing to offer in this regard. Washington stresses democracy and human rights—that is, procedural safeguards that institutionalize popular sovereignty and limited government—as well as free trade, with its promise of economic growth. This is a good agenda in line with American values, and it has worked well in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere. But it tends to appeal to middle-class, educated constituents. In those parts of the developing world that suffer from deep social cleavages and inequalities, free elections and free trade have relatively little resonance for the great majority of the population that is poor....

Washington has lots of advice to give developing countries on economic policy, in terms of deregulation, privatization, reduction of tariff barriers, and the like. But there is no equivalent of the “Washington Consensus” on how to help Bolivia or Pakistan or Egypt improve its primary education system, or how to get health services delivered more efficiently in poor neighborhoods.

The United States and its liberal democratic friends around the world need to start thinking seriously about a social agenda that will appeal to the poor if they are ever to compete successfully with the Islamists and populists of the world. This is not a call for a return to the old social democratic agenda of the 1950s and 60s.... But all governments have to provide social services, and it is important to figure out how to do this well rather than poorly.

I do think Frank is overstating the problem here. First, it shouldn't be that shocking that local leaders have the ability to craft social policies that resonate better in the short run than the United States.

Second, all you have to do is read Bill Easterly to become immediately wary of anything that smacks of a "Wasington Consensus" on health and education in the developing world. I'm pretty confident that such an animal does not exist.

Third, and most important, the one element that would belong in anything resembling a Washington Consensus on social development would be an intensive focus on educating women and providing them with greater health choices. How many conservative societies in the developing world are going to be truly receptive to that kind of program?

Finally, one of the few Bush administration policy innovations that does get kudos across the ideological spectrum is the Millennium Challenge Corporation. No one pays attention to it, however. Why? Well, it's been a bit slow in dispensng aid, and, oh, yes, there's Iraq.

That's the thing about big foreign policy screw-ups -- unfortunately, all the soft power in the world can't erase them.

posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The CPI bias at work in Burger King

For the past six weeks or so there' been an egaging, intermittent blog debate about CPI bias. That is, to what extent has technological innovation improved standards of living so much that the effects are understated in measuring year-to-year or decade-to-decade comparisons of the U.S. economy -- and whether, concomitantly, inflation measures lke the Consumer Price Index are overstated.

The debate is less about whether CPI bias exists, but how big it is, whether its effect diffuses across all income strata within the economy, and its political implications. See this Megan McArdle post for the libertarian take, and this Brad DeLong post for the social democratic take.

My take is similar to Megan's, but I haven't blogged about it because it can be very difficult to articulate the extent to which technology has converted what used to be luxury goods into normal goods.

And the I opened my son's BK Kids Meal....

The toy in my son's meal was an Open Season-themed radio. Not just an ordinary radio, but one that hooked around the ear, making it look like a kids version of a cell phone earpiece. The battery is included. You can take a gander at it by clicking here and then clicking on "Toys".

Thirty years ago, when I was a child, this would have been a $20 ($68.71 in 2006 dollars) birthday gift that would have made me the coolest kid on the block. It is now an afterthought, a free, promotional gift as part of a $4.00 kids meal that is affordable to 99% of all American households.

If that seems hard to grasp, here's another way of looking at it -- I predict that by the time my son is my age, Burger King will include the equivalent of an IPod Nano in every kids meal.

Does the CPI incorporate some of the effects discussed in this parable? Certainly it does, in the form of the declining cost of radios. Does it incorporate all of them? No -- the increasing sophistication of the toys contained within kids meals is not included.

Readers are invited to submit other examples on a par with my son's kids meal as examples of how previously exotic technologies have become practically throwaway commodities.

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)