Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Talking with the divine Ms. Postrel

My latest bloggingheads exchange is with Virginia Postrel., who seems to have stolen the cerulean sweater first worn by Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada.

Topics range from Helen Mirren's dress to student confessions to privacy on the Internet to the new new world order. Just for kicks, Amitai Etzioni is mocked at several points.

Go check it out.

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gone ISAing

Blogging will range from intermittent to light over the next few days, as I will be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in Chicago. [Chicago in February?--ed. Well, not all of us get invited to Firenze, like some other bloggers I know. Besides, the previous two years, ISA was in San Diego and Honolulu, so I've decided not to complain.]

If you want to peruse some of the papers, click here. I'll be presenting a newly revised version of "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion."

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: Mark Harris complains in Entertainment Weekly that conservative characters on television are neither conservative nor nasty enough:

As a member of the self-deluding Eastern liberal politically correct media elite (so my reader mail tells me), I would like to learn more about the opposition. The problem is, they keep going soft on me. Last fall, TV promised us two conservatives: Kitty Walker on ABC's Brothers & Sisters, and Harriet Hayes on NBC's now-shelved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Kitty was supposed to be a brash, Ann Coulter-like firebrand in a family of whole-grain blue-staters, and deeply religious Harriet was going to redress the injustices done to people of faith by godless showbiz types. As each series has unfolded, both women have been portrayed as multidimensional, sensitive human beings. Not incidentally, they seem to be turning into liberals....

Brothers & Sisters is, I think, pulling off an excellent liberal spin on conservatism, systematically demolishing Kitty's beliefs by depicting her as a right-winger who has never confronted the human side of her arguments. When she does — when the endangered soldier or the homosexual whose rights are denied is in her own family — politics becomes personal, and she becomes more ideologically flexible. Dick Cheney would call that fighting dirty; I would call Brothers & Sisters a really fun way to make Dick Cheney mad.

Question -- doesn't everyone become more ideologically flexible when politics becomes personal?

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

James Galbraith confuses me

Greg Mankiw alerts me to a James Galbraith essay in The Nation that claims to take on Hamilton Project Democrats. Galbraith focuses on trade policy first, and comes to the following conclusion:

The facts are clear: NAFTA is a done deal, and China is a success story we have to live with. Progressives need a trade narrative that moves past these two issues. Broadly, this means accepting manufactured imports and dropping the idea that we can control--or that it matters much--who assembles television sets or stitches shirts. Standards to guard against flagrant abuses such as child and prison labor are fine, but it's an illusion to think they will, or should, dent the flow of goods from China. A progressive trade agenda should focus, instead, on building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries. That should provide plenty of room for future fights with free-trade absolutists.
Um... actually, no, Galbraith's formulation doesn't leave a lot of room for future fights -- not that there's anything wrong with that!! I wish all progressives shared the Galbraith position.

The problem is that there is plenty of room for division within Galbraith's forumlation of the progressive trade agenda: "building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries." The former requires enforcing intellectual property rights, because they are at the root of much of what the United States currently exports. Progressives, however, would no doubt argue that the latter requires dropping IPR enforcement altogether.

Given the current standards of trade discourse, however, I should shut up and just encourage all progressives to read Galbraith.

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Your agricultural subsidies fact of the day

The WTO has just issued its latest Trade Policy Review for the European Union. This fun fact is found in the overview:

In value, export subsidies notified by the EC represent approximately 90% of all the WTO Members' notified export subsidies.
Hat tip: Daniel Altman on the International Herald-Tribune's globalization blog.

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

Cheney hears boom

Apparently Vice President Richard Cheney's surprise visit to Afghanistan was not a surprise to the Taliban:

Vice President Dick Cheney was whisked into a bomb shelter immediately after a Taliban suicide bomber struck the main American military base he was visiting in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Up to 14 people were killed, including one U.S. and one South Korean soldier, in the Bagram Airbase attack which rebels said was aimed at Cheney.

He had been in his room at the base where he had unexpectedly had to stay the night after bad weather forced postponement of his trip to the capital, Kabul, about 60 km (40 miles) away.

"At 10 a.m. I heard a loud boom," Cheney said.

Base authorities sounded a red alert and secret service officials told Cheney there had been a suspected suicide attack.

"They moved me for a relatively brief period of time to one of the bomb shelters nearby," he said. "As the situation settled down and they got a better sense in terms of what was going on, then I went back to my room until it was time to leave."

NATO's death toll in the attack was four, officials said. A Reuters photographer at the scene saw an additional 10 bodies, putting the total at 14....

"We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.

Given that Cheney wasn't supposed to be in Bagram at the time of the bombing, I find this statement pretty dubious.

However, for more details about Cheney's whirlwind worldwide tour, you would be hard-pressed to beat this diary by Newsweek's Holly Bailey. One fascinating vignette:

But shortly before his plane was to lift off, it began snowing. Reporters and aides who had been waiting on the tarmac for Cheney' arrival were escorted back to the base' firehouse, where they sat and waited. Within an hour came the word: the weather in Kabul made the trip too dangerous to carry on. Already considered the most risky portion of the trip— the road connecting the airport and Karzai's palace was covered in several inches of snow and would need to be cleared. The VP and his entourage would stay overnight at Bagram, in hopes of holding the meeting on Tuesday.

But where would people sleep? Cheney and his top aides quickly found accommodations on the base, but finding a place for the press and the dozens of Secret Service agents and lower level aides on the trip would prove far trickier. Just after 8:30 PM, a Cheney aide tried to escort the seven reporters on the trip to the mess hall for food. (It was taco night, the base reported.) But just a few minutes before arrival came word that the base didn't have enough food for its visitors.

Reporters were then taken to one of the few open barracks on the base and assigned bunk beds—girls in one room, guys in the other. The soldiers escorting the media were extremely apologetic and embarrassed: They had not been prepared for guests. There were no sheets, only a few blankets and even fewer pillows. They handed out Ziploc bags of socks, sweatshirts and other supplies. Eyeing the packages, reporters immediately felt guilty: these were intended care packages for the troops. One Ziploc full of socks had a label describing it as a donation from a Boy Scout troop in Michigan. ('Operation Quiet Comfort,' it said.) Another care package, full of toothpaste and other toiletries, was from the USO. "Can we really use these?" one reporter asked. In the end, the media agreed to use the care packages, but only sparingly.

Just after dawn on Tuesday morning, reporters were taken to the mess hall, where Cheney was dining with the troops. "How was breakfast?" a reporter yelled to the VP. "Breakfast was excellent," Cheney replied, in what were his first three words to the press pool traveling with him on the trip, now in its eighth day.

posted by Dan at 09:30 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The new new world order

I have an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The New New World Order". The precis:

Controversies over the war in Iraq and U.S. unilateralism have overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: its attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power and the emergence of states such as China and India. This unheralded move is well intentioned and well advised, and Washington should redouble its efforts.
The slightly longer precis that explains the title:
[The growth of India, China, and other rising powers] will pose a challenge to the U.S.-dominated global institutions that have been in place since the 1940s. At the behest of Washington, these multilateral regimes have promoted trade liberalization, open capital markets, and nuclear nonproliferation, ensuring relative peace and prosperity for six decades -- and untold benefits for the United States. But unless rising powers such as China and India are incorporated into this framework, the future of these international regimes will be uncomfortably uncertain.

Given its performance over the last six years, one would not expect the Bush administration to handle this challenge terribly well. After all, its unilateralist impulses, on vivid display in the Iraq war, have become a lightning rod for criticism of U.S. foreign policy. But the Iraq controversy has overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: Washington's attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power. The Bush administration has been reallocating the resources of the executive branch to focus on emerging powers. In an attempt to ensure that these countries buy into the core tenets of the U.S.-created world order, Washington has tried to bolster their profiles in forums ranging from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the World Health Organization, on issues as diverse as nuclear proliferation, monetary relations, and the environment. Because these efforts have focused more on so-called low politics than on the global war on terrorism, they have flown under the radar of many observers. But in fact, George W. Bush has revived George H. W. Bush's call for a "new world order" -- by creating, in effect, a new new world order.

Read the whole thing. I look forward to static from liberals because I have actually found an issue where the Bush administration has acquitted itself reasonably well. And I look forward to static from conservatives because the issue I've identified -- playing nice with China and India in multilateral settings -- is not something they would identify as a good thing.

Later today links on sources will be posted.

UPDATE -- SEVERAL DAYS LATER. OK, so I've been busy. Still, a few relevant links.

The genesis for this article was this blog post from August 2006 about the rejiggering of IMF quotas. The Treasury statement on this effort can be found here.

The September 2002 National Secuity Strategy can be found here; the March 2006 NSS is available here.

Condoleezza Rice's speech on transformational diplomacy can be found at the State Department web site; here's a link to Robert Zoellick's "responsible stakeholder" speech on China.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for linking to the piece, and thanks to the Economist's Democracy in America blog for responding more substantively.

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

The vocabulary of international relations

Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Jackson asks a very good question:

I am considering for my introductory World Politics class in the Fall. I call it "IR Vocabulary," and the basic idea is to split students into pairs and have each pair go off and find consensus definitions of key IR terms, My intuition here is that in order to have a good discussion about world politics, there are some basic terms that we need to know; some of these terms are more or less empirical and refer to objects in the world, while others are more or less conceptual and refer to ways of making sense of those objects. [Yes, yes, this is an unstable distinction; yes, empirical terms are conceptual and vice versa . . . but there is still a difference, if only a difference of degree, between a term like 'the balance of power' and a term like 'the Security Council.']

So here's my question for all of you: if you were going to draw up a list of twenty key terms that people ought to have working definitions of in order to sensibly and meaningfully talk about world politics, what would they be? What is the basic vocabulary that people have to know before they can start in with the arguing and the debating and the pondering?

Click on over to give your answers. Of the top of my head, mine are below, split 50-50 between empirical and conceptual:
Treaty Peace of Westphalia
July 1914
Bretton Woods
Security Council
Cold War
European Union
globalization (admittedly, could go in either category)

balance of power
security dilemma
prisoner's dilemma
credible commitment
offense/defense balance

UPDATE: I've fixed the Westphalia term, because there actually is no Treaty of Westphalia. I knew this, but was sloppy about it in the post. Apologies.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"I wonder why this Council on Foreign Relations meeting is so well-attended?"

Jeremy Grant reports in the Financial Times that the Council on Foreign Relations has announced its latest batch of term members. One of them apparently has some prior experience as a U.N. ambassador:

The dead-pan world of the Washington policy wonk looks set for a dash of Hollywood glamour with the nomination of actress Angelina Jolie to join one of the most venerable think-tanks in the US.

The Council on Foreign Relations, whose members include former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, decided on Friday to accept the 32-year-old to be considered for a special five-year term designed to “nurture the next generation of foreign policy makers”.

Membership would allow Ms Jolie access to 40 academic “fellows” – such as Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, and Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian – and to meet current world leaders.

The Council does not require members to hold any particular academic qualifications. Ms Jolie’s formal education ended at a high school in Beverly Hills . Applicants must be nominated by one existing member and seconded with at least three supporting letters from others.

It is not clear who nominated Ms Jolie, but fellow Hollywood actors Michael Douglas and Richard Dreyfuss are life members of the Council, founded in 1921 as a non-partisan membership organisation to “promote understanding of foreign policy and America’s role in the world”.

Note to self: check immediately to ascertain if Salma Hayek would be interested in CFR membership. [Um.... don't you have to be an American citizen to belong to the Council?--ed. Hayek is now a U.S. citizen, to vdare's everlasting chagrin.]

posted by Dan at 07:18 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Your Oscar predictions for 2007!!

Well, the Academy Award ceremonies will be upon us in 24 hours, which means it's time for our fifth annual Oscar predictions. We will note that this year, we are wearing black armbands in protest at the brutal discrimination subjected against Salma Hayek in the acting categories. Don't those Academy fools realize that she won Best Nude Scene for 2006 from Mr. Skin for Ask the Dust?! [You'll always have this scene!!--ed. It's not enough. It's never enough.]

OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Surprisingly, given the move and everything, the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:

Best Supporting Actor:
Will win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Should win: Steve Carrell, Little Miss Sunshine

Eddie Murphy has made a ton of money for Hollowood over 25 years, and proved he can act. Hollywood will reciprocate accordingly -- despite his graceless acceptance speech at the Golden Globes -- because the alternative characters (heroin junkie grandpa, child molester) aren't as appealing.

It's great that Arkin got nominated, but Carrell stole the movie for me. Part of it is that he's playing against his "type" from Anchorman and The 40-Year Old Virgin. Part of it is that, as an academic, I had never seen an actor nail the self-seriousness that we all possess in great quantities better than Carrell.

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Should win: Jane Adams, Little Children

Let me preface this by saying I did not see Dreamgirls, but by all accounts Slate's Judy Rosen is correct in asserting that Dreamgirls is "not really a movie, but a song, surrounded by 125 minutes of padding." Plus, Hudson is apparently the sweetest person on the face of the planet. Still, part of me does wonder why this logic did not apply to Queen Latifah's nomination for Chicago.

Adams played Sheila, Ronnie's date in Little Children. She doesn't have a lot of screen time (really, she would win Best Cameo if they had that category and Adams was more famous). I don't want to spoil the movie for the many of you that didn't see it but should rent it on DVD, so can't exactly say why I thought she deserved it. Let's just say that despite the fact that Kate Winslet was astonishingly good in this film, I couldn't stop thinking about the sorrow embedded within Adams' character for days after seeing the film.

Best Actor
Will win: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Should win: Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

My hunch is that if either Venus or Blood Diamond were better movies, Whitaker wouldn't be winning. I still think that DiCaprio has a decent shot at a major upset here. However, Whitaker's acting chops will not be denied.

For me, one of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial. Craig was able to take a character and a franchise that defined "cartoonish" and actually make people care about James Bond again. For this, he wasn't even nominated. The really absurd thing is that Craig is not an action star but, by all accounts, a chameleon of an actor. Sorry, Daniel -- if it makes you feel any better, my wife and many of her friends would like to somehow make it up to you.

Best Actress
Will win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Should win: tie, Mirren and Kate Winslet, Little Children

Look, if you don't think Helen Mirren is going to win, please e-mail me so I can take your money in an Oscar pool.

As for who should win, Mirren was extraordinary -- it's not just the makeup, it's every facial twitch and frown. That sais, Winslet accomplishes the same thing -- she makes us sympathize with a fundamentally unsympathetic character (an adulterer who neglects her child).

Best Director
Will win: Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Should win: Stephen Frears, The Queen

C'mon, you know that the Academy is to Martin Scorcese as Lucy is to Charlie Brown kicking the football. My hunch is that Eastwood gets brownie points for directing two superior films in a year and Scorcese gets docked a point for having that rat in the final shot.

Paradoxically, Mirren is so good in The Queen that she's been sucking all the oxygen from the other people that deserve praise. Frears, in particular, managed to pull off an improbable task -- he fit an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance into one of the driest comedy of manners ever made.

Best Picture
Will win: Babel
Should win: The Queen

Babel is this year's Crash -- on a global scale!! I'm counting on the Academy's guilty liberal conscience to put it over the top. Besides, you know, it aimed high -- which is apparently what matters to Academy voters.

The Queen is the only movie I saw this year that was note-perfect (though Thank You For Smoking came close). Even though, as I said, it's fundamentally a comedy, the characters are never played for broad laughs (well, except Prince Philip). As I said, Mirren's performance has somehow crowded out the attention that it deserves for other reasons, including Michael Sheen's fascinating portrayal of Tony Blair.

Enjoy the show!!

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... hmwa? It's over? Jesus, people, if you're going to read your acceptance speeches, how about outsourcing the thing to someone who can write in a concise and pithy manner? This awards ceremony actually made me nostalgic for the 3-6 Mafia.

[You're just bitter because you didn't do so well in your predictions!--ed. Alas, this is true. My sharpest observation of the evening occurred after Alan Arkin won for best supporting actor, when I said to my lovely wife, "I bet you Eddie Murphy leaves the building in the next five minutes." And he was never seen from again.]

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The next class topic: how Woody Woodpecker promotes the Irish

This might be the most bizarre university lecture I have ever seen:

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why not Drezner in 2008? It was a great two seconds....

So I've decided that, contrary to my earlier Shermanesque pledges forswearing elected office, I shall run for President in 2008.

Drezner in 2008!!! Drez for Prez!! DREZ FOR PREZ!!! [DREZ FOR PREZ!!!-ed.]

No, wait, I've changed my mind, I don't think I can raise the money.

Think this post is absurd? Consider this Des Moines Register story by Thomas Beaumont:

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack withdrew as a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination today, saying he could not raise enough money to compete with his nationally known rivals....

The Iowa polls were also a factor, he said. Vilsack said it had been difficult to tell potential donors "that you're not the prohibitive favorite in the caucus process."

I haven't seen a presidential run this brief since Jimmy James had to withdraw in 1996.

UPDATE: Will Dennis Kucinich survive this Kos assault? [Judging by this clip, I don't think Kucinich needed Kos to be sunk--ed.]

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Iran thread

Can't really blog right now, but that shouldn't stop you from commenting!

Post away on what's going to happen next in Iran following the latest IAEA report.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The secrets of Sid Meier

The Weekly Standard's Victorino Matus has a cover story on Civilization and its creator, Sid Meier (I have previously documented how Civilization nearly crippled my academic career).

Read the whole thing, but here are two bits of interesting information:

Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."....

Civilization has a range of levels ascending in difficulty, from "Settler" to "Deity," sometimes known as the Sid level. Ironically, Meier has never won at this level. His excuse? "When we're developing, it's hard to finish a game. A lot of times, you play for a while and say, 'Oh, this or that ought to change.' People in the real world get better than us. I mean, there are people who are just so willing to spend the time."

Take, for example, WEEKLY STANDARD contributor and First Things editor Joseph Bottum, who has, in fact, won at the Deity level in Civilization III. He first began playing Civilization II in 1995 when he was a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. "Among real aficionados," he says, "the goal was to see whether you could launch a spaceship before you reached A.D." The Deity level of Civ III posed more of a challenge, though Bottum eventually found a winning strategy--one involving an ancient civilization whose prime achievement appears early in the game, such as Egypt with its war chariots.

UPDATE: Matus provides some more details in this Galley Slaves post.

posted by Dan at 08:54 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

So what do IR specialists think, redux

Two years ago I blogged about a survey of international relations scholars and their attitudes towards IR theory and U.S. foreign policy.

Two years later.... they're back with another survey. You can access the summary at Foreign Policy magazine. [UPDATE: the full report is available here.]

Dan Nexon summarizes many of the significant findings, impugning the reputation of my home institution in the process.

One finding I found particularly interesting:

Contrary to popular belief, international relations scholars are not doves. Most believe that military force is warranted under the right conditions. Unsurprisingly, given the daily reminder of the challenges of going it alone in Iraq, academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community. If a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran emerges over nuclear weapons, scholars demonstrate an extreme aversion to unilateral American action. If the U.N. Security Council authorizes force, however, approval for action skyrockets.

This support for multilateralism is remarkably stable across ideology. In the cases of both Iran and North Korea, liberals and conservatives agree that U.N.-sanctioned action is preferable. More striking are the attitudes of self-identified realists. Scholars of realism traditionally argue that international institutions such as the United Nations do not (and should not) influence the choices of states on issues of war and peace. But we found realists to be much more supportive of military intervention with a U.N. imprimatur than they are of action without such backing. Among realists, in fact, the gap between support for multilateral and unilateral intervention in North Korea is identical to the gap among scholars of the liberal tradition, whose theories explicitly favor cooperation (emphasis added).

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One anti-offshoring advocate changes his mind

Via Greg Mankiw, I find this Andrew Cassel column in the Philadelphia Inquirer pointing out that, around or about three years ago, everyone was freaking out about offshore outsourcing. Yeah, what happened there?

[T]his month marks the third year since the Great Offshoring Scare of 2004.

Remember? It was this month three years ago that Americans woke up to the shocking realization that many of the voices on the other end of the tech-support help line were in India, or Ukraine, or the Philippines. The news hit like a rock, and life was never the same again.

OK, I'm exaggerating. A lot of us actually knew about offshoring before then. And as for life never being the same... well, you decide.

That month, Wired magazine, which keeps its finger on the pulse of the information-technology community, published a cover article about the spreading revolt of American tech workers against firms that filled programming and other jobs overseas.

One of Wired's key interviews was with Scott Kirwin of Wilmington, who had lost his job doing back-office tech work for a bank in Delaware. The experience had shaken Kirwin's faith in American business and prompted him to start a grassroots activist group to lobby for protection against offshoring....

And what happened next? Nothing.

Nothing, that is, like the massive outflow of jobs that many feared. Employment growth, which had been notably slow after the 2001 recession, picked up in the United States. (We've gained more than five million jobs since early 2004.) Recruiters who specialize in information-technology workers say they have more openings than they can fill.

And as a hot-button headline issue, offshoring appears to have gone the way of Y2K and the Red Menace. File it under N, for Not as Big a Deal as We Thought.

Yes, some still see offshoring as a threat, sort of. A Brookings Institution report last week said some metropolitan regions with lots of high-tech employment could see as many as 4.3 percent of their jobs go overseas. (Philadelphia isn't so vulnerable - the Brookings report estimates our potential losses at 2.5 percent at the most.)

But most economists who've looked at the issue rate the long-run economic impact of offshoring as either (1) minimal, or (2) positive. Using overseas workers to save money or boost productivity generally results in better or cheaper services, which in turn leads to more competition, more innovation, and growth.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Listen to Scott Kirwin, who made a return appearance in December to Wired magazine. Things have changed. He shut down his anti-offshoring Web site in 2006 and has since found himself a better job in the software business. "I don't view outsourcing as the big threat it was," he told the magazine. "In the end, America may be stronger for it." (emphasis added)

Gee, that sounds familiar....

UPDATE: Whoops!! The original title to this post read "anti-offhoring" rather than "anti-offshoring," which takes the conversation to places I do not want to go.

Fixed now.

posted by Dan at 04:42 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Your international law links for today

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations web site, Dan Ikenson and Robert E. Lighthizer are debating whether the WTO dispute settlement system is too robust for its own good.

Meanwhile, at the International Economic Law and Policy blog, my colleague Joel Trachtman discusses why Indonesia has decided to sell Baxter HealthCare exclusive access to its avian flu virus samples.

posted by Dan at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 19, 2007

What Pakistan giveth, Pakistan also taketh away

Like everyone else, I found today's New York Times story by Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde very disturbing:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

It should be pointed out that this problem has been around for a couple of months now. Obviously, the Bush administration finds itself in a bind about what to do about Pakistan, as Mazzetti and Rohde document:
The concern about a resurgent Al Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, the officials said, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president....

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government....

The analysts said that North Waziristan became a hub of militant activity last year, after President Musharraf negotiated a treaty with tribal leaders in the area. He pledged to pull troops back to barracks in the area in exchange for tribal leaders’ ending support for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded that the agreement had been a failure....

Pakistani officials say that they are doing their best to gain control of the area and that military efforts to pacify it have failed, but that more reconstruction aid is needed.

What's truly depressing about this is that there is evidence that Pakistan has cracked down on other terrorist groups. For example, this Christian Science Monitor story by Anuj Chopra points out that one reason today's train bombings will not derail the south Asian peace process is because India recognizes that Pakistan is cracking down on Kashmiri terrorist groups:
Sunday's bombings may represent a departure from the fragile diplomatic cycle between India and Pakistan that made peace talks between them so vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Unlike the response to the [July 2006] Mumbai bombings, the reaction to the attack on the Samjhauta Express underscored India's new reluctance to point fingers at Pakistani militants. Instead, Indian and Pakistani officials have denounced the act of terrorism and are hewing toward peace in a process that began in 2004.

"We expect the peace process will hold," said Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister on Monday.

"No hasty conclusions will be drawn on who is responsible for these attacks," Mr. Kasuri told New Delhi Television, a local news channel, expressing grief over the death of innocent civilians, a majority of whom are Pakistani....

Mr. [Ajit] Doval [former director of India's Intelligence Bureau] said that he suspects the same perpetrators involved in previous attacks – namely Pakistan-based Islamist groups Lashkar-i Tayyaba and Jaish-e Muhammed.

What is baffling about the attacks, he says, is that the bombers are targeting Pakistani citizens.

Doval points out that terrorism in the disputed region of Kashmir – the most contentious issue between the two countries – is at an all-time low.

The number of politically motivated killings has dropped by two-thirds since 2001 to three from 10 per day – the lowest since the Kashmiri uprising began in the early 1990's. The declining attacks could be a sign that Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in India are feeling increased pressure from the Pakistani government, says Doval.

"Targeting Pakistani civilians could be a sign of their resentment," Doval says of the Kashmiri separatists.

I don't know enough about Pakistan's domestic politics to understand why Musharraf is able to crack down on the Kashmiri groups while he's allowing Al Qaeda groups to fester. I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

posted by Dan at 06:43 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A post in which I agree with the European Commission

Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times that the European Commission has decided it wants the rest of the world to look more like Brusels:

Brussels wants the rest of the world to adopt the European Union’s regulations, the European Commission will say this week.

A Commission policy paper that examines the future of the Union’s single market says European single market rules have inspired global standard-setting in areas such as product safety, the environment, securities and corporate governance.

“Increasingly the world is looking to Europe and adopts the standards that are set here,” the paper, seen by the Financial Times, says.

The paper calls on the EU to encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit – for example by “promoting European standards internationally through international organisation and bilateral agreements”.

This strategy, it claims, will help European businesses beat their rivals abroad since it “works to the advantage of those already geared up to meet these standards”.

The EU’s drive to establish itself as the pacesetter for worldwide business regulation could well lead the bloc into conflict with the US and other trading partners. US officials have often voiced concern about the Union’s growing clout as a global standard-setter, and the two sides have clashed over issues such as rules for the chemicals industry and the EU’s stance on genetically modified foods....

The two sides have very different regulatory philosophies, with the EU placing a heavy emphasis on consumer protection and environmental legislation while the US tends to promote a more market-based approach. Some critics of the European approach argue that the Union’s stance on issues such as GM foods may also reflect a desire to protect the region’s commercial interests.

However, as the Commission paper points out, the sheer size and wealth of the Union’s single market mean that few corporations can afford to ignore it. By harmonising the rules for a market boasting 500m consumers, the Union has set standards “which partners then have to meet if they are to benefit from the single market”, it says.

“[The single market] gives the EU the potential to shape global norms and to ensure that fair rules are applied to worldwide trade and investment. The single market of the future should be the launch pad of an ambitious global agenda.”

The EU deciding to throw around its market weight? This sounds very, very familiar.

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

You be the ethicist!

Harry Brighouse poses an ethical question to the readers over at Crooked Timber:

Graduate Admissions Committee... is deciding whom to admit.... there is a website on which potential students gossip share information about the departments to which they are applying, and many do so anonymously. However, many such students say enough about themselves that if you are in possession of their file (as graduate admissions committee is) you can identify them with near, and in some cases absolute, certainty. One applicant to said department behaves on the website (under the supposed cloak of anonymity) like… well, very badly, saying malicious things about departments he has visited, raising doubts about whether he is honest and the kind of person it would be reasonable to want other students to deal with, and generally revealing himself to be utterly unpleasant.

Question: is it wrong for the GAC to take this information about the applicant into account when making a decision?

My take: yes, it's wrong. More precise information (how ironclad is the ID'ing of this applicant? How bad is the behavior?) might make it a tougher call. That said, it sounds like the only difference between this applican't behavior and 99% of all grad students I have known in my day is that this person put these things into print rather than speaking them at a party after several beers.

[So you're saying all grad students are utterly unpleasant?--ed. No, I'm saying that all grad students, like all professors, have a side to their personalities that is best shielded from public view. I think it's safe to assume that this applicant never thought that a GAC, armed with information from the file, would put two and two together on a web site. So what would you do?--ed. Assuming the person was admitted and came, if I were the GAC I'd probably have a closed-door meeting with the person to ascertain the truth, and then put a bit of a scare into him or her. That should be sufficient to deter future printed displays of bad behavior.]

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Yes, it's the golden age of 80's music-video spoofs

First, there was Justin Timberlake's "D**k in a Box" on Saturday Night Live:

Now, there's Hugh Grant's "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music and Lyrics:
Clearly, this is the golden age of music video spoofs. Everyone just sit back and enjoy our cultural crest.

My only complaint is that so far this trend has only covered boy bands. I'd like to see someone like Sarah Silverman spoof a Madonna video (though this one comes close).

posted by Dan at 04:36 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Things begin to fall apart in Venezuela

Simon Romero report in the New York Times about what happens when you combine price controls and the Dutch disease in Hugo Chavez-land:

Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.

Food producers and economists say the measures announced late Thursday night, which include removing three zeroes from the denomination of Venezuela’s currency, are likely to backfire and generate even more acute shortages and higher prices for consumers. Inflation climbed to an annual rate of 18.4 percent a year in January, the highest in Latin America and far above the official target of 10 to 12 percent.

Mr. Chávez, whose leftist populism remains highly popular among Venezuela’s poor and working classes, seemed unfazed by criticism of his policies. Appearing live on national television, he called for the creation of “committees of social control,” essentially groups of his political supporters whose purpose would be to report on farmers, ranchers, supermarket owners and street vendors who circumvent the state’s effort to control food prices.

“It is surreal that we’ve arrived at a point where we are in danger of squandering a major oil boom,” said José Guerra, a former chief of economic research at Venezuela’s central bank, who left Mr. Chavez’s government in 2004. “If the government insists on sticking to policies that are clearly failing, we may be headed down the road of Zimbabwe.”....

In an indicator of concern with Mr. Chávez’s economic policies, which included nationalizing companies in the telephone and electricity industries, foreign direct investment was negative in the first nine months of 2006. The last year Venezuela had a net investment outflow was in 1986.

Shortages of basic foods have been sporadic since the government strengthened price controls in 2003 after a debilitating strike by oil workers. But in recent weeks, the scarcity of items like meat and chicken have led to a panicked reaction by federal authorities as they try to understand how such shortages could develop in a seemingly flourishing economy.

Entering a supermarket here is a bizarre experience. Shelves are fully stocked with Scotch whiskey, Argentine wines and imported cheeses like brie and Camembert, but basic staples like black beans and desirable cuts of beef like sirloin are often absent. Customers, even those in the government’s own Mercal chain of subsidized grocery stores, are left with choices like pork neck bones, rabbit and unusual cuts of lamb.

With shoppers limited to just two large packages of sugar, a black market in sugar has developed among street vendors in parts of Caracas. “This country is going to turn into Cuba, or Chávez will have to give in,” said Cándida de Gómez, 54, a shopper at a private supermarket in Los Palos Grandes, a district in the capital....

Fears that more private companies could be nationalized have put further pressure on the currency as rich Venezuelans try to take money out of the country. Concern over capital flight has made the government jittery, with vague threats issued to newspapers that publish unofficial currency rates (officially the bolívar is quoted at about 2,150 to the dollar)....

But recent expropriations of farms and ranches, part of Mr. Chávez’s effort to empower state-financed cooperatives, have also weighed on domestic food production as the new managers retool operations. So has the flood of petrodollars into the economy, easing food imports and making some domestic producers uncompetitive, an affliction common to oil economies.

“There seems to be a basic misunderstanding in Chávez’s government of what is driving scarcity and inflation,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a former chief economist at Venezuela’s National Assembly who teaches at Wesleyan University.

“There are competent people in the government who know that Chávez needs to lower spending if he wants to defeat these problems,” Mr. Rodríguez said. “But there are few people in positions of power who are willing to risk telling him what he needs to hear.”

It will be interesting to see whether Chavez will reverse course. His supporters repeatedly point to Chavez's apparent successes in poverty reduction as the hallmark of his administration (though those "successes" are more illusory than real). Inflation above 20%, however, is a guaranteed recipe for increasing economic inequality -- because only the rich can move their capital abroad or otherwise hedge against inflation.


UPDATE: Chavez is now on a goodwill tour in the Caribbean trying to buy more international support. According to the AP, "The crowd, however, did not respond with applause to the Venezuelan leader's vitriolic statements."

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (3)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Does anyone tell the truth in the Greater Middle East?

The ABC News blog, The Blotter, reports that Al Qaeda has been reduced to aping what thousands of Americans did on America’s Funniest Home Videos -- staging reality:

An al Qaeda-produced video claiming to show how U.S. and Afghan forces were driven out of a heavily defended base in the last few weeks appears to be a phony.

U.S. and NATO military officials have studied the tape but say they have no record of any such attack in the last month, and an analysis of the tape by ABC News raises many questions of whether the base was even occupied when it was supposedly attacked.

There are green leaves on the trees, no snow on the mountains and the fighters appear to be dressed rather lightly for the harsh Afghan winter where nighttime temperatures have been around 15 degrees this month.

Scenes of the bases, supposedly shot before the attack, show only one person walking up a hill at long range.

Scenes of the base, supposedly shot after the attack, show no evidence of damage, bodies, blood stains, spent shells or abandoned equipment other than one broken-down pick-up truck....

And the contention that the fighters "liberated" the Zabul province area, where the tape was supposedly shot, is scoffed at by top Afghan experts contacted by ABC News.

"The U.S. presence in Zabul is still strong. The U.S. is still fighting and is doing development projects in the area," said Seth Jones, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, who has just returned from Afghanistan.

Jones said there have been a series of coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in that province but that he was there at the time of the supposed attack and "never heard of any such incident."

The tape has all the standard trademarks of the al Qaeda propaganda operations with the same graphics and production techniques that have marked dozens of previous tapes.

I swear, when you can't trust an Al Qaeda video, you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

posted by Dan at 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

It's just me, myself, and I

According to Pew's political typology test, I'm an... enterpriser:

Enterprisers represent 9 percent of the American public, and 10 percent of registered voters.

Basic Description
As in previous studies conducted in 1987, 1994 and 1999, this extremely partisan Republican group’s politics are driven by a belief in the free enterprise system and social values that reflect a conservative agenda. Enterprisers are also the strongest backers of an assertive foreign policy, which includes nearly unanimous support for the war in Iraq and strong support for such anti-terrorism efforts as the Patriot Act.

Defining Values
Assertive on foreign policy and patriotic; anti-regulation and pro-business; very little support for government help to the poor; strong belief that individuals are responsible for their own well being. Conservative on social issues such as gay marriage, but not much more religious than the nation as a whole. Very satisfied with personal financial situation.

Who They Are
Predominantly white (91%), male (76%) and financially well-off (62% have household incomes of at least $50,000, compared with 40% nationwide). Nearly half (46%) have a college degree, and 77% are married. Nearly a quarter (23%) are themselves military veterans. Only 10% are under age 30....

2004 Election
Bush 92%, Kerry 1%. Bush’s most reliable supporters (just 4% of Enterprisers did not vote)

So, in other words, I belong to a group that comprises only one percent of the ten percent of registered voters who agree with me -- roughly 0.1%.

Man, I am feeling that love right now.

In all seriousness, however, the test sucks. For example, you are asked which statement you agree with: "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength" or "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." I'm pretty sure it's not an either-or distinction. Good diplomacy without military strength is largely ignored in world politics. Military strength without good diplomacy bears a strong resemblance to the Bush administration's first term. So, I voted for military strength, because it's more of a necessary condition -- but I wasn't happy about it.

Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias.

UPDATE: Headline Junky alerts me to this ABC Sunni-Shiite quiz. Readers concerned about whether I know what the hell I'm talking about whenever I blog about the Middle East may or may not be relieved that I aced it.

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Republican Hillary Clinton

Is it just me, or does Rudy Giuliani seem to inspire antagonism levels on a par with Hillary Clinton? From this Kevin Drum post alone, I find Matthew Yglesias having all kinds of fun with Rudy:

One quirk of American politics is that leading presidential candidates normally go into the campaign with little if any foreign policy experience. Most, however, at least recognize this as a problem and try to study up as part of the campaign effort. Giuliani comes to us as a rare duck -- a candidate whose signature issue is national security but who doesn't know anything about national security, and therefore won't study. Result: Nonsense, combined with temperamental authoritarianism.
Then there's David Freddoso in the National Review:
If Giuliani’s stances on babies, guns, and gay marriage do not sink him in the Republican primaries, he will probably suffer in a general election campaign from the fact that there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk....

Those who lived in New York prior to 9/11, myself included, remember an excellent mayor who was obsessed with getting credit for everything and making his critics pay; an effective mayor who called rivals “jerks” and “morons;” a decisive mayor who knowingly set out to drag his 14- and 10-year-old children through one of the nastiest and most publicized divorces in history. They remember a ruthless mayor who responded to the accidental police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 not just by defending the cops (as a good mayor must), but by illegally releasing the victim’s sealed juvenile rap sheet and declaring on television that the deceased “isn’t an altar boy.”

The scorned Bratton would later tell The New York Observer, “He’s an a**hole, but a successful a**hole.” And perhaps Rudy was such a great mayor precisely because he is such a jerk. Maybe a hard, mean man was what New York City needed after decades of feel-good, politically correct thinking had made the place unlivable and nearly ungovernable. “If you tell me off, I tell you off — that’s my personality,” Rudy once said on his weekly radio show. But as successful as this approach was in New York, it’s hard for a known a**hole to win a presidential election.

Kevin concludes, "At this rate, I give him a couple of months before he implodes completely."

It seems hard to dispue any of this, but then I look at the rest of the GOP field, and I'm not sure any of it matters. Romney, McCain, the rest of the Gilligan's Island castaways.... they all have whopping flaws too.

Question to readers: is Rudy Giuliani uniquely vulnerable?

posted by Dan at 07:52 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of baseball's Hamlet....

As pitchers and catchers migrate south, baseball watchers are obsessing about where Roger Clemens will pitch this year. It therefore seems fitting to remember the last time I saw Roger Clemens in a Red Sox uniform:

This might also have been the last time I agreed with Keith Olbermann

posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where is your liberaltarian God now?

That's the question I ask Brink Lindsey in my latest duet. Other topics covered include whether Barack Obama is the next Ross Perot, the inequality debate, the globalization of populism, and why trade talks are stalled.

Also, my wife makes a cameo appearance, and I provide a sneak preview of my next book, All Politics Is Global.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Your amusing quote of the day
For Maoists, they’re very light-hearted.
From a comment made at this Crooked Timber post by Scott McLemee.

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

So how's the global war on terror going?
The Center for American Progress, in concert with Foreign Policy magazine, has released survey results of "more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy hands" to see how they think the administration's anti-terrorism efforts are going. [Um... doesn't "they" includes "you"?--ed. Yeah, but I can't call myself a "top foreign-policy hand" without breaking into spontaneous giggles, so I think that just demonstrates a lack of bench strength in American foreign policy circles.]

As that top graph suggests, most of us aren't sanguine. Click here for the whole report. Or, if that whole reading thing bugs you, here is a YouTube video of CAP's Caroline Wadhams explaining it for you:

[Yeah, but the CAP is a left-wing think tank!!--ed. If you click here and scroll down to "Survey Particpants", you can find a complete list of those surveyed -- judge for yourself whether the list is skewed.]

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Must... resist.... looking back through rose-colored glasses

My son is very excited, because today is his very first snow day from school. I'm happy for him -- all children deserve at least one snow day a year. There's something much more enjoyable about an unplanned day of leisure (for the children -- this sort of thing is unbelievably inconvenient for the parents) than the expected weekend days.

That said, I can't shake the feeling, looking outside my window, that Massachusetts has gone unbelievably soft. There is, as I type this, less than an inch and a half of accumulation outside. Why, when I was a lad.... oh, hell, you know how the rest of that sentence will go.

This leads to an interesting question -- beyond the natural, likely erroneous belief that we were just physically hardier back in the day, what could explain this perception that schools call snow days with less weather now than they used to?

1) Media hype. Last night the spouse turned on the local news to catch a weather forecast, and the anchors looked positively orgiastic in their glee about the impending storm. The growth and sophistication of media marketing is greater now than a decade ago, and this affects expectations about the future;

2) Liability laws. School districts are more risk-averse because of the possible liability that comes with not calling a snow day and then having a bus get into an accident.

3) Traffic congestion. The problem isn't the weather, it's the weather + an increased number of cars on the road.

4) When it's been a mild winter, everyone jumps at the first appreciable snowfall.

Parents, provide your guesses here.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's been an interesting news cycle for nonproliferation wonks

So, on the one hand, there appears to be a tentative deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The word "tentative" is stressed because, no matter what the administration claims, this deal looks awfully similar to the1994 Agreed Framework, and that was never fully implemented. Looking at the text, there is an awful lot that still needs to be filled in.

The Washington Post's Edward Cody ably summrizes the political roadblocks to seeing this deal be completed:

As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to help provide part of the fuel oil, along with China, South Korea and Russia, according to Hill. That meant President Bush will be obliged to seek Congressional approval, a possibly difficult exercise given the level of hostility toward North Korea among many U.S. lawmakers and within the administration itself.

Mindful of past disappointments, including the 1994 Agreed Framework that included similar provisions but was later voided by the Bush administration, Wu called on all six nations participating in the talks to scrupulously "carry out their commitments."

To make sure, North Korea also expressed willingness to accept the return of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor what is going on at the reactor and other nuclear installations. But it said their work would be subject to agreement between the North Korean government and the U.N. nuclear agency, suggesting North Korea could exercise a veto power over their activities.

The accord, described as "initial actions," left for further negotiations the question of what to do with North Korea's declared nuclear weapons, estimated at a half-dozen bombs, and a stockpile of perhaps 50 kilograms of plutonium. In addition, it postponed discussions on a separate highly enriched uranium program that the Bush administration contends -- but North Korea denies -- was undertaken in secret as a second source of nuclear weapons fuel.

As a result, the agreement seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faces criticism from Democrats who charge that the administration, after breaking away from the Agreed Framework in 2002, ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

There is one big difference between 1994 and 2007, however -- the Democrats now control both houses of Congress. I'm not sure, therefore, whether conservative opposition will be as big of a problem as it was before. Of course, it's possible that the 8% of the Democratic caiucus in the Senate now running for president to use the deal as an opportunity for foreign policy posturing.

Meanwhile, according to the FT's Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid, the European Union has come to a sobering conclusion about Iran:

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community’s failure to hold back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. “Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the “reflection paper” – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

“At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme,” says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU’s 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.

“In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.”....

The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran, since last year it was Mr Solana and his staff who spearheaded talks with Tehran on behalf of both the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The paper adds that Tehran’s rejection of the offer put forward by Mr Solana “makes it difficult to believe that, at least in the short run, [Iran] would be ready to establish the conditions for the resumption of negotiations”.

UPDATE: God bless the FT, they've made the full text of the EU paper available online.

Meanwhile, The National Interest online has an informative interview with Graham Allison on the contours of the DPRK deal. One excerpt:

This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration....

North Korean words and commitments are of limited value and so most of what’s to be delivered here in terms of non-proliferation remain to be negotiated and if history is any guide, it’s gonna be a long path from where we now stand to the actual elimination of all North Korean nuclear-weapons material and nuclear weapons.

Later on in the interview, he agrees with John Bolton... really, he does.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The International-Herald Tribune's Jim Yardley has some of the play-by-play that led to the DPRK deal.

On a Friday night, three days before Christmas, the tortuous three-year diplomatic effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program finally seemed dead. Two months earlier, the country had conducted its first nuclear weapons test. Five days of talks in Beijing had just ended in failure and acrimony.

But that evening, the American team sent a messenger to the gated North Korean Embassy located near Beijing's historic Ritan Park. Would the North be interested in a private, bilateral meeting outside Beijing? A few days later, the North agreed and chose a location: Berlin.

The Berlin meeting last month would be critical in resuscitating the talks and in shaping the agreement reached Tuesday in Beijing, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the American negotiating team....

The American official said that at one point on Monday, Hill visited the North Koreans and mentioned a ceramic Korean cup that he keeps on his desk. He cited a Korean proverb about how pouring too much liquid into the cup causes it to all drain out, leaving nothing.

The message — do not get too greedy — was not lost on North Korea, but negotiations continued into early Tuesday morning.

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

Bring back the siesta!!

A little more than a year ago I mourned the slow disappearance of the siesta from Spain:

[I]t seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.

At the same time, the Burkean conservative in me mourns a loss. The siesta is such a lovely conceit for lazy people like myself -- who have a strong belief in the restorative and stimulating powers of the long lunch -- that it will be hard to imagine its disappearance from its country of origin.

It turns out there may be another negative externality associated with eliminating the siesta -- according to Stephen Smith of the Boston Globe:
In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men.

Researchers have long recognized that Mediterranean adults die of heart disease at a rate lower than Americans and Northern Europeans. Diets rich in olive oil and other heart-healthy foods have received some of the credit, but scientists have been intrigued by the potential role of napping.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that napping was more likely than diet or physical activity to lower the incidence of heart attacks and other life-ending heart ailments.

Still, the authors cautioned that further research is needed to confirm their findings.

Well, confirm them, for Pete's sake!

posted by Dan at 08:28 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Rorschach Middle East story of the week

USA Today's Barbara Slavin reports on how Iran's perceived rise is causing some unusual movements Arab-Israeli relations:

Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are making some of their most public overtures ever to Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran's growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution.

The high-profile gestures coincide with Saudi Arabia's lead role last week in brokering a deal for a coalition Palestinian government.

Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's departing ambassador to the United States, attended a Washington reception sponsored by American Jewish organizations. The event honored a State Department diplomat appointed to combat anti-Semitism.

The appearance of a Saudi diplomat is "unprecedented," said William Daroff, Washington office director for the United Jewish Communities, which organized the reception.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up contacts with Israel and pro-Israel Jewish groups in the USA. The outreach has the Bush administration's blessing: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Israel are a new alignment of moderates to oppose extremists backed by Iran and Syria. She has said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would weaken militants such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Contacts have intensified as part of a strategy meant to undercut extremists and build momentum for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, said Jamal Kashoggi, an aide to Saudi Prince Turki.

Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "What really concerns pro-U.S. Arab states is that Iran is setting the political agenda in the region."

Saudi and Gulf Arab contacts with Israelis and American Jews go back more than a decade but have never been so public.

Slavin's story comes out the same day Anthony Shadid analyzes rising Sunni-Shia tensions in the Washington Post (though do check out this Abu Arrdvark post to see whether the Sunni-Shia divide has been exaggerated.)

OK, time for your Rorschach test on international relations. What's the best way to interpret Slavin's story?

A) An exaggeration of a meaningless PR offensive;

B) The ultimate vindication of realism -- if the Saudis and Israelis choose to balance against a rising Iran, then perhaps the distribution of power is really the Most Important Thing in world politics;

C) The ultimate refutation of realism. After all, many realists assert that Israel is far more powerful than Iran -- so why are the Saudis bandwagoning rather than balancing?

D) Strong support for "The Israel Lobby" hypothesis -- the Saudis are cutting through the democratic rigamarole and negotiating with the cabal that runs U.S. foreign policy

E) Evidence to reject "The Israel Lobby" argument -- if American support for Israel is ostensibly undercutting America's standing in the Middle East, why the reaching out to Jews and Israelis?

F) Forget birth pangs, the new Middle East is here!! The Saudis are taking constructive steps to solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, the Arabian peninsula seems to be in synch with moderate Arab regimes to thwart the Shia crescent.

G) Meet the new Middle East -- same as the old Middle East. I wonder if it bothers the administration that the Shia crescent states, as a group, can make a greater claim for democratic representativeness than the Sunni Middle East (admittedly, not a high threshhold).

H) The U.S. has eliminated moral hazard in the Middle East. By getting bogged down in Iraq, the American appetite for further Middle East adventurism has waned considerably. This actually forces the states in the region to make their own accommodations.

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

I don't think this headline means what I think it means

From the front page of

Kevin Bacon, Will Smith make celeb love work.
Clearly, I've been infiltrated by the enemy at home.

posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Ségolène Royal's democratic socialism

When the International Herald-Tribune characterizes an economic program as "far-left," it's time to click over and see what all the fuss is about:

Ségolène Royal, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, unveiled a long- awaited platform on Sunday, veering sharply to the left on economic policy while also stressing discipline and "traditional values."

Ten weeks before the election, Royal is hoping to reverse a slide in popularity that has seen her lose ground to her main challenger, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a two-hour speech to about 10,000 supporters north of Paris, she laid out a 100-proposal platform, pledging to raise pensions, to increase the minimum wage to €1,500, or about $2,000, a month and to guarantee a job or further training for every youth within six months of graduating from university.

She also said that randomly selected citizens' juries would watch over government policy and that juvenile delinquents could be placed in educational camps run by the military.

As if to preempt her opponents on the right, she stressed throughout her speech that her ideas had been nourished in 6,000 debates with citizens throughout France, a method she has called "participative democracy."....

A substantial part of her speech was dedicated to social and economic issues, on which Royal took a hard-left line.

"The unfettered rein of financial profit is intolerable for the general interest," she said. "You told me simple truths. You told me you wanted fewer income inequalities. You told me you wanted to tax capital more than labor. We will do that reform."

Royal said she would tax companies in relation to what share of their profits is reinvested in equipment and jobs, and what portion is paid to shareholders. She also promised to abolish a flexible work contract for small companies and hold a national conference in June on how to increase salaries.

Indeed, she seemed to have something to offer to most groups in society without saying how much the combined measures would cost: Under her presidency, she said, young women would get free contraception, all young people would get access to a €10,000 interest- free loan and the handicapped would see their benefits rise.

At this time, there is no official confirmation that Royal has also promised free ponies to all French children who asked for them.

I have enough of a soft spot for the old Athenian council of 500 to hope that the citizen jury idea could actually work. Beyond that, if Royal wins and actually tries to implement this, it will be the fiscal equivalent of Francois Mitterand's "Keynesianism in One Country" -- with the same results of massive capital flight, recession, and policy retrenchment.

UPDATE: Over at U.S. News and World Report,James Pethokoukis blogs about another prominent politician who's big into taxing profits.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin went to town on the United States at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, according to the Financial Times:

Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called “illegal” US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.

In a speech that stunned most of the audience at an annual security conference held in Munich, Mr Putin also railed against US plans to build anti-missile defences in Europe, the expansion of Nato to include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and a host of other western policies.

Indeed, Putin says the following in his speech:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.
I wonder if any of Putin's advisors have the stones to tell him that, actually, he's wrong.

That's not what this post is about, however. No, this post is about how the Secretary of Defense responded to Putin's rhetorical blast. Here's the opening of Bob Gates's speech:

[A]s an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background - a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.

However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice“ or “be gone.“

The real world we inhabit is a different and much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.

For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.

Gates' deft deflection of Putin's charges seem to be going down well in the press.

It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done.

UPDATE: In Slate, Phil Carter finds other elements to praise in Gates.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (5)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It's easy to get old in the blogosphere

In the past few days, both Henry Farrell and Eugene Volokh have observed that the old, gray blogosphere ain't what it used to be.

Henry first:

I was somewhat bemused to see a whopping big advertisement on the back of the bus in front of me for The Hill’s Pundit Blog... It made me feel pretty weird; it’s a very different blogosphere to the one that I started off in (I suspect the disconnect for the real old-timers is even bigger).
As for a real old-timer, there's Eugene "My Finger Is Well Off the Pulse of the Blogosphere" Volokh, who observes the lack of reaction to an op-ed he had penned:
I had expected there'd be more attention from various blogs and radio programs that often cover radical Islam and the law. I figured the case that my story had uncovered had it all: The First Amendment; jihadism; parental rights; child welfare. Yet I've had much less original posts yield much more interest among blogs and radio programs, especially conservative ones.

.... I wonder: Did I misjudge the likely interest? Did I just not publicize the story enough? Should I have taken heroic measures to keep Anna Nicole Smith alive for several more days? What can I do in the future to try to draw more attention to such matters?

My example of wondering whether the blogosphere has passed me by has been the kerfuffle involving two bloggers for John Edwards that was reported in the New York Times and Time this week.

For the record, my take is pretty much in accord wth this Obsidian Wings post, but that's not the point -- the point is that, as much as I used to care about these intersections between the blogosphere and the real world, I can't get worked up about this kind of thing anymore. Who cares about campaign bloggers? They are little more than good PR stylists.

If you don't believe me, check out this Amanda Marcotte post on Edwards' health plan -- turns out she's happy that Paul Krugman likes it. Well, blow me down!

Perhaps the old fogies in the blogosphere get that way because, well, we stop taking the whole megillah so seriously. And we can't take it seriously because, well, this isn't our primary means of employment and never will be.

Once the blogosphere is run by sufficient numbers of people who are paid to blog, us enlightened amateurs just look semi-pro.

UPDATE: Just when I think the blogosphere has passed me by, I get this e-mail:

On Jewcy's blog, the Daily Shvitz, we run a periodic feature called Movable Snipe, wherein two writers spend a week reading and tweaking or adulating five blogs of our choosing. The good news is, we've chosen your blog for this week... This means either valentines or vivisections, depending on how our Snipers react to your content and, well, general demeanor.

Your Snipers will be Michael Helke, the book editor of Stop Smiling magazine, and Fiona Maazel, formerly the managing editor of the Paris Review.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... maybe this is really a "lump of creativity" problem. Or it's a "hatred of phones" issue.

posted by Dan at 09:30 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (2)

Gideon Rachman's last detail

Gideon Rachman blogs about his travels to Singapore and Beijing. You should read the whole thing, but I can't resist excerpting how he closes this post:

The question of how peaceful China’s rise will be was... the subject of our seminar in Singapore, organised by the Brookings Institution and the Lee Kuan Yew school of public policy. Generally speaking, the Americans were pretty wary, the Asians pretty sanguine and the Europeans faintly bemused....

Certainly history suggests that the rise of a big new power is often a fairly fraught affair. I was indirectly reminded of this, when I went to have lunch in Beijing with Richard McGregor and Mure Dickie of the FT. Richard had thoughtfully bought me a present: a pirated DVD of Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”, which he had picked up for a dollar in a local market. It’s good to know that the Chinese are so interested in European history.

posted by Dan at 05:24 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Victory is mine!!

Opportunity cost of being in the Red Sox virtual waiting room to get single-game tickets: occasional looks of irritation from my extended family as I repeatedly check my laptop screen.

Monetary cost of four tickets: well over $100.

The knowledge that I was able to get four tickets for a Sunday game against the Yankees: priceless.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Your inequality readings for today

Brad DeLong posts a preliminary bibliography of what he thinks are salient readings about economic inequality in the United States.

Over at Cato Unbound, Alan Reynolds tangles with his critics over his assertion that inequality has not increased substantially since 1988.

Go forth and read.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Everyone plays hard-to-get before the Six-Party Talks

The last post of the day by the Temporary Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere completes his tour of totalitarian states by taking a glimpse at North Korea's tango with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.

As the six-party talks get underway, there's always the pre-meeting vacillations that resemble nothing so much as a small high school, when all parties fluctuate between flirting with agreement and denying that they were ever interested in an agreement.

For example, on Tuesday Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that the North Koreans ratcheted up their demands at the last minute:

North Korea has set tough terms for a freeze of one of its nuclear facilities, demanding that the United States exceed commitments made under a Clinton-era deal that the Bush administration previously derided as inadequate.

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, and other officials outlined Pyongyang's position in meetings last week with two American nuclear experts, saying they would be presented when six-nation disarmament talks resume in Beijing on Thursday. In exchange for a freeze of the Yongbyon facility and a return of international inspectors, Pyongyang wants a substantial supply of heavy fuel oil, an end to a Treasury Department action that froze North Korean accounts at a Macau bank, an international commitment to build civilian nuclear reactors in North Korea and, most important, normalization of relations with Washington....

The freeze would only cover the increasingly decrepit Yongbyon facility, not other North Korean nuclear sites.

The North Korean officials also maintained that no freeze will take place until the U.S. side resolves the Treasury action against Banco Delta Asia, a Macau bank that allegedly served as a conduit for counterfeit U.S. currency. The case has resulted in the freezing of about $24 million in North Korean accounts and led other banks around the world to curtail dealings with North Korea. In recent talks with Treasury, North Korea identified a portion of the accounts that could be deemed legitimate in an effort to resolve the case.

"BDA is the tip of the iceberg," said Michael J. Green, a former White House official in charge of Asia policy and now at Georgetown University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said ending the case would unleash tens of millions of dollars in commercial transactions that had been curtailed since Treasury moved against the bank.

Green said the North Koreans were asking for "basically the Agreed Framework," which he said would be a "hard sell back in Washington." Bush for four years has called for a "complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement," so U.S. negotiators have sought to disable the Yongbyon facility in such a way that it could not be quickly restarted.

Oddly enough, the Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo reports that the United States is acting all flirty this time:
The US would be prepared to start normalising relations with North Korea before it completes nuclear disarmament if that would persuade Pyongyang to move forward on a previous agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.

A senior Bush administration official told the Financial Times that Washington would consider starting the process of removing Pyong­yang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and easing restrictions on US companies dealing with the state if North Korea moved forward on its previous commitment to dismantle its nuclear programmes.

Washington hopes to make progress on implementing a stalemated 2005 deal when US officials sit down with their North Korean counterparts at six party talks in Beijing on Thursday. Under that deal, which was agreed among the US, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, Pyongyang pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes and rejoin the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in return for energy assistance and security guarantees....

The senior official said the combination of financial pressures on the regime, a poor harvest in 2006, and increased pressure from the Chinese, who are angry about the North Korean nuclear test last October, have forced Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, to rethink his strategy.

In particular, current and former officials say, Pyongyang may be motivated to reach a compromise to alleviate financial pressures caused partly by the US move to freeze North Korean assets at Banco Delta Asia in Macao. The administration believes North Korea may act to prevent US action against other banks – the Bush administration has identified at least a dozen – where it could freeze North Korean funds.

“That is what the North Koreans are after here,” said Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr Green was senior Asia director at the White House national security council until December 2005.

“They have a larger clotting of financial flows because bankers around the world are afraid to deal with them. And they would like to unfreeze all of that through the demonstration of an agreement on Banco Delta Asia [under which the US would unfreeze some assets]”.

To urge Mr Kim toward a deal, the US has signalled it is prepared to be more flexible. Under the 2005 agreement, Washington offered to provide energy assistance, security guarantees, and move towards normalising relations only after Pyongyang had disabled all its nuclear activities.

This time, the US is preparing to accept a partial disablement, which would then trigger the process towards normalising relations. A deal agreed with the other six-party members would also include food assistance, which Pyongyang badly needs after the poor 2006 harvest....

[T]he North Koreans are also resurrecting demands for a light water reactor. But the senior administration official said Pyongyang was probably demanding the reactor as a negotiating tactic and would settle for a deal without one. But he cautioned that any demand for the reactor would be a “non-starter”.

Proponents of the new proposal within the Bush administration argue that China is increasing willing to use its muscle with Pyongyang in a fashion that could produce a deal. Although they caution that the key will be to make sure China and South Korea keep the pressure on North Korea after any initial agreement to make sure Pyongyang does not back track.

The FT goes on to observe that any deal will be a tough domestic sell. This is a major point in this Christian Science Monitor report by Howard LaFranchi as well:
Those kinds of small steps may be about all we can expect out of the Bush administration," says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "They may just be looking to settle the situation down so they can focus their last two years on Iraq, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Mr. Albright, who met recently with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, says the North's ultimate goal is a move toward "meaningful relations" with the US. The North also understands it will have to take clear steps before that could happen, he says, but they also remain skeptical of US intent.

"They want a process," he says, but they are also reluctant to proceed to a freeze on plutonium production that they fear might open them up to bolder US moves against them. "They make it clear they would respond to any aggressive moves," Albright says.

One stumbling block is a lack of clarity from the Bush administration on North Korea, he adds. Does the US accept the regime of Kim Jong Il or not? Might it still try to use military force to end its military nuclear capabilities or not? Is the furnishing of civilian nuclear facilities on the table for the US or not?

"The US is suffering from a lack of clarity on this issue," Albright says, "and it's not at all clear it can be resolved in the next two years."

Clearly, one other common denominator is that all the same experts get quoted.


UPDATE: Reports of an actual agreement are denied by the United States.

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

So how's it going in Belarus?

The Temporary Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere commands all who revere him to look in the direction of Belarus. When we last left things, Russia was putting the screws on the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

According to Lukashenko's interview with Reuters, the screws really hurt -- but he has a plan:

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, stung by big rises in Russian energy prices, vowed on Tuesday to recover $5 billion in losses by making Moscow pay for vital transit traffic and military cooperation.

But despite disappointment over Moscow's price rises and its foreign policy, Lukashenko said close ties with Russia remained the cornerstone of his isolated administration's policy.

The two former Soviet neighbors have long enjoyed warm relations and were negotiating a union with a common currency.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin's sudden doubling of gas prices and cut in oil subsidies at the end of last year threatened a vital prop for the Belarussian economy and prompted Minsk to strike back.

"Now that the Russian president has mentioned a transition to market relations ... we will in return ask Russia to pay in hard currency for services that Russia used to benefit from free of charge," Lukashenko told Reuters in a rare interview at the presidential offices.

The president was speaking the day after Belarus announced big rises in the amounts it charges Russia for the transit of oil across its territory to supply markets in western Europe..

Read the whole thing to get a sense of Lukashenko's foreign policy bind. He's not going to befriend the West anytime soon (and vice versa). This gives Russia something close to carte blanche to put the screws on its smaller, politically isolated neighbor.

It's worth keeping this fact in mind when reading about Belarus' recently announced intentions to build its first nuclear reactors.

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

We all have our passions... and side-hobbies to those passions

Longtime readers of the Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere know that your humble omniscient, omnipresent, provider-of-all-that-is-good-and-true blogger is a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

However, that also prompts the occasional side-hobby to fuel that passion. For me, that now includes egging Seth Mnookin on anytime I read something that contradicts Mnookin's excellent reportage in Feeding The Monster.

This is a roundabout way of linking to this Mnookin post to see his response to this Scott Boras interview in the Boston Herald. Let's just say Boras' account of Johnny Damon's departure from the Red Sox conflicts with Mnookin's account.

[Er... does Scott Boras really fit in with the other totalitarian dictators you're blogging about today?--ed] How dare you try to edit the Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere!!

posted by Dan at 10:33 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (2)

There's no partisanship in Turkmenistan!

The hard-working staff here at has demanded that your humble blogger be declared the Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere by universal assent. I hereby accept that mandate for the day -- which makes it about as legitimate as the last guy to accept this title.

In honor of the old Turkmenbashi, I hereby decree to spend the day posting about the remaining totalitarian dictatorships in the world.

OK, so let's see....Zimbabwe? Yep, got that one. Hey, let's check up on Turkmenistan itself!

Of course, they're hold a presidential election, so they might fall from totalitarian status. However, if this report from Peter Finn of the Washington Post Foreign Service is any indication, it's a presidential election that warms the cockles of the Turkmenbashi's heart:

Six presidential candidates are barnstorming the country and holding public meetings to talk about improving education, reforming health care, ensuring adequate pensions and boosting agriculture.

It could be Iowa -- if it weren't Turkmenistan.

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 49, will almost certainly win when the Central Asian country's citizens go to the polls Feb. 11. His opponents, a deputy minister and four regional officials, are willing foils, according to analysts and exiled politicians.

Murad Karyev, the supposedly neutral chairman of the Central Election Commission, has already said Berdymukhammedov is the best man for the job....

The exiled opposition has been prevented from returning to take part in the election. A coalition of exile organizations chose Khudaiberdy Orazov, a former vice premier and head of the Central Bank, to run as their candidate, but he is sitting out the campaign abroad.

"They are trying to create an image of real elections, but of course these are not elections. It's some sort of clownery," said Orazov, who lives in Sweden. "I believe we are entering the second stage of dictatorship."

Agents from Turkmenistan's internal security service, the MNB, are shadowing five of the candidates to ensure they don't stray from their scripts and say things contrary to policies laid out by the leading candidate, according to the Eurasian Transition Group, a nongovernmental organization in Germany that is one of the few with a presence in Turkmenistan.

"The other five candidates have to attend security council meetings, where they receive their orders," said Michael Laubsch, executive director of the German group. "Everything is concentrated on Berdymukhammedov, and the MNB have total control over the other candidates."

The Turkmenbashi of the blogosphere applauds the measures taken to eliminate the petty squabbles that come with partisanship and political competition.

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Things fall apart in Zimbabwe

In the New York Times, Michael Wines chronicles the slow collapse of the state in Zimbabwe:

For close to seven years, Zimbabwe’s economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, people there say, with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.

Indeed, Zimbabwe’s economic descent has picked up so much speed that President Robert G. Mugabe, the nation’s leader for 27 years, is starting to lose support from parts of his own party.

In recent weeks, the national power authority has warned of a collapse of electrical service. A breakdown in water treatment has set off a new outbreak of cholera in the capital, Harare. All public services were cut off in Marondera, a regional capital of 50,000 in eastern Zimbabwe, after the city ran out of money to fix broken equipment. In Chitungwiza, just south of Harare, electricity is supplied only four days a week.

The government awarded all civil servants a 300 percent raise two weeks ago. But the increase is only a fraction of the inflation rate, so the nation’s 110,000 teachers are staging a work slowdown for more money. Measured by the black-market value of Zimbabwe’s ragtag currency, even their new salaries total less than 60 American dollars a month.

Doctors and nurses have been on strike for five weeks, seeking a pay increase of nearly 9,000 percent, and health care is all but nonexistent. Harare’s police chief warned in a recently leaked memo that if rank-and-file officers did not get a substantial raise, they might riot....

Mr. Mugabe’s fortunes appear to have dimmed as well. In December, the ruling party that has traditionally bowed to his will, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, balked at supporting a constitutional amendment that would have extended his term of office by two years, to 2010. The rebuff exposed a fissure in the party, known as ZANU-PF, between Mr. Mugabe’s hard-line backers and others who fear he has brought their nation to the brink of collapse.

The trigger of this crisis — hyperinflation — reached an annual rate of 1,281 percent this month, and has been near or over 1,000 percent since last April. Hyperinflation has bankrupted the government, left 8 in 10 citizens destitute and decimated the country’s factories and farms.

In it's darkest hour, however, Mugabe's government has come up with a brilliant plan to deal with the situation:
The central bank’s latest response to these problems, announced this week, was to declare inflation illegal. From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished. Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono. (emphasis added)
Read the whole thing. I have two questions after reading it:

1) Wines also reports the following: "Foreign journalists remain barred from the country under threat of imprisonment, and harassment of Zimbabwean journalists has sharply increased." OK then, Michael Wines, how did you pull this off then? That was just a big ol' raspberry to the Washington Post's Africa correspondent, wasn't it?!

2) One wonders whether South Africa has any kind of cintingency plan for what happens when the Mugabe government collapses.

posted by Dan at 08:04 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Are there limits to Chinese soft power?

China has begun to hit some constraints in its soft power offensive in Africa. According to the Economist, Africans are now treating the Chinese in ways that might strike a chors with Americans:

In Zambia, where China has big copper-mining interests, a candidate in last year’s presidential election promised, if elected, to chase out Chinese investors after lethal riots at a Chinese-controlled mine. In Nigeria, Chinese oil workers and engineers have joined Western counterparts in being kidnapped and ransomed by insurgents in the country’s Niger Delta region. And there have been protests in South Africa and Zimbabwe against cheap clothing imported from China. In Zambia and South Africa, both destinations on this trip, Mr Hu [Jintao] could face some unusually pointed questioning.
China can respond by offering soft loans with no political conditions -- which ameliorates governments but not necessarily citizens. However, even those kind of loans have their limits -- as the Financial Times' Alec Russell points out:
President Hu Jintao of China arrives in South Africa on Tuesday for the most serious and frank exchange of ideas on his 12-day tour of Africa.

Unlike his other seven hosts on the tour, South Africa has little need of the cheap loans and infrastructure projects that Beijing is proferring to Africa to feed its hunger for resources.

While South African officials are confident that today’s meeting will be extremely cordial, President Thabo Mbeki did recently warn that Africa should beware of falling into a “colonial relationship” with China.

“A lot of governments see China as the panacea,” said Lucy Corkin, of the Centre for China Studies at Stellenbosch University. “Thabo has put out cautionary signals.”....

Diplomats say it is no coincidence that the longest visits of his Africa trip are those to South Africa and Zambia, both of which have shown signs of discontent with the Chinese investment drive.


posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 5, 2007

But... but.... but.... centralization should always work!!

The Financial Times' Mark Turner reports the the UN's new fancy-pants response fund to humanitarian crises suffers from -- wait for it -- just a little bit of the old excessive, power hungry bureaucracy:

A flagship UN emergency response fund established last year to speed assistance to people during humanitarian crises has failed to meet its goal, and in some cases even slowed down the flow of life-saving goods, according to aid agencies.

A study by Save the Children UK said the fledgling fund was “inefficient and actually reduces the amount of money going directly to work on the ground”, creating an extra hurdle for aid agencies.

The Central Emergency Response Fund, which was championed by the UK government, was heralded at its launch in March last year as a revolutionary new way to ensure money would be immediately available when crises struck, and to steer funds to otherwise forgotten emergencies. This year countries have given $40m (£20.3m, €30.8m) to the fund, and pledged a further $304m.

But Save the Children said the fund’s rules – which stipulate that the money has to be funnelled through the UN bureaucracy, rather than directly to aid agencies – had created dangerous layers of inefficiency and delay....

A European diplomat also acknowledged CERF’s early problems, noting funds had taken up to seven weeks to reach the field. He said the UN claimed to have reduced the gap to 1½ weeks.

Stephanie Bunker, of the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs arm OCHA, insisted CERF money came on top of other sources of finance. “It’s not like its draining funding out of anything else,” she said.

But Save the Children said: “In many emergencies, staff have been told by donors that they must seek CERF funding instead of traditional bilateral funding.”...

Campaigning groups are now calling for direct access to CERF money. Ms Bunker said the UN “would tend to agree we would like to see the pool [of recipients] made broader” – but that it was stuck with rules set by its members states.

The European diplomat said developing countries had been firmly against giving campaigning groups direct access during the fund’s creation, and that it could overload the system.

Here's a link to the full report from Save the Children UK.

I reckon I enjoy mocking the UN more than the next man -- well, not more than this man -- but in all fairness it should be pointed out that Save the Children UK might have impure motives in making this allegation. As the last two paragraph in the FT story suggest, what this is about is who gets access to the money. As Save the Children said in their press release:

The fundamental flaw of the CERF mechanism is that non-UN aid agencies, like Save the Children, are not allowed to receive direct funding, despite the fact they are usually first on the ground and deliver more than half of all emergency relief.
And developing countries want to restrict this access? Well, blow me down!

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

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Reflections on the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLI is in the books, and the Colts won. A few thoughts on the game and broadcast:

1) It's déjà vu in reverse. This game was the mirror image of Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams-Titans). That game had a plodding first half and then an exciting ending. The first quarter of this game was blink-or-you'll-miss-it highlights, followed by the slow grinding of the Bears into inferiority.

2) So I'm thinking the summer blockbuster movies this year are gonna stink. Independence Day. Men In Black. Spider-Man. Hell, even Van Helsing had a preview shown at the Super Bowl. I didn't catch every ad, but the only movies I saw previewed were Hannibal Rising (blech) and Pride. Where are the friggin' previews?

3) The wrong man won the MVP trophy. Manning managed the game well, but Colts center Jeff Saturday managed the line of scrimmage even better. I hadn't seen many teams run up the gut of the Bears as well as the Colts did -- plus the pass protection was excellent. This was the perfect game to award an offensive lineman -- and Saturday was the key guy on that line.

4) Was it just me, or did Prudential's admen screw up? OK, I'm a foreign policy wonk, so maybe it was just me, but did anyone else hear the Prudential ad "What Can A Rock Do?" and think the phrase "a rock" sound like a country in the Middle East currently experiencing some turmoil? Watch the ad with that thought, and, well... it's a wee bit off.

On the other hand, I though this ad was the best of the lot:
Most important -- less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

posted by Dan at 11:01 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Help me help APSA to help you

The American Political Science Association is putting together an edited volume on how to publish in political science. There will be an an overview of the current state of scholarly publishing, as well as how-to essays on writing university press books, textbooks, review essays, op-eds, converting dissertations into books, etc.

In their infinite wisdom, APSA has asked me to contribute a chapter on writing a political science blog.

So, a request for comments from other political science bloggers out there on the following questions:

1) What do you think are the do's and don'ts of poli sci blogging?

2) Does your blog help your scholarly pursuits? If so, how?

3) Are your colleagues aware of your blog? If so, what is their reaction? Has it changed over time?

4) As a political scientist, which blogs, if any, are must-reads for you (something like IR Rumor Mill or Fantasy IR doesn't count).

[You don't have answers to these questions?--ed. Oh, I have answers, but I'd like to get some different views on this.]

Post a comment, e-mail me directly, or post on your own blog and link back. Remember, this is for APSA....

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

Friday, February 2, 2007

Worst Super Bowl journamalism yet

Over years, with focus and concentration, I have learned to tune out most of the Super Bowl press coverage. Every once in a while, however, something seeps through, and I must simply stand back and gape at what might be the lowest forms of sports literature known to man.

For exhibit A this week, I give you the following paragraphs from Time's Sean Gregory:

[W]hatever you think of Manning, I would argue that it's best to root against him in the Super Bowl. Yes, even among his fans. It's Manning's quest for that one missing part, that one imperfection, that will sustain our attention. "From a fan's perspective, the joy is in the conversation," says sports sociologist Jay Coakley, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "Peyton's longing for a Super Bowl keeps the conversation going, and if he wins, that conversation stops." In an age of sports parity, in which seven teams have won World Series titles this decade and about a dozen NFL teams were fighting for playoff spots during the last weeks of the season, we can use a dramatic story line.

Did anyone really want to see Charlie Brown kick that football (thanks for the reflexes, Lucy)? Would Ernie Banks, the smiling Mr. Cub chortling "Let's play two," be as beloved if the Cubs were winners? Is the sports world really a better place since the Boston Red Sox overcame their "curse" and in 2004 finally won the World Series?

To answer his questions: yes, yes, and hell yes.

I'm rooting for a Super Bowl that has a meaningful fourth quarter. But part of me also wants Manning to either win it or lose valiantly in the way John McEnroe lost his first Wimbledon final to Bjorn Borg -- precisely so sports fans do not have to recycle the exact same conversation about Manning that has taken place for the last seven years.

Hat tip: Slate's Tommy Craggs

posted by Dan at 09:03 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Is economic protectionism on the rise in China?

That's the topic of Ariana Eunjung Cha's story in today's Washington Post. It starts out with an odd example, however:

"I know you don't know that you don't know."

Those insulting words, thrown out by a Chinese man to a Westerner, are the punchline of an Internet commercial that ends with a beautiful Chinese bride jilting her confused Western fiance for the Chinese hero.

The wildly popular video was created by Baidu, a Chinese search engine, to poke fun at its U.S. competitor, Google. It is but one of the growing signs that China is rethinking its stance on foreign companies and investment within its borders.

"Gee," I thought, "That's an odd example. There's no government action there -- it's a marketing campaign."

To Cha and her editors' credit, they do make this very point at the end of the story:

Richard Ji of Morgan Stanley Hong Kong said some companies have used China's new rules as an excuse for their own marketing or strategic shortcomings. He said that in the cases of Google and eBay, the companies' challenges have had more to do with failure to tailor the content of their Web sites to Chinese tastes and needs.

In the Baidu commercial about Google, the Western man begins by saying "I know" repeatedly as he stands, smirking confidently, next to his bride-to-be. But after the Chinese man bursts on the scene and the two get into a war of words, the Westerner becomes confused. By mistake, he says, "I know I don't know that I don't know" -- at which point the disgusted bride runs away.

So the commercial is "not about nationalism and protectionism," Ji said. "It says that it's localization that gives success. If you localize services, it means you understand the people you are selling to."

Read the whole thing. In between this vignette, there's some decent evidence that China is officially wigging out about certain forms of FDI.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mitchell Young for pointing to the Baidu commercial on YouTube:

The ad is a good example of the difference between economic nationalism and economic protectionism. The ad is clearly nationalist, and designed to foster a "Buy China" mindset, in part through rational arguments that Baidu is better than Google, and in part through cultural tropes designed to make the Western character in the ad look uncool. However, it's not an example of protectionism -- it's not calling for government intervention or relief, it's just trying to beat Google.

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Most bizarre man in the street interview ever?

Is it just me, or does this C.W. Nevius story in the San Francisco Chronicle -- about the public reaction to Mayor Gavin Newsom's admission of cuckolding one of his principal staff people -- contain the wierdest man-in-the-street reaction ever to appear in a major newspaper?

Although almost everyone we spoke to admitted to some disappointment, Newsom's firm and unqualified apology played to raves....

That seemed to be the buzz on the streets of San Francisco, too. Tarri Chandler, who said she was homeless and was carrying a cardboard cup that read "Cold, very hungry, please help,'' said she didn't think it was much of a story.

"What? That he was sleeping with somebody?'' said Chandler, who was wearing at least three jackets to hold off the cold. "I thought that's why he got divorced in the first place. And let's be honest, if you are a woman and you want to move up in the office, what better way than sex?''

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Oops, je l'ai fait encore

Jacques Chirac has gotten himself into a bit of foreign policy hot water, according to the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino and Katrine Bennhold:

President Jacques Chirac said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.

The remarks, made in an interview on Monday with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine, were vastly different from stated French policy and what Mr. Chirac has often said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists back to Élysée Palace to retract many of his remarks.

Mr. Chirac said repeatedly during the second interview that he had spoken casually and quickly the day before because he believed he had been talking about Iran off the record....

In the Monday interview, Mr. Chirac argued that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon was less important than the arms race that would ensue.

“It is really very tempting for other countries in the region that have large financial resources to say: ‘Well, we too are going to do that; we’re going to help others do it,’ ” he said. “Why wouldn’t Saudi Arabia do it? Why wouldn’t it help Egypt to do so as well? That is the real danger.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Chirac had planned to send his foreign minister to Iran to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. The venture collapsed after Saudi Arabia and Egypt opposed the trip and members of his own government said it would fail.

Mr. Chirac, who is 74 and months away from ending his second term as president, suffered a neurological episode in 2005 and is said by French officials to have become much less precise in conversation....

In the first interview, which took place in the late morning, he appeared distracted at times, grasping for names and dates and relying on advisers to fill in the blanks. His hands shook slightly. When he spoke about climate change, he read from prepared talking points printed in large letters and highlighted in yellow and pink.

By contrast, in the second interview, which came just after lunch, he appeared both confident and comfortable with the subject matter. (emphasis added)

Two thoughts. First, what exactly is "a neurological episode"? Is this like "a minor circulatory problem of the head"?

Second, the implication in the Times report is that Chirac made more sense in the second interview than the first. To me that's really disturbing, because in the second interview Chirac actually makes less sense to me.

Chirac is essentially correct in stating that Iran would not nuke Israel because it would invite immediate retaliation, and Tehran would be leveled. Assuming that the political status quo remains in Iran and Ahmadinejad doesn't have his finger on the button, this is true.

However, for this to be true, the threat of retaliation has to be pretty clear. And this is what Chirac appears to amend in his second interview. Consider this part:

He retracted, for example, his comment that Tehran would be destroyed if Iran launched a nuclear weapon. “I retract it, of course, when I said, ‘One is going to raze Tehran,’ ” he said.
In the actual text of the interview, Chirac seems more conscious of how deterrence works. However, this is the one thing you do not want to water down.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has an interesting theory for why Chirac seemed more lucid in the second interview

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)