Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gonna be a stress-free weekend


On the same night, the Red Sox and the Cubs clinch division titles.... and the earth is still rotating.

As for Mets fans, I can only suggest clicking here and taking some solace from Adam Smith.

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

Which audience matters?

A bunch of readers have e-mailed or linked to Jeffrey Fleishman's Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week about how Ahmadinejad's U.S. trip has played well in the Middle East -- he ostensibly has "folk hero" status.

Certainly this is a potentially relevant audience -- but if you think about it, for Ahmadinejad it's actually his least relevant audience.

How has the trip played inside Iran? In the Washington Post, Robin Wright suggests not so well -- in part because it played so badly in the United States:

The congressional rebuke a few hours before Ahmadinejad's Iran Air 747 departed reflected what American scholars and Iranians alike depicted as a missed opportunity by the Iranian president to ease mounting tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the United States....

"Iranians find the Western reaction insulting and a sign of belligerence, but Ahmadinejad has also not emerged as a statesman or a diplomat," said Vali Nasr of Tufts University. "The Iranian blogs and chat rooms are clearly taken aback not just by the comments [at Columbia] but by the headlines of tabloids. . . . He has tried to reach out to Americans, but to a large measure he has failed -- and the Iranian political elite know he has failed."

It should be oted that Nasr's view is not held by everyone -- but I'm unconvinced that this was a domestic win for him.

How about the Security Council? Blake Hounshell suggests, again, not so well:

[N]otice what happened today at the U.N.: French President Sarkozy called for "combining firmness with dialogue," reiterating his position, "if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region ad the world." And Germany's Angela Merkel came out in support of a new round of sanctions "if [Iran's] behavior doesn't change." She added, "Israel's security isn't negotiable," and referred to Ahmadinejad's history of comments on Israel as "inhumane".

These statements may well have been worked out on Friday, when the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Washington to discuss the sanctions issue. But it sure was easier for Germany to toughen its stance after yesterday's farce at Columbia. Ahmadinejad had a chance to come across as a moderate, undercutting the unity of the EU3. Instead, he came across as a buffoon not ready for prime time.

Question to readers: does Ahmadinejad's popularity in the Middle East matter as much as his unpopularity at home, in the United States, and in the United Nations?

UPDATE: More conflicting takes from the weekend newspapers.

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

China's new foreign policy headaches

Andrew Sullivan nicely recaps the state of play in Burma. I confess I've been loathe to blog about events there because, knowing the military regime's track record in that country, there is only one way this will end.

Quentin Peel uses this flare-up on China's southern border to point out that Beijing is beginning to adjust to the fact that the world expects responsibility to go along with power:

The prospect of growing chaos in the confrontation between Burma’s military junta and civilian protesters provides a critical challenge to China’s efforts to forge a new international image as an influential and responsible world leader.

It calls into question the Chinese position of non-interference in the politics of countries with which it does business, and the absolute priority for political “stability” – which hitherto has always meant an acceptance of the status quo....

Senior Chinese academics attending a Sino-European dialogue in Paris this week repeated the familiar mantra that China puts development before democracy. But they also admitted that growing experience of operating conditions in Africa has caused Chinese officials to start discussing issues such as the rule of law, corporate social responsibility, and institution building.

Neighbouring Burma is far more sensitive for Beijing than distant African states such as Sudan and Angola, but there are similar signs of growing frustration with the Burmese military regime, as much for its incompetence as for its brutality.

“China is changing its identity from being a spectator to being an actor,” said Professor Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, at the Paris seminar, hosted by the EU Institute for Security Studies. “Now it increasingly realises its responsibilities outside China.”

The question, of course, is whether senior Chinese officials are heading in the same direction as the senior Chinese academics.

posted by Dan at 07:47 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Blogging scholarship available

The Daniel Kovach Scholarship Foundation is giving away $10,000 to a blogger this year:

Do you maintain a weblog and attend college? Would you like $10,000 to help pay for books, tuition, or other living costs? If so, read on.

We're giving away $10,000 this year to a college student who blogs. The Blogging Scholarship is awarded annually.

Go check it out. And I suspect they're more reliable than other scholarship programs.

posted by Dan at 07:34 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You want guilt? You can't handle the guilt!!

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked several academics, "to share their secret (or not so secret) guilty pleasures" outside of the classroom."

Cosmic Variance's Sean Carroll provided an answer, but is thoroughly unimpressed with the entire exercise:

Seems like a potentially amusing parlor game, no? Well, as a moment’s reflection would reveal, no. Because you see, what could they possibly say? Most academics, for better or for worse, basically conform to the stereotype. They like reading books and teaching classes, not shooting up heroin or walking around in public dressed up in gender-inappropriate undergarments. (See, I don’t even know what would count as a respectable guilty pleasure.) And if they did, they certainly wouldn’t admit it. And if they did admit it, it certainly wouldn’t be in the pages of the Chronicle....

As it turns out, compared to my colleagues I’m some sort of cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Caligula. Get a load of some of these guilty pleasures: Sudoku. Riding a bike. And then, without hint of sarcasm: Landscape restoration. Gee, I hope your Mom never finds out about that.

Henry Farrell chimes in:
I’m as bad as any of the respondents if not worse – my guilty pleasures are nothing more exciting than science fiction and fantasy novels with garish covers – but if anyone else has more interesting pleasures to confess in comments (anonymously or anonymously), go ahead.
Some of Henry's commenters comes up with some good ones, but my personal fave is: "snorting meth off the flesh of naked people using a rolled up Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

I have no shortages of guilty pleasures, but there are limits to sharing.

Still, to make Sean feel better, here are links to my guilty blog pleasure du jour and my ridiculously guilty TV pleasure from last fall (in my defense, the official Blog Wife was also transfixed by the latter).

posted by Dan at 11:19 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Is the United States more anxious than it used to be?

In the wake of Ahmadinejad's romp through New York, there's a meme that Americans, by not extending every courtesy to him, have displayed an anxiety that would have never existed during the Cold War, when conservatives had no power.

For example, everyone and their mother link to a Rick Perlstein essay that compares and contrasts Ahmadinejad's visit with Nikita Khruschchev's 1959 visit to the United States. Here's a snippet:

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.

Look, this is a pretty silly historical comparison. There are several reasons why the U.S. treated Khrushchev differently than Ahmadinejad, none of which have to do with the relative power of American conservatives:
1) The USSR was an acknowledged superpower; Iran is not. And yes, these things should matter in how foreign potentates are treated. And last I checked, neither Hu Jintao nor Vladimir Putin has complained about their treatment in visits to the United States during the Bush years. In fact, as Matt Zeitlin observes, Hu got the 21-gun salute and exchange of toasts the last time he was in the USA.

2) Khrushchev had no problem wearing a tuxedo and delighting in the petty charms of the bourgeoisie as it were. If we even offered a white tie dinner to Ahmadinejad, does anyone think he'd actually accept? And what would he wear?

This sounds like a small difference, but it's symbolic of the larger cultural gap that exists between Iran and the U.S. than existed between the superpowers during the Cold War.

3) In 1959, the Soviets weren't viewed as defecting from the tacit rules regarding nuclear weapons. Once they were suspected of violating those rules, I'm astonished to report that Cold War liberals started acting in a different manner.

Take a look, for example, at this video of Adlai Stevenson's famous 1962 UN speech in which he confronted Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba -- glamorized in Thirteen Days.

Click on over and check out the speech for yourself. We get nuggets like these:

Mr. Zorin and gentlemen, I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don't have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I'm glad I don't.
Wow, that Stevenson was a pants-piddler, wasn't he?

The current crisis with Iran is not the same as the Cuban Missile Crisis -- but it's worth remembering that Iran concealed its nuclear activities from the IAEA for two decades. So you'll excuse Americans for not taking too kindly to Ahmadinejad.

Historical analogies are always a dangerous minefield, but this cherry-picking of the historical record should make amateur analogists blush with embarrassment.

UPDATE: Robert Farley responds here: "Since the point of the wingnutty is that Ahmadinejad is EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL and must be silenced at all costs, the comparison seems quite apt."

Farley's post clarifies for me where liberal bloggers are coming from on this point, but it also throws up the problem that Perlstein and Farley are now comparing apples with oranges. Both compare the official U.S. handling of Khrushchev (state dinner, etc.) with the unofficial response of Americans to Ahmadinejad (Columbia, visiting 9/11 shrine, blog responses, etc.). One could argue that to many non-Americans, someone like Lee Bollinger appears to be an official spokesman for the foreign policy establishment of the United States. To Americans, however, that's a pretty ludicrous assumption.

The Bush administration's response to Ahmadinejad's visit hasn't exactly been receptive, but does the president walking out of the General Assembly prior to Ahmadinejad's speech really constitute pants-piddling?

posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wait, you mean that markets move towards equilibrium?

The New York Times' Anand Giridharads loooks at how India's outsourcing sector is maturing. He finds that -- gasp! -- Indian firms are outsourcing their outsourcing to other countries.... including, among others, the United States:

Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model....

In May, Tata Consultancy Service, Infosys’s Indian rival, announced a new back office in Guadalajara, Mexico; Tata already has 5,000 workers in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Cognizant Technology Solutions, with most of its operations in India, has now opened back offices in Phoenix and Shanghai.

Wipro, another Indian technology services company, has outsourcing offices in Canada, China, Portugal, Romania and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

And last month, Wipro said it was opening a software development center in Atlanta that would hire 500 programmers in three years.

In a poetic reflection of outsourcing’s new face, Wipro’s chairman, Azim Premji, told Wall Street analysts this year that he was considering hubs in Idaho and Virginia, in addition to Georgia, to take advantage of American “states which are less developed.” (India’s per capita income is less than $1,000 a year.)

posted by Dan at 01:56 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Brooks vs. the netroots, round XVII

David Brooks' column today makes me rethink my truculence about the death of TimesSelect.

Brooks' argument is that the liberal netroots are not meeting expectations in affecting the Democratic Party:

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.

That’s what’s happening again.

Read the whole thing... definitely not crap. But I do have a few cavils. Are celebrities mobuls really shying away from Clinton? Wasn't Steven Spielberg's endorsement a signal to other members of the cultural elite to line up behind Hillary? Similarly, hasn't Hillary's supporters been more likely to max out their campaign contributions to date -- suggesting that Obama has done just as well in tapping support from low income households? And would the netroots really be upset by President Hillary? Wasn't there a fair amount of netroots enthusiasm about Hillary's health care plan?

Readers are requested to link to the most hyperbolic netroot response they can find to this column.

posted by Dan at 08:35 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Ahmadinejad thread

So, did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad score a public relations coup by speaking at Columbia University?

He had to sit there while university president Lee Bollinger told him him, "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." And that was one of the nicer things Bollinger said to him:

Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
According to the New York Times account, Ahmadinejad managed to parry back efforts to pin him down... but he also claimed that Iran has no gay people.

Ezra Klein's take is that Ahmadinejad is "outwitting us in the court of world opinion." My take is similar to what Bollinger said about Ahmadinejad's Council on Foreign Relations appearance last year:
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.
What's your take?

posted by Dan at 12:44 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is here to enlighten America

I think some Bush administration officials are laboring under some serious misconceptions with regard to Iran. Their unstated belief is that the mass Iranian public is ready to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and their conservative acolytes. All they need is some external nudge -- like a good dose of bombing -- for the state to collapse.

In contrast, everything I've heard or read from Iran experts suggests that on the streets of Tehran, Ali Q. Publiq feels a strong sense of national pride about the nuclear program. It's the one thing that Ahmadinejad has found to boost his domestic standing. So this view among Bush officials is not only untrue, it's a patronizing view of ordinary Iranians. They are perfectly capable of disliking Ahmadinejad, desiring a strong Iran, and preferring not to be bombed at the same time.

It should be pointed out, however, that Bush administration officials are not the only ones suffering from this kind of delusion. There's also.... Mahmoud Ahmadinjad himself. From the AP's Ali Akbar Dareini:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that the American people are eager for different opinions about the world, and he is looking forward to providing them with "correct and clear information," state media reported.

The hardline Iranian leader left Sunday for New York to address the U.N. General Assembly and speak to students and teachers during a forum at Columbia University....

Ahmadinejad said his visit will give Americans a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The United States is a big and important country with a population of 300 million. Due to certain issues, the American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.

State-run television also quoted Ahmadinejad before boarding his presidential plane Sunday as saying that the General Assembly was an "important podium" to express Iran's views on regional and global issues.

Oh Mahmoud, I'm not sure how to put this gently, so I'll put it bluntly: Americans are perfectly capable of disliking George W. Bush and disliking you and your thuggish regime even more. Your past actions and statements have rendered you as a less than credible purveyor of "correct and clear information." Any belief of yours that Americans will be persuaded by your rhetoric is a mistaken one.

Ironically, the AP story also reports that the people who are fretting the most about Ahmadinejad's trip to New York are.... other Iranians:

Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is also being debated back home. Some in Iran think his trip is a publicity stint that hurts Iran's image in the world.

Political analyst Iraj Jamshidi said Ahmadinejad looks at the General Assembly as a publicity forum simply to surprise world leaders with his unpredictable rhetoric.

"The world has not welcomed Ahmadinejad's hardline approach. His previous address to the Assembly didn't resolve any of Iran's foreign policy issues. And no one expects anything better this time," he said.

Independent Iranian analysts also criticized Ahmadinejad for making the trip, saying his anti-Western rhetoric makes life for Iran more difficult.

"Many experts believe Ahmadinejad's previous two visits brought no achievement ... rather, it heightened tensions," the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, said in an editorial Sunday.

UPDATE: A clarification -- just because I think Ahmadinejad is deluded about American attitudes -- actually, I think he's deluded in general -- doesn't mean that I don't fully support Columbia University's decision to host a forum for him.

posted by Dan at 06:41 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why B+students are the worst

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is up, in which Matthew Yglesias and I discuss the following:

1) The death of TimesSelect

2) The Iran "rollout" that hasn't happened;

3) Wonkery vs. wankery

4) Grenspan's memoirs;

5) The legacy of Bush appointees

6) The trouble with B+ students

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What the f@#% is going on with the University of California Regents?

I've been remiss in not posting about the rather disturbing incidents involving the U of C Regents. Fortunately, University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway does an excellent job of summarizing the state of play:

When the University of California Regents rescinded former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's invitation to speak at a Board dinner this month, it was too easy to link Summers with Erwin Chemerinsky: Just days before, the University of California at Irvine had rescinded Chemerinsky's invitation to serve as dean of their new law school. While the two cases share some common elements--in both, the officials reneged under pressure on commitments presumably made in good faith and for good reasons--the superficial similarities conceal deep differences. In the Chemerinsky case, UC threatened Chemerinsky's academic freedom; in the Summers case, UC threatened mine--and that of everyone else who teaches here.
Read all of Rauchway's essay. Given that it was UC-Davis faculty who started the petition to uninvite Summers, I imagine Rauchway is going to have some awkward conversations the next few days.

One last point. According to this San Francisco Chronicle story:

"I was appalled and stunned that someone like Summers would even be invited to speak to the regents," said UC Davis Professor Maureen Stanton, who helped put together the petition drive. "I think many of us who were involved in the protest believed that it wouldn't reflect well on the university that he even received the invitation."

The petition called Summers' invitation "not only misguided but inappropriate" at a time when the university is working to diversify its community....

While delighted that the regents have decided to replace Summers, Stanton now hopes the dispute will be quickly forgotten.

"Frankly, we'd like to see the story just die at this point," she said.

At least Stanton is consistent -- she apparently doesn't want to have a debate about anything.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Your must-read sentence for today

Garance Franke-Ruta, "Fred Thompson vs. Teh Sexy":

[T]he idea that Thompson is some kind of swoon-inducing example of mature masculinity strikes me as a classic example of how straight men are completely unable to assess each other’s visual appeal.
Be sure to check out the entire post -- there are useful visual aids.

posted by Dan at 10:33 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

A lost virtue of TimesSelect

The dealth of TimesSelect has been greeted with huzzahs in the blogosphere. And let's face it, one reason for the NYT op-ed page's existence is to be a big fat target for snarky blogs (see the last paragraph in this Kevin Drum post for one sentence takedowns of three op-ed columnists). The end of TimesSelect is good for the blogs and internets.

The change is not entirely cost-free, however. Now that the op-ed page is more accessible, greater attention must be paid to screw-ups by the contributors. Exhibit A is Roger Cohen's essay on "the destruction of 10 taboos as President Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the role of Europe’s most dynamic leader." Most of these taboos are about style more than substance, but let's quote two of them that need some correction:

THE AMERICAN TABOO Enthusiasm for the United States was unacceptable for a French political leader because it was always interpreted as an embrace of “Wild West” capitalism, “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony and vulgarity. De rigueur attitudes held sway: patronizing contempt in Paris met macho derision in Washington. Communication suffered. Sarko’s New Hampshire vacation, enthused American dreaming, iPod-accompanied jogging and in-your-face style cleared the air....

THE NATO TABOO There’s talk of France rejoining the integrated military command of the alliance, unthinkable since Charles de Gaulle hauled the country out in a huff in 1966.

Why, yes, these ideas do seem taboo for France. In fact, I haven't heard such notions floated since.... since... Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, assumed office in May 1995:
In this regard [Sarkozy] is similar to President Jacques Chirac, who came into office with some sincere pro-American sentiments not at all in the Gaullist tradition. Chirac’s affection for his youthful travels and work in the United States seems, or at least seemed, quite real. He visited Chicago in the winter of 1996, in part to try to convince expatriate French entrepreneurs to consider investing in France (in itself, a shockingly non-Gaullist mission). His informality, joviality, and the warm colloquial English he spoke during his visit now appear to belong to a completely different person than the Chirac who so tenaciously fought the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war, or the Chirac who tried in recent years to lord it over the eastern Europeans and his own countrymen.
As for rejoining NATO's military structure, Emma Charlton's AFP story puts Sarkozy's proposal into the proper historical context:
[Defence Minister Herve] Morin insisted France's "priority is to support and relaunch Europe's security and defence policy", but asked: "Why should our partners lose faith in a system that has ensured peace for 50 years, in favour of a system that does not yet exist?"

Paris rejoined NATO's military committee in 1996 grouping military chiefs of staff under President Jacques Chirac.

But the rapprochement was cut short after Washington refused to share more power with European countries in the integrated military structure.

Morin suggested France could now resume "the work begun in 1996", saying that France's role in NATO would be tackled in a white paper on defence and national security to be delivered in March 2008.

Call me when Sarkozy addresses other French taboos.

See, if TimesSelect still existed, I could have saved myself twenty minutes by simply ignoring Cohen's essay.

It should be noted that Cohen also has a blog. The hard-working staff here at looks forward to seeing if Cohen addresses these inconsistencies in today's column.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who are the grown-ups in international relations?

Imagine for a second that the United States opposed the leading candidate for a leading international organization. Now imagine that in an effort to block that candidate, the U.S. decides to put its own candidate forward. To ensure that the candidate doesn't look like a complete toady, it would make some sense to propose a non-American. However, it would also make sense, at the very least, to make sure that the candidate's home country was on board with the idea. If there was no prior consultation, well, then the U.S. would look pretty incompetent.

Farfetched, you say? Well, consider that Russia just tried this gambit, according to the Financial Times' Catherine Belton, Katka Krosnar and Stefan Wagstyl:

Russia challenged western dominance of world international financial institutions on Wednesday by nominating a surprise candidate, Josef Tosovsky, the former Czech premier and ex-central bank chief, to run the International Monetary Fund.

The nomination pitted Mr Tosovsky against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister, who has the backing of the European Union.

Russia’s move ran into immediate trouble when the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, declared that it was standing by the EU’s decision to support the French candidate....

Mr Kudrin praised Mr Tosovsky as a proven crisis manager. He said developing states, including Brazil, India and China, had all expressed support for an open selection process in talks....

Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, said: “Mr Tosovsky was not, and is not, the Czech Republic’s candidate for this post.”

Few countries yesterday backed Moscow’s choice of Mr Tosovsky. Mr Strauss-Kahn, in Beijing on Wednesday, was reported as saying he felt he had China’s backing. A senior Indian finance ministry official told the FT that as far as he was aware there had been “no conversation” about the nomination and he declined to say whether New Delhi would back Mr Tosovsky. A Brazilian presidential official said Brazil sought reform but was not backing any particular candidate.

The funny thing is that the Russians make a valid point -- why should the US and EU have a duopoly on the heads of key international organizations? The need to cut large developing countries into the global governance game is going to be one of the important international relations questions over the next few years.

That said, this Russian attempt -- like other Russian behavior over the past year -- was unilateral and amateurish. There appears to have been no coordination and/or consultation with other countries. If the U.S. had tried to pull this stunt there would have been a tsunami of criticism leveled at incompetent U.S. foreign policy managers.

This is a small example, but it speaks to a larger problem. The Europeans and Americans might have policy disagreements, but (2002-3 excepted) they have been pretty decent at consulting each other. Russia is ostensibly a rising power, and even has some prior experiennce with being acting like a great power. Their diplomatic style, however, makes the Bush administration's first term look like a paragon of propriety and decorum.

Obviously, power and interest drive most of what happens in world politics. Diplomatic style does matter on the margins, however. And if this is what passes as diplomacy from a rising power, then world politics is going to start looking like a bad episode of The Real World.

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hi, I'm Daniel Drezner, the defense attorney for God

Over at Passport, Mike Boyer alerts me to a unique piece of litigation:

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has had enough of plagues, famines, droughts, hurricanes, and genocides. Chambers considers these incidents to be terrorists acts. To stop them, he's suing the person responsible for them—God.

Chambers, who before becoming a state legislator was a barber, filed a lawsuit last Friday in Nebraska's Douglas County District Court, naming himself as the plaintiff and God as the defendant, a permanent injunction "ordering defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats."

You can read the whole court filing by clicking here.

Before the Voloh Conspiracy and Opinio Juris get a hold of this, I have to sday that my favorite bit is this: "Defendant has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons." Whoa there -- Chambers has concrete information about these new threats?

After an allegation like that, if I was God's lawyer I'd advise him to smite Chambers until his tongue fell out and his flesh was covered with boils countersue for libel.

posted by Dan at 03:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

A post in which I go against my material self-interest

Greg Mankiw links to a James Miller column in Inside Higher Ed on how to promote better teaching in the academy. It involves -- wait for it -- giving more money to professors:

What tools should colleges use to reward excellent teachers? Some rely on teaching evaluations that students spend only a few minutes filling out. Others trust deans and department chairs to put aside friendships and enmities and objectively identify the best teachers. Still more colleges don’t reward teaching excellence and hope that the lack of incentives doesn’t diminish teaching quality.

I propose instead that institutions should empower graduating seniors to reward teaching excellence. Colleges should do this by giving each graduating senior $1,000 to distribute among their faculty. Colleges should have graduates use a computer program to distribute their allocations anonymously.

Some academics have already pointed out the potential effects on grade inflation. There are two other reasons, however, why I think this idea wouldn't work.

First, the professor-student relationship does not necessarily end at graduation. A large swath of students rely on their former professors for letters of recommendation on the job market and for graduate school. My fear about this proposal is not that it would lead to grade inflation, but praise inflation in letters of recommendation.

My second reason is more amorphous, and perhaps more easily dismissed, but I just don't think professors will warm to the idea. This is not (only) because bad teachers would be the relative losers, but because the good teachers would feel weird about getting the money. I suspect that most professors do not want to be part of a profession that thrives on gratuities. This might be a blinkered bias (or it might be an example that supports Tyler Cowen's assertion that some market transactions only work under certain environmental conditions), but it still exists. And I'm not entirely sure the students would feel comfortable with this idea either. Even if the professor-student relationship is a market transaction, it's also an authority relationship, and this will inhibit market-based activity to an extent.

Of course, it is useful to point out that the greatest economist of them all would have heartily agreed with Miller:

The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions.

In some universities the salary makes but a part, and frequently but a small part, of the emoluments of the teacher, of which the greater part arises from the honoraries or fees of his pupils. The necessity of application, though always more or less diminished, is not in this case entirely taken away. Reputation in his profession is still of some importance to him, and he still has some dependency upon the affection, gratitude, and favourable report of those who have attended upon his instructions; and these favourable sentiments he is likely to gain in no way so well as by deserving them, that is, by the abilities and diligence with which he discharges every part of his duty.

In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 17, 2007

In other news, Americans still don't like spinach

Over at Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog, Gregory Kirschling is puzzled that Iraq is not a real ratings-winner in film and television:

You know one thing that bums me out? A lot of friends I’ve talked to lately refuse to go see movies about Iraq! What’s the matter with people? For the past many weeks I’ve been talking up Paul Haggis’s new film, In the Valley of Elah, and as soon as I mention that it actually has something powerful to say about the war, a lot of folks’ eyes turn glassy. Nobody cares!

Are we that detached? I don’t wanna go on for too long about this, because it’ll probably make me sound like a shrill crazy person, but I do kinda feel that if you refuse to go see a well-reviewed movie like Elah or the flabbergasting war doc No End in Sight simply because both of them are about Iraq, then you are — hate to say, but it might be true — a bad American.

Look, I liked No End In Sight, but are culture mavens like Kirschling really that clueless about why most people go to the movies? There's not a whole lot of escapism in films about Iraq.

[People go to movies for other reasons as well!!--ed. Yes, but getting angry is usually not one of those reasons. And anyone who sees a well-crafted movie on Iraq will feel that way. Why would anyone who supports the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumptions challenged? Why would anyone who opposes the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumption -- that the war is a mess -- confirmed?]

The only way I could see an Iraq war movie doing well would be if it was, like M*A*S*H, a very black comedy.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

What will Iran do in Iraq?

A common objection to any kind of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is that it's a gift to Iran. Iran is actively meddling in Iraq's politics as we speak. Should U.S. forces go over the horizon, the prospect of a powerful Iran and a subordinate Iraq stokes fears of a Shiite superstate in the region.

Is this how things will actually play out? Consider what is heppening now in Basra. The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher reports on how Iraq's second-largest city is doing in the wake of the British exit from the city earlier this month. To get a sense of how fractious the place is, here's Dagher's guide to the key players in the region:

Sadrists and Mahdi Army: The movement of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is a formidable force in Basra. The Mahdi Army is estimated to number 17,000 in the province. Security officials say that some of the Basra militia are infiltrated by Iran and beholden to Tehran. It opposes a super-Shiite region, but supports the ouster of the Fadhila governor.

The Council: The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, previously known by its acronym SCIRI, embraces four other affiliate parties in Basra:

The Badr Organization – Once the council’s Iranian-trained paramilitary arm, known as the Badr Brigade.

The Shaheed Al-Mihrab Organization – A nationwide movement headed by Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the Council’s chief.

The Sayed Al-Shuhada Movement (Master of Martyrs Movement).

The Hizbullah Movement in Iraq (no relation to Lebanese Hizbullah) and another small Iraqi party called Hizbullah al-Iraq (see below).

All five parties were previously based in Iran and have strong ties to Tehran. The Council and its affiliates hold 21 of the 40 seats in the provincial council. Badr still controls several police units, including customs.

The Pentacle House: The Council and its four party affiliates make up the Bayet al-Khumasi, or the Pentacle House. The goal: to create a nine-province Shiite group called the “South of Baghdad region.” Billboards in Basra tout the project as a “Shiite Renaissance.”

The Islamic Fadhila (Virtue) Party: Fadhila is a national party founded by Basra natives. Its spiritual leader is Najaf-based cleric Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, who broke ranks with Moqtada al-Sadr in 2003.

The movement continues to espouse Sadrist ideas but has increasingly fashioned itself as a Shiite Arab Islamist party opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraq. It opposes the pro-Iranian Council and its affiliates over a number of issues, including the supersouthern region.

Fadhila holds 12 seats in the Basra provincial council, including the governorship and one of the two deputy governor slots in Basra. Fadhila dominates the 15,000-strong oil protection force.

Thaar Allah (God’s Revenge) Party: A small party based in Basra and headed by Yousif al-Mussawi. He is suspected by many city residents of being an Iranian agent. The party derives much of its funding from wealthy merchants who rely on it for protection. It has allied itself with the Council and its Pentacle House in the fight to oust the Fadhila governor. Mr. Mussawi blames the governor for the death of three members of his family during a raid on his party headquarters in 2006.

Hizbullah al-Iraq: A small party headed by tribal chief Abdul-Karim al-Mahamadawi, based in neighboring Maysan Province. The Prince of the Marshes, as Mr. Mahamadawi is known, has a large, armed tribal following and presence in Basra. He has tense relations with the Council and its affiliates.

Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi: The cleric broke ranks with the Sadrists and is believed to be in the holy city of Karbala with the bulk of his militia. But he still has a following in Basra. His posters adorn many streets. The controversial cleric has challenged the authority of the marjiya, the Shiite religious authority dominated by the Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Read the whole thing. A few facts are quite clear: 1) Iran is playing a very active supporting role;

2) Iran does not appear to be playing a unifying role. The Monitor story suggests that this is because it lacks the capacity to do so:

Although Iran is closest to the council and its affiliate parties like Badr and Sayed al-Shuhada, it's also backing many other Shiite groups in southern Iraq including those that are openly using violence to oppose British and coalition troops, according to Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at London's Chatham House.

"The Iranians are backing as many horses as they can," he says. "But there is a limit to their influence, given how fractious Shiites are in Iraq."

There's an alternative interpretation -- it's possible that Iran lacks the interest. A fractious Iraq can serve as a buffer for Iran without triggering a security dilemma with Saudi Arabia or other Sunni states.

The Basra story is still developing, of course. Still, one wonders whether Tehran will be any more adept at nation-building in Iraq than the United States.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The unique legacy of George W. Bush

According to the Wall Street Journal, "lifelong libertarian Republican" Alan Greenspan does not think much of President George W. Bush:

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.
As strange as it seems today, Greenspan's expectations about the incoming administration were not completely out of whack. There was a time when people thought Paul O'Neill would make a great Treasury Secretary. Norwas this expectation limited to fiscal policy. On foreign policy, for example, Colin Powell, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all had good to excellent track records in previous administrations.

At this stage of the game, however, there are clearly four categories of legacies that come with working for George W. Bush:

1) Those lucky few who will emerge with their reputation intact somehow. Examples: Bob Zoellick, Rob Portman, Ben Bernanke.

2) Those whose reputations acquired a stain that will be difficult to erase. Examples: Colin Powell (and his speech to the U.N.), Alan Greenspan (and his endorsement of the Bush tax cuts).

3) Those whose actions have led journalists to engage in psychoanalysis to figure out what the heck went wrong: Examples: Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld.

4) Those who have committed career suicide through repeated screw-ups. Examples: Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales.

(1) and (4) do not interest me as much as (2) and (3). How is it possible for so many distinguished policymakers to have been brought so low by one administration?

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out that Greenspan's endorsement of the tax cuts do not fall into the same category as what other officials did, since he certainly did not endorse the massive spending increases that followed the tax cuts. I think this is a fair point, and can be summed up in an exchange Greenspan had with Bob Rubin about his testimony regarding the tax cuts:

Bob Rubin phoned.... With a big tax cut, said Bob, "the risk is, you lose the fiscal discipline."...

"Bob, where in my testimony do you disagree?"

There was silence. Finally he replied, "The issue isn't so much what you're saying. It's how it's going to be perceived."

"I cant be in charge of people's perceptions," I responded wearily. "I don't function that way. I can't function that way."

It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right....

Let me put it this way. I think Greenspan can erase his stain with less effort than others in category (2). However, he's going to have to deal with people very eager to keep refreshing that stain.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

There's spying and then there's, you know, spying

New England Patriots Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the Patriots were fined $250,000 and some draft picks for spying on the New York Jets defensive signals during last week's game.

What's interesting about this is that it's not even close to the biggest sports fine levied yesterday. No, for that we have to go to Formula One racing. The New York Times' Brad Spurgeon explains:

McLaren Mercedes, the leading team in the Formula One championship, was fined $100 million Thursday and excluded from the constructor’s title in connection with the spying scandal that has plagued the sport all season.

The International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, found McLaren guilty of cheating by using data obtained from Ferrari, its main rival, to improve its own car, the federation said in a statement issued following a hearing in Paris....

It was the harshest punishment given to a team in the 57-year history of the sport.

The federation, known as F.I.A., said it had stripped McLaren of all its constructor’s points in the Formula One world championship, and the team can score no points for the remainder of the season.

F.I.A. added that the team would not share in the sport’s revenue this season, either....

The spying scandal broke in early July, when Ferrari accused McLaren of using data given by a Ferrari employee to a McLaren employee to improve the quality of its racing car. The police had found documents regarding the Ferrari car at the home of Mike Coughlan, McLaren’s technical director, in England. Ferrari said it thought its former employee, Nigel Stepney, who had been frustrated by organizational changes at Ferrari this season, had provided the information to Coughlan.

A question to the three people in the known universe who are acolytes of both Formula One racing and the National Football League: While even I can determine that McLaren's actions were more egregious than Belichick's, were they 200 times as egregious??

posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

This is what happens when you ask me to deliver a convocation speech

I was recruited to be the faculty speaker at The Fletcher School's fall convocation. My talk was modestly titled "On Global Governance, Think Tanks, and Angelina Jolie."

Go check it out. One of my opening jokes:

I feel like I am obligated to impart some priceless nugget of wisdom, something that can be of use to you for the rest of your lives. After racking my brain for six weeks, here was what I was able to come up with (take paper out of pocket)…. never, under any circumstances, buy a cheap mattress. You will spend a quarter to a third of your lives on this particular piece of furniture. If you buy an inexpensive bed to save some money in the short term, your back will remind you of this error for the rest of your life. Take it from someone who once made this mistake – always splurge on your mattress.
Just because it's funny silly doesn't mean it's not true.

I should add that the student speaker, Isabel De Sola, acquitted herself quite well. Click here to read her speech.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September's books of the month

Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. I'll have more to say about that in the next post, but it informs my book choices for this month. In celebration of five years, I'm shamelessly picking books written by close friends.

This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. The book examines the intelligence failures that preceded September 11 -- and why the CIA and FBI did not adapt to post-Cold War threats. To do this, she examines the innumerable reform and panel proposals made prior to 9/11 -- and why they were not carried out.

No one really likes Spying Blind -- oh, except for a chair of the 9/11 Commission, a chair of the Hart-Rudman commission, the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and three of the leading scholars on organizational behavior. Oh, and Lee Hamilton.

Zegart has been this blog's Official Advisor on All Matters Pertaining to Foreign Policy Bureaucracies since its inception. Any smart presidential candidate should put Zegart on their speed dial before they say anything about intelligence or homeland security reform.

The general interest book is Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration. Jack really doesn't need the blog endorsement, as his book has apparently caught some people's eye.

You can click on my take on Goldsmith here.

posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Did I miss something to obsess about?

Today I received an e-mail from the folks at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas imploring me to check out Bernard Schwartz and Sherle Schwenninger's article, "Public Investment Works." The one-sentence summary of the argument:

BLS Chairman Bernard Schwartz and New America Foundation Senior Fellow Sherle Schwenninger posit that in an age of decaying infrastructure and failing schools, we can - and must - eschew our obsession with balanced budgets and find ways to make smart public-works investments. (emphasis added)
Um.... how do I put this.... was I in a coma when this obsession gripped the country?

President Bush and most of the Republican members of Congress haven't cared much about balanced budgets for some time.

As for the Democrats, in this century,* the only griping about fiscal rectitude came during the first term of the Bush administration, mostly as a way to attack Bush's fiscal policy. During the second term, I keep reading folks like Paul Krugman articulate the exact same set of talking points as Schwartz and Schwenninger.

What does someone like Hillary Clinton -- whome one would assume to be closest in spirit to her husband's legacy -- think about this? Let's go to her economic speech from last year:

We can return to fiscal discipline. We can invest in infrastructure, research and education, jump start a smarter energy future, promote manufacturing, rein in healthcare costs. And we can do it in ways that renew the basic bargain with America's middle class.
There's certainly a nod to fiscal discipline -- but she seems way more keen on those infrastructure investments to me.

Seriously, has anyone out there been obsessed about reducing the deficit in recent years?

*It's certainly true that, way, way back in the nineties, key parts of Clinton's team were fiscal hawks. Even then, however, folks like Bob Reich were hell-bent on infrastructure investments.

UPDATE: Ah, I see the problem now -- I'm "too knowledgeable". Truly an unusual problem for your humble blogger.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

White House also intent on finding body of Jimmy Hoffa

AFP reports the following on the 6th anniversary of 9/11:

The White House vowed Tuesday the United States would capture elusive Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as it marked the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

US President George W. Bush has pledged "he'd like to find him. He said all along: we are going to find him," spokesman Tony Snow said, just hours after a new video of bin Laden praising one of the 9/11 hijackers was released.

But Snow added: "The fact is that the war against terror is not a war against one guy, Osama bin Laden. It is against a network that uses all sorts of ways of trying to recruit new terrorists."

Well, so long as President Bush is serious about this -- you can absolutely count on it happening.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 2008 foreign affairs advisor sweepstakes

As I wrote during the last election cycle, foreign policy advisors tend to gravitate towards the candidate they think is the frontrunner -- which makes them a possible leading indicator for which way the race will go.

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Michael Hirsch has done some legwork on this subject for Newsweek's web site.

Two facts stand out. The first is that Obama has held his own vis-à-vis Clinton:

A group of prominent former senior officials in Bill Clinton's administration are informally working for Obama by taking charge of his advisory groups on different regions and issues. Among them: Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar from both the Clinton and Bush administrations; Jeffrey Bader, the Mandarin-speaking former director for Asian affairs on Clinton's National Security Council and assistant U.S. trade representative; former Mideast envoys Rob Malley and Dennis Ross; and the recently retired career CIA official and former Clinton-era National Security Council expert on South Asia, Bruce Riedel. Obama has also managed to recruit a large number of former junior and midlevel Clinton officials, especially many who served on Clinton's National Security Council. Among them: Mona Sutphen, Sandy Berger's former special assistant; ex-Clarke deputy Roger Cressey; former NSC Russia director Mark Brzezinski; Sarah Sewell, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense; and Philip Gordon, a former Clinton NSC director for Europe. (Some of these officials, like Riedel, Ross and Malley insist they are giving advice to anyone who asks, including Hillary.)

The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization). Hillary also consults with an informal group of 30 less prominent advisers. But she has shown increasing anxiety over Obama's active recruiting effort—so much so that she recently hired Lee Feinstein, a prominent and well-connected scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, to launch an "outreach" program similar to Obama's. Perhaps the hardest loss for the Clintonites is Greg Craig, the former lawyer for President Clinton who, along with former Albright protégée Susan Rice, a Clinton-era assistant secretary of state for Africa, and former national-security adviser Tony Lake, is considered one of Obama's closest confidants.

Craig told me he hadn't felt any hostility from his former colleagues in the Clinton inner circle. But other former Bill Clinton aides who have lined up with Obama say they have been warned that if Hillary wins the nomination their disloyalty will be remembered. Indeed, many junior or midlevel officials from the Clinton national security team continue to gravitate to Obama because they are wary of what one describes as Hillary's "closed circle." "A lot of us associated with the Clinton presidency had great feelings of loyalty to Bill Clinton, but those didn't extend to Hillary," says Obama Asia expert Jeffrey Bader. "I'm not a great believer in dynasties." Another official says, "There is a sense consciously or subconsciously that we don't want to just go back to same team: Holbrooke, Sandy, Madeleine...the same people having the same arguments about who's going to be in the room."

The second interesting fact is that this metric demonstrates how bad Republicans have it right now:
The Republican candidates have the opposite problem: with the president's popularity at Nixonian lows and his foreign policy in broad disfavor with the electorate, nobody is rushing to hire the president's team. Normally, candidates would rush to seek the counsel of high-powered alumni of the president's foreign policy team. But so many of its members—like neocon hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—are now thought to be tainted, their views are not widely welcomed. (An exception: the highly respected Robert Zoellick, former U.S. trade rep and deputy secretary of state. But Zoellick took himself out of the game when he replaced Wolfowitz as World Bank president in May.) At the same time, the Republicans' conservative base doesn't have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans "there's no upside in declaring, 'These are my advisers.' The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial," says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. "So the thinking is, don't define yourself by foreign-policy advisers."

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

We have met the Internet and it is us

In a New York Times story about Second Life, Shira Boss notes familiar parallels between the real and the virtual:

When people are given the opportunity to create a fantasy world, they can and do defy the laws of gravity (you can fly in Second Life), but not of economics or human nature. Players in this digital, global game don’t have to work, but many do. They don’t need to change clothes, fix their hair, or buy and furnish a home, but many do. They don’t need to have drinks in their hands at the virtual bar, but they buy cocktails anyway, just to look right, to feel comfortable.

Second Life residents find ways to make money so they can spend it to do things, look impressive, and get more stuff, even if it’s made only of pixels. In a place where people should never have to clean out their closets, some end up devoting hours to organizing their things, purging, even holding yard sales.

“Why can’t we break away from a consumerist, appearance-oriented culture?” said Nick Yee, who has studied the sociology of virtual worlds and recently received a doctorate in communication from Stanford. “What does Second Life say about us, that we trade our consumerist-oriented culture for one that’s even worse?”

I'd say that last quote says more about Yee than about the people he's wailing about. That said, OxBlog's Taylor Owen has a decent answer:
One thing is becoming increasingly clear though, "second life" is a misnomer. The internet is not an alternative to life, it is life. It is us, in all our complexity, madness and brilliance, out in the open for all to see, critique and engage.

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Petraeus-Crocker thread

Comment away on David Petraues and Ryan Crocker's presentations to Congress on the effects of the surge strategy.

My three questions:

1) Will anyone's mind be changed by what Petraeus and Crocker actually say? In other words, are there any undecideds actually left in Congress (and in the country, for that matter)?

2) How much should their testimony be weighed against the mutiple independent assessments of Iraq -- many of which are more pessimistic?

3) At what point does the failure of any political solution nullify whatever military gains have been achieved in the short run?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is watching the hearings and points out a problem for Republicans:
Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Republicans are making a big mistake by spending all their TV time this morning complaining about accusations that Gen. Petraeus is cooking the books in his assessment of progress in Iraq? Repeating the accusation, even if it's only to denounce it, is still repeating the accusation.
The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam would agree with Drum.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This BBC poll is making the rounds in the blogosphere -- and would seem to represent a direct challenge to the Petraeus/Crocker depiction of Iraq.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The ineluctable power of the bad review

In the New York Times Book Review, historian David Oshinsky writes about what he discovered in the archives of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

Oshinsky's general finding is that, "the great bulk of the reader’s reports seemed fair-minded and persuasive. Put simply, a rejected manuscript usually appeared to deserve its fate."

This is boring, however. Oshinsky, like too many of us, is attracted to people when they are bad. So the bulk of Oshinsky's essay is devoted to the exceptionally bad reviews -- bad because they were clearly wrong about the manuscript, or bad because the review seemed to go out of its way to belittle the writer.

As an example of the first type of bad review, Oshinsky opens with:

In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”

Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

There's more: "Another passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, explaining it was 'impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.'"

When rejections are bad, however, they can be delightfully nasty, which is how Oshinsky closes:

Today, as publishers eschew the finished manuscript and spit out contracts based on a sketchy outline or even less, the scripting of rejection letters has become something of a lost art. It’s hard to imagine a current publisher dictating the sort of response that Alfred Knopf sent to a prominent Columbia University historian in the 1950s. “This time there’s no point in trying to be kind,” it said. “Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.”

Now, that’s a rejection letter.

For more on the Knopf archives, click here.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

And here I thought "angry Buddhist monks" was an oxymoron

The Financial Times' Amy Kazmin and Andrew Ward report that Myanmar's regime is so bad that they've actually managed to make Budshist monks angry. Apparently, you wouldn't like them when they're angry:

Burma’s military regime fulminated on Friday against ’external anti-government groups’ which it claimed were trying to foment a mass uprising in Burma, and warned that it remains determined to crush open displays of dissent....

The regime’s outburst came amid persistent high tensions in the town of Pokkoku, a centre of Buddhist learning, where angry Buddhist monks have clashed with government authorities and pro-regime supporters in recent days....

Burma’s ruling generals are on edge after a rare wave of small but persistent protests against a sudden sharp increase in the price of rationed fuel, which has exacerbated the hardships of the impoverished population.

Initially, the regime relied mainly on its civilian militias – with frightening names like Swan-aah Shin, or “Masters of Force” – to help police and other security forces to haul off demonstrators, and snuff out protests and marches almost as soon as they began.

But tensions have intensified since Wednesday night when soldiers in Pokkoku fired warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesting monks, who complained of being manhandled, and tied to electricity poles.

On Thursday, monks infuriated at the harsh treatment held a dozen government officials captive in a tense standoff, and burned four official cars, before freeing the group unharmed a few hours later. However, later monks and town residents destroyed an electronics shop and a home that belong to members of the regime’s Union Solidarity and Development Organisation, reflecting the strength of public anger towards any one seen as linked to the regime.

More than 100 people have been arrested by the regime in an attempt to quell the protests.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 7, 2007

The political demand for crackpot economics

There's a raging debate among The Atlantic's bloggers about crackpot versions of supply-side economics and to what extent GOP politicians embrace them (the contemporary Democrat version of this, by the way, is that a protectionist approach towards China will be a net benefit to the U.S. economy and U.S. employment).

Alex Tabarrok weighs in with the following question:

[A] more fruitful question which I'd like to see Yglesias, Chait and others grapple with is why discredited, crackpot ideas can become central elements of a winning political party in the world's most important democracy. Explain the demand side and give us your policy prescriptions.
I don't really have an answer to this question that can be fit into a blog post, but I can link to this disquisition by Alan Blinder.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The strategic thought of George W. Bush

Robert Draper's new Bush biography, Dead Certain, is being excerpted in Slate this week. Let's see how George W. Bush thinks strategically. This is from late 2006:

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know—y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it—I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really—You either know how to do it or you don't. I think part of this is it: I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond."
Look past the description of his mastication and consider the following discussion question: what is missing from George Bush's strategic thought?

UPDATE: Well, Kevin Drum ruins the whole exercise by giving away the answer.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. Bush has thought about the situation in the Middle East, and has clearly determined what he thinks is the best U.S. response. To use some game-theoretic language, however, it's decision-theoretic, not strategic.

Take Bush's description of the situation as a given (I don't, but it doesn't matter for this exercise). He has determined, in his mind, the best U.S. response and defines that as strategic thinking. Except that, in this quote at least, what has not done is contemplate:

a) How the Iranian leadership might respond to U.S. policies;

b) How the Iranian people might respond to U.S. policies;

c) How the rest of the region might respond to U.S. policies;

d) How our key allies might respond to U.S. policies.

Part of strategic thought is contemplating how others might react to what you do. There's none of that in George W. Bush's strategic thought.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

The tough test of Iran

Last month I blogged repeatedly that the political climate surrounding the Iraq invasion was historically unique. You had a popular president, a cowed opposition scarred from opposition to the last Gulf War, a track record of military success, and the memory of the 9/11 attacks fresh in America's mind. Since one of those conditions hold now, I concluded, "contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran."

Well, now I see that we're going to have a tough test of my hypothesis. From Afghan expert Barnett Rubin:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."
Of course I cannot verify this report.
Well, Rubin spoke too soon. The New Yorker's George Packer blogs:
Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: “I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I’m not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic.”
In the Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave writes the following:
After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran's secret nuclear facilities. That's the reading as it filtered back to Europe's foreign ministries:

Addressing the annual meeting of France's ambassadors to 188 countries, Mr. Sarkozy said either Iran lives up to its international obligations and relinquishes its nuclear ambitions — or it will be bombed into compliance. Mr. Sarkozy also made it clear he did not agree with the Iranian-bomb-or-bombing-of-Iran position, which reflects the pledge of Mr. Bush to his loyalists, endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent. But Mr. Sarkozy recognized unless Iran's theocrats stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we will all be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic."

A ranking Swiss official privately said, "Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests."

So, we'll see after 9/11 whether the Bush administration can repeat history without it turning into a farce. Lord knows, Iran's regime will elicit little sympathy from Americans -- nor should it.

That said, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there are strong reasons to believe we won't be attacking Iran anytime soon. According to Spencer Ackerman over at TPM Muckraker:

Cheney's likely motivation for issuing such instructions to his think-tank allies would be to win an inter-administration battle over the future of Iran policy. Cheney, an advocate of confronting the Iranians militarily, faces opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where the primary concern is preventing an open-ended Iraq commitment from decimating military preparedness for additional crises. A new war is the last thing the chiefs want, and on this, they're backed by Defense Secretary Bob Gates. "It may be that the president hasn't decided yet," says Rubin.

On this reading, the real target of any coordinated campaign between the VP and right-wing D.C. think tanks on Iran isn't the Iranians themselves, or even general public opinion, but the Pentagon. Cheney needs to soften up his opposition inside the administration if Bush is to ultimately double down on a future conflict, something that a drumbeat of warnings about the Iranian threat can help accomplish.

This time around, Bush and Cheney will face a sizeable domestic opposition, a hostile foreign policy community, and opposition from within the executive branch. So I don't think they have the ability to just say "f$%* it" and go ahead.

The next few weeks will be a good test of this hypothesis.

One final caveat -- much of this speculation about a rollout in the first place relies on one source -- Rubin. So this might just be a lot of blog bloviation about nothing.

UPDATE: Some commenters are curious about where I stand normatively on attacking Iraq. Click here for an answer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... is this evidence for the rollout? Or are Bush and Cheney merely dancing to the whims of the Israel Lobby? Who's the puppet and who's the puppeteer in this production?

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Madlibs and the Bush administration's signature style

The New York Times Magazine offers a sneak preview of next week's cover story -- Jeffrey Rosen's article about Jack Goldsmith's experiences at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (Full disclosure: Jack is a good friend and I've blogged about him before). Goldsmith is the author of The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration , due out in the next week.

This paragraph from Rosen's story should sound familiar to those who have observed Bush's foreign policy style:

In Goldsmith’s view, the Bush administration went about answering [national security law] questions in the wrong way. Instead of reaching out to Congress and the courts for support, which would have strengthened its legal hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, “go-it-alone” view of executive power. As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. “They embraced this vision,” he says, “because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it.”
Let's have some Madlibs fun and insert some blanks into this paragraph:
In Goldsmith’s view, the Bush administration went about answering __noun__ questions in the wrong way. Instead of reaching out to __noun__ and __noun__ for support, which would have strengthened its __adjective__ hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, “go-it-alone” view of __noun__ . As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. “They embraced this vision,” he says, “because they wanted to leave __noun__ stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand __noun__ have diminished it.”
Discussion question: would it be safe to say that this applies to almost every Bush administration policy initiative?

posted by Dan at 03:50 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Your Giuliani observation of the day

Take this for what you will:

Over the past month, I've had at least two dozen conversations with various people about Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. A lot of these people are Democrats, but there were a healthy number of Republicans and independents as well. These are all smart observers of politics who generally do not make knee-jerk assessments. The one common denominator was that, at some point, all of these people had lived in the New York City area while Rudy was mayor.

What is astonishing is that, despite the fact that this collection of individuals would likely disagree about pretty much everything, there was an airtight conensus about one and only one point:

A Giuliani presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States.
That is all.

UPDATE: Commenters have reasonably asked the "why?" question. For some answers from New Yorkers, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Let the campaign commence!

Well, it's after Labor Day, so I guess that the presidential campaign for 2008 should be gearing up right about now.

I, for one, think that Fred Thompson fellow is smart to be laying the groundwork to declare so early -- he'll have a jump on the rest of the putative field.

I wonder when the first debates will be.....

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

An APSA wrap-up

Another year, another APSA into the archives. A few random thoughts about this year's meetings.

1) Here's an interesting etiquette question. Say you're a very senior scholar who's in the audience for a panel of interest. Now say the panel chair calls you out by name to say that it's great that you're here and that everyone is looking forward to hear your thoughts on the panel during the Q & A. Are you obligated to stay and say something profound?

2) Rob Farley dissents from my "anti-dowdy" defense of political scientists:

Color me unconvinced that the sartorial sense of political scientists has improved. Casual observation on the night before the first day of the conference indicates that the uniform remains substantially unchanged; navy blazer with brass buttons, button down shirt with no tie and t-shirt showing at the neck, pleated slacks.... and please, people; there's no reason to be wearing your name tag to the bar before the damn conference even starts.
First, let me say "Amen!" on Farley's last point.

Second, I'll concede to a bit of hindsight bias on the sartorial question. I realize now that after a conference, the stylish choices stick in my brain while the "uniform" washes away from my brain. Of course, Farley's "uniform" is mostly the domain of graduate students, who face harder budget constraints

Nevertheless, I'll stand by my statement on the whole. Remember, I was declaring political scientists as less sartorially challenged than economists. I've seen enough of the latter to remain firm in this conviction. Plus, this weekend downtown Chicago was populated by either a) political scientists, and; b) Iowa football fans -- and the political scientists won that dress competition hands down.

3) Speaking of sports, this result revealed a surprising amount of anti-Michigan sentiment among APSA attendees.

4) You know you have a good panel topic when 30 people show up for an 8:00 AM-on-Thursday time slot. Props to Laura, Tim Groeling, Matt Baum, and the other paper presenters.

5) The most interesting thing I learned at this conference: back in the 1930's, APSA produced a weekly broadcast for NBC radio. Matthew Hindman explains:

From 1932 to 1936, the APSA sponsored a nationwide radio program on NBC. Entitled "You and Your Goverment," it was run by some of the most famous scholars in the discipline's history, including Charles A. Beard and Charles Merriam. Incredibly, the show aired on Tuesday nights after Amos 'n' Andy--guaranteeing a lead-in audience of tens of millions. Six percent of the APSA's membership--and nearly all of its leading lights--were featured in the most prominent time slot in broadcast history.

At the start of the broadcasts, the committe organizing the broadcsats declared that they were "the greatest single opportunity directly to effect citizenship in the United States that has ever been offered." The program signified "the opening of the door of wider usefulness for the political scientist." Yet a few years later, when NBC cancelled the program, these same political scientists had changed their tune, calling broadcasting "a positive menace to culture and democracy."

Click here to read Hindman's paper on the subject.

6) When booksellers offer a book for three or five dollars during the peak of the conference, it's a sign that they overestimated demand. Among the books I saw in that category this year: Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift, and the paperback version of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat.

7) Your quote of the conference, "For $750,000, I'd blame the Israel Lobby for all our problems too."

posted by Dan at 09:52 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

An out-of-date top 100 list

An e-mail alerted me to this "list of the top 100 blogs dealing with economics."

Your humble blogger is included, with the following description: "The author has a deep academic background and provides economic insights founded in solid economic theory."

Curiously, I tried the "deep academic background" line while in graduate school. Readers should not be surprised that it never worked for me in bars.

What's really amusing about the list is that in the span of a week it's already out of date. Megan McArdle has already moved onto the Atlantic site, and Max Sawicky announced that he's hanging up his blogging spurs.

posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Why isn't there a scandal market?

In thinking about the fall of Larry Craig, I went back and re-read Dan Popkey's Idaho Statesman story from last week. Popkey's story makes it clear that rumors had been dogging Craig on this question for years, of not decades.

Craig is clearly not the only politico that carried around the whiff of scandal before it actually hit. My Louisiana contacts tell me the same thing was true of David Vitters. And, Lord knows, everyone knew Bill Clinton had a problem before a story broke.

So here's my question to economists and political scientists. If there are prediction markets for elections, why isn't their a prediction market for politicians and scandals? Admittedly, elections have a clear end date and (hopefully) a clear winner. Still, one could devise several market outcomes on which to bet: a Washington Post story about a scandal, a Nexis count of news stories about a scandal, or even an actual resignation. Contracts could be limited to, say, 3-month or 6-month time windows.

This sort of thing could have the potential to be a useful indicator (admittedly, it would also be ripe for manipulation by mischief-makers; but so are election markets) for media and politicos -- it could create a metric for off-the-record, on-the-qt-and-very-hush-hush kind of information.

My question to Tyler Cowen: is there are markets in everything, why isn't their a Scandal Pool?

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