Thursday, January 31, 2008

Live-blogging the Democratic debate

Because I feel compelled to do one of these.....

7:58 PM: Yep, even two minutes of Lou Dobbs Tonight is painful.

8:02 PM: Wow, Clinton dominated the walking-out-on-stage part of the debate!!

8:06 PM: Jesus, there have been seventeen debates?!!

8:07 PM: From the opening statements, a clear advantage that Clinton has over Obama in these formats is the latter's hesitancy in his voice -- which plays into the belief that he's inexperienced. Hillary, on the other hand, does not lack in confidence. This will impress the commentariat, at least.

8:12 PM: Clinton just gave the GOP one guaranteed YouTube clip to use if Obama wins the nomination -- about how their policies are really so similar. This is not a new thought, but to have Hillary say it right next to Obama will make for a great ad.

8:17 PM: I like Obama's reply on the mortgage crisis.... and he's definitely winning the "kiss John Edwards' ass" contest.

8:24 PM: Clinton's response on the political realities of health care makes her sound like George W. Bush: neither of them will negotiate with themselves.

8:27 PM: Obama's "broadcast health care dialogue on C-SPAN" seemed like a deft comparison to Clinton's 1994 health care fiasco... until Wolf Blitzer made it overt.

8:28 PM: K-Lo on the debate: "Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney makes you feel good about America. McCain vs. Hillary makes you stressed."

8:30 PM: Andrew Sullivan: "They are not disabusing me of the notion that discussing the details of healthcare policy is really boring."

8:34 PM: GEORGE!!!!! Jason Alexander is in the house!

8:36 PM: As a former employee, it's worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton's claim that the RAND Corporation is "far from liberal" is a bit rich. If memory serves, they're actually pretty liberal on health care .

8:40 PM: I don't know if it will win him any votes, but Obama's refusal to blame immigration on inner-city unemployment was the right answer

8:48 PM: Clinton gets a point for bringing up the fact that she was co-sponsoring immigration legislation in 2004

8:50 PM: Is there any issue Clinton does not feel personally?

8:53 PM: We're almost at the halfway point... and my card-carrying Democratic Party life partner wife gives the edge to Clinton.

9:03 PM: A Bradley Whitford sighting... our long national nightmare is over.

9:06 PM: Wow, Hillary's wants to let me use my own crieria to evaluate my choice for president?!!! That's the most libertarian thing she's ever said.

9:11 PM: Pierce Brosnan in the house... is he an American citizen?

9:13 PM: And now I see Diane Keaton and Rob Reiner... thank God this audience is truly representative of America.

9:19 PM: One of the problems with watching too many of these debates is that many of these lines have been repeated seventeen times.

9:20 PM: America Ferrara and Alfre Woodard in attendance.... it's good to see Hollywood looking more like America.

9:23 PM: Hillary is proud to have Maxine Waters endorse her? Man, that's sad....

9:27 PM: Topher Grace looks intense.

9:32 PM: Official Blog Wife on Hillary's answer on her Iraq vote: "Is this her 'I did not inhale' moment?"

9:33 PM: Hillary claims that no one could forsee that President Bush was bound and determined to go to war in Iraq? Um, really? That was pretty obvious to the entire blogosphere in the fall of 2002. UPDATE: And Obama makes exactly this point.

9:39 PM: Lou Gossett Jr. sighting. The first Oscar winner. UPDATE: And Spielberg as well... Garry Shandling did not win an Oscar.

9:46 PM: Good Lord, Hillary Clinton has the worst, most annoying laugh ever.

9:52 PM: Maybe they're good actors, but there seemed to be genuine affection between the two of them at the end of the debate.

9:53 PM: From the Blog Wife -- she gives a thumbs up to the earth-tones of Hillary's brown suit with the turquoise jewelry, but Obama's tie exuded cool.

FINAL ASSESSMENT: I thought Clinton did marginally better on the nitty-gritty of policy, but Obama did better on everything else. More importantly, given his past debate performances, Obama did much better than expected.

Thumbs up to Doyle McManus as well... and thumbs down to Wolf Blitzer.

posted by Dan at 07:57 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Hegemonic decline, revisited

I see that both Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias liked Parag Khanna's "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony" argument a lot more than I did.

Both Kevin and Matt like the fact that, "it's a useful article if only because it's so rare to see foreign policy pieces in the mainstream media that aren't almost completely America-centric." Fair enough. But if that's their interest, I would recommend "A World Without the West," by Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steve Weber in May/June 2007 issue of The National Interest -- which was followed up by a lively debate on TNI online.

Furthermore, as an adjunct to Khanna's essay, it would be good to read Michael Lind's cover story in the February issue of Prospect magazine. Lind's argument:

America does, of course, have many problems, such as spiralling healthcare costs and a decline in social mobility. Yet the truth is that apart from the temporary frictions caused by current immigration from Latin America, the US is more integrated than ever. Racial and cultural diversity is in long-term decline, as a result of the success of the melting pot in merging groups through assimilation and intermarriage—and many of the country's infamous social pathologies, from violent crime to teenage drug use, are also seeing improvements. Americans are far more religious than Europeans, but the "religious right" is concentrated among white southern Protestants. And there is no genuine long-term entitlement problem in the US. The US suffers from healthcare cost inflation, a problem that will be solved one way or another in the near future, long before it cripples the economy as a whole. And the long-term costs of social security, America's public pension programme, could be met by moderate benefit cuts or a moderate growth in the US government share of GDP. With a linguistically united, increasingly racially mixed supermajority and a solvent system of middle-class entitlements, the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.
Another, small cavilabout Matt's post. He writes:
[T]he big thing to keep in mind when considering any particular "declinist" thesis about American hegemony is that we've actually been on the decline for a good long while. In 1945-46 the U.S. economy completely dominated the world, contributing some absurdly high share of total output. Every other significant country on earth had been completely destroyed by war, and we had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Over time, this dominant position unraveled and Robert Keohane's After Hegemony, a study of America's efforts to forge a diplomatic system to continue to get bye in this new world actually came out decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a kind of illusion of a return to hegemony since international politics had been organized as "USA or USSR" for so long, but all along throughout the postwar period other countries have been gaining in importance.

What happens, I think, is that whenever the United States makes policy blunders such as Vietnam or Iraq, the fact that hegemony has been slowly slipping through our fingertips for decades suddenly becomes apparent.

Well, sort of. Yglesias is completely correct that the U.S. had nowhere to go but down after 1945 -- a year in which we had the nuclear monopoly and were responsible for 50% of global economic output. Nevertheless, the U.S. resurgence in the nineties was not an illusion. The simple fact is that all of the potential peer competitors to the United States -- Germany, Japan and the USSR -- either stagnated or broke apart. At the same time, U.S. GDP and productivity growth surged. The revival of U.S. relative power was not a mirage.

posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Behold the awesome power of undorsements!!!

In December I wrote: "[M]y two undorsements of candidates that could ostensibly win are.... John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani."

Today, both Edwards and Giuliani are dropping out.


Many thanks to Minipundit for the shout-out.

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

I won't have Rudy Giuliani to kick around anymore

I know I've picked on Rudy Giuliani during his presidential campaign, and it seems a bit cruel to dogpile on him after he finished a distant third in his make-or-break state.

That said, after reading Michael Powell and Michael Cooper's dissection of the Giuliani campaign in the New York Times, I do have one final thought. Consider this passage:

Mr. Giuliani’s campaign was stumbling, even if it was not immediately evident. He leaned on friendly executives who would let him speak to employees in company cafeterias. Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain, by contrast, compiled lists of undecided Republican voters and invited them — sometimes weeks in advance — to town-hall-style meetings.

“Rudy Giuliani had a tremendous opportunity in New Hampshire that his campaign never embraced,” said Fergus Cullen, the state Republican chairman. “They vacillated between being half committed and three-quarters committed, and that doesn’t work up here.”

Mr. Giuliani also relied on a New York-style approach to photo-friendly crowds. “Rudy went very heavy on Potemkin Village stops, working what I call ‘hostage audiences,’ “ Mr. Cullen said. “It looked like he was campaigning, but he didn’t know who he was talking to.”....

In the end, Mr. Giuliani and his advisers treated supporters as if they were so many serried lines of troops. If they tell a pollster in November that they are going to vote for you, this indicates they are forever in your camp, their thinking went.

But politics does not march to a military beat; it is a business of shifting loyalties. By Tuesday night, even those voters who rated terrorism as the most important issue were as likely to vote for Mr. Romney or Mr. McCain as for Mr. Giuliani.

From the way he organized his campaign, it seems like Giuliani would have been a complete failure at any kind of governance that would have required, you know, politics or legislation or wonky stuff like that.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Second World and my discontents

Over at Duck of Minerva, Daniel Nexon heaps praise (and gentle criticism) on Parag Khanna's The Second World, which was excerpted as the cover story for the New York Times Magazine: ("[T]he book is really excellent. I consider it one of the most important contributions to the debate over American grand strategy to make its way into the public sphere in quite some time.")

I will heap praise on Khanna's agent for getting the excerpt placed into the Magazine. There's less demand than there used to be for prose stylings that read like Benjamin Barber after a three-day coke bender in Macao.

As for the content of Khanna's ideas... well, here's a key excerpt:

The Big Three are the ultimate “Frenemies.” Twenty-first-century geopolitics will resemble nothing more than Orwell’s 1984, but instead of three world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), we have three hemispheric pan-regions, longitudinal zones dominated by America, Europe and China. As the early 20th-century European scholars of geopolitics realized, because a vertically organized region contains all climatic zones year-round, each pan-region can be self-sufficient and build a power base from which to intrude in others’ terrain. But in a globalized and shrinking world, no geography is sacrosanct. So in various ways, both overtly and under the radar, China and Europe will meddle in America’s backyard, America and China will compete for African resources in Europe’s southern periphery and America and Europe will seek to profit from the rapid economic growth of countries within China’s growing sphere of influence. Globalization is the weapon of choice. The main battlefield is what I call “the second world.”

There are plenty of statistics that will still tell the story of America’s global dominance: our military spending, our share of the global economy and the like. But there are statistics, and there are trends. To really understand how quickly American power is in decline around the world, I’ve spent the past two years traveling in some 40 countries in the five most strategic regions of the planet — the countries of the second world. They are not in the first-world core of the global economy, nor in its third-world periphery. Lying alongside and between the Big Three, second-world countries are the swing states that will determine which of the superpowers has the upper hand for the next generation of geopolitics. From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia, the new reality of global affairs is that there is not one way to win allies and influence countries but three: America’s coalition (as in “coalition of the willing”), Europe’s consensus and China’s consultative styles. The geopolitical marketplace will decide which will lead the 21st century.

The key second-world countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia are more than just “emerging markets.” If you include China, they hold a majority of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves and savings, and their spending power is making them the global economy’s most important new consumer markets and thus engines of global growth — not replacing the United States but not dependent on it either. I.P.O.’s from the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) alone accounted for 39 percent of the volume raised globally in 2007, just one indicator of second-world countries’ rising importance in corporate finance — even after you subtract China. When Tata of India is vying to buy Jaguar, you know the landscape of power has changed. Second-world countries are also fast becoming hubs for oil and timber, manufacturing and services, airlines and infrastructure — all this in a geopolitical marketplace that puts their loyalty up for grabs to any of the Big Three, and increasingly to all of them at the same time. Second-world states won’t be subdued: in the age of network power, they won’t settle for being mere export markets. Rather, they are the places where the Big Three must invest heavily and to which they must relocate productive assets to maintain influence.

While traveling through the second world, I learned to see countries not as unified wholes but rather as having multiple, often disconnected, parts, some of which were on a path to rise into the first world while other, often larger, parts might remain in the third. I wondered whether globalization would accelerate these nations’ becoming ever more fragmented, or if governments would step up to establish central control. Each second-world country appeared to have a fissured personality under pressures from both internal forces and neighbors. I realized that to make sense of the second world, it was necessary to assess each country from the inside out.

Maybe I'm a stickler for conceptual boundaries, but I don't think you can claim that the central conceit in your book -- the second world -- is really, really important by temporarily sticking China in the category to inflate the numbers.

There are other, bigger problems:

1) The second world is not nearly as nimble at playing the big powers off of each other as Khanna would have you believe. For example, despite all of Hugo Chavez's machinations, Venezuela still needs the U.S. market.

2) As Nexon said, the excerpt does its darndest to play up Europe and China's rise and America's fall. Actually, it's worse than that -- in the excerpt at least, Khanna simply asserts that American power is waning. I suspect that's true in a relative sense, but some, you know, data, would have been nice. I suspect that these trends are occurring, but Khanna just skates over the internal and external difficulties faced by these other two poles.

3) Robert D. Kaplan style-travelogue inquiries into international relations are really fun to write, and might be fun to read -- but they don't actually shine that bright a light onto the contours of world politics.

I did like the frenemies line, though.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 28, 2008

This year, pollsters know nothing

From the Wall Street Journal's Christopher Cooper and Amy Chozick:

This has proved a tough season for statewide pollsters even by historical standards. Mrs. Clinton eked out a win in New Hampshire even though most pollsters expected her to be buried by Mr. Obama. A recent analysis of polls in that state by Survey USA found that pollsters were off by an average of 10 percentage points in the days leading up to the election. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, where Mr. Obama routed Mrs. Clinton on Saturday, Survey USA found that prognosticators did even worse, chalking up average error rates of 17 percentage points.
What's odd about this is that the bulk of Cooper and Chozick's article is about how Hillary Clinton has a built-in advantage come Super Tuesday... because of statewide polls showing her in the lead.

posted by Dan at 09:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking on the bright side of politics

Kevin Drum is grumpy about the post-South Carolina primary reaction:

I haven't been impressed with very much of the chatter about Barack Obama's primary victory last night. Hillary didn't give a concession speech? Give me a break. Who cares? Turnout was up? Yes, but it's been an exciting and money-filled campaign and turnout has been up everywhere. Obama won the black vote and lost the white vote? Nothing new there. Obama won young people and Hillary won among the elderly? Again, no surprise.
I'll maintain that South Carolina is another notch in an argument I made in Newsweek ten days ago:
In a pleasant surprise, negative campaigning has not worked. Part of the explanation for Huckabee's rise in the polls has been the relentlessly upbeat quality of the campaign and the man. Mitt Romney, in contrast, has not gained much from attacking either Huckabee or McCain. Obama's optimism on the campaign trail worked well for him, until women thought Hillary was being unfairly attacked and rallied behind her. In South Carolina, however, Clinton will likely pay a price for statements made by her, her husband, and her surrogates impugning Obama in particular and, in some instances, the civil rights movement in general.
I think this thesis still holds up. Romney did well n Michigan because he stopped pandering to social conservatives and started pandering to scared auto workers campaigned on his economics and business expertise.

My real test will come in Florida on the GOP side, however. Yesterday John McCain went negative on Romney in a pretty misleading way.

If my hypothesis is correct, Romney wins Florida.

As Drum wryly observed in a previous post, "As long as negative campaigning works — and it's worked pretty effectively ever since Og defeated Ug 56-55 for the presidency of the Olduvai Gorge Mammoth Hunting Alliance — we'll keep seeing it." Drum is likely correct, but so far this year, negative campaigning has been a stinker of a campaign tactic.

posted by Dan at 09:56 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Really, it sounds much cooler in German

Nine months ago a German think tank commissioned your humble blogger to sketch out the contours of U.S. foreign policy beginning in 2009.

The result is that I have an English-language article in the latest issue of Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft ("International Politics and Society") modestly entitled "The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy."

The article is a wee bit out of date (it was submitted in October), as it starts off with John McCain's tumble from frontrunner status. Nevertheless, I think the rest of it holds up reasonably well. The closing paragraph:

For Europe, American foreign policy in 2009 will clearly be an improvement on its current incarnation. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, there will likely be a reaching out to Europe as a means of demonstrating a decisive shift from the Bush administration’s diplomatic style. This does not mean, however, that the major irritants to the transatlantic relationship will disappear. On several issues, such as GMOs or the Boeing–Airbus dispute, the status quo will persist. On deeper questions, such as the use of force and the use of multilateralism, American foreign policy will shift, but not as far as Europeans would like. When George W. Bush leaves office, neo-conservatism will go with him. This does not mean, however, that Europeans will altogether agree with the foreign policy that replaces it.
Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 04:26 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 25, 2008

How about some reciprocal gratitude?

A follow-upon my last post on sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).

I quoted the head of the Norway's fund saying, ""It seems you don't like us, but you need our money." It strikes me that one could flip that around. Not for norway, but for most of the countries now sprouting SWFs, the line should read: ""It seems you don't like us, but you need to invest your money with us."

Countries are developing sovereign wealth funds for a number of reasons:

1) They're accruing massive current account surpluses because of commodity booms or misaligned currencies

2) They can't reinvest most of these surpluses domestically, because of concerns about sterilization, inflation, the Dutch disease, etc.

3) Holding these assets simply as reserves is not terribly profitable.

4) Therefore, they need to find a place to invest. Places with capital markets large and deep enough to absorb the gargantuan levels of investment without distortion. In other words, the United States and the European Union.

There is no question that, right now, western financial markets could use the money. However, it's also worth pointing out that there are not a lot of non-OECD markets receptive to large-scale SWF investments. Indeed, the very countries ginning up sovereign wealth funds at the moment are the most protectionist when it comes to foreign direct investment. A Russian SWF is not going to find a receptive audience in China -- and vice versa.

Am I missing anything?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Summers on sovereign wealth funds

Like the rest of the known universe, I've been reading up on sovereign wealth funds as of late. And, to be blunt, I have yet to find much to get exercised about in terms of economic vulnerability to the United States or the west more generally. Basically, in order for a sovereign wealth fund to play politics, they have to shoot themselves in the foot financially.

Reporting from Davos, however, Daniel Gross relays Larry Summers' areas of concern. Summers is pretty smart, so let's review his objections:

1. Corporate governance. SWFs may protect the management of poorly run companies: "SWFs are some people's model investors, and other people's version of 1-800-ENTRENCH. What could be better for not entirely secure management than a long-term, nonvoting shareholder?"

2. Multiple-motive issues. "It's the premise of capitalism that people own shares to maximize value. But if you think of an investment made by a state fund, there could be multiple motives. Perhaps we want the airline to fly to our country, perhaps we want the bank to do extensive business in the country, suppose we want suppliers in our country to be sourced, perhaps we want some disablement of a competitor for our country's national champion. When there's no assurance that value maximization is not being pursued, there is a potential question."

3. General politicization. He provided two examples. "First, suppose that a country ran an active trading operation, and say it was a very inspired one, and found itself in an investment much like George Soros' short position in the pound. Would we be comfortable with the concept that the nation of X had decided that nation of Y's currency was overvalued and launched an attack? There should be some kind of understanding that that won't happen. Also, the SWF of country A makes an investment in a major bank in country B. The bank gets in big trouble. Is there any control in the world that can assert, that with billions of dollars on the line, their head of state and foreign minister are not going to get involved in the negotiations?"

Concern #1 is interesting, but strikes me as ephemeral. If a sovereign wealth fund is interested in maximizing its value, then it's not going to want to keep around incompetent management.

Concern #2 is a possibility, but the more pernicious possibilities seem like straight anti-trust issues rather than problems unique to sovereign wealth funds.

Concern #3 is a massive rationalization. It boils down to, "we're not saying sovereign wealth funds are evil, but other, less cosmopolitan folks are saying that, and they have pitchforks."

There are some foreign policy reasons to be concerned about some sovereign wealth funds -- but I don't see any economic motivation to get all riled up about them. This holds with particular force at the present moment. As the head of Norway's fund put it at the panel: "It seems you don't like us, but you need our money."

Question to readers -- can anyone add an additional reason to believe sovereign wealth funds are bad for the U.S. economy?

UPDATE: For those curious about the official U.S.position on sovereign wealth funds, go read Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt's Foreign Affairs essay:

posted by Dan at 03:10 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Everybody hates someone

Let's see if we can briefly summarize who irrationally dislikes who:

1) According to the New York Times' Michael Luo, all the other Republicans personally dislike Romney;

2) Paul Krugman's dislike of Barack Obama is a matter of public record;

3) Matthew Yglesias dislikes McCain;

4) Andrew Sullivan really loathes Bill and Hillary Clinton -- and clearly, he's not alone

5) Stephen Bainbridge dislikes everyone except Fred Thompson.

This was just off the top of my head.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Your political quiz of the day

Who wrote the following?

The Clintons play dirty when they feel threatened. But we knew that, didn't we?

....High-minded and self-important on the surface, smarmily duplicitous underneath, meanwhile jabbing hard to the groin area. They are a slippery pair and come as a package. The nation is at fair risk of getting them back in the White House for four more years. The thought makes me queasy.

It's a multiple choice:
A) Jonah Goldberg

B) William Greider

C) Maureen Dowd

D) Bob Novak

For the answer, cick here.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

A small memo to the Center for Public Integrity

Dear CPI staffer,

So I hear you have this brand-new website that, "documents 935 false statements by top administration officials to justify Iraq War." This is a great public good, and you have reason to feel happy about it.

On the other hand:

1) Sending me approximately 935 e-mail notifications about the new website will not put you in my good graces [C'mon, it was really close to 935?--ed. OK, it was closer to five, but I can confirm that these e-mails actually existed, and they clearly have the capability to send me 931 more. I had to act preemptively.]

2) Just to nitpick a little more, you aver that:

Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence — not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. And, of course, only four of the officials — Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz — have testified before Congress about Iraq.
OK, except that the other four officials that you highlight in the report are "White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan," President Bush, and Vice President Cheney. The latter two ain't testifying, and do you really think that the first two would provide any value-added?
Warm regards,

Daniel Drezner

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Fed ain't f&%$ing around.... and neither are the markets

From the Federal Reserve this morning:

The Federal Open Market Committee has decided to lower its target for the federal funds rate 75 basis points to 3-1/2 percent.

The Committee took this action in view of a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth. While strains in short-term funding markets have eased somewhat, broader financial market conditions have continued to deteriorate and credit has tightened further for some businesses and households. Moreover, incoming information indicates a deepening of the housing contraction as well as some softening in labor markets.

The Committee expects inflation to moderate in coming quarters, but it will be necessary to continue to monitor inflation developments carefully.

Appreciable downside risks to growth remain. The Committee will continue to assess the effects of financial and other developments on economic prospects and will act in a timely manner as needed to address those risks.

The question is whether this move will forestall further panic in global and domestic markets or merely exacerbate them.

UPDATE: Uh-oh.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

An assignment to the mediasphere and blogosphere

Well, that South Carolina debate sure was pleasant, wasn't it?

I'm intrigued by Obama deciding to bring up the "Bill issue," as it were:
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign this week in South Carolina is essentially running Mr. Clinton against Mr. Obama. The two have been engaged in a war of words, with Mr. Clinton accusing the Obama campaign of voter coercion in the Nevada caucuses, and Mr. Obama saying on Monday that Mr. Clinton had made comments that were “not factually accurate” and that his advocacy for his wife had grown “pretty troubling.”....

Mr. Clinton has drawn particular criticism for saying, just before Mrs. Clinton’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, that Mr. Obama’s depiction of his steady opposition to the Iraq war was “a fairy tale,” given that Mr. Obama voted for a time for Iraq war financing and once indicated that he was not sure how he would have voted on authorizing military action in Iraq.

At the Ebenezer congregation on Monday, an Obama supporter, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, appeared to take a shot at Mr. Clinton over that comment as he sat a few feet away.

“In this beautiful, all-American morning,” Ms. Franklin said, “we are at the cusp of turning the impossible into reality. Yes, this is reality, no fantasy or fairy tale.”

Pundits are also chatting up Bill Clinton's advocacy.

Which leads to my question to readers and reporters: it would seem that the obvious comparison to Bill Clinton's conduct in the 2008 campaign is George H.W. Bush's conduct during the 2000 campaign. To what extent has President Clinton's advocacy for his wife exceeded Bush's advocacy for his son?

Combing through Google news archives during the primary phase of the campaign, it's tough to find much at all on Bush pere. There are a few mentions of Bush's father campaigning for his son, but frankly, there was less than I expected. I could not find anything about Bush attacking McCain, Forbes, or other primary candidates (which does not mean anything can't be found). Even more surprisingly, I can't find a story this month that has made this comparison (again, that does not mean anything can't be found).

Question to readers: has Bill Clinton crossed the line in campaigning for his wife? Is there a line to cross?

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hoisted from the archives: The students strike back!!

UPDATE: This contest was posted two weeks ago.... and frankly, I've been disappointed with the student response. My crack intelligence network at Fletcher tell me that some of the student body was rankled by my "Bad Student Writing contest" from last month -- yet I see no attempt by the Fletcher student body to step up to the plate.

So, I'm reposting this comment, and triple-dog-daring the students of the American academy to "Post, in the comments, the most confusing, badly-written or long-winded sentence a professor of yours has written in a published article."

Just to make things interesting, I add two additional qualifiers:

1) Judith Butler entries will not be accepted. Booooring. And it's been done to death.

2) Extra-special bonus points if you can find a God-awful sentence written by the author of this blog. C'mon, students of mine -- I've assigned a fair amount of my own crap work. If you can't find a bad sentence in my published oeuvre, you ain't trying hard enough.

Get to it, students -- or the professors of the world will be able to claim that students can't even procrastinate as efficiently as the professoriate!

The Bad Student Writing Contest was a great success -- but it came at the expense of students. Already, commenters are concluding that this is emblematic of the sorry state of American education, which suffers from a wee bit of the ol' selection bias.

So, students, your time for revenge has come. Why procrastinate during the spring semester when you can procrastinate today? Here is your opportunity to (anonymously) thumb your nose at the guardians of your grades.

I give you.... The Bad Professor Writing Contest:

Post, in the comments, the most confusing, badly-written or long-winded sentence a professor of yours has written in a published article.
Bonus points if you can provide an active hyperlink to the article.

Winners will receive a prize of unspecified but clearly inestimable value.

Good luck!!

posted by Dan at 01:09 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Managing the bureaucracy....

Henry Farrell summarizes an interesting blog exchange between Timothy Burke and Brad DeLong on the proper relationship between leaders and bureaucracies.

Burke first:

[O]ne of the interesting bits of information to come out of the Iraq War so far has to do with why US intelligence was so off about Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic, people who want to make it a sincere mistake are too simplistic. Some of what strikes me as actually involved includes:

a. That very indirectly, almost “culturally” or ideologically, actors inside the Bush Administration made it known that they, even more than their predecessors, would not welcome intelligence which blatantly contradicted beliefs or assumptions that they were inclined to make. No one ever sends an order down that says, “Here’s the casus belli we need, please write it up! kthnx.” This kind of pressure gets exerted when someone like Cheney says in a conversation that includes key advisors and heads of executive departments that intelligence has been “too timid” in the past, or is too dominated by experts who are unwilling to act. The thing is, Cheney (or various neocons) could believe that statement as a reaction to some factual understanding of the history of US intelligence, could say it as a reflection of a much more intuitive kind of personal, emotional orientation towards leadership (think John Bolton here), and so on–and could not entirely know themselves why they say it, or how that statement is likely to be received or interpreted.

2) Another thing at play: how the movement of information through institutions is rather like a game of telephone, that there is a kind of drift and transformation which has less to do with intentionality and more to do with processes of translation, reparsing, repackaging and repurposing as information travels from office to office, up and down hierarchies. So at one level of action and knowledge, you can get a very granular, nuanced understanding of the extremely limited value of a source like “Curveball”, but a process rather like genetic drift starts to mutate that knowledge into something else by the time it reaches the layer where ultimate decisions are made.

Now DeLong:
Tim Burke is both right and wrong. He is right: courts are the natural habitats of deceitful courtiers who tell the princes exactly what the princes want to hear, the people on the spot who control implementation matter in ways that the people around polished walnut tables in rooms with green silk walls do not, and the movement of information through bureaucracies does resemble a game of telephone with distortions amplified at every link.


Those with sufficient virtu to become princes in this modern age are well aware of all these deficiencies of bureaucracies and courts....

by the time anyone (a) possesses sufficient virtu, (b) is forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, and (c) has seen the world, there is no excuse for not understanding that as a czar your cossacks respond to the incentives you set them, that you can change those incentives, and that you are responsible for the behavior that your incentives elicit. By the time you are forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, you know very well that when you say that "intelligence has been 'too timid' in the past," what they hear you saying is "don't tell me what you think, tell me what I want to hear." George W. Bush--the feckless and virtu-less hereditary prince--may well not have clued in to the fact that Condi Rice had decided that if she told him what he needed to hear she might get fired, while if she told him what he wanted to hear she would get promoted. But Colin Powell knew damned well what the flow of "intelligence" from George Tenet to him was worth unverified, and knew damned well that taking care not to try to verify it was a way of preserving his own options for the future. And Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knew damned well--unless they are much farther into their dotage than I believe--that their confidence in Saddam Hussein's WMD program was based not on intelligence but on their judgment that they would have active WMD programs if they were Saddam Hussein.

The frictions and distortions of the bureaucracy and the court exist. They are, however, counterbalanced by the intelligence, the sophistication, and the energy of the principals at the top. If the czar wishes, the cossacks do work for him. And if the czar doesn't want to take the time to make the cossacks work for him--well, that is his decision and what happens is his will just as well.

And now Henry:
I’m with Brad on this, but I want to go one step further. The very fact of ambiguous motivations and uncertainty about what the people at the top really want can be a crucial source of strategic power for those people. By combining ambiguous information about the motivations of those in power with implicit incentives to please them, powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything....

More generally, the problem of ambiguity, reflects, as Brad says, to a very considerable degree the desires of those at the top. Moreover, it may be a crucial source of power for them. It allows them to blur lines of accountability and responsibility, by making underlings guess what they want, while never having the comfort of explicit instructions. Hence decisions by underlings over torture, to destroy tapes, to skew intelligence in the one way rather than another, that are based on well grounded inferences about the preferences of those above, but which don’t allow others later to reconstruct clear chains of causation and responsibility that lead from those at top to those who want to implement their wishes. That motivations may not be unambiguously discernible from context doesn’t mean that their motivations don’t exist, or that beliefs about those motivations aren’t important. Moreover, precisely that ambiguity over motivations allows for all sorts of strategic actions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

My take: there are cross-cutting effects in the relationship between bureaucracies and "courts" as Brad puts it. No doubt, bureaucrats will want to please their superiors, and that can affect the kinds of information that they receive.

On the other hand, there is an large and robust literature in political science on the fact that bureaucracies can also resist, evade, or sabotage the policy preferences of their political superiors. Indeed, this came up earlier this week in the Nevada debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (NOTE: if anyone can find a shorter YouTube clip that only encompasses the first 7 minutes, post it in the comments):

Hillary Clinton's concern with bureaucratic evasion mirrors the Bush administration's utter and complete conviction, when they came to power in 2001, that they faced a hostile and ideologically biased bureaucracy. Being embedded in said bureaucracy at the time, I think the Bushies were about 15% correct and 85% incorrect, and this led to some horrible policymaking processes. An interesting question going forward is whether Clinton would display the same kind of organizational pathologies.

To be clear, Brad and Henry are correct to say that leaders should be wary of eager-to-please courtiers, and should be willing to pulse the system in order to get alternative sources of information. The irony of the Bush administration, however, is that in the case of intelligence gathering, Cheney and Rumsfeld did precisely this very thing. In their case, however, it was because they thought the intelligence apparatus' inherent risk aversion was preventing them from drawing the conclusions that they had already drawn about Saddam Hussein. And, as Hillary Clinton's statements suggest, this is hardly a GOP phenomenon.

One last quick thought: I don't really buy Farrell's strategic ambiguity argument -- or, at least, it was at best a minor key in this administration. George W. Bush is a lot of things, but "ambiguous" ain't one of them. And it's Bush's decisions that, in the end, set the tone for the administration. One of the biggest problems with liberal critiques of the Bush administration has been the assumption that Bush has been from the nose by Cheney, Rumsfeld, neocons, etc. Bull s**t. The president has been the decider.

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Old-time prediction markets

In my latest Marketplace commentary, I pointed out that the accuracy of prediction markets would improve as they went more mainstream. Essentially, as markets widen and deepen, their informational efficiency should improve.

I had assumed that we would need to wait for the future for this to happen. However, Paul Rhode and Koleman Strumpf provide some fascinating evidence from the past in thieir paper, "Historical Presidential Betting Markets." The highlights:

This paper analyzes the large and often well organized markets for betting on presidential elections that operated between 1868 and 1940. Over $165 million (in 2002 dollars) was wagered in one election, and betting activity at times dominated transactions in the stock exchanges on Wall Street.

Drawing on an investigation of several thousand newspaper articles, we develop and analyze data on betting volumes and prices to address four main points. First, we show that the market did a remarkable job forecasting elections in an era before scientific polling. In only one case did the candidate clearly favored in the betting a month before Election Day lose, and even state-specific forecasts were quite accurate. This performance compares favorably with that of the Iowa Electronic Market (currently the only legal venue for election betting in the U.S.). Second, the market was fairly efficient, despite the limited information of participants and attempts to manipulate the odds by political parties and newspapers. Third, we argue political betting markets disappeared largely because of the rise of scientific polls and the increasing availability of other forms of gambling. Finally, we discuss lessons this experience provides for the present....

The extent of activity in the presidential betting markets of this time was astonishingly large. For brief periods, betting on political outcomes at the Curb Exchange in New York would exceed trading in stocks and bonds. Crowds formed in the financial district – on the Curb or in the lobby of the New York Stock Exchange— and brokers would call out bid and ask odds as if trading securities. In presidential races such as 1896, 1900, 1904, 1916, and 1924, the New York Times, Sun, and World provided nearly daily quotes from early October until Election Day....

In the 15 elections between 1884 and 1940, the mid-October betting favorite won 11 times (73 percent) and the underdog won only once (when in 1916 Wilson upset Hughes on the West Coast). In the remaining three contests (1884-92), the odds were essentially even throughout and the races very close. The capacity of the betting markets to aggregate information is all the more remarkable given the absence of scientific polls before the mid-1930s. The betting odds possessed much better predictive power than other generally available information. Moreover, the betting market was not succeeding by just picking one party or by picking incumbents. Over this period, Republicans won eight of the elections in the Electoral College and Democrats seven; the party in power won eight, the opposition seven.

Hat tip: The Monkey Cage's John Sides.

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reason #342 why Election is the greatest movie ever made about American politics... ever
Thank you, Slate.
posted by Dan at 11:31 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Radio, print, web -- it's a media whoredom triple play!!

Sure, I have a Newsweek column and a bloggingheads appearance in the past 24 hours, but what have I done for my dear readers lately?

My latest commentary for Marketplace is now available online. It's about the fallibility of political prediction markets.

I'm very grateful to Columbia's Andrew Gelman for this blog post and this blog post, which crystallize the state of play regarding these markets.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Projecting power

Let's see, today we've already blogged about the "erection theory of British foreign policy."

As an antidote, here's a link to my latest Newsweek column, which suggests that, "the competitiveness of the 2008 presidential election itself might already be augmenting America's soft power."

Here's how it closes:

[N]ot all dimensions of the 2008 campaign have been good for America's image abroad. With the exception of McCain, the Republican field has been obsessed with who sounds tougher on immigration issues. The Democrats have been less exercised over this issue, but when the topic turns to trade, it has been a race among the candidates to see who can bash China first.

All of the top-tier candidates have published essays in Foreign Affairs outlining their vision of international relations. One of the few areas where there is bipartisan agreement has been the need to improve America's image abroad. It will be a pleasant surprise if the election campaign itself helps them succeed in that effort.

I'd previously blogged about this question here.

posted by Dan at 10:27 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

A snow day bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog -- with Henry Farrell -- is now online at the brand-spanking new bloggingheads site. We talk a lot about the 2008 campaign in all its facets.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 07:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Feminists, prepare for your field day

Gideon Rachman's most recent Financial Times column opens with a query about Hillary Clinton's lust for power. And then we get to this section:

I got an insight into the thrill of power recently, when I had lunch with a friend who had helped to handle a national emergency in Britain, working from the emergency bunker known as Cobra – which sits beneath the Cabinet Office near Downing Street.

“What was it like?” I asked him. “Brilliant,” he replied. “There are all these video screens and generals and admirals sitting around in uniform. You have to say things like: ‘It is 3.45pm and I am now bringing to a close this meeting of Cobra emergency command.’”

Is my friend uniquely juvenile? I suspect not – just unusually honest. He certainly believed that all the other officials around the table were delighting in the little rituals of crisis management. “I guarantee that everybody around that table had an erection within five minutes,” he mused.

Extrapolating slightly, my friend developed what you might call “the erection theory of British foreign policy”. His argument was that British government’s bias towards the “special relationship” with the US, in preference to the European Union, has something to do with the thrilling nature of American power. “If you fly into Camp David on a helicopter,” he assured me, “it’s instant arousal. But if you have to go to a European summit in Brussels, its so depressing you’re impotent for a week.”


UPDATE: You have to love a comment thread that contains the phrase: "Look, I'm as pro-erection as the next guy, but...."

posted by Dan at 11:00 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let's save everyone the trouble of reading Paul Krugman for the rest of 2008

Shorter (but equally dogmatic) Paul Krugman:

We’re heading into a recession (ignore what I've said before -- this time I'm sure).

The Republicans are blinkered.

Everything is Alan Greenspan’s fault.

I luuuuuv John Edwards.

Barack Obama is not a real progressive.

Repeat twice a week until about, I'd say, mid-August.

posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Does the 2008 election augment America's soft power?

There's been a lot of talk over the past year two years four years since Operation Iraqi Freedom about the erosion in America's "soft power" resources. There's also been a lot of talk about how some of the candidates for the 2008 election might, because of their personal attributes or personal history, automatically boost our soft power.

In the Washington Post, however, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan implicitly raise an intriguing possibility -- the topsy-turvy nature of the election campaign itself could improve America's image abroad:

John Mbugua, 56, a taxi driver in Mombasa, Kenya, woke himself at 3 a.m. the day of the Iowa caucuses and flipped on CNN. He said he watched for hours, not understanding precisely what or where Iowa was but thrilled about the victory of Barack Obama, the first U.S. presidential contender with Kenyan roots.

"I have never been interested in the elections before," Mbugua, who also got up at 4 a.m. to watch the New Hampshire primary results, said in a telephone interview. "But now everybody is watching. Everybody feels that Kenya has a stake in the outcome of the U.S. election."

From Mombasa's sandy shores on the Indian Ocean to the hot tubs of Reykjavik, Iceland, the U.S. primary elections are creating unprecedented interest and excitement in a global audience that normally doesn't tune in until the general election in November.

This year's wide-open primary season, filled with big personalities and dramatic story lines, has created an eager global audience that suddenly knows its Hillary from its Huckabee.

"It's a great spectacle, and people are avidly devouring it," said Jeremy O'Grady, editor in chief of the Week, a British magazine. O'Grady said major British newspapers this week alone have devoted more than 87 pages to news of the U.S. primaries, including 22 front-page stories -- exceptionally intense coverage of a foreign news event. More than 700 correspondents from 50 countries covered the Iowa and New Hampshire events.

A popular BBC radio program, "World Have Your Say," devoted an hour this week to parsing how pollsters wrongly predicted that Obama, an Illinois senator, would win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. The show attracted detailed and nuanced calls and text messages from Romania, South Africa, Liberia and other countries.

About 1.5 million people visited the BBC Web page reporting the win by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) over Obama in New Hampshire, making it one of the most-read stories in months, a BBC spokesman said.

"The candidates have more iconic status than usual," O'Grady said. "They are almost like superhero cartoons: the Mormon, the woman, the black, the millionaire, the war hero. . . . We do love a good show over here."

I have mixed feelings about the global attention to our little campaign. On the one hand, the campaign rhetoric since the new year has been so banal that I can see it being offputting.

The Cliff Notes version of the past two weeks of the campaign for the Democrats has been as follows: "Hope, change, real change, experience, change, likeability, false hope, change, fairy tale, change, even more change."

For the Republicans: "Merry Christmas, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Happy New Year, Reagan, tax cuts, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan!"

We're not talkng the Lincoln-Douglas debates here.

On the other hand, there are ways in which the race has highlighted some positive qualities of the American system. Consider:

1) This might be the most competitive presidential election in modern history. No incumbent president or vice president is running. On the Democratic side, there are/were three candidates with viable shots at the nomination; On the GOP side, there are/were four.

2) Front-runners have fallen. On the Democratic side, Clnton and then Obama have been brought low by the shifts in voter sentiment. On the GOP side, it's been even more dramatic. McCain was the frontrunner, then Romney, then Giuliani, then Romney, Huckabee, and now McCain again.

3) Negative campaigning has not worked. Part of the explanation for Huckabee's rise has been the relentlessly upbeat quality of the campaign and the man. Mitt Romney, in contrast, has not gained much from going after either Huckabee or McCain. Obama's optimism on the campaign trail worked well for him, until women thought Hillary was being unfairly attacked and rallied behind her. I suspect, in South Carolina, that she will pay a price for her "false hope" line, not to mention Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" line.

4) From an international perspective, the cream is rising to the top. The three candidates who would likely generate the most excitement outside the United States are Clinton, Obama, and McCain, and they've done pretty well so far.

Question to readers: will the campaign itself improve America's standing abroad?

posted by Dan at 01:30 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Your dumb-ass quote of the day

From John Kerry's endorsement of Barack Obama:

"Experience is not defined by years spent in Washington but by instinct and judgment and wisdom,” Mr Kerry told a crowd of about 2,000 at a college in Charleston, South Carolina.
I can sort of see judgment and wisdom emanating from experience... but instinct? Isn't that pretty much the opposite of experience?

Doesn't that almost sound like Stephen Colbert said it? I was wondering what his writers were doing during the strike.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder has more.

posted by Dan at 08:21 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Great, I should vote for the nutjob

It turns out that half the country will be voting in a primary where the outcome is not preordained. This is a good thing -- but which candidate deserves your vote?

We here at will not be endorsing anyone -- despite claims to the contrary. However, as a useful exercise, some political scientists have put together a 36-question issues survey to see where you fit on the political landscape. It's called Electoral Compass. (One obvious downside to the survey: there's no effort to weight issues to your intensity of preference).

Taking the survey, I discovered -- yet again -- that I'm a social liberal and on the economic right. The only candidate even close to my orbit is Ron Paul. Among the Democrats, the closest candidate to my ideal point is Barack Obama. Among "contending" Republicans, it's Rudy Giuliani.

This, by the way, is why things like pesonality and leadership style are relevant to voting decisions (and are tough to capture in suveys). A candidate's policy positions are not the only thing that matter. The way in which the candidate will try to implement these policies matters too. I wouldn't vote for a candidate who shared my precise policy positions but decided to implement them by constitutionally questionable methods, for example. Process matters just as much as substance.

Mostly, the survey confirms that it's lonely out there for both libertarians and populists. The Democrats are tightly bunched in the socially liberal/economic left category, the Republicans are (somewhat less) tightly bunched in the socially conservative/economically right category. This is why, by the way, efforts to forge bipartisanship can lead to wildly divergent outcomes.

Take the survey yourself and report back where you land.

UPDATE: James Joyner has further criticisms of the survey methodology.

posted by Dan at 09:20 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Your cultural question of the winter

As the writer's strike continues to not end, let's consider a key cultural question that's been nagging me in recent weeks.

I don't care for Alec Baldwin's politics, and I suspect he's not really a terribly nice person. That said, the man can chew through scenery with the best of them, and he's the best thing on the best comedy on television, 30 Rock.

So, here's your question: which is the signature Alec Baldwin performance? The gold standard, of course, is his very not-safe-for-work monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross:

However, maybe, just maybe, Baldwin's psychiatric role-playing tour-de-force in an October episode of 30 Rock tops his previous acting apex. Watch for yourself and help me decide:

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

Going medieval on a bad paper

The editors of Foreign Policy asked me to review an article for them for their "Global Newsstand" section of the January/February 2008 issue.

The result: "Dismal Political Science":

Are economists increasingly in charge of politics? Do economists make better leaders? These are the questions that Anil Hira, a political scientist at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, is ostensibly trying to answer in his essay, “Should Economists Rule the World?” in the June 2007 issue of the International Political Science Review. In the article, he claims that “there has been a notable rising importance of economics as a background for leaders in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.” But he concludes that, even if economics is appearing on more political resumes, this training does not appear to help these leaders achieve better economic outcomes. (Hira cites Peru’s Alejandro Toledo, Indonesia’s Suharto, and U.S. President George W. Bush as examples of leaders who may have disappointed their economics instructors.) These are fascinating results. Alas, they’re fascinating in ways that lead one to seriously question the refereeing process at the International Political Science Review.
I'm afraid the rest is firewalled, but here's the nut paragraph:
Simply put, the paper provides no actual evidence to support his conclusion that economists are ineffective leaders of national economies. To do that, he would have had to compare the periods when a technocrat was the national leader with the periods when there was a different kind of leader. Or he could have compared countries that had economists in charge with those countries that did not. Or he could have done both. But Hira did none of the above. Rather, he points to three trends over time: an increase in economically literate leaders, a slowdown of economic growth, and an increase in inequality. Then he simply asserts that the first trend must have caused the latter two trends. That’s Olympics-caliber hand-waving.

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hey, I'm just the publisher, don't look at me!

The New Republic's Jaime Kirchick looks at the newsletters Ron Paul used to send out to subscribers back in the day. The results are not pretty:

[W]hoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul's name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.
Read the whole thing -- it's pretty devastating. Ron Paul's response is here, and includes this passage:
When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.
Note to self: reconsider outsourcing blog to nice man from Nigeria who promises to transfer 1 million pounds to my bank account.

UPDATE: At one point, Kirchick writes that Paul's supporters are "are nothing like the urbane libertarians who staff the Cato Institute or the libertines at Reason magazine." Does this mean there are no libertines at Catoand no urbane libertarians at Reason?

Of course, Kirchick also forgot the final clause in his sentence: "or the complete geeks at the Institute for Humane Studies."

posted by Dan at 07:26 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Deconstructing Hillaryvision

Two snippets of video regarding Hillary Clinton have/will dominate the current news cycle. The first one happened at the weekend debate in New Hampshire, and is currently #1 at YouTube:

The second one happened today -- as Newsweek put it, "Hillary Tears Up." Take a look:
Here's the New York Times' coverage of the same incident

If Hillary does worse than expected, pundits will point to the first snippet of video as an example of her "heated response" turning off voters. If Hillary does better than expected, pundits will point to the second snippet of video as the moment when Hillary "humanized" herself to the voters of New Hampshire, and made the political personal.

Me, I saw the exact same Hillary in both pieces of footage. In both instances, Hillary's words and intonation made two things abundantly clear:

1) Hillary Clinton genuinely thinks the country needs change, and that she has the capacity, as president, to make the country a better place;

2) Hillary Clinton genuinely thinks that no one else but her possesses that capacity, and that it is insulting to suggest otherwise.

On foreign policy matters -- and that's the primary issue area I care about in this election -- there are ways in which I trust Clinton's experience more than Obama's. That second point, however, scares the ever-living crap out of me. That kind of belief bears a strong resemblance to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvaia Avenue.

Screw the politics of fear and, frankly, screw the politics of hope. I want the politics of doubt. I want a president who, in these complex times, has the capacity to admit error before all is lost.

I get absolutely no whiff of that from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

UPDATE: I'm fascinated by the comment thread to this post. To clarify a few matters:

1) I'm fully aware that "the politics of doubt" is not a winning platform, and that all candidates must project confidence and reassurance in their campaigns. I have no illusions that my preference matches those of others (interestingly, I feel the same way about doctors visits. Doctors tend to project authority because patients feel better if they are completely sure of their diagnosis/course of action. Growing up with a doctor, I much prefer having my physician give a more probabilistic assessment of whatever is ailing me).

2) There's something else I didn't quite nail about Clinton's video sequences -- her sense of entitlement. Put it this way -- while Obama has taken some shots at Hillary's "experience," I haven't heard him say imply that she's unfit for the office. On the other hand, everything in those two video snippets suggests that Clinton has internalized the belief that no one else is remotely deserving of the Oval Office.

3) I'm not endorsing Obama -- not even close. I am paying more attention to the Democratic primary than the Republican one because I'm 80% sure that whoever gets the donkey nomination will be the next president.

posted by Dan at 06:26 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm not saying this definitively, but I'm pretty sure that in a past life, Mark Penn killed a man

Your humble blogger has returned from his overseas travels in better physical shape but still jet-lagged.

I'm not so jet-lagged, however, to not appreciate this supreme bit of karmic payback that Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn might be facing this Tueday.

I received the following in an e-mail from Clinton's press office on Saturday (likely authored by Penn) entitled "WHERE IS THE BOUNCE?":

Two polls that had the race within a few points before the Iowa caucuses have the race tied in New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses.

In today's CNN/WMUR New Hampshire poll, Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama are tied at 33 percent - their last two polls had Hillary up 4 points and before that had Hillary down 2 points, so there is no statistically significant change in their numbers before and after the Iowa caucuses.

And the Concord Monitor is out as well today with a poll showing the race at 33 percent for Hillary Clinton, 34 percent for Barack Obama and 23 percent for John Edwards – exactly the same margin as before Iowa.

Contrast that with the 17 points John Kerry gained in 2004 in the Boston Globe poll, which catapulted him from a 17-point deficit to a 20-point lead in New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses. Or with the 7 points Al Gore gained in 2000 in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, increasing his lead in New Hampshire from 5 points to 18 points.

New Hampshire voters are fiercely independent. They will make their own decisions about who to support.

According to Reuters, the fiercely independent New Hampshire voters are beginning to make their decision:
Democrat Barack Obama rocketed to a 10-point lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire one day before their showdown in the state's presidential primary, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Monday.

This is the first of the rolling New Hampshire polls taken entirely after last week's caucuses in Iowa, where Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee scored breakthrough wins that left Clinton and Romney reeling.

Obama, an Illinois senator bidding to make history as the first black U.S. president, gained 11 points on Clinton to lead the one-time Democratic front-runner 39 percent to 29 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was third with 19 percent.

"This is a breathtaking movement in Obama's direction," said pollster John Zogby. "It's a surge for Obama and movement away from Clinton."

To be fair to Penn, not all of the tracking polls are showing this big a lead.

Still, there's something about the initial press release that suggests that karmic payback is coming.

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

Friday, January 4, 2008

My one thought on the Iowa caucus

In the wake of Obama's victory speech after the Iowa caucuses, I was bemused to read this take by Matt Yglesias:

The Obama who gets panned in Paul Krugman columns and sundry blog posts -- the one who just wants to make nice with Republicans and doesn't care about progressive values -- doesn't seem to be on the podium tonight.
Now, I have no doubt that this is what Matt saw when he heard the speech -- but compelling political speeches are often like Rohshach tests -- you see what you want to see. The speech I heard was one where Obama certainly touched on a lot of progressive themes, but one in which he also took pains to speak in very nonpartisan terms:
You have done what America can do in this New Year, 2008. In lines that stretched around schools and churches; in small towns and big cities; you came together as Democrats, Republicans and Independents to stand up and say that we are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come.

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that's been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that's how we'll win in November, and that's how we'll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation.

We are choosing hope over fear. We're choosing unity over division, and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America....

Hope—hope—is what led me here today – with a father from Kenya; a mother from Kansas; and a story that could only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.

That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Now I'm not saying Matt is wrong and I'm right. What I'm saying is that a politician who can make different people hear what they want to hear -- or just be compelled to actively listen -- is not someone who is going to be brought low easily.

Or maybe it's me. Watch for yourself and post your reaction:

posted by Dan at 02:04 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Worst student sentences...revealed!!!

Last month, I asked professors to "post, in the comments, the single-worst sentence you have read in a student paper."

And lo, academics from around the land heard of this contest, and proffered their best quotes. And, lo, the results are in.....

And the result is..... a three-way tie!!!

Reading through the entries, it quickly became apparent that there were three different kind of bad sentences, each deserving of their own award.

The first kind relies on a really bad malapropism. The winner in this category is... from David Sousa:

Given politicians' efforts to maninpulate coverage, citizens cannot easily distinguish between fact and fornication.
The second kind relies on really, really bad writing. And the winner in this category is BN, who submitted the following sentence:
The Civil War lasted no more than four years, but the red and blue blood that was spilt will last a life time.
In the final and most difficult category, the writer must demonstrate a near-complete lack of factual or analytical control over the subject matter. And the hands-down winner in this category is Diodotus, with the following grad student sentence:
In order to make an intelligent argument, I determined that I first had to have a genuine understanding of the conflict. I sought this information in several books because I felt that they would be the most unbiased and factual.
Thanks to one and all for participating -- and students should not fear, as their opportunity to strike back will be coming tomorrow.

posted by Dan at 09:34 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)