Friday, February 29, 2008

Sovereign wealth fund = greater transparency?

A common lament about sovereign wealth funds is their lack of transparency -- no one knows their investment strategy. The chart below -- cribbed from a Standard Chartered report summarized by the FT's Martin Wolf -- makes this visually clear:

It's generally assumed that a chief source of this opacity is that the governments chruning out SWFs are largely authoritarian and this impervious to domestic scrutiny.

I tend to agree with this assessment. But I did find this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Heidi Crebo-Rediker and Douglas Rediker to be counterintuitively interesting on this point -- transparency on SWFs would have domestic effects within these countries as well:

When even the most secretive sovereign wealth fund makes an investment, it must comply with the disclosure obligations of the countries in which it is investing. So, when the newly formed China Investment Corporation bought into Blackstone last summer, it was compelled to disclose the terms of the deal and other material information as part of Blackstone's regulatory filings in the U.S. That turned out to have some very real consequences back home.

Soon after CIC invested in Blackstone, the holding lost nearly $1 billion in less than a month. Chinese citizens immediately let their political leaders know how they felt about their country's savings being squandered by flooding the Internet and other media outlets with angry criticism.

When it emerged that China Development Bank, having already lost another cool billion in its investment in Britain's Barclays Bank, was considering pouring $2 billion into Citigroup as part of the American lender's January rescue package, Chinese politicians quietly killed the deal. While no official explanation was given, China experts believe that the State Council's rejection of the CDB-Citi investment was driven by fear of taking another highly visible loss and the desire to avoid the resulting political backlash at home. It is not just the public grumbling that was noteworthy, but that Chinese political leaders heard it and apparently reacted.

And it is not just China. Following the flurry of sovereign investment in Western banks over the last several months, people world-wide expressed real concerns, alarmed about foreign government shareholdings in the fragile international banking system....

As was the case with China, Singapore and Kuwait, investing globally in our markets has already piqued the interest of those who stand to benefit from those investment decisions. It is likely that increased disclosure of a sovereign wealth fund's attempt to invest for the "wrong" reasons would engender criticism not just from the West, but from those with the most to lose. This could begin to break down the distinctions between "the state" and "the people."

The idea that undemocratic governments might consider the voices of their own citizens regarding how their money will be invested may be one of the most underappreciated benefits of sovereign funds' disclosure. It may also be one of the most effective.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Responding to Foggy Bloggom

In latest issue of The National Interest, I have a small response to David Frum's "Foggy Bloggom" essay (see my initial reaction here) in which point out a few empirical problems with Frum's essay:

In his essay, Frum suggests that bloggers are “pretty much the opposite” of the foreign-policy community, which “insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic.” It is puzzling, then, that the first four bloggers quoted in Frum’s essay possess the very credentials that the foreign-policy community extols. Duncan “Atrios” Black holds a PhD in economics from an Ivy League institution. Matthew Yglesias is a Harvard graduate writing for the Atlantic. Steven Clemons is the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Glenn Greenwald is a Salon columnist and a partner in a DC law firm. Pajama-wearing stereotypes to the contrary, most influential bloggers possess the elite credentials necessary to crack the foreign-policy community.
Read he whole thing -- Megan McArdle has a response letter as well.

Publicly defending the credentials of Atrios, Matt Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald and Steve Clemons leaves me in a grumpy mood, so blogging will be light for the rest of the day.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spare me the public intellectual nostalgia

I see that Ezra Klein thinks that William F. Buckley's passing is symptomatic of an entire generation of public intellectuals leaving the stage:

[I]n the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger.
Now I know I've picked on Klein in the past, and I know that Megan McArdle has picked on him today -- but give me a f#$%ing break. Comparing Galbraith/Friedman to O'Reilly/Coulter is like comparing apples to worms -- they both grow out of the dirt but are otherwise of a different species.

There are plenty of economists, historians, lawyers, and general-interest writers alive today who can claim the mantle of discourse that the departed once held:

Economists: Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Tyler Cowen, Steve Leavitt, myriad Leavitt-clones.

Historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Ron Chernow, John Lewis Gaddis, Paul Kennedy

Lawyers: Cass Sunstein, Richard Posner, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Laurence Tribe, Ruth Wedgwood

General Interest: Samantha Power, Andrew Sullivan, Fareed Zakaria, Martha Nussbaum, Theda Skocpol

Readers can think of other names to post in the comments. Hell, all you have to do is click over to and you'll get perfectly civil and discourse from a welter of interesting critics and thinkers -- including Ezra Klein.

Some of these people are more partisan than others -- but I suspect they would all tend to get along as well as the people on Klein's list. They're just more likely to do it via short e-mails rather than long letters.

The O'Reillys and Coulters of the world also existed back in the heyday of Buckley and Galbraith: Walter Winchell comes to mind, for example.

Cable television and the Internet enhance the attention directed at hacks -- but I seriously doubt that the state of discourse -- or emnity among those producing the discourse -- among the best and the brightest today is any worse than it was forty or fifty years ago.

UPDATE: James Harkin has an essay in today's Financial Times that underscores the strength and vitality of American thinkers -- compred to Europe:

Ideas are all the rage. Good ideas have always been contagious, but thanks to the internet and the increasingly globalised media, they are now making their way around the world almost as soon as they are invented. As this new market for ideas begins to settle, something else has become clear too - America is way out in front. If distinctively European thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin and émigrés from Europe to America such as Hannah Arendt had dominated the battleground of ideas during the age of ideology (defined, by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, as the years between the first world war and the fall of the Berlin Wall), one of the oddities of this new landscape of ideas is that Americans seem to be much better at generating them. There are still some heavyweights around in Europe with novel things to say - Jürgen Habermas in Germany and Slavoj Zizek in Slovenia, for example - but they are few and far between. When France's Jean Baudrillard died in March last year, at the age of 77, it seemed to signify the close of an intellectual era. In any case, Baudrillard was canny enough to know which way the intellectual wind blew. For all his criticism of American culture, he was enchanted by this place he called "the original version of modernity". France, he pointed out, was nothing more than "a copy with subtitles"....

America's dominance in the new global landscape of ideas is not only a matter of resources. Americans have also become expert packagers of ideas. American writers and thinkers seem to have acquired the knack of explaining complex ideas in accessible ways for popular audiences. The success of idea books such as The Tipping Point and Freakonomics and a rather depressing glut of books about happiness has signified to cultural commissars a thirst for good ideas clearly expressed. It helps that journalism in America is taken more seriously than it is in most other countries; its newspapers and magazines have been happy to whet the public appetite for interesting ideas, clearly articulated. The New Yorker, buoyed by staff writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand, has developed a reputation for helping to explain complex ideas to a lay audience. In 2000, The New York Times even inaugurated an annual "ideas of the year" supplement, handing out gongs to the best new ideas around the world.

Assaulted by this battery of sometimes flaky new ideas, it would be easy for European thinkers to sit back and sniff. Some of it is mere gimmickry - zappy headline titles that seem to capture the essence of a complicated idea while intriguing the reader enough to read more. Unlike many European philosophers and social scientists, however, the new idea-makers lack verbosity or obscurantism and do not retreat into jargon. A country that controls the market for ideas, remember, has its levers on a great deal else besides. Europeans thinkers, who were so formidable at producing practical ideas during the age of ideology, need to think about catching up.

Harkin raises a point worth stressing again. Part of the vitality of American thinkers is that demand seems to be higher. In terms of books, historical narratives are more popular than ever. Publishers are killing each other trying to find the next Freakonomics. We don't lack for tomes about grand strategy.

Let's face it -- it's a great time to earn a living through the power of ideas.

posted by Dan at 11:26 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Jacob, your long 3-1/2 hour nightmare has ended

I can only hope that Jacob Levy and Brad DeLong survived yesterday's Starbucks closure better than The Daily Show's Jason Jones:

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Ask Bill Richardson!!

Last Sunday Mark Leibovich had an amusing story in the New York Times about the wooing of New Mexico governor (and distinguished Fletcher alum) Bill Richardson's endorsement. The article focused primarily on the Clintonian wooing. It included this photo:


Glenn Kessler now reports that Richardson might be endorsing someone soon. Furthermore, Marc Ambinder reports that some of Clinton's surrogates -- like Madeleine Albright -- have ticked off Richardson with their overbearing pleas on Senator Clinton's behalf.

I bring all this up because as it turned out I'll be having dinner with the man in a few weeks -- we'll both be attending this UCLA Conference on U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Rogue States. Richardson is delivering the keynote address -- I'm waiting tables during the drink hour.

I therefore leave it to the readers -- which question should I ask Richardson if I get the chance?

A) Who was the most irritating member of Clinton's cabinet? Just nod your head if It was Albright.

B) How many wings did you and (Bill) Clinton down watching the Super Bowl?

C) You've served as a U.S. Representative, Ambassador to the United Nations, and U.S. Secretary of Energy. How cheesed off are you, Dodd and Biden when Hillary starts touting her experience?

Readers are encouraged to post other good questions in the comments.

posted by Dan at 02:01 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner gets results from the Financial Times

Yesterday I kindly requested that the mainstream media look into Canada and Mexico's reaction to the deplorable NAFTA exchange in Tuesday's Ohio debate.

And the Financial Times delivers, in the form of this Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey story:

Mexico and Canada on Wednesday voiced concern about calls by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete to adopt the most sceptical stance towards free trade ahead of next week’s Ohio primary election.

In a televised debate on Tuesday night, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton both threatened to pull out of Nafta if elected president unless Canada and Mexico agreed to strengthen labour and environmental standards.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times that the US, Canada and Mexico had all benefited from Nafta and warned against reopening negotiations.

“Mexico does not support reopening Nafta,” he said. “It would be like throwing a monkey wrench into the engine of North American competitiveness.”

Mexican diplomats believe a renegotiation could resurrect the commercial disputes and barriers to trade that the agreement itself was designed to overcome.

Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, also expressed “concern” about the remarks by the Democratic candidates.

“Nafta is a tremendous benefit to Americans and perhaps the [candidates] have not had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the benefit to Americans and the American economy of Nafta,” he said.

I've said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America's standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

In fairness, the New York Times' Michael Luo argues that both Clinton and Obama aren't out-and-out protectionists. Of course, saying that Clinton and Obama aren't as bad as Sherrod Brown or Byron Dorgan is damning with faint praise. Furthermore, just because Clinton and Obama voted for some free trade deals does not mean they're really keen on the idea.

UPDATE: Scary fact of the day: the anti-NAFTA pandering is not the worst trade rhetoric emanating from the candidates. No, for that you'd have to turn to Obama's co-sponsoring of the Patriot Employer Act -- which Willem Buiter and Anne Sibert label, "reactionary, populist, xenophobic and just plain silly."

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.

ANOTHER UPDATE: CTV reports the following:

Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama's campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.

The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value....

Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign said the staff member's warning to Wilson sounded implausible, but did not deny that contact had been made.

"Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn't intend to keep," the spokesperson said.

Low-level sources also suggested the Clinton campaign may have given a similar warning to Ottawa, but a Clinton spokesperson flatly denied the claim.

During Tuesday's debate, she said that as president she would opt out of NAFTA "unless we renegotiate it."

The Canadians have denied the specifics of the report.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ohio debate hangover

The day after the Ohio debate, there's a lott of blog chatter about NAFTA and the whole Farrakhan imbroglio. However, I'd really like to see the mainstream media look into two big questions:

1) How, exactly, does the political leadership of Canada and Mexico feel about this whole NAFTA renegotiation business? Are they real big fans of this idea?

2) The following excerpt is from Hillary Clinton's intervention during the Farrakhan dust-up:

[O]ne of the parties at that time, the Independence Party, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti- Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support. I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be comfortable with. And it looked as though I might pay a price for that....

And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory -- I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching. (emphases added)

Could the mainstream media ask Senator Clinton the following two questions:
a) How did rejecting the Independence Party (whose candidate won less than one percent of the vote) pose a risk to your 2000 Senate campaign?

b) How, exactly, do you propose not letting, " anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have"?

posted by Dan at 01:41 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

NAFTA is not responsible for Ohio

Perhaps an unanticipated benefit of Clinton and Obama outbidding each other to see who could savage NAFTA more is that the mainstream media will actually point out that NAFTA is not responsible for the rust belt's economic woes.

David Leonhardt makes this point in his New York Times column today:

The first problem with what the candidates have been saying is that Ohio’s troubles haven’t really been caused by trade agreements. When Nafta took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, Ohio had 990,000 manufacturing jobs. Two years later, it had 1.03 million. The number remained above one million for the rest of the 1990s, before plummeting in this decade to just 775,000 today.

It’s hard to look at this history and conclude Nafta is the villain. In fact, Nafta did little to reduce tariffs on Mexican manufacturers, notes Matthew Slaughter, a Dartmouth economist. Those tariffs were already low before the agreement was signed.

A more important cause of Ohio’s jobs exodus is the rise of China, India and the old Soviet bloc, which has brought hundreds of millions of workers into the global economy. New technology and better transportation have then made it easier for jobs to be done in those places and elsewhere. To put it in concrete terms, your credit card’s customer service center isn’t in Ireland because of a new trade deal.

All this global competition has brought some big benefits, too. Consider that cars, furniture, clothing, computers and televisions — which are all subject to global competition — have become more affordable, relative to everything else. Medical care, movie tickets and college tuition — all protected from such competition — have become more expensive.

Leonhardt also raises an obvious point that has, curiously, not been aired all that often:
[W]hen you read [Clinton's] plan, or Mr. Obama’s trade agenda, you discover none of it is particularly radical. Neither candidate calls for a repeal of Nafta, or anything close to it. Both instead want to tinker with the bureaucratic innards of the agreement. They want stronger “labor and environmental standards” and better “enforcement mechanisms.”

It’s a bit of an odd situation. They call the country’s trade policy a disaster, and yet their plan to fix it starts with, um, cracking down on Mexican pollution.

Repeat after me: attaching labor and environmental standards to trade agreements will have no appreciable effect on trade flows. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.

UPDATE: Simon Lester does make a valid point: "Demanding that labor and environmental provisions be included could scuttle some trade deals, and that would have an impact on trade flows." Of course, that's not really an argument in favor of inserting them. Denying market access to poor countries doesn't make them richer, and poor countries tend not to care about labor and environmental standards.

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Live-blogging the Ohio debate

This could very well be the last presidential debate for the next six months, so it seems worth live-blogging. On the other hand, this is the 20th debate on the Democratic side of the ledger, and I've watched enough of them to feel like we're in re-runs.

Updates once the debate starts.

12:00 PM: One last thought -- my bet is that the press coverage will focus on the tonal contrasts between Clinton and Obama. It should focus on the fact that both candidates want to threaten withdrawing from a treaty as one of their first acts in office as a way to build up America's image abroad.

10:39: ACK!!! Keith Olbermann!! Run away, run away!!!

10:37 PM: Well, it's over. My take is that Obama brought it home -- his tone and demeanor were measured -- he seemed unflappble and, you know, presidential. Clinton had too many carping moments. The times where she could have proffered grace notes (the to and fro on Farrakhan) she was overly aggressive.

10:29 PM: Obama tries to end on a similar grace note to mirror Clinton's Texas valedictory. The funny thing is that Hillary's face is completely impassive during the first part of his answer.

10:28 PM: Clinton's last answer always seems to be her best.

10:20 PM: Obama gets political science props for critiquing the methodology of the National Journal rankings. He gets political props for turning the question back to his overarching campaign themes.

10:17 PM: Sullivan thinks Obama's Farrakhan response was, "A weak response - reminiscent of Dukakis." I'll just note that the Official Blog Wife concurs. Greg Sargent disagrees. What I found really disturbing was this statement by Clinton:

I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching (emphasis added).
Um... as a really big fan of that whole first amendment thingmabob, let me suggest that at president, Hillary Clinton damn well should "let anyone in any way say these things."

10:13 PM: Wow. Did Hillary Clinton just say that rejecting an anti-Semitic party endorsement was going to put hurt her 2000 Senate campaign at risk.... in New York?!! That is just so politically brave of Hillary Clinton.

10:08 PM: Russert tells Obama, "You have to react to unexpected events in this campaign." I half-expect him to then leap over the table, stab Obama with a shiv, and then say, "like that!!"

10:05 PM: And at 65 minutes, my Russert allergy kicks in.

10:01 PM: Obama's response to Clinton's "fighter" point on health care is pretty sharp. His counterpunching has definitely improved over the course of the campaign.

9:57 PM: Hillary gets off a good line in response to her Obama-mocking: "It's hard to find time to have fun on the campaign tail."

9:49 PM: A sign of growing debate fatigue -- I welcome the commercial break. Hmmm.... must consult doctor about Abilify....

9:45 PM: I can't tell whether Russert is more obsteperous towards Clinton in his questions... or if Clinton is so used to Russert that she feels she has to interrupt him to make her point. Neither of them looks particularly good during these exchanges, however.

9:40 PM: I do hope that the general election debates are at this level. Clearly, these two are disagreeing, but on the whole it's been at a pretty high level. The resolution of today's McCain-Obama dust-up is encouraging here.

9:39 PM: Josh Marshall: "you've clearly got both of them right on their game tonight. These are both just incredibly accomplished sharp people and both at the top of their game."

9:34 PM: Sullivan is right: "[H]e seems like a president. She seems annoyed."

9:27 PM: I'm glad that the first thing Hillary Clinton will do to improve America's image abroad is inform Canada and Mexico that we'll withdraw from NAFTA unless we renegotiate the trade deal. That'll do wonders. UPDATE: Oh, goodie, Obama agrees. Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall. [UPDATE: Hey, shouldn't someone call Obama for flip-flopping on withdrawing from NAFTA?]

What I find so fascinating is that both Obama and Clinton are saying that NAFTA benefited some parts of the country but not others. This is undoubtedly true, but the policy response to that is not to renegotiate NAFTA -- tougher labor and environmental standards won't affect Ohio's economy. The answer is to expand trade adjustment assistance programs within the United States.

9:19 PM: Did Hillary Clinton actually complain that, "I keep getting asked the first question" and then reference Saturday Night Live?! And she says that Obama isn't tough enough for the general election?! You got to be f***ing kidding me. UPDATE: The Clinton campaign is apparently obsessed with SNL.

9:17 PM: Just 16 minutes on health care, and no applause -- yay, MSNBC!!

9:11 PM: Hillary's giving a good rebuttal on health care -- but at the beginning of her answer, she seemed to iply that it's perfectly fine to use attack mailers on other, lesser subjects -- but it's different with health care.

9:08 PM: I continue to be impressed with Obama's improvement over the arc of these debates.

9:03 PM: Health care is a passion of Hillary Clinton? Who knew? After the debate, MSNBC will be airing its 14-part series, The Passions of Hillary Clinton.

9:01 PM: Oh, MSNBC gets immediate bonus points ffrom your humble blogger for not bothering with the walking-out portion of the debate.

8:00 PM: The debate starts in an hour. In the meanwhile, to liven things up, consider the following drinking rules while watching this debate:

Take a sip if:

a) Obama holds Clinton's chair for her;

b) Clinton talks about how universal health care should be a core element of the Democratic party;

c) Either candidate suggests the other one said something nice about NAFTA;

d) Hillary says "35 years";

e) Obama scapegoats China for Ohio's economy.

Take a shot if:
a) Hillary mentions Tony Rezko;

b) Obama mentions the Clintons' tax returns;

c) The health care section of the debate exceeds 30 minutes;

d) Either candidate starts a sentence with "John Edwards and I...."

e) Either candidate has to respond to questions about their spouse;

f) Either candidate offers to bar foreign actors from competing in next year's Academy Awards.

Drink everything in your house if:
a) LeBron James is in the audience;

b) Either candidate says a positive word about trade

c) Hillary shouts, "Bitches get stuff done!"

d) Obama grabs an American flag, tears it in half, spits on it, then jumps up and down and shouts "Attica!! Attica!!"

e) Clinton says to Obama, "You know, I've earned this so much more than you have."

f) Obama says to Clinton, "You're going to be just fine."

posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's not beatify policy wonks just yet

In the context of writing about anonymous negative leaks emanating from Hillary Clinton's campaign, Brad DeLong posits a typology of staff:

There are two kinds of people who get involved in politics--those who care about the substance of policy, and those who want to get White House Mess privileges, or as a consolation prize become media celebrities. The first kind--the policy people--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is trying his or her best to achieve the shared policy goals. The second kind--the spinmasters--will be loyal to a politician as long as he or she is a winner who favors them. If a politician stops looking like a winner, or if a politician starts favoring others for what they hoped would be their west wing job, they will jump ship as fast as they can--and you will start seeing the "infighting" stories.

The moral? A politician with an ideological policy compass is best off not hiring spinmasters as his or her senior aides. Hire people who care about the substance of policy instead.

I see what Brad's getting at, but in the context of a presidential campaign, methinks Brad is being a bit simplistic. Policy wonks can act strategically as well -- they just act strategically a little earlier in the process.

Let's formalize this.

Let win = p(candidate) = ex ante probability of a candidate winning an election

Let policy = 1/the square of (wonk's ideal policy point - candidate's preferred policy point) = the ideological proximity between candidate and staffer

A wonk will maximize his/her utility by maximizing win*policy.

So, when a wonk is choosing which campaign to join, ideology undoubtedly plays a role. So, however, does the assessment of the candidate's chances of victory. Indeed, as I've blogged before, one of the striking aspects of foreign policy wonks is that they've been surprisingly good at picking winners.

A policy wonk will not rarely stab a candidate in the back during a campaign -- but their prior choice of who to back is, in fact, quite strategic.

[Does this really matter? Doesn't a presidential nominee simply consolidate the cream of the crop after the primary season?--ed. Based on the last two election cycles, my answer would be no. Kerry did not do this in 2004. As for 2008, let's outsource to Michael Hirsch:

They were devotees of the cult of Clinton. Greg Craig was Bill Clinton's lawyer, defending him on TV against impeachment charges. Susan Rice was a protégée of Madeleine Albright, the 42nd president's secretary of State. Anthony Lake was Clinton's personal foreign-policy consigliere, his first-term national-security adviser. Now, however, Craig, Rice and Lake are all top advisers to Hillary Clinton's main rival, Barack Obama. In an increasingly bitter fight for the best and brightest policy advisers of Clinton's presidency, these defectors are aggressively recruiting junior- and midlevel officials from his administration.

That's provoked anger in Hillary's camp—and, Obama aides charge, threats of retaliation if she wins the nomination. "The word some people are hearing is, 'You're making a big mistake. If Barack Obama wins, he'll welcome all into his administration. But if Hillary wins, that's not going to be the case'," says a midlevel Obama adviser who would speak about infighting only on the condition of anonymity. The main Hillary enforcer has been Richard Holbrooke, Bill Clinton's former U.N. ambassador (and an aspiring secretary of State), says a senior adviser to Obama, who would also discuss personnel matters only anonymously. "I have had at least two people directly tell me they had been told by Holbrooke if they went with Obama, the Hillary people would not forget and forgive," says the adviser, refusing to identify them.]

UPDATE: Over at The New Republic, Noam Scheiber suggests that Obama's strength in policy wonks comes not from ideology, but from choosing people more open to ideological diversity than the Clintons:
In some respects, the sensibility behind the behaviorist critique of economics is one shared by all the Obama wonks, whether they're domestic policy nerds or grizzled foreign policy hands. Despite Obama's reputation for grandiose rhetoric and utopian hope-mongering, the Obamanauts aren't radicals--far from it. They're pragmatists--people who, when an existing paradigm clashes with reality, opt to tweak that paradigm rather than replace it wholesale. As [Richard] Thaler puts it, "Physics with friction is not as beautiful. But you need it to get rockets off the ground." It might as well be the motto for Obama's entire policy shop.

The Clintonites were moderates, but they were also ideological. They explicitly rejected the liberalism of the 1970s and '80s. The Obamanauts are decidedly non-ideological. They occasionally reach out to progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute, but they also come from a world-- academic economics--whose inhabitants generally lean right. (And economists at the University of Chicago lean righter than most.) As a result, they tend to be just as comfortable with ideological diversity as the candidate they advise.

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 25, 2008

My one and only post about Ralph Nader

Why does a man who received 0.38% of the vote in the last election merit valuable minutes on Meet The Press, not to mention hours of speculation about his candidacy and its effects on the 2008 campaign? Will Tim Russert bestow similar press time to the Libertarian Party candidate -- who received a similar number of votes?

Seriously, who gives a f***?

posted by Dan at 11:57 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Which candidate will hoard executive power the least?

A common lament of the Bush administration has been it's relentless drive to accumulate more tools of power for the executive branch. One might assume that this problem would be corrected in a new administration -- particularly since the remaining candiates are based in the Senate, a body that has seen its influence over the executive branch on the wane in recent years.

It's a funny thing, however, about becoming president -- the prerogatives of power that look so monarchical from the outside don't look so bad on the inside.

So I find this Washington Post story by Michael Abramowitz to be particularly interesting:

Asked by my colleague Glenn Kessler whether he would ever consider issuing a signing statement as president, Sen. McCain was emphatic: "Never, never, never, never. If I disagree with a law that passed, I'll veto it."

The comment brought to life the question of whether President Bush's aggressive defense of presidential prerogatives will outlast his administration. Bush has been heavily criticized by lawmakers and others over his extensive use of signing statements, in which, rather than veto a bill, he makes it clear he will not be bound by what he considers unconstitutional provisions included by Congress.

All three of the leading presidential contenders have suggested they would take a different approach than Bush: What's striking is that McCain appears perhaps even more radical than his Democratic rivals in adopting a seemingly ironclad refusal to issue signing statements. If he truly were to follow that approach, it would represent a sharp break in presidential practice, according to lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide.

Responding to a questionnaire late last year by the Boston Globe, Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) made clear their view that Bush has gone too far in issuing signing statements -- but that there are circumstances in which such statements are necessary.

"The problem with this administration is that it has attached signing statements to legislation in an effort to change the meaning of the legislation, to avoid enforcing certain provisions of the legislation that the President does not like, and to raise implausible or dubious constitutional objections to the legislation," Obama answered. But, he added: "No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president's constitutional prerogatives."

In her own Globe questionnaire, Clinton made a similar point about legal issues. "I would only use signing statements in very rare instances to note and clarify confusing or contradictory provisions, including provisions that contradict the Constitution," she wrote. "My approach would be to work with Congress to eliminate or correct unconstitutional provisions before legislation is sent to my desk."

This is of a piece with what McCain said late last year.

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

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Your 2008 Oscar predictions!!

The Oscars are upon us yet again, and yet the writers strike deprived us of all the pre-Oscar campaigns by the various nominees. In other words, it's the best of both worlds!! And what better way to provide this blog's sixth (!!) annual Oscar predictions!!

Except the nominated movies are mostly downers. You know you're looking at a depressing set of films when the conclusion to Michael Clayton ranks as one of the happier on-screen endings among the Best Picture noms.

The pressure is on your humble blogger -- I got absolutely creamed last year, a fact that the Official Blog Wife has lorded over me for quite some time now. This time, it's personal.

OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Once again, I'm pleasantly surprised that the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Should win: Chris Cooper, Breach

Bardem and Daniel-Day Lewis are vying for the Official Mortal Lock this year, and he gives a great performance. But I'm truly flummoxed why Breach got no love from the Oscars. If the film had been released in October instead of February, it would have earned a slew of them -- and none more deserving than Cooper's portrayal of the bewildering Robert Hanssen.

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Should win: Jennifer Garner, Juno

Chicks playing dudes + Blanchett's ability to mimic anything and anyone = Oscar love as a general rule. However, Garner pulls off an astonishing turn in Juno. When you first see her, she seems like your stereotypical uptight yuppie professional. As the movie progresses, however, Garner is able -- sometimes with little more than a widening of her eyes -- to show the very valid reasons for her outer shell. In a movie filled with dead-on characterizations, it was Garner's character that provided the most surprising and yet thoroughly believable arc.

Best Actor
Will win: Daniel-Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Should win: Anyone but Daniel-Day Lewis Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum.

Cards on the table -- I loathed There Will Be Blood . [See the Boston Globe's Ty Burr for a defense of the movie] I've had it up to here with Paul Thomas Anderson movies that hint at interesting themes before taking the most obvious metaphor and whacking you on the head repeatedly until you "get" it (also, I find it interesting that Anderson's film scores are always praised. As a general rule I find that when critics praise the soundtrack, it's because the director is going all Brechtian and making things obvious to the movie-goer. It's the ultimate backhanded compliment of the director. Contrast the overbearing music of There Will Be Blood with the silence of No Country for Old Men -- the latter is much more affecting). The final reel of There Will Be Blood is far worse than the frogs from Magnolia, in part because the promise of this movie was greater -- and because the final scene in this movie is so impossibly ludicrous that the "I drink your milkshake!" line deserves to be debased in every way imaginable.

As for Lewis' performance, it's the same thing as the movie -- quite good at the start and then descending into utter hamminess by the end of it (see this David Spade spoof and tell me he doesn't nail Lewis' shtick). He's already received every pre-Oscar award, and clearly knows how to give a good acceptance speech.

However, to repeat my objection from last year:

One of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial.
Damon's performance in all of the Bourne movies, but especially Ultimatum, highlights the contrast between Bourne's coiled physicality and his repressed emotions.

Best Actress
Will win: Julie Christie, Away From Her
Should win: Laura Linney, The Savages

I haven't seen Away From Her, but if the trailer is any clue, Christie is no doubt the winner. Linney, however, was just sublime in this serio-comic role of frustrated writer/liar who is forced to deal with the institutionalization of her senile and mostly unloved father.

Best Director
Will win: Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Should win: Anyone but Paul Thomas Anderson Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men

With the exception of the ending (a problem way too many of the nominees had this year), No Country for Old Men had the best combination of camerawork, cinematography, sound, pacing and acting of any live action movie I saw this year.

Best Picture
Will win: No Country for Old Men
Should win: Ratatouille

Unless Oscar-voters really care about endings, No Country for Old Men will win (if they do really care, then Juno pulls off the upset).

I liked No Country for Old Men a lot, but like State's Dana Stevens, there's something about a Coen brothers' movie I just can't love. Brad Bird, on the other hand, has me eating out of the palm of his hand. And the simple fact is that none of the nominated movies contains anyting in it that compares to the scene in Ratatouille when the critic Anton Ego tastes the titular dish for the first time. Nor is there anything in any other movie that can top this speech a few minutes later:

So there.

posted by Dan at 05:05 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tyler Cowen thinks I'm rational

In his New York Times column, Tyler Cowen articulates my basic attitude towards evaluating presidential candidates:

[T]he public this year will probably not vote itself into a much better or even much different economic policy. To be sure, the next president — whoever he or she may be — may well extend health care coverage to more Americans. But most of the country’s economic problems won’t be solved at the voting booth. It is already too late to stop an economic downturn. Health care costs will keep rising, no matter who becomes president or which party controls Congress. China is now a bigger carbon polluter than the United States, so don’t expect a tax or cap-and-trade rules to solve global warming, even if American measures are very stringent — and they probably won’t be, because higher home heating bills are not a vote winner. A Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but most of the federal budget is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay....

[I]f you’re still worrying about how to vote, I have two pieces of advice. First, spend your time studying foreign policy, where the president has more direct power, and the choice of a candidate makes a much bigger difference. Second, stop worrying and get back to work. (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hello, pot? It's Hillary Clinton's kettle calling!!

Hillary Clinton, February 21, 2008 debate with Barack Obama: "You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."

Hillary Clinton, later on in the same debate: "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country."

Jack Stanton speech, in Primary Colors (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 162: "Y'know, I've taken some hits in this campaign. It hasn't been easy for me, or my family. It hasn't been fair, but it hasn't been anything compared to the hits a lot of you take every day."

I can't find the actual 1992 Bill Clinton speech upon which this fictional version was based, but I suspect there are some strong similarities. [UPDATE: Thank you, Josh Marshall -- "The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time."]

Josh Marshall picked up on this as well:

9:46 PM ... That was an interesting final moment to end on for Hillary. Candy Crowley is on CNN now saying how it was a good connect moment for HIllary, which I suspect it may have been. But we all do remember that those words were borrowed from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, right?

UPDATE: Politico's Ben Smith picks up some more lifted lines.

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Grading the candidates on trade

The Cato Institute has a new handy-dandy website: "Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the Congress," in which you can grade members of Congress on their attitudes towards trade barriers and trade subsidies.

Just for kicks, I figured it would be worth seeing how the presidential candidates stack up:

Hillary Clinton: interventionist (votes in favor of barriers and subsidies);

John McCain: free trader (opposes both barriers and subsidies)

Barack Obama: never met a subsidy he did not like

[So where's your Obama love now?--ed. This would seem difficult to rebut. The only caveat on Obama's score is that the support of subsidies is based on a whopping two votes -- so we're talking small sample size.

Otherwise, Ohio and Pennsylvania should love both the Democratic candidates.

UPDATE: Thanks to the anonymus commenter who linked to Lael Brainard's January 2008 Brookings brief that compares the major candidates on trade. There's not much difference at all between the two analyses.

posted by Dan at 02:11 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eagle soaring... for the moment

International relations scholars are/should be familiar with a series of edited volumes on U.S. foreign policy entitled Eagle ________. Eagle Entangled, Eagle Defiant, Eagle Resurgent, Eagle in a New World, etc.

With all the talk of lost hegemony, my latest column for Newsweek International points out that even if U.S. power is waning, it hasn't exactly disappeared. It's called, "The Eagle Still Soars." The take home point:

There is a difference between forming expectations about future trends and believing that the future is now. If anything, recent events reaffirm the primacy of American power....

Longtime observers of international relations will have a sense of déjà vu in reading about America's decline. Two decades ago international-relations scholars were enmeshed in a debate about American decline. Replace China with Japan, and the current gnashing of teeth sounds like a replay of debates from the 1980s. Over the long term, however, the demographic and economic vitality of the American economy is difficult to dispute compared with possible peer competitors. For decades to come, the United States will be first among equals. So don't believe the hype. By most measures, the United States is still the hegemon.

This does not mean, of course, that the declinists don't have a point. Power is a relative measure, and the robust growth of the BRIC nations guarantees that U.S. influence will decline in the future. The really important question for America—and the world—is how Americans will manage this adjustment.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 08:18 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

McCain vs. Obama.... oh, right, and Clinton too

John McCain went right after Barack Obama in his victory speech tonight. A few thoughts:

1) Matthew Yglesias beat me to the punch on this point -- it's a bit strange for McCain to critique Obama for saying the U.S. should unilaterally use force against terrorists in Pakistan on the same day the Washington Post reports that the U.S. is using unilateral force against terrorists in Pakistan.

2) On MSNBC, Howard Fineman reported that the Clinton people were delighted that McCain went after Obama. Over at TNR, Christopher Orr ponders whether this really works to Clinton's advantage: "the more McCain treats Obama as his general-election foe, the more the public (and Democratic voters) may begin to think of Obama as his general-election foe, which could be more bad news for Hillary Clinton."

I'd go one even further. If John McCain is making the same criticism of Obama as Clinton -- flowing rhetoric but no experience and weak on national security -- then Hillary Clinton becomes superfluous in this campaign. Obviously, Clinton and McCain differ on policy, but does anyone seriously think that Hillary Clinton can credibly claim to be more experienced than John McCain? Would Clinton try to argue that McCain wasn't ready to be commander-in-chief from day one? Why does Clinton need to be in the race if McCain is parroting her line of attack?

POSTSCRIPT: Mickey Kaus relates a possible anti-momentum theory that could help Clinton:
Hillary does best when Democratic voters sense she's about to get brutally knocked out of the race, as in New Hampshire. That prospect taps a well of residual sympathy for a woman who has devoted her life to politics, etc. But when Hillary is triumphant she seems arrogant and unbearable, and voters feel free to express those perceptions at the polls. It follows that Hillary will do better in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas if she loses in Wisconsin and has her back to the wall.
The problem with this logic is that.... if it were true, she would have actually won Wisconsin. Clinton's back was already against the wall after eight straight losses, and there had been a week for these losses to sink into the electorate. The cable nets delighted in discussing her massive losses in the Potomac primaries. That combined with more favorable demographics should have pushed her to victory in the Badger state -- and yet it didn't.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Jamal Simmons observes the eerie similarities between the 2008 campaign and the fictional 2006 campaign that played out on The West Wing. My only quibble -- Hillary Clinton isn't Abby Bartlett -- she's John Hoynes.

LAST POSTSCRIPT: Worst... surrogate... ever:

The most painful part is the background derisive laughter you can hear at the tail end of the clip.

posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Musings about the Obama backlash

It's just so three hours ago to talk about how an Obama cult member gets through the day or how Barack Obama can help sustain marriages that cross party lines or how Obama is feeling the love in Japan and Europe. Right now it's all about the backlash!!

Kevin Drum is all over this meme. Deep within the Obama cult, The New Republic's Christopher Orr implies that Republicans like David Brooks were just waiting for Obama to surge... so they could then pull the super-secret double-cross and drag him down into the mire.

As a potential Obama-can, I'm still on the fence. This is not because of Brooks' column today though he is clearly one spur for this conversation. Rather, Clive Crook got at it a bit better in his Financial Times column:

Mr Obama is a paradox, as yet unresolved. His plan and his votes in the Senate show that he is a liberal, not a centrist. And he is no wavering or accidental liberal. His ideas are of a piece. He sees – or convinces people that he sees – a bigger picture. And yet this leftist visionary is pragmatic, non-ideological and accommodating of dissent. More than that, in fact, he seems keen to listen to and learn from those who disagree with him. What a strange and beguiling combination this is.

It makes him an electrifying candidate – one the Democrats would be crazy not to nominate – but also, to be sure, a gamble. If Mr Obama is elected, it might turn out that there is no “there” there. Indecision, drift and effete triangulation are one possibility. Equally disappointing would be if the office wore away the pragmatism and open-mindedness, to reveal an inner dogmatist. Perhaps, though, Mr Obama really can transcend Washington’s partisan paralysis and build support for one or two big important reforms – starting with healthcare. Voters (and commentators) have the better part of a year to decide whether this pushes the audacity of hope too far.

Now, on the one hand, Steve Chapman soothes my anxieties here when he compares Clinton's mortgage plan with Obama's:
Obama is not a staunch free marketeer, but he grasps the value of markets and shows some deference to economic laws. Clinton, however, tends to treat both as piddly obstacles to her grand ambitions.

You don't have to take that from me. Some on the left see the Illinois senator as suspiciously unenchanted by their goals and methods. Robert Kuttner, an economics writer and co-editor of The American Prospect, scorns Obama's advisers as "free-market guys who want to use markets to somehow solve social problems, which is like squaring a circle." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman denounced Obama because his health-care and fiscal stimulus plans "tilted to the right" and concludes Obama is "less progressive" than Clinton.

If progressive means issuing dictates that prevent informed people from entering into mutually agreeable and economically valuable transactions, that is undoubtedly true. Many liberals prefer to rely on command and control. Nowhere is the contrast between the Democratic contenders more vivid than on how to deal with the fallout from the epidemic of mortgages gone bad.

Clinton has a stunningly simple solution, as stated in one of her TV ads: "freeze foreclosures" for 90 days and "freeze rates on adjustable mortgages." Those are a perfect answer, assuming this is the question: How can the government reward irresponsibility, discourage mortgage lending and increasing the cost of financing a home?....

Obama is not willing to let this turbulent market sort itself out without the intervention of government, but he offers nothing remotely as alarming as Clinton's dual freeze. Among his main proposals are tougher enforcement of laws against fraud and deception and mandates for "easy-to-understand information" for borrowers -- ideas few advocates of economic freedom would find objectionable.

More important than what he advocates is what he doesn't. His chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, told me that Obama thinks "we shouldn't have a blanket policy of bailing out everyone." In formulating remedies, Goolsbee said, "you have to think how not to reward bad behavior."

On the other hand, we get to what Obama is saying right now, and I start to get very worried. The Financial Times' Edward Luce explains:
Barack Obama on Monday made an aggressive pitch at Ohio’s blue-collar workers by proposing a “Patriot Employers” plan that would lower corporate taxes for companies that did not ship jobs overseas.

The proposal, which came two weeks before the critical Ohio primary and just before on Tuesday’s nominating contest in Wisconsin, is the most radical any presidential candidate has put forward so far to mitigate the perceived effects of globalisation on US manufacturing....

Mr. Obama’s plan met instant scepticism from otherwise sympathetic Democratic economists who said it would require a large regulatory apparatus to put into practice. They also said that companies could “game the system” by spinning off overseas subsidiaries in order to reduce the offshore-onshore workforce ratio.

“I would say that this plan is borderline unimplementable,” said a Democratic economist in Washington. “It is also puzzling. Normally presidential candidates only come up with plans that are unrealistic when they are losing. But Obama is now the favourite.”

Clive Crook, correctly, concludes that this plan is, "on its economic merits, remarkably stupid." And I haven't even gotten to Obama's NAFTA-bashing.

So what's a possible Obama cultist to think? I can offer four words of solace in considering whether to embrace a President Obama:

1) Part of this is the remaining primary schedule. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all fertile ground for economic populism, and this is presumably why Obama has been tacking in this direction. As John Broder and Jeff Zeleny point out in today's New York Times:
[B]oth candidates appear to be looking for ways to avoid taking positions that would give them problems in the general election or expose them to a business backlash....

“Revolutions in communication and technology have made it easier for companies to send jobs wherever labor is cheapest, and that’s something that cannot be reversed,” Mr. Obama said. “So I’m not going to stand here and say that we can stop every job from going overseas. I don’t believe that we can — or should — stop free trade.”

2) Chapman is still right -- compared to Hillary, Obama remains the more market-friendly candidate. Indeed, this might even remain true if Obama is compared to McCain. The latter's first instinct on other issues (campaign finance) has been to regulate.

3) One wonders if, right now, Obama wants conservative criticism. Assuming he manages to continue his victory streak, this allows Obama to counter-punch while still being on top. This subtly signals to other Democrats that a) he really is a Democrat; and b) Hillary Clinton's not the only only one taking pot-shots from the right.

4) Matthew Cooper makes an excellent point in Portfolio -- if one judges economic competency based on how one runs a campaign, then Obama deserves superior marks:

Obama's sheer abilities as a C.E.O. haven't received much attention. There was no reason to think that a lawyer who had never run anything larger than a Senate office would really have been able to build such an amazing campaign organization. Yes, he was a community organizer, but you wouldn't expect orchestrating street protests to necessarily translate into assembling a machine that stretches from coast to coast and spends tens of millions. One benefit of the endless primary season is that it tests not just the mettle of candidates but also that of their organizations. Obama's campaign is a testament to his abilities. It's flexible. It's fast. And it got built quickly, unlike the Clinton machine, which has been assembling itself for years, like a conglomerate that keeps acquiring new companies. (Disclosure: My wife is a senior adviser to Clinton.) Unlike other insurgent campaigns that have found themselves suddenly within striking distance of the nomination, Obama's rose in a way that was simultaneously revolutionary and orthodox. On the orthodox side, he actually raised the money and secured the endorsements and built the ground operation. Unlike, say, George McGovern or Jimmy Carter, who defeated established front-runners to win the Democratic Party's nomination but faced frantic, last-minute, anybody-but movements led by party elders determined to snatch it from them, Obama did it the old-fashioned way, only in record time. Mitt Romney is the businessman in this race, but Obama may just turn out to be the real C.E.O.
Contrast this with the Clinton campaign, which seems uninformed about the rules in Texas and couldn't name enough delegates in Pennsylvania. Indeed, is it wrong to compare Clinton's "shock and awe" approach to the primaries with prior uses of that tactic.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Best title for an economics paper.... ever

Peter T. Leeson, "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization," Journal of Political Economy, vol. 115, no. 6 (December 2007): 1049-1094.

Here's the abstract:

This article investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates. To effectively organize their banditry, pirates required mechanisms to prevent internal predation, minimize crew conflict, and maximize piratical profit. Pirates devised two institutions for this purpose. First, I analyze the system of piratical checks and balances crews used to constrain captain predation. Second, I examine how pirates used democratic constitutions to minimize conflict and create piratical law and order. Pirate governance created sufficient order and cooperation to make pirates one of the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Castro's final revenge

I have only two three reactions to Fidel Castro's decision to step down as Cuba's leader:

1) Good riddance -- the man succeeded at little beyond creating repressive state structures designed to stifle individual thought and perserve his power;

2) That said, the manner of his departure is a final twisting of the knife to the Cuban community in the United States. I'm pretty sure the expectation in this country was that Castro would hold onto power until his last breath, and that the country's government would collapse following his demise.

The way Castro has orchestrated his departure from office, however, belies that scenario. Maybe Havana will be in chaos tomorrow, but the orderly transfer of power suggests that those repressive state structures will be in place for a good while.

This Reuters report suggests that Little Havana is dimly aware of this fact:

The news that Castro would not seek a new term as president and military chief sparked no immediate celebrations in the streets of Little Havana, the community west of downtown Miami that is home to many of the city's 650,000-strong exile community.

"It's very good that Fidel resigns. But if Fidel dies, it's better," said Juan Acosta, a Cuban who left the Caribbean island in 1980, as he stopped for a newspaper on Calle Ocho, Little Havana's main street.

3) Steve Clemons thinks that, "this is a huge potential pivot point in US-Cuba relations" and urges Obama and Clinton to announce what steps they would take to improve the bilateral relationship. If I were them, unless I was reeeeeeaaaaaallly trying to woo Wisconsin farmers, I'd wait a week or two to see how things shake out. [UPDATE: Obama's reaction strikes me as the proper one at this point in time:
If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring the Americans together.
That's a pretty good formulation, actually -- an olive branch with large amounts of wiggle room.]

That said, Clemons is doing his party no favors by blogging:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro.... Castro said that the "unbeatable" US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.
Wow, that is an awesome endorsement. I eagerly await Hugo Chavez's announcement.
UPDATE: You can hear my thoughts on the Cuba embargo over at Radio Free Megan.

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

Monday, February 18, 2008

With my deepest apologies to Abraham Lincoln....

My latest commentary for Marketplace concerns whether the penny should be abolished. In light of plagiarism accusations currently running rampant, I should acknowledge that I was "inspired" by a previously published work. Here's how it opens:

Four score and nineteen years ago, our national mint brought forth on this country a new coin, conceived to honor Abraham Lincoln, dedicated to the proposition that all coins bearing his image would be worth exactly one penny.

Now we are engaged in a great spike in the price of zinc and copper, testing whether this nation, frankly, can afford the penny any longer.....

You know it just gets worse from there.

Click here to listen to it... we were going for stentorian.

posted by Dan at 08:01 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Reviewing the reviews of The Israel Lobby

I have a subscriber-only essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week that takes a critical look at the public critiques of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised to learn that I have a mixed take:

Does the public understand how political science works? Or are political scientists the ones who need re-educating? Those questions have been running through my mind in light of the drubbing that John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt received in the American news media for their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Pick your periodical — The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, National Review, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World — and you'll find a reviewer trashing the book.

From a political-science perspective, what's interesting about those reviews is that they are largely grounded in methodological critiques — which rarely break into the public sphere. What's disturbing is that the methodologies used in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy are hardly unique to Mearsheimer and Walt. Are the indictments of their book overblown, or do they expose the methodological flaws of the discipline in general?....

There is no doubt that Mearsheimer and Walt have captured a disproportionate meas-ure of criticism because they have targeted a high-profile dimension of American foreign policy. The public reviews of their work have been scathing, and some of them have been unfair. Nevertheless, in terms of methodology, The Israel Lobby has earned much of its criticism. Some of the criticism, however, applies not just to Mearsheimer and Walt, but to the discipline as a whole.

Space constraints prevented this section of the essay from appearing in the final version, so it seems worth putting it here:
What [Mearsheimer and Walt] do not do, however, is systematically compare Israel to similarly-situated countries in order to determine if the U.S.-Israeli relationship really is unique. An alternative, strategic explanation for the bilateral relationship would posit that Israel falls into a small set of countries: longstanding allies bordering one or multiple enduring rivals. The category of states that meet this criteria throughout the time period analyzed by Walt and Mearsheimer is relatively small: South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Compared to these countries, the U.S. relationship with Israel does not look anomalous. All of these countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies (except for Turkey, a NATO member). Mearsheimer and Walt acknowledge that Turkey receives its aid in a similar manner to Israel; the New York Times recently revealed that Pakistan has received favorable terms as well. In the past decade the United States orchestrated IMF bailouts of South Korea and Turkey that dwarf annual aid flows. Sizable numbers of U.S. troops help to guard the demilitarized zone against North Korea, and the United States Navy takes an active interest in the Taiwan Straits. All four countries have prospered economically in recent years, and they have all frustrated the Bush administration in policy disputes. Despite this, the United States has demonstrated a willingness to expend blood and treasure to provide security for all of these countries – despite the wide variance in the strength of each country’s “lobby” in the United States.

On a related topic, Kevin Drum has an excellent post about conducting research on the web that political scientists and non-political scientists alike should read.

posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Drezner's assignment: define the foreign policy community

Spencer Ackerman and Henry Farrell are having some fun at Michael O'Hanlon's expense, in response to the latter's Wall Street Journal op-ed this past week.

The O'Hanlon jihad in and of itself I find uninteresting -- O'Hanlon distorted his "hook," but, frankly, I've read a lot worse on major op-ed pages. To go meta, however, I do find two things interesting about the flare-up.

First, as Moira Whelan reports in Democracy Arsenal, "O’Hanlon has by now gotten the message that he’s burned his bridges with his Democratic friends. Those that like him personally even agree that he’s radioactive right now thanks to his avid support of Bush’s war strategy."

Going back to a debate I had with Glenn Greenwald six months ago, O'Hanlon's op-ed and Whelan's observation means that we were both right. Greenwald was correct to say that, "[O'Hanlon] can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as 'serious experts.'" On the other hand, I was right to propose the following wager: "I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration."

Second, Farrell asks and answers an interesting question:

Part of the problem with saying that the foreign-policy establishment, or the foreign policy community should exclude someone is that there isn’t any good definition of what that establishment or community is, let alone a central membership committee....

Given the vagueness of boundaries, the best definition I’ve been able to come up with is the following. Anyone who has a credible chance of being able to publish a single authored article in one of a small number of key journals qualifies as a member of the foreign policy community. The list of journals would certainly include Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy; I think that there is a strong case to be made too for The National Interest and The American Interest. There may be one or two others, depending on how expansively you want to define it. These journals provide, in a sense, a sort of rough and ready credentialling mechanism.... Disagreements, qualifications and alternative definitions welcomed, of course.

Hmmmm.... much as I would love for this to be the proper definition, it doesn't work for a variety of reasons.

First, operationalizing "a credible chance of being able to publish" is next to impossible -- I suppose one could survey the editors at these publications, but even that's a bit suspect. The odds of publication depend on the person making the argument, but they also depend crucially on the argument being made. I guarantee that the head of AIPAC would get published in Foreign Affairs if s/he argued in favor of installing U.N. peacekeepers in the occupied territories; similarly, the head of the ACLU would get published if s/he argued in favor of re-upping the USA Patriot Act in perpetuity.

Second, cracking these publications is only one dimension of influence. Whelan got at this in her post on think tanks when she wrote: "there are three forms of currency in the think tank world that make you a valuable player: bringing in money, getting press, and getting called to testify." One could make a similar argument for the foreign policy community. I'd posit that there are three sources of influence:

a) The ability to independently mobilize significant resources (either money or activists);

b) The ability to publish in key venues (and I'd expand Farrell's list to include the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times);

c) The ability to persuade others that you possess a sufficient amount of expertise on an issue (this is -- obviously -- strongly correlated with possessing actual expertise, but the correlation is not perfect).

It is possible for individuals to possess all three attributes -- Fred Bergsten comes to mind -- but it is more likely that individals possess varying amounts (thinking about myself as an example, I'm strongest on (b), decent on (c), and have close to zero levels of (a)).

Here's the thing, though -- Farrell is right to ask the question, and this is a golden opportunity for a foreign affairs magazine to attempt to answer the question. Forbes has their 400, Time has their Top 100 list, Entertainment Weekly has their Power List, Parade has their Top 10 worst dictators (really, I'm not kidding) -- why not generate a similar exercise for the foreign policy community?

This is a splashy cover story just waiting for the editors at Foreign Policy, The National Interest, or The American Interest to exploit to the hilt. [Why not Foreign Affairs?--ed. Not a chance in hell.] Just think of the effort that various insecure egomaniacs foreign policy experts would exert to ensure that their name was included.

Readers are encouraged to proffer their metrics for determining who should belong on such a list and who should not.

posted by Dan at 07:35 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Your political dare of the day

Elizabeth Bumiller reports in the New York Times that John McCain has come up with an interesting way of defusing Barack Obama's financial advantage:

Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign said Thursday that it stood by a year-old pledge made with Senator Barack Obama that each would accept public financing for the general election if the nominee of the opposing party did the same. But Mr. Obama’s campaign refused to reaffirm its earlier commitment.

The McCain campaign’s latest stand on the issue was first reported Thursday by The Financial Times. On Tuesday, one of Mr. McCain’s advisers told The New York Times that the campaign had decided to forgo public financing in the general election, an awkward admission for a senator who has made campaign finance reform a central part of his political persona.

That adviser was speaking on the assumption that Mr. Obama, who has broken all records in political fund-raising and is currently drawing more than $1 million a day, would find a way to retreat from the pledge in order to outspend his opponent in the fall by far. Under public-financing rules, the nominees are restricted to spending about $85 million each for the two-month general election campaign, far less than what Mr. Obama might be able to raise on his own.

On Thursday, in an effort by the McCain campaign to speak with one voice and put the onus for abandoning the system on Mr. Obama, several McCain advisers called on him to make good on his pledge. Mr. Obama was the candidate who proposed the pledge in the first place, in February 2007, a time when he was not raising the prodigious sums he is now.

Mr. McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold act of 2002, which placed new restrictions on campaign financing, was the only other candidate to take Mr. Obama up on his pledge.

At first blush, I think this is a double-edged sword for both candidates.

For McCain, proposing this reminds everyone of McCain-Feingold and potentially neutralizes Obama's fundraising power. On the other hand, McCain-Feingold hasn't really worked out as envisaged, and it's a major sore point with conervatives.

For Obama, accepting McCain's proposal would remind everyone that it was Obama who came up with the idea in the first place. It would also allow him to blunt McCain's attempt to woo back independents who have shown a liking for Obama. On the other hand, Obama's fundraising capabilities are quite prodigious. Furthermore, accepting now leaves him open to charges of taking the nomination for granted.

If you're Obama, do you accept the dare?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An interesting test of cultural wills

Here's the new Indiana Jones trailer (hat tip: Isaac Chotiner):

Of course, the last time George Lucas tried to resuscitate a classic movie series from my youth, I had to endure the torture of watching Lucas reduce Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson to uttering the worst lines since Showgirls. Even Lucas admitted that much of the second Star Wars trilogy was padding. This is a serious cultural transgression -- I mean, this is Samuel motherf@#$ing Jackson we're talking about!

However, in the case of the Indiana Jones saga, Lucas faces an interesting frenemy -- Steven Spielberg. As Tom Shone discussed in a fascinating Slate story a few years back, the interplay between these two has been fascinating. For the audience's sake, I can only hope that Spielberg proves to be stronger with the force in shaping this movie.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

It bears repeating -- fundamentalist parties stink at governing

In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall reports that Pakistanis have reached a conclusion familiar to many other countries -- religious fundamentalists are really bad at governing, and pay a price for it at the polls:

The religious parties that for the last five years have governed the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, which border Afghanistan and the tribal areas, are foundering.

Since being swept to power in 2002 on a wave of anti-Americanism and sympathy for the Taliban after the American invasion of Afghanistan, the mullahs here have found that the public mood has shifted against them.

People complain that they have failed to deliver on their promises, that they have proved just as corrupt as other politicians and that they have presided over a worsening of security, demonstrated most vividly in a rising number of suicide attacks carried out by militants based in the nearby tribal areas.

“They did not serve the people,” said Faiz Muhammad, 47, a farmer whose son was killed in the bomb blast on an Awami political gathering on Saturday....

Two opinion polls released this week show that the standing of the religious parties has fallen to a new low, with voters showing a strong shift of support toward the moderate parties.

A survey of more than 3,000 people at the end of January by the International Republican Institute showed that the religious parties could command only 1 percent of the vote nationally, down from 4 percent in November. In North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, their share was 4 percent.

Meanwhile, support for the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has soared to 50 percent nationally, the poll found. The face-to-face survey was conducted throughout Pakistan and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Another survey conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based bipartisan group that seeks to reduce support for international terrorism, showed backing at 62 percent for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.

If the Taliban were on the ballot sheet, they would garner just 3 percent of the vote, and Al Qaeda only 1 percent, according to the poll.

posted by Dan at 07:54 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The Westminster dog show finally moves down the learning curve

It took this long for judges at the Westminster Dog show to recognize the friggin' obvious?

Of course, Chester would have won this with one paw tied behind his back.

posted by Dan at 07:50 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A polite and civil bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is with National Security Network executive director Heather Hurlburt. Most of the chat is about whether it will be possible to have a reasonably civil debate about foreign policy during the general election campaign (Heather is more pessimistic than I on this front).

In this segment, however, I use my political science training to devise a Machiavellian scheme that would guarantee large State Department budgets in perpetuity:

Go check it out -- including my excuse for not doing the dishes!

posted by Dan at 10:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Eugene Robinson defends my ilk

Eugene Robinson is (sort of) defending Republicans today in his Washington Post column:

It would be insane to waste time and energy worrying that somewhere, doubtless in a high-tech subterranean lair, Republican masterminds are cackling over their diabolical plot: The use of reverse psychology to lure unsuspecting Democrats into nominating Barack Obama, an innocent lamb who will be chewed up by the attack machine in the fall. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Or maybe Republicans are using double super secret backward reverse psychology to exploit the Democratic Party's congenital paranoia: Let's say nice things about Obama so Democrats think we really want to run against him, and that will make them play into our hands by nominating Hillary Clinton, who so energizes the Republican base that we can actually win an election that we ought to lose. Cue another round of deranged mad-scientist laughter.

Amazingly, those are the kinds of things you hear Democrats saying out loud these days. Let me suggest that the party has enough to think about without dreaming up dilemmas....

Enough with the Dr. Evil routine. I think there's a simpler reason that so many Republicans speak admiringly of Barack Obama and say he would be the tougher candidate to run against. Obama disagrees with conservatives without demonizing them. He even invites Republicans to join him in building the post-partisan America he envisions.

Hillary Clinton, author of the phrase "vast right-wing conspiracy," is more confrontational, to say the least.

Democrats can and should argue about which approach is better. But they should worry about their own strategy -- and not obsess about Republican mind control.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Your logical conundrum of the day

Over the past few days, the Clinton campaign has made the following two arguments:

a) Caucuses don't really count as much as primaries because, "the caucus system is undemocratic and caters mostly to party activists."

b) The superdelegates -- which consist only primarily of party activists -- should not follow the primary results but instead, "should make an independent decision based on who they thought would be the strongest candidate and president."

In the comments, someone please logically reconcile those two statements.

[But isn't Obama equally contradictory by making the reverse of both arguments?--ed. Actually, no. I think the Obama campaign's argument is that because of turnout, the caucus states have largely reflected the will of the voters -- and therefore superdelegates should simply follow suit in making their decisions. I think that's consistent -- but I'm willing to be corrected in the comments.]

UPDATE: It's been pointed out in the comments that a lot of elected officials are also superdelegates. I was assuming that any elected Democrat is a de facto party activist (they're not mutually exclusive categories), but others might not make the same distinction. That said, looking at this list of superdelegates, I do believe a healthy majority of them consist of party activists of one stripe or another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Slate, Christopher Beam takes a closer look at the superdelegates:

Clinton and Obama are fairly close among governors (10-10, respectively), senators (12-9), and congress members (71-58). It’s among DNC officials that Clinton really takes the lead, with 125 to Obama’s 57.5. In other words, Clinton’s sway appears to be much stronger among party hacks than among elected officials (emphasis added).
This reinforces the logical conundrum -- is there any way Clinton can reconcile her spin on the caucus states and the superdelegates?

Hat tip: '08 Guru

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Your anti-Trumanesque quote of the day

According to the New York Times' Jesse McKinley, the Berkeley City Council will be reversing its decision to ban the Marines from running a three-person recruitment center in the downtown.

Now I could fill up this blog city council inanities, and I don't, so why focus on this one? Because of the following quote:

“The staff are supposed to be there to protect us from our stupidity,” said Councilwoman Betty Olds, who is 87, as feisty as a cornered rattlesnake and a leader of the retrenchment. “And they didn’t do any better than we did.”
You have to stand back and admire, in a truly perverse way, a politician who embodies the polar opposite of Harry Truman's sentiment of 'the buck stops here'. Don't blame me, blame the staff!!

posted by Dan at 08:56 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pssst..... wanna read a precis of that RAND report?

The New York Times' Michael Gordon reported today on the Army's efforts to keep a critical RAND analysis of the planning process on Iraq very hush-hush:

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key....

A team of RAND researchers led by Nora Bensahel interviewed more than 50 civilian and military officials. As it became clear that decisions made by civilian officials had contributed to the Army’s difficulties in Iraq, researchers delved into those policies as well....

As the RAND study went through drafts, a chapter was written to emphasize the implications for the Army. An unclassified version was produced with numerous references to newspaper articles and books, an approach that was intended to facilitate publication.

Senior Army officials were not happy with the results, and questioned whether all of the information in the study was truly unclassified and its use of newspaper reports. RAND researchers sent a rebuttal. That failed to persuade the Army to allow publication of the unclassified report, and the classified version was not widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon.

The Army's stonewalling on this has led to a predictable and understandable hue and cry about cover-up.

Of course, this being the government, the attempt to cover things up would be more effective if excerpts of the report hadn't already made their way into published journals. Like, say, Nora Bensahel, "Mission Not Accomplished: What Went Wrong With the Iraqi Reconstruction," Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 29, No. 3 (June 2006): 453 – 473. The abstract:

This article argues that the prewar planning process for postwar Iraq was plagued by myriad problems, including a dysfunctional interagency process, overly optimistic assumptions, and a lack of contingency planning for alternative outcomes. These problems were compounded by a lack of civilian capacity during the occupation period, which led to a complicated and often uncoordinated relationship with the military authorities who found themselves taking the lead in many reconstruction activities. Taken together, these mistakes meant that US success on the battlefield was merely a prelude to a postwar insurgency whose outcome remains very much in doubt more than three years later.
To access the paper, click here, then enter "Bensahel" in the "Quick Search" box on the left, and then click on "author" right below it, and then click "Go".

It seems worth pointing out that much of this ground has also been plowed by the Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight:

Coincidentally both Bensahel and No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson have Ph.D.s in political science.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Should the U.S. call Chavez's bluff?

Last week, Exxon-Mobil won a court ruling against Venezuela's state oil company, PdVSA, over Hugo Chavez's expropriation of oil facilities. Bloomberg's Joe Carroll and Steven Bodzin explain:

Exxon Mobil Corp. won court orders in the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands and the Caribbean freezing more than $12 billion in Venezuelan assets amid a battle over the government's seizure of oil projects.

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, sought the orders on concern the Venezuelan state oil company will shift assets to other Latin American countries and China to put them out of reach of an international arbitration commission, the company said in a U.K. court filing.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-owned oil company known as PDVSA, seized joint ventures with foreign energy companies last year as part of President Hugo Chavez's program to bolster government control of Venezuela's resources. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips abandoned the projects rather than accept reduced roles and profits....

Exxon Mobil's lawyers scoured regulatory filings, financial statements and PDVSA directors' reports to dig up bank account numbers, details on U.K. office leases, staffing levels and car fleets to bolster its case, the British ruling showed....

The British injunction was granted Jan. 24 without prior notice to the Venezuelan oil company, according to a copy of the ruling. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Until then, PDVSA is barred from removing any assets in England or Wales up to a value of $12 billion. The Venezuelan company was also ordered not to sell or diminish the value of any assets within or outside those countries up to the same value.

Among the assets cited were refineries in Scotland and northwest England.

PDVSA probably was already withdrawing assets from England and Wales prior to the freeze order "consistent with PDVSA's approach of withdrawing its business operations from the U.S. and Europe and instead focusing on jurisdictions such as Russia, Belarus, Cuba, China, Syria and Iran,'' Exxon Mobil said in the U.K. filing....

The asset freezes will damage PDVSA's ability to raise funds from international investors for drilling and refinery projects, said Asdrúbal Oliveros, chief economist at Caracas- based Ecoanalitica. He estimated PDVSA has $13 billion in "liquid'' international assets.

"This is going to put a lot of pressure on country risk, and on the price of the company's bonds in the international market,'' Oliveros said. ``Loaning money to a company that's in this kind of dispute, and also is facing this kind of injunction, is going to be very delicate.''

Chavez has responded to the ruling in typical Chavez fashion:
President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets.

"If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chavez said. "Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger."....

"I speak to the U.S. empire, because that's the master: continue and you will see that we won't sent one drop of oil to the empire of the United States," Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, "Hello, President."...

Chavez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela's No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chavez's warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government's nationalization drive in courts internationally.

"If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil is going to reach $200 (a barrel) and Venezuela will join the economic war," Chavez said. "And more than one country is willing to accompany us in the economic war." (emphasis added)

If Chavez were to attempt an embargo, there's no doubt that the United States would feel a twinge of pain.

On the other hand, whatever twinge the U.S. felt would be mild compared to the massive spasms that would rip through Venezuela's economy from such a move -- especially since the only refineries that can handle Venezuelan oil are based in the United States.

Furthermore, it's not like Venezuela's economy is all sweetness and light these days:

These should be the best of times for Venezuela, blessed with the largest conventional oil reserves outside the Middle East and oil prices near record highs. But this country’s economic and social problems have become so acute lately that President Hugo Chávez is facing an unusual onslaught of criticism, even from his own supporters, about his management of the country.

In a rare turnabout, it is Mr. Chávez’s opponents who appear to have the political winds at their backs as they reverse policies of abstention and prepare dozens of candidates for pivotal regional elections. Mr. Chávez, for perhaps the first time since a recall vote in 2004, is increasingly on the defensive as his efforts to advance Venezuela toward socialism are seen as failing to address a growing list of worries like violent crime and shortages of basic foods.

While Mr. Chávez remains Venezuela’s most powerful political figure, his once unquestionable authority is showing signs of erosion. Unthinkable a few months ago, graffiti began appearing here in the capital in January reading, “Diosdado Presidente,” a show of support for a possible presidential bid by Diosdado Cabello, a Chávez supporter and governor of the populous Miranda State.

Outbreaks of dengue fever and Chagas disease have alarmed families living in the heart of this city. Fears of a devaluation of the new currency, called the “strong bolívar,” are fueling capital flight. While the economy may grow 6 percent this year, lifted by high oil prices, production in oil fields controlled by the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, has declined. Inflation soared by 3 percent in January, its highest monthly level in a decade.

This is one of those situations where, if economic warfare breaks out, the U.S. holds most of the cards.

I strongly suspect that Chavez's self-preservation motive will force him to back down -- but it would be kind of amusing if he believed his own bluster.

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

There's hope for the war on terror after all

Kevin Whitelaw wrote a fascinating piece in U.S. News and World Report suggesting that Al Qaeda is confronting a more powerful than the United States government: organizational pathology:

More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there....

But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. "Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure," says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. "It's a bureaucratic pathology."

The personnel records are unusually formal, typed on letterhead that reads "Islamic State of Iraq," one of the aliases for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Foreign fighters were asked to provide basic biographical details, such as birth date, address, and telephone number, as well as questions aimed at double-checking who referred them to the organization. One Algerian fighter named Aydir describes three coordinators he met in Syria before he was smuggled into Iraq. The first was "tall and strong," the second was "tall and hunchbacked," and the other was "tan and weak."

Part of it is simply about logistics. "When you're moving people across international borders, you want to make sure you're keeping track of them," says Hoffman. "But it is also part of a hubris that this is more of an organization than it actually is and to impress the recruits in this martyrdom pipeline that they really are part of something bigger than they are."....

For intelligence agencies, there are also some potential opportunities to be exploited. Bureaucracy implies a higher level of leadership structure. "The more hierarchical these organizations are, the easier they are to take apart," says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at Rand Corp., a think tank. "When they become diffuse, you can't really remove one single link and expect the organization to fall."

Already, researchers have been trying to trace back the telephone numbers included in the records, as well as the names of intermediaries in Syria. "Just the fact that they had these records was a big security risk," says Felter. "We're hoping it will be useful in stemming the tide from their home countries." ....

After U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, a trove of al Qaeda documents surfaced that showed just how bureaucratic the organization had become, from detailed weapons logs to a complex system of vouchers that allowed fighters to stay at government-run hotels free of charge. "When they were in Afghanistan, al Qaeda really prided itself on its H.R.," says Hoffman. "It gave people annual leave and even a death benefits plan."

Here's a link to a longer analysis of the recovered documents.

UPDATE: Over at The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell suggests that post-2002, Al Qaeda "traded operational control and financial efficiencies for security and organizational survival" as one research article puts it. This was my sense of the literature as well, which was why I found Whitelaw's story so intriguing. It should be noted, however, that this is not necessaarily inconsistent with the above report -- which is about Al Qaeda in Iraq's organization at the national level. From an anti-terrorism perspective, the best outcome might very well be decentralization at the international level but bureaucratization at the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

America's foreign direct investment in higher education

Tamar Levin has a front-pager in the New York Times on the latest trend in the American academy -- setting up satellite campuses overseas:

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall.

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

I'm seeing a lot of proposals like this being floated the Fletcher School, so it's not just engineering schools. Pretty much every professional school in the United States worth its salt is contemplating about these options

Is this good for the academy? Levin gets at this in a series of rhetorical questions:

Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?
My answers, in order:
1) The classroom culture and teaching style will likely reflect American values -- but there's no question that opening up an American-style university in Qatar is not the same thing as having these students attend an American-style university in America. On the other hand, it's not clear that this is an actual trade-off. More likely, the students attending these institutions would not have necessarily traveled to the U.S. under any circumstances.

2) The primary reason universities are contemplating these campuses is because they are seen as money-makers -- so it's hard to see how, on net, any public monies would be lost in the process.

3) There's a strong correlation between where American universities are headed and where American foreign direct investment is headed. And, much like other forms of American FDI, universities will economize on the use of American personnel -- we're very expensive. Point is, this seems like a pretty minor concern.

4) Hmmm.... maybe we should hoard our knowledge and know-how in this country. I mean, the United States clearly has the monopoly on all information. And we should keep it that way until some device is invented that allows information to be transmitted across borders at high speed and little cost. Oh, wait....

UPDATE: The Times runs the second part of Levin's reportage today -- and, if anything, it's more positive on points (1) and (2) than I am.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

A quick thought on superdelegates

Based on turnout to date, this is not going to be a fun year for the GOP. Say this for the Republicans, however -- the path to the presidental nomination makes more sense than the Democrats (the Washington caucuses excepted). The Republicans handled Michigan and Florida's decision to move their primary dates early by punishing them -- stripping half their delegates -- but not punishing them as severely as the Democrats did.

Plus, for all the talk of the GOP being an elitist party, they don't have superdelegates in a position to decide the nominee at the end of the day.

This is now a source of agita in the op-ed pages and the liberal blogosphere. Kevin Drum mildly defends them, asking, "The very existence of superdelegates assumes that they'll vote their own consciences, not merely parrot the results of the primaries. After all, why even have them if that's all they do?"

Similarly, Matt Yglesias observes, "The Democrats have had this dumb superdelegate thing in there for a couple of decades now with people mostly not focusing on it because it never comes into play. Well, now it might come into play and it doesn't sit well with people."

On this latter point, it's worth observing that Matt's analysis is a bit superficial. The superdelegates were designed to play a pivotal role at the beginning rather than the end of the primary season. Way back before the time of the blogs, a frontrunner could become a frontrunner by making it clear that he'she had the supprt of a supermajority of superdelegates (yes, I've always wanted to write that phrase). This was how frontrunners became frontrunners -- and how they preserved that status despite inevitable insurgent challengers. The idea is that their mere existence was sufficient to affect the dynamics of the primary campaign much earlier in the process.

Lest one think that I'm defending their existence, it's worth pointing out that the superdelegate idea has hisorically had disastrous consequences for the Democratic party's presidential aspirations. With the partial exception of Bill Clinton, the superdelegates helped ensure that the frontrunner wound up winning the nomination since 1984. This process meant that the Democrats ran Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry in November. There's no way that any politico can justify a process that delivers that set of outcomes.

Irony of ironies -- if the GOP had superdelegates, does anyone still think that John McCain -- the Republican who poses the strongest general election threat to a Democrat blowout this fall -- would be the presumptive nominee?

UPDATE: Jacob Levy is entertainingly bemused by the whole contretemps.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Great innovations in world diplomacy

The Onion devises a new way to directly communicate the world's displeasure with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

An excerpt:

Roastmaster and former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan kicked off the evening by welcoming President Ahmadinejad to "what [was] sure to be the first and last time Mahmoud would ever be surrounded by 72 virgins."

"Ladies and gentlemen, and Tony Blair, we stand here in the presence of one of the most vicious and destructive forces in the world today—but enough about Bea Arthur," said Annan, gesturing with a tumbler of Makers Mark across the long white tables of chuckling diplomats to the former Golden Girls star. "Some people here tonight will tell you that Mahmoud refuses to engage in diplomatic talks, that he is the most ruthless stonewaller who has ever lived. Well, those people have obviously never met my first wife."

Readers should feel free to suggest the following in comments:
1) Other wold leaders deserving of such an honor;

2) Whether being roasted by, say, Shecky Greene does violate either the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention or Attorney General Michael Mukaskey's definition of torture.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The vice presidential paradox

In a post on whether Mike Huckabee might be John McCain's wingman on the 2008 GOP ticket, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point regarding the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents:

The job of the vice president has changed, thanks to Clinton's decision to pick Al Gore in 1992 and Bush's decision to pick Dick Cheney in 2000. These men, at the time they were picked, were extraordinarily well respected; and they went on to have greater responsibilities than previous vice presidents. I think voters now expect vice presidential nominees to pass a higher bar. They can't be picked solely to win a state or lock down a constituency. They have to be plausible presidents. I expect that consideration will be even more important given McCain's age. And I'm not sure that Huckabee can clear that bar.
I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Huckabee is clearly not ready for prime time as a president, and based on his foreign policy views, I want pretty far away from the corridors of power.

On the other hand, the ratcheting of the VP bar creates a different problem -- instead of a buffoon or a lightweight, you have a talented, ambitious politician placed in an ambiguous position. This means presidents need to give them something to do in terms of policymaking. And, frankly, the results have ranged from unproductive (negotiating a global warming treaty that had zero chance of ratification; outsourcing government) to destructive (screwing with the foreign policymaking process).

The paradox is that an ideal vice president should be ready to be president from day one. At the same time, such a person -- in order to take the job -- requires major policy bailiwicks to tide him or her over.

I'm not sure what the right mix is for a VP selection, but I don't think either the "true lightweight" or "ambitious heavyweight" molds works terribly well.

Anyone have any suggestions?

UPDATE: Over at the Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman crunches some numbers to try and divine who the actual VP picks might be for the donkey side.

posted by Dan at 04:32 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Your cool statistic for the day

The AP reports some pretty stunning news:

The number of mobile phone users will overtake the number of nonusers this year for the first time, according to the U.N. telecoms agency.

Ownership rates in developing countries are rising fastest, with Brazil, Russia, India and China alone accounting for 1 billion subscribers last year, the International Telecommunication Union said.

In 2000, only 12 percent of the global population had a mobile phone.

"At current growth rates, global mobile penetration is expected to reach 50 percent by early 2008," according to ITU's January newsletter.

This would amount to more than 3.3 billion subscriptions worldwide.

I would be more impressed, however, if this piece of information appeared anywhere on the International Telecommunications Union main web page.

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

So you can see why I'm in a good mood today

As near as I can figure, the following people would have to be classified as the "losers" from Super Duper Tuesday:

Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, John Kerry, and the African-American "establishment" in the Deep South: so much for the Kennedy's pull with either Massachusetts voters or the Hispanic community [UPDATE: Hmmm... Matt Yglesias makes a convincing case that the endorsements had some pull in Massachusetts.] And so much for the endorsements of the "establishment" African-Americans in the South swaying the black community.

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and James Dobson: so much for their pull with conservative voters

So it's a Super Wednesday for me.

[Wait, what about bad political prognosticators?--ed.] Oh, I'm always a loser in that category

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A hegemonic bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is with Rob Farley from Lawyers, Guns, and Money and the Patterson School of Diplomacy. Topics include the Super Bowl, waning hegemony, Republicans who like Obama, and bold Super Tuesday predictions. Go check it out!!

There's also this challenge to listeners:

posted by Dan at 05:44 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

And in the end, I voted for....

John McCain.

I was tempted to vote for Romney -- not because I'm really a fan of Mitt, but because I wanted to se Romney push McCain on economic issues. I've never bought the supposition that candidates who lock up the nomination early are better placed for a general election victory. Competition is what brings out the mettle in a politician.

McCain has certainly been tested, and he deserves some credit for sticking to his positions even when they cost him the frontrunner status. I liked a lot of his Foreign Affairs essay, and I really like his take on executive power.

Still, like Ross Douthat, I can't shake the impression that McCain has reclaimed that status more by default, luck, and the utter incompetence of the rest of the GOP field.

Think about this. Giuliani self-destructed. Romney's pandering was about as subtle as a 15-year old boy would be in a room with the Pussycat Dolls. Paul's a bigot -- or quite friendly with bigots, I'm not sure which. Tancredo and Hunter were non-entities. Only Huckabee has improved his standing from the campaign he's run, but that's not saying much.

It would be good to see Romney, as the last man standing, push McCain to be a better candidate. In the end, when faced with his name on the ballot, I couldn't seriously pull the trigger on someone who appears to hold no core values whatsoever.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Republicans feel OK about Obama

Peter Wehner, a former deputy assistant to President Bush, writes in the Washington Post about why Republicans have positive feelings towards Barack Obama:

What is at the core of Obama's appeal?

Part of it is the eloquence and uplift of his speeches, combined with his personal grace and dignity. By all accounts, Obama is a well-grounded, decent, thoughtful man. He comes across, in his person and manner, as nonpartisan. He has an unsurpassed ability to (seemingly) transcend politics. Even when he disagrees with people, he doesn't seem disagreeable. "You know what charm is," Albert Camus wrote in "The Fall," "a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question." Obama has such charm, and its appeal is not restricted to Democrats.

A second reason Republicans appreciate Obama is that he is pitted against a couple, the Clintons, whom many Republicans hold in contempt. Among the effects of the Obama-Clinton race is that it is forcing Democrats to come to grips with the mendacity and ruthlessness of the Clinton machine. Conservatives have long believed that the Clintons are an unprincipled pair who will destroy those who stand between them and power -- whether they are political opponents, women from Bill Clinton's past or independent counsels.

When the Clintons were doing this in the 1990s, it was viewed by many Democrats as perfectly acceptable. Some even applauded them for their brass-knuckle tactics. But now that the Clintons are roughing up an inspiring young man who appears to represent the hope and future of the Democratic Party, the liberal establishment is reacting with outrage. "I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons," writes Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Many conservatives respond: It's about time.

A third reason for Obama's GOP appeal is that unlike Clinton and especially John Edwards, Obama has a message that, at its core, is about unity and hope rather than division and resentment. He stresses that "out of many we are one." And to his credit, Barack Obama is running a color-blind campaign. "I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina," Obama said in his victory speech last weekend. "I saw South Carolina." That evening, his crowd of supporters chanted as one, "Race doesn't matter." This was an electric moment. Obama's words are in the great tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Obama, more than any figure in America, can help bind up the racial wounds of America. In addition, for the past eight years, one of the most prominent qualities of the American left has been anger, which has served it and the country very poorly. An Obama primary win would be a move away from the politics of rage.

I'd say this sums it up nicely, but the last point in particular should be stressed. Every single conservative I've talked to since the South Carolina primary has mentioned the Clinton comparison between Obama and Jesse Jackson -- and it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A good year for Connecticut sports fans

It's not easy being raised in a comfortable suburb of central Connecticut. It creates confused sports loyalties that cannot be explained to others. The past two weeks, I've had to explain to friends and neighbors how I can simultaneously root for the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants.

Well, after last night's game, I'm not thinking it's that difficult a burden. Despite some sloppiness in the middle quarters, the Giants wrecked the Patriots' perfect season. They didn't wreck it through luck, but through superior line play and intelligent play calling. So much for the shock and awe of an unbeaten season.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions. The announcing team was confident. The commercials were mostly mediocre, but not abysmal. For once, it was just about the game -- with an awesome fourth quarter.

One last thought -- for all the hand-wringing about "what the children will think" about Spygate or steroids or what have you, this football season finally contained a positive parable for the children. Despite the fact that the last regular-season game against the Patriots was a meaningless one for the Giants, they put maximum effort on the field. Even though they lost that game 38-35, their effort was rewarded. That game gave the Giants the confidence to win three straight playoff games on the road, and then pull off a shocker in the Super Bowl.

In professional sports, it's not only about talent -- effort still matters. And that's a great moral for the children.

posted by Dan at 07:56 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Why I'm screwed in the book publishing biz

Rachel Donadio's essay in the New York Times Book Review asks a very good question: why, in this age of digitized publication, does it still take friggin' forever for a completed book manuscript to actually become a book?

Donadio's answer -- marketing a book is essentially like marketing a movie:

The three-martini lunch and the primacy of the Book-of-the-Month Club may be things of the past, but publishing still relies on a time-honored, time-consuming sales strategy: word of mouth.

“It’s not only buzz, it’s a product introduction — but with nothing like the advertising or marketing budget that a piece of soap would have,” said David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster. With the Internet and blogs, word of mouth travels more quickly today, but there’s a glut of information. To help a book break through the static, publishers have to plan months in advance....

As soon as a literary agent has sold a publisher a book, and even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning. While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display, for which publishers pay dearly. In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest.

Chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders generally buy books at least six months before the publication date and know about particular titles even farther in advance. Much to the anxiety of midlist writers clamoring for attention, chain stores determine how many copies of a title to buy based on the expected media attention and the author’s previous sales record. Which is why publishers say it’s easier to sell an untested but often hyped first-time author than a second or a third novel. “It’s one of the anomalies of our business that you have to reinvent the wheel with every title, virtually,” said Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent and former chairman of the Time Warner Book Group.

Although digitization has made the printing and typesetting process much faster, distribution still takes time, especially in a country as big as America. (In Britain, with its smaller size and more insular literary culture, things move faster.) But once a book hits the market, the product has to move. “For all the weeks and months that go into the gestation of the book, we’re up against the so-called lettuce test once we get into the stores,” Kirshbaum said. “If we don’t get sales fast, the book wilts.”

Read the whole thing. One part of the essay surprised me, however:
Like movie studios jockeying over opening dates to score huge first-weekend box office numbers, publishers often change publication dates to avoid competition for reader attention and marketing buzz....

[T]wo books on sushi — “The Sushi Economy,” by Sasha Issenberg (Gotham), and “The Zen of Fish,” by Trevor Corson (HarperCollins) — appeared nearly simultaneously. “You never want to get in a horse race with another book on the same subject,” said William Shinker, the president and publisher of Gotham.

Actually, for books on more arcane topics -- like sushi in the global economy -- I would have thought the reverse to be true. If two or more books on a similar subject come out at the same time, well that's a trend. This means they're more likely to earn reviews at high-profile places, and other sections of the newspaper might even start writing about the trend.

It's dead-wrong instincts like that one which might explain why I'm not in the book publishing industry.

Hat tip: Megan McArdle.

posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Listen.... to the BBC World Service!

UPDATE: To listen to the entire discussion, click here and then click on the "listen to the debate" link.

On Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern time I'll be participating a live debate on the BBC World Service. What's it about? I'll let the BBC explain:

Ahead of Super Tuesday - the day when 24 US states decide on their preferred candidate for the Presidency - BBC World Service and Chicago Public Radio present a major debate on the big election issues live from Chicago on Saturday 2 February.

Election 2008: America's Decision - Your Business comes from the Jim And Kay Mabie Performance Studio of Chicago Public Radio and can be listened to live on the BBC World Service website.

Presented by the BBC's Claire Bolderson and Richard Steele from Chicago Public Radio, the debate will see four select studio guests and their audience focus on the global economy and foreign policy, internal debate in the US, and the impact on the rest of the world.

The panellists are Tom Bevan, editor of the website RealClearPolitics; professor Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago; Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun-Times; and professor Daniel Drezner of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

I believe you can listen to it online as well.

Since I wrote my Newsweek column on this issue, there's been some straight news coverage on this from the New York Times, as well as Roger Cohen's recent op-ed.

None of these stories cover Chinese perceptions of the campaign. Thank goodness for!!!:

After seeing myriad YouTube clips of geographically illiterate Americans, I have to say it's refreshing to see a U.S. citizen displaying more positive traits.

And for those wondering where the title of this post comes from.... well, see below:

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Human rights vs. democracy promotion

Human Rights Watch has released their 2008 world report, and it's getting some play in the Financial Times and other outlets. Here's the FT lead:

The world’s well established democracies are increasingly prepared to give credibility to authoritarian regimes, failing to probe how autocracies conduct flawed elections to bolster their international standing, a leading human rights body said on Thursday.

In its annual survey of democracy across the world, Human Rights Watch argues that the US and the European Union are too quick to support “sham democracies” in states like Pakistan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, turning a blind eye to their abuse of underlying civil and political rights.

“In 2007, too many governments...acted as if simply holding a vote was enough to prove a nation ’democratic,’ and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along,” Human Rights watch said in its latest report.

This is difficult to dispute. That said, Roth's introduction reveals an interesting tension between the human rights and democracy promotion agendas:
Part of the reason that dictators can hope to get away with such subterfuge is that, unlike human rights, “democracy” has no legally established definition. The concept of democracy reflects the powerful vision that the best way to select a government and guide its course is to entrust ultimate authority to those who are subject to its rule. It is far from a perfect political system, with its risk of majoritarian indifference to minorities and its susceptibility to excessive influence by powerful elements, but as famously the “least bad” form of government, in the words of Winston Churchill, it is an important part of the human rights ideal. Yet there is no International Convention on Democracy, no widely ratified treaty affirming how a government must behave to earn the democracy label. The meaning of democracy lies too much in the eye of the beholder.

By contrast, international human rights law grants all citizens the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives” and to “vote” in “genuine periodic elections” with “universal and equal suffrage” and “secret ballot” so as to “guarantee[] the free expression of the will of the electors.” It also grants a range of related rights that should be seen as essential to democracy in any robust and meaningful form, including rights protecting a diverse and vigorous civil society and a free and vibrant press, rights defending the interests of minorities, and rights ensuring that government officials are subject to the rule of law. The specificity and legally binding nature of human rights are their great strength. But when autocrats manage to deflect criticism for violating these rights by pretending to be democrats, when they can enjoy the benefits of admission to the club of democracies without paying the admission fee of respect for basic rights, the global defense of human rights is put in jeopardy. Why bother complying with so intrusive a set of rules as international human rights law when, with a bit of maneuvering, any tyrant can pass himself off as a “democrat”?

On the one hand, Roth is correct so far as the state of international law is concerned. On the other hand, it's far from clear that the clarity of human rights law has had appreciable effects on, you know, respect for human rights.

Indeed, whether human rights treaties have had any effect on state behavior is a disputed point in both international relations and international law scholarship. Compared to the various waves (and smaller counterwaves) of democratization that have occurred in recent decades, however, the advancement of human rights looks like its lagging pretty badly. So I'm not sure that the codification of human rights law is the great advancement that Roth proclaims it to be.

posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)