Monday, March 31, 2008

Because The Atlantic is trying to diversify beyond Ivy League bloggers

I'll be guest-blogging over at Megan McArdle's Atlantic blog for this week. The comments section there actually works, so blogging at this site will likely be minimal during this time period.

posted by Dan at 12:05 AM

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Your American foreign policy quote of the day

I attended an ISA panel featuring several academics who had occupied high-ranking positions in the Bush administration. My take-away quote from a former policy planning director:

Six years after 9/11, we still don't have a grand strategy.

posted by Dan at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should IR scholars expose themselves?

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as your humble blogger racks up additional frequent flyer miles attends the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco. In honor of ISA, here's the following academic-y post:

Over at Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter is blogging about the motives behind scholarly research and how much should be revealed. She quotes approvingly from this dialogue by Ersel Aydinli:

Perhaps we should consider a disciplinary movement to encourage our members to develop and expand the currently accepted genre of the ‘author’s bio note’ into something more revealing and explicit than simply affiliation and research interests. I would like to see, for example, some indication of the author's past history, such as where they have worked and lived. Has the author remained all of his or her life in one place? Did he or she take a break along the educational path to join the Peace Corps, live abroad, or work in a different field? I also think it would be valuable to know about some of the author's non-professional affiliations or interests. Of course it would be up to the individual author to determine how many or which of these affiliations to provide, but even that choice would be revealing to the readers and help them interpret the content of the text... authors [might also be] encouraged in their texts to indicate how they came to choose the research topic or particular questions they investigate. Was it simply a personal interst or were there pragmatic issues involved such as a future grant? Was the topic of global or current scholarly interest or something sparked by a dinner table conversation?
Carpenter continues:
I quite like this idea. I think it would make our research far more objective, and help us evaluate one another's work far better if such a norm of full disclosure took root. It might also help us acknowledge and make sense of our presence in the worlds we study....

I also know from first-hand experience... there is currently no such norm. Which is becoming scarily apparent to me as I complete my book... and now have to peddle it to mainstream IR presses who will no doubt insist I edit that kind of quasi-narcisisstic reflectivism right out.

Even efforts to bend in that direction just slightly result in disciplining moves from academic gatekeepers.

I'd dissent a little bit from Carpenter. There are actually two places where scholars tend to exposit a bit on the genealogy of their interests and ideas. The first place is in book prefaces. This is hardly de rigeur, but far more often than not a political scientist will explain how they decided to write about what they are, you know, writing about. They will also usually discuss the various fieldwork experiences/fellowships/affiliations that inform their scholarship.

The second place -- and this is more common -- is in the statement of research and teaching that all professors need to gin up when they are up for contract renewal/tenure/promotion. This is the one venue whe this kind of self-reflection is expected. The irony, of course, is that very few people read these statements.*

Based on my own experience, they are also excruciating to write -- imagine penning a ten page cover letter that says, "Yay!! Look at me!! Look at all of my brilliant insights that have paved the way towards truth and beauty!!" I mean, I'm a blogger, so I know from self-promotion, but writing those documents was like a very painful tooth extraction.

This might explain why academic gatekeepers -- who have had to undergo this exercise -- are so reluctant to see more of it in the field.

* There is one exception that I am aware of -- chapter two of Robert Keohane's International Institutions and State Power is an updated version of his statement on research and teaching. Bob's had a pretty decent run as a scholar, so maybe the taboo lessens as one becomes an academic gatekeeper.

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

What's the worst movie ever?

Alex Massie links to a Joe Queenan essay in the Guardian. Queenan takes advantage of the opportunity to review The Hottie and the Nottie to ponder the elements of the worst films of all time:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven's Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.

Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, "Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?", the answer needs no further reflection. This phenomenon resembles Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim ends up befriending his tormentors, so long as they promise not to make him watch any more Kevin Smith movies. The condition is sometimes referred to as Blunted Affleck.

Now I actually enjoy several "bad" movies whenever I stumble upon them in dimension known as late night basic cable morass -- Starship Troopers, Road House, Red Dawn -- but by Queenan's criteria, the worst movie I have ever seen, hands down, was Caligula.

This was Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione's attempt to create an all-star mainstream X-rated movie. It had an all-star cast of British luminaries (Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole) and cost a bundle to make. It is also the only film I have ever seen that was so revolting that I had to walk out before it ended.

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Note to self: do not bring short-shorts to Paris

Elaine Sciolino bids a fond farewell to one of the best sinecures in journalism -- the Paris desk of the New York Times. Sciolino is a fine reporter/observer, and is not afraid to reveal the following embarrassing anecdote:

Don’t Wear Jogging Clothes to Buy a Pound of Butter

Rules govern even the smallest activities. I was making chocolate chip cookies one Saturday afternoon and ran out of butter. Dusted with flour, still in my morning jogging clothes, I dashed out to the convenience store up the street. The problem was that it is not just any street. It’s the Rue du Bac, one of the most chic places to see and be seen on Saturdays. I heard my name called and turned to face a senior Foreign Ministry official, dressed in pressed jeans and a soft-as-butter leather jacket, wearing an amused look, and carrying a small Nespresso shopping bag.

We went to a corner cafe for a drink. The Swedish ambassador and his wife stopped as they were riding by on their bikes. Both were in tailored tweed blazers, slim pants and loafers. Then Robert M. Kimmitt, the deputy treasury secretary, walked by.

He and my foreign ministry friend joked that my style didn’t match the setting. I made the point that it was my neighborhood and I could dress however I wanted. But as my French women friends told me afterward, jogging clothes (shoes included) are to be removed as soon as one’s exercise is over.

[Memo from the staff: don't wear short-shorts, period!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dumbest poll ever

I certainly think public opinion matters in the formulation of policy -- and that, over the long term, foreign policy leaders ignore the public at their peril.

That said, this Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll/press release might be the dumbest f@#$ing thing I've ever seen:

In sharp contrast to views recently expressed by Vice President Cheney, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.

Eighty-one percent say when making "an important decision" government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." Only 18 percent said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."

When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."....

When Americans are asked whether they think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," an extraordinary 94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections. (emphasis added)

Wow, so let me get this straight -- when asked by pollsters whether polls are important, the American people agreed?

Seriously, the question, as phrased, is only slightly less biased than the following possible substitutes:

A) "Do you think the people's voice should be heard by politicians -- or are all y'all really just a bunch of morons?"

B) "Dick Cheney is a complete f%$#ing &%$hole who once shot someone in the face and probably likes to eat newborns. Do you think that anything he says is true, like, ever?"

C) "Which society would you prefer: one in which leaders responded to the will of the people, or one in whch leaders ignore public sentiment and send in jack-booted thugs to break up any demonstration, thus evoking Nazi Germany?"

If you look at the actual results, it's clear that PIPA simply cherry-picked responses to an old (January) poll and released them to embarrass Cheney (and say that, "hey, polls matter!!").

I'd find the exercise much more persuasive if the questions weren't so loaded. For example, did PIPA ask whether either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve should respond to public sentiment when they make their decisions? When that 3 AM phone call comes in, should the president immediately put a poll out to calculate a response? I'd actually be interested in serious polling on the tradeoffs between expertise and democracy. This PIPA exercise is pretty much completely unserious.

In the 5 1/2 years of this blog, I don't think I've ever defended Dick Cheney, but in this case he's right and PIPA is, well, stupid. Of course leaders should not respond to every poll fluctuation on an issue. That's called leadership.

Now let me stress here that Cheney's response is still disingenuous, because polls on Iraq have not "fluctuated" so much as "sunk like a crater after recognizing that victory ain't gonna happen."

Still, PIPA's press release doesn't rebut Cheney -- it only shows how it's possible to frame poll questions to get any kind of response you want.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 21, 2008

The decline and split of the west?

Another day, another online article.

The topic of my latest Newsweek column is whether the West -- i.e., American and Europe -- can still act as the global policy leader. I'm not optimistic:

America and Europe face political, economic and demographic challenges to their longstanding primacy. This is a delicate moment for a power transition, given the host of emerging global threats: global warming, nuclear proliferation, macroeconomic imbalances, terrorism, the need to reform global governance and so on. The question is, can the United States and the European Union continue to exercise leadership on these issues? The answer, at best, is, "not for long."
Go check it out -- tt was partly, but not completely based on what I observed at the Brussels Forum.

One link that didn't get embedded in the Newsweek story but is worth checking out: Constanze Stelzenmüller's GMF briefing paper, "Transatlantic Power Failures."

posted by Dan at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner predicts the political future!

Me, last Tuesday:

I should add that, based on what I've heard while here [with Bill Richardson], it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.
The New York Times, today:
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who sought to become the nation’s first Hispanic president this year, plans to endorse Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination on Friday at a campaign event in Oregon, according to an Obama adviser.

posted by Dan at 08:20 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Because the Nixon Center likes to make mischief

My light sparring with Danielle Pletka apparently intrigued a lot of people in Washington. As a result, I have a short piece at the National Interest online about the foreign policy divide withi the GOP between realists and neoconservatives:

This year's presidential campaign has highlighted the divide in Democratic foreign-policy circles between hawks and doves. My run-in with Pletka, however, reveals a split within the GOP as well, between realists and neoconservatives. It was not always so. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he evinced a largely realist policy platform. His chief foreign-policy spokesperson, Condoleezza Rice, wrote a realpolitik essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “Promoting the National Interest.”

Bush governed differently than he campaigned, however. The September 11 terrorist attacks led to a rethink of foreign-policy priorities. Neoconservative ideas—particularly democracy promotion—were placed at the heart of the Bush administration's grand strategy. By early 2008, Pletka's statement might very well be true. John McCain's foreign-policy team has not been terribly friendly towards GOP realists—which says something about the Republican Party's foreign-policy transformation.

Read the whole thing -- it's not long.

posted by Dan at 12:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Walking the accessibility tightrope

The New York Times' Stephanie Rosenbloom writes about the trend of professors revealing more of their souls online:

It is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor behind the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.

Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television....

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

Of course, those of us in the blog trenches have been aware of this problem for some time. I wrote the following in my guide to poli sci blogging for APSA:
Another potential problem is how students view a professor’s blog. If an academic blogger achieves any kind of public success, then that academic’s students are likely to peruse his or her blog. This is not automatically a bad thing, but academic bloggers often display more personal idiosyncrasies on their web page than they would ordinarily reveal in a classroom setting. This can be problematic because students often overinterpret their interactions with professors. They might believe they have a more informal relationship with the professor—or view a blog post as signaling a message when none is intended.
This is a tricky tightrope to walk, and after five plus years of this blog, I'm still not entirely sure I have the hang of it.

For example, it's clear that some professors create MySpace or Facebook pages to make themselves more accessible to students. As I got sucked into the Facebook vortex, however, my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. I neither accept nor proffer friend requests from current students.

I do this because, well, I'm not their friend -- and letting them think otherwise is deeply problematic. I'm their teacher, their sometimes advisor, and their occasionally harsh taskmaster. Friendship comes only after the grading portion of the relationship is over -- and only then if I'm in a good mood.

I seem to be in the minority in adopting this position, however.

UPDATE: Well, I'm not a minority of one -- Amy Zegart adopts a similar position:

Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated....

I want to make students uncomfortable-- challenging them to question their own ideas, take opposing views seriously, and grapple with difficult assignments and questions. I want to get them out of the echo chambers so many of us inhabit and learn that smart, good people can disagree. I want them to know that in the real world, effort is not the same thing as achievement, and that striving for excellence means that even an A paper can get better. Learning is hard. It is also endlessly rewarding.

College students don’t need professors to be their friends. They need professors to be professors.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The realist tradition in American public opinion -- published

A few years ago, I responded to a Patrick Belton post at OxBlog thusly:

[There is] a thesis that I've been cogitating on for the past few months: despite claims by international relations theorists -- including most realists -- that the overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal policy preferences, it just ain't so. Even if those beliefs are extolled in the abstract, when asked to prioritize among different foreign policy tasks, the realist position wins.
From this germ of an idea, a conference paper emerged.

And, a short three-and-a-half years after the original idea, "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion" is out at Perspectives on Politics. The abstract:

For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. Indeed, most IR scholars share this “anti-realist assumption.” To determine the empirical validity of the anti-realist assumption, this paper re-examines survey and experimental data on the mass public's attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views, the use of force, and foreign economic policy over the past three decades. The results suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.
The article -- in fact, the entire issue -- is available for free online.

Go check it out. I doubt I will publish many other articles in which I say that George Kennan is 100% wrong.

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

The New York Times goes Vizzini on "deterrence"

This blog has an occasional series on "Vizzini" moments. Thanks to YouTube, we can now explain it through a brief video mash-up:

It now appears that Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker, and the editors at the New York Times do not know what the word "deterrence" means:
In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush’s war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.

Interviews with more than two dozen senior officials involved in the effort provided the outlines of previously unreported missions to mute Al Qaeda’s message, turn the jihadi movement’s own weaknesses against it and illuminate Al Qaeda’s errors whenever possible.

A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.

Read the whole thing. The article chronicles a variety of tactics designed to impair Al Qaeda's strengths on the web and in the hearts and minds of Muslims.

It's good stuff. But it's not "deterrence" in the Cold War sense of the word.

Successful deterrence of Al Qaeda would be taking place if the organization decided not to take action because they feared retaliation by the United States against assets that they held dear. Deterrence works if an actor refrains from attack because they calculate that the cost of the adversary's response would outweigh any benefit from the initial strike.

But that's not in the U.S. strategy. Instead, what U.S. officials appears to be doing is decreasing the likelihood of a successful attack -- by sowing confuson, interdicting logistical support, and reducing sympathy for the organization. The closest one could come to deterrence is if one defined Al Qaeda's reputation as a tangible asset that would face devastating consequences after a successful attack. Even here, however, the U.S. strategy is primarily to weaken Al Qaeda by increasing the odds of an unsuccessful attack.

The more appropriate word to use here is "containment." The United States is trying to sow divisions within the jihadi movement -- much like Kennan urged the United States to do among communists of different nationalities. The United States is applying counter-pressure in areas where Al Qaeda is trying to gain supporters and symathizers -- much like Kennan urged the application of "counter-force" in areas where the Soviets tried to advance their interests.

This is all to the good. But it's not deterrence. Indeed, this is one of those rare moments when the headline -- "U.S. Adapts Cold-War Idea to Fight Terrorists" -- is more accurate than the lead of the story.

posted by Dan at 07:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good gossip from Brussels

The following ten tidbits have been picked up while attending the 2008 Brussels Forum:

1) At the opening session -- taped by the BBC -- the participants were asked to say something for a microphone check. Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said, "the Russians are coming."

Richard Holbrooke was next -- and he said, "the Democrats are coming."

2) Holbrooke made waves because during the session when, about midway through, he told moderator/BBC presenter Nik Gowing, "this has been a really stupid conversation so far." In defense of Holbrooke, he had a point -- the panel was about challenges to the West, and yet most of the conversation was devoted to, at best, discussing the history of second-tier issues like Kosovo.

3) Speaking of Holbrooke, I have it on good authority that, not only does the former UN ambassador believe that he'll be Secretary of State if either Clinton or Obama wins, he genuinely thinks he'll have a comparable position if McCain wins.

4) Both Robert Zoellick and Richard Holbrooke are very, very smart, and are fully aware of how smart they are. There are two significant differences between them:

a) Zoellick displays flashes of arrogance, but usually keeps it in check; Holbrooke, on the other hand, cannot appear to function in any mode other than pure disdain -- unless there's someone more powerful than him in the room.

b) Zoellick can talk about economic issues with just as much fluency as security issues; Holbrooke knows squat about economics. To be fair, I fear that Zoellick is the last of a dying breed.

5) Right before one panel, a German Green Party member sitting behind me looked at the panel title -- "Toward a Low Carbon Society: Climate Change as a Transatlantic Challenge" -- and said, "God, how boring." He was on his Blackberry for the first ten minutes, and then left the room.

6) Here's a useful piece of advice to conference-goers -- never, ever, sit between someone seeking foundation suppprt and someone possessing grant money to give. It's like trying to breathe in a vacuum.

7) The most potent symbol of waning American power at this conference: the entire U.S. Congressional delegation didn't make it because their DC-9 had to make a fueling stop in Newfoundland, and failed to re-start.

Meanwhile, the dollar sunk to a new low against the euro, which means that the EU economy is now larger than the American economy.

8) The most energetic period of the conference occurred at the Hotel Conrad bar at around 1 AM. It was a mix of Clinton foreign policy advisors, McCain foreign policy advisors, Eurocrats, journalists, staffers from a half-dozen European governments, and German Marshall Fund staffers with indefatigable energy.

OK, actually, that makes it sound boring -- you have to remember that they were all drinking very heavily, and there was a surprising gender balance in the room.

9) Take this for what you will -- at all of the sessions I attended, Iraq was, at best, mentioned in passing once or twice.

10) I'm typing this post in the Brussels Forum press room, as Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is talking.

So what do real reporters do in the press room? Some of them are typing up the speech -- but most of them are catching up on e-mail correspondence and surfing the web. They're almost like real bloggers.

If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.

posted by Dan at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watch me sing for my supper

My small role in the 2008 Brussels Forum can be viewed in streaming video by clicking here.

My favorite part -- correcting the German EU Commissioner about Schumpeter.

posted by Dan at 07:43 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sign #472 that relative American power is on the wane

Overheard on the flight to Brussels from Washington, DC: a flight attendant explaining why the plane was so crowded:

It's the Europeans. They're all flying over here now because the dollar is so cheap. We're the new Mexico now.

posted by Dan at 07:16 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yes, I am a big ol' conference whore this week

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as I'll be attending the 2008 Brussels Forum. This year I've been promoted from attendee to moderating a panel entitled, "Who Will Write the Rules of the Global Economy in the 21st Century?"

For my mother loyal and faithful blog readers who wish they could attend, fear not -- I believe you will be able to watch all of the sessions on a live webcast -- they will be archived afterwards as well.

My goals at this conference:

1) Moderate in a competent fashion;

2) Acquire the necessary amount of chocolate to assuage the Official Blog Wife, who is always a super-understanding and supportive spouse, but particularly this week.

3) Not to tell Steve Clemons anything that forces me into a later blog post of my own.

Comments remain down -- and I've heard enough complaints for my RSS feed to make the following request:
Anyone with the requisite technical skills interesting in earning a few bucks sshould contact me (via the e-mail address on the right) about technical support for the blog.
Au revoir.

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We are experiencing technical difficulties

Comments have been down for a few days due to killer comment spam. Hopefully this problem will be resolved within 24 hours.

posted by Dan at 10:38 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Final thoughts about rogue states

A few jet-lagged final thoughts about the conference on rogue states I attended yesterday:

1) There was unanimous agreement that the term "rogue states" was pretty stupid as a category.

2) The most amusing moment for me was when AEI's Danielle Pletka accused me of being on the far left -- because I suggested some realpolitik approaches to foreign policy (like prioritizing counterproliferation over democracy promotion). When informed of my party status later, Pletka replied, "well, he's not like any Republican I know!" Apparently, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger are now barred from entering AEI.

3) Wesley Clark was on the same panel as Pletka and myself -- we were charged with giving advice to the next administration. It was interesting to note that Clark had no difficulty speculating about a president Clinton or a president McCain -- but it took a great deal of time and effort for him to say "President Obama" even as a hypothetical.

4) If you want to amuse yourself for a while, ask Ed Luttwak a question about... anything. He's good for at least an hour's worth of interesting free association on any topic.

5) There's something about California... at one of the conference dinners I saw the ghosts of Democratic Campaigns Past -- Michael Dukakis, Kitty Dukakis, Warren Christopher, etc. The freaky thing was that none of them looked like they had aged since falling out of the public spotlight.

6) Redeye flights suck eggs.

That is all -- you can read the LA Times' Scott Martelle for staight reportage of the conference.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Live-blogging Bill Richardson

The Governor of New Mexico is delivering the keynote address at the conference on "U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Rogue States: Engage, Isolate or Strike?" that I'm attending. Let's live-blog it!!

11:30 PDT: First superficial impression: Richardson looks much better in person than on television. Even the beard works. Opens with joke, "President Clinton always said, 'Send Richardson to talk to rogue leaders, because bad guys like each other."

11:50: Offers the following observations about face-to-face negotiations with rogue leaders:

1) They will always try to gain a psychological edge over you. They'll do this by never showing you the schedule. They'll want to talk to you alone. Test you when you’re tired and jet-lagged. 2) All negotiations with rogue leaders take place between three and four in the morning.

3) When rogue leaders try to show you hospitality, iit will happen in ways that might compromise you.

4) Rogue leaders care a surprising amount about public opinion -- in the United States and in their own country

5) Acting deferentially is not always the way to go. When Richardson met with Hussein, he mistakenly crossed his legs and showed Husseing the sole of his shoe, a big no-no in the Middle East. Hussein stormed off, and Richardson't interpreter told him he should apologize. He chose not to, which apparently impressed Hussein.

11:55: All rogue leaders want a visit from the President of the United States

12:00: Richardson believes that when dealing with rogues, all diplomacy is personal. He then gives a shout-out to George H.W. Bush as one of the best on this front.

12:01: Richardson is now sitting down with the LA Times' Maggie Farley. He says in response to Cuba, "by the way, the [Cuban] embargo is not working." He then says he wouldn't lift it unless Cuba took major steps towards liberalizing its regime.

12:02: Richardson: "George Clooney has been more effective in his Sudan diplomacy than the U.S. government."

12:05: Thinks a lot of simple steps -- closing Guantanamo, no more Abu Ghraibs, etc., will buy the U.S. a lot of goodwill.

12:10: In a response to endorsing Obama vs. Clinton, Richardson gives his boilerplate -- he feels a sense of loyalty to the Clintons because of past appointments.... but he did throw his hat into the ring against Hillary, so that only goes so far.... he likes Obama, thinks he's got... something, can't put a finger on it. Does plan to endorse someone. He's bemused that he's getting more press attention now than he did when he was running. Doesn't think endorsements matter, anyway.

I should add that, based on what I've heard while here, it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.

12:15: Just asked Richardson a question about whether the U.S. could influence who wins the Iranian presidential election in 2009, thereby removing Ahmadinejad from the equation. Richardson stalls for a bit, talking about broad Iranian support for closer U.S. ties. He then -- surprisingly -- trashes Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti, thinks they don't work terribly well. Would prefer to liberalize travel bans. etc. as a way to improve U.S. image inside Iran. In the end, thinks Ahmadinejad will lose. Doesn't really answer my question -- but bonus points for not getting fraked by me typing into the blog as he gives his answer.

12:20: Richardson thinks the most effective sanctions are the travel bans to elite leaders.

12:30: That's it. On to lunch!

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

Your quote of the day

For anyone with libertarian instincts, Virginia Postrel's post about John McCain makes for disturbing reading. The key sentence:

McCain is an instinctive regulator who considers business a base pursuit.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Virginia yesterday, and during the chat, an interesting question arose: if McCain is an insinctive regulator, but appoints those less inclined to regulate, which policy wins out?

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reversing Clausewitz

In a Reuters story on Barack Obama declining Hillary Clinton's premature offer of a VP slot, we get to this priceless bit of spin by Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson:

Obama took note of Clinton's repeated attacks and said the vice president's primary role would be to take over if the president died or was incapacitated.

"If I'm not ready, how is it that you think I would be such a great vice president? Do you understand that?" he asked.

Asked about the contradiction of touting Obama as a vice presidential candidate while condemning his ability to lead, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson implied there was still time for Obama to prove himself before the Democratic Party convention in Denver in August.

"We do not believe Senator Obama has passed the commander in chief test," Wolfson said. "But there is a long way to go between now and Denver."

This begs the question... what, exactly, is required to pass that test? How do the next five months on the campaign trail provide such an opportunity [Wait, Obama won Mississippi? He's definitely commander-in-chief material!--ed.]?

In one way, this is a typical bit of grade-Z spin. In another way, however, it does shed an interesting light on the Clinton campaign's mindset about politics. As the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons reported, Hillary Clinton's fabled experience in international relations is pretty weak beer. The implicit message of her campaign, however, is that Clinton has faced greater trials and tribulations in the political arena for 15 years -- and that experience translates into preparation for foreign affairs.

Clausewitz famously said that war was politics by other means. Hillary Clinton's zero-sum tactics in the past week suggest an inversion of Clausewitz's dictum. For Clinton, politics is simply war by other means.

This might actually work. Clinton, by throwing out her steering wheel, might actually scare enough superdelegates into following her.

But it's really becoming more difficult with each passing day to distinguish Hillary's mindset from George W. Bush.

posted by Dan at 06:42 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

March (and February... um, January too) books of the month

So far, 2008 has been a slow year for book club posts -- a fact that has not gone unnoticed in your humble blogger's mailbag. I, for one, blame this on a combination of heavier-than-usual travel and severe a bitter infighting within the blog staff [F$%& you!!--ed. No, f%$# you!.]

In an effort to make up for lost time, however, here are three IR books and three general interest books:

International Relations:

1) John Bolton, Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations. You might find this a surprising choice, as I've blown hot and cold about Bolton on this blog. However, his memoir is a wonderful read. This is not because Bolton is terribly incisive or insightful. Rather, Bolton's massive inferiority-complex-masking-as-aggression is plastered across every page than one cannot read this book without becoming fascinated about the psyche that produced it.

2) Benn Steil and Robert Litan, Financial Statecraft: The Role of Financial Markets in American Foreign Policy. What a difference two years make. Steil and Litan's book came out in early 2006 as an analysis of how the U.S. could deploy financial statecraft to advance its foreign policy ends. Now, with the rise of sovereign wealth funds, one wonders if people in Bejining, Moscow, and Abu Dhabi are reading this excellent primer on the subject.

3) Fred Kaplan, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. A chronicling of how the ideas that informed George W. Bush's grand strategy went off the rails. What's great about Kaplan's book is that he really does trace the genealogy of these ideas back to their origins. He also nails the most toxic combination -- Rumsfeld's faith in the revolution in military affairs, Cheney's staunch nationalism, and the neoconservative faith in democracy promotion.

General Interest:
1) Dana Milbank, Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government. This book basically consists of the choicest anecdotes concerning recent DC episodes of bad behavior. Milbank has a sadistic streak that I occasionally find unsettling. That said, this is an excellent paper collection of stuff you've read about in the blogosphere for the past few years. Plus, the index is priceless.

2) Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist. Simply put, there is no other economics book out there that contains this much useful knowledge but can be read as quickly, as Cowen's latest.

3) Steven Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law. Most books don't contain glowing blurbs from both Al Gore and AEI president Christopher DeMuth. Teles' account of how the conservative legal movement successfully challenged liberal orthodoxy manages to pull off this extraordinary feat.

Go check them all out!!

posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Yet another Clinton scandal

From Mark Leibovich, "No Longer in Race, Richardson Is a Man Pursued," New York Times, February 23, 2008:

Early this month, Mr. Clinton called Mr. Richardson and insisted on seeing him face to face. Mr. Richardson said he could not make it unless Mr. Clinton came down to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl on television with him, which Mr. Clinton rearranged his schedule to do....

The Bills watched the game in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Richardson rooting for New England, Mr. Clinton for New York. They smoked cigars, drank wine, devoured barbecued spareribs, chicken wings and shrimp. They talked politics only at halftime.

From Dan Balz, "Influential Democrats Waiting to Choose Sides," Washington Post, March 9, 2008:
"I'm thinking of changing my phone number," joked [Pennsylvannia representative Mike] Doyle, who had supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson but is now uncommitted. He said he got a surprise call from Bill Clinton on Super Bowl Sunday while cooking osso buco for his family. (emphasis added)
Just what was Bill Clinton doing on Super Bowl Sunday? There's clear photo evidence to support Richardson's version of events -- but I have no reason to believe Doyle is lying.

This apparent paradox contained within the spce-time continuum raises a whole bunch of reasonable questions:

1) Do the laws of physics make it possible for Bill Clinton to cook osso bucco at location A and then watch the Super Bowl in location B?

2) Who the hell cooks osso bucco for a football game? Which menu would you prefer to consume during the Super Bowl?

3) Has Bill Clinton been cloned?

4) Have the Clintons discovered time travel? Did Bill first chow down with Richardson, and then travel backwards in time to cook osso bucco for Hillary and Chelsea?

Your intrepid blogger will try to get answers to these vital questions when he crosses paths with Richardson over the next few days. [Good... it's clear you need a few days in the sun--ed.]

UPDATE: A concerned reader e-mail to suggest that I'm misreading Balz's account -- that it was Doyle who was cooking osso bucco for his family, not Clinton. Hmmm.... this does makes temporal and logical sense, but it's not as much fun as my interpretation of the (not artfully worded) sentence.

posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

What's the difference between a scholar and a reporter?

James Traub has a cover story in today's New York Times Magazine, "The Celebrity Solution," that's all about celebrity activism in global philanthropy and peacebuilding:

Stars — movie stars, rock stars, sports stars — exercise a ludicrous influence over the public consciousness. Many are happy to exploit that power; others are wrecked by it. In recent years, stars have learned that their intense presentness in people’s daily lives and their access to the uppermost realms of politics, business and the media offer them a peculiar kind of moral position, should they care to use it. And many of those with the most leverage — Bono and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and George Clooney and, yes, Natalie Portman — have increasingly chosen to mount that pedestal. Hollywood celebrities have become central players on deeply political issues like development aid, refugees and government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Faithful readers of this blog might recall that, three months ago, I published a cover story in The National Interest, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam," that makes some awfully similar points:
Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. When media maven Tina Brown attends a Council on Foreign Relations session, you know something fundamental has changed in the relationship between the world of celebrity and world politics. What’s even stranger is that these efforts to glamorize foreign policy are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing. This does not mean that celebrities can solve the problems that bedevil the world. And not all celebrity activists are equal in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, politically-engaged stars cannot be dismissed as merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy.
Readers might wonder if I'm feeling bitter about Traub making similar arguments for a much larger commission.

The truth is, reading his essay, I can't get too worked up about it. My essay was intended to be more of a meditation on why celebrities have become more influential. As a reporter-researcher, Traub does something in his essay that I didn't do in mine. He actually got the participants to confirm the causal mechanisms I only posited.

For example, here's what I wrote about the celebrity exploitation of "soft news" outlets:

In the current media environment, a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and cause célèbres has developed. Celebrities have a comparative advantage over policy wonks because they have access to a wider array of media outlets, which translates into a wider audience of citizens. Superstars can go on The Today Show or The Late Show to plug their latest movie and their latest global cause. Because of their celebrity cachet, even hard-news programs will cover them—stories about celebrities can goose Nielsen ratings. With a few exceptions, like Barack Obama or John McCain, most politicians cannot make the reverse leap to soft-news outlets. Non-celebrity policy activists are virtually guaranteed to be shut out of these programs....

The power of soft news is not limited to television. Vanity Fair let Bono guest-edit a special issue about Africa, knowing that cover photos of Madonna and George Clooney would attract readers and buzz. Without intending to, those perusing the pages might form opinions about sending aid to sub-Saharan Africa in the process.

Here's how Traub covers the same point:
In 2004, Natalie Portman, then a 22-year-old fresh from college, went to Capitol Hill to talk to Congress on behalf of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, or Finca, a microfinance organization for which she served as “ambassador.” She found herself wondering what she was doing there, but her colleagues assured her: “We got the meetings because of you.” For lawmakers, Natalie Portman was not simply a young woman — she was the beautiful Padmé from “Star Wars.” “And I was like, ‘That seems totally nuts to me,’ ” Portman told me recently. It’s the way it works, I guess. I’m not particularly proud that in our country I can get a meeting with a representative more easily than the head of a nonprofit can.”....

Portman didn’t have to do very much when she came back and became Finca’s international ambassador of hope in 2004; she simply made a point of talking about microfinance when she did any publicity. She appeared on the cover of Vogue and in the long story inside talked about her work with Finca. “The influence of that interview was huge,” says Christina Barrineau, then the director of the U.N. Year of Microcredit. “Anyone who Googled it immediately came to our Web site, and I was flooded with e-mails from young influentials who wanted to learn more about how they could help.”

It's likely I'm going to do some more research on this topic -- so thanks to Traub for delivering some fine process tracing.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sui generis, anyone?

Jacob Heilbrunn has a truly odd post up about Samantha Power, in which he claims the following:

[N]o matter how ill-conceived they may have been, Power’s bellicose words aren’t an aberration. Instead, they highlight the adversarial style of a new generation of Democratic foreign-policy mavens who have more in common with the raucous world of bloggers than the somber, oak-lined environs of the Council on Foreign Relations.
OK, I follow this world pretty closely, and I have to ask -- who the hell is Heilbrunn talking about?

No doubt there are netrootsy types -- Spencer Ackerman, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias, for example -- who blog about foreign policy with a fierceness that matches Power's rhetoric. None of these guys are "Democratic foreign-policy mavens," however. On the other side of the ledger, the foreign policy mavens who populate either the Center for American Progress or Democracy Arsenal aren't terribly bellicose.

Seriously, I'd like Heilbrunn or others to name names here. Is there a generation of bellicose mavens who slipped under my radar?

My guess is that Samantha Power was sui generis -- a crusading journalist who made the leap to policy advisor (the only other person I can think of who made a similar leap was Strobe Talbott.... minus the crusading). It's a pretty rare crossover.

UPDATE: The New York Times' Ashley Parker -- in a story about how bloggers live/work/geek out in DC -- provides one data point for Heilbrunn:

Mr. Ackerman, who also lives in the house, blogs and works for The Washington Independent, a Web site that covers politics and policy. In April, his personal blog will move to the Web site of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group.
Still, this is insufficient data to characterize a trend.

posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Scheiber effect?

Four and a half years ago, Noam Scheiber wrote a cover story for The New Republic about Howard Dean's great new political machine and how it was going to transform politics. The piece was beautifully written, utterly convincing, and -- of course -- wound up overhyping the Dean phenomenon just a tad.

Fast forward to the present. Scheiber writes another story for The New Republic, "The Audacity of Data," about the pragmatism and savviness of Obama's economics and foreign policy advisors. Once again, the story takes a fresh angle, and is utterly convincing -- partiularly to meself.

In the week since Scheiber's piece went online:

1) Chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee gets into trouble for saying or not saying things to a Canadian consular official about NAFTA;

2) Foreign policy advisor Susan Rice, responding to the Hillary ad on national security, tells MSNBC's Tucker Carlson “They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call.” -- not the most comforting way to frame the argument.

3) Foreign policy advisor Samantha Power gets into hot water for thinking she was off the record speaking to The Scotsman's Gerri Peev: Ea

rlier, clearly rattled by the Ohio defeat, Ms Power told The Scotsman Mrs Clinton was stopping at nothing to try to seize the lead from her candidate.

"We f***** up in Ohio," she admitted. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win.

"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.

Ms Power said of the Clinton campaign: "Here, it looks like desperation. I hope it looks like desperation there, too.

"You just look at her and think, 'Ergh'. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."

The Scheiber effect: correlation or causation? You be the judge. However, if I were on the Clinton or McCain campaign teams, I'd be wanting to say as far away from Noam Scheiber as humanly possible.

The curel irony, of course, is that Goolsbee, Rice, and Power did nothing to suggest they would be bad policy advisors. Indeed, all three of them appear to have proffered candid and correct (well, maybe not the "monster" line" advice. It's just that they committed Michael Kinsley-style gaffes.

posted by Dan at 08:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

That's an.... interesting interpretation of recent economic history

Robert Lighthizer has an op-ed in today's New York Times that essentially argues that conservatives have a long tradition of trade protectionism that John McCain should embrace:

Free trade has long been popular with liberals, and it remains so with liberal elites today. The editorial pages of major newspapers consistently support free trade. Ted Kennedy supported the advance of free trade. President Bill Clinton fought hard to win approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite some of his campaign rhetoric, Barack Obama is careful to express qualified support for free trade, even when stumping in the industrial Midwest.

Moreover, many American conservatives have opposed free trade. Jesse Helms, the most outspoken conservative in the Senate for three decades, was no free trader. Neither was Alexander Hamilton, who could be considered the founder of American conservatism.

OK, this kind of argument requires a few mental gymnastics, but there is a patina of plausibility to this narrative. It's not the whole truth, mind you, but truth is contained in those paragraphs.

Then we get to these paragraphs:

President Reagan often broke with free-trade dogma. He arranged for voluntary restraint agreements to limit imports of automobiles and steel (an industry whose interests, by the way, I have represented). He provided temporary import relief for Harley-Davidson. He limited imports of sugar and textiles. His administration pushed for the “Plaza accord” of 1985, an agreement that made Japanese imports more expensive by raising the value of the yen.

Each of these measures prompted vociferous criticism from free traders. But they worked. By the early 1990s, doubts about Americans’ ability to compete had been impressively reduced.

Um.... wow, where to begin:
1) On what planet can voluntary export restraints be described as "working"? I mean, they certainly did work... in the sense that they encouraged Toyota and Honda to create luxury car divisions like Acura and Lexis in order to boost profits -- and make even further inroads into Detroit's market share. Most trade experts I know consider the VERs to be the single dumbest trade policy deployed in the last thirty years.

2) Which free traders opposed the "Plaza" agreement? Why would this agreement be seen as protectionist? Seriously, I want names. There was a general consensus in 1985 that the dollar was overvalued -- just like there is general consensus now that the yuan is overvalued (what to do about overvaluations is often a more contested issue).

3) On what basis can Lighthizer plausible claim that "By the early 1990s, doubts about Americans’ ability to compete had been impressively reduced"??!!! The early nineties was the peak of anti-Japan hysteria (go and read Rising Sun if you don't believe me).

Indeed, doubts about American competiiveness did not subside until the mid-to-late nineties -- after NAFTA and the Uruguay round of the GATT had been ratified.

The latter did not directly cause the former, of course -- robust economic growth is what alleviates public fears about trade. But if Lighthizer can make mendacious claims on the New York Times op-ed page (seriously, who fact-checked this piece of garbage?), then I get to do it on my blog.

posted by Dan at 08:17 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Faculty recruitment at Oklahoma is going to be a bitch

The New York Times' Randal C. Archibold writes about a proposal in the Arizona state legislature to make campus life more interesting:

Horrified by recent campus shootings, a state lawmaker here has come up with a proposal in keeping with the Taurus .22-caliber pistol tucked in her purse: Get more guns on campus.

The lawmaker, State Senator Karen S. Johnson, has sponsored a bill, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week, that would allow people with a concealed weapons permit — limited to those 21 and older here — to carry their firearms at public colleges and universities. Concealed weapons are generally not permitted at most public establishments, including colleges.

Ms. Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, said she believed that the recent carnage at Northern Illinois University could have been prevented or limited if an armed student or professor had intercepted the gunman. The police, she said, respond too slowly to such incidents and, besides, who better than the people staring down the barrel to take action?

Let me confess that after a day of back-to-back-to-back-to-back committee meetings, I find the idea of packing heat on campus to be oddly soothing. I suspect, however, that as a general public good this would probably not be a good idea.

The Times alsp provides a helpful graphic describing pending legislation across the states:

The social scientist in me hopes that all of this legislation passes, because the variance across the states would make for some nifty Freakonomics-style regression analysis. The academic in me, however, shudders at the fallout from various anti-social academics, students and staff deciding to bear arms.

Final question: what did us professors ever do to the state of Oklahoma?

posted by Dan at 09:51 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Identity politics and the irony of the 2008 campaign

MoDo's column about identity politics in the Democratic Party today actually got me thinking. Particularly this part:

Dianne Feinstein onto the Fox News Sunday-morning talk show to promote the idea that Hillary should not be forced out, regardless of the results of Tuesday’s primaries, simply because she’s a woman.

“For those of us that are part of ‘a woman need not apply’ generation that goes back to the time I went out to get my first job following college and a year of graduate work, this is an extraordinarily critical race,” the senator said.

With Obama saying the hour is upon us to elect a black man and Hillary saying the hour is upon us to elect a woman, the Democratic primary has become the ultimate nightmare of liberal identity politics. All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts.

People will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism, or is racism worse than misogyny?

As it turns out, making history is actually a way of being imprisoned by history. It’s all about the past. Will America’s racial past be expunged or America’s sexist past be expunged?

This leads to a central irony about this campaign. I don't doubt that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have suffered a multitude of small slights in their professional and personal lives because of their gender or race. However, if you think about this as a contest to see who has suffered the greatest because of their identity, it's not even close.

The candidate who has suffered the most in his lifetime is.... John McCain. As an individual, he has paid a much higher price for his identity as an officer in the United States military than Obama or Cinton has individually paid for their race or gender. And there's simply no way to spin it otherwise.

As a collective entity, of course, African-Americans and women have white males beat on the suffering front. It is interesting, however, that the avatars of identity get all jumbled up once we look at the candidates' individual biographies.

posted by Dan at 08:34 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Open Super Tuesday II thread

Me, I'm just going to watch some episodes of House on the DVR for the next few hours, but the rest of you feel free to comment away on tonights primary results.

I can't resist one thought, however. Howard Fineman blogs "Win or lose, pressure on Clinton to exit will mount" over at Newsweek:

It's no longer a question of what Hillary herself thinks—she wants to stay for the duration, a close friend of hers tells me—but whether and when the leaders of the Democratic Party unite, publicly and privately, to tell her to get out if she wants to have a future leadership role in her own party.

As my colleague Jon Alter convincing showed today—calculator in hand-there is just no way, barring some kind of cataclysmic event, that Clinton can overtake Sen. Barack Obama in pledged delegates. Obama won't have enough of them to clinch the nomination on that basis alone, but she can't catch him....

[I]f Clinton continues to the next stage-if the results tonight allow her to fend off those telling her to quit—the next round is going to be a lot nastier. It's going to get into Obama's South Side Chicago roots; into some of the wilder statements of his longtime minister, Jeremiah Wright; and into the not-so-sly raising of doubts about Obama's religious beliefs.

Does Hillary really want to go there? Maybe not, which is why I think some of her own supporters (and maybe even some of her own campaign aides) would just as soon that this thing end tonight.

Here's the thing, though -- I think the mainstream media has underestimated the number of core Hillary supporters who would be unbelievably pissed by the optics of the Democratic "establishment" -- read, mostly men -- telling Hillary that her time on the stage has ended. Trust me, these people do exist, and they exist in significant numbers.

So my prediction is that any kind of stage-managed effort by the Democratic Party leadership to nudge Hillary Clinton aside will end in disaster. Either Clinton will refuse the overtures, declaring herself to be a "fighter" for the upteenth time -- or she will step aside in such a way that it costs Obama significant slices of the Democratic demographic come November.

UPDATE: Wow, CNN's numbers are screwy on Texas. As of 8:45, Obama and Clinton combined have nearly 800,000 votes, with less than one percent reporting. Unless the illegal immigration and ballot fraud problems are a lot worse than I thought, those vote counts are way too high.

posted by Dan at 08:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Pick my fake memoir title!!

The New York Times' Motoko Rich reports on the latest memoir scandal:

In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed....

The revelations of Ms. Seltzer’s mendacity came in the wake of the news last week that a Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, was a fake, and perhaps more notoriously, two years ago James Frey, the author of a best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” admitted that he had made up or exaggerated details in his account of his drug addiction and recovery.

Once you hit three examples, a media trend is officially declared. Since I am such a slavish follower of these trends, I have decided to write my own fake memoirs!!

My problem is that it strains credulity for me to claim the kind of drug or criminal experiences that Frey and others concocted. So, clearly, I need to devise a plausible set of fake bad behaviors that I can use to hawk my own fake memoirs.

Afer racking my brain for a few seconds, I have come up with three possible fake memoir titles. Let me know in the comments which one you prefer -- or come up with one of your own!!:

1) Confessions of a Housing Hit Man: Why I Helped Blow Up the Housing Bubble (With the Help of, You Know, the People Who Decided to Buy the Houses) and Now Regret It.

2) I Am Sprezzatura: How I Made a Living Writting 95% of All Comments in the Blogosphere

3) Not Just a Gigolo: My Life and Times in Hollywood Servicing the Body and Mind of Salma, Ashley, Angelina, Scarlett, Tina, Jessica, Jessica, and Jessica... but mostly Salma.

UPDATE: I forgot... fake names for the fake memoir title would be appreciated. Come to think of it, there should be a formula for this kind of thing, like figuring out your porn star name.

I hereby declare the formula to determine your Fake Memoir Name to be......drumroll..... the first name of your gender-appropriate paternal grandparent + the last name of your first-grade teacher.

In which case, my Fake Memoir name is.... Lou Hayes.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Principled criticism -- and bureaucratic politics -- at the UN

Frances Williams reports in the Financial Times that one arm of the UN is criticizing another arm of the United Nations:

In a speech to the opening of a four-week session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, [UN Secretary General] Ban [Ki-Moon] questioned whether the council was “fully meeting the high expectations” of the international community.

These were “that this council will recognise and promote the universal application of human rights values – and that it will do so without favour, without selectivity, without being impacted by any political machinations around the world”.

In its nearly two years of existence, the council has attracted many of the same criticisms as the discredited UN Human Rights Commission it replaced. In particular it has issued repeated condemnations of Israel while showing a strong reluctance to denounce rights abuses elsewhere.

African and Muslim countries, which have a majority of seats on the 47-nation body, have consistently blocked criticism of the Sudanese government for human rights violations in Darfur and its failure to bring perpetrators to justice. African solidarity has also protected Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe from censure.

Well, this criticism certainly seems well-placed.

Of course, as one reads on, one finds that Ban also has his own bureaucratic interests in making this criticism:

Mr Ban’s remarks additionally appeared aimed at heading off a bid by the African group to rein in the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR), who is appointed by the UN secretary-general with an independent mandate to advance the cause of human rights globally.

The office of Louise Arbour, the present high commissioner, has issued highly critical reports and statements on abuses around the world, including Darfur, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Mr Ban said the OHCHR had “all the authority of my office behind it” and told the council that it should proceed on a “collaborative path”, as envisaged by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Ban is clearly in the right in this little tussle -- but this also shows how bureaucratic politics exist at the global level as well as the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The three rules to understanding Canadian-American relations
In the wake of Canadian memos flying about on what exactly Obama's chief economist told a Canadian consular official, Noam Scheiber asks a befuddled question:
What is it with these Canadians? Are they running some sort of entrapment operation up there? Why do they keep trying to torpedo Democratic candidates?
Based on my extensive experience with the people of the Great White North, I'll be happy to answer Scheiber's question. All understanding about Canadians are based on based on three very simply rules of thumb:
1) Canadians are the most polite people on earth. Really, compared to Americans, it's just embarrassing at times. Canadians never lose their temper in meetings, ever. This is deceptive, however, because.....

2) Canadians are also the most passive-aggressive nationality on earth. For their entire lives, Canadians have had to cope with the fact that everyone assumes they're essentially just like Americans -- including Americans. The best way to make a Canadian blow a gasket is to mistake them for an American. There are other dyads that have this kind of dynamic as well (Russia-Ukraine, Australia-New Zealand), but among Canadians it leads to this kind of resentment boiling just beneath the surface that, if ever unleashed, would look like a scene from 28 Days Later.

This has a profound effect on Canadian behavior vis-a-vis the rest of the world, because just when you think a Canadian is on your side, s/he does something that completely gums up the works of a policy initiative. In the case of Canadian-American relations, this is compounded by the final rule....

3) Canadians are really schizophrenic about American attention. On the one hand, countries that are the focus of lots of American attention don't necessarily fare all that well. Canadians like the fact that their country is often below the radar.

That said, I'm always surprised when, every four years, Canadians ask me, "So will Canada be an issue in the presidential campaign?" Every time, I say, "no chance in hell." Clearly I've been proven wrong this year, but this is because the Canadians themselves lengthened the news cycle.

So to answer Noam's question: the Canadians are doing what they're doing because they don't want any Americans taking Canada for granted. But they'll do it as politely as possible.

Try applying these rules whenever one deals with Canadians -- they're easy, and fun!

posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Those naïve Brits

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that the London Times' Sarah Baxter gets face time with Barack Obama. Some fascinating nuggets come out:

Obama is hoping to appoint cross-party figures to his cabinet such as Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and an opponent of the Iraq war, and Richard Lugar, leader of the Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee.

Senior advisers confirmed that Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran and one of McCain’s closest friends in the Senate, was considered an ideal candidate for defence secretary. Some regard the outspoken Republican as a possible vice-presidential nominee although that might be regarded as a “stretch”.

Asked about his choice of cabinet last week, Obama told The Sunday Times: “Chuck Hagel is a great friend of mine and I respect him very much,” although he was wary of appearing as though he was already choosing the White House curtains....

Obama believes he will be able to neutralise McCain by drawing on the expertise of independent Republicans such as Hagel and Lugar, who is regarded by Obama as a potential secretary of state.

Larry Korb, a defence official under President Ronald Reagan who is backing Obama, said: “By putting a Republican in the Pentagon and the State Department you send a signal to Congress and the American people that issues of national security are above politics.”

Korb recalled that President John F Kennedy appointed Robert McNamara, a Republican, as defence secretary in 1961. “Hagel is not only a Republican but a military veteran who would reassure the troops that there was somebody in the Pentagon who understood their hopes, concerns and fears,” he said.

Now besides the virtue of poking Paul Kruigman with a sharp stick, I have to think that this is just one of those "let's have some fun with Fleet Street" moments in an otherwise exhausting campaign. To be sure, I suspect Obama actually will appoint at least one Republican to an important Cabinet department -- but there is zero chance of both Hagel and Lugar becoming cabinet secretaries in an Obama administration. There are simply too many Democrats who desire high-ranking positions at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom for this to happen.

Not to mention the fact that if Obama is smart, he wants Hagel and Lugar exactly where they are. They might be Republicans, but they are also GOP Senators willing to "do business" with an Obama administration in the Senate. Unless the fall election is a complete blowout (a possibility to be sure), these politicians are scarce commodities.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What's the best experience to be president?

That's the topic of my latest commentary for NPR's Marketplace. Here's how it closes:

As a management question, the problem with being the president is that one cannot anticipate what important issues will arise in the future. No one thought terrorism would be the paramount foreign policy problem during the 2000 campaign. I guarantee you there are issues that will not be talked about during this election year, but will dominate the presidency in 2009 and beyond.

Perhaps the best experience to be president, then, is the ability to successfully cope with the uncertain and the unknown. Of course, some managerial experts would not call that "experience." They would call it "judgment."

Go check it out!

UPDATE: I do find this post from the Hotline to be particularly interrstin on this point:

Responding to the release of HRC's new TX TV ad, which asserts in no subtle terms that only she has the experience to deal with a major world crisis, and, relatedly, to keep your children safe, Slate's John Dickerson asked the obvious question:

"What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" he said.

Silence on the call. You could've knit a sweater in the time it took the usually verbose team of Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein, Clinton's national security director, to find a cogent answer.

posted by Dan at 12:25 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)