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.
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.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Should IR scholars expose themselves?
Blogging will be light over the next few days, as your humble blogger
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'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.
Monday, March 24, 2008
What's the worst movie ever?
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.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.
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[Memo from the staff: don't wear short-shorts, period!--ed.]
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.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?"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.
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."
Drezner predicts the political future!
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.
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.”Read the whole thing -- it's not long.
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.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.
Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated....
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.
The New York Times goes Vizzini on "deterrence"
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.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.
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."If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.
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.
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.
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?"
My goals at this conference:
1) Moderate in a competent fashion;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.
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.
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.That is all -- you can read the LA Times' Scott Martelle for staight reportage of the conference.
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.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!
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?
Monday, March 10, 2008
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.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.
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:
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.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.Go check them all out!!
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....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?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.
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....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.”....It's likely I'm going to do some more research on this topic -- so thanks to Traub for delivering some fine process tracing.
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.
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;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.
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.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.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.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.
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.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?
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.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.
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.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.
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.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.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.
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.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.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.
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.....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!
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.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.
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.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: