Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A real policy difference. Yippee!!

The New York Times' John Broder reports on a genuine, honest-to-goodness policy disagreement among the Democratic presidential candidates:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks....

At a meeting with voters in North Carolina on Monday, Mr. Obama said lifting the gas tax for three months would save the average consumer no more than $30, a figure confirmed by Congressional analysts. Mr. Obama has previously dismissed Mr. McCain’s proposal as a “scheme.”

“Half a tank of gas,” Mr. Obama told his audience. “That’s his big solution.”

President Bush’s spokeswoman essentially sided with Mr. Obama in saying that tax holidays and new levies on oil companies would not address the long-term problems of dependence on foreign oil.

You have to love an issue that puts George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the same page. As an added bonus, in this case they happen to be right.

This will be an interesting test -- if I were Obama, I'd hit the thirty dollar line very, very hard. This would seem to be a classic example of "politics as usual" and why it won't really solve long-term problems of energy and the environment.

Of course,I'm a lousy politician, so the fact that I would recommend this course of action suggests that it's doomed to failure.

posted by Dan at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

What did GDP ever do to deserve this?

One of the more invidious comparisons analysts like to make is to compare the size of something with a country's gross domestic product. An old warhorse of political economy/anti-corporate types, for example, is to say that the sales of multinational corporations exceeds many countries GDP. This is true but irrelevant -- GDP measures the value-added that an economy generates per year, so the proper and correct comparison is between a firm's profits and GDP. When using that metric, corporations suddenly don't look so big.

I bring this up because there have been a passel of press reports about this Global Indight study of sovereign wealth funds:

Sovereign Wealth Funds have grown a remarkable 24% annually, and now exceed some $3.5 trillion. If growth rates remain constant, they will surpass the entire current economic output of the United States by 2015, and Europe by 2016. Their importance already rivals that of hedge funds and private funds combined.
This statement is
a) Likely true;

b) Not a new fact -- these projections have been around for the past year or so;

c) An even more invidious comparison than the one comparing firm sales to GDP. In this case, Global Insight is comparing assets to revenue streams.

Sovereign wealth funds deserve some scrutiny, but this kind of headline-seeking comparison seems designed to do littledoesn't contribute much to the debate.

posted by Dan at 09:03 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 25, 2008

The world is in deep, deep trouble

Forget everything I've said defending public intellectuals. I've just seen Foreign Policy/Prospect magazine's latest list of the top 100 public intellectuals.

Rather than quibble with the definition/ranking methodology, let's take the list as gospel. This is the graphic that scares me:


If political scientists -- perhaps, God forbid, American political scientists -- are the modal group in the category of powerful public intellectuals, then we are all officially f#$&ed.

posted by Dan at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

How Chinese nationalists are like blog commenters

John Pomfret makes the connection:

I've never really been able to take China nationalism that seriously. It's like some of the comments on my blog. There's no shortage of passion but it's also curiously skin deep. It's often a foil for anti-government feelings, employed by Chinese who are actually fed up with Communist Party rule but aren't allowed to say it. Finally, it often masks deeper divisions in Chinese society. Whenever I read a Chinese blogger urging an anti-foreign boycott or some other type of joint action, I'm reminded of the telling saying that Chinese have about themselves. "A Chinese alone equals the power of a dragon, but three Chinese, nothing but an insect."
Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

This is funny? Really?

Look, I like ripping into Thomas Friedman as much as the next blogger -- but I can't agree with Matt Yglesias that the following video is "funny":

This is the kind of thing that accomplishes the following:
A) It makes some people who dislike Friedman very happy;

B) It makes people who agree with Friedman like him even more;

C) It makes people who have ambiguous (or no) feelings towards Friedman feel much more sympathetic towards him.

Matt also suggests checking out his book Heads in the Sand as "a more intellectually rigorous Friedman takedown." That's great, but damning with faint praise. I'm pretty sure my seven-year old could muster a more intellectually rigorous takedown as well.

Admittedly, I think he's an exceptionally smart seven year old, but still....

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait agrees with me on this:

I don't think I'm particularly sensitive, but I find the notion of physically humiliating somebody who's trying to explain their ideas in a civic forum to be absolutely horrifying.
For a more virtuous -- and more amusing -- example of pie-throwing, click here.

posted by Dan at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The most comforting thing I've read about Obama today

Michael Crowley has an essay in The New Republic on whether a President Obama would actually withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The key paragraph:

The truth is Obama has no secret plan for Iraq. Interviews with nearly two dozen foreign policy and military experts, as well as Obama's campaign advisers, and a close review of Obama's own statements on Iraq, suggest something more nuanced. What he is offering is a basic vision of withdrawal with muddy particulars, one his advisers are still formulating and one that, if he is elected, is destined to meet an even muddier reality on the ground. Obama has set a clear direction for U.S. policy in Iraq: He wants us out of Iraq; but he's not willing to do it at any cost--even if it means dashing the hopes of some of his more fervent and naïve supporters. And, when it comes to Iraq, whatever the merits of Obama's withdrawal plan may be, "Yes, We Can" might ultimately yield to "No, we can't."
Why does this cheer me up? Because the article suggests that Obama and his advisors might actually let, you know, facts on the ground influence their decision-making. Which is how it should be.

Anyone who tells you they have a foolproof Iraq plan to put in place nine month from now is lying to you.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The dirty little secret of academia

Over at Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns considers the merits and demerits of part-time employment in the academy. She's doubtful that, as a model, it can work for those who wish to balance work and non-work activities (parenting, etc.):

But my biggest doubt whether part-time work is such a splendid idea for academics who are doing research has to do with the nature of research: whether one works on a full-time contract or a part-time contract, the literature that one has to follow to keep up to date with one’s area of research remains the same. There are ‘fixed costs’ (in terms of time and effort) for each line of research that one pursues. The consequence is that a part-timer spends as much time (in absolute number of hours) on keeping up to date with the literature, implying that she has fewer hours left for actually developing new research....

I am one of those people who (normally) doesn’t go to work on Fridays (and for the next couple of months I have one extra day off so as to be able to spend more time with our baby). I do enjoy the time I can spend with the children, and the fact that this extra day off slows us down a little. But I also sometimes feel I’m cheating myself, since it seems I am doing at least as much work as many people who are working on a full-time contract (with the difference that much of my work gets done in the evenings). In the end I am just not sure whether part-time work in academia is, all things considered, a good idea for those academics who are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas.

Here's the thing: to be tautological about it, academics who "are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas" are doing so because, well, they're passionate about their research. In a good way. At worst, these academics have a love-hate relationship with their work, and at best, it's a scorching hot affair with inquiry and knowledge.

As Ingrid said, some aspects of the academic's job -- committee work, refereeing, university service, and, yes, teaching -- can be compartmentalized in a manner similar to other jobs. There's nothing part-time about research. But this isn't the fault of the employment system -- the fault, such as it is, lies within the nature of the academic. If you love what you do, nominal time restrictions do not matter a great deal -- a fact that occasionally drives my family around the bend.

There's a parallel to blogging here, in that the overwhelming number of people who blog do so because they like it, not because of any renumeration they receive. This renders the economics of blogging -- and online publishing more generally -- a little peculiar. The economics of sectors in which workers derive significant psychic benefits from their work differ from more mundane sectors.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Chinese response to the Olympics protest

In my last post on the Olympics brouhaha, I voiced some concern about how the mass Chinese public would react to protests and statements of concern from the West.

Over the weekend, we stated to see the blowback, as CNN reports:

Protests against Tibetan independence have continued Sunday in several Chinese cities, according to the country's state-run news agency.

Demonstrators also expressed their anger about what they see as biased reporting of the Tibet story by Western media organizations including CNN.

Protesters gathered outside the French supermarket Carrefour in several Chinese cities including the northwestern city Xi'an, and the northeastern city Harbin and eastern city Jinan, the agency reported.

The demonstrators expressed anger at the way protests disrupted the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7. During Sunday's demonstrations in China, some held banners condemning "Tibet secessionists in France tearing up the Five-Star Red Flag," according to Xinhua.

Over at FP's Passport, Drew Kumpf points out that we're beginning to see the blowback among Chinese expats as well:
[T]here were also demonstrations by the Chinese community on Saturday in five Western cities: Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London and Washington. Xinhua news agency reports thousands of participants in the European cities and hundreds here in Washington. With signs like "Love our China" and "You can't find this from BBC... Stop disrupting the Olympics" there is a clear, organized international effort to get the message out that many overseas Chinese also oppose the affronts to the Olympic games and the related media coverage. The silent protest in Britain attracted 3,000 participants and was the first public demonstration on the part of the Chinese community there.

Recent fervor has demonstrated a strong, unified voice on the part of the Chinese community....

While many may call it misguided for its lack of respect for human rights, the Chinese position shows sophistication in political advocacy: Adopt a unified stance and get the widest possible coverage to spread your message. Though the synergy is the result of the people and the government touting the same line, it's an impressive campaign for a country with a state-run media. It's also worth pointing out that, unlike people within China itself, these expats have access to the gamut of information on their homeland, and yet they still feel strongly that the Western view is biased.


posted by Dan at 10:17 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Looking for a non-pander

Today, both Democratic candidates decided, "Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Complete and total pandering on the non-existent relationship between vaccines and autism!" Of course, in doing this, they were merely following John McCain's lead.

Still, it's days like this when the major party candidates for president look the smallest. So it is nice to see that there is at least one issue in which one candidate will not pander:

Republican John McCain made a risky argument in a hard-hit Ohio steel town Tuesday, telling residents that free trade can help solve their problems.
That is a tough sell in communities that have hemorrhaged jobs as manufacturing moved overseas and cheap imports flooded the market. But McCain insisted that free trade is the solution and not the cause.

"The biggest problem is not so much what's happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy," McCain said during a town hall-style meeting at Youngstown State University.

"I think the answer is to understand that, free trade or not, we are in an information and technology revolution," he said. "So we want people to be part of that revolution, and we've got to be part of that new economy, rather than try to cling to an old economy." (emphasis added)

Bonus points to McCain for the use of the word "cling."

Hat tiip: TNR's Michael Crowley, who observes, "On the one hand you have to admire McCain's refusal to pander. On the other you have to wonder if he's commiting electoral suicide."

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 21, 2008

All purpose excuses

A few months ago, I observed the following all-purpose excuse used by many conservatives in a bloggingheads episode:

If I did [insert perfectly reasonable and ethical act here], the terrorist win.
After ruminating on this Josh Marshall post, I now believe I have found an all purpose excuse for liberals:
If I had not done [insert your own unspeakably inoffensive action, here], you know the Republicans would have done it in the fall.
Try it out during your everyday routine... it's easy and fun!

posted by Dan at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm behind on my shameless self-promotion

Last week's conference, combined with the start of Passover, has caused me to get behind in the self-promotion department.

My latest commentary for Marketplace was last Friday, and discussed the Oakland A's and Billy Beane five years after the publication of Moneyball:

The popularization of sabermetrics has left Beane with less of an advantage -- it's harder to find diamonds in the rough when everyone else is mining the same territory. The A's are not struggling because of "Moneyball"'s failure -- they are struggling because of its success.
Listen to the whole thing.

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

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm going to be a little busy this week

Blogging will be be light for the next two days, as I'll be running a conference here at the Fletcher School on the Past, Present, and Future of Policymaking:

2007 marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. This agency, housed in the State Department, is unusual in two respects. First, it will forever be associated with its first director, George Kennan, and the successful doctrine of containment that he originated. Second, the mission of Policy Planning is, according to its own website: “to take a longer term, strategic view of global trends and frame recommendations for the Secretary of State to advance U.S. interests and American values.” This goes against the grain of a 24/7, real-time, rapid-reaction era when government policymakers define the long term as two weeks from the present.

As the United States prepares for the 2008 election, there is a yearning for a new approach to foreign policy. Containment is dead and gone, the Bush doctrine has been unpopular at home and abroad, and isolationism is not an option. In a world of complex, overlapping and asymmetric threats, the need for policy planning has never been greater. Both policymakers and scholars need a better grasp of how to craft viable, long-term strategies for the 21st century....

Moving forward, the future of policy planning – in both the abstract and bureaucratic senses – is open to question. What are the proper ideas orient American foreign policy? Is the Policy Planning Staff, as currently organized, influential enough to improve American grand strategy? Is it even possible for any planning agency to retain its relevance in the modern era?

Click here for a look at the conference program. The event is open to the public, so Boston-based readers can register their attendance by clicking here.

For those of you not in the Bosto area, don't fret -- if all goes well, all of the sessions will be webcast in real time.

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A random elitist question

Given the media firestorm over Obama's "bitter" statement, and given the overwhelming commetariat consensus that this episode would hurt Obama in the polls, and given the polling results clearly indicating this not to be the case in either Pennsylvania or across the country, what can be inferred?

A) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they don't watch cable news outlets;

B) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they aren't likely to show up as "likely voters" in a poll;

C) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that their phone service has been cut off;

D) Gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers are so bitter that they dislike Hillary Clinton even more than Barack Obama;

E) The commentariat is elitist and out of touch with what engages gun-toting, small-town Jesus-worshippers.

posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The oldest theme in the business

I'm beginning to wonder if there's a cognitive tic in my system that causes me to "not get" Jacob Heilbrunn's published output.

Last month I was puzzled by Heilbrunn's assertion that Samantha Power represented a vanguard of angry Democrat foreign policy mavens.

This month, Heilbrunn has an essay in World Affairs that bemoans the decline of the public intellectual:

For all the heat it has generated, for all the moments of good theater it has provided, the debate over the War on Terror has also called into question the role of public intellectuals today. In a prior time, these intellectuals could be judged by their output; today it is by the noise they make and the comment they generate....

With lifelong fights over changes of position, charges of intellectual treason, and tortured explanations to rationalize the party line, the political was personal in the 1930s and 1940s in a way it never was during the 1960s. But in recent years something has changed. Those who’ve set up shop as public intellectuals, with their keen sense of how high-stakes arguments were waged in the past and their equally keen appreciation for the role figures such as George Orwell played in those debates, have tended to be referential and self-referential in positioning themselves for maximum effect. Rather than the hard and solitary work of writing and thinking and achieving an output that far overshadowed their public presence, today’s intellectuals often succumb to celebrity culture, shouting on FOX News and MSNBC rather than arguing their ideas in books or in the pages of magazines.

While the stakes are arguably as high today as they were in the 1930s, our current crop of public intellectuals has resurrected some of the acrimony of those heady times, but little of the substance. What in an earlier era were battles grounded in strenuous intellectual engagement today often amount to little more than highbrow food fights and, in some cases, nifty career moves. The life of significant contention that the critic Lionel Trilling once lauded as the intellectual’s calling has been overtaken by a life of competing for significant attention. Compared to their predecessors, who staked everything on disputes over fascism, Stalinism, and imperialism, today’s rank-breakers are mere epigones.

Having battled this meme for several years now, I'm beginning to observe a few pathologies in the standard "decline of the intellectual" essay:
1) Provide as little evidence as possible for your argument: Heilbrunn tries to persuade by asserting that, "Most of the intellectuals who stepped up to the mics at FOX News spent more energy wondering if they were the next George Orwell than writing books that would cast light on what the country faced in a time of terror." This is truly odd for two reasons. First, the only effort Heilbrunn makes to substantiate his argument about intellectual decline is to look at the trajectories of Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. This would be fine, except that neither Sullivan nor Hitchens have been shy in writing books on this topic.

Second, beyond Hitchens and Sullivan, what other public intellectuals have appeared on FOX? Seriously, I want to know.

2) Repeat past assertions of intellectual decline -- if you do it enough times, it will sink in: For example, in this essay, Heilbrunn notes that, "Richard Posner cites the craving for celebrity—and its availability because of radio and television talk shows and the Internet—as a reason for the decline of public intellectuals." Actually, no. Posner hypothesized that the professionalization of the academy was responsible for the decline in public intellectual output -- and, to be blunt, he never provided any systematic evidence for his assertion of decline.

Later on, Heilbrunn approvingly quotes Lee Seigel's thoughts on the matter -- also not a point in his favor.

3) Evoke intellectual nostalgia for the 1930's. Seriously, these kind of essays appear to be the only genre that looks back at the yeas of the Great Depression with something approaching fondness.

This matters, because even Heilbrunn seems to acknowledge in his essay that the state of public intellectual debate in the 1960's was pretty God awful. This raises the question -- what's the baseline point at which one starts to talk about a decline?

The decline-of-the-public-intellectual trope has been repeated so often -- and so baselessly -- that I'm going to make a request to readers, even though comments are down. Is there any way to objectively measure the quality of current public intellectual output?

E-mail me if you have ideas, because I'm getting tired of swatting these kind of articles down.

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trade politics and embarrassing biographical details

You can hear me talk about the merits, demerits and politics of the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia on PRI's Fair Game with Faith Salie.

As an added bonus, embarrassing biographical details of your humble blogger are revealed at the very end of the discussion.

UPDATE: Wow, I had no idea who Faith Salie was when this was recorded -- and a good thing, too, or I would have been way more nervous and way less coherent.

posted by Dan at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Through the prism of history, it's the "quiet diplomacy" of the Bush administration that will stand out

I see that NSC advisor Stephen Hadley doesn't think much of a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics:

It would be a "cop-out" for countries to skip the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics as a way of protesting China's crackdown in Tibet, President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday.

The kind of "quiet diplomacy" that the U.S. is practicing is a better way to send a message to China's leaders, Stephen Hadley said.

President Bush has given no indication he will skip the event.

"I don't view the Olympics as a political event," Bush said this past week. "I view it as a sporting event."

The White House has not yet said whether he will attend the opening ceremony on Aug. 8.

"This issue [of the boycott] is in some sense a bit of a red herring," Hadley said in a broadcast interview. "I think unfortunately a lot of countries say, 'Well, if we say that we are not going to the opening ceremonies we check the box on Tibet.' That's a cop-out.

"If other countries are concerned about that, they ought to do what we are doing through quiet diplomacy, send a message clearly to the Chinese that this is an opportunity with the whole world watching, to show that they take into account and are determined to treat their citizens with dignity and respect. They would put pressure on the Chinese authorities quietly to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama and use this as an opportunity help resolve that situation," Hadley said.

Hadley goes even further in the New York Times' version of the story: "[Hadley] suggested that the recent public protests, particularly in the chaotic Olympic torch processions, would only backfire."

Three thoughts on this:

1) Is Hadley seriously suggesting that the Tibet issue was going to crop up in "quiet diplomacy" in the absence of public protests? I suspect that, absent the news coverage, the only way it would have surfaced would have been in a completely pro forma way, with the inevitable "go away sonny, you're bothering me" reply from Beijing.

2) When, exactly, has the modern Olympics not been a political event?

3) Six months from now, will a reporter please remember to ask Hadley,"Hey, all that quiet diplomacy you've conducted with China on the Tibet issue, how did that pan out?"

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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hmmm... maybe Hillary

The New York Times ran two stories today that don't make me feel all that confident about the likely major party nominees.

The McCain story, by Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, ostensibly writes about a tug of war between McCain's realist and neoconservative foreign policy advisors. The story tries to paint it as an evenly matched fight, but it seems pretty clear that the neoconservatives have the upper hand. An example of his sympathy with the realists is that "[McCain's] promise to work more closely with allies." C'mon, even most neoconservatives will say they want that.

Then there's this ditty:

One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that Mr. McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.
Ouch. This story, along with Jason Zengerle's autopsy of the McCain campaign's inner divisions, does not paint a glowing picture of the candidate's decision-making processes (for a small antidote, see Michael Lewis' recycled Slate essay).

Larry Rohter's story on Barsck Obama doesn't make me feel much better:

With the war in Iraq and Islamic terrorism among the top issues in the campaign, all three of the presidential contenders have sought to emphasize the value of their very different foreign policy credentials. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has often pointed to his military and combat experience, while Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has emphasized her involvement in international and national security issues as both first lady and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Mr. Obama has argued that his rivals’ longer official record is no substitute for his real-life grass-roots experience. “Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain,” he said in his remarks in San Francisco.

“Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world,” he continued, provoking laughter among those present. “This I know. When Senator Clinton brags, ‘I’ve met leaders from 80 countries,’ I know what those trips are like. I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do a native dance. You meet with the C.I.A. station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of plant that” with “the assistance of Usaid has started something. And then, you go.”

During the speech, Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said....

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue that “there are multiple aspects to experience, each of which can be relevant.” Mr. Obama’s experience “provides a different kind of insight” than the traditional résumé, said Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a National Security Council official who is one of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers.

“At a time when our foreign policy and national security have so obviously suffered from a simplistic, black-and-white interpretation,” Ms. Rice added, having “an American president who spent part of his formative years and young adulthood living in a poor country under a dictatorship brings an understanding of the complexity of things that others may not have. I’m not saying that official travels and Congressional delegations are without value, but there are limits to what you can glean from that.”

Jamie Kirchick (who beat the Times by two days on this story, it should be noted) points out the obvious political problems with this position.

What strikes me, however, is the hubris involved in Obama's position. Yes, extended travel and living abroad can expose one to information that would not come from an official junket. I'm not sure that such travel at the age of six really counts for much. Furthermore, last I checked, Obama had this kind of experience in only two countries (Indonesia and Pakistan). That leaves an awfully large part of the globe unexplored. It also elides the point that, as president, Obama is far more likely to have to deal with the very dignitaries he dismisses in the story. [UPDATE: Marc Ambinder makes this point better than I:

Some Obama campaign aides privately admit that their boss has a tendency to use superlatives when a comparative is called for. What's weird about Obama's peacock displays is that they're unnecessary. No one -- not even messianic Obamniacs -- believe that he has more foreign policy experience than John McCain, although many millions of voters may well come to believe that Obama's life experience in general gives him a better vantage point.

Obama's confidence is one of his more attractive qualities as a candidate. Sometimes, though, that confidence crosses the border into other, less attractive qualities.]

Suddenly, claiming imaginary sniper fire doesn't look like that bad of a sin.

UPDATE: It is truly amazing that on a day when the press might be forgetting about Bosnia and focusing on the foreign policy flaws of her rivals, the Clinton campaign manages to pull off a.... Clintonesque blurring of the facts.

posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thoughts on the Colombia trade deal

Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias have posts up on the free trade agreement with Colombia and wonder whether it's worth all the trouble it's going to create. Let's respond!

Kevin's post boils down to the following facts: a) Trade contributes somewhat to rising inequality and stagnant wage growth at the lower end of the wage spectrum; b) There's little appetite among the American people for freer trade; and c) Trade is pretty free anyway, so why worry about piddling deals like the one with Colombia. In conclusion, Kevin paraphrases Senator Clinton: "Taking a breather to rethink how we approach trade seems pretty reasonable at the moment."

Matt's post helps to rebut the first charge. As he observes:

[The FTA] actually involves very little changes on the US side at all. In essence, Colombian goods already flow very freely into the United States except for in our more famously protected sectors (agriculture, etc.) and what we're offering Colombia here is a very solemn promise to keep it that way.
The Colombia FTA is hardly unique in this regard -- this is pretty much what the state of play was prior to NAFTA as well. So the effect of these kind of FTAs on U.S. wages is less than minimal.

It also explains why ratifying this FTA is a good idea -- it locks in U.S. policy. As I've posted previously, the reason these agreements are a good idea is precisely because they prevent the drift towards protectionism that is otherwise inevitable in a pluralist political system. As for Kevin's desired "pause," let's face it, there is going to be zero momentum towards further liberalization beginning in 2009 regardless of whether this FTA is passed. Kevin's pause is happening whether anyone likes it or not.

After analyzing the content of the deal, Yglesias concludes the following:

All things considered, this seems to have almost no implications for American well-being, and if I were a member of congress I think I would consider this an excellent moment to let me vote be dictated by pure partisan politics or possibly corruption. If I were a blogger, I would say that lowering barriers to the importation of foreign goods on a unilateral basis would be good policy for the United States and that using bi- or multi-lateral trade negotiations to try to get other countries to adopt "pro-business" policies is a pretty dubious undertaking.
The first point is incomplete and the second point is factually incorrect.

The biggest benefit of the FTA with Colombia has little to do with economics and everything to do with our bilateral and regional relationships. Go back to NAFTA. Kevin is right to point out that the agreement's economic effects were not terribly large. On the other hand, even skeptics of trade liberalization -- Dani Rodrik, Paul Krugman, and Joseph Stiglitz -- supported NAFTA because it locked Mexican economic reforms, promoted political reforms, and cemented a stronger bilateral relaionship.

There's no reason to believe that the same effects would not take place with Colombia. Matt has been stressing the killings of labor activists in Colombia. However, the EPI graph he highlights shows a pretty dramatic reduction in these killings since 2003.

Question to Matt: what's the best way for the United States to help reduce those killings even further -- ratifying or rejecting the FTA? I'd argue the former. FTAs matter more than unilateral reductions of trade barriers because they decrease the likelihood of policy reversals (which, again, is why Hillary Clinton's proposals to renegotiate FTAs every five years or so is such a God-awful idea). Ratifying the FTA with Colombia increases the likelihood that labor killings will continue to decline.

A final point: for freer trade to be politically sustainable, there needs to be some kind of reciprocity, which can't happen via unilateral reductions in trade barriers. Historically, unilateral reductions have had a minimal impact on the openness of the global economy. In the 19th century, the repeal of the Corn Laws mattered a hell of a lot less than the Cobden-Chevalier treaty in opening up European economies to each other. In the 20th century, GATT mattered a hell of a lot more than any unilateral U.S. policy in leaving the misbegotten trade policies of the Depression behind.

UPDATE: On the other hand, I should point out that Drum is 100% correct on this point he makes in a follow-up post:

Question: which is more important to the cause of free trade: (a) passage of the Colombian trade pact or (b) reining in the monstrosity that is U.S. farm policy? The answer is (b) by several light years. So why do we hear so much about the dire consequences of failing to pass a piddling bilateral trade deal... but almost nothing about the dire consequences of the hideous $300 billion distortion caused by the latest round of farm subsidies — most of which goes to big agribusiness, not struggling family farms? How about a little more noise on the farm front?
The problem is even bigger than Drum realizes, since cutting back agricultural subsidies are also the key to completing the Doha round.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just want to point out that the initial version of this set a new personal record for number of typos in a single blog post.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Like Jon Stewart, I have the sense of humor of an eight-year old

Forgive me, Jock:

posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Glenn Greenwald's rage against the machine

Remember when I said earlier this week that, "Glenn Greenwald might be a good blogger/collumnist, but he's not that great at social science"?

I apologize -- I was clearly in error. Replace "good" with "simplistic and Jacobin" and replace "not that great at social science" with "not aware of the concept of social science." Then that sentence hits closer to the mark.

Here's how Greenwald resonds to responded to my prior post. He first tries to rebut points I made about his methodology... but let's get to the good stuff:

I want to leave their specific claims behind and focus on what is actually important here. What really underlies the mentality of people like McArdle and Drezner are two pervasive though toxic afflictions -- a drooling, self-loving American exceptionalism, along with a self-interested refusal to acknowledge that there is anything truly wrong with our political and media establishment because they both support and are part of that establishment....

And then there is the self-absorbed motivation to defend the establishment which they support. Both of them supported the Bush administration and advocated for the invasion of Iraq. Hence, the absolute last thing they want to face -- just as is true for most of our political and media establishment -- is that the things they cheered on have spawned grave atrocities and vast destruction.

It can never be the case that there is anything profoundly wrong -- fundamentally wrong -- with the American political establishment. Why not? Because the McArdles and Drezners both support it and are part of it, and they are Good and thus can't possibly be responsible for things like "war crimes" or "torture regimes" or illegal wars of aggression. That's why the political establishment is so desperate to stay in Iraq until we "win" and to convince everyone that the public supports them again. They are desperate to wash their hands of that which they enabled so they can pretend they never did.

Wow, where to begin. Well, let's start with the obvious -- if I dispute someone's empirical support regarding hypothesis A, that does not mean I necessarily think hypothesis A is wrong. It just means that I'm unpersuaded by the evidence as presented. It is actually possible to dispute positive analysis of a topic without adopting a normative position on the same topic. This fact appears to escape Greenwald's grasp.

Second, I haven't shied away from self-criticism regarding Iraq or questions about the torture issue. I certainly have not discussed them at the same length as Greenwald, but I think that's a rather high bar for anyone to meet -- Greenwald's writing style seems to be, "why write ten words when writing a hundred words makes the point in a redundant manner?"

Third, and most important, Greenwald's rhetorical style in his column boils down to,"if you dispute anything I say, then you are objectively pro-torture." This bears more than a passing resemblance to the position rabid pro-war advocates adopted in late 2002 -- that opposition to war with Iraq rendered one objectively pro-Saddam. It was a disgusting tactic then, and it's no less disgusting that Greenwald is using it now. It makes him no better than the ideological adversaries he so despises.

I've defended Greenwald as of late, and I actually enjoyed my prior blog exchanges with him. After his latest column, however, I don't see the point of engaging with him anymore. If Greenwald is incapable of distinguishing between different streams of thought, if he is incapable of distinguishing positive analysis from normative advocacy, if he is incapable of doing anything other than indicting the "establishment" as an undifferentiated mass of lickspittle imperialists, then there's no point in debating him. As Megan put it, "Mr Greenwald's anger at the establishment power structure seems to be rapidly transmuting into anger at the non-Glenn-Greenwald power structure:"

posted by Dan at 09:28 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's going to happen to the U.S. in Iraq?

I ask this and many other quesions of Juan Cole over at bloggingheads.tv. Go check it out!

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

Does a Beijing boycott make sense?

In the wake of Olympic torch havoc, Hillary Clinton has called for George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Steve Clemons thinks this is a really bad idea:

[S]he is out of bounds and reckless when calling for the weight of the presidency to be used to punish another nation at an event which is drawing China into the blue chip end of the international order, into global institution building and stakeholding, and which is stroking China's national pride at a key point in its ascendancy as a self-realized important power.

Hillary Clinton's call for boycotting the opening ceremonies is an example of a simple-minded, binary approach to US-China relations.

Apparently, she has been led to believe that if Bush is absent at the ceremonies that China will help us on Sudan or allow Tibet a track to political autonomy or independence. This is wrong and naive. China will do neither - and if anything, we will embarrass those in the China establishment who are advocates of deal-making with America and proponents of responsible global stakeholding, which has been the course we have seen China on.

There is no doubt that China's positive role in the troubled Six Party Talks moved our affairs with North Korea forward - even though this process proves to have predictably unpredictable swings up and down. China also proffered some counsel to Iran behind the scenes in advocating release of several intellectuals that Iran had arrested last year as China was not eager to see a substantially tightened third round of economic sanctions out of the UN at that time, and China helped give Iran an important nudge when we needed it.

America and the world have a serious brewing problem with Iran and an ongoing challenge with North Korea. China has secured strategic footholds in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and is spreading its influence in the Caucuses. China is not a natural ally of Russia - in fact, quite the reverse - and yet bumbling American policy seems to be throwing them together in common circumstances in ways that should not be happening.

Hillary Clinton or any President needs to avoid the temptation to pander to the American public when crises with the key global powers emerge. They need to demonstrate an awareness of our core interests with China and what we most want from China in the arena of international affairs.

I'm a big fan of the responsible stakeholder idea, but I do think Clemons is overreacting here.

Contra Clemons, having Bush forego the opening ceremonies is not an example of a "simple-minded, binary approach" to China. All-or-nothing would have been if Clinton had called for a complete boycott of the Games. Instead, she's calling for a step that would take some of the luster off of the opening cereomnies. That's a modulated step.

Sports boycotts have a mixed track record. The summer Olympics faced boycotts in 1976, 1980, and 1984, and South Africa faced a sports boycott during the apartheid era. The Olympics boycotts did not achieve much (though of the three, the Moscow boycott probably did the most damage to the target). The South Africa boycott, on the other hand, did have a pronounced effect on South Africa.

It strikes me that Clinton's error is not in calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies, but calling for Bush to do without consultation. If I were advising Bush, I would suggest that he start talking with other heads of state that are planning to attend -- Nicolas Sarkozy has already hedged on his attendance, for example -- to see if a common position can be forged as a means of extracting concessions from China. It can't just be the usual suspects, either -- you would want developing country democracies included in the conversation.

Furthermore, I'd try to bring in leaders who have already said they wouldn't attend, like Angela Merkel, as a way to proffer a carrot towards China.

Would any of this accomplish anything? Even if China did not budge, it very well might. China desperately wants these Games to be a stamp of legitimacy on the government. A multilateral withholding of that stamp makes their life difficult, and I suspect they would be willing to bargain in order to avoid it.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell makes an interesting point on the boycott question:

As best I understand it (I am open to corrections if wrong), in the past, Olympics politics have concerned inter-state rivalry, and have been driven by decisions on the part of traditional political elites. The US boycott of the Soviet games in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 resulted from a decision by Jimmy Carter, and the tit-for-tat boycott by the Soviets and their allies of the LA games in 1984 resulted from a top level decision too. The dynamic driving the Beijing Olympics seems to me to be rather different; what we are seeing is that the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protestors, rather than by political leaders. In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want very much to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama). In short, I think we are seeing how public opinion and organized cross-national opposition can create significant constraints on the ability of leaders to respond to what they see as the geostrategic necessity of keeping China happy.
It should be noted, however, that here's one element in this equation that hasn't been discussed -- the attitude of the mass Chinese public towards all of this. From what I've read since the Tibetan riots broke out (and, like Henry, I'm open to correction if I'm wrong), the majority of Chinese are furious with the Chinese government for not cracking down even more in Tibet.

My biggest worry about any kind of boycott is the nationalist backlash among the mass Chinese public that it would provoke.

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

Monday, April 7, 2008

There are rules to using "Far From Over"

Via Eszter Hargittai, I see that sociologist Brian Donovan has devised an innoavative and fun way to broadcast the fact that the University of Kansas has granted him tenure:

My only critique: first rule of Staying Alive: you can't play a song from from Staying Alive without including at least a snippet from that movie.

So, as a public service, let me inflict on you provide the following clips:

posted by Dan at 03:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

You can't blame the media for everything

Glenn Greenwald is getting a lot of play with this post, in which he says the following:

In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

"Yoo and torture" - 102

"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73

"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16

"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043

"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607

"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079

It's pretty clear what Greenwald thinks this indicates -- it's an indictment of "our nation's coddled, insulated journalist class."

To me, this indicates the following:

1) Comparing NEXIS searches of events where the media cycle has yet to play out with events where the media cycle has played out is a really disingenuous way of making one's point;

2) There are more press mentions of an event when the target of the media inquiry actually responds to the press. To my knowledge, John Yoo has said nothing since the terror memo was leaked published, and the Bush administration has clammed up as well. Barack Obama, on the other hand, clearly did respond to the Jeremiah Wright business, leading to multiple news cycles about that issue;

3) Shockingly, the press appears to be more interested in events that determine the future (i.e., who will be the next president?) than in events that look back at the past. [Isn't that a slanted way of contrasting these events?-ed. Compared to Greenwald's slant? No, not really.];

4) Glenn Greenwald might be a good blogger/collumnist, but he's not that great at social science.

posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Trade destroys jobs....inside the betway

Freer trade doesn't lead to much job loss in the real economy -- but the effects of trade in the world of presidential campaigns can be devastating:

Mr. [Mark] Penn, who has kept his job atop the global PR giant Burson-Marsteller to the chagrin of other officials in the Clinton camp, met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. a week ago to discuss the firm's contracted effort to sell the U.S.-Colombian trade pact -- which Sen. Clinton opposes, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week. After that came to light, Mr. Penn apologized and called the meeting an "error in judgment" -- which in turn upset the Colombians, who on Saturday terminated Burson-Marsteller's contract. Late yesterday, the campaign said Mr. Penn asked to "give up his role as chief strategist" but that he and his political-consulting firm "will continue to provide polling and advice."....

Today, Mr. Penn's association with the campaign could raise questions about Sen. Clinton's commitment to trade policy two weeks before the key Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where, as the Journal reports, trade issues are likely to count for a lot. But it's the reminder of how much candidates are being sold that could resonate more than the doubts that many industrial workers have about trade accords.

A bitter irony of this latest kerfuffle is that this will likely be the most prominent mention of Colombia during the presidential campaign -- just as the NAFTA imbroglio will have been the most prominent mention of Canada.

Just to repeat myself:

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

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