Saturday, August 16, 2003

What would Austin Powers say?

The blogosphere has ridden the BBC pretty hard over the past six months -- myself included. Josh Chafetz does an excellent job of itemizing the myriad sins of the "Beeb" in this comprehensive Weekly Standard piece. The quick and brutal summary:

It turns out that what a captive audience gets from a media megalith with a government-enforced subsidy is exactly what a beginning student of economics would predict: The BBC may be arrogant, but it's also incompetent, not to mention surly and evasive when criticized.

Indeed. It's a sad day for Austin Powers and the members of Ming Tea.

UPDATE: Josh responds to his myriad critics:

posted by Dan at 02:01 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Gonna be a fun race!!

Looks like Mr. Schwarzenegger is going to have to articulate his issue positions if he wants to be elected governor. From the Washington Post:

The California Field Poll found 25 percent of registered voters opted for Bustamante followed by 22 percent for Schwarzenegger.

The other candidates trailed in single digits: State Sen. Tom McClintock took 9 percent; businessman Bill Simon won 8 percent; former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth received 5 percent; all three are Republicans. Independent and columnist Arianna Huffington got 4 percent, and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo received 2 percent.

The seeming surge for Bustamante despite the avalanche of publicity surrounding Schwarzenegger surprised many....

Bill Carrick, a top Democratic strategist, said given all the media attention devoted to Schwarzenegger, he thought the film star would still be out front, adding that perhaps Schwarzenegger's reluctance to state his views and his choices of advisers are sending mixed messages to voters. "After the initial entertainment of his announcement there's been a lot of concern whether he is a serious candidate and where he stands on the issues," Carrick said.

That's good spin, but it's also true. Somehow I don't think Rob Lowe is going to be of much help on this one.

Meanwhile, Alan K. Henderson is not thrilled with Warren Buffet's role in the Schwarzenegger campaign. Robert Tagorda thinks it's much ado about nothing.

This poll is excellent news for Californians. Not because Bustamate would be a good governor or because Schwarzenegger wourld be a bad governor -- I have no idea. It's good because instead of A.S. walking away with the race, there will be a real competition, which is going to force both candidates into articulating their positions.

[Hey, a Cali post and you didn't link to Mickey Kaus once?--ed. I doubt that will happen on a regular basis.]

posted by Dan at 12:52 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, August 15, 2003

A vexing question for our times

Why is it that some celebrities under the age of eighteen can be universally acknowledged as sexy, whereas if that adjective is assigned to other underage but physically mature stars, people start leveling accusations of perversion and lechery? Why was it so shocking for Britney Spears to start flaunting her sexuality, but everyone instantly accepted Anna Kournikova as a sex object? Spears is about six months younger that Kournikova, but a Lexis-Nexis search reveals that Kournikova entered the pop culture zeitgeist as a calender-worthy subject when she was younger than Spears. [Maybe this is because Spears started her career as a Mouseketeer, and it's more difficult for Americans to accept former child stars in risqué stiuations?--ed. Yeah, that explains the careers of Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore real well.]

I ask because of the Olsen Twins. They're on the cover of the Rolling Stone in September. Their ever-closer 18th birthday has prompted some, er, obsessive web sites as well.

The actual story suggests the diverse reactions the Olsens generate:

What's entertaining is to watch people's faces as the girls head to a favorite breakfast place, the annoyingly named but tasty Urth Caffe. They all do a triple take. What registers first is: Hmm, twins. Next: Pretty twins! And finally: Are they...?

As the two enter the cafe, a pair of college-age guys give them the up-and-down. "God, they are hot," one breathes.

"I'll take the one on the left, you take the other," says his pal. They stay rooted to the spot, of course. In the meantime, an eight-year-old girl, who has the stunned look of Wile E. Coyote after the anvil lands on his head, approaches for an autograph.

"Of course!" they say in chorus. As they chat with their trembling admirer, the two do not even notice their older fans, who watch them, mouths slightly open, hands dangling at their sides.

The wildly divergent reactions to the Olsens are on full display in the comments sections of posts by Matthew Yglesias , Atrios, and Tampa Tantrum -- though, to be fair, much of the vitriol is devoted to whether Rolling Stone is now officially lame (click here for more reaction). I fear that this issue could split the country.

Before this happens, I hope the blogosphere, using its collective, distributed nodes of intelligence, can determine why it's OK to admire the shapeliness of some 18-year olds but not others.

[You're a sick, sick man--ed. No, really, I'm just curious. After watching the video that accompanied the Rolling Stone story, I can honestly say the Olsen twins don't really bake my cake. On this issue, loyal blog readers should be fully aware of where my preferences lie -- and if those links aren't enough, click here, here, to see the kind of celebrities I admire in that way.

And besides, I'm not the one advertising for groupies!!]

UPDATE: The Onion provides some additional news and commentary on the Olsens.

posted by Dan at 03:40 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (4)

Chaos or cooperation? The world judges

Following up on my previous post:

The international press seems bound and determined to ignore the absence of disorderly conduct during the blackout. Take a look at this list of blackout headlines. Notice how prevalent the word "chaos" is in foreign coverage of the event? It's not just the BBC -- Sky News and Channel News Asia, , and the Financial Times as well.

In fact, if you enter the relevant search terms into Google, you discover the dominance of that word in foreign coverage. When it appears in domestic coverage, it's used only for contrast, as in:

"New Yorkers Take Chaos in Stride"

"Cooperation prevailed over chaos on darkened city streets."


UPDATE: Maybe the divide is confined to print media. James Lileks suggests that American television was equally eager for chaos:

The Fox news guy was outside Penn Station, where thousands of people were - brace yourself - patiently waiting for electricity to return. He seemed a little annoyed that there wasn’t a brawl or a riot....

I almost wondered if the reporters wanted this to be 9/11 lite, all the mass inconvenience with only half the panic. As far as I can tell, the big story was the outage, but the other story was "so, they dealt with it." You can't wonder if a TV producer was looking at the feeds, seeing the people just walking along, the cars waiting their turns, and the producer's thinking: God help me for this, but woudl someone please throw a brick? We're dyin' here. (emphasis in original)

posted by Dan at 01:42 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (3)

The perils of normal accidents

I have no idea what caused the massive power blackout yesterday. Apparently, no one else knows either. My thoughts on it:

1) Kudos to Glenn Reynolds for acting as a focal point for collecting information on the ground.

2) I'm automatically leery of calls to "do something." It's not that I disagree with the urge; it's that during moments of crisis, rash decisions are too often made. Of course, it's also during moments of crisis that those with the necessary expertise should step forward and explain what they can do to help.

3) Before anyone believes that there will be some magic bullet that will solve problems like this, run to your bookstore and buy Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents. Perrow's thesis is that systems with high degrees of complexity and tight coupling between interdependent subsystems will inevitably experience catastrophic failures. Bear this in mind when reading the Economist's closing paragraph on this incident:

North America’s electricity systems are more closely interconnected than they were when the 1965 blackout struck. Most of the vast area between the Atlantic and the Rocky Mountains is now plugged together in one massive electricity grid, with thousands of generating plants pumping energy in and hundreds of millions of electricity users drawing it out: the grid has been called “the biggest machine in the world”. When it works, this hugely complex contraption is highly economic because, at any given moment, the demand for electricity can be matched with the cheapest set of power sources available at that time across the entire region. But when this monster machine malfunctions, as tens of millions of North Americans have just found out, the consequences can be spectacular.

Chris Sullentrop makes a similar point in Slate -- but he has source links. [What if your readers are not interested in your social science recommendations at the moment?--ed. Go read this instead -- it unconsciously borrows from Perrow. Or, go read Kieran Healy's recommendations].

4) The lack of criminal behavior, in contrast to previous blackouts, is noteworthy. I have no doubt that this will be partially attributed to the impact of 9/11, but don't dismiss the possibility of more systemic factors as well. David Greenberg has some thoughts on this as well.

posted by Dan at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Interesting Liberal blogs

Kevin Drum was kind enough to include me in his list of good conservative blogs. Scanning through the comments, I noticed the following:

I'm curious: has anyone ever seen something like this on a Conservative blog? Eg, a list of Left sites that are liked by a conservative commentator?

I actually wrote something along these lines back in June, but in response to popular demand, here's a more complete list of must-read blogs on the liberal side of the spectrum (in no particular order):

1) Joshua Micah Marshall: A social democrat's social democrat. Regardless of partisanship, Marshall is a must-read because he's also a working reporter who generates new and interesting facts. The partisanship is actually a plus, because I know when I read him that I'm usually going to read the best way to frame a story from a liberal perspective. If I can actually think of a way to refute Marshall's thesis, then I'm feeling pretty confident about my argument. I'm still thinking about a response to this post, which was an indirect response to this post of mine from earlier this month.

2) Brad DeLong: A Berkeley economist with policymaking experience, DeLong should always be your first choice on how economics is covered in the press and spun by the White House. His critique of Glenn Hubbard earlier this year was spot-on. He also writes wickedly funny posts about the social behavior of economists.

3) Kevin Drum: As the Left Coast continues to suck up media attention, CalPundit will continue to provide indispensible coverage on all things California. Plus, well-sourced foreign affairs news and a lot of stuff about cats that, as a proud beagle owner, I refuse to read.

4) Crooked Timber: The Volokh Conspiracy of the left. Manages to combine trenchant political analysis, cool dissections of pop culture, and accessible commentary about academic philosophy (though see here for a rebuttal). My faves among this group are Henry Farrell, a fellow international relations specialist, and Kieran Healy, a University of Arizona sociologist who writes hysterically funny reviews of mediocre movies.

5) Matthew Yglesias: I like someone who quick on the blog, and Matthew usually manages to beat me to the punch on a topic we both find interesting, like he's done on this post on "heavy oil" (more from me later). He recognizes the inherent evil in agricultural subsidies. Plus, I love the fact that a Harvard-educated man still puts a picture of himself on his page that screams the photocaption, "Yglesias denied the charges as he was led away in police custody." [You should talk--ed.]

All of these bloggers is that they are always provoke without being nasty, question their own side on a regular basis, and have good senses of humor.

UPDATE: James Joyner provides his own, more complete list.

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (5)

John Deutch and M.I.T. flunk energy economics

The former CIA director, along with Ernest Moniz, professor of physics at MIT and former Department of Energy official, open their op-ed in today's New York Times with the following two grafs:

The world needs both more electricity and less pollution. The goals are not incompatible, but the solution will require better management of demand, smarter use of coal as well as renewable energy sources, and increased use of nuclear power.

As Congress considers an energy bill when it returns from recess, it will be under pressure to expand or limit the use of nuclear power. The issue, however, is not simple. More nuclear power will be necessary — but more nuclear plants will be built only if more safeguards and incentives are put in place. The challenge is to make nuclear energy safer, cleaner and more economical.

OK, sounds reasonable so far. Then I read the next three grafs:

We built a model to compare the costs of producing electricity from new nuclear, coal and natural gas plants. The model focuses on economic cost, not regulated or subsidized cost. According to our study, the baseline cost of new nuclear power is 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 4.2 cents for coal and natural gas (when the price of gas is $4.50 per thousand cubic feet). Plausible, but unproved, technology could reduce nuclear costs to those of coal and gas.

However, if a cost is assigned to carbon emissions — either through a tax or some other way, as in a current Congressional proposal that would limit emissions but allow companies to buy and sell the right to discharge more pollutants — nuclear power could become an attractive economic option. For example, a $50 per ton carbon value, about the cost of capturing and separating the carbon dioxide product of coal and natural gas combustion, raises the cost of coal to 5.4 cents and natural gas to 4.8 cents.

Even under these favorable circumstances, the regulatory uncertainty threatening the large-scale investment needed for a nuclear plant will require some government assistance. A production tax credit, similar to that extended to wind power, is a good idea. It would give private investors an incentive to complete a plant. If no plant is built and operated, no public money is spent. If the first plants are indeed built and operated competitively, more will follow and the possibility of reducing greenhouse gases increases. (emphasis added)

So, in other words, even after one factors environmental externalities into the cost of energy production, coal and gas are still more efficient energy choices than nuclear power. Bear in mind that the op-ed suggests that this calculation does not include the cost of disposing nuclear waste, so in all likelihood the gap in efficiency is even greater.

The conclusion I draw from this cost-benefit analysis is that compared to coal and gas, nuclear power is an inefficient substitute and should not be taken seriously. Deutch and Moniz argue that the government should just subsidize nuclear power and make vague allusions to reducing greenhouse gases. They ignore that their own analysis suggests nuclear power should be rejected in any comprehensive energy plan.

This op-ed was borne from a cross-disciplinary MIT-sponsored study. Having just read the chapter on "Nuclear Power Economics," I'm even more skeptical of the boosterism for nuclear power. Here's an optimistic assessment on p. 41 of the report:

These results suggest that with significant improvements in the costs of building, operating, and financing nuclear power plants, and continued excellent operating performance (85% capacity factor), nuclear power could be quite competitive with natural gas if gas prices turn out to be higher than what most analysts now appear to believe and would be only slightly more costly than coal within the range of assumptions identified.

Let me rewrite this a bit:

If all of our optimistic assumptions about nuclear power are true and all of our pessimistic conclusions about alternative energy sources are also true, nuclear power will still be less energy efficient than coal and barely on par with gas.

I certainly could be missing something here, but I don't think so.

MIT has one of the best economics departments in the country. How did they sign off on this?

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

Uncertain progress on agricultural subsidies

I was going write a long post on the U.S.-E.U. deal on reducing agricultural subsidies, but Jacob Levy and Peter Gallagher beat me to the punch. They are both pessimistic. Gallagher writes:

The 'deal' has few agreed details; it's mainly structural. But the structure is enough to show that what the two sides have in mind could easily turn out to be tailored protection for so-called sensitive products rather than the forthright reforms to world food markets that the 145 Members of WTO agreed to come up with two years ago. (emphasis in original)

The Economist is also pessimistic, pointing out the lack of transparency in the agreement.

I've been pessimistic about the lack of progress on this issue, so just to be contrary, let me sound one note of optimism: even the EU negotiator recognizes that more will have to be done:

"It's not a question of take it or leave it, but you've got to start somewhere in these things,'' said Eric Mamer, an EU spokesman.

"What the WTO asked the United States and the European Union to do was to come forward with a proposal, a sort of common vision of where things would be going,'' he said. "It's elements in which we agree ... (but) we're at the beginning of a process, not at the end.''....

Mamer stressed the EU-U.S. agreement was ``clearly not'' a ``fixed deal,'' but a basis for future negotiations.

The analysis in the Economist makes the same point:

This pact is not so much a trade deal as it is a signal that the EU and the United States are not yet willing to give up on the Doha round. After the American farm bill last year, and the EU’s anaemic efforts to reform its common agricultural policy, the Doha round had looked set to fail. Don’t cancel your tickets to Cancún just yet, is the unstated but substantive message of this pact.


posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Trackbacks (0)

I'm shocked, shocked at this difference in interpretation!!

The New York Times, in a small sidebar on the California election, reports that President Bush is not taking the loss of media attention well:

President Bush is used to being America's most important politician and the center of attention wherever he goes. So today, when a reporter told Mr. Bush that the California governor's race was "the biggest political story in the country," the president got cranky.

"Oh, I think there's maybe other political stories," Mr. Bush said at his ranch here. "Isn't there, like, a presidential race coming up?" He added that calling the California race the biggest story "speaks volumes, if you know what I mean."

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, has a slightly different interpretation of his comments:

Even President Bush, who holds a vested interest in finding out which Democrat will win the nomination and ultimately challenge him, admitted Wednesday that he was more captivated by the California story, which he called "a fascinating bit of political drama."

"Isn't there, like, a presidential race coming up?" Bush said, joking with reporters at his ranch in Texas. "Maybe that says something, you know, speaks volumes, if you know what I mean."

This is a minor story, and maybe the Times reporters had their tongues in their cheeks. Still, the differences in the framing of the same quote are pretty revealing.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Tom Maguire, here's the relevant section of the White House transcript:

Q It's also the biggest political story in the country. Is it hard to go in there and say nothing about it?

THE PRESIDENT: It is the biggest political story in the country? That's interesting. That says a lot. That speaks volumes.

Q You don't agree?

THE PRESIDENT: It's up to -- I don't get to decide the biggest political story. You decide the biggest political story. But I find it interesting that that is the biggest political story in the country, as you just said.

Q You don't think it should be?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think there's maybe other political stories. Isn't there, like, a presidential race coming up? (Laughter.) Maybe that says something. It speaks volumes, if you know what I mean. But, yes, it's an interesting story, it really is. And I'm looking forward, like you are, to seeing the outcome of the interesting story.

But, no, I'm going to go, I'm going to talk about -- now that you've asked, are you going on the trip?

Q Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Good. Well, you'll see me speak to Marines and their families, thanking them for their service to our country, reminding them that what's taking place in Iraq is essential to U.S. security. Then I'm going to go to a national park, talking about the fact that we believe parks ought to be revitalized, and talk about the initiatives that I've laid out to do that. And then, of course, I'll be doing a little spade work for the '04 campaign. (Laughter.) One of the most important political -- (laughter.)

posted by Dan at 10:28 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Absurdity squared at the United Nations

According to the Financial Times, the U.N. Human Rights Commission wants to expand its zone of operations:

International companies could find their activities subject to investigation and censure by United Nations human rights officials under principles expected to be adopted on Wednesday in Geneva.

The UN's draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations asserts that companies should be subject to the kind of enforcement procedures at the UN Commission for Human Rights previously applied only to nation states.

Another FT story provides some additional background.

I have every confidence that the human rights commission -- with a membership that includes the People's Republic of China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe will be fully equipped to handle corporate abuses.

[Isn't your sarcasm misplaced? Surely some good must come of this?--ed.] On the contrary, my off-the-cuff instinct is that this proposal is an unmitigated disaster.

First, it undercuts the pre-existing U.N. effort to improve worker conditions.

Second, it distracts the (admittedly pretty useless) Human Rights Commission from the far-more-prevalent phenomenon of government abuses of human rights.

Third, it opens the door for all kinds of U.N. mischief in regulating multinational corporations, when the demand for such regulation is vastly overstated and the supply of other international governmental organizations regulating MNC behavior is quite healthy. The draft statement includes the following point:

new international human rights issues and concerns are continually emerging and that transnational corporations and other business enterprises often are related to these issues and concerns, such that further standard-setting and implementation are required at this time and in the future

What's to stop the International Criminal Court from becoming involved?

Finally, the draft convention seems perfectly designed to permit NGOs to file as many complaints as humanly possible in order to require multinationals to respond. The reporting requirements (see section H of the agreement) on corporations are not insignificant.

Congratulations to the U.N. for devising an arrangement that will undercut its stated goals while simultaneously convincing more Americans that the U.N. is not a serious institution.

What a colossal blunder.

posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

The immutable preferences of Maureen Dowd

Maureen Dowd has discovered the blogosphere, and now believes it to be passé:

The most telling sign that the Internet is no longer the cool American frontier? Blogs, which sprang up to sass the establishment, have been overrun by the establishment.

In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund-raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere — spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.

For reactions, see Glenn Reynolds, Matthew Yglesias, Roger Simon, Chris Andersen, and Maria Farrell.

My take:

1) Dowd is completely right about the overall quality of politician/candidate blogs. And, as Josh Chafetz pointed out in his first Immutable Law on Maureen Dowd, this is precisely the sort of skewering that Dowd does best.

2) Implying that this means the Internet is "over" is like saying because of infomercials, TV is "over", or that because of campaign books, the autobiography genre is "over".

3) What's most significant about this essay is Dowd's revealed preferences about the world. What matters to her is not whether a phenomenon is important, but whether it's trendy. In the world of pop culture, this sort of distinction makes a kind of sense. In the world of politics or international relations, it doesn't.

posted by Dan at 11:32 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

What made me laugh today

Vis InstaPundit, I found this exchange on Adam Bonin's blog, Throwing Things, on how he was able to get press credentials to a Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Meeting in Philadelphia:

Phone call with the SMWIA rep went something like:

"So, you run a weblog?"


"And it's called Throwing Things?"


"A weblog . . . that's pretty marginal . . . but, okay, we'll let you in."

OK, are there any other perks one gets from blogging? Free tote bags? Hotel soaps? Just curious.

In all seriousness, this is one of the things I love about the early stages of presidential campaigns -- all candidates (even putative front-runners) are so desperate for voter and media interactions that they'll meet with just about anyone not wearing a swastika or hammer & sickle on their lapels.

posted by Dan at 04:06 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Why this administration is losing me on Iraq

The day after the fall of Baghdad, I posted:

For Operation Iraqi Freedom to succeed, military victories must be followed up with humanitarian victories. It's not enough to defeat Saddam's regime, there needs to be tangible evidence that conditions are improving.

Ten days later, I posted the following dilemma for the administration:

Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

What's becoming increasingly clear to me is that the administration has yet to solve this particular dilemma -- and that this will have disastrous implications for Iraq.

As Martin Walker points out today (link via Josh Marshall):

Quite apart from issues of Arab resentment, religion and the remaining bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists, there is one simple reason why the stabilization of Iraq is proving so frustratingly difficult. By comparison with other similar peacekeeping missions in recent years, the place is very seriously under-policed.

Consider the Balkans. In proportion to their populations, three times as many troops were deployed in Kosovo as in Iraq, and in Bosnia twice as many. By Kosovo standards, there ought to be more than half a million troops in Iraq. But maintaining 180,000 British and American troops in Iraq is putting intense strain on the military manpower of both countries. There is no serious prospect of their deploying any more. Reinforcement will have to come from other countries -- and in far greater numbers than the 70 Ukrainian soldiers who flew in Sunday.

That's the same message that comes from this RAND book I mentioned last week. Now, there are a few ways to deal with this problem. One is to go to the U.N. to get more allied support. Marshall elides over the fact that Walker does not think that's the greatest idea in the world, and Reuel Marc Gerecht provides some compelling reasons in the Weekly Standard why such a step would be problematic at best.

So the U.N. option is problematic. The ad hoc approach is not generating the desired numbers (link courtesy of &c). That leaves two options: a) increase U.S. forces (which the administration seems bound and determined not to do); or b) create an Iraqi force that can assist the occupying authority.

It looks like the administration is choosing option (b), which could work in the long run. In the short run, however, there's a Catch-22, as Michael Gordon points out:

Coalition officials assert that they are beginning to get traction in their effort to build a new Iraq. The next few months, a coalition official said, are critical to the push to develop momentum and garner Iraqi support. But this is a nation-building effort that is distinctly different from the one the United States and its allies pursued in the Balkans.

In Kosovo, for example, nation-building began after the war. In Iraq, the nation-building effort is being carried out in the middle of a guerrilla war. The effort to build a new Iraq has been actively opposed by paramilitary forces loyal to the Saddam Hussein regime, by foreign fighters, saboteurs, terrorists and to a lesser extent by ordinary Iraqis who have been offended by some of the hard-nosed American military tactics. (emphasis added)

The paradox is that unless guerrilla activity is reduced, the provision of public goods will be difficult at best. However, the best way to reduce such activity is to provide more public goods.

Unless the administration dispatches more resources -- including troops -- to Iraq, what happened in Basra earlier this week will happen again. The Washington Post explains:

In interviews, residents of Iraq's second-largest city almost uniformly expressed anger and incredulity at the shortages of gasoline and electricity and the skyrocketing black-market prices that have accompanied them. British officials in Basra, openly frustrated themselves, questioned the priorities of the U.S.-led reconstruction. And many feared that remnants of Hussein's government or militant Shiite Muslim groups were prepared to capitalize on the disenchantment....

[British spokesman Iain] Pickard acknowledged that there was "an understandable degree of frustration" and complained that British officials' priorities in Basra -- power, water and fuel -- are not shared to the same degree by U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

"It seems so bureaucratic. It's so difficult to get things going," he said from a building that had been looted of everything but its windows before the British moved in. "We have not had a great deal of say. We don't feel we've been able to influence the reconstruction program."

He pointed to a U.S.-funded project to renovate 200 schools in the region. While admirable, Pickard said, "painting schools isn't going to stop people from rioting."

Paul Bremer thinks the coalition successes in Iraq are being underplayed, and he's probably right. No matter what those successes are, however, rising discontent in Baghdad and Basra are not a recipe for success. Until the administration renews its commitment to a free and stable Iraq, things will fall apart.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (5)

Who's the target of the warning shot?

Today's Chicago Tribune has an interview with David Brooks, who's a University of Chicago alumnus. The interview is worth reading, but what intrigued me was this quote from the lead-in:

Recently, Brooks was named to the stable of op-ed page writers for The New York Times, where in September he will begin writing a column twice a week. Gail Collins, editorial page editor of the Times, said Brooks will "bring all kinds of wonderful flavors" to the page.

"We look for someone who can add something different, and someone who is likely to develop a strong and distinctive voice," added Collins. "I was not looking for somebody who would be shrill or who would put people off. He's an inclusive writer. He makes people want to read him. That's a rare gift." (emphasis added)

Now, to whom could Collins be referring? Knowing the Times, it's probably the likes of Ann Coulter, or the writers who populate these op-ed pages.

Or, could it perhaps be someone in Collins' own workplace? Someone who's... well... dipped into the well of shrillness, shall we say?

[Probably not--ed. Killjoy.]

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (2)

Whiffing at Arnold Schwarzenegger

I was waiting for someone to raise the Planet Hollywood debacle in discussing Schwarzenegger, and Daniel Gross finally got around to it in Slate. The key theme Gross wants you to remember:

Republicans must hope Schwarzenegger's campaign is more durable than Planet Hollywood. The company raised $196 million in its IPO and plowed the proceeds into expansion. But its celebrity cachet dissipated once outlets opened in London's Gatwick Airport and Edmonton, Alberta. In October 1999 the chain, which peaked at 95 restaurants, filed for Chapter 11. Schwarzenegger severed his ties with the company in 2000. Planet Hollywood exited bankruptcy in 2000 but then earned membership in the Chapter 22 club by going bust again.

So far, the recall campaign has been very much like a meal at Planet Hollywood. There's plenty of ruckus and shouting and fake smiles. A lot of celebrities are hanging around—for no apparent reason. The fare is insipid. And when the experience is over and the bill comes, nausea may follow.

Having eaten once -- and only once -- at the restaurant, I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that Schwarzenegger couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag, and this should count against him in his gubenatorial bid.

However, by the time I got to the, conclusion, Gross' article actually convinced me this episode doesn't matter all that much. The reason is that Schwarzenegger wasn't as involved in the management of the restaurant chain:

Planet Hollywood's capital was provided by [Keith] Barish and [Robert] Earl, and by the not-so-fabulous Singapore billionaire Ong Beng Seng. Schwarzenegger and fellow A-listers like Sylvester Stallone were regarded as "founding celebrities," but the only equity they provided was their Actors' Equity card. They made noisy public appearances on Planet Hollywood's behalf. In exchange, options representing 20 percent of the company's stock were set aside for "celebrity investors."

In other words, Scharzenegger's role was to generate publicity for the restaurant, and even Gross acknowledges he accomplished this goal and then some.

One can argue that Arnold should not have associated his name with overpriced hamburgers. However, one can't accuse him of poor business acumen (since he put none of his own money into the venture), which would have been a much more damaging fact to associate with Schwrzenegger.

Let me close here by pointing out that, like Virginia Postrel, I don't really know whether Schwarzenegger would make a good governor. And, like Postrel, if he doesn't start talking policy, he'll lose me.

However, Gross' story actually removes what I thought would be a chink in Arnold's armor.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 11, 2003

A good rant on subsidies

Jacob Levy has a nice post on the multiple sins of agricultural subsidies in the U.S., Japan and Europe. An extract:

When we talk about whether "globalization" and "global free trade" have helped or hurt the poorest people in the world, we're operating on a false premise-- that these phenomena have reached the products these people produce. Textiles, generally the first category of manufacturing any economy can productively reach, remain heavily protected in the industrial world, and have been specifically exempted from free-trade agreements and tariff-reduction deadlines up until now. But the situation is even worse with agriculture, where the rich-country policies not only eliminate the possibility of any export-driven growth by the poor but actually distort poor countries' internal agricultural markets. In other words, the subsidies and protections both discourage the most likely road to alleviating poverty in the future and encourage poverty in the present.

Go read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 04:25 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Why Kevin Phillips is wrong

Kevin Drum links to this Kevin Phillips op-ed from the L.A. Times on how even if Howard Dean doesn't win, he could bring down George W. Bush with him. The key grafs:

The gutsy Dean seems to be emerging as the "anti-Bush" of 2003-04 U.S. politics. He's pumping candor into a presidential race otherwise mired in Washington establishment-speak. This could be the key litmus test — for George W. Bush as well as Dean — because failing presidencies frequently attract such a nemesis, and the wounded incumbent often fails to survive.

Three examples stand out. Independent Ross Perot became the "anti-Bush" who helped defeat the current president's father in 1992. Newt Gingrich, who became House speaker in 1995, was the "anti-Clinton" who temporarily wounded the incumbent in 1994. The most relevant example may be Eugene McCarthy, the tweedy, intellectual U.S. senator from Minnesota who became the "anti-LBJ" of 1968, forcing an earlier deceitful, cowboy- hatted Texas war president, Lyndon B. Johnson, into retirement.

None of the three ever became president, but two of the three, Perot and McCarthy, raised issues and criticisms that helped defeat a president. Dean could follow suit.

Looking at those cases again, I draw a different lesson -- a president is doomed when the attacks come from the base. In Phillips' "most relevant example" McCarthy attacked LBJ, a liberal Democrat, from the left.

The Perot example is misleading -- far more damaging to Bush was Pat Buchanan's primary challenge, which weakened Bush enough to give Buchanan a coveted prime-time slot at the Republican National Convention, which wound up looking like a bad Leni Riefenstahl film.

Gingrich's attacks on Clinton -- as I've said before -- actually sowed the seeds for Clinton's re-election in 1996. Gingrich overreached in believing that the 1995 government shutdown would help Republicans -- instead, Clinton looked like the responsible, sane choice.

George W. Bush will probably not be attacked from the right in 2004 (though see this Matt Bai article in yesterday's NYT Magazine suggesting otherwise). Phillips acknowledges this, but thinks this is a weakness for Bush:

The younger Bush's vulnerability for pandering to the religious right is a lot different — bigger, but tougher to nail — than his father's. In 1992, as the elder Bush's job approval and election prospects plummeted, he had to openly flatter the party's preachers, paying a price with suburban swing voters. President Bush hasn't had to do that since early 2000, when he needed Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Bob Jones University crowd to save his bacon against John McCain in the South Carolina GOP primary. What the younger Bush has done instead is to give the religious right so much patronage and critical policy influence — to say nothing of coded biblical references in key speeches — as to have built them into the system.

The degree is little less than stunning. In late 2001, religious right leaders sampled by the press said Bush had replaced Robertson as the leader of the religious right, becoming the first president to hold both positions simultaneously. Next year's Democratic nominee could win if he or she is shrewd enough to force the president to spend the autumn of 2004 in the Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago suburbs defending his stance on creationism, his ties to flaky preachers and the faith healer he's appointed to an advisory board for the Food and Drug Administration.

Is Phillips correct? It's possible, but bear in mind that he's basically echoing the Judis & Teixeira argument in The Emerging Democratic Majority, and not even Judis thinks this argument will hold in 2004!

One other thing: all Bush would have to do is go to Philadelphia, since Bush lost all three of the states, and would only need to win one of them for a comfortable margin of victory. And, given the reasons for Rick Santorum's popularity in Pennsylvania, if I were Karl Rove that's the state I'd want to cherry-pick.

Kevin Phillips has been right before. He came to prominence with the prescient The Emerging Republican Majority.

Bear in mind, however, that his follow-up book, The Politics of Rich and Poor argued that the way to win the 1992 election was by pushing class issues. Bill Clinton won the election by sagely ignoring Phillips' advice. Not surprisingly, this book can be purchased at Amazon for a whopping thirteen cents.

posted by Dan at 12:24 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

So you want to run for governor..

Mickey Kaus is covering just about every possible angle in the California recall election, but here's a question from reader E.J. that hasn't been answered directly:

Can you help me to understand what possible motivation is there for the 95th percentile of candidates to be involved in this race when there is such a field of heavy-weights arrayed for battle?

Even the likes of Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth – what, outside of ego-massage, can these guys possibly get out of running in this race? Where is the practical pay-back considering the expense and their long-shot odds? Is it dues-paying for the future? Potential influence garnered from relative performance?

OK, as a political scientist, I should be able to answer this question. And the answer is, there are multiple answers. In no particular order:

1) The barriers to entry are low. In modern American politics, the barriers to becoming a candidate are daunting. There signatures to collect in order to get on the ballot, party primaries to win, money to raise, and a lengthy campaign season.

Contrast this with the California recall election. Getting on the ballot required only some paperwork, "65 validated voters' signatures and a $3,500 check" according to USA Today. There are only sixty days to the election. There are no annoying party primaries. Why, it would be stupid not to run!!

2) The barriers to winning are also low. Because of the plethora of candidates, many of which are trying to cater to the same voting demographics, it is highly unlikely that the winner will command a majority. True, at the moment, Schwarzenegger holds an early lead in opinion polls. If, however, his balloon were to burst, then the winner might only need 25% of the vote.

3) Publicity. California founded the celebrity culture, and as publicity stunts go, running for governor is on the cheap and easy side of the spectrum. Running for governor is a way to get or keep one's name in the news.

It works, too. When was the last time you thought about Gary Coleman? Think about this from Coleman's point of view -- what's the more dignified route to jumpstart a career, running for governor or celebrity boxing?

4) Horse-trading. Because the threshhold for winning is lower, any candidate that attacts a loyal cadre of voters equivalent to a few percentage points in the polls might be willing to throw his/her support to a major candidate in return for something, be it policy or patronage. This is how it works in parliamentary democracies in which there is a low minimum level for winning a seat, i.e., Israel. Expect to see this in California around late September.

Think about it -- two months of politicking in return for a plum job or a coveted policy shift? Not a bad rate of return in politics.

5) You could win. Jesse Ventura was not considered a serious candidate when he ran. Howard Dean was mocked when he decided to launch his bid for the presidency. You never know when lightning strikes.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Book recommendations

I've received a number of e-mails asking for book recommendations. In response, here are my picks, broken up into multiple categories.

The categories are pretty straightforward, except perhaps "great but wrong." This section is devoted to books that I think are fundamentally incorrect in their conclusions, but are so cogent that the act of reading them forces one to think very, very hard about why they are wrong. As such, they are in many ways more intellectually enjoyable than books where you agree with the thesis.



Layna Mosley, Global Capital and National Governments (2003). Everyone says that global financial markets impose a straightjacket on governments. Mosley actually asked traders in financial markets if this was true. Her conclusions will surprise you.

Meghan O'Sullivan, Shrewd Sanctions (2003). A lot of political scientists talk about doing good case studies. O'Sullivan's sanctions cases are written with a degree of precision and care that would shame most politicial scientists. Her chapter on Iraq (which I have read) is the single-best account I've read of the case.

Randall Stone, Lending Credibility (2002). Do nation-states run international organizations or are they run by them? Stone offers an answer to this question by looking at how the IMF lended money to the post-communist world.


Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (1981). A highly underrated book that discusses the waxing and waning of hegemonic powers. Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is good; Gilpin's book is better.

Lloyd Gruber, Ruling the World (2000). A rejoinder to Ikenberry in arguing that there is more coercion involved in the crafting of global governance than initially meets the eye.

John Ikenberry, After Victory (2000). An exploration of how the victors of great power wars try to shape a stable postwar order.

Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence (2001). A history and typology of the heterogeneous foreign policy ideas that have held sway in the United States. An excellent guide for non-Americans currently baffled by U.S. foreign policy.

John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001). The clearest and boldest statement of realist thought made in several decades. Even if you think he's wrong, you have to respect the argument.

Benjamin Most and Harvey Starr, Inquiry, Logic and International Relations (1989). A book that takes its methodology seriously. Criminally under-utilized by international relations scholars, which is a shame, because that's the target audience.

Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell" (2002). A searing indictment and explanation of American government inaction during episodes of genocide in the 20th century.

Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides. The history of the Peloponnesian War as it was meant to be read. The maps and textual footnotes make the book much more accessible.


Robert Gilpin, Global Political Economy (2001). The closest thing there is to a standard textbook in international political economy.

Edward M. Graham, Fighting the Wrong Enemy (2000). Ostensibly a postmortem of the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment, it's really a stunning indictment of the anti-globalization movement.

Brink Lindsey, Against the Dead Hand (2002). A lucid and honest defense of pragmatic libertarianism in the global economy.

Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies (1998). I almost feel guilty including this in the "Political Economy" section, since that makes it sound dry and dusty. At its core, however, the book is about sorting out the true reactionaries from the true revolutionaries in the world.

Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (2003). A robust defense of open capital markets combined with a political analysis of why open markets are sometimes closed. Rajan, by the way, is now the IMF's chief economist.

David Vogel, Trading Up (1995). A collection of counterintuitive case studies on how globalization has affected social regulation. If the book I'm writing turns out as well as this one, I'll be feeling very good about myself.


Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches (1990). The first part of Mokyr's opus provides an excellent narrative history of technological innovation and its effect on the global economy. The second part is a collection of essays on various puzzles raised in the first section.

Kevin O'Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson, Globalization and History (1999). A data-rich investigation into the first era of globalization in the late 1800's. For history buffs only, but lots of fascinating info.

Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Bridzell, Jr., How the West Grew Rich (1986). Interesting and accessible economic history of western capitalism. When I was a graduate student, I was lucky enough to be one of Nate Rosenberg's research assistants. He's a smart, smart man.


Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. An interesting if flawed effort to theorize and describe the role of intellectuals in the public sphere.

Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, and Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956. Both of these books are the perfect counter to Posner, in that they highlight the non-pecuniary motivations for intellectuals to engage the public.

Benjamin Barber, The Truth of Power. A humorous and self-deprecating account of the Clinton effort to reach out to public intellectuals on the left. It doesn't spoil the book to say that the endeavor doesn't turn out very well.

Nicholas Dawidoff, The Fly Swatter: How my Grandfather Made His Way in the World. A biography of the eminent economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron by his grandson. His life was just as interesting as his scholarship.

Hans Morgenthau: An Intellectual Biography. What the title says -- an excellent weaving of Morgenthau's personal experiences during the interwar period, and how it affected his scholarship.


Amy Chua, World on Fire (2002). Makes the provocative argument that globalization and democratization exacerbate ethnic tensions. She's extrapolating way too much from Southeast Asia, but read it for yourself to see.

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). I've said in print why Huntington's argument is wrong -- but my first intellectual response to the 9/11 attacks was to take it off my bookshelf.

Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom (2003). I've said why I think it's incorrect here, here, and here. Judge for yourself.

posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Trackbacks (0)