Saturday, November 8, 2003
Drezner gets results from Brazil -- or does he?
My last TNR essay mentioned the standoff in Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) talks between the U.S. and Brazil from last month -- mostly due to Brazilian intransigence.
U.S. negotiators, aware of the standstill, "hastily arranged discussions with trade ministers from 16 of the 34 countries" in the FTAA yesterday and today, according to the Associated Press.
The results? According to Reuters, success!!:
But wait! A follow-up Associated Press report provides a different spin on the talks -- failure:
Who's right and who's wrong? Read both reports and judge for yourself. [No, no, no, that's why the people read your blog -- your interpretation of events!--ed. Huh, I thought it was because of all the Carla Gugino links. Hmmm, that's a new name--ed. Yeah, I'm getting hooked on Karen Sisco.
Seriously, I think I'll give the edge to Reuters, since the AP report seems to be based only on the comments of the "senior U.S. trade official." However, if you actually read both stories, what's astonishing is how they essentially report the identical set of facts but with completely different interpretive frames -- I mean, spin.]
Jay Drezner refutes the New York Times!
Last Sunday's New York Times ran an Ellyn Spragins column on how wealth inequities affect sibling relationships. Her conclusion -- it ain't good:
Jay read the story and has a lot of things to say about it. Here's the punchline:
All I can say is, indeed. [Does this mean you get Connie Neilsen?--ed. Oh, shut up.]
Must be a full moon, because I agree with Robert Reich
Alas, I could not find a copy of the report on Alliance Capital Management's web site (UPDATE: Ha! Found a cached version), but I did find a much longer Wall Street Journal story on it. Here's a bit more, with special reference to China:
Here's a bit more from the actual report:
Friday, November 7, 2003
It gets nastier inside the beltway
Republicans are justly outraged by the contents of a leaked Democratic memo from the Intelligence committee that outlines a strategy for exposing contradictions between intelligence reports and Bush's claims about Iraqi weapons programs.
Now, the Democrat inquiry mentioned in the Post is in and of itself a petty request. And if you read the rest of the story, it suggests that this may be only a temporary state of affairs.
However, I'm also a strong believer in checks and balances, and this move by the White House is... well... imperial. Worse, it encourages precisely the kind of misbehavior that the Dems displayed in the Intelligence Committee. [Maybe this is Rove's brilliant strategery -- drive the Democrats so crazy that they act rashly and stupidly!--ed. Possible, but still irresponsible. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I don't like it when one party is rendered completely incapable of competent policy articulation.]
So this is why I'm a pig
Right around the time I was deciding whether to propose to my wife, a worry kept nagging at me -- I was still noticing other attractive women. In my mind's eye, this was a sign that maybe I would be tempted to stray, and thus not worthy enough to get married. Eventually, I decided that there was an important difference between harmless flirtations and unethical actions, so I popped the question. Best decision I've ever made.
Now, I discover that my flirtatious behavior, as well as my mild obsession with Salma Hayek, is not my fault. It's evolutionary biology, according to this Newsweek story, "Sex and Dung Beetles." The good parts:
You can read more about Johnson's research here.
If you think about it, you have to think that the producers of NBC's Average Joe are aware of these findings -- otherwise, the show would never work. Consider the following question: would a show called "Average Jane" ever work out?
The other big speech from yesterday
At a cocktail party recently, someone explained to me that when engaging in political argument, there's a big difference between Brits and Americans. Because the Brits have been trained to debate from an early age, they always sound more coherent and erudite when advancing their arguments. There's certainly a ring of truth to this for anyone who has ever compared Question Time in Parliament to American-style press conferences or debates.
With this in mind, a hearty congratulations to Oxblog's Josh Chafetz for agreeing at the last minute to participate in an Oxford Union against two anti-war MPs on the resolution, "This House believes that we are losing the Peace." Chafetz was arguing in the negative.
According to Steve Sachs, one of Chafetz's opponents, "described Josh's speech as the best prepared speech he had heard at the Union in 17 appearances there." Josh and two undergraduates won the argument.
Josh has now posted his speech in its entirety on his blog. I'm not going to excerpt it -- just go read the whole thing.
I'm still not convinced that there's a positive and coherent narrative coming out of Iraq, but it does remind me that there isn't a coherent negative narritive either.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
The revolution in campaign affairs
Noam Scheiber has a must-read in The New Republic on the state of the art in primary campaigning. It's ostensibly a profile of Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's campaign manager. It's really about how Trippi has exploited the Internet in revolutionary ways. The key part:
Decentralization leads to greater ownership, which in turn overcomes the collective action problems that plague all political campaigns.
Read the whole piece. The figures Scheiber throws around suggests that the polls in many states don't matter so much, because the raw number of Dean's supporters are astonishingly high relative to average primary turnouts [Anything about how this revolution in campaign affairs affects Dean's standing in the South?--ed. No, which offers a glimmer of hope to his opponents. But just a glimmer].
The thing is, as Scheiber notes, this revolution is confined to primaries, not general elections:
UPDATE: Jacob Levy has further thoughts.
Calpundit and Drezner get results from President Bush!
A lot of commenter to this post seemed irate that I agreed with Kevin Drum that President Bush hadn't articulated the case clearly enough for why the U.S. should be in Iraq regardless of the WMD question. Several mentioned the February AEI speech.
Now, I've linked to that speech in the past -- my point was that according to the Feiler Faster Thesis that I mentioned in my previous post, this point needs to be made and remade for it to sink in, and I didn't think the President had done this since the end of the war.
Which brings us to his speech today commemorating the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. Read the whole thing, but here's the part I wanted to see:
UPDATE: Drezner also gets results from Kenneth Pollack, who properly frames the current stakes in Iraq in this comment on CNN:
The Feiler Faster Thesis on steroids
I've been a big fan of the Feiler Faster Thesis ever since Mickey Kaus introduced it into the lexicon three and a half years ago:
The reason I bring this up? The last few days, I've been seeing television ads for the DVD release of Terminator 3 -- Rise of the Machines. The movie was put into theaters just four months ago -- it was the big July 4th release.
Between then and now:
So, anyway, the DVD will be released next week.
Wednesday, November 5, 2003
More good economic news
Over the last two days, two good reports on the growth of both manufacturing and services from the Institute for Supply Management.
The Philadelphia Inquirer story on manufacturing:
The service sector, which has been the mainstay of the economy during the recent lean years, is heating up even more, according to the Financial Times:
Click here for ISM's own summary of the data.
Two cautionary notes. First, this data failed to impress the stock market. Second, the key question remains whether this boom in production translates into an increase in job creation. Again from the FT:
UPDATE: Josh Chafetz links to more good economic news.
Returning the favor
Blogosphere norms 1, legal wrangling 0
In the conclusion to the Atrios-Donald Luskin dust-up from last week, both Atrios and Donald Luskin have posted a joint statement on their blogs. The key thing is that Luskin has "retracting his demand letter."
Good for both of them. It's refreshing to see that informal norms of civility can surmount the urge to legalize disputes.
I only wish that Luskin had come to this conclusion earlier. In his puursuit of Krugman at all costs, he contributes to a situation that Eric Alterman's arguments in the Nation acquire a whiff of plausibility:
Now, Alterman conveniently omits the following facts:
However, because Alterman could point to Luskin as evidence for his broad swipe, he could safely ignore the more substantive critiques.
Alterman link via Andrew Sullivan, who points out at least one absurdity in the article.
Compare and contrast
I had not blogged about Deputy Undersectrtary of Defense for Intelligence [and Lieutenant General] Jerry Boykin's controversial remarks about Islam and the tepid administration response, mostly because I was distracted by Mahathir Mohammed's controversial remarks. [Ahem, some conservatives are arguing that the administration is turning on Boykin--ed. He's still got his position, and on the whole the response has been lacksadaisical despite the attention his remarks received in the Middle East].
In contrast, consider this example from Germany, as reported in the Chicago Tribune:
Now, both Boykin and Guenzel are perfectly entitled to hold the views they hold. However, I agree with Eugene Volokh and Phil Carter that someone holding a position of their rank could and should have been -- at a minimum -- reassigned for what he said, because it substantially interfered with the government's mission.
They seem to recognize that fact in Germany. I'm starting to wonder what one has to say in the Bush administration before disciplinary action is taken.
UPDATE: The comments below take up some religious questions about the theological origins of the God of monotheistic religions. Of course, now I discover that Yahweh and Allah have their own blogs. Go check them out. WARNING -- SENSE OF HUMOR REQUIRED.
Tuesday, November 4, 2003
Is Al Gore responsible for Halliburton?
I've received a lot of e-mail traffic from the Slate piece on whether there was systemic corruption in the awarding of official reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Half of them raise the following point:* even if there's no systemic pattern of corruption, it is true that Halliburton and Bechtel received big, fat, cost-plus contracts of indefinite duration. Clearly, these firms are closely linked to this administration. Isn't this a specific example of corruption?
This is definitely a valid question. My answer here is a bit murkier, but I still say no. The best source on this beyond the CPI report is Dan Baum's June 22nd story, "Nation Builders for Hire," in the New York Times Magazine.
If you read that article and the CPI report, you discover three things:
1) Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) got the current contracts because of path dependence. Because KBR got contracts in the past, it increased the likelihood of getting them now. Consider this paragraph from Baum's story:
If you read the article in it's entirety, it's clear that comparative advantage for KBR is not necessarily cost-efficiency but speed. Baum concludes, "There is no question that companies like KBR are up to the job."
3) KBR's ability to win contracts they get emerged prior to the Bush administration taking office. Again from Baum:
So, the big jump in KBR's contracts takes place under the Clinton administration. By Clinton's second term, "one of every seven Pentagon dollars passed through KBR."
Why the dramatic increase under Clinton? Blame Al Gore. Well, not really, but sort of. According to this section of the CPI report:
Matthew Yglesias makes a similar point:
I agree completely with Yglesias that there should be a full debate about whether contracting has gone too far. I'd disagree with him, but it's a perfectly proper topic for discussion.
The corruption claim, however, is far weaker.
UPDATE: For a good discussion of these issues, see this transcript from last night's NewsHour. One point made by former Major General Patrick Kelly:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Jon Henke at QandO takes a look at Halliburton's 3rd quarter statement from this year, and notes the following sentence, "Total company revenue and operating income from Iraq-related work in the third quarter were $900 million and $34 million, respectively."
As Jon puts it:
*So, what are the other half of the e-mails like?--ed. They're mostly of the "you're a partisan hack" variety, a fact that should amuse my regular group of cantankerous readers.
Drezner gets results from Jonathan Rauch!
My first TNR Online essay back in February disputed the notion that the Bush administration was instinctively unilateralist. In Reason this week, Jonathan Rauch picks up this theme in "Bush Is No Cowboy," a critique of Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay's new book, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. (link via Glenn Reynolds). The key grafs:
I completely agree that in terms of style, Bush's diplomacy has verged on God-awful. However, Rauch is correct on the substance.
Monday, November 3, 2003
Hey, it is a real story after all
This post is going after three audiences:
A) Loyal blog readers: My critique of the Center for Public Integrity's report has turned into this Slate article. Go check it out!!
B) New Slate readers: Stay for a while -- check out the site. There's a lot about politics and foreign policy, but there are also posts about porn, a list of quality book recommendations, posts that discuss the Hilton sisters, and adorable beagle pictures -- all the colors of the rainbow!! [You're shameless!--ed. Hey, I'm just working the room here!]
C) Those who want more about the CPI report: The following is tailored for those who are still skeptical about my argument. First, click over to my Friday post on the subject. Second, here are some additional rejoinders:
UPDATE: Those who care about the statistical methodologies involved should read these excellent comments by Ethan Ligon here, here, and here(Haynes Goddard has a post that makes a similar point). I respond here and here, to Ethan's satisfaction, I believe.
* For those who believe that the personal relationship between Sullivan and Haave reveal an obvious link, ask yourself the following question -- does this mean that the CIA dispatched Joseph Wilson to Niger merely because he was married to Valerie Plame, a NOC who worked on the nonproliferation division of the Central Intelligence Agency? [You saying there's something to that allegation?--ed. No, I think both of them are absurd.] Why is one allegation different than the other?
David Brooks depresses the hell out of me
As I said last week in my TNR Online essay, "these are not the best of times to be an advocate of economic globalization." Case in point: David Brooks' Saturday column on Richard Gephardt. The key section:
Pop quiz for Gephardt -- you said back in February:
How do you plan on reconciling your protectionist trade proposals with continuing "America's leadership role?"
[You do know he's not going to answer -- you know that Brooks' thesis is that politically, this message is selling in the primaries--ed. Hence my mood.]
Sunday, November 2, 2003
The November Books of the Month
The "general interest" book for this month is one of my favorite cookbooks -- Seductions of Rice, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It's a global cookbook, providing myriad rice recipes from a diverse set of cooking traditions. This includes Chinese stir-frys, Spanish paellas, Japanese sushi, Cuban soups, Indian thorans, Thai salads, Turkish pilafs, Italian risottos, Uzbek plovs, Senegalese yassas, and American gumbos. For those who like to cook new things, give it a read.
The international relations book has been selected in the wake of reading David Rieff's New York Times Magazine cover story on the failures in the pre-war planning for the post-war occupation of Iraq. As someone who's followed this closely, I'd say that Rieff's story is a decent summary of the facts as we currently know them, with the occasional touch of exaggeration.
So, the international relations book choice for November is Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Graham Allison.* This is probably the one "political science" book that real-live foreign policy professionals ever claim to have read.
In the book, Allison outlines three possible models to explain U.S. and Soviet behavior during the crisis. Model I is the rational choice paradigm, which gets short shrift.
Model II is based on a theory of organizational process that argues large bureaucracies operate along standard operating procedures from which deviations are rare. This describes Rieff's point in the story about how the uniformed military services, with a long history of disdain for non-combat operations, failed to plan properly for the occupation phase.
Allison's Model III is bureaucratic politics, the "pulling and hauling" of policy among different bureaucracies with different agendas. Rieff's discussion of the internecine struggles between State and Defense show how bureaucratic politics can lead to the compartmentalization of information:
There is a bias in the field of international relations in favor of "systemic"-level theories, so the bureaucratic politics paradigm has made little progress since Allison first published Essence of Decision in 1971.** This is unfortunate, as Rieff's conclusion highlights how relevant this theory is for real-world politics:
*Allison's co-author on the second edition of this book is Philip Zelikow.
**Allison didn't help matters with his work following the publication of Essence of Decision. In later review articles he conflated his Model II and Model III, to the confusion of many. Then, in his second edition of the book, he and Zelikow abjectly failed to engage in the best critique of the first edition: Jonathan Bendor and Thomas Hammond, "Rethinking Allison's Models"
If you really want to see something else published recently about bureaucratic politics, click here.