Friday, December 12, 2003

What blogging hath wrought

No blogging today -- and it's the blog's fault. Follow this chain of events:

Back in May, I blogged about the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich, an effort to create, "an index that measures 21 developed countries on a plethora of policies that help or harm poor nations."

Which led to my first essay in Tech Central Station.

Which led to me getting asked to be on their Board of Advisors for future revisions to the index.

Which leads me to fly to DC and back to go to a board meeting today.

UPDATE: Back and exhausted -- just like Glenn Reynolds was yesterday.

posted by Dan at 12:34 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Who's minding the foreign policy store?

How to react to the Defense Department finding limiting reconstruction contracts in Iraq to firms from coalition countries, and the international brouhaha this has stirred up?

Well, first, the reaction from the French, Russian, and German governments has been more overblown than a Matrix sequel. For example, France and the EU claim that the ruling may be inconsistent with WTO procurement rules. Given that the ruling is phrased to be consistent with the national security exemption, and given the understandable reluctance of the WTO to get involved, it would be safe to say that the Europeans are overreaching.

The Christian Science Monitor puts things in the proper perspective:

[T]he resulting flap is overblown: First, the ban applies only to the $18 billion in aid supplied from the US Treasury. Countries often tie foreign aid to their own companies or route it to favored foreign firms. By contrast, anyone may bid on the $13 billion in pledged multilateral aid.

Second, the ban applies only to the 26 prime contracts, not to subcontractors. Since subcontractors do most of the work in such situations, the ban is more apparent than real. Siemens AG, along with several other German firms, is already a subcontractor in Iraq. French and German firms built much of Iraq's infrastructure; they'll almost certainly supply spare parts for repairs.

Does this let the administration off the hook? No. William Kristol and Robert Kagan note the following (link via Josh Chafetz):

A deviously smart American administration would have quietly distributed contracts for rebuilding Iraq as it saw fit, without any announced policy of discrimination. At the end of the day, it would be clear that opponents of American policy didn't fare too well in the bidding process. Message delivered, but with a certain subtlety.

A more clever American administration would have thrown a contract or two to a couple of those opponents, to a German firm, for instance, as a way of wooing at least the business sectors in a country where many businessmen do want to strengthen ties with the United States.

A truly wise American administration would have opened the bidding to all comers, regardless of their opposition to the war -- as a way of buying those countries into the Iraq effort, building a little goodwill for the future, and demonstrating to the world a little magnanimity.

But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing. The announcement of a policy of discriminating against French, German, and Russian firms has made credible European charges of vindictive pettiness and general disregard for the opinion of even fellow liberal democracies. More important, it has made former Secretary of State James Baker's very important effort to get these countries, among others, to offer debt relief for the new government of Iraq almost impossible. This is to say nothing of other areas where we need to work with these governments.

This decision is a blunder.

It's the last point that makes all of this so puzzling. If the administration did not need the assistance of these countries with regard to Iraq, then the finding would be gratuitous but harmless. However, why on God's green earth would implement this decision just when you're dispatching an envoy to ask these countries to forgive Iraqi debts? Yes, there's a bargain to be made here, but hint at it, discuss tactical issue linkage behind closed doors, use that diplomacy thing. Don't make your move on a web site in such crude form. From the New York Times (link via Josh Marshall, who has another interesting post here):

President Bush found himself in the awkward position on Wednesday of calling the leaders of France, Germany and Russia to ask them to forgive Iraq's debts, just a day after the Pentagon said it was excluding those countries and others from $18 billion in American-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects.

White House officials were fuming about the timing and the tone of the Pentagon's directive, even while conceding that they had approved the Pentagon policy of limiting contracts to 63 countries that have given the United States political or military aid in Iraq.

Many countries excluded from the list, including close allies like Canada, reacted angrily on Wednesday to the Pentagon action. They were incensed, in part, by the Pentagon's explanation in a memorandum that the restrictions were required "for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."

The Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, when asked about the Pentagon decision, responded by ruling out any debt write-off for Iraq.

The Canadian deputy prime minister, John Manley, suggested crisply that "it would be difficult" to add to the $190 million already given for reconstruction in Iraq.

White House officials said Mr. Bush and his aides had been surprised by both the timing and the blunt wording of the Pentagon's declaration. But they said the White House had signed off on the policy, after a committee of deputies from a number of departments and the National Security Council agreed that the most lucrative contracts must be reserved for political or military supporters.

Those officials apparently did not realize that the memorandum, signed by Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, would appear on a Defense Department Web site hours before Mr. Bush was scheduled to ask world leaders to receive James A. Baker III, the former treasury secretary and secretary of state, who is heading up the effort to wipe out Iraq's debt. Mr. Baker met with the president on Wednesday.

Several of Mr. Bush's aides said they feared that the memorandum would undercut White House efforts to repair relations with allies who had opposed the invasion of Iraq....

Several of Mr. Bush's aides wondered why the administration had not simply adopted a policy of giving preference to prime contracts to members of the coalition, without barring any countries outright.

"What we did was toss away our leverage," one senior American diplomat said. "We could have put together a policy that said, `The more you help, the more contracts you may be able to gain.' " Instead, the official said, "we found a new way to alienate them."

The lack of policy coordination is astonishing. Going back to the Christian Science Monitor editorial:

The spat highlights the continuing tone-deafness of large parts of the Bush administration to how its words play overseas: The administration's neoconservatives and the Pentagon in particular, frequently pushing justifiable policies, often couch them in unnecessarily inflammatory language. The dispute also displays the administration's difficulties in coordinating its foreign-policy actions - the job of the National Security Council staff.

Alas, this is becoming a familiar refrain with this White House.

posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (83) | Trackbacks (2)

Catherine Mann on globalization and outsourcing

The Institute for International Economics' Catherine Mann has a great policy brief on the globalization of IT services. There's a lot of interesting info, but the discussion of employment effects is particularly interesting:

[S]tories that report dramatic movement of jobs offshore need to be put into the current economic perspective. First, these citations frequently use the peak of the economy and technology boom as the base for their analysis, thus ignoring the business cycle, trend decline in manufacturing employment, dollar overvaluation, and technology bust. Second, data on international trade do not corroborate the frequent citations but rather point to sustained international competitiveness of US service providers.

Table 2 shows developments in the US labor market from 1999 to October 2003. These data cut through the technology boom and peak of the business cycle but also clearly show the slow recovery in employment so far. Data confirm disproportionate and continuing employment losses in manufacturing (2.7 million or 16 percent since 1999), including production jobs in the IT sector. Among occupational categories, there similarly has been a trend decline in “management occupations,” where 1.1 million jobs have disappeared since 1999 (a 14 percent decline). In contrast, employment in the private service–providing sector increased throughout the period and is 1.5 percent higher in October 2003 compared with 1999.

Employment in white collar occupations related to IT or deemed vulnerable to IT-enabled international trade, is stable and recovering (architecture and engineering occupations) or higher (computer and mathematical occupations is 6 percent higher and business and financial occupations, 9 percent higher) in October 2003 compared with 1999. Without a doubt there is offshore job activity, and the domestic labor market situation remains subdued, but job growth in many white collar occupations at home deemed particularly at risk to offshore operations is expanding, not contracting. (emphasis added)

By all means, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Cold Sping Shops has further thoughts.

posted by Dan at 06:24 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Syllabi for next quarter

Sorry for being mute today -- I was finalizing my course syllabi for next year. The finishing touches always take longer than I think.

For those U of C undergraduates and graduates interested, here are the links (which can also be found on my teaching page):

Undergraduate: American Foreign Economic Policy (in Word format)

Graduate: Global Political Economy (in Word format)

posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Australian-rules politics

Jay Drezner has an interesting post on the norms of political civility in Australia versus the United States:

[T]he US, while an absolute sewer of backroom politics, doesn't hold a candle to the Australian parliament when it comes to incivility and foul language. Proof of point comes with the results of the Labour caucus held today which declared Mark Latham, formerly Shadow Treasury Minister, as the Opposition Leader... Mr. Latham is a part of a new generation, being only 42, and brings some interesting things to his party, one of the most notorious being him calling John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, an arselicker in the Bulletin earlier this year.

Of course, there are plenty of politicians in the U.S. willing to use strong language. However, Australian politics may have hit a new low recently thanks to third party leader Andrew Bartlett:

Andrew Bartlett stepped aside from the Democrats leadership late yesterday after he was involved in an extraordinary row on the floor of the Senate during which he bruised the arm of Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris and yelled abuse at her.

Other senators said Senator Bartlett seemed to have been drinking heavily before the episode in the chamber late on Thursday night.

Senator Ferris, the Government Whip in the Senate, said the tension began earlier in the evening, when Senator Bartlett took five bottles of wine from a Liberal Party Christmas function and Senator Ferris tried to get them back. Party staffers finally retrieved four of the bottles.

During a division in the Senate about 10.30pm, Senator Bartlett and Senator Ferris crossed paths.

Senator Ferris said Senator Bartlett was affected by alcohol and stumbled towards her, grabbed her arm and shouted insults at her. (emphasis added)

Click on this report to see the precise language Bartlett used in the altercation.

posted by Dan at 06:08 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

My chic strategy of providing links

Looking for more on the global southern strategy? Look no further!

Previous posts: my round-up on the World Summit on the Information Society can be found here and here. My post on FTAA "lite" is here.

Documentation: The Fischler quote comes from this story in the Guardian. The Goldman Sachs study mentioned in the piece is available online. Here's a link to the joint IMF-World Bank-WTO statement. For good measure here's a follow-up joint Bank-Fund statement post-Cancun.

Background: For more info on the old-school New International Economic Order, check out this entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy. On the developed country response, the best source is Stephen D. Krasner's Structural Conflict, about which I've posted previously.

For more on the G22/G20+, there's this story. Another piece by the same journalist in the Asian Times provides further background on the emergent grouping.

I discussed developing country opposition to the "Singapore issues" in the WTO talks in a Tech Central Station column. For a mildly contrary take, Jeffrey Schott provides engaging analysis of the post-Cancun state of negotiations.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)


My latest TNR online essay is up -- as hinted at here, it's on the faultlines emerging between the developing and developed nations over global economic governance. Go check it out.

Footnotes to come soon.... and here they are.

posted by Dan at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Last thoughts on Dean and Gore

Josh Marshall thinks that Gore's endorsement of Dean could paradoxically help Clark, through the process of eliminating the other pretenders to the throne. If Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman et al drop out, it becomes a Dean/Clark horse race:

I think Gore's endorsement of Dean will accelerate the process of narrowing this race to Dean and one or two other candidates. More likely than not, one. And, as I've argued above, I think various dynamics point to that other candidate being Clark.

This doesn't mean the other candidate is an "anti-Dean" in some heavily weighted sense, as both Dean's avid admirers and detractors tend to think. It is simply a reflection of the not-unreasonable reality that not every voter will gravitate to Dean. And as the field narrows, those voters will gravitate towards another candidate.

Josh probably knows a hell of a lot more about Democratic Party politics than I do, but the more I think about it, the more I don't buy it. Here's why:

1) Follow the money. The mainstream press is now obsessing over Dean's new campaign model. The latest issue of Time reports that Dean's coffers are bulging to the point where he's offering money to others:

Just about the last thing you'd expect a presidential candidate to do is ask his supporters to give money to another politician — especially one who hasn't endorsed him. So when Howard Dean quietly made that offer to Tim Bishop earlier this fall, the New York Congressman couldn't quite figure out what to make of it. Bishop turned him down, noting that he planned to throw his support behind Senator John Kerry. But Iowa's Leonard Boswell — who is uncommitted in the presidential race and expects to remain so — had no such qualms when Dean came to him with the same deal a few weeks ago. He hastily retooled his website so he could accept contributions over the Internet. Within 24 hours of the Dean campaign's sending out an email appeal on Boswell's behalf last week, a total of $51,557 poured in from 1,359 Deaniacs across the country, most of whom had probably never heard of Boswell before.

It was an audacious move and a smart one too — and not just because it gave Dean a chance to do a big favor for the only Democratic Congressman from a state whose Jan. 19 caucuses are looking more crucial than ever in the fight for the nomination. By siphoning off some of his money supply to Boswell, Dean was sending a signal to the Democratic Party establishment on Capitol Hill — especially Southern Democrats — which may have some misgivings about the prospect of a presidential ticket headed by an antiwar nominee from the liberal Northeast. The meaning was clear: My rising tide can lift your boat too. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, says the former Governor is considering making similar share-the-wealth offers to dozens of other Democratic lawmakers and candidates. To those Democrats who might be thinking of starting an Anyone-but-Dean movement, Dean is sending a none-too-subtle message: You need me as much as I need you. And maybe more.

Republican or Democrat, all politicians follow the funding. The more resources that Dean has to throw around for other campaigns, the less charged the opposition will be.

2) Pride matters for the rest of the field. The Gore endorsement managed to accomplish something that nothing else in the campaign had done to date -- make Howard Dean's challengers look as angry as Howard Dean (this also applies to Democratic-friendly media outlets -- Will Saletan, Exhibit A). This has more to do with Gore than Dean -- as Jeff Greenfield put it: "This to be candid with you is a problem Al Gore has had in the past in his relations with other politicians. There is a kind of reputation that he has earned over the years for not necessarily being the most graceful of diplomats in dealing with his fellow Democrats." If the debate wrap-up is any indication, the other contenders are not going to go down without a serious rhetorical fight.

The problem is, they're all angry, which means none of them are dropping out anytime soon. This complicates the scenario where everyone but Clark falls away. At best, I suspect that by the time South Carolina rolls around, only Kerry and Gephardt would drop out if they were clobbered in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. Edwards, Clark and Lieberman can easily split the Clinton wing of the party to the point where Dean skates through the Southern primaries.

3) Dean could win the general election. Forget polls comparing Bush to the Democratic challengers today. As I've argued elsewhere, Dean will prove to be more formidable than he seems now. William Kristol is right about this. I have it on good authority that the Bush team is equally aware of how close 2004 could be.

Once this meme filters through the mediasphere, the strongest political rationale for opposing a Dean nomination will be squelched. Implicit hints from Dean that he would pick a VP with either Southern or Western roots would probably accelerate this as well.

One other thing -- as TNR's &c. points out, Dean's wooing of Gore demonstrates something counterintuitive about his political skills:

[F]or all the criticism of Dean as blunt and shrill and in-your-face, he seems to have a surprisingly soft and subtle political touch. Much more so than his critics give him credit for. And, if the outcome of the Gore endorsement is any indication, much more so than his rivals, too.

Again, Marshall may very well be right. I kind of hope he's right, just because it would make for much more entertaining political theater. My hunch, though, is that at best Clark might pull a Jesse Jackson circa 1988 and win a big state after everyone thought Dean had it locked it up. But this would be a hiccup, not a horse race.

UPDATE: Ryan Lizza has an outstanding analysis of Dean's effect on the Democratic Party elite (link via Mickey Kaus) that anticipates much of what was said here and in my previous post on Dean/Gore. And it was written a month ago!

posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Boomshock has moved

Robert Tagorda finally had it with Blogger and has moved into much sleeker digs at his new home.

His latest post is a good take on how the media can twist official reports in a lot of different ways. In this case the report in UN predictions of population growth. Go check it out.

UPDATE: More on the population report from Eugene Volokh and Juan Non-Volokh, who suggests that this should force a revision of existing environmental forecasts.

posted by Dan at 05:45 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Islam, geography, and economic growth

Marcus Noland argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, adherence to Islam does not lead to reduced economic fortunes:

[N]o robust relationship between adherence to major world religions and national economic performance is uncovered, using both cross-national and subnational data. The results with respect to Islam do not support the notion that it is inimical to growth. On the contrary, virtually every statistically significant coefficient on Muslim population shares reported in this paper—in both cross-country and within-country statistical analyses—is positive. If anything, Islam promotes growth.

Tyler Cowen disagrees:

These correlations miss the point. To the extent that Islam has negative effects, it operates through indirect mechanisms. Islamic countries have a difficult time establishing democracy and rule of law and good economic policy. True, if you include enough proxy variables in the regression -- such as good policy -- the influence of Islam will wash out. Islam is an indirect cause of some problems, not the direct cause, and the direct causes may well have more statistical significance. But the point remains that Islam can influence the variables that matter.

Kieran Healy says this nut may never be cracked:

The relationship between religious beliefs and practices, on the one, hand and economic prosperity, on the other, is a very tricky question. It’s kept comparative sociologists busy for more than a century.

Kieran goes on to quote Ernest Gellner, a bigwig in the study of nationalism, who says:

I like to imagine what would have happened had the Arabs won at Potiers and gone on to conquer and Islamise Europe. No doubt we should all be admiring Ibn Weber’s The Kharejite Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which would conclusively demonstrate how the modern rational spirit and its expression in business and bureaucratic organization could only have arisen in consequence of the sixteenth-century neo-Kharejite puritanism in northern Europe.

Read all of the posts -- interesting debate. There's a bit of talking past each other -- Cowen is much more concerned with state structures in Muslim-majority countries, while Noland is concerned with effects on individuals as well.

What intrigues me is Gellner's comment. In international relations theory and economic history, a common argument for why Europe grew the way it did after 1500 is that geographic barriers permitted the proliferation of states and religious sects, decentralizing power enough to create a space for economic actors to operate free of state repression. One wonders if the curse of the Middle East is not its religion, but rather the absence of those geographic barriers.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong is similarly intrigued by this debate, and has the following thoughts on the subject:

We are not Marxists: the economic base constrains but does not determine religious doctrine and practice, which in turn influences the evolution of the economic base. We have a powerful elective affinity between commerce and Islam back in the Middle Ages (Muhammed, after all, was a merchant). But we have no such affinity visible between Islamic doctrines and industrial technology, not since 1500....

It is a great puzzle and a mystery. I'm inclined toward political and organizational explanations--that the key problem lies in the form taken by the Muslim state seen not as an (incredibly imperfect) system for the collective self-organization and regulation of society, but as an alien military-bureaucratic organization sitting on top of it: slaves on horses, in Patricia Crone's formulation, at the service of whatever dynasty of ghazis or nomads most recently conquered the settled lands.

Read the whole post.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This book may be of interest to readers of this post (Thanks to alert reader D.G. for the link)

posted by Dan at 12:20 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

The employment debate

Last week I blogged about the debate over productivity numbers. This week it's the employment numbers that are being questioned. Amity Shlaes makes a good case that the accepted statistics are overestimating the unemployment rate -- though, as she points out, this affects the productivity debate. The good parts version:

Skeptics charge that government data are imprecise and that they obscure the true economic pain that comes as manufacturing jobs disappear.

The skeptics are correct--the data are not perfect. The problem, however, is not one of right versus left but of old versus new. The methods Washington uses to collect these numbers were determined in a calmer economy where people worked for one company all their lives....

[T]he trouble with government data is that they have a hard time recording the good news. The first example of this is the much-debated Household Survey, a poll that phones families at home to inquire about employment status. The survey has shown strong employment lately so the Bush critics tend to argue that it is too positive. But the opposite is probably the case.

When someone does not answer at home, the phone pollster simply dials another number. And in the era of two-parent employment, houses where no one is at home are more--not less--likely to be houses where the adults work. The analysts try to compensate for this but the study has a bias that causes it to miss employment, not exaggerate it.

Then there is the Establishment Survey, a measure that focuses on collecting employment data from workplaces. Its lower numbers have made it a favorite of opponents of President Bush. But the survey sometimes fails to capture self-employed contractors and entrepreneurs--a ubiquitous type in the Staples economy. Well aware of such problems, officials have created a meter to measure "births" and "deaths" of companies but have not yet perfected that measure.

David Malpass of Bear Stearns thinks the federal data fail to take into account the degree to which companies are now contracting out work. The reasons for that contracting are often negative--screamingly high health-care costs for employees, the pressures of post-crash and post-Enron government regulation. But the consequence is that workers may be under-recorded.

Malpass points to other data that indicate hidden growth or hidden growth potential. Non-farm proprietors' income, a measure that looks at the profitability of unincorporated business, is up strongly; the growth outpaces late-1990s rates. The number of self-employed in the Household Survey has risen sharply as well. This suggests a strong recovery, since new businesses are an engine of U.S. growth. Now we come to another big measure: productivity, which was at a disconcerting high of 9.4 percent last quarter. The formula for determining productivity is output divided by labor and other inputs, more or less. So if the statisticians are undercounting labor, productivity may be less impressive than advertised.

Combine Shlaes' analysis with Stephen Roach's analysis, and one has to conclude that the productivity numbers are probably exaggerated a bit.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, December 8, 2003

Is this the ballgame?

The AP is reporting that Al Gore is going to endorse Howard Dean for President (link via Drudge):

Former Vice President Al Gore intends to endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination, a dramatic move that could cement Dean's position in the fight for the party's nod.

Gore, who lost to President Bush in the disputed 2000 election, has agreed to endorse Dean in Harlem in New York City on Tuesday and then travel with the former Vermont governor to Iowa, sight of the Jan. 19 caucuses which kickoff the nominating process, said a Democratic source close to Gore.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Dean will return from Iowa in time for Tuesday night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire.

Dean's campaign declined to comment.

Quick hits:

1) If there was ever a sign that the Democratic establishment now sees Dean's nomination as inevitable, this is it.

2) Not to be too cynical, but what is Gore getting out of this? I'm not saying that he's selling out his principles by endorsing Dean -- it's just that I don't see the upside of making an endorsement at this point in time unless there's a backscratch in there somewhere.

3) This exposes the faultline between Gore and the Clintons, who fear Dean because he has a money stream independent of the Democratic Party establishment (run by Clintonite Terry MacAuliffe, remember). Tapped's Nick Confessore links to a Washington Post story that explains the political cleavage emerging for 2004:

large number of influential Democrats, many of them former high-level advisers to President Bill Clinton and state leaders, are growing increasingly concerned that Dean's antiwar, anti-tax-cut campaign could doom the party's chances of winning back the White House and Congress. If Dean can't quickly exhibit an ability and willingness to broaden his appeal, especially in the South, these Democrats may join together in a campaign to stop him, several said.

Gore's endorsement would throw a significant monkey wrench into this Southern Strategy. [Wouldn't the Clintons be happy about this, since it increases the odds that Hillary will be able to run in 2008?--ed. Five years is a lifetime in politics -- and Dean's ascension means that the Clintons now have a formidable rival]

4) Just think of the language John Kerry's going to have to use now to gain anyone's attention. However, as Maureen points out, Joe Lieberman can't be too happy right now either.

5) If, against all odds, someone else were to win the nomination, Al Gore would become the official unlucky charm of Democrats everywhere.

More reaction from Josh Marshall ("stunned") and Atrios ("laughing"), Mark Kleiman ("I'm banking on them [50,000 Clark supporters] rather than Gore") and Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO's the Corner ("No word yet from McGovern, Mondale, or Dukakis") James Joyner collects additional blogosphere reactions. Time has a roundup of mediasphere reaction. Nothing on Dean's official blog -- or this one either.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has reactions from other campaigns. It's not pretty:

Gore's scheduled endorsement caught Dean's rivals by surprise. A number of the candidates sought Gore's support, but one Democrat close to Gore said Dean was particularly energetic in reaching out to Gore and his wife Tipper throughout the year. During the run-up to the war last winter, according to a knowledgeable Democrat, Dean spoke with Gore several times, largely to seek reassurance about his opposition to Bush's policy at a time when opposing the war appeared even more politically risky than it does today.

Dean's rivals said they were disappointed by the latest development. Lieberman issued a statement saying he was "proud to have been chosen by Al Gore in 2000" as his running mate and noted that he had stayed out of the 2004 race until Gore decided not to run. He added: "Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward."

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement that he had endorsed Gore's candidacy early in the 2000 cycle. "But, this election is about the future, not about the past" and will be "decided by voters, across the country, beginning with voters in Iowa."

Erik Smith, press secretary to Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), said, "We're clearly disappointed because Dick Gephardt fought side by side with Al Gore to pass the Clinton economic plan, pass the assault weapons ban and defend against Republican attacks against Medicare and affirmative action. On each of these issues Howard Dean was on the wrong side."

LAST UPDATE: Another reason for Kerry to use strong language -- from today's Chicago Tribune:

Several campaigns were unclear what to make of the news, including Kerry's aides, who accidentally fired off an e-mail to reporters, saying: "I don't think Kerry should comment unless asked at a press event." Minutes later, a fresh response arrived from the senator.

"I respect Al Gore," Kerry said in the statement, adding that he had endorsed Gore in 2000 and worked on his behalf. "But this election is about the future, not about the past."

TNR's &c. has the actual e-mail.

posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (4)

Kind of a sorta good news/bad news situation

Well, the "sorta" bad news is that my chances of winning a Weblog Award look pretty slim. On the other hand, polling fifth out of twenty ain't too shabby -- and I gotta feel for poor Pejman after reading this.

The "sorta" good news is that I have been awarded an honorary title by another blog...

It'll look great on the cv!!

posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Trackbacks (1)

The potential costs of re-regulation

Recently, Howard Dean called for sweeping re-regulation of significant portions of the American economy:

Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "re-regulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "re-regulating" the telecommunications industry, too.

Given Dean's position, it's worth highlighting the benefits that deregulation have brought to the U.S. economy.

Brad DeLong links to an Economist article (subscription required) and a joint AEI-Brookings book by Alfred Kahn on the subject. The key paragraphs from the Economist story:

Deregulation of the airline industry has been, he says, "a nearly unqualified success, despite the industry's unusual vulnerability to recessions, acts of terrorism and war." The benefits to consumers have been estimated at in excess of $20 billion a year, mainly in the form of lower fares and huge increases in the availability of fast one-stop services between hundreds of cities. Consumers do complain that standards of service have fallen. So they have--because passengers are unwilling to pay for them. Through competition, the market has discovered that consumers prefer cheap tickets to frills. Such discoveries are the whole point.

American telecoms deregulation is a more complicated tale, but here, too, Mr Kahn draws attention to several large and clear benefits: much cheaper rates for long-distance calling; vastly cheaper cellular and other wireless services; and, in both cases, correspondingly huge increases in usage. Reluctant as consumers may be to believe it, competition is far and away their best friend in economic policy.

This domestic deregulation omits the equally important international deregulation that took place around the same time, as most commodity cartels fell apart. In the case of coffee, for example, the demise of the International Coffee Agreement lowered coffee prices from $1.50 per pound in the mid-eighties to $0.50 per pound in current dollars.

Question for Governor Dean -- how do your re-regulation proposals not amount to a disguised tax regime that raises barriers to market entry, thus empowering the very corporations you allegedly distrust?

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

An update on the Internet and the UN

Last week I red-flagged the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society and developing country efforts to have greater UN involvement (in the form of the International Telecommunications Union) in Internet governance. The United States, European Union, and Japan all opposed this move -- out of normative fears that it would enhance the ability of states to regulate content, and positive fears that such a switch would dilute their influence in ICANN.

Looks like the status quo will be preserved for the near-future -- meaning that ICANN still runs key parts of the Internet and states like China and Saudi Arabia can still regulate content to their heart's content. Here's the Reuters story on it. The Register has some good behind-the-scenes stuff:

Most significant among these issues was over who should run the Internet. Western countries want ICANN to continue to head it, whereas the rest of the world wants the ITU to take over to lend a more international flavour.

The two sides were stuck in a deadlock (despite extra days of meetings) which threatened to put the entire meeting - the first of its kind concerning the Internet - at risk. And so, in true diplomatic form, all sides agreed to put the issue on the back burner.

Discussion papers dated 5 December (the first day of the special weekend meeting) suggested that a “Preparatory Committee” be set up that will hold its first meeting in the first half of 2004 and review “those issues of the Information Society which should form the focus of the Tunis phase of the WSIS” - to be held in 2005.

And that is what everyone agreed to - since agreement was going to be impossible, farm the issue out to a committee to report back in a year’s time when hopefully the hot potato will have cooled down....

The equally contentious issue of free speech and the role of the media on the Internet was also broached. China didn’t like the Western wording about press freedom. And so the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was used as the reference point instead. The exact paragraph may read: “Nothing in this declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments.”

The Washington Times suggests the clear faultlines when these issues re-emerge:

Senior diplomats familiar with the confidential talks said the compromise stemmed from the firm stance taken by the United States and compromise language offered by Canada and the Swiss chairman of the talks, Marc Furrer. The latter is the director of Switzerland's Federal Office of Communications.

"The Swiss were good at cooling things down," said one diplomat who participated in the talks. "At times, things got quite feisty between China, Brazil, South Africa, the U.S. and others."

China, Brazil, South Africa. Hmmm... These countries also played a pivotal role in derailing world trade talks at Cancun three months ago.

In all the talk about transatlantic tensions -- in the blogosphere and the mediasphere -- methinks that analysts have overlooked a deeper division that may emerge in future negotiations on the global political economy: the developed and developing world.

More on this in a few days.

posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, December 7, 2003

When is it important to fact-check fiction?

Last year, Gregg Easterbrook mocked the New York Times for publishing a correction saying that it had made a few errors in recounting a plot point from the HBO series The Sopranos. Easterbrook noted:

Here the straight-laced, precision-obsessed, oh-so-conscientious New York Times runs a detailed "correction" regarding events that are totally made-up.

OK, we know the media have ever-increasing difficulty distinguishing between actual events and things that are made-up. Worse, many news outlets show increasing lack of interest in this distinction. But how can you "correct" a statement about something that does not exist? The Times box is like running a correction that says, "James Bond drinks vodka martinis, not gin as was stated in yesterday's editions. The New York Times apologizes to Mr. Bond."

Now, I take Easterbrook's point that this sort of corrections policy can border on the absurd, but consider, as a counterexample, Alex Kuczynski's essay in today's NYT on religious interpretations of the movie Groundhog Day. Here's Kuczynski's plot summary of the movie:

In the movie, which enjoys its own seemingly endless cycle of rebirth on cable television, the character played by Mr. [Bill] Murray is in Punxsutawney, Pa., covering Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, for the fourth year in a row. Frustrated because his career is stalled and by the fact that he can't seduce his producer, played by Andie MacDowell, he sees his assignment — waiting for a groundhog (or a rat, as Mr. Murray's character calls it) to see if there will be six more weeks of winter — as the final indignity.

But it isn't quite. The next day he awakens in the same bed in the same bed-and-breakfast, to the sound of the same tinny clock radio with Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe" and the babblings of the frighteningly cheerful local D.J., to discover that it is Feb. 2 again.

At first, he uses the repetition to his advantage — he learns French poetry, for example, as part of his scheme to seduce the producer. Then he realizes that he is doomed to spend eternity locked in the same place, seeing the same people do the same things every day. It is not until he accepts his fate and sets about helping people (saving a homeless man from freezing to death, for example) that he is released from the eternal cycle of repetition.

Of course, this being an American film, he not only attains spiritual release but also gets the producer into bed.

There are two errors in this plot summary. First, Bill Murray's character Phil Connors does not save the homeless man from freezing to death -- indeed, this section of the film shows that as the day repeats itself, the homeless man dies no matter how much Phil attempts to save him. Second, although it appears that Connors has successfully seduced the producer at the end of the film, the dialogue suggests that Phil restrained from any hanky-panky, acting like a perfect gentleman.

Nitpicky details? Perhaps, but in an article on how "the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in Groundhog Day a reflection of their own spiritual messages," these facts are actually pretty crucial. One corrected, the movie suggests:

1) The limit's of man's power over life and death;
2) The merits of abstinence as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment.

[You, who never misses an opportunity to ogle Salma Hayek, are preaching abstinence?--ed. No, but surely some of the religions discussed in the essay do proffer such advice. And there's a big difference between admiration from afar and acting on such admiration, buddy!]

It would be absurd for the Times to issue an apology to anyone for these errors. However, this is an example of how getting the facts wrong about fiction do alter the tenor of a particular argument.

posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

John Kerry goes ballistic

Now is not the best of times for John Kerry. Mickey Kaus is running a "Kerry Withdrawal Contest." Josh Marshall has a long post about the Democratic nomination with the following on Kerry vs. Dean:

I had lunch today with someone who is not a politician but a fairly prominent Washington Democrat -- certainly not someone from the party's liberal wing. And in the course of answering a question, I said "If it [i.e. the nominee] ends up being Dean ..." At which point, with the rest of my sentence still on deck down in my throat, my friend shot back : "It's Dean."

It was effortless. He wasn't happy or sad about it. He wasn't trying to convince me -- more like letting me in on something I apparently wasn't aware of yet....

I like Kerry -- I find the smarm attacks on him revolting. But, in a situation like this, it's really hard for me to see how you can recover the support of voters that you once had in New Hampshire, but then lost.

What must be monumentally frustrating to Kerry (and Edwards, and Lieberman, etc.) is that he's pretty decent on substance -- earlier this year, I thought his foreign policy positions and rhetoric to be the best among the Democratic candidates. This is in contrast to Dean, who has been having difficulty with country names as of late.

That was then. This is now, and Kerry's in full pander mode. According to Eric Alterman:

Kerry sat down for two hours in Al Franken’s living room with about a dozen and a half journalists, writers and the odd historian, poet and cartoonist. It was all on the record and yet, it was remarkably open, honest and unscripted....

After the meeting broke up, Art Spiegelman tried to tell Kerry that he should just stand up, and in a clear, unmistakable fashion say, “I was wrong to trust President Bush with this war. I thought he would do the things he promised before embarking on this war but I now see I gave him more credit than he deserved. I wish I could have that vote back but I can’t. Now the thing to ask ourselves is where do we go from here and who’s the best person for the job?”

Now let's click over to Kerry's interview in the December 2003 Rolling Stone (NOTE: Kerry said the following before hearing Spiegelman's advice). It would be safe to say that Kerry uses some very strong language to describe President Bush's policy towards Iraq:

RS: Did you feel you were blindsided by Dean's success?

Kerry: Well, not blindsided. I mean, when I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, "I'm against everything"? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.

When informed of the comment, Brookings Institution presidential scholar Stephen Hess told the New York Post, "It's so unnecessary. In a way it's a kind of pandering [by Kerry] to a group he sees as hip . . . I think John Kerry is going to regret saying this." (link via Glenn Reynolds).

Actually, there's another passage of the RS interview that I found to be much more revealing of the tenor of the Democratic primary:

RS: What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor of California?

Kerry: Well, first of all, Arnold's a friend of mine. I've known him for a long time, and he's a capable guy. I mean, he's smart and capable. I would have preferred that there had been no recall. I went out and campaigned against it. But I understand the anger that existed out there.

RS: Do you think that same anger is propelling Dean's candidacy?

Kerry: Other people have to determine that. I'm not an analyst. I'm running for president based on my vision for the country, and I think I have a longer, stronger, deeper record of fighting against those interests, and representing that anger, than Howard Dean. (emphasis added)

The Democratic primary boils down to "representing that anger." And there's no way at this point that anyone will beat Dean at that game.

The thing is, no matter how you slice and dice the opinion polls, the "anger" is still confined to hard-core Democratic primary voters. And the more that the Democratic candidates appeal to it, the more they risk alienating the rest of the voting spectrum. As Alterman himself observes, "I represent a tiny sliver of the electorate that can’t even elect a mayor of New York City."

If Kerry's behavior is any indication, winning the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

UPDATE: William Saletan, reporting for Slate from the Florida Democratic Party convention, thinks the Rolling Stone epithet is part of "The New Kerry":

He curses a blue streak. Having used the F-word in Rolling Stone ("Did I expect George Bush to f--- it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did") and complained in New Hampshire about working people "getting screwed by special interests," Kerry tells the Florida audience that FDR invited them to "sit on your ass" and that Bush will "kick your ass." In his Q and A, Kerry swears, "The very first thing I will do is give a damn good inaugural address." Unless, of course, voters tell him to go to hell.

posted by Dan at 12:25 AM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (2)