Saturday, December 27, 2003
Protectionism never tasted so sour
The Chicago Tribune had another story this week on the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs. The cause? American protectionism:
The good news -- if the Central American Free Trade Agreement is passed, manufacturers that rely on sugar as an input of production would no longer have the same need to relocate.
Friday, December 26, 2003
I feel trendy, oh so trendy...
yourDictionary doesn't seem too thrilled with its number two word: "Blog: Web logs have come of age and, regrettably, this lexical mutation with them."
When public figures say silly things
What do Howard Dean and Michael Jackson have in common? They both said something stupid today.
Here are Michael Jackson's views on sleeping with children, expressed to CBS:
Question for Michael Jackson: do you think this is the best PR strategy to be pursuing?
Then there's Howard Dean on Osama bin Laden in an interview with the Concord Monitor:
Logical question for Governor Dean -- how is your support for the decision to go to war in Afghanistan not tantamount to "pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found"? [So you want to string up bin Laden the moment we get our hands on him?--ed. No, no -- due process for everyone. But I can hear Karl Rove cackling with glee from this time zone. So this is going to hurt Dean in the nomination?--ed. No, it's going to help him -- click here for why.]
UPDATE: Dean released a clarifying statement on his official blog:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh has more:
Plame blame update
Is the Iraqi resistance weakening?
One of the big questions in the wake of Saddam's capture is what effect it will have on the security situation in Iraq. Reports like these don't offer a world of comfort.
The Washington Post has a front-pager suggesting that the impact -- combined with a choking off of financial incentives -- could prove significant:
The caveat paragraphs should be read closely, however:
The Illinois gurus of faculty productivity
The Chicago Tribune reports that faculty working at Illinois state colleges and universities had better be productive this year:
A few thoughts on this:
1) I'm not sure if the fault lies with the Tribune's reporting or Kaplan's statements, but what's being debated here is not productivity -- which is the units of output generated divided by the units of inputs involved in the production process. What the Illinois Board of Higher Education appears to be concerned with is output (A slightly more charitable read is the board is simply holding inputs -- in the form of faculty salaries -- constant, and trying to figure out how to squeeze more output -- in the form of classes taught, etc.).
2) I wonder if Kaplan really understands the economics of higher education, and the role that research grants play in funding university budgets. From a state perspective, the benefits of research activity are not just the fruits of the research -- the benefits also come from the employment of research staff. Click here for a recent local story dealing with the relationship between research, teaching, and benefits to Illinois.
3) Reading some of Kaplan's quotes in the article, it's not clear if he knows anything about higher education -- or public relations:
As much as I like to poke fun at academic conferences, this last statement is idiotic. All professions have some form of continuing education so that they stay on top of their field. Conferences serve this function for most academic disciplines.
4) It's not easy working at a state university of college. The name itself is partially misleading, because it implies that the state shoulders most of the burden to pay for these institutions. In fact, according to this report, the percentage contribution of state taxes to the University of Illinois system's operating budget has declined from 46.6% in 1980 to an estimated 23.5% in 2004. Despite this fact, the state's control over the university system -- with its added layers of regulation and bureacucacy -- has not changed one iota.
Thursday, December 25, 2003
Christmas and capitalism in Eastern Europe
To end the Christmas day blogging on some good news:
The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating story on the extension of credit cards into Central and Eastern Europe -- just in time for holiday shopping! The interesting parts:
These countries are not only playing catch-up to Western Europe, however. In some areas of the protection of credit, they're innovating:
Developing... in a good way.
Merry Christmas to all!!
An interesting month for Pervez Musharraf
Buried in a Newsweek story about the prospects of capturing bin Laden was the following nugget of information about Al Qaeda's strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan:
It's far from certain if this analysis is correct. As previously noted, Musharraf's domestic political situation is not great. His latest deal with the Islamic opposition could either be interpreted as a sign of democratization, a concession to hard-line Islamists, or both.
However, the failed assassination attempt on Musharraf two weeks ago -- the same day Saddam was captured -- has not deterred the Pakistani leader's opponents:
Gonna be an interesting 2004 for Pakistani politics!! [Every year is an interesting year for Pakistani politics!--ed. Point taken]
UPDATE: Ahmed Rashid has a disturbing analysis of Musharraf's domestic position in the Daily Telegraph.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Is Al Qaeda stuck in a rut?
Reuters reports a French Interior Ministry confirmation that, "national carrier Air France had canceled three U.S.-bound flights from Paris due to security concerns."
What's even more interesting in the story is the intelligence about Al Qaeda's grand strategy:
A few thoughts:
1) Oddly, it's reassuring to hear that Al Qaeda is sticking to its tried and true strategies rather than trying to invent new methods of causing mayhem. [Unless this is an Al Qaeda prank?--ed. Yes, that's been suggested.] The last paragraph shows that they are trying to innovate within a chosen strategy. However, this is more manageable to defend against than something completely different. This variant is also less deadly than the 9/11 attacks, as Captain Ed points out.
2) The Vegas gambit confirms something I wrote a year ago about Al Qaeda's strategy -- that their enemy is not just the United States, but the pursuit of happiness that is a vital component of the American -- nay, Western -- ethos. Here's what I said about the appropriate U.S. response:
For those inclined to blame the French for this, look at the NBC story again -- it looks like U.S. officials were leaking a day before any action was taken.
Good news and bad news on international support for Iraq
Bad news -- the Gulf states are not planning on forgiving either Iraq's debts or its reparation payments anytime soon, according to the Financial Times:
Howard Dean is so in the mainstream
For those who believe that Howard Dean is too far out of the political mainstream should consider this defense of him:
The source? "Howard Dean rejects Washington Post charge that he is “beyond the mainstream,” David Walsh and Barry Grey, World Socialist Web Site.
UPDATE: On a more serious note, Will Saletan seems to adopt a slightly schizophrenic position towards Dean in two separate Slate stories on Dean's latest speech. Saletan said the following last Thursday:
However, this week, Saletan says:
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Today's Washington Post has a pretty sympathetic profile of Paul Wolfowitz.
Two minor quibbles, however. First, it contains this statement:
UPDATE: Kaus now has chatter that contradicts his previously collected chatter:
Second quibble -- the story has the following criticism:
Shouldn't the Post have mentioned that Hoar is now on Howard Dean's list of foreign policy advisors?
And what, exactly, does Hoar mean by that last clause?
UPDATE: TNR's &c. has more Wolfowitz.
The bargaining strength of weak states, part II
While we're on the subject of coping with the weak leaders of key states, the latest issue of Foreign Affairs has an analysis by Michael Doran on the political struggle taking place within Saudi Arabia. The key part:
One must give the Saudis credit -- they make Pakistani politics look positively transparent.
The politics of the global warming debate
Gregg Easterbrook has a great post on the politics underlying the scientific debate over global warming:
Read the whole post -- and Easterbrook doesn't even mention all of the salient criticisms of the environmentalists.
UPDATE: A mea culpa partial retraction of the endorsement for Easterbrook's post -- he erred in his description of the politics underlying one of the two cases that form the basis of the post. See David Appell for more on this, as well as the discussion thread below. Thanks to multiple commenters below for the heads-up.
Another treatment can be found in the Technology Review article to which Easterbrook linked. Interesting quote:
FINAL UPDATE: The Economist has a story suggesting that non-industrial forms of human activity also affect global warming.
A roiling debate about income inequality, part LXVII
I've said my peace about income inequality in the United States and its social effects some time ago, and I have no wish to dredge up the topic again. However, the rest of the blogosphere is quite taken up with the topic. So let's link!!
Paul Krugman's latest essay in the Nation -- inspired by Aaron Bernstein's Business Week article "Waking Up From the American Dream," which Kevin Jones has reprinted on his blog -- makes the following assertion:
However, Mickey Kaus points out that in DeLong's comments section, James Suroweicki and Jim Glass have challenged some of the numbers behgind the NYT analysis. Kaus' response to Krugman:
Go read everything. Report back!!
Monday, December 22, 2003
How Al Jazeera covers the news
The headline according to CNN:
The Financial Times:
The Times of India:
I'm sure this is just a difference in translation.
The bargaining strength of weak leaders
Over the weekend, there was good news out of South Asia: In pursuit of peace with India, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is prepared to abandon his country's 50-year quest for a U.N.-mandated referendum on the future of the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, according to an interview published Thursday.
Musharraf's conditional offer to put the referendum "aside" is the latest in a series of recent peace overtures between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars -- two of them over Kashmir -- and nearly fought another one last year.
Last month, India and Pakistan agreed on a cease-fire in Kashmir, and the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is due here next month for a regional summit that Pakistani officials hope will pave the way for formal peace negotiations.
Now, any progress in stabilizing relations between two nuclear powers who have fought three wars over the past fivty years is a good thing. The fact that Pakistan has been the country to compromise appears to be even more promising.
Until we get to today's New York Times story on Pakistan and nuclear proliferation:
I'd love to say that the U.S. response should be to appply as much coercive pressure on Musharraf as possible -- but I can't.
Musharraf is probably the best the U.S. could hope for in a cooperative Pakistani leader. His grip on power is far from certain. Because he's so weak, he can resist Western pressure to punish Khan.
I'm happy to entertain suggestions of how to deal with this problem.
UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that Khan is now free to travel within Pakistan -- and the United States is OK with it:
Wesley Clark's grand strategy
Not surprisingly Bush bloggers are all over this seemingly idiotic statement.
But wait a minute. Maybe Sullivan is being unfair. Maybe the larger context reveals a more nuanced view of foreign policy than the quotation itself?
Not really. Here's the exchange in full:
In context, the statement reads marginally better, in that Clark wants a quid pro quo -- Europe's right of first refusal on U.S. security policy in return for U.S. right of first refusal for theirs.
However, the trade Clark proposes with Europe would be unbelievably one-sided.
First, on security matters, there is no Europe. There are the first stirrings of a common defense policy, but recent European Union flailings on closer integration suggest that those pledges should be taken with a grain of salt. The United States does not get a lot out of Wesley Clark's bargain.
Second, even if there was a Europe, its interest in non-European affairs does not rank particularly high. Europe is concerned primarily with the state of Europe -- matters like North Korea generate mild interest but few resources. Why, exactly, should the EU get a veto over U.S. policy in Northeast Asia?
On matters of the global political economy, Clark has a point -- 600 to 700 million people and half the world's GDP buys a fair amount of influence, and on economic matters, the EU is a rough equal to the US in terms of economic size.
Even on security matters, consultation with allies -- the intermediate step between simple unilateralism and what Clark proposes -- makes sense. Consultation buys a fair amount of goodwill, even when the parties disagree.
Right of first refusal on matters of national security? This is an asymmetric bargain -- which is diplomatese for saying it sucks eggs.
Is this how Clark meant to use the term? I don't know. The term is more commonly used in business contracts than in matters of international diplomacy. I've never heard the phrase "right of first refusal" used in matters of diplomacy -- though the concept is a familiar one in international relations. Interestingly, these kind of agreements -- usually referred to as ententes -- are considered less binding than what NATO is -- a collective security treaty.
But it's certainly possible Clark meant it in that way -- in which case I retract my previous critique, since he's not saying that Europe would have a veto over U.S. foreign policy, but rather that there should be greater consultation between the United States and its European allies, which is somewhat less controversial.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Eugene Volokh is also perplexed by Clark's phrasing.
FINAL UPDATE: Here's evidence that Clark can be clear about what he's saying in other televized venues.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage
The New York Times has a front-pager about American views on gay marriage. Here's how it opens:
Now, 55-40 is a healthy margin in electoral politics. Not, however, for constitutional amendments.
For a constitutional amendment to pass, you need the both houses of Congress to approve the measure by a two-thirds majority, and then have three-quarters of the state legislatures approve it within a specified time period. It's an extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome process, with lots of veto points to stymie progress. As the Times notes way down in its story:
Levinson is correct. If you look at the breakdown of the poll, support for a constitutional amendment is strong in the South, but falls below 50% in the West and is barely over 50% in the Northeast. Off the top of my head, here are the states I can't see passing this amendment:
For a constritutional amendment to be ratified, one of these states would have to approve it, as well as every other state in the union.
Another thing -- public opinion is fickle. Indeed, the attitudes about gay marriage have been extremely volatile over the past year, as the CBS story on the poll observes:
Other "controversial" issues have prompted similar fluctuations in public opinion. A June 1999 Gallup poll showed 63% support for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning -- eight points higher than current support for an amendment to ban gay marriage. By 2002, according to this CBS poll, that figure had declined to 45%.
Finally, one other piece of data from the poll suggests that as time passes, this issue will lose support. Respondents under 30 years of age opposed the amendment 52% to 44%. Among those over 65, support for the amendment was overwhelming, 69% to 27%.
Unlike Social Security or Medicare, this public opinion divide is in all likelihood a reflection of the set of societal mores that were around during their formative years. Which means that over time, support for an amendment is likely to wane.
I don't doubt that this will be a political issue for the 2004 election, just like flag burning was an issue in 1988. I also don't doubt that as a constitutional amendment, this won't fly.