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:

BRYAN, Ohio -- Here in what could be called the candy cane capital of the world, residents like to boast that food doesn't get more American than this old-fashioned, red-and-white striped confection.

That's because more than 90 percent of those peppermint canes are consumed within the United States. And nearly all were made domestically as well.

But no more.

In the last three years, nearly half of all U.S. candy cane production has shifted to Mexico, industry experts say.

That's true of the candy cane maker based in this northwest Ohio town, Spangler Candy Co., which recently opened a plant in Juarez that generates half of Spangler's striped treats.

But the story of the Mexican candy cane isn't your typical tale of American manufacturers chasing lower wages. It's more about the cost of sugar than the cost of labor.

Because federal tariffs and subsidies push the price of U.S. sugar far above what it fetches on the world market, candy cane makers such as Spangler are opening factories overseas, where sugar can cost 6 cents a pound compared to 21 cents back home....

Other makers of hard candy have followed a similar pattern, at least in part because hard candy, unlike chocolates which can use corn syrup substitutes, are so sugar-intensive.

In Chicago, for example, Brach's Confections plans to shut its plant in 2004, forcing about 1,000 workers out of their jobs. The Chicago area, the center of the U.S. confection business, has lost an estimated 3,000 candy-related jobs since 1998.

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.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (3)

Friday, December 26, 2003

I feel trendy, oh so trendy...

The web site announces its top ten words of 2003:

"This year the Iraqi War has dominated the English language as it has dominated the news," said Robert Beard, CEO of yourDictionary.

According to Paul JJ Payack, Chairman of the company, "Embedded was the best word to distill the events of an extraordinary year into 8 simple letters." (emphasis added)

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."

UPDATE: Editor & Publisher doesn't seem too thrilled with blogs either (link via Glenn Reynolds):

Blah, blah, Blogs: Probably the most hyped online development in 2003 (along with growth in site registration), but will these self-important online journals actually change the way newspapers do journalism on the Web?

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

In his first interview since his arrest on child molestation charges, Michael Jackson tells Ed Bradley it’s still ok to share his bed with children in a report to be broadcast on CBS News' 60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m./ET, 6 p.m./Central.

The pop star says, "Of course. Why not? If you’re going to be a pedophile, if you’re going to be Jack the Ripper, if you’re going to be a murderer, it’s not a good idea. That I am not."

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:

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.

But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials. So I'm sure that is the correct sentiment of most Americans, but I do think if you're running for president, or if you are president, it's best to say that the full range of penalties should be available. But it's not so great to prejudge the judicial system."

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:

I share the outrage of all Americans. Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world. This is exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh has more:

Now, I don't have any problem with giving bin Laden a fair trial--assuming of course that he is still alive to stand trial. I am a lawyer, I care about due process, and from a purely political standpoint, I'm more than happy to show the world that even America's enemies are given a fair shake in American courts.

But Dean reveals himself to be the vacuous and lightweight presidential candidate that he is in stating that "he didn't think it made any difference" where bin Laden is tried, if he does stand trial. Of course it makes a difference. If bin Laden were tried only in the Hague--the only possible location other than in the United States for a trial--he would not receive the death penalty, as the international tribunal is forbidden from sentencing anyone to death. If, as Dan reports in his update, Dean is serious about his statement that the September 11th attacks are "exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for," then he has to take the question of jurisdiction far more seriously than his flippant and comical answer would seem to indicate he is taking it.

I'm more ambivalent on the death penalty question for Osama than Pejman -- as I've said before, for Al Qaeda, embarrassment is a punishment worse than death.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (3)

Plame blame update

Remember the Valerie Plame affair from the fall? Kevin Drum links to a Washington Post story that suggests the investigation is gathering momentum:

The Justice Department has added a fourth prosecutor to the team investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, while the FBI has said a grand jury may be called to take testimony from administration officials, sources close to the case said.

Administration and CIA officials said they have seen signs in the past few weeks that the investigation continues intensively behind closed doors, even though little about the investigation has been publicly said or seen for months.

According to administration officials and people familiar with some of the interviews, FBI agents apparently started their White House questioning with top figures -- including President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove -- and then worked down to more junior officials. The agents appear to have a great deal of information and have constructed detailed chronologies of various officials' possible tie to the leak, people familiar with the questioning said.

The Justice Department has added a prosecutor specializing in counterintelligence, joining two other counterintelligence prosecutors and one from Justice's Public Integrity section.

Still developing...

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

As U.S. forces tracked Saddam Hussein to his subterranean hiding place, they unearthed a trove of intelligence about five families running the Iraqi insurgency, according to U.S. military commanders, who said the information is being used to uproot remaining resistance forces.

Senior U.S. officers said they were surprised to discover -- clue by clue over six months -- that the upper and middle ranks of the resistance were filled by members of five extended families from a few villages within a 12-mile radius of the volatile city of Tikrit along the Tigris River. Top operatives drawn from these families organized the resistance network, dispatching information to individual cells and supervising financial channels, the officers said. They also protected Hussein and passed information to and from the former president while he was on the run.

At the heart of this tightly woven network is Auja, Hussein's birthplace, which U.S. commanders say is the intelligence and communications hub of the insurgency. The village is where many of the former president's key confidants have their most lavish homes and their favorite wives....

The families have sought to disperse the money around the country to make it available for local operations. U.S. forces discovered that Hussein loyalists had set up a network of front companies, in particular construction businesses and produce-sellers, to move the cash.

Raids have uncovered caches of millions of dollars, officers said. A series of strikes early this month proved especially successful in netting key financiers and revealing front companies. "When we take out pockets of inner-circle families, we also take out the money that we find," Russell said.

Now, U.S. officers said they suspect the resistance may be running low on funds because Hussein partisans have recently been selling off some of their properties, even hawking household items. At the same time, some local guerrillas are demanding higher pay, military officers said.

Hickey said the ambush last month of two U.S. convoys bringing new Iraqi currency to Samarra was carried out by insurgents badly in need of cash. The subsequent firefight left 54 guerrillas dead, according to U.S. military officials.

Hickey added he has detected very little movement of cash around his area. But he and other officers have reported efforts to smuggle munitions into the Tikrit area, an indication that U.S. raids on local weapons caches may have depleted the insurgency's stores. Most of the arms discovered during recent raids, such as rusting, decrepit Kalashnikov rifles, have been of poorer quality than the newer, more sophisticated weapons found during the summer, he said.

The caveat paragraphs should be read closely, however:

U.S. commanders said the resistance sometimes seems to be a nationwide network, with mid-level operatives and low-level fighters from one part of the country surfacing in other regions. A recent rocket attack on Tikrit, for instance, appeared to be carried out by guerrillas from Fallujah, located nearly 90 miles away on the Euphrates River west of Baghdad.

Within the past several months, U.S. officers have also noticed two or three waves of attacks that extended across the country, indicating an attempt at nationwide coordination, Hickey said. But he added that those efforts had failed to gain momentum.

At other times, commanders say, the resistance seems mostly decentralized, with mid-level operatives choosing targets locally and supplying weapons kept close at hand.


posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

The Illinois Board of Higher Education has launched a controversial examination of faculty productivity, a move that has riled professors at public universities throughout the state.

Having challenged university administrators to pare costs and increase their own productivity, board Chairman James Kaplan wants to take the same look at college faculty.

Accordingly, Kaplan has impaneled a committee that will begin early next year to review everything, from what kind of research projects faculty undertake to how much time they spend in the classroom.

Kaplan said that with the state's finances still in trouble, a close look at faculty productivity--even in traditionally sacrosanct areas like research--is warranted.

Kaplan said he does not intend to "stymie" research at public colleges and universities, but "there's got to be a tangible, measurable benefit for the people of the state of Illinois for a professor doing research."

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:

Despite studies that show college faculty routinely work more than 50 hours a week, the paucity of classroom time and the sometimes esoteric nature of their research has officials like Kaplan expressing impatience with the culture that pervades parts of academia.

"I'm a practical guy, I am not an egghead," Kaplan said. "I can't sit and do these ephemeral things."....

Kaplan stressed he's not out to quash research programs or load professors up with unreasonable course loads.

"Nothing is farther from my mind [than] to focus on classroom time," Kaplan said. "We recognize the importance of public service and also of research."

And in a comment sure to set off a firestorm, Kaplan said faculty should attend professional conferences on their own time.

"I don't view going to a conference as a public service," he said.

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.

UPDATE: AtlanticBlog and Cold Spring Shops have more on this.

posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

During the communist era, Christmas in Budapest was a low-key affair, often celebrated clandestinely.

But as Hungary and other former East Bloc countries move closer to the European Union, the Christmas season has become a time of jampacked shopping malls and frenzied spending....

A decade ago, no one in Hungary had credit cards. These days, it seems everyone's wallet is bulging with plastic. Among a population of 10 million people, there are now close to 6 million credit and debit cards in use.

The pattern is similar across Eastern Europe. Poland, with a population of 38 million, went from zero cards a decade ago to more than 13 million last year.

"For young people, it all seems very natural and normal. But the evolution of the economy over the last 10 years--the speed was double that of Western Europe after the last world war," said Janos Lendvai, CEO of Magyar Cetelem, a French-owned bank that is Hungary's market leader in consumer credit.

These countries are not only playing catch-up to Western Europe, however. In some areas of the protection of credit, they're innovating:

The biggest obstacle credit card marketers had to overcome in Hungary was fear of fraud. But consumer concerns about the safety of their cards have led to an important security innovation made possible by the explosive growth of mobile phones in Hungary.

Each time a card is used, the cardholder immediately gets a text message on his or her cell phone confirming the transaction and notifying the cardholder of the balance. Initially developed in Hungary, the messaging system is used widely in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is now being introduced in Western Europe.

Developing... in a good way.

Merry Christmas to all!!

posted by Dan at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (2)

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:

Qaeda terrorists may have tried to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a bomb last week, missing his car by seconds. [bin Laden deputy Ayman] Al-Zawahiri, in the latest video aired by Al-Jazeera on Friday, warned of new attacks. Yet such operations—which require wide networks of operatives, one of whom might be interested in a $25 million reward—could provide intelligence-gathering opportunities to Western agents.

The real test of bin Laden's vulnerability may now come in Pakistan. If the attack on Musharraf proves to be Qaeda-linked—rather than an "inside" assassination attempt, perhaps by members of the Pakistani military—it could backfire against bin Laden by provoking the Pakistani president into decisive action. U.S. intelligence officials say their ability to capture bin Laden and his associates is largely dependent on intelligence assistance from Pakistan, an ally that once supported the Taliban and whose loyalties have sometimes been in doubt. "Most of Musharraf's actions against jihadis have been reluctantly taken under tremendous U.S. pressure, often preceding or just following a high-level American visit," says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat. One U.S. intel official, asked about a potential breakthrough against bin Laden, responds simply: "That's going to be a Pakistani thing."

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:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has narrowly survived a second assassination bid in less than two weeks when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade, killing themselves and at least 12 others.

Officials said on Thursday the two cars used in the attack were driven out of two petrol stations just 200 metres (yards) from a bridge on a main road in the city of Rawalpindi where Musharraf escaped a bombing on December 14....

Authorities suspect Islamic militants, who Musharraf has targeted as part of his contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror, were behind the December 14 attack. Musharraf told Reuters a few days later it could have been the work of al Qaeda and he believed "destiny" had shielded him.

The list of Musharraf's enemies has lengthened since he took a front-line role in the U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He has angered militants by dropping support for the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, arresting hundreds of members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and cracking down on domestic groups, and by edging towards peace with rival India.

The attack come just over a week before a regional summit in Islamabad due to be attended by India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In September, Arabic television broadcast an audio tape purportedly from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urging Pakistanis to overthrow Musharraf for supporting the United States.

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.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

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."

MSNBC has been all over this story (link via Josh Marshall):

A senior U.S. official told NBC's Robert Windrem that the United States had uncovered "plausible" intelligence that several flights originating in Paris would be the targets of terrorists, including the three Air France flights that were canceled.

The official described the intelligence as "fairly specific. ... We do not take it for lock-solid, no-doubt intelligence, but instead I would call it plausible. It's the sort of intelligence that matches up with other stuff we received."

Some of the intelligence was "date-specific, some route-specific. ... There are other flights and routes," he said, adding without elaboration that Air France was not the only airline discussed in the reports.

What's even more interesting in the story is the intelligence about Al Qaeda's grand strategy:

U.S. officials said the information indicated that al-Qaida planned to use foreign airliners as missiles, guided by al-Qaida operatives working as crew members. They said it appeared that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plan at a recent meeting.

The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies had learned that al-Qaida operatives would try to fly hijacked foreign airliners into targets in the United States....

U.S. officials and terrorism experts also have identified some potential targets, including at least one small town that would appear an unlikely objective.

The officials said al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said.

“Just remember that al-Qaida is not just looking to kill as many Americans as possible. They’re looking to seriously hurt our nation’s economy,” terrorism specialist Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said in an interview.

In addition to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, al-Qaida has targeted Las Vegas, the officials said, because of its economic value as the nation's No. 2 vacation destination and as home to large conventions and trade shows beginning next month....

The new intelligence adds details to information about the al-Qaida plot first reported Monday by NBC News, which quoted U.S. officials as saying the terrorist threat assessment was raised over the weekend because of indications that al-Qaida operatives may now be fully trained and licensed pilots for some foreign airlines, ideally positioning them to carry out suicide attacks.

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:

[M]any pundits criticized President Bush for his exhortation last year to fight the war on terrorism by going shopping. Both Democrats and "national greatness" Republicans said that was the time to marshall Americans towards some greater collective goal. I sympathize with this response, but it smacks of an attempt to match Al Qaeda in their humorless puritanism. I say Bush didn't go far enough in the other direction. Given Al Qaeda's current predelictions, the best way to fight the war on terror is to put our decadent brand of hedonism on full display. So my advice is to take a long, luxuriant vacation.

UPDATE: The Associated Press (link via here) reports that U.S. officials are ticked that the story is now public:

The flights scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday were called off because of information obtained "in the framework of the French-American fight against terrorism," the French prime minister's office said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had been meeting with French officials in recent days over concerns about a possible terrorist attack over the Christmas holiday.

One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government had been trying to keep the negotiations with France confidential, "hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in."

The official said there was some frustration within the Department of Homeland Security that the flights were canceled, thus allowing the word to get out about the security concerns.

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.

posted by Dan at 02:44 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (5)

Good news and bad news on international support for Iraq

Good news first: Josh Marshall links to this story indicating that South Korea has agreed to dispatch significant numbers of troops to Iraq:

Deployment of the nation's contingent of 3,000 troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk will begin in April until the end of next year to help rebuild the war-devastated Middle Eastern nation, officials said on Tuesday.

The Seoul government finalized the decision during a Cabinet meeting at Chong Wa Dae.

The Defense Ministry plans to refer the proposal, signed by President Roh Moo-hyun, to the National Assembly, which is likely to endorse it since the major political parties have been supporting the plan....

Seoul's fact-finding mission to Iraq earlier reported the residents in Kirkuk have been friendly to Koreans and recommended the region as the appropriate site for troop deployment.

South Korea earlier decided to send some 3,000 soldiers to Iraq consisting of both combat and non-combat troops that include engineers and medics.

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:

Iraq's main Arab creditors will only negotiate debt relief with a sovereign government in Baghdad and not the US-appointed interim Governing Council, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

No decision was taken regarding debt relief to Iraq at a meeting of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Kuwait this week. However, Saud al-Faisal appeared to dismiss the credibility of the Governing Council as representative of Iraq and to make it clear that GCC states would not negotiate with it.

"The indebtedness of the Iraqi government entails that we discuss this issue with a government that is sovereign. It's a question of dialogue among nations, and I don't think that an effective dialogue can take place unless there's a sovereign Iraqi government. When that government comes, we are ready to discuss these issues," Prince Saud said....

Kuwait's prime minister, Sheikh Sabah al-Jaber, said this week that Iraq should not be freed from repayments, "because it is a country that can repay its debts".

Saudi Arabia is owed $25bn from loans made prior to the 1991 Gulf war. The foreign minister's statement is being seen as a sign that a forthcoming visit by James Baker, the former US secretary of state and President George W. Bush's special envoy charged with negotiating debt reduction for Iraq, could be marked by tough talks that are unlikely to be resolved until the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - scheduled for June 2004.

posted by Dan at 11:15 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

Dean’s critique of American politics remains both limited and superficial. It stops precisely where it should begin. This is not primarily a function of Dean’s personality or intellectual powers. Rather, it flows from his position as a defender of American capitalism and the basic interests of the US ruling class.

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:

Dean is doing the same thing [as Clinton did before -- triangulation]. When he claims to stand for a "new era" different from Clinton's, he isn't really ditching Clinton's agenda. He's just bashing Clinton so that his audience—liberals, angry Democrats, and disgusted nonvoters—won't think of his agenda as Clintonism.

Dean's speech doesn't libel Clinton; it plagiarizes him. Clinton advocated a "New Covenant." Dean advocates a "New Social Contract." Clinton promised basic guarantees to all those who worked hard. Dean promises "basic guarantees to all those who are working hard." Clinton proposed $10,000 a year in college aid. Dean proposes $10,000 a year in college aid. Clinton proposed a retirement savings program. Dean proposes a retirement savings program. Clinton created Americorps as a model of community service. Dean calls Americorps a model of community service.

However, this week, Saletan says:

Either all this stuff from the Dean campaign about the establishment is an attack on the Clintonian center, or it's the usual meaningless blather that politicians toss to crowds to make themselves look nonpolitical. Either way, it's fake. I think it's blather, but the more Dean talks about it and applies it to various issues, the more it looks like an attack on the center. And if that's the mission Dean has in mind, Democrats would be well-advised to jump off his truck before he blows it up.

Dean often says Democrats can't win by running as "Bush lite." Thursday, he accused "Washington Democrats" of failing to oppose President Bush more diametrically on Iraq, tax cuts, and education. "The Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative," he argued. Toward that end, Dean rejects nearly every proposition or policy put forward by Bush. "We are no safer today than we were the day the planes struck at the World Trade Center," Dean said Thursday, adding that the capture of Saddam Hussein "does not mean that this president—or the Washington Democrats—can declare victory in the war on terror."

Picture that debate next year: On one side, Bush, the Washington Democrats, support for some tax cuts, relief at Saddam's capture, and the belief that by toppling the Taliban, if not Saddam, we're safer today than we were on 9/11. On the other side, Howard Dean.

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Whither Wolfowitz?

Today's Washington Post has a pretty sympathetic profile of Paul Wolfowitz.

Two minor quibbles, however. First, it contains this statement:

No deputy secretary of defense has ever held the prominence that Wolfowitz has had over the last two years. He is widely seen inside the Pentagon as the most likely replacement if Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld steps down.

That ignores a hell of a lot of chatter saying the opposite. Mickey Kaus collects some press clippings arguing that Wolfowitz is actually on the outs with the administration. For example, Time says:

The Rummy and Wolfie show may soon go off the air. It is widely believed in national-security circles that Wolfowitz may leave the Administration sometime in 2004. He has become too controversial for Bush to promote to Defense Secretary; Wolfowitz believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would be greeted with rose petals.

UPDATE: Kaus now has chatter that contradicts his previously collected chatter:

Kf has received an email from a trusted oracular Bush source suggesting not: "The guy spreading it is free-lancing." ... You mean a distinguished journalist like Robert Novak--who wrote that Wolfowitz had fallen from favor--would be carrrying water for a source? I don't believe it! ... (emphases in original)

Second quibble -- the story has the following criticism:

Some see Wolfowitz's views on the Middle East as dangerously naive. "Wolfowitz doesn't know much about the business he's in," says retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the region. "He knows very little about war fighting. And he knows very little about the Middle East, aside from maybe Israel."

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.

posted by Dan at 03:44 PM | Comments (79) | Trackbacks (2)

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:

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. Many agree that the Saudi political system must somehow evolve, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.

The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia's two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.

One must give the Saudis credit -- they make Pakistani politics look positively transparent.

posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The politics of the global warming debate

Gregg Easterbrook has a great post on the politics underlying the scientific debate over global warming:

Critics of instant-doomsday environmental thinking continue to be mau-maued by enviros and the liberal wing of the establishment. This is wrong in and of itself, and also stupid politics from the standpoint of convincing the world to heed warnings about global warming. The case for greenhouse-effect reform will only become persuasive once environmental science is depoliticized.

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:

Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate. I would love to believe that the results of Mann et al. are correct, and that the last few years have been the warmest in a millennium.

Love to believe? My own words make me shudder. They trigger my scientist’s instinct for caution. When a conclusion is attractive, I am tempted to lower my standards, to do shoddy work. But that is not the way to truth. When the conclusions are attractive, we must be extra cautious.

FINAL UPDATE: The Economist has a story suggesting that non-industrial forms of human activity also affect global warming.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

[S]ocial mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains--or even points out what is happening--as a practitioner of "class warfare."

This would seem to dovetail nicely with Louis Uchitelle's recent New York Times analysis as well, which Brad DeLong links.

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:

Economic inequality's clearly growing, because the rich are rapidly getting richer. What I resist is the idea that the average worker is getting poorer in absolute terms--a notion now pushed by Paul Krugman in The Nation as well as by Uchitelle. Arguing in this fashion that capitalism doesn't "deliver the goods" is a mug's game. It's the one thing capitalism does! The New Left knew that. The Newer, Hack Left seems to have forgotten. Have Krugman and Uchitelle been to Best Buy and seen all the average families buying big-screen TVs? Casual empiricism suggests that the vast majority of citizens are also getting richer, just more slowly--i.e. not enough to stop the rich-poor "gap" from widening. That gap creates lots of profound problems, but the progressive immiseration of the citizenry is not one of them.

Go read everything. Report back!!

posted by Dan at 12:07 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, December 22, 2003

How Al Jazeera covers the news

The headline according to CNN:




The Financial Times:


The Times of India:


And then there's the headline according to Al Jazeerah:


I'm sure this is just a difference in translation.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

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.

This offer was received warmly by both India and the United States. Two days later, Inidia and Pakistan agreed to resume coordinated border patrols.

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:

A lengthy investigation of the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, by American and European intelligence agencies and international nuclear inspectors has forced Pakistani officials to question his aides and openly confront evidence that the country was the source of crucial technology to enrich uranium for Iran, North Korea and possibly other nations.

Until the past few weeks, Pakistani officials had denied evidence that the A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, named for the man considered a national hero, had ever been a source of weapons technology to countries aspiring to acquire fissile material. Now they are backing away from those denials, while insisting that there has been no transfer of nuclear technology since President Pervez Musharraf took power four years ago.

Dr. Khan, a metallurgist who was charged with stealing European designs for enriching uranium a quarter century ago, has not yet been questioned. American and European officials say he is the centerpiece of their investigation, but that General Musharraf's government has been reluctant to take him on because of his status and deep ties to the country's military and intelligence services. A senior Pakistani official said in an interview that "any individual who is found associated with anything suspicious would be under investigation," and promised a sweeping inquiry....

Until the past few weeks, Pakistani officials had denied evidence that the A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, named for the man considered a national hero, had ever been a source of weapons technology to countries aspiring to acquire fissile material. Now they are backing away from those denials, while insisting that there has been no transfer of nuclear technology since President Pervez Musharraf took power four years ago.

Dr. Khan, a metallurgist who was charged with stealing European designs for enriching uranium a quarter century ago, has not yet been questioned. American and European officials say he is the centerpiece of their investigation, but that General Musharraf's government has been reluctant to take him on because of his status and deep ties to the country's military and intelligence services. A senior Pakistani official said in an interview that "any individual who is found associated with anything suspicious would be under investigation," and promised a sweeping inquiry....

While General Musharraf was responsible for sidelining Dr. Khan nearly three years ago, he has also praised him. When the nuclear and military establishments of Pakistan gathered for a formal dinner early in 2001 to honor Dr. Khan's retirement, General Musharraf described him this way, according to a transcript of his speech in a Pakistani archive: "Dr. Khan and his team toiled and sweated, day and night, against all odds and obstacles, against international sanctions and sting operations, to create, literally out of nothing, with their bare hands, the pride of Pakistan's nuclear capability."

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:

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, was free to travel within the country after being questioned by the government over the alleged transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to other states such as Iran and North Korea, senior officials in Islamabad said on Tuesday.

Pakistani officials were reassured by senior US officials saying publicly that the allegations were not connected to any current technological co-operation.

In Washington, Scott McClellan the White house spokesman said: "That is the past. And for a variety of reasons, I'm not in a position to discuss those matters," adding that "Let me talk to the present. President Musharraf has assured us there are not any transfers of WMD-related technologies or know-how going on in the present time."

posted by Dan at 03:04 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wesley Clark's grand strategy

Andrew Sullivan links to this comment by Wesley Clark on Hardball:

And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we'll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We'll bring you in.

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:

MATTHEWS: First question, up top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Clark, you’ve criticized Bush for his unilateral actions in dealing with Iraq.

CLARK: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: However, if you were in Bush’s shoes right now, what would you be doing differently to rebuild those international bridges you believe have been compromised?

CLARK: Well, if I were president right now, I would be doing things that George Bush can’t do right now, because he’s already compromised those international bridges. I would go to Europe and I would build a new Atlantic charter. I would say to the Europeans, you know, we’ve had our differences over the years, but we need you. The real foundation for peace and stability in the world is the transatlantic alliance. And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we’ll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We’ll bring you in.

And in return, we want the same right on your security concerns. And that would reinvigorate NATO. We then put the foundation in place to have a real transatlantic agreement. And working with our allies in Europe, we could move the world. We’re 600, 700 million people, we’re three permanent seats on the Security Council, we’re half the world’s GDP. We can do it. Whether it’s dealing with North Korea, the value of Chinese currency, or the problems of nuclear developments in Iran. And so that’s the essential first step.

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.

UPDATE: Ted Barlow below links to Mark Kleiman, who suggests that Clark does mean consultation, that "right of first refusal" is a legal term of art.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (11)

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:

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found widespread support for an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban gay marriage. It also found unease about homosexual relations in general, making the issue a potentially divisive one for the Democrats and an opportunity for the Republicans in the 2004 election.

Support for a constitutional amendment extends across a wide swath of the public and includes a majority of people traditionally viewed as supportive of gay rights, including Democrats, women and people who live on the East Coast....

The nationwide poll found that 55 percent of Americans favored an amendment to the constitution that would allow marriage only between a man and a woman, while 40 percent opposed the idea.

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:

Sanford Levinson, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, said it was extremely hard to amend the Constitution. If the ban on gay marriage passed the House and Senate, he said, opponents could stop it by getting the support of one house of the legislature in just 13 states.

Mr. Levinson said President Bush's support was "a free pass" because he probably knows how difficult it would be to get through Congress, let alone through 38 states.

"The idea is for Bush to throw red meat to the Republican right, secure in the knowledge that this is not going to go anywhere," he said. "If it did go anywhere, it would tear the Republican Party apart."

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:

New Hampshire
New York
Rhode Island

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:

The public has reversed itself on the overall question of same-sex relations. Half now think homosexual relations between consenting adults should not be legal -- a reversal of opinion from the summer, when a majority of Americans thought they should be legal....

At 49 percent, the percentage that thinks homosexual relations should not be legal is the highest recorded since the CBS News/New York Times Poll started asking the question in 1992. As recently as July, 54 percent thought such relations should be legal, while 39 percent thought they should not. Now, 41 percent think homosexual relations should be legal.

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.

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (54) | Trackbacks (4)