Saturday, March 13, 2004

More on Madrid

The Associated Press reports that arrests have been made in the Madrid bombings (link via Glenn Reynolds):

Spain's interior minister Saturday announced the arrest of five suspects in the Madrid bombings, including three Moroccans.

The other two suspects had Indian passports, a ministry spokesman said.

The five were arrested in connection with a cell phone inside an explosives-packed gym bag found on one of the bombed commuter trains.

The suspects "could be related to Moroccan extremist groups," the minister said. "But we should not rule out anything. Police are still investigating all avenues. This opens an important avenue."

Newsday reports that a videotape has been found:

The Spanish government announced early today it had found a videotape in which the al-Qaida network claims responsibility for Thursday's bombings in Madrid. The news, eight hours before polls opened in a general election, raised a possibility that Thursday's attacks will tip a close vote into defeat for a government that has been a staunch ally of the Bush administration in its global war on terror.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes announced the discovery of the tape not long after issuing news of five arrests -- of three Moroccans and two Spaniards of Indian origin. On the tape, a man identified as Abu Dujan al-Afghani spoke in Moroccan-accented Arabic, saying the attacks were al-Qaida's retribution for Spain's support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"It is a response to your cooperation with the criminals Bush and his allies," said the speaker, according to a Spanish-language translation issued by Acebes' ministry.

An anonymous caller told a Madrid TV station where to find the tape, in a trash bin near a mosque. Acebes cautioned that the tape may not be authentic and that al-Afghani is unknown to intelligence officials.

The loose affiliation between a Moroccan terrorist group and Al Qaeda would not be shocking. Earlier this week I heard Daniel Byman present a World Politics review essay entitled "Al Qaeda as an Adversary: Do We Understand Our Enemy?" in which he suggested that Al Qaeda was willing to fund regional and/or national terrorist groups with material support and training as a way of advancing its "brand" as it were.

Byman's conclusions:

First, many of the bromides regarding counterterrorism in general—often drawn from struggles against small, left-wing European groups with at best limited popular appeal—do not apply to al-Qaeda. Its size, dedication, and popular appeal make it unusually, perhaps uniquely, formidable. Second, one must be wary of confusing al-Qaeda with its many affiliates and of confusing these violent radical groups with the broader political Islamist movement. Third, the United States must reengage its allies, ensuring that its counterterrorism strategy is robust enough to maintain their support. Fourth, public diplomacy, always an American weakness, must go from an episodic and underfunded foreign policy instrument to a major tool of national power. Fifth, al-Qaeda’s unusually innovative nature requires the United States to try to defend not only against obvious methods such as truck bombs but also against new means like surface-to-air missiles and sustained suicide bombing campaigns. Sixth and finally, political leaders must engage the public to increase the ability of the United States to stand fast in the event of another major attack. (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 12, 2004

An outsourcing bibliography

Welcome, Foreign Affairs readers! If you want to comment on the essay, please go to this blog entry. If you're reading this it means you want to know where all the facts, figures, and quotations from "The Outsourcing Bogeyman" came from. I don't blame you -- as an academic, I'm leery of publishing an essay without the proper acknowledgments and citations.


Bruce Bartlett and Sreenath Sreenivasan provided useful and informative links to the outsourcing phenomenon. Many thanks to Virginia Postrel, Sebastian Rosato, and Nick Schulz for reading draft versions of the article and providing trenchant feedback. I am also grateful to Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Gideon Rose, and James F. Hoge, Jr. at Foreign Affairs for their sage advice during the drafting process. Through their links and commentary, Tyler Cowen, Brad DeLong, Mickey Kaus, Glenn Reynolds, and especially Virginia Postrel made the writing of this essay considerably easier.

A crude version of this paper was delivered -- crudely -- to my American Foreign Economic Policy class a few weeks ago (amusing side note: I had planned to give a lecture on the topic when I drafted the syllabus back in November. The week I wound up delivering it was coincidentally the same week outsourcing was the cover story of Economist, Time, Business Week and Wired. The students were very impressed with the topicality). They provided me with excellent feedback. And finally, lots of blog readers posted their own comments in response to my myriad posts on the subject. Agree or disagree, their feedback helped me to figure out how best to frame my arguments.

Sources for quotations:

Mankiw's comments come from Warren Vieth and Edwin Chen, “Bush Supports Shift of Jobs Overseas,” Los Angeles Times, 10 February 2004. Reaction comments from Edmund Andrews, “Democrats Criticize Bush Over Job Exports,” New York Times, 11 February 2004. I posted about this here.

Stephen Roach's comment comes from "Debating the Jobless Recovery" on the Morgan Stanley web site. It should be noted that Roach is hardly an advocate of protectionism.

The IBM official was quoted in Bob Herbert, “White-Collar Blues,” New York Times, 29 December 2003. Nilekani was quoted in Steve Lohr, “Many New Causes for Old Problem of Jobs Lost Abroad,” New York Times, 15 February 2004. Fiorina's statement came from Carolyn Lochhead, “Economists Back Tech Industry’s Overseas Hiring,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9 January 2004.

The billboard quotation came from Elizabeth Becker, “Globalism Minus Jobs Equals Campaign Issue,” New York Times, 30 January 2004. Kerry's line about "Benedict Arnold CEO's" has been everywhere, but here's James K. Glassman's use of it.

Tom Daschle's later quote comes from Ted Landphair, “Outsourcing, Costly for US Workers, an Issue in Election Year,” Voice of America, 7 February 2004. Robert McTeer's very funny line comes from “Delta Air, General Electric Say Creating Jobs Abroad Helps U.S.,” Bloomberg, 23 February 2004. The Bloomberg story was also the source of information regarding how Delta Air Lines was able to create additional American jobs via offshore outsourcing.

While not a quote, the Commerce Department report I referenced is Raymond J. Mataloni, Jr., “U.S. Multinational Companies: Operations in 2001,” Survey of Current Business, November 2003. The relevant passage is on p. 89.

Sources for numbers:

Many of the sources can be found in the general references below. For the plethora of job loss projections, I relied on Clay Risen's “Missed Target," The New Republic, 2 February 2004; and CIO Magazine, “Offshore Outsourcing – The Backlash,” September 2003.

On the gap between Gartner's estimation of firm-specific job losses due to outsourcing versus Joglekar's estimates, see Thomas Hoffman, “Researcher Says Offshore Moves Don’t Leave to Big U.S. Job Losses,” ComputerWorld, 22 December 2003. Professor Joglekar was also kind enough to speak to me by phone -- I wish more of what he said could have fit into the final version of the essay.

On the overestimation of call center outsourcing, see Dick O’Brien, “Outsourcing threat is overstated,” ElectronicNews.Net, 26 January 2004. The TPI estimates came from this press release and this report comparing European and American outsourcing trends. See also Justin Pope, "Some Managers Hold Firm Against Pressure to Move IT Jobs Overseas," Associated Press, 1 February 2004.

The effect of sugar tariffs on jobs come from Aaron Lukas, “A Sticky State of Affairs: Sugar and the U.S. Australia Free-Trade Agreement,” Center for Trade Policy Studies, 9 February 2004. The total effect of steel tariffs on jobs was calculated based on annual costs projected in Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Ben Goodrich, “Next Move in Steel: Revocation or Retaliation,” Institute for International Economics Policy Brief 03-10, October 2003, p. 10.

IBM's fund for displaced workers can be read about in Stacy Cowley, “IBM Starts Fund to Aid Displaced Workers,” ComputerWorld, 2 March 2004.

The data on manufacturing output and employment can be found in this Alliance Capital Management report.

Data on insourcing comes from Michael Walden, “A Potent ‘Insource’ of U.S. Jobs,” Raleigh News and Observer, 2 February 2004, Lawrence Kudlow, "Outsourcing ‘Outrage,’" New York Post, 3 March 2004, as well as the Commerce Department.

Facts about the trade adjustment assistance program can be accessed at the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration Fact Sheet.

General references on outsourcing:

Space constraints made it difficult to cite them in the piece, but two worthwhile sources are Sreenath Sreenivasan's outsourcing page, which has tons of links, and Alan Greenspan's recent speeches and testimony that touch on the subject -- here, here, and here. Brink Lindsey has just written a policy brief, "Job Losses and Trade: A Reality Check," that's worth checking out. Finally, you can access all of my blog posts about outsourcing -- if you've read through the Foreign Affairs essay, several of them will look familiar.

Otherwise, here are the most in-depth treatments of the subject that I've seen:

International Data Corporation, Offshore Services: The Impact of Global Sourcing on the U.S. IT Services Market, November 2003.

Catherine Mann, “Globalization of IT Services and White Collar Jobs: The Next Wave of Productivity Growth,” Institute for International Economics Policy Brief 03-11, Washington, DC, December 2003

Jacob F. Kirkegaard, “Outsourcing – Stains on the White Collar?” Institute for International Economics working paper, January 2004

McKinsey Global Institute, “Offshoring: Is It a Win-Win Game?” San Francisco, CA, August 2003

Rafiq Dossani and Martin Kenney, “Went for Cost, Stayed for Quality?: Moving the Back Office to India,” working paper, Stanford University Asia/Pacific Research Center, November 2003

Ashok Bardham and Cynthia Kroll, “The New Wave of Outsourcing,” Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, University of California At Berkeley, November 2003

Erica Groshen and Simon Potter, “Has Structural Change Contributed to a Jobless Recovery?Current Issues in Economics and Finance 9 (August 2003): 1-7

Jyotti Thottam, "Is Your Job Going Abroad?" Time, 22 February 2004.

Gene Grossman and Elhanen Helpman, "Outsourcing in a Global Economy," NBER Working Paper No. w8728, January 2002.

Daniel Pink, “The New Face of the Silicon Age,” Wired, February 2004

General references on globalization and the U.S. economy:

Douglas Irwin, Free Trade Under Fire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (New York: Crown Business, 2003).

Kenneth Dam, The Rules of the Global Game: A New Look at U.S. International Economic Policymaking (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter, Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers (Washington: Institute for International Economics, 2001).

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Trackbacks (5)

Consumer-driven offshore outsourcing

A common meme from those who blast offshore outsourcing is that it's driven by rapacious firms eager to maximize short-term profits. This raises an interesting question -- what if consumers are the ones driving offshoring?

I raise this because Tyler Cowen links to a press release that's an interesting test of the extent to which consumers reveal their preferences on the subject:

E-LOAN, Inc., a consumer direct lender, today announced that home equity customers designated to its Indian outsourcing program have the power to decide whether they want to participate before they complete their application. Home equity customers who choose to participate in the program enjoy the benefit of closing their loan two days faster than if the entire transaction was processed domestically.

"Our Indian outsourcing pilot program is an important component of our overall strategy to cost efficiently provide customers with even faster service by becoming a 24-hour processing operation," said Chris Larsen, E-LOAN's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "At the same time, we continue to believe that privacy and security, combined with transparency and choice, are key to building a trusted brand. Therefore, we have decided to fully disclose our outsourcing program and empower customers to weigh the benefits of their participation in it. We believe that this approach will help us continue to earn and preserve consumer trust and confidence in E-LOAN."

The pilot program, which launched in early February, currently has the capacity to process 25 percent of E-LOAN's home equity applications. Testing shows that 86 percent of the customers designated for the program are choosing to take advantage of the faster processing time associated with it -- the ability to close their home equity loan in ten days versus twelve days. (emphasis added)

CBS Market Watch has a story on this as well.

A question to those who oppose offshore outsourcing -- should this expansion of consumer choice be banned or restricted?

If so, what other limitations should be placed so this sort of thing doesn't happen? Eliminate Wal-Marts? Japanese auto imports?

In other words, to what extent is the outcry over outsourcing a slippery slope to policies designed to block all forms of trade and technological innovation?

UPDATE: This story talks about how other firms are dealing with the offshoring phenomenon in their marketing strategies. Key line: "'No outsourcing' could become the latest twist on the 'made in the USA' slogan."

Just to be clear, even though I've defended offshore outsourcing as a good thing, I have no problem whatsoever with this kind of marketing strategy. If consumers prefer to pay higher prices in return for the satisfaction of buying American, that's fine. Consumer choice should not be restricted in either way.

posted by Dan at 11:30 AM | Comments (58) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Open Spain thread

Discuss motivations and implications of the despicable Madrid bombings below. My first thought was that this was Al Qaeda inspired, but the Economist makes a persuasive case that this was the ETA.

UPDATE: Well, this would seem to turn Al Qaeda into a live possibility. The Associated Press and CBS have more.

Not surprisingly, Glenn Reynolds has a link-rich post.

posted by Dan at 02:55 PM | Comments (86) | Trackbacks (4)

Is "Islamic liberal democracy" an unholy trinity?

Lee Smith has an provocative Slate essay on what Islamists are talking about when they talk about democracy. Among the highlights:

There is an ongoing debate in the Muslim world, American academia, and now also U.S. policy circles concerning the nature of Islamist democracy. Undoubtedly, Islam is as compatible with democracy as any other religion. But whether democracy comports well with a movement that has in the past advocated jihad and is responsible for thousands of deaths, 1,200 in Egypt alone, is another question entirely. Indeed, some of the Islamist movement's most influential ideologues have very specifically opposed democracy because it invests political sovereignty in the people—"We, the people"—rather than in God.

Nevertheless, recent books like Noah Feldman's After Jihad and Graham Fuller's The Future of Political Islam suggest that the Islamist movement may indeed be compatible with democracy. They find that while there are holdouts like Osama Bin Laden dead set against anything like democracy, there are many, perhaps even a majority of Islamists who favor free elections. Unfortunately, that's about as far as the Islamists go when it comes to democracy. Free elections are OK, since they see that they would do very well in polling places across the region. However, it's not at all clear that the Islamists have any interest in the broad array of liberties—like freedom of speech and equal rights—that most people, certainly most citizens of liberal democracies, associate with democracy.

Later on in the essay, Smith acknowledges that Islamists who actually understand/support what constitutes a liberal democracy may not say so publicly:

[D]issimulation is a well-established technique in the history of the 100-plus-year-old Muslim reform movement, even among two of its leading figures, Jamal al-din al-Afghani and his greatest disciple, Muhammad Abdu. Abdu once relayed to a correspondent that he followed his master in the belief that "the head of religion can only be cut with the sword of religion." The fact is, as another Muslim reformer, wrote, "We found that ideas which were by no means accepted when coming from your agents in Europe were accepted at once with the greatest delight when it was proved that they were latent in Islam."

So the $64,000 question -- what does Grand Ayatollah Sistani -- may be impossible to ferret out.

posted by Dan at 02:22 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

Blogs, politics, and gender

Henry Farrell argues that during the current campaign season, blogs will funnel more money to Democrats than Republicans. His reasoning:

Regardless of whether the blogosphere tilts left or tilts right (your guess is as good as mine), the most-read blogs on the liberal-left side of the spectrum are much more closely aligned with the Democratic party apparatus than the blogs on the right are with the Republican machine. They also have the precedent of MoveOn, and of the Dean movement to build on. Rightbloggers, even the ones who support the administration, tend to self-identify as libertarians rather than Republicans, and maintain a little distance from the formal aspects of the Republican party.

Meanwhile, the political part blogosphere apparently does share one common trait -- gender. Brian Montopoli at CJR's Campaign Desk writes:

Women are responsible for as little as four percent of political blogs -- "sites devoted to politics, current events, foreign policy, and various ongoing wars" -- according to the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE).

When it comes to politics and campaign commentary, in other words, the blogosphere looks a little like your high school chess club: Even though everyone's invited to join, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone posted a "No Girls Allowed" sign on the classroom door.

Just for the record, I was not part of the chess club when I was in high school -- my captaincy of the math team took up far too much of my time.

More seriously, Montopoli seems to go a bit off the rails at the end:

If you accept the premise of the blogosphere as a true meritocracy, a place where our intellectual (and emotional) impulses can flourish unchecked, then you're buying into the concept of the blog world as a window into human nature. If that's the case, the blogosphere -- with perhaps just four percent female participation in poliblogs -- shows us that while women are just as interested as men in spouting off, they're fundamentally less interested than men in spouting off about politics.

But if the blogosphere comes freighted with the same cultural considerations and institutional biases that weigh down the rest of the world, then blogs offer us no more window into our natural inclinations than the mainstream media -- and the blogosphere's claim to be the great equalizer is nothing more than the emperor's newest clothes.

(link via here).

A follow-up question -- what about the readers of political blogs? Do they skew disproportionately male as well? That seems to be the (unfortunate) case among my commenters. [Maybe that's because they don't like posts like this one?--ed. I'll grant that as a possibility -- but I have yet to receive a single complaint on that front.]

Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle, Amanda Butler, and Laura at Apt. 11D weigh in on the gender question.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (7)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Gonna be an exhausting campaign

Kevin Drum has a great post up delineating the barbs and counter-barbs between the Bush and Kerry campaigns since Super Tuesday made Kerry the de facto nominee. There's been a fair amount of cross-fire for one week -- and reading between the lines, Kevin already seems exhausted by the campaign.

This leads me to wonder how the Feiler Faster Thesis will operate with eight months to go in this campaign. The thesis, to reiterate, is:

[P]olitical trends that used to last for weeks now last for hours. It's like watching the 1984 campaign on fast forward, except that the calendar still drags on into early June, meaning there's room for plot twists we could only dream of in 1984.

Feiler's implication is that campaigns will have constant twists and turns. There's another possibility, however -- if there are no external motivations for changes in strategy, voters could get bored fast.

That may be the case here. According to USA Today, the extent of party polarization in this election is at a historic high (however, as Eric Weiner points out in the Los Angeles Times, America is actually not politically polarized compared to other countries). The extent of polarization means there's a low probabilty of public opinion dramatically shifting one way or the other. Given that the two candidates are pretty close in terms of support, and the stability of that support, there may be no change in the relative position of the candidates for quite some time. Which means there's no incentive to change strategies for the near future.

Which means the campaign could get old fast.

I stress "may" because there are always exogenous shocks to the political system, so in all likelihood this situation won't last for 8 months. However, the Feiler Faster Thesis suggests that it will feel like eight months.

UPDATE: Hmmm.... this is interesting, and would certainly change the dynamics of the race (link via InstaPundit).

ANOTHER UPDATE: Josh Marshall advances the "exhaustion" meme.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

The winners and losers in the current economy

The Heritage Foundation's Alison Fraser and Rea S. Hederman, Jr have a concise summary of who's benefiting and who's not in the current American economy. The key section:

So why has job growth been so slow? One factor may be that certain structures of the economy are changing. The sectors that have failed to rebound are in a period of a transition. For example, despite strong growth in manufacturing output, that sector will never employ the numbers that it once did. Strong productivity growth for several quarters is evidence of this fundamental shift. Still, this news is positive for most workers in America. The increase in productivity means lower prices and greater value for consumers; in other words, workers have greater purchasing power than in the past. Higher productivity often leads to higher wages, which have already increased by almost 1 percent since December. And because inflation is low, these gains are not nominal -- workers really are better off.

Reflecting these changes, the nature of unemployment has shifted, as well. Fewer workers are unemployed due to layoffs or downsizing. Most unemployed now are new entrants to the labor force and reentrants who have been out of the workforce for some time. It is also telling that the number of workers working part-time for “economic reasons,” as the BLS puts it (that is, they are unable to find full-time work), has fallen by nearly 400,000 since November. While it may be tough for the unemployed to find new work, those working are less likely than before to lose their jobs and more likely to see their wages or hours increase. (emphasis added)

In other words, those who claim that offshore outsourcing is causing people to lose their jobs are pretty much wrong. Virginia Postrel has more links and commentary on the subject here and here.

Kash chips in with a post on patterns within the employment data (link via Brad DeLong). The two sectors generating job growth?:

For obvious reasons, education and health has seen the least replacement of labor with IT, and so seeing lots of job growth in those industries is not surprising. Somewhat less obviously (at least to me), professional and business services (this category includes things like legal, engineering, administrative, advertising, management, consulting, IT and accounting services for businesses) has also been adding jobs at a rapid rate. I guess the workers in those industries also tend to be difficult to replace with IT.

So the sector that is supposedly most vulnerable to job loss from offshore outsourcing has actually created a significant number of jobs over the past year, when outsourcing was supposedly at its worst.

Funny that.

posted by Dan at 12:36 AM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (2)

Bush defends trade -- Kerry defends reviewing trade

Brad DeLong is mostly correct in pointing out that the Bush administration has not been the most vigorous defender of open trade policies since the outsourcing brouhaha bubbled up. However, President Bush has apparently decided get off the fence and put the administration on the rhetorical offensive in reaction to Congressional moves to penalize corporations for offshore outsourcing. According to the Financial Times:

In a speech in Virginia, Mr Bush said: "There are economic isolationists in our country who believe we should separate ourselves from the rest of the world by raising up barriers and closing off markets. They're wrong. If we are to continue growing this economy and creating new jobs, America must remain confident and strong about our ability to trade in the world."

Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, similarly warned Congress on Tuesday that "given the fact we're now in a stage of an economic recovery, the absolutely worst thing we could do would be to turn to economic isolationism".

Mr Zoellick told the Senate finance committee that increasing US exports to countries such as China and India, encouraging foreign investment in the US, and helping workers adjust to the loss of some jobs abroad were better responses than "bureaucratic interventions that will increase prices to our people".

Mr Bush's comments came less than a week after the Senate passed legislation aimed at preventing US government contracts from being carried out by workers in developing countries.

Here's a link to the entire text of the speech.

As part of the offensive, Zoellick's testimony before the Senate Finance Committee contains this opening:

“With America’s high standard of living, we cannot successfully compete against foreign producers because of lower foreign wages and a lower cost of production.” Perhaps this pessimism sounds familiar. It could very well have come from one of today’s opponents of trade, arguing against a modern-day free trade agreement. But in fact these words were written by President Herbert Hoover in 1929, as he successfully urged Congress to pass the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that raised trade barriers, destroyed jobs, and deepened the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, one of John Kerry's pledges on trade policy is as follows:

[A]n immediate 120 day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure that our trade partners are living up to their labor and environment obligations and that trade agreements are enforceable and are balanced for America’s workers.

Looks like he'll be getting part of his agenda implemented through the help of Senate colleagues and the General Accounting Office:

A key Senate lawmaker, amid a ballooning trade deficit and festering disputes with foreign countries over wireless standards and other barriers to open markets, today asked the General Accounting Office to review the 250 trade agreements to which the United States is a party.

“This study, which will be completed in 2005, will help Congress and the administration better assess how well we do at enforcing trade agreements and how to allocate our resources to achieve the best possible results,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Finance Committee, at a hearing this morning.

posted by Dan at 12:09 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

A Syrian human rights protest

The New York Times reports that there was a human rights protest in a place where neither human rights nor protests are all that common -- Syria:

The security police quickly squelched an extremely rare public demonstration demanding political reform on Monday, the 41st anniversary of the Baath Party's seizure of power here.

Organizers and other reform advocates said the huge police presence in downtown Damascus, which far outnumbered the demonstrators, was a sign of how jittery the government and especially the overlapping security services remained just a year after the rapid fall of the Baath Party in neighboring Iraq.

"There was a band of about 20 to 30 nonviolent people, hardly a group that could threaten the government, yet it reacted in a way that is completely out of proportion," said a Syrian intellectual who declined to be quoted by name, fearing reprisals.

Rights advocates and others seeking reform planned to draw attention to their petition demanding the lifting of emergency laws, which have been in place throughout Baath Party rule, by staging a sit-in at the gates of Parliament. The reform advocates say they have gathered 7,000 signatures to support their demands.

But when the small band unfurled a few paper banners reflecting their demands, dozens of plainclothes security officers pounced. They shredded the banners and ripped up the notebooks of some reporters covering the protest, igniting numerous scuffles.

In addition to that, a U.S. diplomat was detained by Syrian security officials for an hour, prompting a vigorous protest from the United States.

Although security officials clamped down on the protest pretty much before it started, its organizer was released, because he gave an interview to the Associated Press after the protest. He sounds undaunted:

Aktham Naisse, who leads the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria, said Monday's sit-in outside parliament was a success even though police quickly detained all the demonstrators.

"As activists, we were able to send a clear message to the Syrian street, and to international public opinion, that we are serious about our demands and program," Naisse told The Associated Press in an interview. "We embarrassed the Syrian authorities which, unfortunately, showed they are unable and unwilling to meet our demands."....

Naisse, who was told to appear for further questioning later Tuesday, told AP: "I think the authorities realized it was foolish of them to arrest us, and would have been even more foolish to keep us under arrest. There would have been an extremely high political price to pay if they did."

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds links to this BBC story about the incident. And this BBC article provides some more backstory.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, March 8, 2004

Kenneth Rogoff tests the Nixon analogy

Last month I wrote:

More and more, Bush reminds me of Nixon. He's not afraid to make the bold move in foreign policy. On domestic policy, Bush seems like he'll say or do anything, so long as it advances his short-term political advantage. If Karl Rove thought imposing wage and price controls would win Pennsylvania and Michigan for Bush, you'd see an Executive Order within 24 hours.

Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard -- and chief economist at the IMF from 2001 to 2003 -- has an amusing article in Foreign Policy on whether, when it comes to spending, Bush really is as bad as Nixon when it comes to domestic spending. His conclusion -- "Overall winner: Nixon—although Bush has eight months left."

He also makes the point that compared to the rest of the world, U.S. presidents seeking re-election are misers:

U.S. presidents are hardly the only or the best practitioners of electoral economics. Mexico, for example, boasts a history of political business cycles that make the United States look fiscally Puritan. Mexican Presidents José López Portillo in 1982 and Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1994 set benchmarks that few have surpassed. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave away the country’s natural resource base (under the guise of “privatization”) to ensure his reelection in 1996, a problem the country is still painfully sorting through today. In Italy, every prime minister seems to produce a fiscal splurge come election time—and Italy has a lot of elections. But then, a country does not achieve one of the world’s highest debt-to-GDP ratios (more than 100 percent) without effort.

Go read the whole thing -- it's a nice primer on the political business cycle.

posted by Dan at 11:32 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Jon Rauch on gay marriage

My previous post on gay marriage generated a fair amount of discussion pro and con. So, for those still interested in the issue, check out Jonathan Rauch's affecting New York Times Magazine essay on the subject. The most compelling section:

A solitary individual lives on the frontier of vulnerability. Marriage creates kin, someone whose first ''job'' is to look after you. Gay people, like straight people, become ill or exhausted or despairing and need the comfort and support that marriage uniquely provides. Marriage can strengthen and stabilize their relationships and thereby strengthen the communities of which they are a part. Just as the president says, society benefits when people, including gay people, are durably committed to love and serve one another.


UPDATE: Tyler Cowen offers an economic rationale for gay marriages -- more money spent on weddings!

This reminds me of a moment when this issue flared up in the mid-nineties. I was watching a Sunday morning talk show with a gay friend. At one point she yelled at the television: "I don't want to overthrow the government!! I don't want to corrupt your children!! I just want to be able to register at Crate & Barrel!!"

posted by Dan at 12:22 PM | Comments (120) | Trackbacks (0)

Bad news for sci-fi geeks?

Maureen Ryan has a long story in today's Tempo section of the Chicago Tribune arguing that the big-screen success of Lord of the Rings will not translate into more sci-fi on television:

"The Lord of the Rings" collected an awe-inspiring 11 Oscars, and its best picture win was a first for a fantasy film.

But fans of fantasy, horror and science-fiction entertainment can't count on the critical success of "Rings" -- and its box-office records -- to sweep their favorite genre from the multiplex to the TV schedule.

The truth is stranger -- and stronger -- than fantasy: Market forces have a stranglehold on even the smaller networks and cable channels that used to nurture genre TV.

"I do think it's harder for science fiction and genre shows to make it than it has been in the past. It's harder for them to find their place," says Dawn Ostroff, president of UPN....

But the biggest indignity may have been suffered by "Jake 2.0," the sci-fi flavored saga of a computer nerd-turned-superhero.

UPN recently aired a repeat episode of its reality show, "America's Next Top Model," in "Jake's" time slot. The would-be cover girls' rerun beat the mutant computer nerd's usual ratings. The upshot: "Jake" is "on hiatus" (in other words, don't look for it next year).

Read the entire thing -- it's a nice bashing of the proliferation of reality shows and Law & Order clones.

That said, two quibbles. First, as someone whose sci-fi enthusiasm is actually pretty erratic, was there ever a golden age of sci-fi on television?

Second, if there has been such a decline, could it also be explained by the improvement in big-screen special effects, which increases the incentive to produce sci-fi movies but reduces the incentive to create poor substitutes for the small screen? In other words, big-screen successes like LOTR are not complements for small-screen sci-fi, but substitutes.

posted by Dan at 10:20 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, March 7, 2004

The decline and fall of Islamic extremism?

Fareed Zakaria argues that the attacks on Iraqi Shiites last week demonstrates that Islamic extremism are growing more desperate and less powerful (link via Josh Chafetz):

That Islamic extremist groups are now targeting Shiites is surely a sign of desperation. Unable to launch major terrorist attacks in the West, unable to attract political support in the Middle East, militant Islam is searching for enemies and causes.

Consider the progress of Al Qaeda and affiliated terror groups over the past three years. For a decade they had attacked high-profile American targets only—embassies, a naval destroyer, the World Trade Center. Once the United States mobilized against them, and got the world to join that fight, what have they hit? A discotheque, a few synagogues, a couple of restaurants and hotels, all soft targets that could not ever be protected, and all outside the Western world. As a result, the terrorists have killed mostly Muslims, which is marginalizing them in the world of Islam....

Support for violent Islam is waning in almost all major Muslim countries. Discussions from Libya to Saudi Arabia are all about liberalization. Ever since September 11, when the spotlight has been directed on these societies and their dysfunctions laid bare to the world, it is the hard-liners who are in retreat and the moderates on the rise. This does not mean that there will be rapid reform anywhere—there are many obstacles to progress—but it does suggest that the moderates are not running scared anymore.

If this effort pans out, it would certainly constitute another blow to Al Qaeda.

Is this true in Saudi Arabia, where the difference between Wahabbi fundamentalism and official Saudi policy is tissue-thin? Both the Economist and the New York Times Magazine have stories on that country's internal debate about its religious and political future. The latter story has this to say about the Saudi state:

In private, say Western-educated elites, reformists, Islamist reformers and even conservatives outside the cities, it is the royal family that must change. The leaders are old and out of touch with one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, most of whom are under 25. The princes are siphoning off the country's riches. There is no accounting of public funds. The welfare state -- or rather the royal dispensation system -- is collapsing, crime and unemployment are rising. ''It's an old political system like the Soviet system,'' one critic told me. ''We have one party, one ruler, corrupt judges, and all we're supposed to do is praise the government.''

Many in the royal family are aware that the kingdom must evolve. In December, Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's half brother and the royal thought to be the most reform-minded, convened a National Dialogue on extremism in Mecca -- an unusual event at which Wahhabi clerics were forced to listen to Shiites, Sufis and even women. But the royal family works in opaque ways. Crown Prince Abdullah, who is the most likely heir to the throne, talks about the need to change the education system, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, finances both the much-loathed religious police, who drive around in new American jeeps preventing vice and promoting virtue, and those in the interior ministry who keep a vigilant eye on the universities, ensuring they toe the Wahhabi line. Are the princes working at cross-purposes?

Few know. What is known is that every prince has his fief, while the kingdom, as Mansour put it, is like an orchestra without a conductor. King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995 and has been a mostly absent leader. By all accounts he can barely recognize his family members. Yet the question of succession is unresolved. And as long as the kingdom has no conductor, little will change, except that the religious radicals embedded within the establishment will keep seizing more ground -- a reality confirmed by engineers, religious professors and civil servants whom I met in Buraida, Asir, Jidda and Riyadh.

Shortly before Crown Prince Abdullah held his National Dialogue, a petition written primarily by Islamic reformists advocating a constitutional monarchy was submitted to the crown prince and signed by about 300 people -- mostly Islamists, including Abdullah Bejad, along with some liberals. Some of the princes were apoplectic and called the petition a treason. The signers responded with their own outrage. ''Seventy-five percent of countries in the world participate in planning their future,'' an angry professor who was one of the petition's authors ranted to me one night. ''All we are saying is we must have a role in our future. The royal family wants us just to drink camel's milk, ride dune buggies and sit by the fire. After a time you begin to go mad. When people realize no conferences or resolutions will get any results, they are going to do something primitive. And if things go worse here, America will be in trouble, too.''

The Economist concludes that there is some reason for hope:

The most hopeful sign of compromise, albeit outside the current power base, is that moderate Islamists and secular reformers sound prepared, so far, to work together towards winning greater representation for themselves and greater accountability from the royal rulers. Indeed, it is arguable that the al-Qaeda phenomenon has forced non-violent Islamists and secular gradualists to converge. Both lots, in any case, think the house of Saud must adapt or die.

Is there a Saudi Gorbachev—or could Crown Prince Abdullah become one? Probably not. Besides, he would point out that, though Soviet rule ended more or less peacefully, the Union collapsed and the ruling elite were chased out. Perhaps Spain's General Franco is a more hopeful model. But where is a Saudi Adolfo Suárez, let alone a democracy-loving constitutional monarch à la Juan Carlos. He could be there, among the vast array of princes. But no one seems to have found him yet.

posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (4)

How conservative is Bush? How liberal is Kerry?

Northwestern University political scientists Jeffrey A. Jenkins has an interesting essay in today's Chicago Tribune on where George W. Bush and John Kerry stand in the political spectrum, using standard methods in the study of American political science:

Looking at how the president might have voted on key ideological issues before Congress, I compared Bush's score to those of Republican senators and other Republican presidents across time.

I also looked at how Sen. John Kerry's positions compare with other Democratic presidents, using the same kind of measures....

As it turns out, Bush is positioned near the dividing line between the center-right and right quartiles of the party. So, while clearly right of center, he is not part of the most conservative segment of the party, anchored historically by the likes of Sens. Phil Gramm and Jesse Helms.

He is considerably more conservative than Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, somewhat more conservative than Richard Nixon, slightly more conservative than his father, George H.W. Bush, but less conservative than Reagan....

What about Kerry, the would-be president?

Should he become president, what should we expect? How does this left-leaning moderate compare to other recent Democratic presidents?

In fact, only Lyndon Johnson appears more conservative than Kerry; Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton appear slightly more liberal; and John F. Kennedy, to whom Kerry is often compared, appears considerably more liberal than the Massachusetts senator trying to follow in his footsteps....

In the end, what does all of this mean? Put simply, the American people have a real choice in 2004. Rather than appear as "echoes," Bush and Kerry represent very different ideological views of the world. While neither carries a distinctly extremist mentality, their views of the role government plays in the economy and society meaningfully diverge.

For an introduction to the methodology Jenkins used for this op-ed, click here.

UPDATE: James Joyner provides a cogent critique of the Poole-Rosenthal method for determining ideological position:

The problem I have with Poole’s coding methodology is that it’s excessively time bound. To compare Bush 43 to Reagan or Kerry to Carter ignores massive shifts in public opinion during those time periods. The “center” is not a spot on a map; it’s a median of current attitudes.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Chris Lawrence has further thoughts on methodology. And Jenkins responds by posting comments here, here, and here. One point is particularly interesting -- Poole and Rosenthal used the early 1990's Kerry as an example of their methodology in their 1997 book Congress: A Political Economic History of Roll Call Voting. Kerry came out as quite liberal. What happened?:

What's interesting is that over time Kerry has remained remarkably consistent, BUT the party has continued to move left. So, because of leftward movement of carry-over members along with liberal replacement of moderates, Kerry now looks left-of-center, but not extremist.

posted by Dan at 12:08 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (12)