Saturday, May 22, 2004

Whither Russia, or when print beats the Internet

The Economist has a survey of Russia this week. Its core thesis:

He [Vladimir Putin] wants Russia to be a strong country: economically powerful, politically stable and internationally respected. What is in dispute is what those goals mean to him, the methods he uses to achieve them, and whether he is as powerful as he seems.

This survey looks back at Mr Putin's first term and forward to the second. It tries to reconcile the optimistic and pessimistic views by showing that both contain much truth, and both are necessary to understand today's Russia. Economic liberalism and political illiberalism are complementary parts of Mr Putin's strategy, but his contribution to both is often exaggerated. Russia's new-found prosperity is fragile and will require deep and difficult reforms to sustain. At the same time the shrinkage of freedoms is less clear-cut than it seems, and not always the result of orders from the top.

What is clear is that an open economy and a closed political system make uneasy bedfellows. The overweening bureaucracy is harming business, and not just that of power-hungry magnates like Mr Khodorkovsky, but of the little people building the foundations of Russia's new economy. Encouragingly, business is fighting back, and citizens, increasingly deprived of a political voice at the top, are beginning to build democracy from the bottom up.

Now, if you read this survey on the Internet, you come away with a cautiously optimistic picture of the country.

However, there is the rare moment with looking at something in print provides greater information than reading it on the Internet. This is one of those times, and that information suggests that Russia is worse off than the survey's author, Gideon Lichfield, suggests.

Why? In the print edition of the Economist, most country surveys like these are filled with advertisements from either large companies indigenous to the country in question, or large multinationals with significant amounts of foreign direct investment. Generally speaking, the number of ads is a rough indicator of the economic dynamism of the surveyed country. In February, for example, a survey of India had five full ad pages.

For this 16-page survey, there was only one half-page advertisement -- and that came from the state-owned export-import bank.

In contrast, when Ukraine had a survey a decade ago, it was a basket case of hyperinflation and ethnic tensions -- but there were at least two ads.

Russia's economy is more fragile than the Economist believes.

posted by Dan at 08:38 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Wow, my second health care post in less than a year

Loyal readers of are aware that while I'm aware that health care is important, I find it difficult to maintain focus when the issue comes up.

I am dimly aware, however, that Canada's single-payer system is frequently cited by liberals as their preferred form of health care reform. Which is why I found the following Brad Evenson story in Cananda's National Post so interesting:

As many as 24,000 patients die in Canadian hospitals each year, while tens of thousands more are crippled, injured or poisoned in association with medical errors that could have been prevented.

A new landmark study of 20 hospitals in five provinces found one in 13 patients suffers an adverse event, more than double the rate found in studies of U.S. hospitals.

"I think this is pretty explosive data," said Alan Forster, a health services researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

"When you start looking at these numbers, you really see the problem in a graphic way."

The study, to be published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found 185,000 patients a year suffer adverse events....

In 1999, the U.S. Institute of Medicine published its report on medical errors, "To Err is Human," an effort to bolster patient safety. It cited studies in Colorado and New York that found adverse events ranged from 2.9.% to 3.7% of hospital admissions.

By contrast, the new study found 7.5% of the 2.5 million patients admitted to Canadian hospitals each year suffer adverse events. Dr. Baker says the American studies were focused mainly on major events that could attract lawsuits, not minor problems.

When compared to similar studies in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, Canada fared well, especially when preventable errors were considered. For example, a study of 28 Australian hospitals in 1992 found 51% of adverse events could have been avoided. A study of two teaching hospitals in the U.K. found 48% were preventable. The Canadian figure of 36.9% was virtually identical to a New Zealand study in 1998.

This may be an example of correlation and not causation. Still, a common assumption among the cognoscenti is that Canada's health care system is superior to America's -- and this study points out that this is not necessarily so.

posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (3)

John Kerry, man of action

Well, this Washington Post story by Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall ought to shore up John Kerry's robust reputation for taking clear stands and being resolute in his decision-making:

Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) may take the unprecedented step of delaying formal acceptance of his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president this summer in an effort to reduce President Bush's financial advantage for the general election campaign, Kerry advisers said Friday.

Campaign officials confirmed that they are actively considering an extraordinary plan, under which Kerry would not be formally nominated at the Democratic National Convention in late July and instead would be designated as the party's nominee weeks later, around the time of the Republican convention at the end of August....

Aboard his campaign plane en route to a fundraiser in Connecticut on Friday evening, Kerry declined to comment. Asked whether he would accept the party's nomination in July, he replied with a grin, "I will accept the nomination."

Readers are invited to submit guesses as to how long it takes Kerry to back away from this trial balloon.

posted by Dan at 04:24 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I'm off to mend the transatlantic relationship again!

No blogging for the next 48 hours -- I'll be at the University of Toronto for a roundtable conference on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Yours truly is a discussant for Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, the author of Alliance at Risk: The United States and Europe Since September 11.

I promise to resist any and all urges to mention any contacts I've had with Said Ibrahim.

UPDATE: Home now. The conference was actually very illuminating -- more about it later this week.

posted by Dan at 05:22 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Where are conservatives on Iraq?

Reihan Salam has a great TNR Online piece that breaks down where the various tribes of conservatives fall on Iraq -- or, as Salam puts it, a "Guide to the Right on Iraq Gone Wrong." The relevant categories (NOTE: I've added some names that Salam omits where I think they apply -- my additions are in italics):

1) "The Neo-Paleos: We Shoulda Known": Burkean conservatives who never bought the democracy-building line, but did by the "Iraq has WMD" line (George F. Will, Tucker Carlson, Fareed Zakaria);

2) "The Neo-Neocons: Operation Chalabihorse": True-blue believers convinced that Colin Powell is the devil and Ahmed Chalabi is the answer to all of the troubles in Iraq (Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, Michael Rubin, David Frum, Laurie Mylroie).

3) "The Standard Neocons: Dude, Where's My Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy?" Cared more about democracy-building than WMD but are flummoxed by the Bush/Rumsfeld insistence on insufficient troop strength, suspecting that this is due to an aversion to casualties that impairs the mission (William Kristol, Robert Kagan, David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, and yes, Daniel Drezner).

4) "The Neo-Imperialist: Bush Gets the Boot from Boot": Gung-ho empire-builders that share the Standard Neocons' discontent with the Bush administration -- but unlike them, believe that constructive engagement with the Bush administration is pointless, and have gone full frontal with their criticism (Max Boot, Niall Ferguson)

For the immediate future, I'm interested in two things:

A) Will the latter two groups merge? What separates them is not the ends but the means of advancing those ends -- gentle vs. not-so-gentle criticism. I've been feeling myself shift slowly over this calendar year, and I strongly suspect others are as well (Matthew Yglesias shares my suspicions).

B) Who will be the last neo-neocon standing? To be fair, I haven't read Frum and Perle's An End to Evil -- and I'm sure there are a lot of ideas in there that the current situation in Iraq does not undercut. However, a key tenet of this group has been the inherent goodness of Ahmed Chalabi, and the U.S. decision to raid his headquarters today (plus the decision earlier this week to terminate his funding) may just signal a souring of the DoD-INC relationship [UPDATE: Chalabi's home was also raided]. If that doesn't do it, this anecdote from Salon's Andrew Cockburn just might:

Why did the Bush administration turn against its former favorite Iraqi? Almost certainly because it realized that Chalabi, maddened by the realization that he was being excluded from the post-June 30 hand-over arrangements, was putting together a sectarian Shiite faction to destabilize and destroy the new Iraqi government. "This all started since [U.N. envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi announced that Chalabi would be kept out of the new arrangement," says an Iraqi political observer who is not only long familiar with Chalabi himself but also in close touch with key actors, including U.S. officials at the CPA and Iraqi politicians....

U.S. disenchantment with Chalabi has been growing since it dawned on the White House and the Pentagon that everything he had told them about Iraq -- from Saddam Hussein's fiendish weapons arsenal to the crowds who would toss flowers at the invaders to Chalabi's own popularity in Iraq -- had been completely false. Some months ago King Abdullah of Jordan was surprised to be informed by President Bush that the king could "piss on Chalabi." (emphasis added)

Who will the neo-neos go with -- Bush or Chalabi? My money is on Chalabi.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has further thoughts on Chalabi and the neo-neocons. One point he makes confirms my theory about which way the neo-neos go: "I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Just got one of Laurie Mylroie's mass e-mails. She condemns "today's outrageous, and totally uncalled for, raid on Ahmed Chalabi's compound" and asks, "Just what is the U.S. doing in Iraq?"

Yeah, she's stickin' with Chalabi.

posted by Dan at 12:56 PM | Comments (197) | Trackbacks (10)

It gets worse in Darfur

I've blogged about the atrocities taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan before here and here. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times' Robyn Dixon reported on the growing humanitarian crisis in Sudan:

Barefoot and half-naked, Hamesa Adam carried two sons on her back for six days across the searing Sudanese desert. Two other children, missing their dead father, walked barefoot, and two more rode a donkey.

But 6-year-old Mohammed, one of the children on the donkey, got weaker and weaker.

He cried constantly, clutching at his side. There was not enough food. On the fourth day, Mohammed struggled off the donkey and fell onto the sand.

They buried him nearby, about 2 feet down, placing branches on the grave to keep animals from digging up his body.

This is the story of the Adam family, Sudanese farmers chased from their homes by Arab militias on horses and camels who swept down on their village, Selti, about three months ago with a kind of ruthless, medieval wrath: killing, raping, looting, burning. Some attacked in Land Cruisers mounted with automatic weapons. From the air, two helicopters strafed the village.

About 100,000 farmers in the Darfur region of western Sudan have made the same epic journey as the Adam family these past weeks and months, fleeing west into Chad....

Some refugees say that Khartoum government forces have taken part in the scorched-earth attacks, swooping down on villages with helicopters and Antonov planes. Human Rights Watch, based in New York, reported that government forces, allied with the Arab militias, carried out widespread ethnic killings and dispossession.

The Arab militias, mainly herdsmen, are terrorizing black African farmers from the Zaghawa, Fur and Massalit tribes and grabbing the spoils: land, stock, money and anything else they can steal. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum denies it controls the militias, but observers point out that it serves the government's interests to repress areas where it is fighting rebels.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

This was probably not the best week for the Bush administration to take steps towards lifting the arms embargo on the Sudanese government.

This is the kind of goof that someone responsible for public diplomacy -- like an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, let's say -- could have caught. Oh, wait....

UPDATE: It should be noted that despite the PR screwup I alluded to earlier in this post, Human Rights Watch -- not exactly the most Bush-friendly organization -- has praised U.S. behavior on this front:

The U.S. government has taken the strongest public stance on Darfur of any individual government, with repeated statements condemning the human rights abuses and calling on the government of Sudan to address the situation. On April 7, U.S. President George Bush condemned “atrocities” in Sudan and called for unrestricted humanitarian access.

The U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on Darfur, or in which Darfur was prominently mentioned. U.S. aid officials have frequently drawn attention to the enormous humanitarian needs in the region, with repeated visits to Darfur and statements. U.S. AID’s chief executive Andrew Natsios held a press conference to denounce the Sudanese government’s stalling on visas for twenty-eight U.S. emergency relief workers.

Contrast that with the EU's latest pronouncement on Darfur -- pretty weak beer. Click here for HRW's list of policy recommendations.

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

A really disturbing Iraq poll

The Financial Times reports on some unsettling poll results from Iraq:

An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.

The poll was conducted by the one-year-old Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which is considered reliable enough for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to have submitted questions to be included in the study.

Although the results of any poll in Iraq's traumatised society should be taken with caution, the survey highlights the difficulties facing the US authorities in Baghdad as they confront Mr Sadr, who launched an insurgency against the US-led occupation last month....

Saadoun Duleimi, head of the centre, said more than half of a representative sample - comprising 1,600 Shia, Sunni Arabs and Kurds polled in all Iraq's main regions - wanted coalition troops to leave Iraq. This compares with about 20 per cent in an October survey. Some 88 per cent of respondents said they now regarded coalition forces in Iraq as occupiers.

"Iraqis always contrast American actions with American promises and there's now a wide gap in credibility," said Mr Duleimi, who belongs to one of the country's big Sunni tribes. "In this climate, fighting has given Moqtada credibility because he's the only Iraqi man who stood up against the occupation forces."....

Respondents saw Mr Sadr as Iraq's second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent somewhat supported him.

The one piece of good news that skeptics and optimists about Iraq could agree upon was that Sadr did not command significant amounts of support among the Iraqi populace. This poll makes it much tougher to maintain that assertion. This isn't a question of media bias -- this is a very uncomfortable reality that must be acknowledged by policymakers and oundits of all stripes.

The one possible caveat, ironically, is that the poll was taken before the Abu Ghraib scandals [How the hell is that good news?--ed. Because that also means the poll was likely taken before a) U.S. troops demonstrated they were willing to take on Sadr's militia; and b) Grand Ayatollah Sistani vocally turned against Sadr. If Reuel Marc Gerecht is correct in saying that the prison scandals "have not elicited much condemnation from Iraq's Arab Shiites and Sunni Kurds, who represent about 80 percent of the country's population," then Sadr's popularity might actually have declined since the poll was taken.]

posted by Dan at 01:10 AM | Comments (57) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Darn that competitive market

Despite the occasional bug, Google's new Gmail feature is drawing raves. I particularly like what Tom Gromak said in The Detroit News:

Gmail, like Google itself, is a utilitarian tool, not a pretty one. If you want a web mail service that looks like a desktop application, stick with Hotmail. If you want a web mail service that works like a desktop application, grab a Gmail account as soon as the service goes gold.

Then there's the competition that it's inducing among e-mail service providers. As the Motley Fool points out, both Yahoo! and Lycos Europe have recently expanded the memory in their mail services in response to Gmail.

Of course, if any of this competition comes from outside the United States, then it's just an example of how our country is being devastated by foreign competition.

posted by Dan at 05:53 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Iraq and the media

Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds have posts up on the difficulties of finding a coherent narrative in evaluating the situation in Iraq. Kaus points out that this is particularly true of those of us not in Iraq and have to rely on the Internet. This includes even well-known area experts as Juan Cole. Kaus also points out:

Arguably the Sadr crisis is a lot more important to anyone trying to make up their minds about U.S. Iraq policy than any new developments in the Abu Ghraib investigation, although the latter has been consuming a lot more media space..

This ties into a different point made by Reynolds in his post:

What's most bothersome to me is that the anti-Bush stance adopted by most media organizations makes their reporting less useful to those of us who are trying to figure out what's going on, and makes the Administration, and its supporters, tend to tune it all out, possibly causing them to miss important information.

Indeed, Josh Marshall made this very point (without the motivation) earlier this week in discussing a Washington Times excerpts of Bill Sammon's new book, Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters::

[T]he president seems to see his news reading largely, if not entirely, as an exercise in detecting liberal media bias. That, and he seems to see shielding himself from opposing viewpoints as a key to maintaining what he calls a "clear outlook" and what Sammon refers to as being an "optimistic leader".

My centrist instincts want to place a pox on both Bush and the mainstream media's houses -- the latter for not stepping back and looking at the big picture, and the former for thinking that excessive coverage of Abu Ghraib taints all negative media coverage of Iraq. It should be asked, however -- which is the greater sin? The media, for reporting the truth but not the whole truth? Or Bush, for ignoring distasteful parts of the truth because the whole truth is not being reported?

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (0)

At last, my daughter Amiga will have a playmate

Gwyneth Paltrow has named her new baby girl Apple Blythe Alison Martin. According to ITV, "Paltrow named her baby girl Apple after the little girl of partner [Coldplay frontman] Chris Martin's North American booking agent."

For those tempted to tease Ms. Paltrow for her name choice -- and I've certainly teased Paltrow in the past -- do bear in mind that other celebrities have done far worse to their offspring, as Kat Giantis points out for MSN Entertainment. Consider that actor Rob Morrow agreed to name his daughter Tu Morrow. And Giantis filed her story before Geena Davis announced the names for her just-delivered twins -- Kian and Kaiis.

Furthermore, Paltrow can at least claim to some originality in her oddball choice. According to the Social Security Administration, 261 mothers decided last year to name their daughter "Journey." 5062 moms picked "Trinity," even though both of the Matrix movies released in 2003 sucked eggs. You can scan the most popular names from last year by clicking here.

In honor of Apple's birth, readers are invited to post the worst name choices they have ever heard or read about.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (0)

The Nation celebrates capitalism in spite of itself

Marc Cooper's essay in The Nation on Las Vegas takes the requisite number of poshots at the American variety of capitalism. That said, it's impossible for Cooper to hide his sneaking admiration for the place. Some highlights:

This city is often described as one of dreams and fantasy, of tinselish make-believe. But this is getting it backward. Vegas is instead the American market ethic stripped bare, a mini-world totally free of the pretenses and protocols of modern consumer capitalism. As one local gambling researcher says gleefully: "What other city in America puts up giant roadside billboards promoting 97 percent guaranteed payback on slot play? In other words, you give us a buck and we'll give you back 97 cents. That's why I love my hometown."

Even that stomach-churning instant when the last chip is swept away can be charged with an existential frisson. Maybe that's why they say that the difference between praying here and praying anywhere else is that here you really mean it. All the previous hours of over-the-table chitchat, of know-it-all exchanges between the ice-cool dealer and the cynical writer from the big city, the kibitzing with the T-shirted rubes and the open-shirted sharpies to my right and left, the false promises of the coins clanging into the trays behind me, the little stories I tell myself while my stack of chips shrinks and swells and then shrivels some more--all of this comes to an abrupt, crashing halt when the last chip goes back in the dealer's tray. "No seats for the onlookers, sir." And the other players at the table--the dealer who a moment ago was my buddy, the solicitous pit boss, the guy from Iowa in short khakis and topsiders peering over my shoulder--no longer give a fuck whether I live or die. And while winning is always better, it's even in moments of loss like this that I feel a certain perverse thrill. It's one of the few totally honest interludes you can have in modern America. All the pretense, all the sentimentality, the euphemisms, hypocrisies, come-ons, loss leaders, warranties and guarantees, all the fairy tales are out the window. You're out of money? OK, good--now get lost.

In a city where the only currency is currency, there is a table-level democracy of luck. Las Vegas is perhaps the most color-blind, class-free place in America. As long as your cash or credit line holds out, no one gives a damn about your race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, address, family lineage, voter registration or even your criminal arrest record. As long as you have chips on the table, Vegas deftly casts you as the star in an around-the-clock extravaganza. For all of America's manifold unfulfilled promises of upward mobility, Vegas is the only place guaranteed to come through--even if it's for a fleeting weekend. You may never, in fact, surpass the Joneses, but with the two-night, three-day special at the Sahara, buffet and show included, free valet parking and maybe a comped breakfast at the coffee shop, you can certainly live like them for seventy-two hours--while never having to as much as change out of your flip-flops, tank top or NASCAR cap.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle points out that New York can rival Vegas in the area of conspicuous consumption.

posted by Dan at 01:37 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Go take a survey!!

If you have a second [Of course they have a second -- otherwise they wouldn't be wasting their time reading your blog, dumbass!--ed.] please click over to BlogAds survey of reader demographics. There are a total of 22 questions, so it should be pretty painless. Be sure to answer "drezner" for question 22. And please answer by 9:00 p.m. Eastern time this (Wednesday) evening.

This is a win-win kind of deal. The more reader info BlogAds gets, the better they'll be able to solicit advertisers. The more of my readers who fill out the survey, the more accurate my information, which means better posts and more targeted ads for y'all.

I'm also asking you to respond because some of the questions would provide useful evidence for the blog paper I'm co-authoring with Henry Farrell.

It would also mean that during those ultracompetitive blogger sweeps periods, I won't have to resort to cheap or desperate ratings ploys to attract more readers like I've done before on occasion [Er, there is no such thing as sweeps in the blogosphere--ed. You mean there's no reason for me to link to Jennifer Garner pics on occasion? I didn't say there was no reason to do that--ed.]

posted by Dan at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Weekly Standard takes on Don Rumsfeld

A bunch of interesting Weekly Standard articles this week.

Jeffrey Bell writes that the current Defense Secretary has been as deeply affected by Vietnam syndrome as the antiwar dobes -- and with far more deleterious consequences for the current campaign in Iraq:

For George W. Bush, it would be bizarre if the most loyal and gifted member of his cabinet were to be the instrument of his defeat in November 2004. Recent developments on the Iraq front of the war on terror make such thoughts about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld harder and harder to put aside.

A clue to what may be going on is Rumsfeld's recent, and rare, confession of unpleasant surprise at the number of U.S. casualties taking place a full year after the fall of Baghdad. Rumsfeld was an elective politician in the 1960s. His first stint as defense secretary began nearly three decades ago, just a few months after the North Vietnamese conquest of South Vietnam. It is a commonplace that the Vietnam experience turned many American hawks into doves or isolationists. Less well understood is what it did to those American hawks who never stopped being hawkish.

Hawks who wanted the United States to be able to act militarily after Vietnam created the movement called military reform. They fought successfully to end the draft. Their version of a modernized military emphasized technology, speed, and surprise, often involving airpower, rather than frontal infantry assaults. Again and again, they were proven right, never more so than in Rumsfeld's dazzling war plans for Afghanistan and Iraq.

What these hawks' military success obscured is a political analysis that is deeply flawed. Their premise, often unstated, is that U.S. public opinion turned against involvement in Vietnam because of persistently high U.S. casualties. But the truth is that public support for the war held up long after casualties became high (far higher, of course, than those we're seeing now). It began to falter when political elites faltered in their will to prevail, culminating in the visible demoralization of Lyndon Johnson and his administration in the wake of the Tet offensive of early 1968....

Rumsfeld may never have fully believed in the president's democratic mission in Iraq. That may have made it a simple decision to choose, in Falluja and perhaps elsewhere, to put a cap on American casualties at the expense of achieving decisive victory over antidemocratic and anti-American forces. But that sense of a loss of mission, not the level of U.S. casualties, is the gravest threat so far to the Bush war strategy, and thus to the Bush presidency.

In the same issue, Frederick Kagan blasts both the administration and Congress for playing shell games with overall Army troop strength. This example of short-run thinking is especially disturbing:

[R]umors are now swirling that one of two maneuver squadrons (battalions) of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment will soon deploy from Fort Irwin, California, to Afghanistan, and two of the three companies of the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry Regiment will travel from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Iraq. These units are the permanent "opposing forces," or OPFOR, at the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center respectively. Their sole mission is to prepare other Army units for deployment to Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever the nation needs them. Throughout the year, units from all over the Army go to the NTC and the JRTC and run field exercises trying to defeat the OPFOR in "laser-tag" simulations using real weapons and equipment. The training those units receive is only as good as the OPFOR makes it, since soldiers would learn little fighting an incompetent opponent.

Over the years, these units have performed their job superbly, and they are one of the major reasons for the high quality of Army forces in the field today. Both units have served as OPFORs for more than a decade, and they have become the premier training units in the world. Units replacing them will not be able to match their level of skill and experience for a long time. As a result, the level of training in the Army will be degraded, and Army forces deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan will be less well prepared. This decision is incredibly shortsighted. It mortgages the future to pay for past and present failings. It is symptomatic, however, of the sort of damage the Army is suffering on a day-to-day basis because of the inadequacy of its end-strength.

Finally, do check out Reuel Marc Gerecht's cogen argument that the scandals at Abu Ghraib will have no effect on the pace of democratization in the Middle East.

posted by Dan at 09:01 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

On the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education

Whenever I start thinking, "Drezner, you've had a good run as of late," I always reflect on my colleague Danielle Allen. She is a full professor in both Classics and Political Science, and was recently appointed Dean of the Humanities here at the U of C. Allen holds two Ph.D.'s -- one in government from Harvard, one in Classics from Kings College, Cambridge. She has published two books -- one of which is The World of Prometheus: the Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens. I've perused enough of The World of Prometheus to know that although I may be a decent writer, I don't quite have her chops. She's also a published poet and documentary film producer. Oh, and she was a 2001 recipient of a MacArthur genius grant.

I could live with all of this if it weren't for two facts:

  • Danielle is three years younger than me; and,
  • She's just so damn nice, it's impossible to direct any negative feelings towards her.
  • The reason I raise all of this is that Danielle Allen has written an essay commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education that is probably better than anything I could gin up. Here are the highlights:

    The question, “Where are we 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education,” frequently inspires the answer: “Tired.”....

    I recommend that those of us who feel tired return to the transcripts of the oral arguments in Brown (recently reenacted at the Goodman Theater in Chicago and to be aired on Illinois’ PBS affiliate on May 17th), where one finds a tautness on both sides that arises from the lawyers’ intuitive knowledge that they were arguing about the entirety of a constitution. These oral arguments are more powerful, more significant documents, in my view, than the opinion itself.

    One finds inspiration in Thurgood Marshall’s impassioned arguments in those transcripts. He had much farther to go than we do. We ought to make his energy our own and turn to resurrecting public education for everyone and to confronting the evils of the drug trade as well as the inequities and hypocrisies of our current responses to it. As Marshall must have understood, the work still ahead is for our children’s children’s children.

    UPDATE: Eugene Volokh is another academic who's smarter than me and has some interesting things to say about Brown.

    posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Beware the ed school mafia

    When I was in grad school at Stanford, there was an largely unspoken consensus that the education school was the weakest of the grad school programs in the university. They had the flimsiest pedagogy and the most "flexible" curriculum (in that pretty much any course on campus could somehow apply towards their degree). The fact that this program was training America's next generation of teachers troubled me a little back then, but now I share Alan Greenspan's fervor in boosting education in the United States.

    Which is why it's so disappointing to hear that any scholar who questions the rigor of education school curricula in this country runs into difficulties. Eduwonk posts the following tale:

    [David] Steiner, a Boston University education professor, is the author of a controversial chapter in the new book, "A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas" published by Harvard Education Press.... Steiner's chapter looks at the course of study in elite education programs in the United States. Specifically he and a colleague analyze syllabi from 16 teacher preparation programs (14 top tier and two comparison schools) as measured against a framework of what they consider to be a rigorous and high quality program.

    The results are not encouraging. They found a pervasive ideological slant and a lack of rigor. They're certainly not the first to raise these issues but they are among the first to try to systematically analyze them because of the difficulty of compiling data on a varied set of courses and program requirements. Steiner's data is less complete than he'd like. Steiner acknowledges the shortcomings and invites others to review the data (for reasons of confidentiality he cannot publicly disclose the specific courses he analyzed) and replicate and expand his work.

    Steiner first presented his work at a 2003 conference in Washington then subsequently revised it based on feedback at the conference for publication. Yet before the book even hit the shelves he found himself at the receiving end of a nasty whispering campaign. Rather than falsify his findings, or even better just put syllabi on the web to facilitate easier analysis by others, Steiner has been derided, often in personal terms, and almost never in print with a name attached to it. But mention his work at a conference and you'll get an earful, not about the ins and outs of the work but instead just claims about what garbage it is and what a hack Steiner allegedly is.

    Education Week has further details (registration required):

    In examining the outlines for 45 "education foundations" courses in 18 programs, the researchers found that no course offered an introduction to the four central areas that they say ideally would make up the course: the philosophy, history, and psychology of education, along with public-policy debates in the field.

    In general, philosophy, history, and policy got short shrift in teacher-preparation courses, the paper said. In seven schools, students were required to study only psychology and multiculturalism. Psychology showed up in all but three programs, and cultural diversity as a course was required in all but three education schools....

    Courses in methods for teaching mathematics, the researchers wrote, showed the strong influence of standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: All but five of the 42 outlines studied made explicit reference to them. The investigators also found evidence that three-quarters of the schools were taking state math standards into account to various degrees. They applauded both those directions.

    On the other hand, just one course outline referred to the research stemming from the Third International Math and Science Study, which has found that in comparison with math teachers in other countries, American math teachers cover material that is less demanding, with less attention to fundamental concepts....

    Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University who has led the charge for tighter regulation and higher standards for teaching, blasted the paper as showing "very poor scholarship."

    Course outlines are inadequate to assess what is actually taught, she said, calling the standards Mr. Steiner used to evaluate each of the four types of courses either personal or politically motivated.

    "We need systematic studies," she complained, "rather than diatribes that come at the problems ideologically."

    David F. Labaree, an education professor at Stanford and author of the forthcoming book The Trouble With Ed Schools, agreed that course outlines are not a good guide to what is actually taught. They are "more an ideological portrait of a course than actual substance," he said.

    Mr. Steiner was right in portraying many education schools as having "a strong ideological consensus around progressive, constructivist approaches to education," Mr. Labaree said. (emphases added).

    Maybe they do things differently in ed schools, but for my classes, course syllabi are a pretty decent indicator for course content.

    It's hard to ascertain the extent of any negative feedback Steiner is experiencing beyond Eduwonk's post. That said, if Steiner is really the subject of a whispering campaign, but if he is, it's emblematic of the difficulties the U.S. will face in education reform.

    [C'mon, this contretemps just a stalking horse for standard left-right debates about education, right?--ed. Steiner's chapter is part of a book co-edited by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Progressive Policy Institute. I'd call that pretty bipartisan. Plus, as Eduwonk observes, "Steiner's not a Lynne Cheney type or an ideologue, he's a lefty!']

    posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (5)

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    The big leap

    Modern American life has created a staggered series of events for people to acquire the trappings of a grown-up -- graduating from college, choosing a career, getting married, having children, etc.

    Having experienced all of these (I did not bear the children, but you get my meaning), I actually think the scariest was the decision to become a property-owner.

    Which is why I can identify with Laura of Apt. 11D, who may not be at that location for much longer:

    My stomach is in knots. I fear that I might blow chunks at any minute. My brain can not hold a thought for more than a nano-second.

    I think we bought a house....

    We put in a bid. They upped it by a little and told us about the gutter problem. We accepted. Tomorrow we'll call the bottom crawling lawyers and I suppose that's it. Provided the inspectors don't find bugs. Good Lord, what have we done?

    What you've done, Laura, is take a very big leap. Sounds like the right thing to do, but a big leap is a big leap, even when you clear the chasm.

    Brad Delong suggests: "I have one piece of advice: fixed-rate mortgage."

    posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

    The real reason to boycott The Day After Tomorrow

    Glenn Reynolds has a post up about the absurd environmentalism that undergirds The Day After Tomorrow, a disaster movie coming soon to a theater near you. has touted the film as, "The Movie the White House Doesn't Want You to See."

    We here at tend to cast a skeptical eye on the bashing of action movies for their political content -- mostly because all action movies have their built-in political absurdities. Any principled moviegoer choosing to abstain from action movies with political or factual absurdities would be unable to go to any of these movies. Since we here at also like to see explosions, chases, and digitally-enhanced mayhem on a regular basis, we cannot recommend boycotting The Day After Tomorrow because of silly envoronmentalism.

    However, as a loyal Chicagoan, I can recommend that all current and former residents of this great city boycott the movie because of what director Roland Emmerich told Entertainment Weekly about setting the film in New York City as opposed to Chicago (subscription required):

    Once again, the German-born Emmerich annihilates beloved landmarks (buh-bye, Hollywood sign!). But coming less than three years after Sept. 11, he had doubts about setting the film primarily in the Big Apple. ''It was a big discussion for me: Can I do this movie in New York? Is it in bad taste?'' he says. ''We decided that because New York is the symbol of Western civilization, it has to be New York. We could have shot this movie in Chicago, but what is the worldwide recognition of Chicago?'' (emphasis added)

    I'll concede that New York City may be the most easily recognized city in the world.

    But claiming that Chicago doesn't have any "worldwide recognition" smacks of provincialism.

    posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (4)

    When international relations gets bizarre

    Nicholas Wood reports in the New York Times about a truly bizarre effort by Macedonia's effort to ingratiate itself to Washington in late 2001/early 2002:

    Roughly two months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, a group of high-level officials met here in Macedonia's Interior Ministry to determine how their country could take part in the United States-led campaign against terror.

    Instead of offering troops to support American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, as other countries in the region had done, senior officials and police commanders conceived a plan to "expose" a terrorist plot against Western interests in Skopje, police investigators here say.

    The plan, they say, involved luring foreign migrants into the country, executing them in a staged gun battle, and then claiming they were a unit backed by Al Qaeda intent on attacking Western embassies.

    On March 2, 2002, this plan came to fruition when Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski announced that seven "mujahedeen" had been killed earlier that day in a shootout with the police near Skopje. Photos were released to Western diplomats showing bodies of the dead men with bags of uniforms and semiautomatic weapons at their side....

    In late 2001, after a six-month guerrilla war with ethnic Albanian rebels, relations between Macedonia's nationalist government and the outside world were at a low ebb. Diplomats, government officials and investigators here have suggested that the government hoped to use the post-Sept. 11 campaign against terror to give the government a free hand in its conflict with the mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians.

    This would be funny if it hadn't had real consequences:

    The migrants - six Pakistanis and one Indian - had hoped to make their way to Western Europe, when they were contacted by the traffickers, and offered the possibility of traveling to Greece, the Interior Ministry official said. The Pakistanis were later identified as Muhammed Riaz, Omar Farooq, Syed Bilal, Hussein Shah, Asif Javed, and Khalid Iqbal. The name of the Indian remains unknown....

    Autopsies performed on the men as well as police photos suggested that all the shooting had come from the police side, and that the police had tried to stage the crime scene.

    All seven bodies had multiple bullet wounds and in one case as many as 53, according to the Interior Ministry. Later, the police showed pictures of a Lada jeep with two bullet holes in it as proof that a gun battle had taken place.

    UPDATE: A hat tip to my commenters, who point out that this story is not a new one.

    posted by Dan at 12:20 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, May 16, 2004

    What's to be gained from more trade liberalization?

    As part of its ongoing Copenhagen Consensus project on global issues, the Economist reports this week on the effect that the elimination of protectionist barriers would have on global economic growth:

    Subsidies are a naked transfer from taxpayers to corporate mendicants; they are also an indirect transfer to overseas consumers, who enjoy artificially depressed prices as a result of the handouts. Tariffs on the other hand raise money for the treasury’s coffers at the expense of foreign exporters and home consumers, who face higher prices as a result of the restriction on trade. Do the gains to one group offset the losses to another? Emphatically not. Tariffs and subsidies drive a wedge between demand and supply, imposing “deadweight” costs on an economy. Tariffs discourage worthwhile production (of goods that would cost less to make than consumers are willing to pay), while subsidies encourage worthless overproduction (of goods that would cost more to make, sans the subsidy, than consumers are prepared to pay).

    Eliminating such distortions would allow prices to resume their proper job of equating supply and demand. As a result, capital and labour would be reallocated across industries to reflect a country’s comparative advantage. The gains to the world economy would be sizeable: $254 billion per year (in 1995 dollars), according to a recent paper by Mr Anderson and his colleagues.

    The bulk of the gains come from agriculture, which also carries the heaviest distortions. If the rich countries stopped intervening on behalf of farmers, the global economy would gain by $122 billion—and the rich world would benefit most of all, collecting $110 billion of those gains. Poorer countries, on the other hand, stand to gain the most, $65 billion, from liberalising their own trade regimes, not waiting for rich countries to free theirs.

    [Sure, but that's free trade in the abstract. What about the real world sausage of the Doha round of the WTO?--ed.] For that, let's reprint this from Kym Anderson's article summary:

    An optimistic assumption of 50% across-the-board cuts to bound tariffs and farm subsidies leads to predicted benefits of approximately half those to be derived from full liberalisation – around $200 to $1000 billion a year – although with a different balance of beneficiaries. No allowance has been made in those estimates for reform-stimulated economic growth or for the effect of liberalising labour or capital markets. If these were included, the benefit could be much higher.

    Click here for links to Anderson's full paper, in addition to two "opponent note" rejoinders.

    posted by Dan at 11:56 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    The last time I'll make fun of Dennis Kucinich

    There comes a point in a politician's career when their future prospects appear to be so dismal, the best thing the observer can do is show some kindness, look away, and write about something else.

    After reading Rick Lyman's New York Times article about Dennis Kucinich's ongoing campaign, I think that time has come for the good representative from the state of Ohio.

    One last excerpt, however:

    Before Americans get too engrossed in a general election contest between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, Dennis J. Kucinich would like to remind them of something: He's still out here, working hard every day, slogging from town to town, the second-to-last person still standing in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination....

    At a rally later in Lincoln City, nearly 200 people packed the Bijou Cinema, where Mr. Kucinich was presented with a quilt bearing the logo "Dept. of Peace." This referred to his proposal to create such a cabinet-level agency to promote harmony and conflict resolution, a notion much ridiculed on conservative talk radio shows as emblematic of the sort of fuzzy-headed thinking common among this particular strain of liberal.

    "We can change the whole debate in this country, and we've got to do it," Mr. Kucinich said. "It's about the party standing for something, something other than the next check from the corporate interests."

    In an almost hushed voice, he continued: "This is a spiritual matter, not just a practical political matter."

    The entire time he spoke, an angelic young woman stood at the side of the auditorium with her arms raised above her head, sometimes shaking them gently, as though sending waves through the air.

    The young woman, Eden Sky, 27, said she was "focusing," which she described as a kind of praying, a blessing. And she seemed almost puzzled when asked why she chose to focus on Mr. Kucinich. "Because he is the only one worth focusing on," she said.

    posted by Dan at 11:28 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    The one-upsmanship of conference presenters

    For some of this weekend I attended an Olin conference entitled, "Tyranny: Ancient and Modern." Most of the presenters were quite illuminating, but there was one amusing monent. It centered on what role the Bush administration played in the release of activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim from an Egyptian prison (click here for more on Ibrahim).

    The question was whether U.S. economic pressure (in the form of reduced foreign aid) hastened or delayed Ibrahim's release. The following is, to the best of my ability, a recreation of the factual debate between two of the presenters who shall go unnamed:

    PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL #1: I have it on good authority that U.S. pressure played a constructive role in Ibrahim's release.

    PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL #2: I discussed this with Ibrahim's wife, and I'm quite sure U.S. pressure was counterproductive.

    PI#1: My source is Ibrahim himself, so I'm pretty sure of my claim.

    PI#2: I had Ibrahim in my office this week, and I stand by my version of events.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh, yeah, well I have Ibrahim on the phone right now!! (general laughter).

    I was half-expecting an Annie Hall-like moment for Ibrahim to suddenly walk on stage and embarrass one or the other speaker.

    The grand irony was that Ibrahim had been in that very room approximately thirteen months earlier. If memory serves, he did thank the U.S. government, although one would also have expected him to do this. [And, it should be noted that regardless of the effectiveness, both of the speakers applauded the administration for its efforts in this matter.]

    posted by Dan at 08:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)