Saturday, May 29, 2004

So what do we know about Iyad Allawi?

Apparently Ayad Allawi is to be the Prime Minister of Iraq from June 30th of this year to January 31st, 2005. He's consulted with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the make-up of the provisional government's cabinet.

What else do we know from his selection? Josh Marshall doesn't offer much of a guide:

I continue to think that something very important happened in this selection of Iyad Allawi. Precisely what, though, remains unclear.

Juan Cole thinks that Brahimi preferred an exile who could not use the position to entrench himself in power. However, the BBC reports that Brahimi ain't exactly thrilled with the selection of Allawi.

I can offer zilch in the way of information about Allawi himself. But I do think that the nature of Allawi's selection contains two interesting nuggets of information. The first comes from Mike Allen and Robin Wright's Washington Post story about the selection. It suggests the extent to which the Bush administration did not want to be seen as puppetmaster on this one:

In a telephone conversation at 2:30 p.m., a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy sounded uncertain about whether Ayad Allawi would head Iraq's interim government after the United States transfers limited authority on June 30.

"We may or may not have heard the last word on the prime minister," the official said. "You have to put a lot of pieces together first."

A senior administration official in Baghdad said that L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator, and Robert D. Blackwill, the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq, knew about the impending selection on Thursday. But officials in Baghdad feared a leak and told few officials in Washington. Some members of President Bush's war cabinet knew where the process was heading but were surprised by the timing of the council's decision.

The administration's statements were reserved because the United States did not want to appear to be driving the process, officials said, especially because of the country's past ties with Allawi.

The second nugget of information is that whoever Allawi is, Ahmed Chalabi doesn't like him. I know this via another Laurie Mylroie mass e-mail, which contained a link to this scathing Al Arab commentary by one Dr. Haifa Al-Azawi. The last paragraph is all you need to read:

These kinds of people can put our U.S. government and our troops in bad positions and in danger. Laura [sic] Myroie, author of "Bush vs. the Beltway," and critical of the CIA handling of Iraq, blamed Allawi for what she said was faulty intelligence that endangered the U.S. troops at the end of the Gulf War. The United States plans to turn over power to Iraqis by July 1. We are all hoping to see reasonable, honest people in power; we do not want to see another potential Saddam. (emphasis added)

If Mylroie doesn't like him, Chalabi doesn't like him. [So does that mean he's a good choice or a bad one?--ed. My gut says to be mildly pessimistic. The IGC chose him so they wouldn't be locked out of the next government and the spoils that come with it. There had to have been some serious quid pro quos for Allawi to get the support from the council. My one prediction, therefore, is that some corruption scandal will break between now and January.

On the other hand, play the following game -- stack the accusations made against Allawi and Chalabi side by side and see if they're exactly identical or just roughly idential.]

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has more on Allawi -- he's not a fan (link via David Adesnik).

posted by Dan at 08:11 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 28, 2004

More on CPA recruitment

In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I've heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this.

For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:

The staffing plan worked out by Reuben [Jeffery III, "a conservative but pragmatic former Goldman Sachs partner who had was a prominent contributor to the Republican party] and Jerry Bremer was to have these two [high level employees of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm] head up an HR staff seconded from the Army personnel office that would seek out high level civilians, without ideological bias, to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were brought on with the knowledge of DoD/OSD but not the White House.

The first week they arrived, Office of the White House Liaison (OWHL), headed by a man named Jim O'Beirne, found out about CPA's staffing plans. A turf war ensued. At one point, OWHL personnel told the two Korn/Ferry employees that they had to clear their desks and be escorted out of the building. Of course, Reuben intervened and nothing that dramatic happened. What did happen is that recruitment was reassigned from CPA to OWHL by OSD. The Korn/Ferry people were only to help interview and process candidates already screened by OWHL.

I sat in the same room of cubes for several weeks watching this unfold, talking daily with the Korn/Ferry people, and observing the first interviews run by OWHL. OWHL hired retired military personnel, most of whom had run for public office as Republicans and been defeated in the 2002 electoral cycle, to staff its CPA recruiting arm. I observed one such individual, a retired Navy CMDR who lost a Virginia legislature race in 2002, question one applicant as to their stance on Roe v. Wade. I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to "the President's vision for Iraq" (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was "uncertain." I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, FERC, and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.

Now, let me be the first to say that a shared ideology should play a role in hiring decisions at some level. If an applicant was asked why s/he wanted to go to Iraq, and that person answered, "I want to expose the role of evil multinational oil companies in the exploitation of Iraqi resources," well, that person wouldn't make a terribly good CPA employee. Let me also say, as Kevin Drum pointed out previously, that the people who were hired to be CPA personnel have the best of intentions and appear to have spared no effort to rebuild Iraqi society.

That said, how does a person's opinion towards Roe v. Wade possibly affect their ability to function in Iraq?

This is a story crying out for further investigation.

In the meantime, CPA employees who believe that this is an exaggerated picture of the hiring process should feel free to e-mail. I'll be happy to reprint what's relevant to the topic.

UPDATE: A claifying missive from my anonymous source:

I want to make clear that I never perceived that a pro-life stance was a necessary litmus test to work for CPA. That exchange was just an example of the type of ideological concerns I observed within CPA.... I want to reiterate how impressed I was in general at the level of commitment and skill in all the CPA personnel I met. I'm just disturbed that ideological reasons seem to have drastically narrowed the pool of committed Americans eligible to participate on this important endeavor.

Me too.

posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Debating the political effects of bad movies

The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending -- not because of the film's ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago.

Reading the reviews, however, it's clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant's Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:

[Director Roland] Emmerich's thundering, sometimes pulse-pounding summer blockbuster is a digitized city-destroying, freeze-drying depiction of the effects of manmade global warming. Inspired by scientific warnings and early evidence that the Earth's atmosphere is changing because of mankind's abuse, "The Day After" is a scientifically hyperbolic clarion call to greedy fossil-fuel consumers and Bush administration pols who refuse to recognize the problem, much less do something about it....

For all of its chilly scenes of destruction and Emmerich's practiced control of the dramatic tension, it is one of the disappointments of "The Day After Tomorrow" that it is so unbelievable. The film does capitalize on our collective guilt, but it makes too much of it, catapulting itself into the realm of hyperbolic nonsense....

It is with palpable glee that Emmerich uses his film's premise to throw snowballs at targets ranging from Tinsel Town to the Bush administration. The white-lettered Hollywood sign is obliterated by a tornado. A shopping mall is shrouded in ice and snow. The issue of Mexican immigration and border crossing is reversed, as Americans stream toward the border, only to be forbidden entry by Mexican patrols. Kenneth Welsh's vice president has the wire frame glasses, white hair and the intransigence of Dick Cheney....

All that said, if "The Day After Tomorrow" gets even one person to pressure a congressman or trade in a gas-guzzler for a subcompact, it will justify all of Emmerich's digital exaggeration. (emphasis added)

Slate's David Edelstein frets a little more about blowback:

[I]f I had to catalog all the moronic plot turns in The Day After Tomorrow, we'd be here until the next ice age. It's just so very bad. You can have a pretty good time snickering at it—unless, like me, you think there's something to this global warming thing, and you shudder at the irony of a movie meant to warn people about a dangerous environmental trend that completely discredits it....

The sad part is that Emmerich really thinks he's making a political statement, and he and his producers and actors are making the rounds blabbing about the movie's message to the world. As a German, he's no doubt eager to teach the United States some humility: The most amusing scene features North Americans racing illegally across the Rio Grande as Mexican troops attempt to turn them back. But the mainstream American audience won't want to know from humility, even in a fantasy alternate universe. It's too Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock. Is it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are? Al Gore stepped right into this one, didn't he?

[So what's your take on this global warming deal?--ed. Click here to find out.]

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a wickedly funny take on the flick:

Having seen it, I now want to be the first to say: are you f***ing kidding me? George Bush should be buying people tickets to this movie. It's preposterous from start to finish—maybe the D.C. audience has an unusually ironic sensibility, but the crowd was laughing from start to finish, during many of the ostensibly most dramatic scenes....

The catalyst for the movie's meteorological mayhem is an ice age brought on practically overnight by a vaguely specified disturbance in the Atlantic current caused by melting icecaps. But the effect is not to deliver some kind of chilling, potentially mobilizing warning about the perils of our current environmental policy. Instead, the fantastic and sudden global catastrophe turns a genuine issue into a sci-fi threat: It puts global warming in roughly the same category as attacks by Godzilla or The Blob.... In short, the movie makes a genuine (if tractable) problem into high camp. It's about as likely to spur political pressure for more environmental regulation as the X-Files movie was to prompt demands for an alien invasion defense force.

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The rise of the Indian lobby

Joshua Kurlantzick has an interesting essay in The New Republic on the growth of Indian-Americans as a politically influential interest group, to be wooed by Democrats and Republicans alike. [So why is this filed under the outsourcing category?--ed.] Apparently, the Democratic rhetoric on offshoring have hampered their efforts to woo this bloc of voters. The good parts version of the article:

Indian Americans have long had the resources to compete in politics. The nation's wealthiest ethnic group, with a median family income over $60,000, its population doubled between 1990 and 2000, to 1.7 million, and is likely to double again by 2010. They are also among the best-educated groups in the country. Yet only in the past four years has the Indian community become more politically active. The first generation of Indians to come to the U.S., in the 1960s and 1970s, was made up primarily of doctors, engineers, and other science workers--U.S. policies at the time favored immigrants with science skills--and was interested primarily in building families and earning a living. Indeed, before 2000 only four Indian Americans had held office on a state or national level, and only one Indian American had ever been elected to Congress.

But since 2000, all that has begun to change. The war on terror contributed to a rise in hate crimes against brown-skinned and turban-wearing Americans, and that has galvanized many Indian Americans to become more politically involved. The White House's increasing chumminess with Pakistan--the administration recently decided to name Islamabad a "major non-NATO ally"--added to the sense of political urgency among Indian Americans. And most important, the recent furor over information technology offshoring, much of it to India, has sparked fears of a rise in anti-Indian sentiment, further convincing many Indian Americans of the need to organize. In March, Christopher Dumm, executive director of the Indian American Center for Political Awareness, told the Financial Times, "There is fear about a possible backlash that could mean discrimination at work, xenophobic rhetoric, or even violence."....

Democrats already have an advantage, as the Indian-American community, like other Asian-American groups, has traditionally backed liberal positions on immigration and other social issues. To do so, Democrats must first tone down their rhetoric on outsourcing, which has become perhaps the most important issue to many Indian Americans. Unfortunately, John Kerry and others show little sign of abandoning the issue. Shared Lakhanpal, head of the Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin, told Far Eastern Economic Review that many Indian Americans were moving to the GOP because Bush is "not bashing India for outsourcing like Kerry is doing."

All that's left is for Pat Choate -- you know, the 1996 Reform Party candidate for vice president -- to write his follow-up to Agents of Influence, which was about how the Japanese were lobbying to take over the U.S.

posted by Dan at 11:08 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Wal-Mart comes to Chicago

As part of my ongoing Wal-Mart coverage, the City Council voted yesterday on proposals for two Wal-Mart stores to be opened within the city limits. The Chicago Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos -- who seems to have the Wal-Mart beat -- reports on a split decision:

Rejecting concerns that allowing Wal-Mart to open shop in Chicago would depress wages and destroy local businesses, the City Council voted Wednesday to permit the retail giant's first store in Chicago on the West Side.

Aldermen denied the company a total victory, as plans for a second store on the South Side came up one vote short of approval. But the plan for that store, in the 21st Ward, could be brought up for another council vote as soon as June 23....

Since council members first raised objections to Wal-Mart's plans in March, Chicago has become the most recent high-profile battleground in the national fight over the company's push to open stores in urban areas.

Unions and community groups mobilized opposition in recent weeks, highlighting Wal-Mart's distaste for organized labor and deriding the company's wages and benefits. As in other parts of the country, those complaints clashed with the desire to bring new stores and their bargain-priced goods to minority neighborhoods.

Ald. Emma Mitts said her economically depressed 37th Ward is in dire need of a new store and the 300 jobs that the West Side Wal-Mart promises. "This is a free country, and we look for low prices," she said.

In the end, though, the council's split on the two plans may have been determined by black aldermen who wanted to teach a harsh lesson to a freshman member accused of lacking proper respect for more senior council members.

All but two African-American aldermen at the meeting supported Mitts and her quest for a Wal-Mart in the Austin neighborhood. Yet, some of those same aldermen voted against the plan on the South Side for the Chatham section of the 21st Ward, represented by Ald. Howard Brookins.

South Side aldermen who split their votes said they sided with Mitts because she aggressively sought their backing, pointedly noting that Brookins ignored them and took their support for granted--until his proposal became the subject of wide debate.

"[Brookins] didn't do his homework," said Ald. William Beavers (7th), who supported both Wal-Mart proposals.

Aldermen voted 32-15 to approve the zoning change required for a Wal-Mart store at Grand and Kilpatrick Avenues on the West Side.

Brookins apologized for his lapse of aldermanic etiquette, but his contrition was not enough to win support for a 50-acre shopping center that also would include an Office Depot and a Lowe's home-improvement store. Aldermen voted 25-21, one vote short of approval, on the plan for the site of a former steel plant at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue....

Wednesday's outcome allowed both sides in the dispute to claim some success.

"Any time we get to better serve our customers, it's a huge deal," Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio said.

"A half a loaf is better than none," said Ron Powell, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.

Actually, it reads to me as if the union was just lucky it was up against an inexperienced alderman, and got a temporary victory at best.

posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

No failure of proof here

A lot of information in today's TNR Online column comes from previous blog posts. There's a lot of posts about the current situation in Iraq. Even former CPA advisors are dissatisfied -- click here for Larry Diamond's take and here for Yass Alkafaji's take. On Iraqi polls showing greater disenchantment with the American occupation, click here and here -- the latter one contains the 80% figure with regard to the CPA (thanks to Mark Kleiman for the links). Here's a blog post that discussed the rising support in Iraq for Muqtada Al-Sadr. There are a raft of polls demonstrating waning U.S. support for the current administration's Iraq policies -- this Washington Post poll is just the latest. The general pessimism in Washington on Iraq comes from Doyle McManus' Los Angeles Times think piece this past Sunday. On the conservative reaction in particular, here's another link to Reihan Salam's TNR essay, and my blog riff that emanated from it.

The White House has a link to the full text of President Bush's speech on Monday.

Here's a link to James Dobbins et al's America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq -- the quote in the TNR article comes from this press release. The calculation of the number of troops needed in Iraq comes from Michael Gordon's November 2003 Dispatches essay for

I've previously written about the errors in postwar planning in this Slate piece, which prompted some interesting feedback. The two TNR Online articles I wrote last year on democracy promotion in the Middle East can be found here and here. The point about ideological litmus tests being applied to CPA personel is based in part on this Ariana Eunjung Cha story in the Washington Post (link via Kevin Drum) and in part on first-person accounts I've received from CPA personnel. My assertion about the lack of viable policy options to the neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East is based in no small part on the information gleamed from a roundtable conference held last week at the University of Toronto on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Kopstein for inviting me to participate.

The current debate about Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith crystallizes the current questioning of administration competency. General Franks' quote about Feith -- "The fucking stupidest guy on the planet" -- can be found on page 281 of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Other juicy Franks quotes can be found at this Slate synopsis by Bryan Curtis. Slate's Chris Sullentrop has a pretty harsh assessment of Feith.

One of the things that got cut from the essay was my point that the situation in Iraq is not necessarily as bad as it has been portrayed in recent weeks. On the current situation in Fallujah, see this National Review Online essay by W. Thomas Smith Jr., which includes a verbatim transcript of a May 20th press conference held by held by Muhammed Ibrahim al-Juraissey, the city's mayor; Gen. Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade; and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. On the successes against Sadr's Mahdi militia, see this Washington Post account by Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson as well as this New York Times account by Edward Wong (credit must go to Andrew Sullivan for linking to all of these stories). I blogged about the progress in legal reforms in Iraq last month, and the revival of Iraqi security forces this month. Here's a link to the DoD claims about local governance.

One final caveat that got cut -- we can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well. Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom is as good a summation of these points as any, and here's a link to my take on Zakaria's thesis, with my follow-up here.

posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

A flaw in design or implementation?

My latest TNR Online essay is now available. It's on the implications that the current difficulties in Iraq could have on the overall grand strategy of the United States. The answer depends heavily on whether one believes that the idea of exporting open societies to the Middle East was a bad idea, or whether it was a good idea married with bad implementation.

Go check it out. Footnote link will be up later in the day.

posted by Dan at 01:23 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I am not a blogaholic, I am not a blogaholic....

Occasionally, I wonder if I devote too much time to the blog. Comparing how I spent my anniversary (not a lot of blogging) the opening of this Katie Hafner story in the New York Times does make me think that if I do have a problem, at least it's somewhat underc control by comparison:

To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

"I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

Ah, for the good old days, when a man would steal away to his computer to download pornography.

Read the whole article, by the way -- my favorite passage was, "A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few." And Jeff Jarvis has a nice defense of duty and blogging.

posted by Dan at 08:55 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Not since Conan O'Brien...

The alchemy of selecting a commencement speaker is a fragile one, as these two Chicago Tribune stories by Nara Schoenberg can attest. The alchemy of delivering a graduation speech that commands the attention of matriculating students suffering from hangovers is even more fragile.

This is particularly true if you try to be funny. My standard for funny commencement speeches has been Conan O'Brien's address to Harvard's class of 2000.

Jon Stewart's address to William & Mary's class of 2004 hits the mark (link via Andrew Sullivan). The funny part -- for someone who got a Ph.D.:

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

The funny and poignant part:

I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re gonna be OK.”

posted by Dan at 11:46 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

A landmark too far

The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes itself as "the leader of the vigorous preservation movement that is saving the best of the country's past for the future." Yesterday they declared the eleven most endangered historic places in the United States. The places range from the natural (Nine Mile Canyon) to the man-made (the Bethlehem steel plant) -- and then there's the entire state of Vermont. Here's why:

With historic villages and downtowns, working farms, winding back roads, forest-wrapped lakes, spectacular mountain vistas and a strong sense of community, Vermont has a special magic that led National Geographic Traveler magazine to name the state one of "the World's Greatest Destinations." Yet in recent years, this small slice of America has come under tremendous pressure from the onslaught of big-box retail development. The seriousness of this threat led the National Trust to name the state to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1993. Back then, Vermont was the only state without a Wal-Mart. Today it has four – and it now faces an invasion of behemoth stores that could destroy much of what makes Vermont Vermont.

Yes, I can see how four Wal-Marts is clearly a sign of the apocalypse -- no, actually I can't.

This is an extreme but telling example of the reactionary phenomenon that Virginia Postrel has documented in both The Future and Its Enemies and The The Substance of Style. As Postrel put it on p. 8 of The Future and Its Enemies:

The characteristic values of reactionaries are continuity, rootedness, and geographically defined community. They are generally anticosmopolitan, antitechnology, anticommercial, antispecialization, and antimobility.

I'm not averse to historical preservation in principle, but doesn't it seem as though landmarking an entire state is an example of a landmark too far?

This debate is really about the externalities created by the demand for large retail stores versus the evident economic benefits from such stores. The National Trust is basically claiming that the externalities are so costly that they threaten the very fabric of an entire state. Politically, magnifying the externalities of big box stores makes sense, but their web page on Vermont does not provide a scintilla of evidence that these costs actually exist.

The grand irony, of course, is that a century from now -- when Wal-Marts and other big box stores are threatened from whatever the new new thing in retail turns out to be -- I have no doubt that the National Trust will start landmarking the big box stores and decrying our lost retail heritage.

Who suffers from this kind of idiotic extremism? The Chicago Tribune story by Jon Margolis about this little absurdity suggests that the residents of Vermont might disagree with the National Trust's weighing of costs and benefits:

Whether or not it is a tragedy, Vermont's character has been changing anyway, and not mostly because of big-box stores. Some of those small towns started dying decades ago, before Sam Walton dreamed up his retail chain because the world no longer needs nearly as many dairy farmers and loggers as it did....

In fact, the designation was not imposed from Washington. It was proposed by a Vermonter, Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, a statewide organization that helps local residents trying to preserve the look and feel of their small towns and cities.

On the other hand, there are thousands of Vermonters who want to be able to buy low-priced goods without making a long drive and who pressure their local officials not simply to accept a Wal-Mart, but to ask the company to come to town.

Though no one has taken a dependable poll on the subject, the conventional wisdom is that this is the larger faction.

It is certainly the louder faction.

When the Ames department store chain went out of business a couple of years ago, hundreds of people in the rural Northeast Kingdom of the state wrote letters to the editors of their local newspapers decrying no access to inexpensive underwear. Their solution? Let's get a Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, click here to read how large chains are trying to expand their urban markets while responding to local concerns in Chicago.

UPDATE: Gerald Kanapathy and Kevin Brancato are having a fine debate about this decision over at Always Low Prices, a blog devoted exclusively to all sides of the Wal-Mart phenomenon.

posted by Dan at 02:40 PM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Open thread on Bush's latest Iraq speech

I will nt be watching Bush's speech tonight on Iraq live, as my wife and I have an anniversary to celebrate.

Feel free to comment on it here, however. The Washinghton Post's Dan Froomkin does a nice job of describing the lay of the land.

One prediction -- it will be impossible for media write-ups not to link the situation in Iraq with the physical aftereffects of Bush's bicycle accident.

I'll update this post after I've watched the speech be enjoying a lovely evening with my wife, thank you very much.

posted by Dan at 06:25 PM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (2)

Ranking the Rich, mark two

Longtime readers of the blog may remember that I was critical of the Center for Global Development for last year's Ranking the Rich. That report, if you remember, had the U.S. ranked 20th out of 21 countries in terms of helping the developing world. It was a good effort, but it stacked the deck against the U.S. in a number of ways.

The Center reacted to my critique in the most cunning of ways -- asking me to be on their Commitment to Development Advisory Board.

In response to their feedback from last year's index, the authors of the index revised the measures used for some of the components, and added a new one -- technology.

This year's Ranking the Rich is now out -- here's a list of the 2004 rankings. As happened last year, Foreign Policy has run a story on it. The key paragraph:

In order to rank rich nations as accurately as possible, this year the aid, trade, and environment components of the index were revised, a technology component added, and the sections on investment, migration, and security (formerly called peacekeeping) overhauled. Australia gains most from these improvements in method, surging from 19th place in 2003 to 4th place this year, due in part to changes in the investment and security components. The new measure of security also helps boost the United States 13 slots; Australia, the United States, and Canada all gain from improved data on migration. Amid all the jockeying, however, the same stalwarts anchor first and last place: Japan remains at the bottom of the CDI while the Netherlands stays at the top, though it now shares that position with last year's number two, Denmark.

And for all of those just waiting to ask whether the revision factored in private aid flows as well as official development assistance -- a topic I've addressed before -- here's the key passage:

This year, the CDI rewards governments for allowing their citizens to write off charitable contributions on their income taxes—and for taxing their citizens less, leaving more money in private hands for charity. Some of those contributions go to humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and CARE that do important work in developing countries. Currently, all index countries except Austria, Finland, and Sweden offer tax deductions or credits for such contributions. However, even in the United States—often considered a stingy government donor and generous source of charity—private giving is small compared to public giving. U.S. government aid in 2002 was $13.3 billion, or 13 cents a day per U.S. citizen. U.S. private giving to developing countries was another $5.7 billion, less than six cents a day, two cents of which is attributed to U.S. tax policy as opposed to individuals' own decisions. In the end, factoring in tax policy only lifts the U.S. aid rank from 20th to 19th....

Many of the CDI nations increased their foreign aid in 2002, especially the United States, which favored geopolitically important actors such as Turkey, Indonesia, Russia, and Afghanistan. But although the United States gives more aid than any other country in absolute terms, it still gives less aid in proportion to its size than any other rich country, and so finished near the bottom in this category. However, due to the penalty for overloading countries with projects, Greece and New Zealand scored below the United States. Evidently these countries spread their modest aid thinly, covering many countries with small projects and overburdening local administrators.

Go check out the whole report -- I'll be attending a board meeting soon, so any and all constructive feedback is appreciated.

posted by Dan at 12:45 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Sunday, May 23, 2004

So who are you?

Henry Copeland has posted some preliminary results from his survey of blog readers that I linked to last week. He got a decent sample size -- 17,159 respondents.

Among the more interesting findings:

This survey shows that blog readers are older and more affluent than most optimistic guestimates: 61% of blog readers responding to the survey are over 30, and 75% make more than $45,000 a year....

They are also far more male -- 79%! -- than I expected, versus 56% of's readers.

The political breakdown is also interesting:

Democrats -- 40.2%
Republicans -- 22.5%
Independents -- 20.2%
Libertarians -- 11.3%

Comment away....

posted by Dan at 06:27 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)