Saturday, July 3, 2004
Rethinking the Guard and Reserves
Thom Shanker's story in the Sunday New York Times explores how post-9/11 commitments will require a rethink of the National Guard and National Reserves in defese planning:
Shanker does a good job of delineating the budgetary and training disparities:
Read the whole thing -- and be sure to check out Phil Carter's thoughts on the matter once he reads it.
UPDATE: Here's Phil's partial response. Be sure to read the whole thing, but I thought this was a compelling point:
Friday, July 2, 2004
The most profitable blog in history
Until recently, Jessica Cutler was an undeniably attractive twentysomething staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). For most of the month of May, Cutler blogged anonymously as Washingtonienne. The posts mostly recounted various alleged trysts with various men -- some of them involved money changing hands -- some of whom were allegedly high-ranking administration officials.
In late May, DeWine fired Cutler from her $25,000 position for "unacceptable use of Senate computers," and Cutler stopped blogging. The Washington Post's Richard Leiby and (the undeniably attractive) Wonkette covered this in detail at the time.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported the following:
So, basically, Cutler got a $300,000 return on approximately two weeks worth of blogging.
Readers are invited to suggest ways for other bloggers to make that kind of scratch involving blogging that do not involve a) cheating on spouses; or b) committing a felony.
Voice of America reports on recent research on a generic three-in-one drug to fight AIDS:
Meanwhile, the same issue of Lancet has an epidemiological study of HIV trends in sub-Saharan Africa that also offers a modest dollop of good news:
A looming Republican civil war?
As many of my ideological soulmates make grudging moves towards joining the Kerry camp, and as GOP lawmakers fail to pass a (nonbinding) budget resolution, Andrew Sullivan predicts the future of the Republican Party:
I partly agree with Andrew but partly disagree. He's wrong about what happens if Bush wins. Nothing eases internal party divisions like winning, and I find it hard to believe that the fissures that Andrew highlights would burst open if Bush were to win re-election. Indeed, it's telling that the Bush administration has decided to award prime time slots at the GOP convention to a lot of Republicans that have had strained relations with the White House. It's also telling that they've accepted.
I agree with Andrew about what happens if Bush loses -- but if anything, I think the internecine conflict will be bloodier than he projects. The reason is that the disgruntled Republicans are a motley lot, and might be alienated from each other just as much as they feel alienated from the White House. On the foreign policy front, the realists are disenchanted with the Bush team for listening to the neocons, the neocons are upset that the realists seem to be in charge, and the remaining "internationalists" are upset with both of the other groups. On fiscal matters, libertarians are upset at the growth of the federal government while moderates are upset at the growth of the budget deficit. This doesn't even touch on social issues.
If Bush loses, there's going to be a fight -- but the battle lines are going to be very, very messy.
Josh Marshall outsources his research
I'd like to congratulate Joshua Micah Marshall for improving his productivity by recycling a John Kerry press release in his snarky post on offshore outsourcing. Sure, some bloggers might have dug a bit deeper to get more information -- like the fact that John Kerry's policy proposals on outsourcing would have zero effect on the job losses Marshall broods about. And sure, by completely outsourcing his research to Kerry's campaign, Marshall may have missed just a few of the nuances involved in the debate on offshore outsourcing -- but Marshall did post first on this. Congratulations, Josh!!
[Hey, didn't you just do this as well?--ed. Yeah, but I said it was a press release when I did it.]
However, the story goes on to quote some interesting research findings:
Click here for a case study that buttresses Slaughter's aggregate data. And here's the relevant table:
Sudan plays hide-and-seek with the UN
Sudarsan Raghavan reports for Knight-Ridder on the visit to Sudan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to get a grip on the humanitarian disaster there. Things did not go smoothly:
Thursday, July 1, 2004
Your web site for the day
The American Museum of the Moving Image has launched an online exhibition today entitled "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." This is from their press release:
It's a must for politics and media junkies. Go check it out.
UPDATE: Also worth checking out is Nick Anderson's piece in the Los Angeles Times about how Kerry and Bush are differentiating and deploying web-based video ads from TV-based video ads.
Why Michael Moore is doomed
I haven't posted much on Fahrenheit 9/11 -- unless you count my Tech Central Station column that questions one of Moore's underlying theses involving the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia. Richard Just does an brilliant job of deconstructing the film itself [Full disclosure -- Just is my editor at TNR Online], so there's no point going there.
More interesting has been the media response to Moore and his own counter-response. David Adesnik appears to be correct in pointing out that:
And bumpy it has been. David Brooks had a column that highlighted some of the zestier comments Moore has made about the U.S. in overseas venues. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball rip to shreds one of Moore's flimsier allegations in Newsweek (link via Glenn Reynolds).
That last story mentions a fact that strongly suggests Michael Moore's public support is about to take a major hit:
Lehane? Lehane??!! Yeah, let's review his impressive achievements at spin:
Michael Moore hired this guy to protect his reputation? His reputation is toast.
Also, I see that Michael Moore is planning to start a blog. No posts yet, however.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Some free advice to Lehane -- go read Ted Barlow's disturbing post about Focus on the Family's efforts to harrass Moore and run with that for a while. Of course, that raises some vexing questions about Moore's tactics as well.
Jacob Levy asks the right questions
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, I posted about the presence of Al Qaeda fighters in the parts of Iraq outside Saddam Hussein's control, and suggested that, hey, maybe the U.S. should take some action there (as well as challenge Europeans to honor their commitments to combat terrorism).
At the time, my response was the same as Jacob Levy's: "At first I assumed that it was so extreme and appalling a claim that there was almost certainly a credible counter-story or at least contrary interpretation to be offered. But I never saw it."
The disturbing allegation, which remains unanswered, is whether the administration chose not to take out these camps -- and possibly Zarqawi -- in order to prosecute a war of choice. Like Ramesh Ponnuru, I find this deeply troubling.
It would be nice to see this story get the journalistic attention that, say, the impending nuptuals of Britney Spears... or the sudden weight loss of Anna Nicole Smith... or [You're drifting off point! Focus!--ed] anyway, you get my drift.
Where's AAA when you need them?
Michael Kilian reports in the Chicago Tribune that there are a few bugs in our Afghanistan maps:
To be fair, Jim Garamone reports for American Forces Press Service that the current mapping problems has not had much of an effect:
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
The personal prejudices of Daniel Davies
Over at Crooked Timber, dsquared has some issues with my recommendation of William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity . You should read his post in full, but -- since this deals in part with management consultants -- here's the bullet-point executive summary version:
I share Davies' leeriness with regard to management consultants. Some years ago I had to review former McKinsey consultant Kenichi Ohmae's The End of the Nation State and was appalled by the sloppiness of the argument. More horrifying were the footnotes -- Ohmae cited something written by himself 93% of the time.
Management consultants also tend to use the method of comparison to analyze the secrets of business success (i.e., looking at world-class firms to identify the commonalities as the recipe for success) when in fact the method of difference would prove more reliable (i.e., looking at successes and failures and identifying what the successes had in common that was not present among the failures).
Now, Davies appears to have extrapolated the tropes common to management consultants onto the Lewis book without, like, having read any of the book. I shared Davies' bias, and was wary about seeing typical management consultant mistakes in the analysis, but all I can say is that The Power of Productivity was a pleasant exception -- hence the recommendation.
It's also worth pointing out -- and my apologies if I didn't do so in the previous post -- that the analysis in the book is not at the firm level so much as the sectoral level. Furthermore, the sectors he looks at are reasonably important to the macroeconomy. For example, in retail, the key thesis for Lewis is not just Wal-Mart increasing retail productivity, but the market response to Wal-Mart increasing productivity. The following comes from p. 92-96:
I'm not going to go into depth on Daniel's last assertion, as his commenters are taking him to task on it. I am struck, however, that he seems to assume it's a lifestyle choice question -- that the introduction of Wal-Marts threatens the joys of shopping for sophisticates. This neglects the millions of Americans who cannot afford the high street stores but now have the opportunity to purchase cheaper and more varied goods courtesy of the big box stores and their enhanced productivity. For Davies, the deadweight loss of eliminating these transactions appears worth paying to preserve high streets. I don't think it's quite such an either/or choice, but I'm intrigued by the revealed preference.
UPDATE: A few additional thoughts:
1) Even in this post, I'm not sure I've adequately spelled out the fact that in contrast to much of the management consultant literature, Lewis does have a compelling theory to guide his argument -- simply put, the value of competition in goods markets has been undervalued relative to labor and/or capital markets. This is a big reason why markets that directly interact with consumers -- retail and housing -- explain both the growing produictivity gap and GDP per capita gap between the U.S. and most other OECD countries.
2) Both Davies and Brad DeLong state that the productivity numbers might be misleading because it masks costs that are passed onto the consumer via the reduction of "ancillary (but valuable) services."
This is a fair point -- and one that Lewis addresses in comparing retail productivity in the U.S. and Europe. The thing is, contrary to assumption, it's European retailers that have sacrificed many of these ancillary services, due in no small part to minimum wage laws. From p. 44-5 of The Power of Productivity:
3) Davies wants to attribute productivity gains ascribed to the market response to Wal-Mart to ""the general diffusion of technological improvement". It's far from clear to me that's this is an either/or proposition. As dsquared is undoubtedly aware, it's not just technology per se that increases productivity, it's how firms and markets reorganize themselves to fully exploit that technology that increases productivity. The diffusion of Wal-Mart's organizational innovations to the rest of the retail sector -- spurred by market competition -- is key here.
4) Finally, Daniel's suggestion that big box stores locate where they do because of supply and not demand considerations omits any mention of zoning/land use restrictions that prevent stores like Wal-Mart from locating themselves closer to urban customers. Click here, here, here, and here for my posts about Wal-Mart's efforts to open up stores within Chicago's city limits. And, as always, be sure to check out Always Low Prices, a blog devoted to the best and worst of Wal-Mart.
All this said, I do hope that Daniel takes the opportunity to peruse The Power of Productivity, and I look forward to further debate on this stimulating (to me) topic.
The Supreme Court's international influences
"Should foreign or international legal decisions ever be considered relevant to United States Supreme Court rulings?" That's the question over at Legal Affairs magazine.
Go read both and them post your own thoughts.
July's books of the month
If the United States can transfer sovereignty to Iraq a few days ahead of schedule, then I can recommend July's books in June. Both books this month fall under the nebulous category of comparative political economy -- but they were really interesting to me.
The first book is The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability by William W. Lewis. Lewis was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute, and the book largely consists of what Lewis learned in analyzing the performance of various sectors in key economies of the world. You can read a brief precis of what he found by clicking here. A few excerpts stand out in particular:
Virginia Postrel is curently reading Power of Productivity and is also a big fan -- which counts as a big endorsement to me.
The Power of Productivity suffers from some of the same flaws endemic to management consultants (Kenichi Ohmae, Daniel Yergin, etc.) when they write big books. A lot of points are repeated and repeated and repeated yet again. And what's the deal with management consultants and their abhorrence of footnotes? Lewis also fails to appreciate the lagged effect of technological innovations, so I strongly suspect he's underestimating the long-term effect of the information revolution.
This is small beer, however. Lewis gets the big picture of what causes economic prosperity by painting a pointillist picture of why different sectors in different economies have such variable levels of productivity, and how policy decisions can affect these levels. After reading this book, I have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the retail sector as a driver of affluence. To get a sense of the impact that improved productivity in the retail sector has on the aggregate economy, click here for the McKinsey Global Institute paper that forms the basis of Lewis' conclusions. His key point is worth repeating:
The general interest book looks more closely at the one significant economy that Lewis did not analyze -- China. Elizabeth Economy's The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future examines the environmental externalities of China's current economic growth. She cites one figure estimating that the environmental side effects of China's factories exact a toll equal to 8-12% of China's GDP. Just as interesting is Economy' portrayal of the political lay of the land in China. First, China's central government has much less control over provincial and local leaders than is commonly believed. Second, because of its weakness, the Chinese government is counting on Chinese civil society to assist in the ratcheting up of environmental protection. This sounds very odd, as Economy correctly observes that the environmental movement was a harbinger of democratization in other post-Communist societies. The Really Big Question over the next two decades is whether China's leaders can effectively control the behavior of Chinese environmental NGOs -- or vice versa.
Go check both of them out.
[Er, doesn't the second book suggest that the first book's emphasis on how to make countries rich overlook environmental costs?--ed. Au contraire, my good editor. Lewis is concerned with increasing productivity, which comes from increasing outputs relative to inputs. Furthermore, most of the improvements in productivity can be garnered in services, which generate much less pollution than manufacturing.]
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
The large residual of political skill
Man, is the left half of the blogosphere going to town on Richard Gephardt. Guest-posting last week at Talking Points Memo, both Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis say that picking Gephardt would be a mistake. Belle Waring is even less enthusiastic:
Waring links to this post from Fafblog, which provides the most honest assessment I've ever read about Richard Gephardt's political magnetism:
So who do these people prefer? If you read Judis, Teixeira, and Waring, it's John Edwards.
Here's the thing, though -- just how different is Edwards from Gephardt? On policy positions, both of them lean strongly protectionist, and both of them voted in favor of the war in Iraq. Both of them championed the down-and-outers during their primary campaigns. Edwards is from the South and Gephardt is from the Midwest, but I'm betting the reason Gephardt is still in play is because Kerry thinks that the Midwest will be the key battleground, while the South doesn't matter. If one were to choose based on political experience, even Edwards would have to concede that Gephardt's twenty years in DC outranks John Edwards' single term in the Senate.
So is there a difference? As one of those still on the fence, yeah, in my mind there's a difference. If Kerry picks Gephardt, there's no chance in hell I'm pulling the donkey lever. If he picks Edwards... I dunno. When I see Richard Gephardt on television, all I can think of is, "idiotic protectionist." When I see John Edwards on television, I think, "Hmmm... seems like an OK guy, maybe he's not as much of a protectionist as I suspect."
Why is this? Policy is not the only thing that matters in making political choices. There is such a thing as political skill. For example, the most important gift in campaigning is the ability to say something a voter disagrees with while making that voter think you're still a good guy.
Reagan had it. Clinton had it. Edwards has it.
Gephardt doesn't have it.
UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Kurtz for serving up an approving link to this post.
Allawi, Zarqawi, and the Iraqi man on the street
Thanassis Cambanis files an illuminating man-on-the-streets story from Baghdad for the Boston Globe. The good parts version:
One can draw three oh-so-tentative conclusions from this kind of report:
UPDATE Joe Katzman has a round-up of Iraqi blogger reactions at Winds of Change.
Monsieur Chirac, quel est votre problème?
The transatlantic relationship is one of those topics that provokes a lot of furrowed brows and tony conferences. I've been invited to my fair share over the past year, and the core question that inevitably pops up is, "How much of the transatlantic rift is due to clashes of style and how much is due to clashes of interests?'
The hip answer to give is the latter. According to this narrative, the important date in the relationship was not 9/11 but 11/9 -- the date the Berlin Wall fell, and the Cold War glue that held the U.S. and Europe together disintegrated. That was the date when NATO jumped the shark.
Me, I'm not so trendy, and think that the clash of styles is pretty important.
Part of this is due to George W. Bush. You could not have asked central casting for a better epitome of everything about the United States that Europe loathes -- Texas, conservatism, directness, religious devotion, and a lack of facility with most European languages -- including English.
That said, a very healthy dollop of the current clash of styles is due to Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac. The former appalled his foreign policy establishment by making Iraq the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and by adopting a position that was more unilateralist than the United States. Mention Schroeder's campaign behavior to European foreign policy experts, and they tend to look down and shuffle their feet.
However, the real piece of work on the European continent is Jacques Chirac. His latest exhibit of pique comes in response to the official NATO statement on Iraq -- which is broadly supportive but pretty bland.
This, however, was too much for Chirac to stomach -- according to Judy Dempsey's account in the Financial Times:
This sort of behavior does nothing but weaken NATO -- something that Chirac did in spades last year. If the French president really had a problem with the language of the statement, he shouldn't have agreed to it -- which would have been better than his current course of action, which is erratic in the extreme.
The Bush administration has contributed its fair share to the lack of transatlantic comity -- but powerful Europeans are behaving even worse.
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on just what NATO will do in Iraq.
Monday, June 28, 2004
Open Gitmo thread
Feel free to comment on the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling on the Guantanamo detainees here. Before commenting, it might behoove you to check out:
I haven't processed much of this yet, but so far Stuart Benjamin's point about formalism vs. pragmatism and Eugene Volokh's point about liberal and conservative iconoclasts on the court seem the most interesting to me.
Open sovereignty thread
Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia
With all the debate about the 9/11 Commission's finding regarding Iraq's dormant relationship with Al Qaeda, anothe finding has been ignored -- the relationship (or lack thereof) between Al Qaeda and the House of Saud.
I discuss this in my latest Tech Central Station essay, "About That Commission Report..." Go check it out.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds kindly links to my essay but has the following cavil:
On the second point -- it's tough to prove a negative statement. If I had been writing the report, that's exactly how I'd have phrased that finding. It's true that some evidence could surface that elements of the Saudi government bankrolled Al Qaeda -- just like some evidence could emerge linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.
On the first point, a lot of the criticism directed at the 9/11 commission staff report was that it was, well, a staff report, but had the imprantur of the 9/11 Commission. William Safire wrote last week (link via Jeff Jarvis):
I haven't paid too much attention to the "runaway staff" allegation, so I can't comment on it one way or the other. I can say that claims that the interim report was a partisan hit job would have to explain the fact that Philip Zelikow was a co-author of Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft with current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice -- a book that remains the definitive account of how Germany was reunified, by the way.
Zelikow might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he's a meticulous scholar, and I do trust his rendition of the facts.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
The big test for David Petraeus
Dexter Filkins has a front-pager in today's New York Times on the challenges facing Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus (about whom I've blogged here, here, and here) in reconstituting Iraq's security forces. The highlights:
UPDATE: Petraeus and Hashemi might want to peruse Michael Ware's essay in Time about the make-up of the Iraqi insurgency. The opening graf:
Read the whole thing.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Edward Cody's Washington Post front-pager today encapsulates the battle currently being waged in Iraq between the forces of nationalism and the forces of Islamic radicalism:
What the f@#% is in Dick Cheney's coffee?
The Vice President has not been the epitome of good manners in recent days. There's the use of the f-word to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on the Senate floor. Then there's the complete lack of contrition about the use of that word in that place in a Friday interview on Fox News. Here's his explanation:
So, Cheney's beef is that Leahy doubted Cheney's integrity publicly and then tried to play nicey-nice in the Senate floor.
Three thoughts on Cheney's little tamptrum:
1) While I understand getting upset when someone questions your integrity, there are better ways of responding than the admittedly economical "f--- you."
2) Hey, Mr. Vice President, you say that an elected official exhibited one demeanor in public and another in private? Welcome to politics. You've been in this business for how long?
3) While this was bad, Ron Reagan describes behavior by Cheney in today's New York Times Magazine that seems far, far worse to me: