Saturday, July 17, 2004

If you're in Chicago...

You have two three reasons to rejoice:

1) The opening of Millennium Park. The family and I checked it out today, and a good time was had by all. This opening weekend includes a lot of parades, musical performances, and other activities. The nominal architectural highlight is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and evokes his Guggenheim Museum in Bilao. For me, however, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate is the real treat -- a mirrored sculpture that beautifully reflects the Chicago skyline. Here's a picture, but it doesn't do Kapoor's vision justice:


[UPDATE -- , href="">here's a better photo:]
Here's a link to Millennium park's official website, and here's a link to the Chicago Tribune's special webpage devoted to the park.

2) For South-Siders, any injection of retail is a welcome development -- compared to the North Side and the suburbs, this region (which includes Hyde Park) is a veritable desert of commerce. So, even small steps by big-name brands are welcomed.

Dan Mihalopoulos and Antonio Olivo report in the Chicago Tribune on the South Shore neighborhood's brand new coffee shop:

Starbucks, an icon for everything from gentrification to Seattle chic to corporate dominance, means something simpler to 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston.

"You are officially a neighborhood when you get a Starbucks," said Hairston, who fought to bring one to South Shore even as residents of affluent neighborhoods bemoaned the spread of the chain coffeehouses.

Finally on Friday, a Starbucks will open on the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue, the only shop of its kind in Chicago south of Hyde Park.

The familiar green awnings of Starbucks are another sign of hope on the South Side, where home values are rising. Many neighbors see the shop as a mark of newfound respect for black buying power and a harbinger for more new stores. Hairston, for one, dreams of a Target, a Best Buy and maybe a Kinko's.

But it has taken four years, the alderman's intervention and civic-minded basketball star Magic Johnson just to open one brand-name coffeehouse.

And in a part of the city where most basic shopping is still a long car or bus ride away, neighborhood advocates recognize that they still have a long road from that first grande latte to a thriving local economy....

Scott Gendell and Zeb Mclaurin, the Chicago-based developers of the new Starbucks site, said retail chains should realize that the South Side is fertile ground for selling electronics, linens and other goods that residents say they customarily buy as far away as Orland Park or northwest Indiana.

The corridor along Stony Island is ripe for a change similar to the retail boom along Clybourn Avenue during the last decade, they said.

"It takes time to sell people who don't understand this market, but their ability to make money here is so obvious," Gendell said. (emphasis added)

Hey, if there is anyone at Trader Joe's who reads this blog, go back and re-read that bolded section -- the place could use a decent high-end grocery store as well.

3) H. Gregory Meyer and Darnell Little report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that the entire state (including Chicago) is much safer than it used to be:

Illinois' crime rate took another big drop in 2003, bringing the numbers close to what they were before crime took off in the 1970s.

The sweeping drop in 2003, twice as large as the previous year, was seen in Chicago, most suburbs and smaller cities across the state, according to new Illinois State Police data. Only the most sparsely settled counties saw a general increase, as violent crime rose there for the third straight year, according to data to be released Sunday.

Statewide, total serious crimes reported to police fell for the ninth year in a row to 497,693, which translates to a crime rate not seen since 1972--when Richard Nixon was in the White House and a different Daley ran Chicago City Hall.

Crime in Illinois took a sharp upturn in the early 1970s, climbing throughout the decade. The situation worsened in the 1980s as the crack cocaine epidemic plagued many urban areas. Crime in the state eventually peaked in 1991. But for the last decade, crime rates have rolled progressively downward.

The 2003 report shows declines in all eight offenses making up the state's index of major crimes: murder, sexual assault, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. Reports of sexual assault, after unexpectedly jumping in 2002, dived below the average of the last five years.

posted by Dan at 05:30 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 16, 2004

Your weekend economics reading

Virginia Postrel's latest New York Times column looks at William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability -- about which I've blogged here and here. Postrel gets at a facet of Lewis' book I failed to highlight in my previous posts:

To know why some countries prosper while others fall behind, then, we need to know which industries in which countries are more productive and why.

Most studies of the subject, however, concentrate on a narrow slice of the economy: products that are traded in world markets. That's because, thanks to customs regulations, most countries have excellent data on those goods.

Looking only at traded goods can be highly misleading. International businesses tend to face intense competition. They have to adopt practices that improve productivity. Domestic industries, by contrast, are often protected from competition.

McKinsey's research fills in the picture, providing data and case studies of industries like retailing, food processing and construction.

Looking at the nontradeable sectors reveals some startling gaps in productivity:

Food processing in Japan, Mr. Lewis writes, "has more employees than the combined total of cars, steel, machine tools and computers," or about 11 percent of all manufacturing workers. While Japan's fiercely competitive auto industry is the most productive in the world, its food-processing industry is only 39 percent as productive as the United States industry, McKinsey found.

Read the whole thing, and then order the Lewis book if you haven't already.

Meanwhile Tyler Cowen links to this Arnold Kling TCS essay comparing and contrasting America's poor in 1970 with 2000. The statistics are quite startling -- poor Americans are much better off now than during the height of the Great Society.

[But wage rates have been pretty much stagnant since 1970. In fact, they've been worse than stagnant in recent months. How can this be?--ed. Kling looks at consumption rather than wages. He goes on to postulate:

Given these statistics, what explains the fact that, adjusted for inflation, the pay of the lowest-wage workers has not increased much over the past thirty years? There are a number of factors involved, but I suspect that the largest component of the explanation is a shift in the composition of the low-wage work force. In the 1970's, many of the people at the bottom of the wage scale were heads of households. Today, many low-wage workers are providing second or third incomes to families.

I have no idea if Kling's hypothesis holds -- but it's worth investigating.

UPDATE: One more reading assignment -- Brad DeLong's latest post on global warming.

posted by Dan at 06:18 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Math is not a sport

Jordan Ellenberg has a Slate column on whether math should be considered a sport.

Sounds preposterous? Ellenberg points out that in 1997, then-president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch declared, "Bridge is a sport, and as such your place is here, like all other sports." Chess was an exhibition sport at the Sydney games. There is such a thing as the International Mathematical Olympiad. Why not math?

This got me to thinking about George Carlin's philosophy about sports. There's the classic riff on the differences between baseball and football and the underrated follow-on about why other "sports" are not really sports in Playin' With Your Head. Which made me realize that Ellenberg is only able to engage in this debate because a lot of activities that count as sports really are not (to be fair, he comes to the same conclusion by the end of the article).

What really stood out, however, was this passage from Ellenberg's essay:

In my high school you could letter in [math].... Not that you'd mistake these kids for the campus jocks—when I competed at the Olympiad, there were plenty of skinny eccentrics, with a promiscuous hippie here and there, and not a little subclinical autism spectrum. But the math stars display the focused confidence of athletes, even, at times, adopting Deion-style swagger. Honesty compels me to confess that my high-school math team was called the "Hell's Angles"; that we wore matching black T-shirts advertising this fact; and that we entered each match in file behind our captain, who carried on his shoulder a boombox playing "Hip To Be Square."

Honesty compels me to confess that:

1) I was on the math team at my high school -- In fact, I was the captain my senior year;

2) None of us ever exhibited any kind of "Deion-like swagger."

3) If I had somehow convinced my teammates to wear black shirts saying "Hell's Angels," ten minutes later I would have found my entire team in the nurse's office after they got the crap kicked out of them. [Ellenberg's shirt said "Hell's Angles"--ed. Replace "ten minutes" with "fifteen minutes."]

To be fair to Ellenberg, he had reason for swagger -- I recall running into the Montgomery County math wizards when I qualified for the American Regions Math League contest, and they were the best of the best. [Oh, sure you remember this -- any confirming evidence?--ed. God bless the World Wide Web -- someone actually posted the results of the 1985 competition, of which I was a participant. Sure enough Montgomery County won that year -- my team (Connecticut A) finished a respectible eighth.]

UPDATE: Another blogger responds to Ellenberg: "[A]s a former mathlete, i say, 'hell no! i'm not a jock! stop calling me a jock! if you don't stop insinuating that i'm a jock, your firewall's gonna be so full of java that your ROMs will overload!'"

posted by Dan at 04:01 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

What does this mean about airline security?

Like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, I received a mass e-mail linking to this disturbing first-person account by Annie Jacobsen in on mysterious doings onboard a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles (hopefully, she's not this Annie Jacobsen). The quick summary: a bunch of Arab gentlemen holding Syrian passports act in an extremely suspicious manner during the flight.

Michelle Malkin confirms at least part of the Jacobsen story, and a February 2004 story by Jason Burke in the Sunday Observer adds some plausibility to the behavior of the suspected terrorists in the story. This is the part of Jacobsen's account that Malkin confirms:

Within a few hours I received a call from Dave Adams, the Federal Air Marshal Services (FAM) Head of Public Affairs. Adams told me what he knew:

There were 14 Syrians on NWA flight #327. They were questioned at length by FAM, the FBI and the TSA upon landing in Los Angeles. The 14 Syrians had been hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert. Adams said they were scrubbed. None had arrest records (in America, I presume), none showed up on the FBI's no fly list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The men checked out and they were let go. According to Adams, the 14 men traveled on Northwest Airlines flight #327 using one-way tickets. Two days later they were scheduled to fly back on jetBlue from Long Beach, California to New York -- also using one-way tickets.

I asked Adams why, based on the FBI's credible information that terrorists may try to assemble bombs on planes, the air marshals or the flight attendants didn't do anything about the bizarre behavior and frequent trips to the lavatory. Our FAM agents have to have an event to arrest somebody. Our agents aren't going to deploy until there is an actual event, Adams explained. He said he could not speak for the policies of Northwest Airlines.

On the other hand, a post in the brand-new blog Red State voices some understandable skepticism. This blogger suggests that what looked like suspicious activity was actually Muslims behaving in a devout manner. There are parts of the story that sound over the top to me as well -- the only thing missing from Jacobsen's narrative to make the Syrian guys seem more evil is thick moustaches. The link to Ann Coulter doesn't make me feel any more sanguine.

I'm not saying something disturbing didn't happen, but I have as many questions about the Jacobsen story as I do for the Federal Air Marshalls.

Give it a read and think it over while perusing the fact that the Bush administration has scrapped its Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II program for screening airline passengers. For more on the CAPPS debate, check out Ryan Singel's account in Wired.

Orin Kerr wonders:

Why haven't major newspapers and TV picked up on it? My guess is that the blogosphere won't let up until there are some answers, and that the pressure will yield some answers sooner rather than later.

I can say that the e-mail sent to me and other bloggers was cc-ed to movers and shakers in the mediasphere -- Bill Keller, David Ignatius, George Will, Anne Applebaum, and Nichoas D. Kristoff. So they're certainly aware of the story. My guess is they're probably ignoring the initial message because the originator of the e-mail tends to send out a regular stream of these messages, and the signal-to-noise ratio is quite low.

Another possible trajectory is Matt Drudge linking to the story -- he's #2 on The Note's "list of people who have incredible power in this election year to influence the entire free media cycle."

The interest by bloggers in the story, however, might prove to be enough of a spur to the mediasphere. I'm on the skeptical side of the spectrum -- but I'd like to see real journalists dig deeper into this.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin now reports that the blogosphere will be getting results from the mediasphere:

[T]he Washington Post has been sitting on the true story of Annie Jacobsen's "Terror in the Skies" account since last Friday.... Dave Adams, the air marshal's spokesman, not only confirmed the story, but has also apparently supplied witness statements and other corroborations of Jacobsen's account. NBC Nightly News, ABC, and Dateline NBC are now on the story as well.

On the other hand, Malkin talked with Jacobsen, and is told, ""My legs were like rubber... It was four and a half hours of terror" -- which again sounds over the top. Donald Sensing is also suspicious. He raises the perfectly valid point that one should not be too surprised at seeing a large number of Arabs boarding an airplane in Detroit, given the large concentration of Arabs living in Dearborn and its environs. Glenn Reynolds has more, including this optimistic take.

That said, it appears the system is working. [What system?--ed. The system whereby private actors can monitor government actors to see if the latter are doing their job. The blogosphere is only the latest link in that chain.]

FINAL UPDATE: I close out my thoughts on Jacoibsen's story here and here.

posted by Dan at 12:04 PM | Comments (89) | Trackbacks (6)

Bruce Bartlett beats me to the punch

Bruce Bartlett's latest column opens with a suggestion that I've had in the back of my head for some time:

I have long believed that presidential challengers would help themselves by announcing at least some of their top appointments before the election. After all, we already know the incumbent's appointees. I think it would help many voters make up their minds and swing a few if they had a better idea of how a candidate's actions would match his words.

In Europe, where parliamentary systems predominate, this sort of thing is taken for granted. Opposition parties always have "shadow cabinets," where designated people target particular departments for special attention. They are assumed to be given those portfolios should their party gain a majority, and often are.

Not only does this give voters much greater knowledge of what to expect should the opposition gain control, it gives valuable experience and training to those in line to become ministers in a new government. And shadow cabinets make it easier to create coalitions and help assuage the fears of those wary of changing horses in the middle of a stream.

I vaguely recall that Bob Dole contemplated but rejected this strategy back in 1996.

I can see downsides to this strategy -- in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces -- which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe/revealing a personal scandal that saps time and energy from Kerry.

However, such a gambit could make a transition much easier, in that it provides a public vetting for key cabinet officials, and might reverse a disturbing trend of lengthier and lengthier confirmation ordeals.

Do read the rest of Bartlett's column, as he posits the composition of Kerry's economic team.

UPDATE: Some have suggested that an opposition candidate can't propose a shadow cabinet, because it's illegal to offer anyone a position prior to election. It strikes me that there are so many ways around that law that it's not much of an impediment. Just name someone as the "official party spokesman" for the issue, for example.

Also, I wouldn't propose naming a complete shadow cabinet -- perhaps just the "power ministries" -- State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and now DHS.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More on this from Matthew Yglesias, Tom Grey, and Jacob Levy.

posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (5)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hey you -- red or blue?

Following Virginia Postrel's advice, I took Slate's "Red or Blue" Quiz. Turns out that -- like Virginia -- I'm purple, i.e., right in the middle, and therefore permitted to live in both places. So that's a relief.

Go take the quiz and find out where you should live. Report back on your findings.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (49) | Trackbacks (4)

Don't rush me off the fence, part IV

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has a post entitled "40 Reasons To Vote For George Bush Or Against John Kerry." I can't say I found all of them convincing, but #12 is somewhat compelling:

John Kerry missed 64% of his votes in the Senate last year and has missed more than 80% of them this year. If John Kerry isn't bothering to do the job he has, wouldn't it be a mistake to give him a promotion?

One could plausibly argue that Kerry's full-time job since early 2003 was running for president -- but he could have resigned if that were the case. The lead paragraph in this Reuters story doesn't make me feel any better about Kerry's posturing on Iraq, either:

Democratic candidate John Kerry, whose campaign demanded to know on Wednesday whether President Bush read a key Iraq intelligence assessment, did not read the document himself before voting to give Bush the authority to go to war, aides acknowledged.

Bush apparently didn't read it either, but I'm not sure Kerry wins my vote on the motto, "Vote for me -- I'll start paying attention after I'm elected." This was in the fall of 2002, when Kerry's only job as a candidate was raising money -- which is what all congressmen do all of the time. Plus, it's pretty hypocritical for a legislator to rail about executive branch overreach when he fails to exercise any due diligence when he has an opportunity to constrain said branch.

On a related point, Hawkins' 25th reason is also worth checking out.

Hmmm... maybe I should get off on the GOP side of the fence -- no wait!! Jesse Walker has a column at Reason online entitled, "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush." His forth reason has weighed heavily on me since day one of the Bush administration:

The culture of secrecy. The Bush administration has nearly doubled the number of classified documents. It has urged agencies, in effect, to refuse as many Freedom of Information Act requests as possible, has invoked executive privilege whenever it can, and has been very free with the redactor's black marker when it does release some information. Obviously, it's impossible to tell how often the data being concealed is genuinely relevant to national security and how often it has more to do with covering a bureaucrat's behind. But there's obviously a lot of ass-covering going on.

And even when security is a real issue, all this secrecy doesn't make sense. Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration tried to retroactively restrict two pages of public congressional testimony that had revealed how its undercover agents managed to smuggle some guns past screeners. Presumably they were afraid a terrorist would read about it and try the method himself—but it would have made a lot more sense to seek some outsiders' input on how to resolve the putative problem than to try to hide it from our prying eyes. Especially when the information had already been sitting in the public record.

The administration has been quick to enforce its code of silence, regularly retaliating against those within its ranks who try to offer an independent perspective on its policies. While the most infamous examples of this involve international affairs, the purest episode may be the case of chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster, who apparently was threatened with dismissal if he told Congress the real projected cost of Bush's Medicare bill. Even if the White House didn't know about the threat—and I strongly suspect that it did—it created the organizational culture that allows such bullying to thrive.

As someone who cares about a good policymaking process as much as a good policymaking outcome -- because the former is a big factor that determines the latter -- the secrecy obsession doesn't sit well with me at all. Such an obession distracts from the suibstance of policy, and also needlessly filters outside feedback, which might be politically frustrating but is nevertheless an essential ingredient to the formulation of good policy.

Walker closes his column this way: "Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally."

Walker gives fewer reasons than Hawkins, but the latter has a lot more chaff than wheat.

Still on the fence -- but slowly getting more depressed about my choices.

UPDATE: John Hawkins posts a response to Walker's points that's worth checking out. And Jonathan Chait's TNR essay about the Bush administration's attitude towards other political actors underscores Walker's point about secrecy.

Link via Matthew Yglesias, who thinks I'm undecided because I either want attention or a job from the winning candidate.

To be clear -- the reason I'm undecided is because I can't remember an election in my adult lifetime when I've been less enthused with my menu of candidates. There's an old maxim that voting is usually an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. I've felt that sentiment in some previous elections, but it was also easy to spot positive qualities that resonated strongly within me. This year I can't muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.

I'm pretty sure that attitude is not going to earn me a warm place in either candidate's heart. Besides, the Kerry team is already bursting to the gills with policy wonks, and as Mark Kleiman pointed out, the Republicans are probably pissed off at me as well.

[What about hallway rumors that you'll be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate to face Barrack Obama now that Coach Ditka has passed?--ed. Yeah, that's how I want to spend the next three months -- getting thumped in the polls by the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and having to dodge allegations about an unhealthy obsession with Salma Hayek. Not a winning formula for tenure, I'm afraid.]

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (6)

UN official speaks truth -- Palestinians outraged

Two days ago, United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on the Middle East Peace Process -- i.e., Israel and Palestine. Roed-Larsen placed blame on both the Israelis and the Palestinians for the lack of progress. Here's one relevant section from the press release:

He said that the Palestinian Authority, despite consistent promises by its leadership, had made no progress on its core obligation to take immediate action on the ground to end violence and combat terror, and to reform and reorganize the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli Government had made no progress either on its core obligation to immediately dismantle settlements outposts erected since March 2001 and to move towards a complete freeze of settlement activities.

Progress on the implementation of Palestinian reform remained slow and could not be explained except by the lack of political will to advance along that road, he said. The Palestinian Authority decided to begin holding local elections as early as this fall. The commitment to do so was a step towards creating more democratic local institutions and, as such, should be encouraged. However, the Palestinian Authority had not yet responded to repeated calls by the international community to reform its electoral institutional framework in line with minimal international standards. It had appointed a partisan body to supervise local elections instead of the existing Central Elections Commission, which should prepare and supervise voter registration. Instead, the Commission had been endangered by the Palestinian Authority’s intention to launch parallel registration without impartial supervision....

All those who yearned for peace had already and repeatedly urged President Arafat, in public and in private, to take immediate action to restore that diminished credibility, he emphasized. The Quartet, as well as the Arab peace partners, had also been active in trying to bring about the necessary reforms. The required elements of reform were clear to all: the consolidation of all security services into three main bodies; and rejuvenating its leadership by putting it under the authority of an effective interior minister, who reported to an empowered Prime Minister. The Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet should be empowered in a way that enabled them to make the necessary changes and carry out the executive tasks entrusted to them by the Palestinian basic law. They must be given the power not only to make decisions, but also to implement them. Unfortunately, there was, so far, no sign of any of those measures being taken.

The fact that, under those conditions, the Palestinian leader remained confined to his headquarters in Ramallah in difficult conditions was no excuse for passivity and inaction, he said. Decisive, robust and enduring action, particularly in the critical field of security reform, should lead to more vigorous international engagement in the process and to an environment conducive to more bold leadership, consistent with requirements of the Road Map and the Egyptian initiative. Unfortunately, there was no sign of constructive movement at present, far from it. Despite a well-intended Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority’s paralysis had become abundantly clear, and the deterioration of law and order in Palestinian areas was steadily worsening.

Continuing, he said that clashes and showdowns between branches of Palestinian security forces were now common in the Gaza Strip, where legal authority was receding fast in the face of the mounting power of arms, money and intimidation. Lawlessness and gang rule was becoming common in Nablus, the mayor of which resigned a few months ago in protest against the lack of Palestinian Authority support for the legal authorities. The perceived Palestinian Authority abdication of responsibility had led many Rafah residents to take matters into their own hands, up to the point where some of them had established a private checkpoint, preventing Palestinian Authority officials from crossing to Egypt or from entering Rafah. Jericho was becoming the only Palestinian city with a functioning police. That collapse of authority could not be attributed to the Israeli incursions and operations inside Palestinian towns.

“The Palestinian Authority was in deep distress, and is in real danger of collapse”, he said.

Roed-Larsen then went on to blast the Israelis for "lack of compliance on the sensitive issue of settlements." Again, go check out the press release for more on this. What interests me is the Palestinian reaction to Roed-Larsen's honest assessment of the Palestinian Authority. Steve Weizman provides the Associated Press report:

Furious Palestinian officials said Wednesday that they banned the UN Mideast envoy from the West Bank and Gaza Strip after he lashed out at Yasser Arafat, but the Palestinian observer to the UN later said Terje Roed-Larsen was not barred from visiting.

Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, described the UN envoy as "useless" and said he was no longer welcome in the Palestinian areas.

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian UN observer, echoed that anger at Roed-Larsen but said the UN envoy's legal status has not been decided and would be discussed with Secretary General Kofi Annan when he returns to New York next week....

Al-Kidwa called the briefing unacceptable, saying it "reflects basically an amalgamation of Israeli and American positions."

Eerily enough, the BBC reports that "The militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also said Mr Roed-Larsen was 'banned' from Palestinian territory." The Palestinian Prime Minister's reaction in a press conference echoed this rhetoric:

In his first official reaction to the latest remarks voiced by United Nations Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, in which the latter held the President Yasser Arafat responsible for the current peace deadlock, Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei' expressed astonishment for the non-objective way Larsen had made his remarks....

Qurei' called on the United Nations Secretary General to give instructions to UN staff in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) to work in an objective way and in accordance with the UN’s principles of law and justice, that have deemed the Israeli settlement expansion plans since 1967 illegitimate.

President Arafat’s key advisor, Nabil Abu Rudaina, was quoted as saying that Larsen has become ‘persona non grata’ and that the United Nations was requested to dispatch an alternative representative to the oPt.

To Kofi Annan's credit, he issued a statement through his spokesman backing Roed-Larsen to the hilt.

The grand irony in all of this, as Agence-France Press observes, is that "Roed-Larsen has previously been something of a bete noire for the Israelis over his outspoken criticism of the occupation of the territories."

It's not like the U.N. has been unfriendly to the Palestinian cause. So what does it say that the political entity Israel is ostensibly supposed to negotiate with responds like that to an honest appraisal of their situation by an impartial outsider?

[Standard caveat when posting about the Middle East: This is not to exonerate the Israelis for their behavior on settlements.]

posted by Dan at 12:20 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part III

Brad DeLong and Daniel Gross make compelling cases for me to get off the fence on the Kerry side of the yard. Their argument? The Kerry economic team beats the Bush economic team.

Brad links approvingly (yes, approvingly!!!) to a Jonathan Weisman story in the Washington Post, which opens as follows:

From a tightknit group of experienced advisers, John F. Kerry's presidential campaign has grown exponentially in recent months to include a cast literally of thousands, making it difficult to manage an increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus.

The campaign now includes 37 separate domestic policy councils and 27 foreign policy groups, each with scores of members. The justice policy task force alone includes 195 members. The environmental group is roughly the same size, as is the agriculture and rural development council. Kerry counts more than 200 economists as his advisers.

In contrast, President Bush's campaign policy shop is a no-frills affair. Policy director Tim Adams directs about a dozen experts who make sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy. Adams's group also analyzes Kerry's proposals and voting record. Fewer than a dozen outside task forces, with five to 10 members, also help out on education, veterans' issues, the economy, and energy, environment and natural resources, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The campaign policy gap argument sounds pretty persuasive -- except that the lack of a campaign policy team for the Bushies shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, the Weisman article notes that the Gore campaign had the same set-up in 2000:

[T]he difference in structure between the Kerry operation and then-Vice President Al Gore's campaign in 2000 is "black and white," said Bianchi, who formulated economic and budget policy for Gore as well. Back then, Gore had a wealth of policies already formulated by the Clinton administration. After eight years in power, weary Democratic policy experts weren't clamoring to share new ideas. A stripped-down campaign policy shop existed mainly to push proposals that moved only incrementally beyond then-President Bill Clinton's or to ensure Gore's campaign proposals were consistent with the administration's record.

The party out of power is always going to have the bigger policy team. The campaign policy team for a sitting President or VP should resemble the current Bush arrangement -- ensuring coordination with the relevant economic policymaking bureaucracies.

Indeed, if you read Ray Simth's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal on skyrocketing property tax increases, Adams seems to hold his own in the spin department:

In many parts of the country in recent years, strapped local governments have imposed big increases in property-tax rates, as well as in home assessments, to fill budget shortfalls. In response, voters have organized efforts to repeal or slow property-tax boosts in states from Virginia to Oregon, in some cases with the support of frustrated local officials....

Nationally, Democrats have tried to seize on the rising anger over property taxes and shortfalls in municipal budgets to attack the Bush administration for tax cuts that reduce funds available to local governments, contributing to what presidential candidate John Kerry has dubbed a "middle-class squeeze." Sen. Kerry has proposed an economic stimulus package that includes payments to state governments to help them avert spending cuts and tax increases.

"Sen. Kerry has long recognized that the decision to focus on tax relief for the wealthy over any form of state fiscal relief has led to many backdoor tax and tuition increases at the state and local level," says Gene Sperling, a Kerry economic adviser, who headed the White House's National Economic Council during the Clinton administration.

Tim Adams, policy director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, counters, "The effect of the Bush administration's tax cuts on state revenues is minimal compared to the impact" of the economic downturn. He adds that some of the states' budget problems can be traced to spending sprees in the 1990s, as well as other broader economic shocks.

There's no doubt that many state and local governments experienced big shortfalls with the economic downturn that began in 2000 after the flush years of the 1990s boom. Sales taxes, which had been rising rapidly, suddenly tumbled, while revenue from corporate taxes shrank. Tax cuts spurred reduced federal spending. Many states, feeling the pinch, cut back their funding to local governments, dealing them a double whammy.

[Er, blaming the bad economy is good spin for the Republicans?--ed. Yes, because most Americans have proven surprisingly sophisticated in recognizing that a lot of the hits the economy took a few years ago -- the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks, the corporate scandals -- had little to do with Bush.]

Spin is one thing, substance is another -- and here, DeLong does have a suitable counterargument, linking to Stan Collender's National Journal column from late June:

Has anyone seen or heard from the Bush administration's economic and budget teams lately?

National Economic Council Director Stephen Friedman has been practically invisible since he took the job.

Greg Mankiw, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, essentially hasn't been heard from since he made a politically incorrect statement back in February about the outsourcing of jobs.

Joshua Bolten, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has hardly been a public advocate for the Bush administration's budget policies and projections. Indeed, he has been one of the least visible OMB directors in decades.

Treasury Secretary John Snow has been making a few television appearances in recent weeks. But he hasn't said much that has made the news and seems to be perceived more as a cheerleader than as a policymaker.

And Vice President Dick Cheney, who in the past has spoken up for the administration on the economy when it needed someone to do so, now has serious overall credibility problems because of the foreign policy and military decisions he has helped shape....

All of this presents the White House with a huge problem: Less than five months before the election, no one within or even near the administration has the standing or credibility to defend and promote the Bush budget and economic records other than the president himself...

Similarly, Daniel Gross' Slate article -- which speculates on who would be Kerry's Robert Rubin -- opens with this line:

Quick—name the secretary of the treasury. I bet you can't. Or if you can, you had to think about it before you remembered the eminently forgettable John Snow.

Gross also has this killer quote from Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Commerce founding Concord Coalition member and classic Wall Street Republican Peter G. Peterson, from his just-released book, Running on Empty:

In sum, this administration and the Republican Congress have presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America's finances in history. It includes a feast of pork, inequitable and profligate tax cuts, and a major new expansion of Medicare that is unaccompanied by any serious measures to control its exploding cost.

DeLong goes on to observe:

The stunning contrast between the enthusiasm with which economists--lots of economists--lots of very good economists--are donating their time to Kerry and the extraordinary silence on the Bush side is, to my way of thinking, the most interesting thing that emerges from Weisman's article....

John Kerry is not Bill Clinton, but John Kerry's economic policies could still be very good for America. It will be our job--Sarah Bianchi's and Jason Furman's, George Akerlof's and Lael Brainerd's, Harry Holzer's and David Cutler's, Alan Auerbach's and Ceci Rice's, Larry Katz's and Roger Altman's, Gene Sperling's and Alan Blinder's, Laura D'Andrea Tyson's and Bob Rubin's, and mine and all the rest of our's--to help him make it so. Who will George W. Bush have to help him? Tim Adams? John Snow?

So maybe I should get off this fence -- no wait!! Two possible counterarguments:

1) Kerry gets hamstrung by the loony left. Even if Kerry's economic team is fiscally prudent, his governing coalition might not be. In the early nineties, Clinton had a similar choice between two sets of policy advisors, and went with the fiscal conservatives. Would Kerry have the latitude or the inclination to make the same choice? As Brad put it, "Kerry is not Clinton."

This is Jason Zengerle's concern in The New Republic (subscription required). The key graf:

[W]hen Clinton was president, liberal Democrats were quiescent enough to let him govern from the center; he embraced welfare reform and fiscal conservatism without suffering a reelection primary challenge. In a Kerry presidency, the Democratic Party's far more energized left--conditioned by [Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael] Moore to guard against Democratic sellouts--may not be so forgiving.

2) Kerry may not listen to his advisers. Bruce Bartlett makes the following comment on Brad's blog:

I do believe that Kerry would help himself by making fiscal responsibility the key message of his campaign. I say this as a Republican, because I believe that my side has gotten off on the wrong track and because I believe competition is good in the political arena as well as in the economy.

The problem is that Kerry has yet to throw the smallest bone to the fiscal responsibility crowd. Brad is willing to take him on faith because he trusts his advisers. I won't, nor will most middle of the roaders. They need to see something tangible on the table.

Both of these concerns -- as well as my qualms with the Bush economic team -- could be addressed during the general election campaign.

Sooooo.... it's still too early to jump off the fence. Still sitting and learning, sitting and learning....

UPDATE: James Joyner thinks that the differences in teams is less significant in terms of policy outputs than DeLong:

I would argue that the near-invisibility of Bush's economic team goes a long way towards proving a point I've been making for years: Presidents don't much matter in domestic economic matters. The Fed has taken total control of monetary policy for years and fiscal policy operates within a very narrow range. The days of 70% marginal tax rates are beyond us for good and we've pretty much cut taxes as far as is likely. Presidents matter more in international trade, since they can encourage open markets or swing toward protectionism but, again, only within pretty narrow bands.

On the other hand, Steve Chapman points out in his Chicago Tribune column that the Bush administration has acquitted itself badly on one issue it has some influence on -- pork-barrel tax cuts for corporations:

Corporate welfare--an array of direct subsidies, tax breaks and indirect assistance created for the special benefit of businesses--is one of those things that politicians would rather criticize than abolish. For the most part, it has a deservedly bad image. But when it comes to helping out companies from their own districts, most members of Congress think there is no such thing as unjustified federal aid....

Although his budget director once said it is "not the federal government's role to subsidize, sometimes deeply subsidize, private interests," President Bush has proposed only piddling cuts. Under his leadership, the budget for corporate welfare has remained as high as ever--about $87 billion a year, according to the Cato Institute in Washington.

FINAL UPDATE: Both Josh Chafetz and Noam Scheiber weigh in on the Weisman story.

posted by Dan at 05:59 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (6)

Hey, it's once-in-a-blue-moon day!

It's rare I get to say I said something prescient, so allow me the opportunity to highlight that fact.

In light of the Senate's rejection of a proposed gay marriage amendment, back in December I posted on "Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage." The key sections:

For a constitutional amendment to pass, you need the both houses of Congress to approve the measure by a two-thirds majority, and then have three-quarters of the state legislatures approve it within a specified time period. It's an extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome process, with lots of veto points to stymie progress....

Another thing -- public opinion is fickle. Indeed, the attitudes about gay marriage have been extremely volatile over the past year....

I don't doubt that this will be a political issue for the 2004 election, just like flag burning was an issue in 1988. I also don't doubt that as a constitutional amendment, this won't fly.

Naturally, Andrew Sullivan has more.

posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

A radio day

If you are a Chicago resident, and you tune your dial to WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) at 1:00 PM Central time, you will have no choice but to hear me discuss offshore outsourcing on Worldview with Jerome McDonnell (who, I was pleased to learn, reads the blog from time to time). The other guest is David Steiger, an adjunct professor at DePaul.

The segment was taped yesteday, and supposed to run only 20 minutes, but we chatted for a good deal longer. The intelligence of at least one U.S. Senator is questioned by yours truly during the show.

Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans can listen on your computer by clicking here.

UPDATE: You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Statebuilding updates

The Chicago Tribune has two stories today reflecting on U.S. efforts at statebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aamer Madhani reports on the uneven progress in reconstituting Iraq's security forces by examining the town of Muqdadiyah. The highlights:

By the U.S. military's current expectations, the joint patrol by American and Iraqi troops was a success--only about a third of the Iraqi soldiers hid their faces out of fear of being seen with the Americans.

But Lt. Joaquin Meno of the 1st Infantry Division had even higher hopes as he led the patrol recently into an area where U.S. soldiers have been hectored for weeks. The Iraqi troops bounded out of their trucks and set up a right flank, just as they have been trained. Minutes later Meno did a double take: Several of the Iraqis had tugged their bandanas and kaffiyehs up to their eyes....

The small city and its surrounding area have been largely calm in recent months despite flare-ups in nearby Baqouba, the restive metropolis about 20 miles to the south. Col. Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, which has a base in Muqdadiyah, said the peace is due largely to improvements in the Iraqi security forces.

In a matter of months, the Iraqi National Guard has gone from a ragtag group led by a purportedly corrupt commander to a force with a semblance of professionalism, 1st Infantry officials say.

The commander, who allegedly was skimming a third of the guard members' salaries, was arrested and awaits trial. The troops have started training with American soldiers in intensive 15-day boot camps. U.S. military and local Iraqi officials insist the Iraqi guardsmen are making great strides....

In meetings last week with Pittard and battalion commander Lt. Col. Peter Newell, the city's mayor and police chief praised the Americans.

U.S. military officials and Iraqis repeated the story of a recent solo patrol by the Iraqi troops that they said was emblematic of how far the security forces have come in Muqdadiyah.

"The people asked the soldiers if they were Iraqis," said Mayor Hussein Alwan al-Timimi. "They wouldn't believe that such a professional force could be Iraqi. They thought they must be Americans dressed up in Iraqi uniforms."

But there are indications from U.S. soldiers, as well as Iraqi officials, that there has been less progress in Muqdadiyah than sometimes meets the eye.

Meno, the platoon leader who directed the recent joint patrol, noted that only one of the 24 Iraqi soldiers on the patrol had a flak jacket. He added that he had come across checkpoints where Iraqi troops or police officers have been sleeping on the job.

A few weeks ago, Meno and his platoon were on guard duty with the Iraqi National Guard at the recently opened joint command center. During the watch, he said, they faced gun and rocket fire. As soon as the attack began, the Iraqi troops abandoned their posts, Meno said.

Read the whole thing. UPDATE: Christpher Dickey has a Newsweek story on the interim Iraqi government's efforts to restore order (link via Josh Marshall):

As I drove into Baghdad from the airport on Sunday, Iraqi cops were all over the streets. In some parts of town there seemed to be a road block on every corner. They stopped cars. They searched the trunks. They searched what was in the trunks—and in the glove compartments, and in my computer bag. No smiles. No pleasantries. These guys had new uniforms, but their pot bellies, their moustaches, and their AK-47 assault rifles were just the same as in the old Saddam Hussein days.

I never thought I'd be glad to see them. But I was. And so are most of the Iraqis I've talked to. "Things are more quiet these last weeks," a young baker explained to me this afternoon. He spread his hands as if he were smoothing the sheet on a bed. "I hope this is not the calm before the storm."

I hope so, too. And if it's not—if it really is a turning point toward peace and prosperity for Iraq—then there's a simple reason: The quasi-sovereign government installed June 28 is playing politics Iraqi style. Sure there's a lot of bluster and a fair dose of brutality. No doubt there's plenty of corruption, too. But there's also a feel for the mood on the street that the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, now defunct, never even began to have.

Meanwhile, the Tribune also runs an AP story by Stephen Graham documenting U.S. efforts to ensure a successful presidential election in Afghanistan. Particularly interesting was the sidebar reporting the results of an Asia Foundation survey conducted in Afghanistan back in February/March of this year. Some of the results:


Right direction: 64%

Mixed/ don't know: 24%

Wrong direction: 11%


Hamid Karzai (Afghan president): 85%

the United Nations: 84%

the United States: 65%

The unfortunate caveat: "Pollsters didn't reach four of the nation's 34 provinces."

posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The state of the globalization literature

Peter Dougherty, the senior economics editor for Princeton University Press, tries to summarize and categorize the globalization literature in an interesting Chronicle of Higher Education essay (subscription may be required).* As this is a topic with which your trusty blogger has more than a passing interest, I checked it out. Some of the good parts:

I once read that at an international conference of economists in 1959, the only thing the attendees had in common was that they had all read a single book, Paul Samuelson's 1948 landmark text, Economics (McGraw-Hill). What intrigued me was that even as recently as the cusp of the 1960s, modern economics, a language now so familiar to the ear of participants in the globalization debate, was so novel. Without that working language, and other such scholarly vernaculars, today's globalization discourse would be hard to imagine.

The story reminds us that globalization, much as it is the result of big business, power politics, and protean innovations, also remains the product of ideas -- ideas that have helped shape the industrialized world and that harbor hopeful implications for the developing world. Those benchmark ideas, which can be traced through scholarly books in the economics and social-science tradition in which I work, set the mark we should aspire to in our current lists.

Samuelson, of course, worked in a grand tradition too, one that could be traced some two centuries back to Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations. One of Samuelson's grand antecedents and still the masterwork of globalization literature, Smith's then-revolutionary 1776 tome made the case for the demolition of international trade barriers as a means of enhancing nations' prosperity. But what we tend to miss in the glare of the word wealth is that Smith's objective in pressing that argument was not commercial, but moral. He wanted to improve the world not for monarchs and merchants, whom he held in deep suspicion, but for the majority of people. That end remains close to the hearts of today's globalization critics and supporters alike, contentious and opposed as their rhetoric may be....

If you were a social scientist advising the leadership of a developing nation and you wanted to help that country grow, you would probably have the following two items high on your agenda: Increase citizens' employability, and align your country's resources with its population, so that more people could eat, live free of disease, become educated, and emerge from poverty. One means of accomplishing both objectives is as straightforward as it is profound: Educate women.

From a purely self-interested perspective, this is the part I found most gratifying:

[S]ome may dismiss my riff on the study of globalization as too narrowly focused on technical scholarship to come under the normal definition of "literature." After all, works by analytical economists, electrical engineers, theoretical mathematicians, and empirical agronomists seldom penetrate the pages of The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, or other literary publications in which the high polemics of globalization are usually discussed. Yet rapidly accelerating technical ideas are driving the engine of globalization relentlessly forward, for good or bad. Those ideas come not only from economics, but from all walks of investigation: epidemiology, operations research, earth science, and so on. Scholarly publishers have a vital role to play in helping to contextualize the exploding technical literature for general readers, and for helping our scientifically inclined authors to frame their books in the larger social-scientific and humanistic discourse....

[T]he globalization literature suggests that books still matter. Even the most mathematically hidebound economist cannot rely on articles, but must write books to engage the larger conversation of globalization. The result is a more substantive broad discussion, and a more thoughtful, open-minded, yet grounded technical one. It is in books that we find the most realistic hope for a successful resolution to many of the problems associated with globalization.

*[Possible conflict of interest alert: I have an advance contract for my globalization book with Princeton University Press. However, I've never met or interacted with Dougherty.]

posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

An outsourcing correction

I've taken Josh Marshall to task for essentially outsourcing the thought behind his lone outsourcing post to the Kerry campaign.

However, it now turns out that there was an error in the underlying story -- a speech that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue gave to the Commonwealth Club about offshore outsourcing. Here's how the Associated Press initially reported the story:

Donohue acknowledged the pain for people who have lost jobs to offshoring - an estimated 250,000 a year, according to government estimates. But pockets of unemployment shouldn't lead to "anecdotal politics and policies," he said, and people affected by offshoring should "stop whining."

"One job sent overseas, if it happens to be my job, is one too many," Donohue said. "But the benefits of offshoring jobs outweighs the cost."

The Associated Press now admits it was in error:

In a story June 30 about a speech by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue to the Commonwealth Club of California, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Donohue said people affected by offshoring should "stop whining."

According to a transcript of the speech provided by the chamber, Donohue said of offshoring, "Let's not whine."

Let me stress here that this is entirely the fault of the Associated Press; neither the Kerry campaign nor Marshall can or should be blamed for relying on the AP wire.

However, I do wonder if those in the blogopsphere who linked to this story will post the correction -- because it drastically alters the perception of what Donohue said. [Why?--ed. Because the new formulation sounds far less haughty. Iinstead of Donohue addressing others, the pronoun used is first person plural, implying that he is not placing blame.]

posted by Dan at 02:50 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

An open "what if" question

In light of rumblings about contingency plans to postpone elections because of terrorist attacks -- and the administration's rapid dismissal of that idea -- there is an interesting political hypothetical to consider. What would be the electoral impact of a spectacular terrorist attack? Would it benefit Bush or Kerry? [Define "spectacular"--ed. An event that would force the networks to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming.]

This has come up in a number of conversations, and the answer I keep hearing is that it would benefit George W. Bush, because of a) an immediate rally-round-the-flag effect; and b) a belief that Bush places a higher priority on the War on Terror than Kerry.

I suppose this is possible, but I confess to puzzlement. Wouldn't another spectacular attack suggest that the administration has not made significant progress in the War on Terror? That would be my first thought.

However, this would hardly be the first time I've misread public reaction to an event -- or, rather, that my reaction was the minority viewpoint. So, to repeat/rephrase the question: would a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?

I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.

UPDATE: A second question: should a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?

posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (75) | Trackbacks (7)

What do baseball players think?

The Chicago Tribune and other Tribune papers conducted a survey of baseball players on a variety of baseball-related questions. The response rate was quite high -- 475 of 750 players (63%) responded. Most of the results are thoroughly unsurprising (Wrigley Field is the best ballpark; Barry Bonds is the best baseball player). However, I was pleasantly surprised by two findings:

An overwhelming majority of respondents—399—believe major-league players have a responsibility to be role models.

"As a player you get watched by a lot of kids, a lot of people," Houston center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "And when you're a good player, you have a lot of responsibility, you've got to do things right, in God's eyes and everybody's eyes, because people are looking at you, kids are looking at you."....

Players were almost as strongly united in their feelings about having a gay teammate, with better than 74 percent saying it would not be a problem.

"I had one, Billy Bean, and I didn't have a problem with it," Texas pitcher Doug Brocail said.

"Not at all. I've probably had one already," said Willie Harris of the White Sox. (emphasis added)

The tolerance for a gay teammate was particularly surprising, because the common media perception is that there is massive amounts of homophobia in professional sports -- click here for an Associated Press story from last week, and here and here for other examples. This survey suggests, at a minimum, that this is not true of baseball.

[What if the ballplayers were lying to appear politically correct?--ed. Well, you automatically run into that problem with public opinion surveys about touchy social issues, and that's an important caveat. That said, the survey also showed that only a third of the respondents said that steroid abuse was a problem in baseball. If image-conscious ballplayers were really trying to give answers that please media folks, that response should have been inflated as well.]

UPDATE: While I'm posting about baseball, Red Sox fans everywhere will have a good, rueful laugh at this Seth Stevenson rant about Roger Clemens over at Slate.

posted by Dan at 10:35 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

Checking important facts and counterfactuals

I've blogged about the outfit named Iraq Body Count (IBC) and its dubious methodology before.

As David Adesnik points out, mainstream media outlets still rely on IBC for their figures -- click here for samples. Adesnik explains why that's a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the Snate Intelligence report leads Kevin Drum to raise an important counterfactual -- given what we now know, would the Senate have voted to authorize the use of force back in October 2002? Senator Pat Roberts thinks the answer is no:

I think the whole premise would have changed, I think the whole debate would have changed, and I think that the response would have changed in terms of any kind of military plans. Very difficult to look in the rear-view mirror, 20/20 hindsight and say what you would have done under those circumstances. Jay [Rockefeller] has indicated he wouldn't have voted for it. Jay has also indicated that there probably wouldn't have been the votes to go to war. I think if we went back to the no-fly zones and the resolutions by the U.N. and an awful lot of talk, I doubt if the votes would have been there.

Andrew Sullivan points out the stark implications of that statement:

So if we had had accurate intelligence, the war would not have taken place. I reiterate: I'm still glad we fought it. But this remains one of the biggest government screw-ups in recent history. It has made future pre-emption based on intelligence close to impossible. And President Bush is ultimately responsible for this. Tenet has taken the fall, but it will take years and years before the U.S. regains the reputation for credibility that this president has destroyed. Even if you believe that Bush is still the best man to fight this war, you also have to concede that his record includes at least one massive error, and one that will cripple our ability to fight the war in the future.

Bush's response to the brouhaha is here: ''We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them."

The thing that bothers me about that response is the failure to recognize that the decision-making process was a) not good; and b) relied on faulty intel. Sullivan thinks Bush bears at least some responsibility for the latter, and I certainly think he bears a great deal of responsibility for the former.

posted by Dan at 12:51 AM | Comments (88) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Timesmen really do not like their ombudsman

James Brander has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required should be their free article of the day*) chronicling how Daniel Okrent has fit in as the New York Times ombudsman. The answer would seem to be "poorly":

Daniel Okrent, a veteran magazine editor, has been the Times's public editor for seven months. But instead of bringing calm, the experiment has created fresh tensions within the Times about such subjects as the paper's coverage of weapons of mass destruction.

Some editors complain Mr. Okrent's questions are a nuisance, and also complain when he doesn't seek them out for comment. One reporter encouraged colleagues to ask confrontational questions in a meeting between Mr. Okrent and business-section reporters. "Sometimes you have to treat others like the Russians -- you have to demonstrate strength," says the reporter, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner. "I'm just waiting for him to screw up," Mr. Okrent retorts in an interview. He hastens to say the comment was a joke and that he will avoid tackling any issue concerning Mr. Johnston.

More recently, in an e-mail exchange, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller complained to Mr. Okrent about inquiries he was making for his column yesterday about a case of alleged child abuse. "i've got to say: man, you need a vacation," Mr. Keller wrote. "It's called reporting, right?" Mr. Okrent replied....

Mr. Okrent, 56 years old, says his first months at the Times were "very, very difficult." The paper, he says, "has a very strong immune system, and I was a different kind of antigen.... If there had been three public editors before me, the body might have absorbed it a little bit better."

It gets better:

The section in which Mr. Okrent's columns appear, Sunday's Week in Review, hasn't been particularly hospitable either. In early April, Mr. Okrent asked the section's editor, Katherine Roberts, for a response to reader queries about the difference between Week in Review articles and regular news pieces. Ms. Roberts says she initially ignored Mr. Okrent's e-mails. When she did reply, Mr. Okrent thought the answer incomplete.

Ms. Roberts says she felt Mr. Okrent could have found the answer by simply reading the section. "Did I drop the ball and not give him what he wanted?" she asks. "Yes." She concedes her behavior was "somewhat churlish."

Ms. Roberts was also peeved over the length of the public editor's column. Mr. Okrent now prefers to avoid dealing directly with Ms. Roberts, and communicates instead through one of the section's deputies. Ms. Roberts says she accepts the public editor as a fact of daily life. "Now it's here, and we live with it," she says.

The article concludes with nice-sounding words from everyone involved about how the Times is adjusting. And then there's the closing paragraph:

Mr. Okrent's puncturing days will be over after his term ends. From the beginning, Mr. Okrent said he wasn't planning on staying more than 18 months. When asked, he is able to pinpoint the exact time remaining on his contract. "It's like a prisoner's calendar," says Mr. Okrent's wife, Rebecca. "Crossing off the days."

*I will be linking more frequently to the Journal from now on, because I finally have an online subscription. This comes courtesy of my genius brother. Thanks, JBD!

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has more (link via Sullivan).

posted by Dan at 01:38 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

This amuses the s*** out of me

I do love musical satire. (link via Daniel Urman)

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

This officially scares the s*** out of me

Matt Drudge links to the following Michael Isikoff exclusive in Newsweek:

American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned....

Ridge's department last week asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously—along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.

Stephen Green thinks this idea is so politically stupid that it must be a disinformation campaign to fool Al Qaeda. James Joyner thinks this kind of contingency planning is unfortunate but inevitable:

Everyone seems to be focusing on the public psyche after an attack and its impact on swinging votes. It seems to me there are other considerations. What if a terrorist attack made voting impossible in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco? That could conceivably create incredibly illegitimate results in a close presidential election--not to mention Senate races. Would we really want to re-elect President Bush narrowly in a contest where Kerry strongholds were unable to participate?

Joe Gandelman concurs:

You do NOT want Al Qaeda to be able to influence an election. But if you postpone an election YOU are influencing an election and assuming that voting choices will be made due due to the attack and not on other matters as well.

Replace "YOU" with "The Bush administration" -- since they're the one's making this call -- and Gandelman's graf has a much more sinister cast to it.

I have a pretty low tolerance for conspiracy theories. That said, my gut reaction is that this proposal is so stupid that the administration would deserve having the craziest conspiracy theories out there sticking to them if they took this idea seriously.

Actually, it's worse than that -- what does it say that three years after 9/11, the Bush administration's counterterrorism and homeland defense policies are so weak that they have to contemplate changing the national election date rather than relying in our supposedly enhanced defences?

UPDATE: Patrick Belton has some thoughts that are more sophisticated than my gut instinct but make pretty much the same point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... re-reading the Isikoff story, I'll walk back my indignation just a bit. My first impression -- from Isikoff's lead graf -- was that Ridge and DHS wanted to ability to postpone Election Day because they anticipated an attack. But that's not the case -- they want the authority to postpone after an attack has taken place that's close to or on Election Day.

I still think this is a very, very, very bad idea, but it's a slightly less conspiracy-prone idea than at first blush.

A THIRD UPDATE: Eugene Volokh and Jack Balkin have some useful thoughts on the matter. Balkin in particular more eloquently delineates my two concerns:

The fact that a terrorist attack might influence voters one way or the other is not a reason to cancel an election. Lots of things happen before elections that can influence voters. Rather, the reason to postpone an election is that it is simply not possible to conduct the election in a particular jurisdiction, because, for example, there are dead bodies lying everywhere or buildings have been blown up and local services have to be diverted to matters of life and death. The September 11th attacks shut down large parts of New York and diverted essential services. It was no time to have an election. If a terrorist attack occurred on Election Day, it would make sense to postpone the election in the place where the attack occurred, but not everywhere in the country. (Note that under current law, states may pass new legislation rescheduling the election without Congress's intervention). One can imagine situations in which an election would have to be postponed everywhere, but they would be truly terrible situations, ones that effectively brought the entire country to a halt....

[F]inally, there are important structural reasons why the decision to postpone an election should rest in Congress, and should not be delegated to the Executive, as the Office of Homeland Security has recently suggested. The reason is that the Executive focuses decisionmaking in one person who is a member of one political party, while Congress consists of members of both parties representing all different parts of the country.

There is an enormous temptation for the Executive to overstate the danger in order to keep itself in power and bolster its chances in a postponed election. To be sure, there is also a danger of self-dealing in Congress. Nevertheless, that danger is mitigated by the fact that Congress is not unitary in the same way that the Executive is. If Congress were to consider such legislation, even in an emergency, the need to form a bipartisan consensus would be very strong, and this would help ensure that this very difficult decision was made for the right reasons.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (4)

(Some) bloggers get (a little bit) rich

Maureen Ryan reports in the Chicago Tribune that bloggers are starting to rake in the bucks:

A year ago, blogger Glenn Reynolds joked to the Tribune that he was making "burger-flipping" wages from the trickle of funds readers donated to his popular Web site,

These days, Reynolds can afford to order steak. Since he began accepting advertisements on his site five months ago, has been bringing in several thousand dollars a month.

It's starting to look as if bloggers can make a living from their sites, thanks to an advertising boom. Companies who want to reach specific consumers -- current-events mavens, conservative PhDs, cell phone fanatics -- are hooking up with blogs that can deliver those eyeballs. Some politically oriented blogs are also riding an election-year advertising wave, but industry experts expect the trend to last well beyond November....

"It's really just taken off the last few months," says John Hawkins of, a Blogads client who says he cracked $1,000 in monthly ad profits for the first time in June.

Advertisers have started to realize that some of their most well-heeled customers spend a decent chunk of their Web time reading such blogs as the politically obsessed Eschaton (, the Washington, D.C., gossip site and the cell-phone fanatic blog

Blogads offers ad rates tied to its clients' Internet traffic -- the more visitors, the higher the rate for an ad on that site. Given that some sites have been running as many as 15 ads at a time, a little back-of-an-envelope math shows that several of Blogads' top clients are likely clearing as much as $3,000-$5,000 a month.

That's a nice chunk of change for bloggers, especially the ones who would like to make blogging a full-time job.

But is this burgeoning advertising boom -- and it is a boom, since the top premium ad on Escaton cost $100 per month a year a go and $2,500 per month today -- built to last?

I will leave that question for my readers to discuss. However, Ryan reviews the various demographic surveys suggesting that the blog demographic is a lucrative and well-connected one:

"Every week for the last year, I had at least one advertiser say to me, `Who reads these things?'" says Henry Copeland, the founder of Blogads. "I wanted them to see for themselves that it's not just unemployed teenagers."

Far from it. In May, Copeland created a demographic survey and asked several of his blogging clients to alert their readers to it. Copeland had hoped that 10,000 blog readers would volunteer to click on the survey and answer its questions, but more than 17,000 did so.

And though the survey isn't a scientifically accurate sampling of blog readers, the folks who filled out the form appear to be a mature, well-heeled group. Sixty percent of the Blogads respondents said they are more than 30 years old, and almost 40 percent reported they have a household income of more than $90,000.

Perhaps most important to advertisers, half of those who took the Blogads survey said that over the last six months they spent more than $50 online for books and more than $500 for plane tickets; 25 percent spent between $100-$500 on electronics via the Web.

A May poll of 20,000 readers of Talking Points Memo -- a different survey conducted independently of the Blogads poll -- reveals a similar level of prosperity. Forty-five percent of TPM's survey respondents said they have advanced degrees, and 52 percent claimed incomes of more than $75,000 a year.

That said, one should bear in mind that Ryan is really talking about the peak bloggers at this point. If John Hawkins is raking in $1,000 a month, that's great, but that's not a huge sum of money. [What about you?--ed. I bring in far less than Hawkins -- but I won't deny that it's gratifying to actually earn money from this little venture.] At this point, maybe 5-10 bloggers can earn a decent living from blogging. It's nice that there's a new job category for the BLS and IRS to consider, but we're not talking about a huge economic impact here.

posted by Dan at 09:56 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The new pamphleteers

Alan Wolfe has a long essay in the New York Times Book Review about the rise of the überpartisan political book. Here's how it opens:

Whether or not you can tell a book by its cover, you can generally tell a country by its books. If most political books are any indication, the way we argue now has been shaped by cable news and Weblogs; it's all ''gotcha'' commentary and attributions of bad faith. No emotion can be too angry and no exaggeration too incredible.

Yet if the technologies used by bloggers and hardballers are new, the form is older than the Republic. While they appear as books -- and are staples of the best-seller lists -- today's give-no-quarter attacks, as George Packer noted recently of bloggers, have their origins in the pamphlets of the colonial era. ''Whatever the gravity of their themes or the spaciousness of their contents,'' Bernard Bailyn has written of these 18th-century op-ed articles, ''they were always essentially polemical.'' Long before deconstruction, we were fond of a hermeneutics of suspicion. We had partisanship even before we had parties. Our framers warned against the dangers of faction because we so rarely stood together. If you prefer your invective unseasoned by decorum, check out what the anti-Federalists had to say about the Constitution or how the Whigs treated ''King Andrew'' Jackson.

Judge our contemporary culture warriors by the standards of books, and they disappoint: logic, evidence and reason are conspicuously absent. Judge them by the standards of pamphleteering, and they may be doing democracy a favor, reminding our apathetic public why politics matters. Let me, then, apply the pamphlet standard to a slew of recently published volumes in which liberals and conservatives have at each other. Pamphleteering flourishes because in both publishing and politics, established elites and institutions are no longer able to ensure consensus and insist on moderation.

One does wonder which blogs Wolfe reads -- while I don't deny that some of them fit his description of "today's give-no-quarter attacks," that's hardly a fair chatacterization of the blogosphere as a whole.

Furthermore, while Wolfe focuses on books, one could make the case that documentary filmmakers actually fit the phamphlet niche even better than authors or bloggers. Hey, in fact, Robert Boynton makes this very point in a New York Times Magazine story on an upcoming documentary about Fox News. One highlight:

The populist MoveOn and the more centrist Center for American Progress collaborated with [documentary filmmaker Robert] Greenwald on ''Uncovered.'' Both sensed that film was becoming an important medium for disseminating their anti-Bush, antiwar messages -- different though the organization's politics are -- and both provided financial support and helped spread the word. Podesta says that this kind of multimedia, multiorganization project is an effective way of reaching a younger demographic, which policy groups traditionally have difficulty courting. ''Given the choice between sponsoring a policy book that nobody reads and a documentary that sells 100,000 copies and is seen all over the country,'' he says, ''I'll opt for the latter.'' In the first half of what Greenwald calls his ''upstairs-downstairs'' distribution model, Podesta saw to it that every member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives was invited to a screening of ''Uncovered''; the Center for American Progress also sponsored additional screenings at other elite institutions in Washington and Cambridge, Mass.

Meanwhile, ''downstairs,'' MoveOn alerted its 2.2 million members to the film and sponsored about 2,600 ''house parties'' on the night that ''Uncovered'' was released. From Anchorage to Boston, people plugged their ZIP code into MoveOn's Web site, located the nearest party and watched and discussed the film with a few dozen of their fellow citizens.

Lawrence Konner, a screenwriter and producer whose production company, the Documentary Campaign, made ''Persons of Interest,'' a film about Muslim detainees in the United States, says that ''Uncovered'' ''demonstrated to the rest of us that there was a new way of marketing a documentary.'' The film's grass-roots success attracted a distributor, Cinema Libre, which took it to Cannes and sold it all over the world. A new version with additional material is scheduled for theatrical release in the United States on Aug. 13.

Greenwald's office is now a veritable progressive-documentary incubator: future projects include a brief film for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and ''Unconstitutional,'' a movie about post-9/11 civil liberties violations that is supported by the A.C.L.U. Some in the entertainment industry argue that the collaboration between Greenwald and his political partners promises a new paradigm -- one in which Hollywood entertainers contribute their skills to a political cause rather than just their cash and left-leaning pieties. ''It used to be that the only time political people came to Hollywood was to go to parties and raise money,'' says Julie Bergman Sender, who has produced films like ''G.I. Jane'' and made short issue-advocacy films for political groups like America Coming Together, the grass-roots organization backed by George Soros. ''But now we're showing them that we can do more than write checks.''

Jim Gilliam, a 26-year-old former dot-com executive and a producer of ''Outfoxed,'' is enthusiastic about the way Greenwald's projects meld grass-roots politics with the culture of the Internet. He predicts a future -- augured by events like MoveOn's competition for the best 30-second anti-Bush advertisement -- in which young political filmmakers will be as likely to wield a camera phone as a digital camera. ''It won't be long before people will be shooting and editing short documentaries that they'll stream from their blogs,'' he says. If the Internet, as media critics like Jon Katz have suggested, has resuscitated the fiery journalistic spirit of Thomas Paine, guerrilla documentaries offer to put that polemical attitude in the director's chair.

OK, so maybe blogs are a form of pamphleteering -- but they're not the only form, and they have other uses.

[On a side note, Michelle Kung makes a similar point about documentaries in an Entertainment Weekly article on the rise of documentarians (subscription required). The nut graf:

Fed by the reality TV craze and led by [Michael] Moore's advocacy approach (pioneered in ''Roger & Me''), documentarians are taking a page from the portly provocateur's handbook and infusing their films with punchier writing, flashier editing, and hipper soundtracks. Movies that wear their agendas on their sleeve are resonating with media-savvy audiences who want some passion and POV with their popcorn.

In a sidebar to the story, it turns out that six of the top ten grossing documentaries have come out in the last two years.]

To get back to Wolfe's essay, his conclusion deals with decline and fall of the Establishment consensus:

We cannot expect today's political books to stand up to the weightier tomes of the 1950's and 60's, since the Establishment that sponsored the latter no longer exists. Our pamphleteers spend so much time debating each other's media prominence because both sides recognize that there is no national interest for which any one journalist can speak; when the war in Iraq ends, it will not be because a television anchor pronounced it a futile enterprise, as Walter Cronkite famously did during Vietnam. Right and left continue to debate the 2000 election because even the Supreme Court proved itself incapable of making an impartial decision. They accuse each other of treason because no ''wise men'' can be found with the ability to define the proper use of American power. Pamphleteering is what happens when no one -- editorial writers, university professors, publishing executives -- is doing much ''filtering.'' Without strong political parties and powerful labor unions, Arianna Huffington's and Sean Hannity's politics is the kind of politics you get.

For all their ugliness of language and unpersuasive fury, then, the current crop of political pamphlets bears a striking resemblance to the increasingly democratic culture in which they flourish. If their authors are poorly versed in American history, so are the young executives talking about the election at the airport bar while waiting for their connecting flights. If these books treat their side as good and their opponents as evil, so do the sermons in our booming evangelical churches. The style is melodramatic, but that is also true of ''Troy.'' Our political culture cannot be immune from the rest of our culture. The model for political argument these days is not the Book-of-the-Month Club but

If the only choice we have is between no politics and vituperative politics, the latter is -- just barely -- preferable. Of course this could change if we recreated an Establishment that decided which television programs we would watch and how much dissent we would permit -- a prospect as unlikely (because the Establishment is gone) as it would be unwelcome (because it would constitute censorship). In the meantime, we argue about politics and even argue about how we argue about politics, just what you might expect when no one is in charge but ourselves.

Two quick, slapdash thoughts on this:

1) If the establishment is on the wane, it's not a recent phenomenon. David Broder wrote about the decline of the Vital Center in The Party's Over: The Failure of Politics in America back in 1972. Some will say that we've been experiencing an inexorable slide towards greater partisanship since then. I think it's a bit more cyclical, and while we're undoubtedly in a hyperpartisan mode right now because of the election, these things do wax and wane. The desire for "normalcy" is a powerful one in the United States, and should not be lightly dismissed.

2) Nevertheless, one wonders if, as I wrote about earlier this week, there is a macro-scale effect in the extent to which partisanship is an increasing function of political participation. As more people become politically active, the greater the extent of partisan pamphleteering as opposed to more moderate discourse. In other words, I wonder whether Wolfe has his causality backwards. It's not that the decline of the Establishment elites have led to greater democratic participation and hence, greater rancor. It's that technological innovations like blogging software and digital video have generated a secular increase in reduced the transaction costs for democratic participation. Since those on the fringes tend to have a greater incentive to participate, these technological innovations help to crowd out the establishment.

I'm still trying to get a grip on this latter point -- but readers should feel free to tell me whether I'm actually on to something -- or if this is just an exercise in shrill hackery.

UPDATE: One other graf struck me while I was reading Wolfe's essay:

Brock also fails to grasp the conflicts that have emerged within right-wing punditry since he served in its ranks. Chris Matthews was not a supporter of the war in Iraq and Bill O'Reilly has serious questions about it. Lou Dobbs now sounds like Dick Gephardt when he discusses outsourcing. Andrew Sullivan's position on gay marriage is anathema to many other conservatives. Conservatives may well have shared a party line when they were out of power, but now that they have an actual president advancing their worldview, their ideas suddenly have consequences -- and turmoil is the inevitable result. Libertarians attack Bush's statism; fiscal conservatives, his big spending. This kind of behavior among liberals is called political suicide.

Y'know, for someone who appears to disdain blogs, Wolfe seem awfully familiar with the content of some blogs.

posted by Dan at 04:05 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)