Saturday, August 7, 2004

A note from the management at

As the blogosphere keeps growing, competition has become cutthroat and civility seems to be on the wane. Although we are proud of our association with Professor Drezner, we have decided for the next week to launch a pilot project: outsourcing to two temporary guest bloggers. The fact that they're both Indian and willing to work for free should not be construed to lend any credibility to rumors of relocating its offices to Bangalore.

With that out of the way, meet your two quest bloggers for the week -- Reihan Salam and Siddharth Mohandas!! Their biographies:

Siddharth Mohandas is a doctoral candidate in Government at Harvard. His research interests include U.S. intervention and nation-building efforts and Asian security issues. He has worked previously as an Associate Editor at Foreign Affairs magazine and interned as a speechwriter for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Siddharth holds an A.B. from Harvard and an M.Phil. from Cambridge, both in international relations. He was born in India, raised in Singapore, and is an American citizen.

Reihan Salam is a native of Brooklyn, New York. For a brief, shining moment, he served as Generalissimo of the All-Brooklyn People's Revolutionary Army, the militant wing of the Most Serene Popular and Revolutionary Democratic Republic of Brooklyn. The forces of reaction were on the run, and enemies of Brooklyn were being liquidated (figuratively, to be sure, and very humanely) at a prodigious, blood-curdling clip. Because Salam's bold and incorruptible leadership was too much for certain 'girlie-men' to handle, he was deposed in a bloodless officers' coup. Salam then spent several harrowing years on the underground Lubavitcher cabaret circuit as 'the One-Eyed Wonder,' in light of his penchant for wearing a bejeweled eye patch, complete with monogrammed 'R', over his left eye. But as they say, all good things must come to an end: 8th grade beckoned, and in a stunning upset, Salam, the dark-horse candidate, was elected president of his middle school. Charged with organizing a dance for the hormonally hyped-up youths, Salam, in a decidedly unpopular and undeniably courageous move, refused: 'Dancing,' he said, in a stirring speech worthy of Honest Abe, 'leads to fornication, and this I cannot abide.' He is, simply put, an inspiration to us all. Like all decent, God-fearing people, Salam has been an avid reader and admirer of Daniel Drezner's weblog since the early days, though he prefers the stunningly gorgeous Morena Baccarin to Salma Hayek.

(During his adult years, Reihan has also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and The New Republic). Enjoy!!

[A brilliant cost-cutting maneuver!! This will triple your blog profits!!--ed. Happy Meals for everyone!! Oh, and did I mention that you've been outsourced indefinitely? You labor-hating bastard!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 09:05 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

Just so long as it's campaign rhetoric...

Jill Zuckman writes in today's Chicago Tribune on how the Kerry-Edwards ticket responds to hostile and vocal Bush supporters at campaign events:

Nobody ever said campaigning like Harry Truman on the back of a train through hostile territory was going to be easy.

That's what the Democratic candidates for president and vice president began to realize late Thursday night as they pulled into this rural outpost and found themselves surrounded by about 2,000 politically divided voters in the pitch dark.

Holding candles, flashlights and posters, the people of Sedalia engaged in a shouting contest: Some called out "Four more years" and "We want Bush," while their neighbors chanted, "Three more months" and "Kerry! Kerry!"

The candidates themselves could barely get a word in....

Whether the rowdy crowd surrounding the Kerry-Edwards train was any indication of how Missouri will vote this year is difficult to assess. But it provided one of the less scripted moments of the campaign season so far.

"Will you let us speak? Will you let us speak, please?" Edwards urged the Republican section of the crowd, which was trying to drown him out with boos.

"We would never shout down our opponents when they're speaking," Edwards added, between attempts to describe his vision for one America without states that are either "red" or "blue."

As the Bush protesters continued to boo, Edwards asked them, "Are you guys really booing outsourcing of millions of America's jobs and doing something about it?" (emphasis added)

I'm sure Kerry supporters would say this is just campaign rhetoric -- exaggerated, distorted, and buffoonish campaign rhetoric.

UPDATE: Just for the record, like Pejman Yousefzadeh, I'm certainly not endorsing the booing in the first place. Indeed, one could argue that this kind of incivility merely encourages the response Edwards gave. What I can't stop wondering -- again -- is what this leads to if Kerry wins.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, August 6, 2004

The UN weighs in on Darfur

Alexander Higgins of the Associated Press reports that the United Nations is not happy with Sudan's government:

A top U.N. human rights investigator Friday released a scathing report that blames the Sudanese government for atrocities against its civilians in the Darfur region and says "millions of civilians" could die.

"It is beyond doubt that the Government of the Sudan is responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions of large numbers of people over the last several months in the Darfur region, as well as in the Shilook Kingdom in Upper Nile State," said Asma Jahangir, the U.N. investigator on executions, in a report based on a 13-day visit to the region in June.

"The current humanitarian disaster unfolding in Darfur, for which the government is largely responsible, has put millions of civilians at risk, and it is very likely that many will die in the months to come as a result of starvation and disease," said Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer.

Jahangir said there was "overwhelming evidence" that the killing was carried out "in a coordinated manner by the armed forces of the government and government-backed militias. They appear to be carried out in a systematic manner."

....The U.S. Congress has labeled the atrocities genocide. The United Nations has described the conflict in Darfur, which began with a rebellion early last year, as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Last week the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution giving Sudan 30 days to curb the pro-government Arab militias blamed for the violence in Darfur or face diplomatic and economic penalties.

Here's a link to the UN News account -- I looked for the actual report, but the UN website was not forthcoming.

In TNR Online, David Englin discusses the resources that would be needed should a military intervention be necessary.

posted by Dan at 11:16 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (2)

Jobs and the election

I was trying to think of a way to phrase my post about the latest job figures.

Ted Barlow and Megan McArdle beat me to it, though.

Even Irwin Stelzer, in a Weekly Standard article that highlights the good news about the economy over the past month, concedes the following:

the most widely watched and reported figures--jobs, oil prices, and stock prices--are grist for the Kerry mill. The jobs market is not as strong as Bush would like it to be, oil and gas prices are higher than he would wish, and stock prices are stuck somewhere between level and falling.

Those are the numbers that voters see repeatedly reported on television screens, and, in the case of gas prices, feel in their pockets every time they fill their tanks. Business Week estimates that consumers are spending an average of an extra $10 billion per month for gas and other energy products. Also, the effects of the Bush tax refunds have worn off, and a good day for stock prices is one on which they don't fall. All of this is apt to tame the animal spirits of both consumers and businessmen. That is not a recipe for reelecting an incumbent who took responsibility for the now-slowing recovery when it was steaming ahead.

Back in the fall at a Right Wing News symposium, I was asked, "What does the Dean Kerry have to do to beat Bush?" I answered: "It's less what Dean Kerry has to do than what happens in Iraq and the economy. The worse those situations are, the less Dean Kerry has to do."

Keep that line in mind for the next three months [That would be easier if you hadn't assumed it was going to be Dean--ed. Hey, I was just responding to the question!! Besides, all the cool blogs thought Dean was going to win then!]

posted by Dan at 07:43 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Have Americans stopped reading? Why?

While perusing Mark Edmonson's New York Times Magazine essay on reading I was alarmed to see a reference to a National Endowment of the Arts study suggesting that Americans were reading less literature than they used to.

Surfing over to the NEA's web site, I found the relevant press release from last month. The highlights:

Literary reading is in dramatic decline with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature, according to a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) survey released today. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline - 28 percent - occurring in the youngest age groups.

The study also documents an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, representing a loss of 20 million potential readers. The rate of decline is increasing and, according to the survey, has nearly tripled in the last decade. The findings were announced today by NEA Chairman Dana Gioia during a news conference at the New York Public Library.

"This report documents a national crisis," Gioia said. "Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life. The decline in reading among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy. To lose this human capacity - and all the diverse benefits it fosters - impoverishes both cultural and civic life."

While all demographic groups showed declines in literary reading between 1982 and 2002, the survey shows some are dropping more rapidly than others. The overall rate of decline has accelerated from 5 to 14 percent since 1992....

By age, the three youngest groups saw the steepest drops, but literary reading declined among all age groups. The rate of decline for the youngest adults, those aged 18 to 24, was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population. (emphases added)

I had two reactions after reading this:

1) I usually have little sympathy with claims that the culture is going to hell in a handbasket, but after seeing those numbers, I instinctively concluded, "the culture is going to hell in a handbasket."

2) It's gotta be the Internet's fault. A small drop between 1982 and 1992, followed by a more precipitous drop over the past decade? The proliferation of cable television and video games was strong in both decades, whereas the Internet was just taking off a decade ago. Surely, it's the Internet that's dumbing down the country.

Skimming the actual report, however, I came across this surprising finding on p. 15:

The SPPA results cannot show whether people who never read literary works would do so if they watched less TV, or whether they would use this extra time in other ways. A 2001 Gallup survey of 512 people showed that regular computer users spent 1.5 hours per day using the Internet and 1.1 hours reading books. However, those who did not regularly use a computer also spent 1.1 hours per day reading a book.

So maybe it's not the Internet.

There are two other facts worthy of note. First, it turns out that decline in total book reading -- as opposed to literature -- is not nearly as pronounced. The percentage of Americans who read a book did decline from 60.9% to 56.6% over the past decade, but the rate of decline was half that of literature readers.

Second, while reading may be in decline, writing is booming. From page 22 of Reading at Risk:

Contrary to the overall decline in literary reading, the number of people doing creative writing – of any genre, not exclusively literary works – increased substantially between 1982 and 2002. In 1982, about 11 million people did some form of creative writing. By 2002, this number had risen to almost 15 million people (18 or older), an increase of about 30 percent.

The obvious concern with a decline in reading is that such a trend causes critical thinking skills and one's imagination to atrophy. However, one could certainly argue that reading nonfiction, creative writing, and, hey, maybe even blogging (which for most people is a form of diary-keepng) helps to promote these skills as well. Well, that and a lot of solipsism as well.

To be sure, in terms of gross numbers, the increase in writing is dwarfed by the decline of literature reading. So I'm still worried that we're on the road to hell. But maybe the gradient to Hades isn't quite as steep as the NEA says it is. [I've still got questions about the study--ed. Then read the whole thing!]

One final, random thought -- why hasn't either presidential candidate seized on this report? This strikes me as the ultimate campaign issue if you're wooing middle-class suburban voters.

UPDATE: Jon H. notices something very important from p. 30: "Newspaper and magazine articles about post-September 11 developments and the war in Afghanistan may have hindered literary reading during the survey year." Actually, that's kind of important. If the survey year was anomalous, it could have thrown the trend line completely out of whack.

There will be more on this story soon.


posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Over 2,000,000 served

Yesterday passed the 2 million mark for the number of unique visitors since I started the blog.

Thanks to one and all for clicking!!

posted by Dan at 01:29 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, August 5, 2004

What kind of intelligence reform is necessary?

Members of the 9-11 Commission are not pleased with President Bush tweaking their intelligence reform proposals:

Two members of the Sept. 11 commission criticized President Bush's proposal to create a national intelligence director, telling Congress on Tuesday that the White House plan fails to give the new spy chief the executive powers needed to revamp the nation's intelligence agencies.

Without the power to set budgets and hire and fire senior managers, the new intelligence czar will lack the clout to make major changes at the nation's 15 spy agencies, the commissioners told lawmakers at the first House hearing prompted by the panel's 567-page report on the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"The person that has the responsibility needs the authority," Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, told the House Government Reform Committee. "Absent that, they're not going to be able to get the job done."

Republican commissioner John Lehman, a former Navy secretary who has been seen as a possible replacement for retiring CIA Director George Tenet, also urged the president to reconsider his proposal to base the director outside the White House. The commission recommended establishing the position within the White House to keep the director from being overshadowed by powerful Cabinet members, such as the defense secretary.

"Our recommendations are not a Chinese menu," Lehman said. "They are a whole system. If all of the important elements are not adopted, it makes it very difficult for the others to succeed."

Sounds like a bad omen for the administration, and more fuel for the left half of the blogosphere.

However, intelligence expert Anthony Cordesman argues in a Council on Foreign Relations interview that Bush did the right thing in his initial proposal:

Cordesman: [Bush] wisely, I think, talked about endorsing the recommendations of the commission in some areas, but provided no details as to which he would endorse, the timing, or how [the recommendations] would be implemented. Given the fact that the commission report basically provides no details as to what these recommendations mean in terms of staffing, costs, procedures, information technology, or any of the other steps necessary to implement them, the president has effectively left most issues open.

CFR: Is this good or bad? Is this now open for discussion with Congress? It will take some time to put together a plan.

Cordesman: That is one of the key issues. Nothing could have been worse or more impractical than calling Congress back to essentially try to vote on legislation to implement recommendations that have no details and no specifics. I think one of the great problems people face is that politicians rushed to join the bandwagon, effectively endorsing chapters 12 and 13 of this report. But they could not possibly have bothered to read what they were endorsing. Nobody in Congress with any experience is going to endorse a generalized recommendation for organizational change without any specifics, without any knowledge of the cost or the effectiveness, or even, because this is the major failing of the report, any knowledge of what has been done since 9/11 to try to fix the problems exposed in the commission report.

CFR: Are you implying that Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was premature in endorsing the report's recommendations?

Cordesman: In fairness to Senator Kerry, there were many people in both parties who rushed out to gain political visibility and do the same thing. But it isn't a matter of being premature; it is a matter of being totally irresponsible to think that you can rush Congress back to pass legislation when you haven't the faintest idea of what it means, when most of the recommendations have never been reviewed or commented on by the intelligence community, and nobody has any idea of the staffing requirements or costs.

CFR: There has been some criticism that the president, by declining to give the DNI control over the government's intelligence budget, has made the job meaningless. Is this criticism premature?

Cordesman: I think it is. The president has to consider some very real problems. Most of the intelligence budget goes to what are called "national technical means" [such as photo and communications satellites]. These are extremely sophisticated high-technology systems. Almost all of the planning and development of these systems occurs in the Defense Department [DOD]. They are designed to be integrated into an overall command-and-control system for military crisis management and war fighting. Now, when you reach budget decisions you have to have a budget structure where both the new DNI and the DOD can play the proper roles in budget review, and where there is programming authority and a programming staff to look beyond the current annual requirement to the overall needs for intelligence and how they fit into our command-and-control and communications systems.

Again, one of the great problems in the commission report is that it looked at exactly one issue--counterterrorism--and none of the others. But [U.S.] intelligence users consist of more than 1 million people, many of them in uniform, and when you talk about budgeting and programming authority, you have to consider that. The other difficulty is that at some point--and it will have to be very quick, if the new DNI is given budget authority--the [current] archaic and outdated budget system, which has many different elements and information systems, is going to have to be integrated and converted into a more modern system. You cannot simply wave a magic wand and tell somebody how to create a system that can manage what is certainly more than $20 billion a year.

As someone who urged the Bush administration to take the 9-11 Commission's policy recommendations seriously, this sounds about right to me.

Furthermore, Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts has a Slate piece that suggests the urge to centralize control/authority is mistaken:

Centralizing is an understandable response to the pre-9/11 intelligence fiasco. But as organizational science and history show, it's also a misguided one.

When organizations fail, our first reaction is typically to fall into "control mode": One person, or at most a small, coherent group of people, should decide what the current goals of the organization are, and everyone else should then efficiently and effectively execute those goals. Intuitively, control mode sounds like nothing so much as common sense. It fits perfectly with our deeply rooted notions of cause and effect ("I order, you deliver"), so it feels good philosophically. It also satisfies our desire to have someone made accountable for everything that happens, so it feels good morally as well.

But when a failure is one of imagination, creativity, or coordination—all major shortcomings of the various intelligence branches in recent years—introducing additional control, whether by tightening protocols or adding new layers of oversight, can serve only to make the problem worse....

[C]ombining the many different agencies involved in intelligence gathering and analysis at a single point—that of the director of intelligence—is almost certain not to succeed in delivering the kind of ambiguous yet essential functionality that everyone wants. So, some other kind of connectivity, along with a more creative approach, is required—one that incorporates not only the sharing of information across agency boundaries (a recommendation of the commission's that has received relatively little attention), but active collaboration, joint training, and the development of long term personal relationships between agencies as well. Creative intelligence analysis has a lot in common with other kinds of problem-solving activities: thinking outside the box, challenging deeply held assumptions, and combining different, often seemingly unrelated, kinds of expertise and knowledge. By understanding how innovative and successful organizations have been able to solve large-scale, complex problems, without anyone "at the top" having to micromanage the process, the intelligence community could learn some valuable lessons that might help it escape the mistakes of the past.

Watts might be overestimating the extent to which even the 9-11 Commission wants to centralize inelligence. However, his points about the power of informal social networks and decentralized efforts sounds awfully familiar with James Surowiecki's arguments about intelligence reform.

The left half of the blogosphere seems exercised about the notion that the Bush administration suggests that it is implementing the Commission recommendations when it actually isn't. Re-reading Bush's Rose Garden announcement, I think they do have half a leg to stand on. However, I don't really care whether the administration is trying to spin the atmospherics on this -- duh, of course they are -- but I do care about whether the substantive recommendations are the right ones to make. There's an implicit assumption in much of the blogging on this that the Commission must be correct.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Commission has put forward a serious proposal -- but there should not be an a priori assumption that it's the best proposal.

UPDATE: I received the following e-mail this morning:

I agree with Dr. Watts about the value of informal networks. As a former CIA analyst, I never felt that we lacked more managers. In fact, we needed more line staff and better process--both operationally and for professional development. There was one bright spot, and it could be a model for what Dr. Watts explains.

When I joined the Agency, I was lucky to be part of the Career Training program. Besides the obvious benefits of the program (preparation for service), I was told that the program had the additional goal of building cross-directorate relationships to facilitate informal networks. The hope was that these networks would speed sharing of information and problem resolution.

In my brief experience, the CT program definitely helped. It's major shortcoming was its limited scope. While all operations officers went through the program, only a handful of new hires for the other directorates (intelligence, administration and science and technology) participated. Also, the Agency did little to build on what it started in the CT program. More opportunities to bring alumni together both socially and professionally in succeeding years would have been helpful.

While no panacea, the CT program is a good start and a modified and expanded version might serve the intelligence community well.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok share their thoughts over at Marginal Revolution

posted by Dan at 06:18 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (8)

So what's going on in Saudi Arabia?

Well, the good news is that the Saudis have decided to hold national elections in a few months, according to Reuters:

Saudi Arabia plans to hold its first nationwide elections starting in November, seen as the first concrete political reforms in the country's absolute monarchy, a government source said on Wednesday.
The source from the Municipal Affairs Ministry told Reuters the first stage of the local elections would be held in the capital Riyadh after the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in mid-November.

The elections will elect half of the members of the nearly 180 municipal councils nationwide, while the rest are expected to be appointed by the government.

The conservative Gulf kingdom announced last October it would hold municipal elections -- the first in four decades -- after pressure from the United States and domestic reformers to grant some political participation and freedom of expression.

At the same time, the Economist reports that the House of Saud remains sensitive to media criticism:

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, suggested that several Arab and Muslim countries were prepared to send an armed force to help police Iraq. By lending Islamic legitimacy to Iraq’s transitional government, such a move could do much to quell the lingering hostility to it, both within Iraq and the surrounding region....

Yet scarcely was Mr Powell’s plane out of Saudi skies before the caveats blew in. The Islamic force was meant to replace the current coalition, not complement it, elaborated Prince Saud, and even then only at the express request of an Iraqi government that had “the full and clear support of the Iraqi people”....

To find reasons for the hasty retreat, look no further than the opinion pages in the Arab press. The troops offer was not really Saudi, said the popular London-based daily, Al-Quds al-Arabi, “but rather American orders clothed in Saudi garb so as to be more acceptable to other Muslim and Arab countries who are keen to please the American administration and fend off its official pressure to introduce reforms”. Talal Salman, editor of the Beirut daily, Al-Safir, commented acidly: “Washington has discovered that there are ‘unemployed’ Arab armies that have no duties, save to subdue Arab masses, and that those Arab armies could be employed in saving the United States from the Iraqi quagmire.”

The most interesting take on the current Saudi situation comes from David Gardner's Financial Times survey. The section on education is particularly revealing:

[P]robably it is in the field of education that this schizophrenia is most vividly and wrenchingly lived out. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has an educated middle class, an estimated one million of whom have studied abroad - often to a very high level - and the kingdom has educated its girls for roughly the last generation and a half. Saudis, moreover, often have an intellectual depth to them that is less easily found in many Arab countries, where political and commercial pressures have debased and ground down the currency of ideas to convenient and remunerative cliche and myth.

But then turn to school textbooks, drawn up under the authority of the Wahhabi establishment, which drill into impressionable young Saudi minds the religious duty to hate all Christians and Jews as infidels, and to combat all Shi’ites as heretics. A theology text for 14-year-olds, for instance, states that “it is the duty of a Muslim to be loyal to the believers and be the enemy of the infidels. One of the duties of proclaiming the oneness of God is to have nothing to do with his idolatrous and polytheist enemies.”

This sort of teaching follows the theses of the theologian Ibn Taymiyya, a forerunner of Wahhabi thinking who died in 1328, and who asserted the discretionary power of Muslim scholars and clerics to “correct” their rulers. “It is really not very difficult to understand how we got to where we are,” says one reformist intellectual, asking rhetorically if there is any difference between the sectarian bigotry of an Osama bin Laden and the intolerant outpourings of the Wahhabi establishment.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 05:20 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The grass is always greener...

Beyond the hideous pressures of trying to look chic, I've always said that being a professor at a quality academic institution is a fantastic day job if you can get it. Of course, Zach Braff -- star of Scrubs, director of Garden State, and newbie blogger -- reminds me that there are better jobs out there:

Today was the second day of Scrubs. I shot my first scene with Heather Graham. Without giving anything away, it involved me being sopping wet and close to naked. Sort of an odd way to meet someone and get to know them. But that's what makes Scrubs fun, everyday I show up I have no idea what kind of bizarre thing is gonna happen. Tomorrow we're blowing up a car. Now that's a good day job.

Blowing things up, hanging around with Heather Graham...:


Sniff. [No one, I repeat, no one feels sorry for you--ed.] Oh, did I forget to mention that Braff has had to work in close proximity with Sarah Chalke, Tara Reid, and Natalie Portman as well? And the fact that MSN Entertainment's Kat Giantis reports there are indications that Braff is now dating Natalie Portman? [OK, so no one feels sorry for him either--ed.]

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Hillary Clinton does outsourcing

One of Bill Clinton's political gifts was to take at a divisive issue and frame it in a way that sidestepped traditional political faultlines. Quick example: his call for making abortion "safe, legal, and rare." That phrase epitomizes the vast American middle on the issue. One could argue that this is the core of "Third Way" politics in general -- Tony Blair's "tough on crime -- and tough on the causes of crime" would be another example.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton and outsourcing. The good Senator from New York has managed to play both sides of the fence on this issue, blasting Treasury Secretary John Snow for suggesting that outsourcing helps the economy -- while simultaneously welcoming one of India's biggest outsourcing firms to Buffalo, NY. How to explain this? Some have accused her of lacking a firm grasp on policy issues -- but it could be that Hillary is stumbling around, trying to find a Third Way on the issue.

Which brings me to her Wall Street Journal op-ed of a few days ago. No stumbling here -- she comes up with a superior political response to offshore outsourcing -- that it's not as cost-effective as firms believe it to be:

New Jobs for New York, a nonprofit corporation focused on economic development, commissioned a study by Howard Rubin to explore the real facts on outsourcing. He found that next year, nine out of the 10 largest firms in New York are predicted to perform IT or business process work offshore. The primary reason given by 90% of these firms is "cost savings." So he analyzed these savings by category.

It turns out that the savings from outsourcing were not as large as many employers believe. While they cited average savings of 44% per outsourced job, Prof. Rubin demonstrates that the actual figure approximates 20%. Lower wages are only one part of the offshore equation. When you tabulate all the costs, our nation is more competitive than employers think.

You're probably asking, "How can we compete against countries where a computer programmer's wages are $10,000 per year while the equivalent U.S. wage is $100,000?" The explanation is that additional costs must be added to the offshore wages themselves to get the complete picture on costs. Companies have to spend money for planning, offshore transition, vendor selection, technology, communications, offshore management, travel and security. Many employers do not take every one of these costs into consideration. Add up all the costs and suddenly a call-center worker with a raw wage of $5 an hour offshore has a true cost of $17. And that's why we have the potential to be competitive.

The article then goes on to propose many of the things John Cassidy said wouldn't be discussed by politicians in his New Yorker essay. The political brilliance of this argument is that it allows the junior Senator from New York to blast the trend of offshore outsourcing without having to agitate for inane policy solutions like protectionism. Her argument is that if firms only realized the true costs, they wouldn't outsource to Bangalore, but to Buffalo instead.

Now, I'm pretty sympathetic to Clinton's argument -- it's a definite improvement over the position taken by the senior Senator from New York. It also buttresses a point I made in "The Outsourcing Bogeyman":

It is also worth remembering that many predictions [about the explosion of outsourcing] come from management consultants who are eager to push the latest business fad. Many of these consulting firms are themselves reaping commissions from outsourcing contracts. Much of the perceived boom in outsourcing stems from companies' eagerness to latch onto the latest management trends; like Dell and Lehman, many will partially reverse course once the hidden costs of offshore outsourcing become apparent.

My one caveat: eager to learn more, I checked out the New Jobs for New York web site to find the Howard Rubin study. I found this press release and this summary of the Rubin report (co-authored with Patricia Jaramillo). What I did not find was any hard numbers to back up Rubin's findings. It's not that they don't necessarily exist -- I just couldn't find any copy of the full report, and the summaries provided no data on this point.

Lest I be accused of not doing enough shoe-leather reporting, I, like, actually picked up the phone and called New Jobs for New York. The executive director was very friendly, and suggested I contact Rubin directly. I've left a message with him.

Should I see hard numbers, the readers of will be the first to know.

In the meantime, consider this a case study of how Hillary is learning from Bill.

UPDATE: Rubin might have his own consulting prejudices -- according to Forbes, he's a VP for Meta Group.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Blogs threaten national security

Well, some of them do -- according to The Onion.

Or, is this just a power play by the CIA? You be the judge.

Incidentally, if you go to the blog site mentioned in the Onion story, you get a brand-new "squatter" blog set up by Andy Nores Nelson. This entry is pretty funny, though.

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

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

What the f#$% is going on at the FBI?

Let's say you're running the organization responsible for trying to track potential terrorists in the United States. Immediately after 9/11, let's say that one of your new employees tells you that some of the people doing necessary translating work (from Middle Eastern languages into English) are incompetent, helping to explain why relevant information never made it to the necessary links in the chain of command. What do you do?

A) Give this person a medal and start cleaning house;

B) Fire the person, request a gag order to prevent her from speaking publicly about the case, and attempt to retroactively label anything said about the case as a state secret?

Alas, in the case of FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds, it appears that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice picked option B. For more background on the story, check out this Boston Globe story by Anne E. Kornblut, as well as Fred Kaplan's justifiable rant in Slate. The FBI admitted last week that Edmonds' whistle-blowing was "a contributing factor" in her firing. [Last week? That's, like, a decade in blog-years--ed. Better late than never.]

The coverage of this story reveals the extent to which the FBI has resisted any efforts at reform. In a 60 Minutes story on Edmonds from October 2002, consider this section:

In its rush to hire more foreign language translators after Sept. 11, the FBI admits it has had difficulty performing background checks to detect translators who may have loyalties to other governments - which could pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Take the case of Jan Dickerson, a Turkish translator who worked with Edmonds. The FBI has admitted that when Dickerson was hired the bureau didn't know that she had worked for a Turkish organization being investigated by the FBI's own counter-intelligence unit.

They also didn't know she'd had a relationship with a Turkish intelligence officer stationed in Washington who was the target of that investigation. According to Edmonds, Dickerson tried to recruit her into that organization, and insisted that Dickerson be the only one to translate the FBI's wiretaps of that Turkish official....

Does the Sibel Edmonds case fall into any pattern of behavior, pattern of conduct on, on the part of the FBI?

“The usual pattern,” says Sen. Grassely. “Let me tell you, first of all, the embarrassing information comes out, the FBI reaction is to sweep it under the rug, and then eventually they shoot the messenger.”

Special agent John Roberts, a chief of the FBI's Internal Affairs Department, agrees. And while he is not permitted to discuss the Edmonds case, for the last 10 years he has been investigating misconduct by FBI employees. He says he is outraged by how little is ever done about it.

“I don't know of another person in the FBI who has done the internal investigations that I have and has seen what I have, and that knows what has occurred and what has been glossed over and what has, frankly, just disappeared, just vaporized, and no one disciplined for it,” says Roberts.

Despite a pledge from FBI Director Robert Mueller to overhaul the culture of the FBI in light of 9/11, and encourage bureau employees to come forward to report wrongdoing, Roberts says that in the rare instances when employees are disciplined, it's usually low-level employees like Edmonds who get punished and not their bosses.

“I think the double standard of discipline will continue no matter who comes in, no matter who tries to change,” says Roberts. “You, you have a certain, certain group that, that will continue to protect itself. That's just how it is.”

Has he found cases since Sept. 11 where people were involved in misconduct and were not, let alone reprimanded, but were even promoted? Roberts says yes. (emphasis added)

And then there's this New York Times account of another case study in FBI management:

As a veteran agent chasing home-grown terrorism suspects for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mike German always had a knack for worming his way into places few other agents could go.

In the early 1990s, he infiltrated a group of white supremacist skinheads plotting to blow up a black church in Los Angeles. A few years later, he joined a militia in Washington State that talked of attacking government buildings. Known to his militia colleagues by the alias Rock, he tricked them into handcuffing themselves in a supposed training exercise so the authorities could arrest them.

So in early 2002, when German got word that a group of Americans might be plotting support for an overseas Islamic terrorist group, he proposed to his bosses what he thought was an obvious plan: Go under cover again and infiltrate the group.

But German says FBI officials sat on his request, botched the investigation, falsified documents to discredit its own sources, then froze him out and made him a "pariah." He left the bureau in mid-June after 16 years and is now going public for the first time - the latest in a string of FBI whistle-blowers who claim they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about how management issues had impeded terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Look, maybe the FBI has changed its ways and these examples are exceptions to the rule. And it should probably be acknowledged that there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass.

But they're still pretty scary exceptions. And this open letter from Edmonds to the 9-11 Commission doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. Particularly this part:

After the terrorist attacks of September 11 we, the translators at the FBI’s largest and most important translation unit, were told to slow down, even stop, translation of critical information related to terrorist activities so that the FBI could present the United States Congress with a record of ‘extensive backlog of untranslated documents’, and justify its request for budget and staff increases. While FBI agents from various field offices were desperately seeking leads and suspects, and completely depending on FBI HQ and its language units to provide them with needed translated information, hundreds of translators were being told by their administrative supervisors not to translate and to let the work pile up....

Today, almost three years after 9/11, and more than two years since this information has been confirmed and made available to our government, the administrators in charge of language departments of the FBI remain in their positions and in charge of the information front lines of the FBI’s Counter terrorism and Counterintelligence efforts. Your report has omitted any reference to this most serious issue, has foregone any accountability what so ever, and your recommendations have refrained from addressing this issue, which when left un-addressed will have even more serious consequences. This issue is systemic and departmental.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, here's a link to yesterday's testimony by the Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence to the Senate Government Affairs Committee on what the FBI thinks it has done right since 9/11. And here's the FBI's official response to the 9-11 Commission's report.

posted by Dan at 01:52 PM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (5)

August's books of the month

Well, given that I've linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank's critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following:

Rumsfeld said Feith, along with some nongovernment analysts, proposed training Iraqis before the war and giving them a chance to participate in Iraq's liberation.

But Franks and other senior military officers were focused on the impending war and did not adopt Feith's "logical idea," Rumsfeld said.

A few Iraqis were trained for postwar security but "not in the volume that many had hoped," Rumsfeld said.

One has to assume that Rumsfeld is referring to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress -- which, given Chalabi's track record since, is not exactly the most effective endorsement of Feith.

The general interest book is James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The fact that I make this recommendation even though I can't stand ridiculously long subtitles is a further testament to how much I'm enjoying the book.

Surowiecki's argument is simple -- when left to their own devices, large numbers of people who have diverse talents and perspectives will be consistently better than all individuals at problem-solving, decision-making, and future predictions. The key, to Suroweicki, is how information is gathered nd processed from the crowd. On p. 78, he makes this point with regard to the very topical question of ntelligence reform:

What was missing from the intelligence community, though, was any real means of aggregating not just information but also judgments. In other words, there was no mechanism to tap into the collective wisdom of National Security Agency nerds, CIA spooks, and FBI agents. There was decentralization but no aggregation and therefore no organization. [Senator] Richard Shelby's solution to the problem -- creating a truly central intelligence agency -- would solve the organization problem, and would make it easier for at least one agency to be in charge of all the information. But it would also forgo all of the enefits -- diversity, llocal knowledge, independence -- that decentralization brings. Shelby was right that information needed to be shared. But he assumed that someone -- or a small group of someones -- needed to be at the center, sifting through the information, figuring out what was important and what was not. But everything we know about cognition suggests that a small group of people, no matter how intelligent, simply will not be smrter than the larger group.... Centralization is not the answer. But aggregation is.

A side note on the intelligence reform question -- Mark Kleiman and Amy Zegart raise some disturbing questions about whether Bush's proposals for a National Intelligence Director would have sufficient authority to improve our intelligence capabilities. Zegart's speculation is particularly troublesome: "my warning bells go off whenever I hear the word "coordinate" so much in one press conference."

I'm cautiously optimistic, for two reasons. First, I suspect Bush is trying to mimic the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1986 -- and if memory serves, the JCS is neither in the operational chain of command nor does it possess budgetary authority. Bush explicitly compared the two in the press conference.

Second, Surowiecki's argument is that although coordination at the higher levels matters less than methods to ensure that the information is properly aggregated. In that sense, the reforms at the top matter less than ensuring the transmission of information.

I'm not sure I completely buy Surowiecki's arguments about how crowds facilitate cooperation, but it's still a stimulating argument.

There's a final reason to recommend this book -- it's clear that Surowiecki doesn't just admire cowds in the abstract, he likes to participate as well -- if one defines the blogosphere as a crowd. He's commented on at least two blogs I'm aware of: Crooked Timber and Brad DeLong -- and hey, he just posted here. The blogosphere violate one of Surowiecki's underlying assumptions, which is that one member of the crowd can't influence other members. Still, while many prominent readers of blogs never deign to post a comment, Surowiecki has no problems doing so.

Go check them both out.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias thinks I'm misinterpreting Goldwater-Nichols, and has some links to offer up. The thing is, all of the JCS tasks listed in Yglesias' are "advisory." Replace "advisory" with "coordinating role" and it's not clear whether Bush's admittedly vague proposal is all that different.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reading up on Goldwater-Nichols some more, it's clear that the JCS lies outside of the operational chain of command -- the regional commander-in-chiefs (CINCs) report directly to the Secretary of Defense. However, Matt might be correct that the JCS has a larger budgetary role than I originally thought.

Beyond that, the key elements of Goldwater-Nichols was to endow the chairman of the JCS more authority vis-a-vis the service chiefs -- by giving the chair control over the Joint Staff and designating him/her as the principal military advisor to the president. Bush's proposed NID would have similar capacities.

More intruigingly, the Act also empowered the regional CINCs relative to the service chiefs, thus increasing local coordination among the various services. I haven't seen anyone discuss whether something like this would be advisable or appropriate in the case of intelligence -- well, except for those ubiquitous TNT previews for "The Grid."

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

The New Yorker does outsourcing

I got a lot of e-mail requests to discuss John Cassidy's New Yorker story from last week on offshore outsourcing. I resisted them because Cassidy's essay was not on the New Yorker website, so it seemed like it would have been weird. But the e-mails kept coming. So here goes:

What's weird about the piece is that it reads like Cassidy wrote it back in April and then put it in a desk until The New Yorker had some pages to fill. For example, the estimate Cassidy cites from Forrester Research on the number of jobs that will be outsourced was revised upwards in May -- which would bolster Cassidy's point -- but the older figure is used.

This paragraph is emblematic of the problems with the story:

While outsourcing isn't the only reason that business are so reluctant to hire American workers -- rising productivity and a lack of faith in the recovery are others -- it is certainly playing some role, a fact that corporate executives are much more willing to admit than economists are. Moreover, economists tend to overstate the theoretical case for outsourcing, arguing that trade liberalization is always and everywhere beneficial, which simply isn't true.

OK, let's skip over the fact that 70% of those corporate execs have said they have no immediate or future plans to outsource. What's important is that Cassidy's small caveat about productivity gains allows him to commit a major fudge, blaming outsourcing for the larger, lackluster employment picture. This simultaneously ignores the importance of productivity and conveniently ignores the fact that the employment data doesn't back Cassidy up.

Don't take my word for it, though -- Charles L. Schultze has more on this in a Brookings Institution policy brief. Schultze makes important caveats about the official data, but nevertheless concludes:

If the disappointing employment growth of the past several years came about because America's production needs were being met to an increasing degree by production from foreign rather than American workers, as Americans increased the share of consumer and capital goods they bought from abroad, or as domestic firms expanded the share of their operations located abroad, this should show up as a rise in the inflation-adjusted value of imports relative to GDP. During the 1990s the import share rose steadily, but apart from some short-term fluctuations the share leveled off thereafter. It is difficult from this data to see how changes in the combination of import substitution and offshoring could have played a major role in explaining America's job performance in recent years.

The estimates on imports of goods come from relatively comprehensive U.S. customs data. Conceivably, the surveys of business firms used by the Department of Commerce to collect data on service imports may be missing some of the increase attributable to offshoring.... But the absolute size of any such errors in the import data cannot realistically be anywhere near large enough to alter the earlier conclusion that the speedup in productivity growth was by far the dominant factor behind the disappointing job growth. (emphasis added)

Both Schultze and Cassidy state that outsourcing and productivity gains can cause the gross destruction of jobs. However, Cassidy wants the reader to believe that outsourcing is the real villain -- Schultze shows that it isn't.

Cassidy closes with the following paragraph:

If the United States is to meet the challenge posed by a truly global economy, it will have to insure that its scientists are the most creative, its business leaders the most innovative, and its workers the most highly skilled -- not easy when other nations are seeking the same goals. A truly enlightened trade policy would involve increasing federal support for science at all levels of the education system; creating financial incentives for firms to pursue technological innovation; building up pre-school and mentoring initiatives to reduce dropout rates; expanding scholarships and visas to attract able foreign students and entrepreneurs to these shores; and encouraging the development of the arts. In short, insuring our prosperity involves investing in our human, social, and cultural capital. But don't expect to see that slogan on a campaign bumper sticker anytime soon.

Brad DeLong has his own problems with this closing. For me -- beyond the dubious linkage between arts funding and outsourcing -- what's missing from the Cassidy piece is a recognition of American strengths in innovation for the future. Hell, even the Progressive Policy Institute -- in a policy brief on offshoring by Richard Atkinson that reads like Cassidy's wish list no less -- recognizes this fact:

The next wave [of innovations] is not just about technology. It is also about innovative new business models, which the United States is particularly well positioned to develop because of its unique combination of information technology (IT) talent, entrepreneurial energy, and flexible capital markets. India boasts high-level computer programmers, but innovative companies that combine IT with creative business models, such as Yahoo!,, Akami, and Google, were all developed in the United States.

When the Progressive Policy Institute agrees with the former head of the McKinsey Global Institute, it does suggest that this is kind of important.

Also on this point, Tammy Joyner has a long Atlanta Journal-Constitution story on the hidden costs that can come from offshoring -- in large part due to the infrastructure deficiencies that Cassidy elides in his essay.

Two other offshoring stories worth checking out:

1) Bruce Bartlett has a policy brief on insourcing vs. outsourcing.

2) William Bulkeley has a Wall Street Journal story on how IBM is adopting new policies to reduce layoffs due to offshore outsourcing. Key line: "IBM is increasing employment for the first time in three years. Earlier this year it said it expected to boost world-wide employment by 15,000 to 330,000 in 2004, including a net U.S. employment boost of up to 2,000, despite offshoring."

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

More from Tommy Franks

Following up on an earlier post, former CentCom commander General Tommy Franks provides some interesting information while plugging his just-released memoir, American Soldier.

One interesting bit from this Nightline interview is that it wasn't only western intelligence agencies who were fooled on the WMD question:

KOPPEL: Let's go back — actually, we haven't gone to it at all yet, but let's just quickly go to the subject of weapons of mass destruction. You write in your book that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told you Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. You write that …

FRANKS: Actually, biologicals, right.

KOPPEL: Biologicals. You write that King Abdullah of Jordan told you the, Saddam has and will use weapons of mass destruction.

FRANKS: That his intelligence services had given that to him too.


FRANKS: Yes, that's correct.

KOPPEL: Both governments today — you know, kings don't answer to books, as you know, and either do presidents, but your book has apparently made its way around to both those capitals, and both the office of King Abdullah and the office of President Mubarak deny that, say they never told you that.

FRANKS: Uh-huh. Not, not, not surprising, Ted. I think one sort of has to be aware of the way, the way politics works in the Middle East, and so I'm not at all surprised by that. I'll simply stay with what I said.

Michael Kilian's Chicago Tribune story also provides a lot of ammunition for the Kerry campaign:

According to the general in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.

"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know [about the insurgency]."

....As he noted in his book, Franks had projected that troop strength in Iraq might have to rise to 250,000 for the U.S. to meet all of its objectives, but the number never got higher than 150,000.

"The wild card in this was the expectation for much greater international involvement," he said in the interview. "I never cared whether the international community came by way of NATO or the United Nations or directly.

"We started the operation believing that nations would provide us with an awful lot of support," Franks said.

Instead, the other members participating in the coalition have contributed only about 22,000 soldiers in Iraq, and several nations, such as the Philippines, have pulled out their forces recently. Franks said he thinks the U.S. will have to maintain substantial numbers of troops in Iraq for three to five years.

Initial planning for the war centered on achieving a speedy victory in the major combat phases followed by rapid reconstruction of the country, Franks said. Though an insurgency was feared, there was no assumption it would happen, he said.

"I think there was not a full appreciation of the realities in Iraq--at least of the psychology of the Iraqis," Franks said.

"On the one hand," he continued, "I think we all believed that they hated the regime of Saddam Hussein. Over the last year, we have seen that come to pass. That's where the intelligence came from that allowed us to get the sons of Saddam Hussein."

Udai and Qusai Hussein were killed in a firefight with U.S. troops in July 2003.

"On the other hand, the psychology of the people--the mix of the Sunnis, the Shiites, the tribal elements and the Kurds--and what they would expect and tolerate in terms of coalition forces, their numbers, where they are and what they're doing in Iraq, I don't know that we made willful assumptions with respect to that," the retired general added.

UPDATE: The Tribune story also makes it clear in the book that Franks has no love for either Douglas Feith or Richard Clarke:

In his book, Franks referred to Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and one of Rumsfeld's close advisers, as "a theorist whose ideas were often impractical."

"I generally ignored his contributions," Franks wrote of one meeting.

He was critical of former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, saying in the book he "was better at identifying a problem than at finding a workable solution."

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, August 2, 2004

Evaluating the threat from Al Qaeda

Dan Byman, a counterterrorism specialist at Georgetown, has a counterintuitive Slate essay on why the U.S. homeland is safer than commonly thought -- despite the recent terrorist advisory for certain East Coast locales:

The greatest blow to al-Qaida has come from the removal of its haven in Afghanistan and the disruption of the permissive environment it enjoyed in numerous countries in Europe and Asia. The leaders of the organization are under intense pressure, with killings and arrests commonplace. As a result, attacks that require meticulous planning and widespread coordination are far more difficult to carry out.

Al-Qaida has changed in response to these pressures. As former CIA Director George Tenet testified earlier this year, "Successive blows to al-Qaida's central leadership have transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously." Before Sept. 11, al-Qaida worked closely with various local jihadist movements, drawing on their personnel and logistics centers for its own efforts and working to knit the disparate movements together. Since 9/11, local group leaders have played a far more important role, taking the initiative in choosing targets and conducting operations, looking to al-Qaida more for inspiration than for direction.

This shift from a centralized structure to a more localized one has made the U.S. homeland safer. The United States, in contrast to many nations in Europe and Asia, does not have a strong, well-organized, radical Islamist presence on its shores. Although there are certainly jihadist sympathizers who might conduct attacks on their own or be used by foreign jihadists as local facilitators, the vast sea of disaffected young Muslim men that is present in Europe and elsewhere has no U.S. parallel. Similarly, the logistics network of forgers, scouts, recruiters, money men, and others is far less developed.

Safer does not mean safe, and the risk of less sophisticated attacks remains particularly high. Attacks on U.S. allies where jihadist networks are better organized and more resilient are a grave concern, and Americans traveling abroad are particularly vulnerable. Nor is the homeland necessarily secure, as al-Qaida has adjusted to U.S. vigilance. FBI Director Robert Mueller has warned that the organization is seeking recruits who will easily blend in to the United States. Tenet also darkly noted that for groups sympathetic to al-Qaida's ideology, attacks on the U.S. homeland remain the "brass ring."

There's another reason to believe that an Al Qaeda attack might stoppable. Although the U.S. might still not be prepared to protect critical infrastructure, this Washington Post story suggests that Al Qaeda isn't targeting it either. For all the talk about Al Qaeda's flexibility, they appear to be relatively orthodox in targeting symbols. The key paragraph:

The information that emerged appears to confirm that al Qaeda continues to plan operations and conduct surveillance against targets inside the United States. It buttresses the warnings of law enforcement and intelligence officials that al Qaeda has operatives in the United States and that U.S. financial institutions -- particularly ones in New York and Washington -- remain favorite targets of the terror network.

More on this point from Knut Royce of Newsday.

None of this means that the Al Qaeda threat has been eliminated -- but it's still worth noting.

UPDATE: Douglas Jehl and David Johnston report in the New York Times that, "Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old." However, both the Times account and this Chicago Tribune story make it clear that while most of the information was old, it was only in the past few weeks that it was obtained by U.S. intelligence. The Tribune report also states, "The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while much of the surveillance predated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some information about one of the targeted buildings was from 2004."

Tom Maguire (who's been on a roll as of late) has some relevant thoughts.

posted by Dan at 11:33 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (4)

George W. Bush violates the laws of bureaucratic politics

The Associated Press' Deb Reichmann reports that President Bush has embraced two key recommendations from the 9-11 Commission -- the creation of a national intelligence czar and counterterrorism center. Here's a link to the White House transcript of Bush's remarks and answers to questions.

The most startling change from the 9-11 Commission's recommendations was the decision not to place the NID inside the White House. On this point, Bush said:

I don't think that the office ought to be in the White House, however. I think it ought to be a stand-alone group, to better coordinate, particularly between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence matters. I think it's going to be one of the most useful aspects of the National Intelligence Director.

Later on in the Q&A, he compares the structure he's proposing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I'll admit to being gobsmacked -- not because Karl Rove might be reading my blog, but because the Bush administration had an opportunity to centralize policy authority and passed. Their proposed reform might be even better, because it provides one layer of bureaucratic protection from the overt political manipulation of intelligence. However, for a White House -- any White House -- to decline placing an important bureaucracy inside the Executive Office of the President is unusual.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum offers a slightly darker interpretation for Bush's decision:

Here's my guess: Bush felt pressured to accept the commission's recommendations, but Don Rumsfeld was not happy about the idea of his intelligence apparatus being under someone else's thumb. The answer they came up with was twofold: accept the idea of a national intelligence director, thus showing that they take the commission's recommendations seriously, but weaken its powers by housing it in its own building.

Why? Because it's a truism of DC power politics that anyone who works directly out of the White House has more influence than someone who doesn't. The Pentagon probably feels that it can handle another high-level bureaucrat, but isn't so sure it can handle one who actually works directly in the White House and talks to the president and his aides on a regular basis.

Needless to day, Bush is spinning this as a way of keeping the new intelligence director independent, but I think the real story is the Pentagon's desire to keep the director's oversight as weak as possible. Keeping him out of the White House is the best way to do that.

This is certainly possible -- one reporter said at the press conference that, "some of your [Bush's] own advisors oppose creation of a National Intelligence Director."

That said, bear in mind that even if true, Rumsfeld still lost a fair amount of authority. The President did outline the division of labor in this answer:

I think that the new National Intelligence Director ought to be able to coordinate budgets.... the National Intelligence Director will work with the respective agencies to set priorities. But let me make it also very clear that when it comes to operations, the chain of command will be intact.

If the proposed NID has significant decision-making authority of resource allocation among the myriad intelligence agencies, that's a pretty significant transfer of power.

posted by Dan at 01:47 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (5)

Laura Tyson vs... John Kerry

Here's an example of the difficulty in trying to nail down what a Kerry administration's trade policy would look like. On the one hand, Matthew Yglesias has a good American Prospect piece (expanding on this blog post) on what he learned in Boston about the Kerry economic team. The key part is his recount of what Kerry advisor Laura Tyson said:

After briefly singing the praises of liberalized trade and capital flows, recommending Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization for those who wanted to know more, and arguing that trade is "necessary, but not sufficient" for global economic development, Tyson acknowledged that her remarks were somewhat at odds with much of what Kerry's said on the campaign trail.

"When people say, 'well, listen to what the Kerry campaign has said about trade in some of the primaries, we are concerned that Senator Kerry will move the US away from trade integration,'" she said, she tells them to "think about the issue of national campaigns in the US" and to "recognize that what might be said in one primary ... is not an indicator of the future."

Tyson further argued that Kerry would be able to liberalize trade more than Bush has, because Kerry would support policies that help compensate the inevitable losers in globalization -- a step that will allegedly drain the swamp of anti-trade sentiment. Lest it be thought that Tyson's commitment to the multilateral process and to continued trade integration leaves plenty of wriggle room to keep the process but add, say, environmental standards into the mix, she explicitly disavowed this option during a later exchange. Adding environmental issues to the WTO's brief might bog it down and impede progress on further integration.

This is music to my ears -- except that I then checked out the Kerry Edwards position paper on trade. On p. 2, I see this nugget of information:

As president, John Kerry will lead with a firm but even hand on trade, and make clear that when the U.S. enters into trade agreements, we will expect our trading partners to live up to their side of the bargain. He will strongly enforce our trade laws and insist that all new free trade agreements include enforceable, internationally recognized labor and environmental provisions in the core of the agreements.

Strictly speaking, the position paper does not conflict with Tyson's statement -- the former refers to "new free trade agreements," the latter to the WTO. However, Matt's implication that there's no wiggle room in a Kerry trade policy to use regulatory standards as a way of blocking trade liberalization is a bit overstated.

One final thought -- I'd like to see someone ask the Kerry economic team the following question: "It was recently decided to extend the deadline for the Doha round of WTO negotiations to the end of 2005. On p. 9 of your position paper on trade, the following is stated:

As president, John Kerry will order an immediate 120-day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure that our trade partners are living up to their obligations and that trade agreements are being enforced and they are working as anticipated. He will consider necessary steps if they are not. And John Kerry will not sign any new trade agreements until the review is complete.

Does this review apply to Doha as well?"

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

The five W's and Nigerien yellowcake

Josh Marshall has a long post up detailing some of his investigation into the sourcing of the Nigerien yellowcake documentation: "[T]he Italian middle-man who provided the notorious Niger uranium documents to Italian journalist Elizabetta Burba (she later brought them to the US Embassy in Rome, you’ll remember) was himself given the documents by the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI."

Read the whole thing, and then read Tom Maguire's critical take on one section of Marshall's post.

For me, this is the key part of Marshall's post:

The Financial Times article lead (sic) to a surge of articles and commentary suggesting that the forged documents were only a minor part of the case for the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. But, as we've noted earlier, that's a willfully misleading account, one which both the Butler Report and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report helped to further.

Contrary to arguments that there was lots of independent evidence of uranium sales between Iraq and Niger, US government sources have told us that almost all of the important evidence derived from the phony documents. Specifically, it came from summaries of the documents Italian intelligence was distributing to other western intelligence agencies -- including those of the US, Britain and France -- in late 2001 and 2002.

The US has long known that the Italians had the forged documents in their possession at least as early as the beginning of 2002. And what we've uncovered is that at the same time Italian intelligence operatives were surreptiously funnelling copies of the documents to this document peddler with the knowledge that he would sell them to other intelligence services and likely to members of the Italian press.

Marshall and Maguire are hashing out the "what?" question of journalism. My big question is why? Assuming Marshall is correct on the sourcing (and he posted this because the Sunday Times of London also has the story), what, exactly, was SISMI's motive in forging the documents and then passing them on to other western intelligence agencies?

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Pamela Anderson, novelist


Pamela Anderson is the sort-of author of a forthcoming novel, Star, loosely based on her own climb up the celebrity foodchain. She discusses the book in an interview with Entertainment Weekly's Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. Here are the parts that appeared in the print version of the magazine:

EW: You cowrote ''Star'' with Eric Quinn, a ghostwriter. I've never heard of a ghostwriter on a novel.

PA: Well, there are things I don’t really know about, like sentence structure, a beginning, a middle, and an end. All those hard things....

EW: Why a novel?

PA: I'd been asked to do an autobiography so many times but I thought, That's so boring, unless I'm an old lady with gray hair and my cats. But Simon & Schuster said they'd do anything -- children's books, a vegetarian cookbook... And I said, ''What about fiction?'' And they said, ''What about a roman à clef?'' And I'm like, ''Who's that?''

EW: Do you feel more exposed as a writer than as an actor?

PA: I don't think I can expose myself more than I already have to the world!

Lest one think that Miss Anderson is the personification of a dumb blonde, read her longer interview with editor Daphne Durham. She's probably not going to be applying for Mensa membership anytime soon, but the contrast between the two interviews does reveal Miss Anderson's savviness at image manipulation and a healthy willingness to poke fun at herself.

And who knows, Star might actually be the perfect book for an August vacation. In an editorial review, Durham praised the book as, "funny, sexy, and utterly compelling--a must read for chick lit fans."

The staff at -- which possesses an enduring faith in the resilience of American celebrities -- wishes Miss Anderson the best of luck in her writing career!

[So Star is going to be one of August's books of the month?--ed. Tempting, but no.]

posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

The perils of excessive certainty

One of the problems with blogging is that it promotes excessive certainty. Exhibit A comes from Atrios, aka Duncan Black, in this post about fence-sitters:

It's the season. I'm sure we'll see a bunch of "reasonable" conservatives writing that if Kerry could just somehow say the magic combination of words, appealing to their idiosyncratic sense of what the Democratic should be (regaining what it has lost, blahblabblah), that they'd support him....

One thing it's important to remember with all of these people - their public personas, their public writings, are to a great degree a pose. The only way to hold onto your reputation as being something other than a partisan hack is to make sure to provide enough public statements to back that up. Similarly those who really are supposed to be partisan hacks are only "allowed" a few chances to stray from the reservation, particularly on the conservative side of things. Ostracism from the movement can be quick and painful.

But, the truth is a this point anyone who pays attention (as it's their job) should have a very good idea what a 2nd Bush administration would be like, and a pretty good idea how a Kerry administration would differ. They should also understand that campaign rhetoric is what it is, and has little bearing on how a Kerry administration will actually govern, relative to what we already know about the guy.

As one of the fence-sitters, I'm highly skeptical of Atrios' confidence about either the motivations of fence-sitters or future expectations. On the former, Mickey Kaus points out:

It's always hard to distinguish those with genuinely ambivalent or heterodox or nuanced or muddled views from those who are just positioning (e.g., to "preserve their street cred on both sides"). But I wouldn't think this is a distinction Kerry supporters, of all people, would want to encourage.

As for retaining cred on both sides, one shouldn't rule out the possibility of equally pissing off both sides as well.

On the latter point, I'm glad Atrios is so sure of himself -- I'll proceed with more caution this time around. Take the case of trade policy. I thought Bush was going to invest more political capiital into trade liberalization than he actually has (today's good news aside) and dismissed the campaign pledge to West Virginia steelworkers to provide protection as "campaign rhetoric." Whoops.

Kerry's rhetoric on outsourcing and trade has been more heated and more prominent than Bush's trade talk in 2000. His choice for vice president used even stronger protectionist rhetoric during the primary campaign. Even if the Senator from Massachusetts doesn't really mean it, there is the problem of "blowback" -- becoming trapped by one's rhetoric (See: George H.W. Bush, "no new taxes").

For the issues I care about, there's still a fair amount of uncertainty about what either a Kerry or Bush administration would look like come January 2005. At this point I'm not thrilled with my choice either way.

Bob Rubin's "probabilistic" decision-making style rested in part on deferring decisions until they were absolutely necessary. I'm happy to bide my time.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, August 1, 2004

What does Tommy Franks think?

In Plan of Attack, General Tommy Franks -- the CentCom commander and architect of both the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns who retired in the fall of 2003 -- was quoted as describing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith as "The f***ing stupidest guy on the planet." With a quotation like that, I'm kinda curious what Franks will be saying in his soon-to-be-released book, American Soldier.

Mark Thompson has a Q & A with Franks in Time that suggests a, dare I say it, complex take on the Bush Administration. Some of the good parts (the ALL CAPS are Thompson's questions):

IN YOUR BOOK, YOU ABSOLVE YOURSELF, PRESIDENT BUSH AND DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD OF INADEQUATE POSTWAR PLANNING. SO WHO'S RESPONSIBLE? It's possible to underestimate the difficulty inside our bureaucracy as well as inside the international bureaucracy when it comes to things like fund raising. The planning, in fact, incorporated the need to rehire a quarter of a million Iraqis who had been in the military. When they all went home, they were unemployed. The question is, How long does it take to generate funding in order to re-employ these people? Unfortunately, it took too long.

WELL, WASN'T IT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION THAT DISBANDED THE IRAQI ARMY? Actually, the Administration didn't disband it—it melted away. It's a blessing when an army melts away rather than dying in place. On the other hand, if what we're after is to get reconstruction going, then that simply represents 250,000 angry young men.

COULDN'T THE U.S. HAVE CALLED THEM BACK TO DUTY? We would have been wise to do that, and in my view we should have done that....

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO WORK FOR RUMSFELD? I wish Don Rumsfeld had had an easier, less-centralized management style. That does not imply that Don Rumsfeld screwed up the war. It says that I—and I suspect a lot of other people—would have had a whole lot better feeling undertaking these very important matters if Don Rumsfeld had been a very concerned people person.

DO YOU THINK BUSH SHOULD BE RE-ELECTED? The way I'm going to mark my individual ballot I'll keep to myself. Whether we like Bush or not, the quality of his judgments and the quality of his leadership has been honest. I respect him for that. I'm leaning in that direction.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Doha is back on track

Following up on Thursday's post, WTO negotiators have announced a successful "July package" that lays the groundworks for cobbling a successful trade deal. Lisa Schlein has a story for Voice of America:

Delegates to the World Trade Organization have agreed to a deal, which experts say will boost world economic growth by liberalizing world trade. The agreement restarts stalled free trade talks, known as the Doha Development Round, which collapsed last September at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

After a week of marathon talks, the World Trade Organization's 147 members approved the agreement by consensus, marking what WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi calls an historical moment for the organization.

He says the framework agreement will lead toward the elimination of export subsidies, a reduction in domestic subsidies and will produce gains in market access....

West African countries achieved a breakthrough in their demands that rich countries stop subsidizing their cotton farmers. Under the agreement, the United States and other nations have decided that cotton subsidies be treated on a separate fast track. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says he is pleased with the outcome of this negotiation....

Chief negotiators at the World Trade Organization say they hope they will be able to conclude the round of trade talks by December 2005, when the next ministerial takes place in Hong Kong.

As this WTO press release points out, this pushes the deadline back from the original January 2005 deadline, but that's to be expected. The WTO Secretary-General is clearly pleased:

Dr. Supachai predicted that the progress now made in agriculture, non-agricultural market access, development issues and trade facilitation would provide substantial momentum to WTO members’ work in other important areas such as rules, services, environment, reform of dispute procedures and intellectual property protection.

“I fully expect that when negotiators return in September negotiations in these areas and all others will recommence with a high degree of enthusiasm,” he said.

WTO members can now put behind them the deadlock 10 months earlier at the Cancún ministerial conference, he said.

[C'mon, it's a froggin' press release -- of course he's going to be upbeat!--ed. Actually, it's been my experience that compared to other international governmental organizations, the WTO press material is remarkably free of spin or artifice.]

You can take a gander at the text of the recent agreement by clicking here.

The contrast between the Bush administration's positive contributions to this step foward on trade and Kerry's praise of the "fair trade" shibboleth, does alter one of the four key factors in my voting decision come November. So, my probability of voting for Kerry has been lowered from .54 to .50.

UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides plenty of links, including this New York Times story and the Kerry campaign's fatuous press release on the matter. From the latter, this part was particularly inane:

Exports Are Down Under President Bush - The First President Since Herbert Hoover. Exports have fallen in inflation-adjusted terms under President Bush - the first drop under any President since Herbert Hoover. In contrast, most post-World War II Presidential terms have seen 15 to 30 percent real export growth.

Bush Called Job Protection Measures a "Barrier." In a speech to the Women's Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Forum, George Bush defended the outsourcing of jobs overseas. Bush said, "We cannot expect to sell our goods and services, and create jobs, if America and our partners, trading partners, start raising barriers and closing off markets."

The first point is a non sequitur, since it has little to do with the Bush administration. Exports are largely a function of other countries' aggregate demand and the exchange rate. Under Bush, the dollar has depreciated in value. What's depressed exports has been the sclerotic growth of our major trading partners, not some failure of the Bush administration.

As to the second point, I look forward to hearing the Kerry economic team argue that, "We can expect to sell our goods and services, and create jobs, if America and our partners, trading partners, start raising barriers and closing off markets."

In contrast, USTR head Bob Zoellick said the following in his press release:

President Bush confounded conventional wisdom by empowering me and my Administration colleagues to make trade success a priority, even in an election year, because he believes open markets build stronger economies and help create jobs in the United States and opportunity around the world.

Here's a useful USTR fact sheet as well.

This does not excuse the myriad examples of protectionism committed by this administration -- but the past week has seen some substantive pluses for the Bush team and some rhetorical minuses for the Kerry team on trade.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (6)