Friday, September 24, 2004

Note to self: trademark the University of Drezner

Yesterday the GAO issued a report entitled "Diploma Mills Are Easily Created and Some Have Issued Bogus Degrees to Federal Employees at Government Expense." This snippet, from the results in brief, discusses the actions of the GAO's Office of Special Investigations (OSI):

OSI purchased two degrees from a diploma mill through the Internet. After identifying “Degrees-R-Us” as a diploma mill, our investigator held numerous discussions in an undercover capacity with its owner. Posing as a prospective student, the investigator first contacted Degrees-R-Us to obtain information regarding the steps to follow in purchasing degrees. Following those instructions, we purchased a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Medical Technology. The degrees were awarded by Lexington University, a nonexistent institution purportedly located in Middletown, New York. We provided Degrees-R-Us with references that were never contacted and paid a $1,515 fee for a “premium package.” The package included the two degrees with honors and a telephone verification service that could be used by potential employers verifying the award of the degrees.

OSI also created a diploma mill to test vulnerabilities in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL). We created Y’Hica Institute for the Visual Arts, a fictitious graduate-level foreign school purportedly located in London, England. We first created a bogus consulting firm that posed as Y’Hica’s U.S. representative and the principal point of contact with the Department of Education (Education). In addition, we created a Web site and set up a telephone number and a post office box address for Y’Hica. Using counterfeit documents, we obtained certification from Education for the school to participate in the FFEL program. Education has since reported that it has taken steps to guard against the vulnerabilities that were revealed by our investigation. (emphases added)

I'm trying to visualize the bull session at which GAO staffers came up with the name "Y’Hica Institute for the Visual Arts." Readers are invited to submit their preferred name for a diploma mill (obvious jokes about Harvard will be treated with casual scorn).

Hmmm.... on the off chance that the Department of Education hasn't closed that loophole, maybe academic blogs can find another revenue-generating stream?

UPDATE: Here's a news recap of the report:

How many senior level employees in the federal government have degrees from diploma mills?

The real answer: no one knows. That is the conclusion of the GAO’s Robert J. Cramer, Managing Director for GAO’s Office of Special Investigations, who testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the issue. A recent investigation found that there is a problem but there isn’t a system in place to accurately verify the validity of educational degrees claimed by federal employees.

Having said that, it is clear that some senior federal employees have obtained degrees from educational companies that do not require any work to earn the degrees.

GAO defines diploma mills as nontraditional, unaccredited, postsecondary schools offering degrees for a low flat fee, promoting the award of academic credits based on life experience, and not requiring classroom instruction....

GAO asked the Department of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Veterans Administration, Small Business Administration and Office of Personnel Management for information. 28 senior employees in these listed degrees from unaccredited schools, and 1 employee received tuition reimbursement of $1,787.44 toward a degree from a diploma mill.

The final result is that agencies are not able to provide reliable data because they do not have systems to verify academic degrees or to detect fees for degrees disguised as payment for individual training courses. Additionally, the agency data GAO found do not reflect the extent to which senior-level federal employees have diploma mill degrees. This is because the agencies do not sufficiently verify the degrees that employees claim to have or the schools that issued the degrees.

posted by Dan at 06:13 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Do blogs penetrate the campaign cocoon?

Jay Rosen has a must-read post that relates a Philip Gourevitch lecture on what it's like to cover a presidential campaign. Gourevitch comes across as the grown-up version of the Lindsey Lohan character in Mean Girls, applying his strengths as a foreign correspondent to a new situation: "The presidential campaign as a foreign country visited for the first time by our correspondent."

The two parts I found particularly informative:

"A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show," he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event.

The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. The bubble is a physical thing: a threshold your body crosses. If you are part of the traveling press corps, sticking with the candidate through the swing states, then you have to be swept--screened for weapons and explosives--or you cannot be on the bus. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand....

"Right there they have you," Gourevitch told our crowd of about 50 journalism students and faculty. "Outside the bubble you cannot go because then you're dirty again and have to be checked by the Secret Service." Under these conditions, he said, "no spontaneous reporting is possible."

You cannot jump into the crowd with an audio recorder and find out why those people were chanting what they were chanting before they were shown away by security guards. Accepting this limitation--a big one--becomes part of the bubble.

While it's tough for the press to leave that bubble, it's becoming easier for outside information to enter it:

Gourevitch joins the bus, and trudges through the morning's events. Nothing but photo ops and words heard a hundred times that week. There's a break and he pulls out his notebook. Then he realizes not a single thing happened that is worth writing down. But the other reporters have opened their laptops and they are springing into action. They found nothing to write down either. They're checking emails, pagers, and the Net because they "receive" the campaign that way. The bubble is made of data too.

A trail of meaninglessly scripted events is taken for granted, the emptiness at each stop is tolerated, in part because things crackle and hop so much in the information sphere.

I wonder if blogs are part of what these journalists check.

Read the whole thing -- and then go read the debate between Glenn Reynolds and Virginia Postrel over whether blogs focus too much on media criticism. This point by Postrel rings true:

Many of the best policy blogs have almost no media criticism, nor do they go looking for political scalps. They don't even constantly write about the superiority of blogs. That's why you almost never read about them. Reporters and media critics are bored, bored, bored by the very sort of discourse they claim to support (a lesson I learned the hard way in 10 long years as the editor of Reason). They, and presumably their readers, want conflict, scandal, name-calling, and some sex and religion to heighten the combustible mix. Plus journalists, like other people, love to read about themselves and people they know.

UPDATE: For more on the metaphysics of media coverage, check out John Holbo's marathon post on the topic.

posted by Dan at 01:11 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Peter Bergen on Afghanistan

As a follow-up to my last post on Bush's commitment to democracy promotion, it's worth pointing to this New York Times op-ed by Peter Bergen (link via Andrew Sullivan, who characterizes Bergen as "by no means a Bush-supporter."). The highlights:

Based on what Americans have been seeing in the news media about Afghanistan lately, there may not be many who believed President Bush on Tuesday when he told the United Nations that the "Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom." But then again, not many Americans know what Afghanistan was like before the American-led invasion. Let me offer some perspective....

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. Undeniably, the drug trade is a serious concern (it now compromises about a third of the country's gross domestic product) and the slow pace of disarming the warlords is worrisome.

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country's north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become. It's also promising that some three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, the capital, is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with spectacular traffic jams and booming construction sites. And urban centers around the country are experiencing similar growth.

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar...

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

If the elections are a success, it will send a powerful signal to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of which can claim to be representative democracies. If so, the democratic domino effect, which was one of the Bush administration's arguments for the Iraq war, may be more realistic in Central Asia than it has proved to be in the Middle East.

UPDATE: Do check out Alexander Thiel's more pessimistic op-ed on the same page. This fact is certainly disturbing:

Kabul's Supreme Court, the only other branch of government, is controlled by Islamic fundamentalists unconcerned with the dictates of Afghanistan's new Constitution. On Sept. 1, without any case before the court, the chief justice ordered that Latif Pedram, a presidential candidate, be barred from the elections and investigated for blasphemy. His crime? Mr. Pedram had suggested that polygamy was unfair to women. These clerics are trying to establish a system like that in Iran, using Islam as a bludgeon against democracy.

Reading these two side by side, there's actually less disagreement that one would think. Shorter Thiel: "We could have done Afghanistan better than we have." Shorter Bergen: "Compared to the way things were, there's still a vast, vast improvement."

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias raises some issues with Bergen. And a comment on Matt's site confirms something I had suspected -- Bergen missdates an Asia Foundation poll that I had blogged about here. Bergen says the poll was taken in July, but that's only when it was publicly released. The survey was conducted in February and March.

posted by Dan at 02:54 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

China and the G-7

Paul Blustein reports in the Washington Post about a very important invitation:

China will participate in a special meeting with the Group of Seven industrialized countries on Oct. 1, the U.S. Treasury said yesterday, an announcement that could herald Beijing's eventual membership in the elite economic club.

John B. Taylor, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, said one major purpose of the meeting will be "high-level engagement" with the Chinese on their currency policy, which has become a politically charged issue in the United States.

Beijing's longtime policy of fixing its exchange rate at 8.3 yuan per dollar is viewed by many economists, manufacturers and labor groups as giving Chinese products an unfair price advantage in world markets, and the Bush administration has come under criticism for failing to press the matter more aggressively.

Calling the meeting "a historic first engagement," Taylor said it will be held over dinner in Washington after a regular session of top G-7 policymakers on global economic issues. Jin Renqing, the Chinese finance minister, and Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, will join counterparts including Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Asked whether the Chinese will be invited to future meetings or given full membership in the group, Taylor declined to rule either possibility in or out.

"The next steps will depend on how this meeting goes," he said. But he strongly indicated that more such meetings are likely, saying that they "are useful in making progress on economic reform" and that the currency issue "is a very natural one for the G-7 to discuss with China" given its implications for global trade and finance....

Following the end of the Cold War, Russia was also invited to join the group's annual leaders' summit, which was re-christened the G-8. Russian officials also attend some of the meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors, though they do not participate in the sessions dealing with matters such as exchange rates. Russian officials will not attend the meeting with the Chinese, Taylor said.

I suspect it will be quite some time -- if ever -- before China becomes a full-blown G-7 member. Having participated in the G-7 process while at Treasury, it involves an intense and ongoing consultation among officials up and down the chain of command. This kind of close working relationship doesn't always produce consensus, but there is a shared trust in the value of the consultation process. When the states in question are on the same page -- or at least pretty close to each other -- it's a powerful coordination tool.

The trillion-dollar questions are whether a) Chinese preferences are even close to the advanced industrialized states on global economic matters; b) Whether the G7 finance ministries are willing to trust their Chinese counterparts. You'd think I would have firm answers to those questions -- but I don't.

Still, the outcome of this meeting will be very interesting to observe.

posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The GAO's Rorshach test on offshore outsourcing

Over a year ago, U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D., Wash.) asked the GAO (which used to be called the General Accounting Office, but has since been renamed the Government Accountability Office) to study "issues related to offshore IT services outsourcing." As the offshore outsourcing brouhaha heated up, more and more congressman dogpiled on top of this request, expanding the GAO's mandate beyond just the IT sector.

The first part of that report has been released today. It's essentially a literature review of available government data on the magnitude and impact of offshore outsourcing. There are two themes that come out from this: 1) the government data on this phenomenon is incomplete and imperfect; 2) what data exists suggests that offshore outsourcing is not quite the tsunami it's been made out to be.

This is from the Results in Brief (p. 3):

Federal statistics provide limited information about the effects of offshoring IT and other services on the U.S. labor force and the economy overall. The Department of Labor’s Mass Layoff Survey (MLS) shows that layoffs attributable to overseas relocation have increased since 1999, but these layoffs represent a small fraction of workers laid off—of 1.5 million layoffs reported in the 2003 MLS, 13,000 (0.9 percent) were reportedly due to overseas relocation. The data also show that most of these layoffs were in the manufacturing sector.

And this is from p. 15:

U.S. government data provide some insight into the trends in offshoring of services by the private sector, but they do not provide a complete picture of the business transactions that the term offshoring can encompass. In particular, they do not identify U.S. imports of services previously produced by U.S. employees. Similarly, federal procurement data on purchases of IT and other services provide some insights, but it can be difficult to determine where such work is performed. The available data indicate that the trend in offshoring show little change over the past 5 years. (emphasis added)

This is consistent with my own back-of-the envelope-calculations from earlier this year.

Now, what's interesting is the responses to this report. This is a snippet from the press release by two Seattle-based labor unions, SPEEA-IFPTE and WashTech:

"This study is a good first step," said Charles Bofferding, executive director of SPEEA. "It recognizes that outsourcing is growing and a troubling trend for our workers and our country."

"The GAO has clearly stated in this report that outsourcing of U.S. jobs abroad can not be ignored, and the government needs to act in order to address the issue in terms of data collection and policy solutions," said Marcus Courtney, WashTech president.

Released in Washington, D.C., the study was made at the request of Washington state Reps. Adam Smith (D-9th District) and Jay Inslee (D-1st District). The congressmen were prompted to make the request by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001 and the Washington Alliance of Technical Workers (WashTech), CWA Local 37083. (emphasis added)

Now let's go to what Representative Adam Smith has to say about the report in his press release:

The extent of outsourcing is probably less than they [the GAO] had expected going into the study. Also, at least by using the metrics available, they were unable to separate out the impact of outsourcing on the economy versus other “meta” factors such as the burst of the technology bubble and the hangover from the pre-Y2K tech buildup.

Services are still a relatively small part of the US imports.

“This study shows us that we have the opportunity to address the growing trend of offshore outsourcing with positive and aggressive solutions,” said Smith. “We should increase investment in research and development, improve math and science education in K-12, enhance training and professional development for workers, open markets for American goods and renew the government’s focus on promoting innovation. By doing so, we can make sure that our economy remains the most vibrant and competitive one in the world.”

Smith continued, “We are at a relatively early state in the offshore outsourcing trend. We must get the facts straight and have a serious and educated policy dialogue on outsourcing. It’s my hope that this study will help “kick off” that process and move the discussion in a positive way that is focused on real issues and solutions. I am committed to continuing my work on identifying real solutions to this potentially growing problem for the American people.” (emphasis added)

A tip of the cap from everyone here at to U.S. Representative Adam Smith. Beyond the unbelievably cool-sounding name, Smith has acted like a responsible grown-up on the offshore outsourcing issue. His one op-ed on the subject didn't demagogue the issue, and offered an eminently sensible, constructive request -- expanding coverage of Trade Adjustment Assistance to include service sector workers. No hysterical claims that offshoring was destoying the American economy, or even his district. Just a sensible policy proposal and an appropriate request for more information. Also, in contrast to the aforementioned unions, it appeared he's actually read the GAO report.

A politician who seems reasonably well-informed and resists scapegoating a non-issue. Damn, that's refreshing.

Oh, and for those who just can't get enough of offshore outsourcing, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has just released its 2004 World Investment Report. If you download Chapter IV, there's a nice overview of the offshoring phenomenon.

UPDATE: Brier Dudley and Marilyn Geewax have dueling stories at the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer respectively. One data point that captures attention is the fact that "the number of business, technical and professional services, flowing into the United States, however is rising, from $21.2 billion in 1997 to $37.5 billion in 2002," as reported by Geewax (this is CNN's lead as well).

That's an increase of 76.9%, which sounds really bad. But it's only half of the picture. What about exports of business, technical and professional services?

Those precise figures weren't in the GAO report, so I e-mailed their staff to see if they knew -- and they promptly replied. As it turns out, during the same period, exports of these services rose from $44 billion in 1997 to $64.5 billion in 2002 (This is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis's Survey of Current Business, October 2003, p.65, Table E).

So in other words, between 1997 and 2002, when offshore outsourcing is supposedly taking off, the balance of trade in the services likely to be offshored went from a $22.8 billion surplus to a.... $27.0 billion surplus.

My heart be still.

FINAL UPDATE: In fairness, see this erudite comment below by an IT consultant. I certainly won't deny that offshoring can have a hard affect on indivudual workers -- I just don't think it warrants the hysteria that, say, this comment epitomizes.

posted by Dan at 02:49 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

A modest proposal to ban automation

Over at the anti-outsourcing IT Professionals Association of America, someone has discovered an insidious plan to destroy jobs in this country:

Have you seen self check out counters lately in your area stores such as Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart, Home Depot, Grocery stores etc. We have many in Dallas area. Guess what? The employers are cutting hours of cashiers, give them less than 28 hours, cut/stop their benefits and health insurance, use customers to do their job for free, and pocket higher profits. Watch out for those so called "Self check outs" or "Speedy check out Counters".

Basically, customers who use self check out terminals are eliminating jobs of fellow Americans.


Now I don't want to go off on a rant here, but if you ask me, this proposal doesn't go far enough. It's not just the automated cashiers who put people out of jobs. What about the ATMs that dispense money instead of bank clerks? What about those automated kiosks in airports that dispense boarding passes instead of gate agents? What about those computer thingmabobs -- you know, the devices without which no one could conceive of being a member of the ITPAA -- that have replaced many secretarial positions? Dear God, what about the Internet? WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET??!!!

Clearly the ITPAA has fallen for the lump of labor fallacy. But I do admire their intellectual consistency. Most opponents of trade and offshoring clam up when it's suggested that a logical extension of their position is to oppose technological innovation and automation as well -- since technology, like trade, is about how to produce more efficiently (for more on this point, see this essay by Brink Lindsey). So bravo to the ITPAA for not being afraid to be out-and-out Luddites.

UPDATE: Several commenters suggest that the site I linked to is some kind of satire or parody. I can assure you it is quite real. I should also add that although I vehemently disagree with Scott Kirwin (ITPAA's founder) on the offshore outsourcing stuff, we've had nothing but polite interactions over the Internet on this issue.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Several commenters point out their dislike of automated checkout lines. They should check out the Economist's thoughts on the topic. Closing paragraph:

[T]here are limits to how far self-service can be taken. Companies that go too far down the self-service route or do it ineptly are likely to find themselves being punished. Instead, a balance between self-service and conventional forms of service is required. Companies ought to offer customers a choice, and should encourage the use of self-service, for those customers that want it, through service quality, not coercion. Self-service works best when customers decide to use a well designed system of their own volition; it infuriates most when they are forced to use a bad system. Above all, self-service is no substitute for good service.

posted by Dan at 02:32 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The neocon split over George W. Bush

A few weeks ago I was talking with someone far more plugged into Washington than myself. We were chatting about the neoconservatives and my breakfast partner raised an important distinction -- that one had to distinguish between the neocons who supported John McCain in 2000 (Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol) and the neocons who supported George W. Bush in 2000 (Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle). Both groups had the same overarching policy goals, but there was one important difference -- the McCain supporters understood that democracy promotion in the Middle East and elsewhere was not something that could be done on the cheap. In the case of Iraq, for example, the McCain neocons believed that statebuilding in Iraq would require a heavy force, while the Bush supporters bought into Rumsfeld's idea that shock, awe, and a light force could do the trick.

This split has persisted in the wake of what's happened in Iraq. However, there's now a deeper question that could really split the neocons -- is the Bush administration really interrested in democracy promotion at all?

This question isn't really inspired by the Bob Novak article -- which still sounds fishy to me. Rather, it's the Bush White House's non-response to Vladimir Putin's power grab -- a position which über-neoconservative Robert Kagan criticized in his Washington Post column last week (link via Kevin Drum).

This week, the problem is Pakistan. The New York Times has an interview with President Pervez Musharraf that opens as follows:

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said in an interview today that his leadership was freeing his country from the menace of extremism and that this national "renaissance" might be lost if he kept his pledge to step down as Army chief at the end of this year.

"Yes, I did give my word that I would," he said of his promise to serve only as the country's civilian president after Dec. 31, 2004 in a step viewed as fulfilling his larger promise to return Pakistan to democratic rule. "But the issue is now far greater than this."

Speaking in a one-hour interview with The New York Times after his arrival in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, General Musharraf said Pakistan was making significant inroads into Al Qaeda, arresting some 600 suspects, ending the terror group's illicit fund-raising in major cities and breaking up long-established bases in remote border areas. This effort, he said, required "continuity."

This buttresses a Times story from two days ago suggesting that Musharraf was planning this very thing.

Substantively, realists argue that regime type doesn't matter, and that since Russia and Pakistan are vital allies in the war on terrorism, we should look the other way for thesecountries. I've alread said why I think this is the wrong move most of the time. Last week, Kagan said why this is wrong with regard to Russia:

With Russians confronting vicious terrorists, Putin is consolidating his own power. How, exactly, does that help us win the war on terrorism?

In fact, it will hurt. Failure to take sides with democratic forces in Russia will cast doubt on Bush's commitment to worldwide democracy. A White House official commented to the New York Times that Putin's actions are "a domestic matter for the Russian people." Really? If so, then the same holds for all other peoples whose rights are taken away by tyrants. If the Bush administration holds to that line, then those hostile to democracy in the Middle East will point to the glaring U.S. double standard; those who favor democracy in the Middle East will be discredited. That will be a severe blow to what Bush regards as a central element of his war on terrorism.

Nor should the president and his advisers doubt that vital U.S. interests are at stake in the Russian struggle. Fighting the war on terrorism should not and cannot mean relegating other elements of U.S. strategy and interests to the sidelines. A dictatorial Russia is at least as dangerous to U.S. interests as a dictatorial Iraq. If hopes for democratic reform in Russia are snuffed out, Russia's neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe will be rightly alarmed and will look to the United States for defense.

And there is an even more fundamental reality that the president must face: A Russian dictatorship can never be a reliable ally of the United States. A Russian dictator will always regard the United States with suspicion, because America's very existence, its power, its global influence, its democratic example will threaten his hold on power.

The U.S. will also be blamed by Pakistanis for Musharraf's anti-democratic decisions as well:

Western diplomats complain that while the country's opposition members are full of fiery rhetoric and criticism of General Musharraf, they have proven to be largely ineffective political opponents.

But Siddiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the anti-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League political party, blamed Western countries for the situation.

"If the West does not believe in double standards and if the West believes in the democratic system, then it should also like to see the same system in Pakistan," he said. "The West should put pressure on Musharraf."

There's also a political question for the McCain wing of the neocons (at least) -- if this administration's commitment to democracy promotion is this weak, then what difference is there between Bush and Kerry for someone who cares about this issue?

[But just yesterday Bush proposed a Democracy Fund at the United Nations!!--ed. Oh, good -- the U.N. has excelled at the promotion of democratic governance. Oh, wait.... ]

UPDATE: David Adesnik offers some unresolved thoughts on this subject.

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (62) | Trackbacks (7)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Will Bush pull out of Iraq in January?

Robert Novak says the answer is yes in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world....

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal....

Abandonment of building democracy in Iraq would be a terrible blow to the neoconservative dream. The Bush administration's drift from that idea is shown in restrained reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's seizure of power. While Bush officials would prefer a democratic Russia, they appreciate that Putin is determined to prevent his country from disintegrating as the Soviet Union did before it. A fragmented Russia, prey to terrorists, is not in the U.S. interest.

The Kerry campaign, realizing that its only hope is to attack Bush for his Iraq policy, is not equipped to make sober evaluations of Iraq. When I asked a Kerry political aide what his candidate would do in Iraq, he could do no better than repeat the old saw that help is on the way from European troops. Kerry's foreign policy advisers know there will be no release from that quarter. (emphasis added)

Reactions from Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Robert Tagorda,and Greg Djerejian. They all boil down to the credibility of Novak's sources.

The bolded portion of the piece provides me with the greatest skepticism on this subject. On what planet is Paul Wolfowitz going to get confirmed by the Senate, even a Senate with a slight Republican majority? Only this June, the Los Angeles Times had a piece on how this was a non-starter. Naturally, that piece is no longer availably for free, but Robert Tagorda excerpted it in this post:

[W]here neoconservatives were once seen as having a future in Republican administrations, the setbacks in Iraq could make it difficult for the group's leading members to win Senate confirmation for top posts in the future....

[P]roblems in Iraq have made administration neocons lightning rods for criticism. Without significant improvements in U.S. efforts there, many of them would be unlikely to remain for a second Bush term, neoconservatives and congressional Republicans said.

Last year, Wolfowitz, a former senior State Department official, was frequently mentioned as a leading candidate to replace Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a second Bush term. Now, congressional officials and neoconservatives agree there is little chance that Wolfowitz, seen as a primary advocate of the war, could survive a Senate confirmation.

"No way," said a senior Republican congressional aide.

OK, so Novak is talking about Wolfowitz for DoD rather than State, but I don't see anything that's changed since June.

Which means either Novak's source is not as plugged in as Novak thinks -- or that Novak's source is plugged in but highly delusional.

BELATED UPDATE: I've had a few conversations with people who have much better administration sources than I. Their collective assessment is that the speculation in the Novak article is -- to use the technical term -- "bulls**t"

posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (2)

Open CBS postmortem thread

Feel free to comment on the admission of error on by CBS on its 60 Minutes II story on Bush's National Guard duty -- and its ramifications for the election, the mediasphere, and the blogosphere -- here.

Joe Gandelman has some commentary that's worth excerpting:

[B]y issuing this statement CBS has at least stopped the massive bleeding -- but not the bleeding. It waited so long it's credibility has been damaged; this wasn't just a case of bloggers but other key media outlets going after the veracity of CBS. If it had just been a case of bloggers CBS' retraction wouldn't have come. In fact, many journalists were dismayed by how this story ever got on the air, given the strict standards of confirmation on major stories practiced by not only most news outlets (including local papers) but also taught in journalism schools.

PREDICTION: This will likely increase interest in the media for more information on George Bush's military history. There were two issues here: the validity of the documents and whether forgeries were being held up as real, and questions about Bush's military history.

I'll only add two thoughts:

1) The statement implies that the documents got through the process because their source -- Bill Burkett -- lied to CBS about their provenance. This fails to mention the fact that their own document experts raised serious doubts.

2) CBS can mock the blogosphere all it wants, but it's worth pointing out the partisan (meant in the best sense) Kevin Drum recognized the dubious quality of Burkett as a source long before the nonpartisan staff at CBS: "I talked with Burkett at length back in February, and speaking as someone who believes his story about Bush's files being purged, I still wouldn't trust him for a second if he suddenly produced a bunch of never-before-seen memos out of nowhere."

UPDATE: One of the ironies of this case is that earlier this year Jack Shafer had praised CBS and 60 Minutes in Slate for admitting error in a prior report. Of course, that was Lesley Stahl instead of Dan Rather.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Laura McKenna has a must-read post on media and blogger biases.

posted by Dan at 03:13 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Character and the 2004 election

Peter Beinart's TRB column in The New Republic says that the Bush administration is using foreign policy as a cover to press its character issue.

President Bush talks a lot about the war on terrorism. And so many have assumed he wants to make this election a referendum on foreign policy. But I don't think that's true. What he wants, I suspect, is to make this election a referendum on "character"--the same issue that helped him so much in 2000. It's just that, after September 11, foreign policy is the easiest way to do that. In 2000, before international affairs was a top voter concern, the Bush campaign said Al Gore showed poor character by exaggerating his invention of the Internet and the prescription-drug costs for his dog. Today, the Bushies say John Kerry shows poor character by waffling on the war on terrorism. An actual debate about the wisdom of Bush's foreign policy--particularly in Iraq--is precisely what his campaign's character strategy is designed to prevent.

Read the whole thing.

Beinart isn't necessarily wrong here, but his analysis does omit one rather important point -- John Kerry's been just as guilty on this front. Anyone who saw the Democratic National Convention saw a pageant to Kerry's Vietnam service -- an attempt to signal to voters through his biography that he has the necessary character to evince strength and leadership in foreign policy.

The interesting question to ask is why the perception of Bush's strength of character has apparently held up better than Kerry's. Groups on both sides have been firing at each other on character questions for most of the summer. Possible explanations:

1) Bush's strength is not real but a polling artifact;

2) Bush is still riding the convention wave -- but it's ephemeral [C'mon, the GOP convention ended last month!!--ed. Go click on Will Saletan's infamous "Bush is Toast" piece in Slate and check the date. He wrote that at the peak of Gore's convention bounce];

3) The character attacks against Kerry didn't need the mainstream media, but the ones against Bush did. For conservatives, as Jonathan Last put it in the Weekly Standard: "An informal network--the new media--has arisen that has the power to push stories into the old media. The combination of talk radio, a publishing house, blogs, and Fox News has given conservatives a voice independent of the old media." This would be a case study in support of Brian Anderson's theory (and, with a slightly different normative perspective, Eric Alterman's) about the growth of conservative influence in the mediasphere;

In contrast, the attacks against Bush did need the mainstream media, which then proceeded to make some pretty big journalistic f***-ups;

4) Bush and his supporters were more aggressive than the Kerry camp in hitting back and hitting back fast;

5) "The old conventional wisdom is correct: reelection campaigns are fundamentally referendums on the incumbent."

6) Kerry actually does have greater character issues than Bush; and finally...

7) John Kerry is just a God-awful campaigner until he's threatened with near-certain defeat.

Readers are invited to submit their own explanations and select among these.

UPDATE: John Harwood has a great primer explaining the fluctuating poll numbers in today's Wall Street Journal.

posted by Dan at 05:50 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (1)

Paul Samuelson's mistake about offshore outsourcing

One of the more common critical responses to defenses of offshore outsourcing is the claim that defenders of the practice are being deluded by a set of archaic economic ideas that only work in the ivory towers -- they need to get out in the real world, man.

Beyond ignoring the intrinsic value of economic theory as a device for understanding the world, what's amusing about this line of argumentation is that protectionists throw it out the window the moment someone comres up with an economic theory that seems to support their argument. Which is fine -- except that, far more often than not, the models they embrace rest on assumptions that are often harder to satisfy in the real world than the standard neoclassical trade models.

For exhibit A on all this, consider Paul Samuelson's recent contribution to the outsourcing debate. In The American Prospect, Eamonn Fingleton has a rhetorical field day proclaiming that Samuelson's bombshell has eviscerated the orthodoxy of free trade. One excerpt:

For James Fallows, a liberal-leaning critic of Washington's blink-first style in trade diplomacy, Samuelson's analysis is a call to policy-makers to break free from utopian theories and, instead, take a hard look at the real world.

"The great problem in Western discussion of trade theory has been its simpleminded Panglossianism," he says. "The main thing that has supported globalism, apart from the self-interest of many powerful participants, has been the idea that economic theory was 100 percent on the side of Dr. Pangloss. To have the most esteemed of all modern economists say that things are not this simple is a very important step."

There's just one problem with all of this -- Samuelson's paper has nothing to do with offshore outsourcing as it's commonly understood.

Arvind Panagariya -- Professor of Economics at Columbia -- provides a concise explanation for where Samuelson gets confused on offshore outsourcing (thanks to Asif Dowla for the link). Here's a long excerpt to explain what Samuelson was arguing:

Samuelson employs the standard Ricardian model, which assumes two countries (called America and China), two goods (called 1 and 2) and one factor of production (called labor). Because the endowment of labor is taken as fixed in the Ricardian model, any change in the total national income are reflected fully in the change in the real wage. If the real wage rises, real incomes of all individuals and therefore the nation rise. Alternatively stated, the wage also represents the per-capita income in the model....

Samuelson conducts three experiments in this model:

(1) He starts at autarky and then allows the countries to trade. Both America and China unambiguously benefit from this opening to trade. America has a comparative advantage in good 1 and specializes completely in that good and China in good 2. Nothing controversial arises here.

2) Starting at this free-trade equilibrium, Samuelson next introduces a productivity increase in China in the good it exports, good 2. With more of good 2 produced, its relative price falls. America can now buy good 2 more cheaply from China, which benefits America. Nothing controversial arises here either, at least from the American viewpoint.

(3) Starting once again at the free-trade equilibrium, Samuelson finally introduces a productivity improvement in China in the good it imports and America exports, good 1. If this productivity improvement is just right to equalize the cost ratios between America and China that gave rise to trade in the first place, all trade is wiped out and America is robbed off all benefits of trade it previously enjoyed....

Samuelsons analytic result... that technical progress in China can wipe out all potential gains for America is not in dispute at allas I describe below, it has been known to trade economists at least since 1950s when the late Harry Johnson who taught International Trade at the University of Chicago first demonstrated it. What is in dispute is whether it represents outsourcing.

Thus consider the example given by Samuelson in the last first of the two paragraphs quoted above (which is incidentally fully in conformity with the definition of offshore outsourcing provided at the beginning of this note): High I.Q. secondary school graduates in South Dakota, who had been receiving from my New York Bank wages one-and-a-half times the U.S. minimum wage for handling phone calls about my credit card, have been laid off since 1990; a Bombay outsourcing unit has come to handle my inquiries. (Emphasis added) In the analytic model, the good experiencing productivity change in China is the one exported by the United States to China (i.e., good 1). But did any high I.Q. secondary school graduates from South Dakota (or elsewhere in America for that matter) handle the phone calls for the customers in China? Not really. The calls were made by the Americans and answered by the Americansno international trade in them took place. Virtually all activities associated with outsourcingcall center services, x-rays transmitted electronically to be read abroad, transcribing services, accounting services and virtually all back office serviceshave this property of having been non-traded before the Internet, phone and fax turned them into traded services. Therefore, the equilibrium at which Samuelson considers the productivity change is simply the wrong one to represent outsourcing.

posted by Dan at 12:51 AM | Comments (23)

The return of the Velcro ® pack

The wife and boy and the girl and the dog and I live close (but not too close) to campus, and without ever checking an academic calendar, we know when school is about to start -- it's when the Velcro ® pack of college students has its brief half-life.

Incoming first-years naturally congregate in dorm-size bundles for the first week or two -- because they don't know anyone else. Before classes start, these large packs will migrate across campus, appearing to observers as if they are bound by some invisible set of Velcro fasteners. A few minutes before typing this, the first Velcro pack walked by our place.

Once classes start, and a few weeks go by, these large student clusters disappear. The initial insecurity that binds these groups together begins to dissipate; some students discover that they don't necessarily want to hang out with some of their dormmates; others discover friends with like-minded interests; and now, of course, there are those who stay in their dorm room, in pajamas, pathetically surfing the Internet.

So these large band of students will soon be subdividing. But their annual recurrence is always an endearing feature for those of us who manage to stay in a college environment for our working lives.

[Classes haven't started already?--ed. The University of Chicago is on the quarter system, so classes start later here than those universities on the semester system. They also end later in the year.]

posted by Dan at 12:30 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)