Saturday, January 15, 2005

Following up on Sibel Edmonds

Remember FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds? The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has just issued a review of how the FBI handled both Simonds' allegations of incompetence and security breaches among FBI translators, as well as the Bureau's decision to terminate Simonds. Ted Bridis reports for the Associated Press:

The FBI never adequately investigated complaints by a fired contract linguist who alleged shoddy work and possible espionage inside the bureau's translator program, although evidence and witnesses supported her, the Justice Department's senior oversight official said yesterday.

The bureau's response to complaints by former translator Sibel Edmonds was "significantly flawed," Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a report that summarized a lengthy classified investigation into how the FBI handled the case. Fine said Edmonds's contentions "raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence."

Edmonds says she was fired in March 2002 after she protested to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations and told them an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security by blocking translations in some cases and notifying targets of FBI surveillance....

Fine did not specify whether Edmonds's charges of espionage were true. He said that was beyond the scope of his probe. But he criticized the FBI's review of the spying allegations, which he said were "supported by either documentary evidence or witnesses other than Edmonds."

The report did not name Edmonds's co-worker, although Edmonds has identified the employee in comments to journalists. The report said there could be innocent explanations for the co-worker's behavior, but "other explanations were not innocuous."

The report noted that Edmonds's co-worker passed a lie detector test, as Edmonds has done, but it described the polygraph examinations as "not ideal" and noted that follow-up tests were not conducted....

Edmonds is described in the new report as an outspoken, distracting worker who irritated FBI supervisors and was "not an easy employee to manage." Nevertheless, it concluded the FBI fired her largely because of her allegations, not her work habits. (emphasis added)

That assessment of Simonds raises a point I've made in the past about whistle-blowers: "there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass."

Jerry Seper has a similar story in the Washington Times (link via Glenn Reynolds). Better yet, why not read the unclassified summary of the actual OIG report?

posted by Dan at 06:10 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Your weekend reading -- from the CIA

The National Inteligence Council -- the intelligence community's "center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking" -- has released its latest version of Mapping the Global Future: Global Trends 2020. For newspaper accounts, click on this USA Today story by John Diamond. According to the NIC's home page, this time the project used some of that Internet stuff I've heard so much about:

Significantly, the NIC 2020 Project employed information technology and analytic tools unavailable in earlier NIC efforts. We created an interactive Web site which contained several tools including a "hands-on" computer simulation that allows novice and expert alike to develop their own scenarios. This "International Futures" model is now available to the public to explore.

In perhaps a troubling sign for the NIC, when I clicked on that link all I got was a "Service Unavailable" message.

This glitch does not mean the whole project is without interest. For example, check out this graph:


Food for thought.

UPDATE: Never have I seen so many comments posted asking me for further guidance in understanding a graph. First, click here to see the graph in context, and here to see the list of contributors to the project.

From what I can divine, the graph's y-axis is equal to (total # of muslims living in the EU)/(total # of ethnic Europeans living in the EU). That metric is a bit unusual -- ordinarily one would show (total # of muslims)/(total # of people -- including Muslims). The labeling of the y-axis and the unusual NIC metric suggest could lead a casual observer to conclude that there are more Muslims in Europe than there actually are.

As for the trend lines, they look reasonable, given the low fertility rates of "indigineous" Europeans and high fertility and migration rates of Muslims.

For harder data (as opposed to trend lines), click over to

posted by Dan at 09:40 PM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (7)

When offshore outsourcing reverses course

Following the "homeshoring" meme, there are lots of reports this month about American firms souring on offshore outsourcing and reverting to onshore outsourcing instead. CNET's Ed Frauenheim has one story about tech companies outsourcing to a firm with operations in Oklahoma City. Another story takes a longer look at one homeshoring firm, Decisions Design:

Decision Design knows first-hand about the potential pitfalls of shipping tasks to India. The company launched Indian operations in 2001 but closed them down two years later. "Our offshore experience wasn't what we anticipated," Davis said in a statement. "The quality of work was lower than required, which caused rework and actually created higher costs than if we had done the work here."

The botched experiment led the company to the notion of "homeshoring centers" in the United States that nonetheless offer low costs to customers. In part by locating offices on the fringe of Silicon Valley and Chicago, the company claims that it can deliver savings of 30 percent to 60 percent below typical onshore development costs.

Decision Design, whose clients include Lehman Brothers and JPMorgan Chase, was brought in several times last year when a customer's offshore project wasn't panning out properly, O'Neill said. Offshore operations face problems, including low quality and slow project completion times, she said.

Here's a link to a press release from Housteau, third homeshoring firm, opening up a new development center in Columbus.

With rising wages in India and other offshoring magnets, expect to see more stories about this trend.

[Hold on a sec; how can you simultaneously defend the practice of offshore outsourcing but still celebrate homeshoring?--ed. Ah, but remember what I actually wrote in "The Outsourcing Bogeyman":

It is also worth remembering that many predictions [about the growth of offshore 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.

I still think that offshoring, when done correctly, benefits the U.S. economy. But what we're seeing in the links above is the reversing of course.]

posted by Dan at 05:46 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

How teaching at the University of Chicago affects my thinking

Continuing the sports-blogging of today, Baseball America has a fascinating discussion between two old-style baseball scouts and two new-style sabermetricians (link via David Pinto). As Alan Schwartz frames the discussion:

For the past two years, the scouting and statistics communities have feuded like members of rival families. Baseball lifers who evaluate players with their eyes are derided as over-the-hill beanbags who don’t understand the next frontier. Numbers-oriented people are cast as cold, computer-wielding propellerheads with no appreciation for scouting intangibles. Not surprisingly, the camps have grown so polarized that they have retreated to their respective bunkers rather than engage in open and intelligent debate.

Read the whole thing. As I read it, my mind turned -- naturally -- to Thomas Hobbes.

[WTF??!!--ed] I grant that the link between Hobbes' Leviathan and Moneyball seems odd, but this is what teaching in the Universoty of Chicago's core curriculum has done to me. I kept thinking that the debate between scouts (who are mostly baseball lifers with vast amounts of experience in the game) and sabremetricians (who believe there are pretty strong cause-and-effect relationships between certain statistical measures and future performance) is the same as Hobbes' ranking of the epistemological merits of experience and science. From Chapter V, Book I of Leviathan:

As much experience is prudence, so is much science sapience. For though we usually have one name of wisdom for them both; yet the Latins did always distinguish between prudentia and sapientia; ascribing the former to experience, the latter to science. But to make their difference appear more clearly, let us suppose one man endued with an excellent natural use and dexterity in handling his arms; and another to have added to that dexterity an acquired science of where he can offend, or be offended by his adversary, in every possible posture or guard: the ability of the former would be to the ability of the latter, as prudence to sapience; both useful, but the latter infallible.

Hobbes' point was that the prudence gained from experience was certainly useful -- but not nearly as useful as combining prudence with a scientific way of looking at things. The good sabermetricians represent how science can improve upon experience.

I think it's safe to say I would not have made this link were I teaching elsewhere.

[Wow, a post about Hobbes, the U of C, and baseball stats -- talk about a huge demographic!! Huge!!--ed.]

UPDATE: ESPN's Rob Neyer is pessimistic that there really can be an exchange between sabermetricians and scouts. No mention of Hobbes, however.

posted by Dan at 12:58 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Charles P. Pierce doesn't like capitalism very much

Pierce -- who writes for the Boston Globe Magazine, Esquire. and appears regularly on National Public Radio, has a truly bizarre Slate essay that takes aim at Michael Jordan.

What, exactly, has Jordan done to incur Pierce's wrath? He's expanding his business empire:

Michael Jordan, a once-famous basketball personage, announced last week that he had teamed up with a Chicago development firm to build a brand-new casino resort about a half-block east of Caesars Palace, just off the Strip, in Las Vegas. There is no place in America demonstrably more homogenized or more corporatized than Vegas. Logos have swarmed in from every point on the compass. Las Vegas now differs from, say, Charlotte only in that it has casinos instead of Gaps and Banana Republics, except that it has those, too. This is Michael Jordan's kind of sin. This is Michael Jordan's kind of town.

The last couple of months have been a triumph of banality, even by Jordan's standards, which always have been considerable. He's lent his name to a motorcycle racing team; Michael Jordan Motorsports began testing at Daytona on Jan. 3. He's turned up at his son's basketball games, complete with an entourage to shoo away the curious. He appeared on My Wife and Kids, a truly godawful ABC sitcom on which his fellow guest stars included Al Sharpton and Wayne Newton, who at least share a similar taste in pompadours and amulets. And now, he will bring to Las Vegas yet another banging, clanging neon corral, with a fitness center, a spa, and a rooftop nightclub. The surprise is not that Michael Jordan has become such an unremarkable, boring old suit. The surprise is that we ever saw him any other way.

Michael Jordan was a great player. He also was a great salesman. And that was all he ever was, and that seems to be all that he ever will be. There's nothing wrong with that. He made some great plays and some pretty good commercials. Has anyone so completely dominated his sport and left so small a mark upon it? From the very beginning of his professional career, and long before he'd won anything at all, Michael Jordan and his handlers worked so diligently at developing the brand that it ultimately became impossible to remember where the logo left off and the person began. He talked like a man raised by focus groups. He created a person without edges, smooth and sleek and without any places for anyone to get a grip on him. He was roundly, perfectly manufactured, and he was cosseted, always, by his creators and his caretakers, against the nicks and dings that happen to any other public person. He held himself aloof from the emerging hip-hop culture that became—for good and ill—the predominant culture of the NBA. Remember, he once warned us, Republicans buy shoes, too. He always sold himself to people older than he was.

How dare Jordan cater to old fans!!!

I'm genuinely baffled by Pierce's claim in the piece that "there's nothing wrong" with Jordan just being a great player and great salesman -- because the entire essay is devoted to saying that those things are somewhow wrong. Furthermore, even on this plane of analysis, Pierce tries to diminish Jordan's effect as a pitchman, when in fact his effect overshadowed every other athlete up to his time (click here for the whole story). The fact that Jordan was perhaps the first African-American sports figure to be able to achieve such a high-demand status within the corporate world goes unremarked by Pierce as well.

As for Jordan's business ventures since his retirement, I'll let these words from Magic Johnson speak for themselves:

When I was an NBA player, I was always dreaming of business plans. As a black man you have to. Minorities make money, but we don't generate wealth. But a business generates wealth—it is power, it is something that you can pass on to the next generation. That is what is needed in the black community. We can pass on problems—it's about time we passed on wealth.

Side note: I'm personally very, very grateful to Magic -- thanks to his Urban Coffee Opportunities program, the Hyde Park neighborhood has more places to get a decent cup of coffee.

Click here for another blog response to the Pierce essay.

posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Can the New York Times and booger jokes co-exist?

Over at Slate, Bryan Curtis has a subversive proposal regarding Dave Barry and the Grey Lady:

Here's an idea: As soon as William Safire shuffles off to the Old Columnists' Home, put Barry smack dab in the middle of the Times editorial page. Barry confessed a few years ago that he's a raving libertarian—just the kind of dyspeptic crank who would take pleasure in thumbing Washington in the eye. Give him 14 inches twice a week and let him write whatever he wants. Why settle for another graying libertarian when you can have a libertarian who makes booger jokes?

The big question -- aside from how quickly the Timesmen dismissed this suggestion -- is whether Barry would give up his blog to do it.

posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Your Jewish humor of the week

When I clicked on this Eric Muller post (link via Matthew Yglesias), I laughed so loud I nearly woke up my sleeping baby daughter -- a hanging offense in this household.

As Eric put it in his post, "Either you will find this funny without my explaining it to you, or no amount of explaining will do the trick."

UPDATE: This link, on the other hand, will probably be funny to Jews and non-Jews alike.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Regarding Dan Rather and Armstrong Williams

I've been remiss in not posting about the Rathergate Commission report as well as the Armstrong Williams scandal. Fortunately, Kathleen Parker's syndicated column sums up my thoughts on both matters pretty well -- so go check out her argument (Jeff Jarvis too -- though that's always a good recommendation).

Oh, except for this part of Parker's essay:

What happened with Williams affects all of us in the business, as we share the same precious real estate and public trust. To readers seeing columnists clustered together on a page, we appear to be members of the same club. Increasingly, however, commentators are products of think tanks or politics--or renegade blond prosecutors--which can be problematic, but not always bad.

Many of these people, including Williams, can bring unique insights and experiences to the debate. The same is true of the new media genre known as blogs, in which citizen journalists post news links and commentary on the Web, often shadowing the mainstream media, challenging and fact-checking, as well as influencing outcomes in politics and government.

They are a formidable and welcome force, but as non-journalists in the institutional sense, they're accountable to no one. Therein shines the little light we can find among these dark tales of the fallen.

For all their flaws, mainstream (institutional) journalists are accountable where others are not. When they mess up, consequences are real and ruthless, as Williams and the CBS folks can attest. That much consumers can rely upon. (emphasis added)

In one sense Parker is correct -- if a blogger just screws up, nothing prevents that blogger from continuing to post. However, without acknowledging mistakes, that blogger is suddenly going to have a lot fewer readers than before -- and that is a formidable constraint. The mainstream media can experience this problem as well, but not as powerfully. In part that's because a blogger is the sole content provider for his or her blog, whereas a columnist -- or even an anchorman -- is only a cog in a larger media machine.

The key is that bolded part about "acknowledging mistakes" -- and this is one area where the blogosphere has an advantage. Ironically, because bloggers tend to screw up on a regular basis, it is far easier for us to admit error. Journalists are probably more diligent at fact-checking, and probably make fewer mistakes overall. But they do make them. Because these mistakes are more infrequent, and because accuracy is a slightly more precious currency in the mediasphere than the blogosphere, they will resist admissions of error -- compounding the original problem.

This dynamic is reflected in RatherGate. The telling section in the CBS report is how producer Mary Mapes, Rather, et al reacted after their report was challenged. They dug in their heels and engaged in even more distorted reporting in an attempt to defend the veracity of their documentation (check out p. 183 of the report, for example).

posted by Dan at 05:14 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The political economy of disaster aid and debt relief

The Economist has a good backgrounder on the delicate politics of proffering aid and debt moratoriums as a means of assisting countries experiencing natural disasters. It opens as follows:

Between them, the 19 member states of the Paris Club, an informal coterie of major lenders, pledged $3.64 billion in aid to the countries afflicted by the Indian Ocean tsunami. But these 19 countries, meeting in the French capital on Wednesday January 12th, had also been due to receive about $5 billion in debt repayments this year from these same disaster-hit nations. Indonesia, the country that suffered the most casualties in the disaster, also carries the bulk of the region’s debt. It was due to pay $3.15 billion in principal and $1.36 billion in interest in 2005. But at its meeting, the Paris Club decided to offer all tsunami-hit countries a freeze on debt repayments, starting immediately, until the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have completed an assessment of their needs. In the face of such suffering, the rich world has agreed to be generous, not usurious.

But not all of Indonesia’s fellow sufferers are crying out for their burden to be lifted. Thailand, for one, is cautious about creditors’ magnanimity. To delay its repayments may send the wrong signal to the capital markets, it fears, suggesting that Thailand is a mendicant country unable to carry its debts. This might deter new creditors and investors. Thailand therefore may thus decide to show that it can pay its debts in full and on time, even though it is not now obliged to do so.

Some of the lenders have also had reservations about offering debt relief, although it is impolitic to air them too loudly. Such relief frees up resources, which a government can then devote to aid and reconstruction—or divert to anything else. Heavily indebted governments tend to be bad governments, sceptics argue. If they cannot borrow money prudently, why should we trust them to spend it well?

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: CNN provides another complication when disaster relief is deployed:

Concerns continue to grow over Indonesian efforts to exert more control over aid operations in Aceh province, which was devastated by the December 26 tsunamis.

Jakarta is telling aid workers and reporters to keep the military informed about their locations and travel plans in the region, especially if venturing outside Banda Aceh or Meulobah.

The government has warned of possible violence by separatist rebels in Aceh, although both the rebels and Jakarta declared a cease-fire after the tsunami.

Indonesian vice president Yusuf Kalla also suggested all foreign troops providing aid in Aceh should plan to be out of the area by March 31.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

A very important post about... food porn


What you see above you is the Hardee's Monster Thickburger. The burger contains 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat according to MSNBC. Here's their more complete description:

[T]wo one-third-pound slabs of Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise on a buttered sesame seed bun. The sandwich alone sells for $5.49 or $7.09 with a medium fries (520 calories) and soda (about 400 calories). [Which adds up to a 2,340 calorie meal. If memory serves, it's commonly assumed that the daily caloric intake of a healthy adult is around 2,000 calories--DD]

McDonald’s Corp., Wendy’s International Inc. and other fast-food giants have broadened their offerings of salad and other lower-calorie fare amid concerns the industry could be held legally liable for America’s obesity epidemic. Hardee's [also called Carl's Jr. in some parts of the country--DD] offers no such concessions, although the chain is not completely oblivious to dietary trends, offering at least three "low-carb" items including a low-carb Thickburger.

In an interview on CNBC, Hardee's chief executive Andrew Puzder was unapologetic, saying the company's latest sandwich is "not a burger for tree-huggers."

"This is a burger for young hungry guys who want a really big, delicious, juicy, decadent burger," he said. "I hope our competitors keep promoting those healthy products, and we will keep promoting our big, juicy delicious burgers."

This CBS report by Jim Axelrod has more funny quotes from Puzder:

You got all four major food groups. You got beef, pork, mayonnaise and butter.

"You got everything ... yeah," said Hardee's CEO Andy Puzder....

On one hand, it's inspiring late-night ridicule as a heart attack on a bun, as talk show hosts such as David Letterman jest. One showed a picture of faux doctors performing defibrillation on an imitation Hardees owner.

"They actually had somebody play me on a TV show, and I had a heart attack," Pudzer said. "I even thought that was good. My ex-wife wanted a copy."

And harsh criticism from the food police…

"This is the epitome of corporate irresponsibility, marketing this kind of junk," said Michael Jacobson, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "We call this kind of product food porn."

But despite the bad press, or may be because of it, it's also produced an 8 percent growth in sales for Hardees. Blue-state critics, meet red-state consumers.

"Well it's a heavy burger," one consumer said. "It definitely fills my stomach up."

The reporter told Puzder, when halfway through his burger: "I can't eat another bite. I'm all done. Is this common?"

"Not for me," Puzder said.

Speaking of food porn, Puzder's irreverent sense of humor translates into Hardee's new and risqué advertising campaign. Seth Stevenson has a review of these ads in Slate -- as he concludes, "Whatever I may think of these ads, I bet they're effective with the target demographic." He's probably right -- click here for the ad that, er, goes the furthest along this line (it's entitled "Fist Girl").

[What, exactly, was the point of this post?--ed. Well, there's a complex observation to be made here about what "Red America" wants -- Many lefty commentators believe that Red Staters are getting hoodwinked into buying deceptive political propaganda about "moral values" hook, line, and sinker. The appeal of the Monster Thickburger suggests that Red State denizens know exactly what they want, and appreciate it when it's sold to them without any deception whatsoever. Oh, bullsh**t, you just wanted to write a post with the title of "Food Porn" in it and get yourself a Wonkette link!--ed. The two points are not mutually exclusive.]

My question to readers -- does the blunt salesmanship make you more likely or less likely to go to a Hardee's and order a Monster Thickburger?

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds offers his answer as well as a food review.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Based on the comments so far (and previous blog posts on this topic), there's another possible reason for the appeal of the Monster Thickburger -- the fact that institutions like the Center for Science in the Public Interest preach against it. Indeed, their decision to label all Thickburgers as "food porn" guaranteed that they would earn sound bites, but the effect might be the opposite of what they intended. I gotta think that if a consumer sees something with that label, it will pique rather than retard their interest (insert your own joke about "larger beef" or "more pork" here). If I was Hardee's Andy Puzder, I'd try to spam e-mail this CPSI warning to as many potential customers as possible.

[What if you were working for the CPSI?--ed. There are two possibilities. One option is to try to beat Hardee's at their own game and go snarky rather than excessively earnest -- like the truth ads with regard to smoking. The other option is to be callous and wait for the Red State population to prematurely decline on its own accord after elevated consumption of Monster Thickburgers.]

FINAL UPDATE: This post nicely coincides with Department of Agriculture release of Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Among the key recommendations: "To maintain body weight in a healthy range, balance calories from foods and beverages with calories expended." (link via food economist Parke Wilde)

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (132) | Trackbacks (12)

What happens when women become doctors?

Ronald Kotulak has an interesting front-pager in the Chicago Tribune on the effect of an increased number of female doctors on the health care system. The article is interesting in how it skirts the line between stereotyping and just saying what's true:

With women becoming doctors in ever-increasing numbers, medicine is generally becoming more patient friendly, treatment is improving and malpractice suits may become less common, experts say.

But, they add, the feminization of medicine is helping to lower physician salaries, encourage part-time doctoring and exacerbate a looming shortage of physicians.

The change in the medical field has been swift and dramatic. Since 1975 the percentage of female doctors has nearly tripled, from 9 percent to 25 percent. And the wave is far from cresting: 38 percent of doctors under age 44 are women, and half the students in U.S. medical schools are women, a change that is expected to intensify.

Already, women have taken over some specialties, such as pediatrics, and they are swarming into internal medicine, primary care, psychiatry, dermatology, and obstetrics and gynecology.

The changes are setting in motion dramatic new trends that already are affecting both patient care and the profession of doctoring.

One result is a patient-doctor relationship that is more empathetic, compassionate and nurturing. Many women go into medicine because they feel rewarded helping people, said Jorge Girotti, associate dean for admissions at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School, where 54 percent of the 300 entering students are female.

"If you bring that attitude in, you're more likely to see the overall patient as a whole rather than just a disease," he said. "Knowing what may be going on with a particular patient may require a broader interest rather than just the one symptom they tell you about."

But the sweeping changes also are affecting how doctors spend their time. Female physicians are more likely to work in teams, provide care for the poor, take institutional jobs with shorter hours and take lower-paying positions, all of which lower salaries overall, according to experts. They also are pioneering a trend toward part-time work and rebelling against the extremely long hours often associated with the profession.

A recent survey of graduating pediatric residents found 58 percent of the females--and 15 percent of the males--said they had a strong interest in part-time work. Now, just 15 percent of pediatricians work part time.

Read the whole thing. What's particularly interesting is the "colonization" of women into the subspecialties that permit flexible work hours.

I'm sure there's a labor economist somewhere writing about this... which would be ironic, as women who get doctorates in economics disproportionately become labor economists (the joke when I was in grad school was, "all women go into labor").

posted by Dan at 10:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

When bilateral is better than multilateral

Raphael Minder reports for the Financial Times that the United States and European Union have decided to settle the Boeing/Airbus dispute through bilateral talks rather than continue to seek a WTO ruling:

The US and the European Union buried the hatchet on Tuesday in their trade dispute over aircraft subsidies, saying they would return to the negotiating table to reach a bilateral agreement curtailing aid to Airbus and Boeing.

In October, the US and the EU launched the biggest dispute in the history of the World Trade Organisation in an effort to end what each side said were unfair subsidies to the world's two largest aircraft makers.

Brussels and Washington appear to have decided that too much was at stake to risk the prospect of a WTO ruling that could prove self-defeating for both sides. Instead, the two parties will give themselves three months to reach an agreement "to end subsidies to large civil aircraft producers in a way that establishes fair market competition for all development and production" of aircraft.

Peter Mandelson, the EU's trade commissioner, said: "When disputes arise in transatlantic trade relations we should try to solve them by dialogue and co-operation. Today's agreement creates a positive atmosphere for more work to strengthen the economic partnership between the EU and the US, which is vital for both of us." From the start, Mr Mandelson expressed hope that the dispute might be "kept out of the WTO net through a proper discussion."

....The US was due to ask for the formation of a WTO panel later this week, but both sides appear to have concluded that a lengthy WTO dispute settlement procedure, which would no doubt have led to appeals, would have created huge uncertainty for the two aircraft makers at the time at a crucial time in their product development.

Click here and here for previous posts on this topic.

This is a win-win-win decision. The United States and the European Union benefit from being able to craft a compromise rather than risking a WTO arbitration ruling that theoretically could have hurt both governments. Furthermore, bilateral talks permit the kind of give-and-take in bargaining that a WTO panel can't provide.

The WTO wins because it doesn't have to deal with this case -- which for many reasons is ill-suited for its dispute settlement mechanism. More importantly, the WTO keeps its reputation intact. The high stakes nature of this dispute virtually guaranteed that one or both economic great powers would not have complied with the WTO ruling. All that would have done is weaken the legitimacy and credibility of one of those rare multilateral organizations that is generally acknowledged to be effective.

posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Why do the Democrats reward failure?

There was a sentence in this Associated Press report on possible replacements for Terry McAuliffe to be the new Democratic Party chairman that caused me to pause and re-read to make sure I wasn't hallucinating:

Others who have expressed interest in the chairmanship include former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, Democratic activists Simon Rosenberg and Donnie Fowler, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Leland. Howard Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate, is considering whether to join the race.

Some Democrats have approached current chairman Terry McAuliffe about remaining in the job. (emphasis added)

As someone who likes to see an incentive system whereby losing political parties search for ideas and individuals that can help them win again, what the f#%$ are the Democrats asking McAuliffe to stay on thinking?

This is emblematic of a larger problem bedeviling the Democrats -- an oligarchy of party consultants that are not ousted after losing. Amy Sullivan has a great Washington Monthly story on the problem. Some highlights:

[Joe] Hansen is part of a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually. Pollster Mark Mellman is popular among Democrats because he tells them what they so desperately want to hear: Their policies are sound, Americans really agree with them more than with Republicans, and if they just repeat their mantras loud enough, voters will eventually embrace the party. As Noam Scheiber pointed out in a New Republic article following the great Democratic debacle of '02, Mellman was, perhaps more than anyone else, the architect of that defeat. As the DSCC's recommended pollster, he advised congressional Democrats to ignore national security and Iraq in favor of an endless campaign about prescription drugs and education. After the party got its clock cleaned based on his advice, Mellman should have been exiled but was instead...promoted. He became the lead pollster for John Kerry's presidential campaign, where he proffered eerily similar advice—stress domestic policy, stay away from attacking Bush—to much the same effect.

Hansen and Mellman are joined by the poster boy of Democratic social promotion, Bob Shrum. Over his 30-year career, Shrum has worked on the campaigns of seven losing presidential candidates—from George McGovern to Bob Kerrey—capping his record with a leading role in the disaster that was the Gore campaign. Yet, instead of abiding by the “seven strikes and you're out” rule, Democrats have continued to pay top dollar for his services (sums that are supplemented by the percentage Shrum's firm, Shrum, Devine & Donilon, gets for purchasing air time for commercials). Although Shrum has never put anyone in the White House, in the bizarro world of Democratic politics, he's seen as a kingmaker—merely hiring the media strategist gives a candidate such instant credibility with big-ticket liberal funders that John Kerry and John Edwards fought a fierce battle heading into the 2004 primaries to lure Shrum to their camps. Ultimately, Shrum chose Kerry, and on Nov. 3, he extended his perfect losing record.

Since their devastating loss last fall, Democrats have cast about for reasons why their party has come up short three election cycles in a row and have debated what to do. Should they lure better candidates? Talk more about morality? Adopt a harder line on national security? But one of the most obvious and least discussed reasons Democrats continue to lose is their consultants. Every sports fan knows that if a team boasts a losing record several seasons in a row, the coach has to be replaced with someone who can win. Yet when it comes to political consultants, Democrats seem incapable of taking this basic managerial step.....

This Peters Principle effect of Democratic operatives rising—or muscling their way—up to the level of their incompetence, happens for a simple reason: The consultants are filling a vacuum. After all, someone has to formulate the message that a candidate can use to win the voters' support. Conservatives have spent 30 years and billions of dollars on think tanks and other organizations to develop a set of interlinked policies and language that individual Republican candidates and campaigns can adopt in plug-and-play fashion. Liberals are far behind in this message development game. Indeed, most Democratic elected officials have been running recently on warmed-up leftovers from the Clinton brain trust, ideas which were once innovative but are now far from fresh. With little else to go on, consultants—many of whom came to prominence during the Clinton years—have clung to old ideas and strategies like security blankets. “Democratic consultants are being asked to fill a role they're not suited to,” says Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democratic Network, “to come up with ideas and electoral strategy in addition to media strategy.”

Rosenberg hints at a second Democratic deficit: The party has no truly brilliant strategists in positions of power. Such talent is always rare in both parties and tends to come out of the political hinterlands, often as part of a winning presidential campaign team. Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign was waged by a crew of Georgia political operatives with the help of unconventional pollster Pat Caddell. Four years later, Reagan defeated Carter by relying on a California-based gang of professionals. James Carville and Paul Begala were largely unknown before they took Bill Clinton to the White House. And outside the South, the team of Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and Mark McKinnon weren't much less obscure when they put together the strategy for George W. Bush's winning 2000 campaign.

Republicans have proven much more adept than Democrats at giving their best talent a national stage. While Democrats have permitted a Washington consultancy class to become comfortably entrenched, Republicans have effectively begun to pension off their own establishment. “The D.C. consultants for the GOP have their list of clients, but they're definitely on the outside looking in,” Chuck Todd told me. “The Bush people have been very careful to give them work…but they're not in the inner circle.” In 2004, seasoned Washington media strategist Alex Castellanos paid the bills with a handful of safe congressional races and a few unsuccessful primary challengers. Meanwhile, nearly every tight Senate race (North Carolina, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Florida) was handled by a Tampa-based firm, The Victory Group.

Republicans, of course, don't have any natural monopoly on strategic talent—they just give their best young strategists chances to run the biggest national races. In all likelihood, there is another Karl Rove or James Carville out in the Democratic hinterlands, who ought to be playing essential roles in the most important races. It might be David Axelrod in Chicago, who developed the media strategy for the then-unknown Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) primary campaign; West Coast strategists Paul Goodwin and Amy Simon, who helped Democrats regain the legislature in Washington state; or even unconventional D.C.-based consultants like Anna Bennett, the pollster who engineered Melissa Bean's upset of veteran Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) in November. But any new talent will likely remain on the national margins—running races for Congress and judgeships—until someone breaks up the consultant oligarchy.

The electoral system takes care of dead weight when it comes to politicians. The proof is in the political wreckage evident after yet another year of Democratic defeats at the polls. Dick Gephardt—after 10 years at the helm of the Democratic minority in the House—has decided to go back home to Missouri. John Kerry is returning to the Senate instead of stretching out his legs in the Oval Office. The consultants, however, live on. After pocketing a $5-million paycheck following the election, Shrum is back from a vacation in Tuscany and now advising Sen. Jon Corzine's (D-N.J.) gubernatorial race. Mellman, whose advice helped sink Democrats for two consecutive campaign cycles, continues to line up clients. As for Hansen, his connection to Daschle may not help him now that the South Dakotan has vacated the Democratic leader's office. But don't cry for Joe Hansen—he's the consultant for incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

What's next for Palestine

It looks like Mahmoud Abbas won a healthy mandate in Palestine. What should he do now?

Seth Jones offers some suggestions in the Financial Times [Full disclosure: Jones did his graduate work in poli sci at the U of C.] Some highlights:

An opinion poll regularly conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent body, shows the percentage of Palestinians who believe there is significant corruption in Palestinian Authority institutions jumped from about 50 per cent in 1996 to more than 85 per cent last year. This explains the frenzied demonstrations by Palestinian crowds against corruption in the authority last year.

The first step after Sunday's election to create a better security and justice system for Palestinians is to restructure their “Balkanised” security services. There are roughly nine Palestinian security services in the West Bank and Gaza each. They range from civil police to the General Intelligence service, or Mukhabarat Salamah. Arafat retained power and control over these services with few checks and balances. They were organised under the rule of political leaders rather than the rule of law. The restructuring should include decreasing the number of services, eliminating direct executive control over them and separating law- enforcement functions from intelligence and other security aspects by placing them in different ministries.

Read the whole thing. And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state.

posted by Dan at 10:38 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

That silly Alan Dershowitz

Look, the Harvard Law School has taken its fair share of lumps in the past year -- so critiquing Alan Dershowitz's critique of John Grisham's latest potboiler in the New York Times Book Review seems a bit like piling on.

However, I can't let this paragraph slide:

I have long been a Grisham reader. I have to be. So many of my students come to law school primed by Grisham novels -- and the movies based on them -- as their introduction to the practice of law. In many ways, it is a better introduction than high school civics and college political science courses that preach an incorruptible legal system -- especially its judiciary -- that always remains above politics. Grisham's lawyers and judges may be a bit over the top, but they are often closer to the real thing than the hagiographies of our ''sainted'' judges that pass for judicial biography.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that students who decide to matriculate at Harvard's law school might -- just might -- have formed their opinions about the law from a greater range of experience than reading Grisham's oeuvre. At a minimum, I'm sure they've read Scott Turow's vastly superior legal thrillers.

Second, it's clearly been a long, long time since Dershowitz checked out the political science literature on the judiciary. I'm hardly an expert on the poli sci literature on the courts, but even I am dimly aware that the trend in the past few decades has been to study judges as rational actors intent on pursuing political agendas -- not exactly above politics (click here for some examples of this literature) Comparative political scientists do tend to assume that American judges are less corrupt than many of their foreign counterparts -- because that appears to be true. However, political scientists have long abandoned the concept that judges do not think or act in a political or strategic manner. And I'm pretty sure that this is reflected in undergraduate courses.

posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)