Friday, July 8, 2005

Grad students: no blogs allowed

I've expressed trepidation in the past about whether graduate students or untenured faculty should start a blog.

An essay by "Ivan Tribble" (a pseudonym) in the Chonicle of Higher Education doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. The highlights:

What is it with job seekers who also write blogs? Our recent faculty search at Quaint Old College resulted in a number of bloggers among our semifinalists. Those candidates looked good enough on paper to merit a phone interview, after which they were still being seriously considered for an on-campus interview.

That's when the committee took a look at their online activity.

In some cases, a Google search of the candidate's name turned up his or her blog. Other candidates told us about their Web site, even making sure we had the URL so we wouldn't fail to find it. In one case, a candidate had mentioned it in the cover letter. We felt compelled to follow up in each of those instances, and it turned out to be every bit as eye-opening as a train wreck....

A candidate's blog is more accessible to the search committee than most forms of scholarly output. It can be hard to lay your hands on an obscure journal or book chapter, but the applicant's blog comes up on any computer. Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few. Others persisted into what turned out, in some cases, to be the dank, dark depths of the blogger's tormented soul; in other cases, the far limits of techno-geekdom; and in one case, a cat better off left in the bag.

The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.

A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.

Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation....

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order....

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum....

[I]n truth, we did not disqualify any applicants based purely on their blogs. If the blog was a negative factor, it was one of many that killed a candidate's chances.

More often that not, however, the blog was a negative, and job seekers need to eliminate as many negatives as possible.

We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?

We've seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they've got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can't wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more.

How to respond? One fellow scholar-blogger puts it this way:

Shorter Chronicle of Higher Ed: blogging is dangerous because hiring committees are paranoid, conservative, and illogical. Even if you are not indiscreet on your blog, you could become so--but if you don't have a blog, you couldn't possibly start one and therefore never be indiscreet. Publishing pseudonymous articles about your search committee deliberations in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, though, is not indiscreet.

This point is made elsewhere in the blogosphere as well.

I was all set to defend the utility of academic blogging, but I see that Robert Farley was kind enough to do it for me -- literally:

I know that there is a difference between a Dan Drezner blog post and a Dan Drezner article in a major political science journal. So does Dan. He sometimes uses the one to complement the other, and sometimes talks about things that would never make it through a peer review process, often because they are too topical or too speculative. If a blogger regularly displayed contempt for co-workers, rage against employers, or demonstrable insanity, that would be one thing. But the [blogs discussed in Tribble's article] above doesn't have anything to do with any of those. It conveys a fear of a forum which bypasses traditional academia, whose practitioners need to be punished through intimidation and exclusion.

Traditional academic journals are wonderful institutions, because however much we may complain about them they DO keep out much of the dreck, they do enforce standards of scholarship and evidence, and they do play on important role in imposing a form of meritocracy on the academic world. Blogs play a much different role, one that is oriented around topical policy debates and a more intimate relationship with the non-academic world. The one does not threaten the other.

I'll close with two pieces of advice:

1) To "Ivan Tribble": Click here before you condemn blogging to the academic dustbin. But if you or your colleagues still truly believe your assertion that, "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum," then here's my advice -- do not hire anyone ever again. As you say, "We've all... expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we're giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend." Therefore, it doesn't matter whether potential future colleagues have a blog or not -- all it takes is five minutes to set one up. The only foolproof way to "guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum" online is to have no colleagues. Come to think of it, you should also ban any current colleagues from using any computer hooked up to the Internet -- it's the only way to preserve decorum.

2) To graduate students: I'd like to say that Ivan the Tribble is your classic piece of outlying data, but I can't. The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum says something that had occurred to me as well:

what struck me was that Tribble's piece is actually more a cautionary tale for the rest of us than it is for prospective university professors. After all, universities at least claim to value creativity, free speech, and academic freedom — even if Tribble's essay confirms that they do this more in the breach than in the observance. But what about the rest of us?

A garden variety commercial enterprise doesn't even pretend to value these things, and if you think HR departments don't google prospective applicants, I suspect you're sorely mistaken. As a result, if you write a blog under your own name it might well spell trouble on a whole variety of levels. A liberal boss might not want to hire a conservative. A straitlaced boss might decide not to hire a lesbian. A prudish boss might not hire someone who brags regularly about their sexual conquests. And fair or not, any boss is likely to be at least slightly hesitant about hiring someone who has a habit of telling the world about every little detail of their personal life. Some of this discrimination might be legal and some might not, but it hardly matters. You'll never know it happened.

To be fair, however, there are short-run and long-run countertrends:

1) Business and organizations that value good writing might well be more likely to hire bloggers;

2) Firms that choose to bypass creative people who happen to blog will eventually suffer the economic consequences.

posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday night, or what you will

From the Associated Press:

James Henry Smith was a zealous Pittsburgh Steelers fan in life, and even death could not keep him from his favorite spot: in a recliner, in front of a TV showing his beloved team in action.

Smith, 55, of Pittsburgh, died of prostate cancer Thursday. Because his death wasn't unexpected, his family was able to plan for an unusual viewing Tuesday night.

The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith's home on game day Sundays.

Smith's body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights.

"I couldn't stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said his sister, MaryAnn Nails, 58. "He loved football and nobody did (anything) until the game went off. It was just like he was at home."

Readers are free to interpret the story as an example of:

A) The ne plus ultra of fan devotion;
B) A sign of the cultural apocalypse;
C) A future growth field for the funeral industry.
D) A scene that really, really should have been in Shaun of the Dead

Me, I'm still trying to stop laughing.

posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Raising the Union Jack

If the State Department can do it, so can the good folks who put together


If that seems too.... dignified a response, click here or here.

posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Why support CAFTA?

In an e-mail, Slate and New York Times contributor Daniel Gross asks a fair question: "unless you're a really, really, passionate free trader--which few congressional members, republican or democrat, are--why would you vote for CAFTA?"

Actually, it's not like free traders are terribly enthusiastic about the deal. In NRO, Bruce Bartlett conveys a free trader's feelings about the deal pretty well:

The problem for many free traders, like myself, is that the Bush administration has played politics with trade since day one. This has done serious damage to the fragile alliance that still supports free trade. The administration imposed utterly unjustified tariffs on steel, torpedoed the Doha round of multilateral trade talks by supporting a huge increase in agriculture subsidies, and has never missed an opportunity to demagogue China for all our trade woes.

Having destroyed the prospects for a multilateral trade agreement, which was primarily to be about eliminating agriculture subsidies, the Bush administration has tried to salvage some semblance of a free-trade agenda by pursuing bilateral trade agreements....

While the amount of activity is impressive, the results are not very great in terms of opening trade.

In the end, there are three reasons I can give to support CAFTA:

1) If CAFTA goes down, you can kiss the Doha round goodbye. There is simply no way developing countries will put serious negotiating effort into a trade deal that Congress will be likely to torpedo. And I'm not sure how financial markets will cope with the collapse of a WTO negotiating round.

2) As hemispheric foreign policies go, rejecting CAFTA would fall on the more idiotic end of the policy spectrum. In the region where we're supposed to be the leader, rejecting an agreement that six other countries want doesn't send a great message about leadership. CAFTA, like NAFTA before it, helps to lock in rules that promote open markets and open societies. Even free trade critics like Dani Rodrik generally acknowledge the foreign policy benefits of these kind of deals.

3) For Democrats convinced that the Bush administration has pissed away U.S. soft power, answer me this question: what kind of a signal does the U.S. send to the rest of the world when its legislature says, in effect, "We won't ratify this deal because we're scared of six states that combined are smaller than the Czech economy"? Improved access to our markets remains one of the best incentives the U.S. has to proffer to the rest of the world. If we deny even hemispheric allies this benefit, what do you think the rest of the world will think?

There are many things I don't like about this agreement -- but there are even more things I don't like about the policy environment for trade if CAFTA goes down.

UPDATE: As God is my witness, I did not coordinate this blog post with Donald Rumsfeld.

One final reason for supporting CAFTA if you're from the Midwest -- CAFTA puts an ever-so-slight dent in the wall of sugar protectionism, which would help to staunch the flow of candy manufacturers across the border.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

The new bipartisanship

Kal Raustiala has an excellent piece in TNR Online about whether bipartisanship is on the decline. His basic thesis -- traditional centrist bipartisanship is down, new bipartisanship across a vast ideological chasm is up:

The absence of centrists in Congress certainly fosters conflict rather than cooperation on many, probably most, issues. But there are also issues where the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans can find common ground. To be sure, that politics makes strange bedfellows is not news. What is news is that the rising power of the religious right is leading to some unexpected victories for progressive causes. Deep political polarization makes traditional centrist bipartisanship treacherous. But, paradoxically, it can also produce unexpected cooperation between the core of the right and the core of the left. In other words, bipartisanship isn't dead; it has simply abandoned the political center for issues where it was once nowhere to be seen....

This unusual brand of bipartisanship stems as much from the creation of gerrymandered electoral districts as it does from the rising power of the religious right. Congress lacks a center because the public, divided into ever-more homogenous and safe districts, no longer elects centrists.

The implications of this shift for congressional politics are significant. Our constitutional structure has a status quo bias that forces compromise if new initiatives are to move forward. Bipartisanship used to be more or less synonymous with the political center, where those compromises were forged. But the alliances that have formed around prison rape, the environment, and Darfur suggest that today it is less the center than the poles that are most likely to be areas of common cause. When Christian conservatives such as Chuck Colson can partner with Amnesty International to push through a bill, bipartisanship is not so much dead as transformed.

Read the whole thing.

With regard to foreign affairs, This kind of bipartisanship leads to a wholesale rejection of realpolitik. A foreign policy that appears to lack values is anathema to ideologues on both sides. As Raustiala points out, however, it can also lead to greater internationalism of a sort -- on debt relief or Darfur, for example.

The shifting politics of trade and immigration are another, more prenicious example of this new bipartisanship, by the way. Trade was your classic centrist issue that generated support from centrists on both sides of the aisle. Today, liberal Democrats oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because they fear the effects on unions and the working class. Conservative Republicans oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because of fears about global interdependence and the loss of sovereignty.

The result: a weakening Congressional support for an open economy.

UPDATE: Hmmmm.... John Thacker posts a comment that makes me wonder if I've overstated the case on trade. I'd be curious if his evidence applied to the House, however -- which is really the chamber I was thinking about with regard to trade.

posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Al Qaeda in Europe

CNN reports on the group claiming responsibility for the London transport bombings:

A previously unknown group calling itself the "Secret Organization group al Qaeda Organization in Europe" released a statement Thursday claiming responsibility for the subway and bus bombings in London earlier in the day...

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a Web site connected to Islamic radicals....

The claim of responsibility from the group said it had repeatedly warned Britain.

"The mujahedeen heroes have launched a blessed attack in London," the statement said.

"Here is Britain burning now out of fear and horror in its north, south east and west. We have often and repeatedly warned the British government and people."

The statement said the group had carried out the attack after exerting "strenuous efforts ... over a long period of time to guarantee" its success.

"We still warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the crusader governments that they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan," it said. "We gave the warning, so we should not be blamed."

Click here for dueling translations of the short statement..

The clumsy-sounding name (at least in English) of this group makes me wonder if this is another of Al Qaeda's local subcontractees.

UPDATE: Stephen Flynn has some thoughts at the Council on Foreign Relations home page that sound this theme as well. Some highlights:

[This attack] tells us that al Qaeda is increasingly more of a movement than it is an organization. There are splinter groups and it would appear, in this instance, that many of these groups are homegrown--that is, they're made up of U.K. citizens rather than foreign fighters who have arrived on British soil....

I don't have a lot of detail, obviously--but what I've picked up from the web and the bit of reporting I've heard from Scotland Yard indicates that is likely the case. Many of the folks who are setting up these [Qaeda-affiliated] organizations carry a European Union passport. In some instances, they are first generation. Others are established citizens living in the cities, as opposed to Saudis who come in to carry out these attacks. Of course, that was the case with [the March 2004 al Qaeda bombings of commuter trains in] Madrid as well....

[I]n the aftermath of the London attacks, it's likely that very quickly you'll see law enforcement identify the responsible parties and to start to roll up their organization. In Madrid, the group responsible for the attacks was rolled up relatively quickly. Terrorist groups have to be careful about carrying out attacks. They have to be successful, because they put their organization at high risk whenever they carry out an attack. It's impossible not to leave bread crumbs. The scale of the forensic evidence for this kind of coordinated, large-scale attack endangers an organization. It suggests that attacks, when they happen, are more likely to be of this sophisticated, coordinated nature, not a single event.

Read the whole thing.

LAST UPDATE: Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser make a similar point to Flynn's in the Washington Post:

Now more a brand than a tight-knit group, al Qaeda has responded to four years of intense pressure from the United States and its allies by dispersing its surviving operatives, distributing its ideology and techniques for mass-casualty attacks to a wide audience on the Internet, and encouraging new adherents to act spontaneously in its name.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, terrorism experts in and out of government have warned that the movement has appeared to gain ground, particularly in Europe, where a large, mobile, technology-savvy and well-educated Muslim population includes some angry and alienated young people attracted to the call of holy war against the West.

The simultaneous bombings of four rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, the shooting death of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh last November and recent preemptive arrests made by European police suggest a less top-down, more grass-roots-driven al Qaeda. The movement's ability to carry off sophisticated, border-crossing attacks such as those Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants mounted against New York and the Pentagon almost four years ago appears diminished, some experts say.

Yet al Qaeda's chief ideologues -- bin Laden, his lieutenant Ayman Zawahiri, and more recently, the Internet-fluent Abu Musab Zarqawi, have been able to communicate freely to their followers, even while in hiding. In the past 18 months, they have persuaded dozens of like-minded young men, operating independently of the core al Qaeda leadership, to assemble and deliver suicide or conventional bombs in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Spain, Egypt and now apparently London.

posted by Dan at 01:15 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Open London transport thread

Comment here on the London Transport bombings.

Tom Regan at the Christian Science Monitor has a link-filled article.

The BBC reports that, "Tony Blair said it was 'reasonably clear' there had been a series of terrorist attacks." UPDATE: Click here for Blair's full statement.

The Guardian's blog has a series of updates. And on this side of the Atlantic, Glenn Reynolds has a llink-rich post.

A friend from London sends the following e-mail:

There are sirens still wailing outside, phone lines are intermittent at best, the entire transport system is down. There are stations trying to open but unable to because of continuing bomb threats. It was elation here yesterday because of the Olympic bid and today everyone is serious and somber…. People are actually walking home... and in a city the size of London, can you imagine? Having been at the White House on 9/11, I am reminded of the how people were wandering around in a sort of shocked daze. It is the same here right now.

UPDATE: Patrick Belton has more on the timeline of events, adding:

I'm quite struck by the strategic cynicism of attacking public transportation, and then after an interval, the crowded bus lines once commuters had been diverted to them. But several friends I spoke with this morning who have lived in Israel say that this pattern - an initial attack, followed by a staggered attack on emergency services once they'd arrived - isn't at all uncommon. (My friends living abroad are kindly texting to see if i have all of my relevant body parts, attached in the appropriate fashion.) I find that such an attack on commuting civilians completely unengaged with the machinery of government, war, or administration is striking me as stomach-turning and revolting in a way I could not have previously imagined.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Djerejian ponders the aftermath:

Such an attack was all but bound to happen, alas, despite the valiant efforts these past years of Scotland Yard/Metropolitan Police, as well as so many others in Britain's security and intelligence apparatus. London is simply too vast a metropolis, too tempting a target.... And one can't help wonder, now with London joining Madrid, if more intrusive airport style security checks might not someday become part of more routine ground transport commutes like subways and buses. It just seems impossible given the sheer volume of traffic--the millions who get on the NY subway or Underground daily. Still, who knows if such attacks continue--might it be deemed advisable to institute measures beyond assorted spot checks and heavier police presences on subways in major cities?

The Economist sounds a similar note:

While Britain’s security services have strong anti-terror powers and London has among the world’s best contingency plans for coping with such serious incidents, its transport system, like any other big city’s, is highly vulnerable. It is almost impossible to prevent determined bombers bringing explosive devices on to trains and buses, and no amount of planning or security measures will eliminate such a risk entirely. Londoners understand this and they—and the security services—have known that it was only a matter of time before something terrible like this happened.

AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a series of blog posts up. As a former resident of London, this post does resonate rather strongly:

Here's one cultural difference between Brits and Americans. Brits regard the best response to outrage to carry on as if nothing has happened. Yes, they will fight back. But first, they will just carry on as normal. Right now, a million kettles are boiling. "Is that the best you can do?" will be a typical response. Stoicism is not an American virtue. Apart from a sense of humor, it is the ultimate British one.

David Plotz -- in London at the moment -- makes a similar point in Slate:

The natural state of the English is a kind of gloomy diligence, which is why they do so well in hard times. In 1940, Londoners went dutifully on with their business while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of them. Today, most of them are doing the same. I was in Washington for 9/11, and the whole city went into a panic. Offices emptied, stores shut, downtown D.C. became a ghost town. But in London today, everyone still has a cell phone clutched to their ear. The delivery vans are still racing about, seeking shortcuts around all the street closures. The Starbucks is packed.

And when I walked by the Queen's Larder Pub, not half a mile from the Tavistock Square wreckage, at 11 a.m., a half-dozen men were sitting together at a sidewalk table, hoisting their morning pints of ale. Civilization must go on, after all.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Those passionate Brits

London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. The city defeated Paris in the final vote -- since 1992, the French capital has lost out three times in a row (to Barcelona, Beijing, and now London).

This Associated Press report suggests that the International Olympic Committee was swayed by the passion of the British boosters:

"Two different strategies -- the French and the British," Dutch member Anton Geesink said. "The British, they explained their love of the sport. It is a love affair for Sebastian Coe, that was the difference. Love you can explain, but you can't sell it."

Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said London won because of the way it sold its message in the final hours.

"They delivered on the day," he said. "The presentation just had that little extra feel."

Which is not to say that the French weren't passionate -- it's just that the passion of their president, Jacques Chirac, might have been directed at the wrong targets:

The French and the British are having another food fight.

It broke out Monday when the French newspaper Liberation reported that French President Jacques Chirac had labeled British cuisine the worst in Europe except for Finland's. He also was quoted as saying that mad cow disease was Britain's sole contribution to European agriculture and that "we can't trust people who have such bad food."

The British press responded in reliable fashion.

"Don't talk crepe, Jacques!" scorned London's tabloid Sun.

"A man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food," food critic Egon Ronay told the Guardian....

While the British are used to a cultural rivalry with the French, Chirac could have damaged his country's Olympic bid by tarring Finland with the same basting brush.

London's Sun noted that although British and French International Olympic Committee members are banned from voting, two Finnish IOC members will be voting, and their ballots could be crucial.

posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Free trade democrats, R.I.P. (1934-2005)

Beginning with the passage of the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, there has always been a signifcant contingent of Democrats who supported the expansion of foreign trade -- even when Republicans were mostly protectionist.

That was then. Jonathan Weisman documents the death of the free trade Democrat in the Washington Post:

Twelve years ago, amid heated rhetoric over job losses and heavy union pressure, the House passed the North American Free Trade Agreement with 102 Democratic votes. This month, as President Bush pushes the far less economically significant Central American Free Trade Agreement, he will be lucky to get more than 10.

A long, slow erosion of Democratic support for trade legislation in the House is turning into a rout, as Democrats who have never voted against trade deals vow to turn their backs on CAFTA. The sea change -- driven by redistricting, mounting partisanship and real questions about the results of a decade's worth of trade liberalization -- is creating a major headache for Bush and Republican leaders as they scramble to salvage their embattled trade agreement. A trade deal that passed the Senate last Thursday, 54 to 45, with 10 Democratic votes, could very well fail in the House this month.

But the Democrats' near-unanimous stand against CAFTA carries long-term risks for a party leadership struggling to regain the appearance of a moderate governing force, some Democrats acknowledge. A swing toward isolationism could reinforce voters' suspicions that the party is beholden to organized labor and is anti-business, while jeopardizing campaign contributions, especially from Wall Street....

Cardin and other free-trade Democrats concede that many of the Democratic opponents are motivated by partisan politics: They want to see Bush lose a major legislative initiative or, at the very least, make Republicans from districts hit hard by international trade take a dangerous vote in favor of a deal their constituents oppose. Dozens of Republicans in districts dependent on the textile industry, the sugar growers or small manufacturers have already said they will vote against the bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) privately warned Democrats last month that a vote for CAFTA is a vote to stay in the minority....

Such fears are not new, but the political response to them -- especially from Democrats -- is unprecedented. That has pro-business Democrats worried. During the 1990s, party leaders used pro-trade positions to show moderate voters and business interests they are willing to stand up to their labor union backers and govern from the center, said Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. For fear of handing their GOP adversaries a short-term victory, he said, they are jeopardizing all that work.

"If the Democrats want to stay competitive on the national political stage, they can't retreat from global engagement," McCurdy agreed.

"I really believe our challenge is to be competitive and win in the world economy, and it's hard to assume national leadership if you have a protectionist bent," said Al From, the Leadership Council's chief executive.

Administration officials are inoculating themselves against Democratic attacks with a letter from former president Jimmy Carter imploring support for CAFTA. "Some improvements could be made in the trade bill, particularly on the labor protection side," Carter wrote, "but, more importantly, our own national security and hemispheric influence will be enhanced" by passage.

Other Democratic supporters include a who's who list from the Clinton administration, including former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Cabinet members Warren M. Christopher, Henry G. Cisneros, Dan Glickman, William J. Perry and Donna E. Shalala, not to mention the presidents of the CAFTA countries.

Look, CAFTA is not perfect, and if you read the article in its entirety, you'll see it wasn't only Democrats behaving badly.

However, neither of those points negates the fact that this trade deal is a no-brainer in terms of both economics and foreign policy.

UPDATE: See Matthew Yglesias (nay) and Tyler Cowen (mostly yea) for further commentary on CAFTA.

Yglesias' two primary objections to CAFTA are that the agreement "is an effort to impose low labor standards and a misguided intellectual property regime on Central American nations." The first objection is, well, horses**t -- CAFTA doesn't force the Central American countries to lower their labor standards. I'm somewhat sympathetic to the excessive IPR argument - but click here to read a Chicago Tribune editorial about why the "Brazilian solution" preferred by Tyler doesn't necessarily work well either.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, Steve points out that Republicans control all the branches of government, so why blame the Dems? Brad Setser points out that Republicans have been acting protectionist with regard to the proposed CNOCC takeover of Unocal. Daniel Gross makes this point on his blog as well:

Weisman buries the lede. We wouldn't have such pieces, or have such conversations, if the Republicans -- who won the Congressional elections of 2000, 2002, and 2004 on free-trade platforms -- could maintain discipline on free trade.

So am I unfairly bashing Dems?

In a word, no. True, the Republicans currently control the executive and legislative branches -- however, the same was true of the Democrats when NAFTA was under debate. Because of Democratic defections, however, the Clinton administration needed the cooperation and support of Republican leaders to secure its passage -- and Clinton got that support (indeed, if memory serves, more Republicans voted for NAFTA than Democrats). Nancy Pelosi sure as hell ain't playing that game today.

And while it's undoubtedly true that one can point to protectionist Republicans who are members of Congress, one can't say that the entire party is behaving in a protectionist manner. That's no longer true of Congressional Democrats.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong asserts that I'm misreading the Weisman story: "Drezner's wrong. And the story he cites does not say what he claims it says. It does not say that free-trade Democrats are gone." He thinks the relevant sections of the Post story are as follows:

1) "[A] core group of as many as 50 pro-trade Democrats are voting against CAFTA.... They complain that the administration failed to consult them during negotiations, taking their votes for granted. And they say past trade agreements were accompanied by increased support for worker-retraining programs, education efforts and aid to dislocated workers -- support that the president has not provided."

2) "[O]pponents say the deal steps back from previous commitments to stronger environmental and labor standards."

3) "Republicans intentionally marginalized free-trade Democrats during negotiations and then presented them with a take-it-or-leave it deal, goading them to oppose it, said the lobbyists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity."

My response:

1) Trade Adjustment Assistance was reformed in 2002 -- it's not clear to me you want to reform it again before seeing how the first set of reforms do, and three years isn't enough time to take its temperature. Plus, from a policymaking perspective, creating deal-specific trade adjustment assistance don't make much sense.

2) The best way to improve labor and environmental conditions in CAFTA countries is for them to achieve middle income status and generate domestic constituencies for both. Linking trade to standards won't necessarily accomplish this as well as expanding trade, which is CAFTA's point.

3) If memory serves, Clinton didn't exactly consult with the Republicans when the NAFTA side agreements on labor and the environment were hammered out (though I'm happy to be corrected on this if I'm wrong). The question boils down to whether the perfect is the enemy of the pretty good.

Two final points. First, while I didn't address these points head-on in my original post, it was very cute of DeLong to elide my statement that, "if you read the article in its entirety, you'll see it wasn't only Democrats behaving badly."

Second, let's say DeLong is correct -- Clinton got 102 Democratic votes for NAFTA in the House, and then only 73 Democratic votes with the China WTO vote. At present, there is a whopping total of "50 pro-trade Democrats" in the House now. No matter how you slice it, that's not an encouraging trend line.

[Maybe free trade Congressional Democrats aren't dead -- they're just in a persistent vegetative state!--ed. Don't go there.]

I'll have more to say about CAFTA soon.

posted by Dan at 12:08 AM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (3)

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Gonna be a fun takeover battle

Peter S. Goodman reports in the Washington Post that the Chinese Foreign Ministry hasn't taken too kindly to Congressional doubts about the proposed CNOCC takeover of Unocal:

The Chinese government on Monday sharply criticized the United States for threatening to erect barriers aimed at preventing the attempted takeover of the American oil company Unocal Corp. by one of China's three largest energy firms, CNOOC Ltd.

Four days after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the Bush administration to block the proposed transaction as a threat to national security, China's Foreign Ministry excoriated Congress for injecting politics into what it characterized as a standard business matter.

"We demand that the U.S. Congress correct its mistaken ways of politicizing economic and trade issues and stop interfering in the normal commercial exchanges between enterprises of the two countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. "CNOOC's bid to take over the U.S. Unocal company is a normal commercial activity between enterprises and should not fall victim to political interference. The development of economic and trade cooperation between China and the United States conforms to the interests of both sides." (emphasis added)

Look, I'm probably more sympathetic to the proposed takeover than most Americans, but that highlighted passage even made me laugh out loud. As the Economist pointed out two weekso ago, 70.6% of CNOOC's stock is owned by a "state-owned, unlisted parent company." Furthermore, "The Chinese offer is in cash—the shares even of a well-run Chinese firm are not yet acceptable as takeover currency." A separate story points out:

The Chinese government’s coddling of its state-owned firms is another force behind the current wave of overseas expansion. While officials want to see markets develop at home, up to a point, they fear the fallout from the collapse of hundreds of large, communist-era basket-cases. So the government props these enterprises up with ultra-cheap loans through the banking system and other favours, which have the effect of creating overcapacity and nurturing unfair competition. This, in turn, pushes the more successful state firms, and private companies like Haier, to seek opportunities in markets abroad.

China’s favoured companies, with their access to cut-price funding, will usually be at an advantage compared with overseas rivals when bidding for assets, and may be prepared to pay over the odds. Critics suggest that CNOOC is paying too high a price for Unocal and that the money is coming from China’s government, which has let its desire to create global businesses cloud commercial logic. CNOOC has said it will borrow $16 billion from its government-owned parent and banks to finance the offer.

There's nothing "normal" about this particular commercial exchange -- from the Chinese side of things, there is government intervention all over the friggin' place. The Chinese government's suggestion otherwise just makes them look ham-handed.

The irony, of course, is that regardless of the Chinese government's idiocy, the Congressional concerns about the takeover are pretty much bogus. Goodman's story quotes Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, saying last week that, "We cannot, in my opinion, afford to have a major U.S. energy supplier controlled by the Communist Chinese." However, as Paul Blustein noted in last Friday's Post, the concerns about China's market power from a Unocal purchase affecting U.S. energy prices and supplies are absurd:

it is hard to see how the Chinese purchase of Unocal could affect petroleum availability or otherwise endanger U.S. security, many global energy experts say. China may be a potential military adversary, and congressional frustration over Chinese trade policy drives much of the animus toward the deal. Still, some fears about China's grab for oil reserves are at odds with experts' view of how global oil markets work.

Those markets are vast and fluid. Known oil reserves exceed 1 trillion barrels, daily production averages more than 80 million barrels, and traders readily swap tankers full of crude to balance excess demand in some parts of the globe with excess supply elsewhere. Accordingly, said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy specialist at the Institute for International Economics, "there is absolutely no reason why we should care" who owns Unocal's oil and gas reserves, which total about 1.75 billion barrels.

Even though Chinese control over Unocal's reserves, which are mostly in Asia, might ensure that the company's petroleum was shipped to China during an energy shortage, "the cost of oil will be set between world supply and demand, and not by arrangements like this," agreed Robert J. Priddle, the former executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency. "This won't change the price of oil, or the availability of oil."

....During the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s, Priddle and other experts recalled, several European countries established national oil companies with the aim of assuring supplies, and nations such as France cozied up to Iran, Iraq and other oil suppliers. But when oil shipments were cut off, "they had the same problems we did" with higher energy prices, said Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the energy program at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

"Owning reserves doesn't change the price," Jaffe said. "If the price of oil goes to $125 a barrel, and China owns a field in Sudan, the price for them is still $125."

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

July's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is David Rothkopf's Running The World: the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. Rothkopf's history of the NSC starts with the National Security Act of 1947 and continues to the present Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's arguments in the past (click here as well) and I'm very sympathetic to his arguments about the flaws in the NSC process.

A former Clinton administration official, Rothkopf was still able to interview a number of Bush foreign policy principals, including Condoleezza Rice. Go check it out.

The general interest book comes from a U of C book group that I'm participating in on Carl Schmitt's Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. However, the book I would recommend first is Schmitt's The Concept of the Political. That book contains perhaps the most accessible and thought-provoking critique of the Western liberal tradition. Alan Wolfe, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year, provides a decent summary of Schmitt's argument (link via Ted Barlow):

In The Concept of the Political, Schmitt wrote that every realm of human endeavor is structured by an irreducible duality. Morality is concerned with good and evil, aesthetics with the beautiful and ugly, and economics with the profitable and unprofitable. In politics, the core distinction is between friend and enemy. That is what makes politics different from everything else. Jesus's call to love your enemy is perfectly appropriate for religion, but it is incompatible with the life-or-death stakes politics always involves. Moral philosophers are preoccupied with justice, but politics has nothing to do with making the world fairer. Economic exchange requires only competition; it does not demand annihilation. Not so politics.

"The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism," Schmitt wrote. War is the most violent form that politics takes, but, even short of war, politics still requires that you treat your opposition as antagonistic to everything in which you believe. It's not personal; you don't have to hate your enemy. But you do have to be prepared to vanquish him if necessary.

Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency -- conservatives always find cases of emergency -- the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

In this section, Wolfe succumbs to the very friend-enemy trope that Schmitt embraces. However, a conservative political operative of some reknown recently embraced this dialectic as well:

Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.

I believe that Schmitt's understanding of the classical liberal tradition to be deeply flawed -- indeed, Wolfe himself would have a hard time reconciling that paragraph from his Chonicle of Higher Education essay with his recent New York Time Book Review essay on Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America.

However, Schmitt remains a useful guidepost. Indeed, Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction will likely be the best way to view the brewing fight over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement (see Ann Althouse for more on this).

Go check them out.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The big Russian elephant in the room

Alex Rodroguez has a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune about a new challenger to Vladimir Putin in Russia:

Garry Kasparov had nothing left to conquer. For two decades he reigned over international chess with the swagger of a Cossack and a memory that took on supercomputers. His peers vanquished and his patience worn thin by the politics of his game, the fiery, unpredictable chess legend yearned for a new arena.

This year he found one. Announcing his retirement from professional chess in March, Kasparov threw himself headlong into Russian politics, undaunted by its tripwires or its steely overseer, President Vladimir Putin.

In fact, Kasparov has made clear he sees Putin as his new archrival. Kasparov is virtually alone in Russian politics in calling for the dismantling of Putin's regime, and in the use of large-scale street rallies to try to get the job done.

Russian political analysts view Kasparov's endeavor as quixotic and ultimately doomed. Polls suggest most Russians are unaware of Kasparov's career move. Nearly two-thirds say they never would elect him president.

Kasparov is not accustomed to being the underdog, but it doesn't appear to faze him either. State-controlled television has ignored him since he announced his switch from chess to politics, so he has begun seeding grass-roots backing in Russia's provinces.

In mid-June he took his message of democracy and regime change to Kostroma, a small provincial capital along the banks of the Volga River. Last week he appeared in the volatile North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, recently besieged by a wave of bombings and violence spilling over from the 10-year separatist conflict in neighboring Chechnya. (emphasis added)

It's an OK article, but Rodriguez ignores the elephant in the room when discussing Kasparov's political fortunes in Russia: he's Jewish. Iin fact, Kasparov changed his name from Weinstein after his father's death. To put it gently, I seriously doubt that two-thirds of the Russian population oppose his presidential aspirations because of his politics.

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 4, 2005

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

In honor of America's birthday, go read the Declaration of Independence. Like most of America's founding documents, it's remarkably succinct.

And then go read Andrew Sullivan's "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Sullivan's closing paragraph:

I believe in a country that enshrines each of these three things, a country that promises nothing but the promise of being more fully human, and never guarantees its success. In that constant failure to arrive -- implied at the very beginning -- lies the possibility of a permanently fresh start, an old newness, a way of revitalizing ourselves and our civilization in ways few foresaw and one day many will forget. But the point is now. And the place is America.

posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 3, 2005

I've got my reading material for the week

The World Trade Organization has just issued its annual trade report. Beyond an update of recent trade developments, the document -- like its IMF and World Bank counterpart -- also provides more extensive analytic essays on various trade topics.

According to the executive summary, "The core topic in this year’s report is standards and international trade." Hmmm... yes, yes, I do believe I would find that topic interesting.

Oh, and there's also a shorter essay of offshore outsourcing. In which you can find the following:

The most curious aspect of this heated debate is that all the expectations and fears of offshoring and the backlash against it in the high income countries are based on very partial, selective information, mostly from private sources or anecdotal evidence. It has proved difficult up to now to glean hard evidence from official balance of payments data or employment records. Recently, a number of studies and new statistical information have pointed to the “modest” size of the services offshoring trend if viewed from a macroeconomic perspective. The annual growth rates cited alone might look impressive, but as a percentage of total inflows and outflows in the relative labour markets, or as a percentage of total services trade, the numbers are far less impressive....

At the firm level, there are technical, strategic and managerial limits to offshoring. Technical limits relate to the extent to which services are separable from the core activities of the firm in question. Strategic limits relate to the need of companies to control strategic assets, while managerial limits relate to managerial capability and the costs of dealing with foreign suppliers. Market forces apply to offshoring in much the same way in every sector. If demand for IT skills and English-speaking workers increase sharply in services-exporting countries, wages will start to rise and the price gap between local and imported services will narrow. As shown by Bhagwati et al. (2004) the supply of skilled workers in India is scarce, and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. In other words, the situation is not one of an almost unlimited supply of adequately skilled workers. A rise in demand is therefore likely to drive up wages....

While the general perception among the US public appears to be that the United States is importing more services from India than it is exporting, US balance of payments statistics report a surplus in favour of the United States. The most detailed sectoral breakdown of US data by country (which covers both affiliated and non-affiliated trade) refers to the category “Other private services,” which is defined as total private services less travel, transport and royalties and license fees. At this level, US services exports to India stood at $2.1 billion, while imports amounted to $1.1 billion in 2003. Throughout the 2000-03 period, the United States consistently reported a bilateral trade surplus. It may be concluded that the US BOP data provide a more positive picture for US services trade than might be gleaned from the discussion of US job losses attributed to offshoring services to India....

The strength in the rebound in [IT] employment in 2004, and the resilience of wages of computer occupations, do not support the view that offshoring services of high-skilled IT specialists had a marked impact on overall US employment in these occupations up to the end of 2004….

It is interesting to note that at $60,000 in FY2002 and FY2003, the median annual earnings of H-1B beneficiaries in computer-related occupations closely match the average wages paid domestically in this occupation (see Appendix Table 9 and annualized hourly wages given in Appendix Table 6). Onshore outsourcing by US firms of IT services to domestic providers of IT services employing H-1B beneficiaries is therefore unlikely to be driven by wage cost considerations. It seems more likely that persistent skill shortages in the US economy play the most prominent role in approvals of H-1B visas. (emphasis added)

Yeah, I'm not interested in this report at all.

Frances Williams has a nice summary of the offshoring sections of the WTO report in the Financial Times.

posted by Dan at 12:06 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)