Saturday, July 23, 2005

Open Sharm al-Sheikh thread

Feel free to comment on the latest bombing in Egypt here.

I do not have anything to add that I haven't already said in this post from late 2002.

UPDATE: OK, two more things I can say, or rather link. First, this Washington Post story by Craig Whitlock suggests that the central Al Qaeda leadership has more direct control over the timing and location of terrorist attacks than the "franchise" model of Al Qaeda has suggested to date.

Second, is it my imagination or does this Canada TV story suggest Hosni Mubarak has seen Casablanca one too many times?:

Egyptian security forces have detained 70 people following Saturday's bomb blasts that killed at least 88 people.

The roundups came after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to hunt down the terrorists behind a series of coordinated bombings in a popular Egyptian Red Sea resort.

But none have been yet been accused of involvement in Egypt's deadliest-ever terror attack, officials said.

The police investigation appeared to be similar to the one that followed last October's attacks at the Sinai resorts of Tabas and Ras Shitan, when 3,000 people were detained.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interesting.... this New York Times story by Elaine Sciolino and Don Van Natta Jr. cuts against the Whitlock story in the Post. One intelligence official is quoted as saying, "Al Qaeda is finished. But there is Al Qaedaism. This is a powerful ideology that drives local groups to do what they think Osama bin Laden wants."

posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Talking 'bout my old generation

Generation X -- you (and I) are old and getting older. Monica Eng's story in the Chicago Tribune explains:

For many of us who attended Lollapaloozas more than a decade ago, the prospect of returning to this hipster music festival can make us feel a little creaky.

I mean, can we really feel comfortable coming back as people whose lives of late-night carousing and multiple piercings have been replaced by late-night feedings and multiple strollers?

According to Lollapalooza founder and dad Perry Farrell, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

That's because this year's Lollapalooza features a special family area called Kidzapalooza, where all children under 10 get in free with a ticketholding adult.

"Since I started Lollapalooza I've had three children and I've become very aware of the fact that there aren't many family-oriented activities geared towards parents like me . . . Lollapalooza Parents," says Farrell. "Kidzapalooza gives us something we can share with our whole family--a festival with family-oriented entertainment and activities that can educate and enliven the spirits of our kids, while also giving us a place to hear great music for our own ears."

It's also a way to expand the reach of the festival and test new waters for this event that is in the process of reconceptualization.

But it is also a boon to rock-loving parents who thought that their minivans, Diaper Genie skills and multiple offspring had exiled them from Coolville forever.

posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Private equity groups go to Europe

Peter Gumbel has a fascinating story in Time on the growth of U.S. based private equity firms engaging in leveraged buyouts of European firms.

Germans in particular have taken pride in their "humane" form of capitalism, characterized by relatively short working hours and high pay, in contrast to what they see as a more cutthroat, competitive American way. But as global competition grows, European firms are under pressure to trim costs. Private-equity transactions--in which investors buy up a company using substantial amounts of debt, overhaul operations, then sell out after a few years--have been common for years in the U.S. and Britain. They used to be the rare exception in continental Europe, where financial leverage has long been frowned on and relationships with investors were based on tradition. No longer.

Starting in the late 1990s, all the big U.S. players, including Blackstone, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), Carlyle Group and Texas Pacific Group, set up small-scale European operations. They're now bustling, growing rapidly and accounting for ever more of the U.S. groups' business. In four years, Blackstone's investments in Europe have jumped from about 10% to 30% to 40% of its total business, and the firm has opened offices in London, Hamburg and Paris. "It has become quite a significant part of our business," says Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone's CEO and one of its co-founders. "It's a moment of structural change in Europe." The American moneymen last year were involved in about one-third of all European buyouts, doing deals worth more than $25 billion. That's triple the amount in 2001 (see chart). And there's no end in sight: several of the groups, including Blackstone and KKR, are in the process of setting up new investment funds aimed in part or entirely at Europe.

As the American money pours in, the deals are larger, more frequent and more highly leveraged. Five years ago, the largest European buyout transactions had a value of about $1 billion. Today's biggest deals are three times as large, and several private-equity groups are poring over at least one transaction involving a telecommunications firm in Spain that is worth more than $12 billion. One reason Europe is attractive: such huge firms as electronics giant Siemens, automakers DaimlerChrysler and Fiat and the French media company Vivendi Universal have shed operations they deem no longer core to their fundamental business. Also, investors have been buying medium-size companies whose family owners are looking to sell. Once the Americans take over, they move fast, prodding the firms to make their operations leaner and frequently reshuffling management. The worse off an operation is, the more money the investors stand to make from selling after turning it around. "We like the complexity of Europe," says Jim Coulter, a San Francisco--based founding partner of Texas Pacific. "It often means there is more inefficiency."

Read the whole thing. The restructurings are causing a bit of a ruckus. That fact that these groups are headquarted in the U.S. probably doesn't help matters right now. More importantly, European unions allege that the private equity groups come with mass layoffs. I have no doubt that's true in some cases, though the funny thing is that if you read the entire article, you will fail to find a single example of a U.S. firm actually recommending mass layoffs.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Does the U.S. need more mercenaries?

Alex Tabarrok asks a provocative question over at Marginal Revolution:

Should we hire more mercenaries today? Our military already has hired more than thirty thousand non-citizens. Why not bypass residency entirely and go straight to Mexico, India and elsewhere to hire soldiers? If outsourcing is good for US firms then surely it is good for the US government.

Outsourcing the military has a number of advantages. The supply of labor is nearly limitless and the price is low. Some people will object that quality is low too but if Indians can be trained to do US tax returns they can be trained to fight US wars.

....we are so desperate for troops in the United States that we are forcing old men and women, people who haven't seen active duty in forty years, back into service. At US wage rates we could easily hire many thousands of Mexicans. Many Mexican noncitizens are already serving honorably in the US military so there is no reason for quality to decline.

Mercenarism may seem unusual today but in the 18th century a typical European army contained 20-30 percent foreign troops - mercenarism was the norm. It's hard to see how the United States has a comparative advantage in military labor so the future may resemble the past more than it does the present.

The funny thing is that the U.S. relies more on mercenaries than Alex may know -- the U.S. military has outsourced a lot of its logistical functions in Iraq, for example. According to this Council on Foreign Relations page, for example, the following functions have been at least partially outsourced:

guarding officials, military installations, and supply convoys; training local troops and police forces; providing interrogators, translators, and transcribers; maintaining and repairing vehicles and aircraft, including the guidance and surveillance systems on tanks and helicopters; running logistics operations and supervising supply lines; driving supply trucks that carry fuel and food; providing warehousing and storage facilities; setting up Internet access and maintaining computer systems; preparing meals for the roughly 135,000 U.S. soldiers; cleaning military facilities, including Army bases and offices; washing clothes; and building housing.

Click here and here for more stories on this phenomenon.

However, let's assume Alex's question was tied specifically to the use of mercenaries for combat as opposed to non-combat operations. Two quick speculations for why mercenaries might not work out:

1) A big reason mercenaries disappeared from the typical European army was the introduction of the levee en masse -- and whaddaya know, it turned out that nationalist fervor trumped mercenaries on the battlefield. I think that's still true today.

2) One of the arguments for why democracies tend to do better in warfighting is that because voters know their fellow citizens will be on the line in combat, they will be much more risk-averse in their attitudes about war than authoritarian states. As a result, they will only engage in wars that are either a) essential to protecting the homeland; or b) they are really likely to win. The use of foreign mercenaries eliminates this risk-aversion from decision-making.

Finally, it's not clear to me that Alex's examples of U.S. "mercenaries" are really akin to the Hessians. Offering a citizenship inducement to foreigners joining the military is undeniably offering an additional incentive to enlist -- however, is the incentive a purely economic one or, are there identity motivations as well? Furthermore, in a world without a draft, what is the difference between offering greater monetary compensation to U.S. citizens interested in enlisting and offering similar economic incentives to foreigners interested in becoming Americans?

UPDATE: One clarification: I don't think that linking citizenship to enlistment is necessarily a bad idea -- I'm just not sure it qualifies as what Tabarrok thinks of as mercenarism.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Blegging for health care experts

As I've said before, health care is one of those public policy areas that I know is really, really important -- and yet I cannot muster up any authentic interest in the issue whatsoever.

So, I'm going to ask my readers to help me out and decipher the import of a recent Medicare initiative, as descibed by Gina Kolata in the New York Times:

There is no one in medicine who does not consider it both crucial and long overdue to have electronic records in doctor's offices and hospitals....

Now, however, Medicare, which says the lack of electronic records is one of the biggest impediments to improving health care, has decided to step in. In an unprecedented move, it said it planned to announce that it would give doctors - free of charge - software to computerize their medical practices. An office with five doctors could save more than $100,000 by choosing the Medicare software rather than buying software from a private company, officials say.

The program begins next month, and the software is a version of a well-proven electronic health record system, called Vista, that has been used for two decades by hospitals, doctors and clinics with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Medicare will also provide a list of companies that have been trained to install and maintain the system.

Given Medicare's heft, the software giveaway could transform American medicine, said Dr. John Wasson, a Dartmouth Medical School health care researcher.

But, Dr. Wasson added, it may take a while. "If you look at it from a five-year point of view, it will make a huge difference," he said....

The Vista project began a few years ago when Medicare officials realized that help for small medical practices was in its own backyard. The federal government had already paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop Vista, and now uses it in the Veterans Administration's 1,300 inpatient and outpatient facilities, which maintain more than 10 million records and treat more than five million veterans a year. Why not give Vista to doctors?

In fact, though few knew, Vista had been available all along to anyone who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.

Over the years, the program had accrued a passionate following and even an organization, World Vista, founded in 2002 mostly by V.A. employees to help spread it throughout the world. One reason for their enthusiasm was that no company owns Vista so anyone can modify and enhance it.

It is, said Joseph Dal Molin, director of World Vista, a survival of the fittest. "What's good survives," he said.

One feature, for example, was suggested by a V.A. nurse. Why not put a bar code on a prescription bottle to identify the drug and its dose, put a bar code on the patient's wristband to identify the patient's prescription, and then scan the drug label and the patient's wristband before administering a drug? If there was a discrepancy, Vista could catch it before an error was made. Programmers added that feature, and V.A. drug errors plummeted by 80 percent overnight.

Here's a link to the World Vista homepage.

I have every confidence that the mix of open source software and halth care policy will inspire someone to comment on the importance of this policy initiative.


posted by Dan at 02:36 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

The beginning of the end of Bretton Woods 2?

China's central bank posted the following announcement on its web site today:

1. Starting from July 21, 2005, China will reform the exchange rate regime by moving into a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies. RMB will no longer be pegged to the US dollar and the RMB exchange rate regime will be improved with greater flexibility.

2. The People's Bank of China will announce the closing price of a foreign currency such as the US dollar traded against the RMB in the inter-bank foreign exchange market after the closing of the market on each working day, and will make it the central parity for the trading against the RMB on the following working day.

3. The exchange rate of the US dollar against the RMB will be adjusted to 8.11 yuan per US dollar at the time of 19:00 hours of July 21, 2005. The foreign exchange designated banks may since adjust quotations of foreign currencies to their customers.

4. The daily trading price of the US dollar against the RMB in the inter-bank foreign exchange market will continue to be allowed to float within a band of 0.3 percent around the central parity published by the People's Bank of China, while the trading prices of the non-US dollar currencies against the RMB will be allowed to move within a certain band announced by the People's Bank of China.

What does this mean? In the short run, not much -- China is effectively appreciating its currency by only two percent and widening its band a bit. More interesting will be whether this initial move puts pressure on China to either revalue more or let its band widen more in the future. The statement implies that the Central Bank could do this, but my hunch, and the press coverage of the announcement, leads me to believe they'll sit on 8.11 for some time.

In the medium run, the decision to move from a fixed exchange rate of a managed float is going roil the currency markets a bit -- see this Bloomberg report on the yen, for example. More interestingly, Malaysia has followed China's lead and has decided to move the ringgit from a strict dollar peg to a managed float as well. The really intriguing question is how much this move will retard public and private purchases of dollar-denominate assets. This Associated Press report suggests that other Asian central banks are taking this in stride.

For the U.S., I'm not sure a two pecent revaluation is going to affect trade one way or the other. The rule of thumb has been that a ten percent revaluation would lower the trade deficit by one percent, so this won't have that big of an effect on the trade balance (and I would wager that the J-curve effect with such a small revaluation will be longer-lasting). The bigger effect may be political, in that this could eases protectionist pressures in Congress. On the other hand, it could also convince yahoos like Senator Schumer that this is the way to pressure the Chinese into making foreign economic policy concessions.

On the other hand, if Xu Haihui's report for International Finance News -- reprinted in the Financial Times -- is true, then the effect on certain sectors of China's economy could be significant:

[A]ccording to initial estimates, for each 1 per cent the renminbi rises, each sub-sector of the textile industry will see its profits from exports reduced, including a drop of 12 per cent in the cotton sector, 8 per cent in wool, and 13 per cent in garments. Smaller segments of the garment industry that depend more highly on exports will face even higher losses....

Professor Wang Kangmao, the honorary president and doctoral adviser of the East China University for Law and Politics, recently told reporters that if the renminbi were to appreciate by 3 per cent the textile industry could face export losses of up to 30 per cent mainly due to a lack of value-added products.

Uncompetitive small-and-medium-sized companies would then likely face bankruptcy, causing possible job losses for several hundred thousand workers. Since most of the employees in the textile industry come from low or medium income families, the loss of jobs could possibly trigger even greater social problems.


UPDATE: For nice backgrounders on the issue, see this Wall Street Journal report by Michael Phillips (the link should work for everyone), this Financial Times renminbi page, and this backgrounder on China's slowing economy in the Economist.

[What does the title of this post mean?--ed. Click here for what I mean by Bretton Woods 2, and here for a basic BBC backgrounder.]

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad Setser weighs in: "Too small in my view to have much of an economic impact, in any way. On trade flows. Or on capital flows. I would still bet on a further revaluation." Nouriel Roubini and David Altig are debating the implications of the move on the Wall Street Journal's Econoblog.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Online screw-ups affecting the workplace -- continued

The theme of posting one's thoughts online deleteriously affecting one's worklife continues apace -- first graduate students, then nannies, and now... shudder... adjunct university professors.

Joe Strupp explains for Editor & Publisher:

A former Boston Herald sports writer, who was laid off in May as part of a string of newsroom cutbacks, now has lost his part-time teaching job at Boston University after posting Web comments about a student, which described her as "incredibly hot."

Michael Gee, an 18-year veteran of the Herald, confirmed the incident, but declined comment to E&P Friday. Bob Zelnick, chair of the B.U. journalism department, said he heard about Gee's posting on Wednesday from a university publicist, who had received a phone call about it from a blogger....

The comments, which appeared on, but were later removed, included the following: "Today was my first day teaching course 308/722 at the Boston University Dept. of Jounralis (sic). There are six students, most of whom are probably smarter than me, but they DON'T READ THE PAPER!!! Not the Globe, Times, Herald or Wall Street Journal. I can shame them into reading, I guess, but why are they taking the course if they don't like to read.

"But I digress. Now here's the nub of my issue. Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn't you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you've ever been to Israel, she's got the sloe eyes and bitchin' bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson."

Word of Gee's firing, and a copy of his posting, first appeared on

Via Over at CNET's new and interesting workplace blog, Paul Festa thinks this is another example of bloggers gone wild -- however, as David Scott points out:

For those wondering,, in a nutshell, is a place where sports desk editors, as well as sportswriters and others, vent over how crummy this paper or that columnist is. It’s also a networking spot to get info on the latest openings and movement at papers across the country. Like most message boards, it serves a purpose and then serves the fellowship of the miserable even more.

Strictly speaking, Gee wasn't blogging -- furthermore, it was a blogger who apparently called him out.

[And would you have done the same thing if you had read Gee's post?--ed. Given that Gee posted this in a public forum, yep, you betcha. Er, haven't you occasionally evinced an ocular interest in the fairer sex on this blog?--ed. It's one thing to point out that a public figure has pleasing features when. in part, that's why they are public figures -- it's another thing entirely to publicly make the same point about someone over whom you hold an authority relationship. There are certain bright lines in my job, and that's one of them.]

posted by Dan at 12:33 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mahathir Mohamad's grumpy retirement

There appears to be a rift brewing between former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and his successor, current Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi.

After reading this excerpt from John Burton's story in the Financial Times, see if you can guess which one I hope prevails:

The future of Proton, Malaysia's national carmaker, appears to have caused a schism in the government, with the issue pitting Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister, against his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Mahathir, who has championed Proton's cause, has claimed that a system of import licences for foreign cars has damaged Proton sales and demanded that those who have received the privileged licences should be revealed.

Mr Abdullah, who has favoured reducing trade barriers protecting Proton, this week named the licence holders, which have long been secret, in a move to promote government transparency ahead of the ruling party's annual meeting.

The prime minister's disclosure is seen as calling his predecessor's bluff to embarrass him. Among those holding the approved permits was Mokhzani Mahathir, Dr Mahathir's son, who was allowd to import 95 Saab and Porsche cars....

High tariffs have protected Proton until recently. But aggressive sales tactics by Toyota and Hyundai among others have reduced Proton's domestic market share from 70 per cent to 45 per cent in the last five years. Malaysia is south-east Asia's largest passenger car market.

Doubts about the survival of Proton have increased after Mr Abdullah agreed to nearly eliminate car tariffs by 2008 under south-east Asia's free trade agreement.

Analysts say Proton's best hope for survival is a partnership with a foreign carmaker. Volkswagen last year agreed to produce cars for the regional market at Proton plants in return for providing technical assistance.

But Proton officials have indicated that they would resist VW taking a majority stake in the company.

Since stepping down as prime minister in 2003, Dr Mahathir has become a key defender of Proton in his role as the company's special adviser.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Danica McKellar's unique two-fer

I'm pretty sure that Danica McKellar is the first person in history to be the subject of a profile in the New York Times science section, as well as ">the subject of a profile and a photo essay in Stuff magazine.

A tip of the cap to Ms. McKellar's very talented and flexible publicist.

My previous thoughts about Ms. Mckellar can be read here.

posted by Dan at 12:17 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

So how is Viktor Yushchenko doing?

Eight months after the Orange Revolution, how is Ukraine doing? Well, this BBC report is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it appears Yushchenko is following Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili in abolishing the most useless organization ever created in the Soviet Union -- the traffic police:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is to disband the country's traffic police because it has proved impossible to stamp out corruption.
He has ordered a decree to be drawn up abolishing the department, which employs 23,000 people.

Mr Yushchenko said his government's efforts at reforming the traffic police had proved unsuccessful.

Traffic police are said to be unpopular with motorists as they impose on the spot fines and often demand bribes.

On the other hand, the second half of this report makes Yshchenko sound a bit... odd.:

Mr Yushchenko, who came to power in January after the disputed presidential elections and Orange Revolution, is also trying to stamp out swearing.

Interfax reports that he told law enforcement officials: "Let's agree: you should leave foul language at home.

"Actually, it would be better if you didn't use it at home either. You are servants of the state. Try to talk without swearing. If anyone can't learn to do this, then write a letter of resignation."

There are many, many problems afflicting Ukraine. I think excessive swearing is not up at the top of that list.

posted by Dan at 12:08 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Open SCOTUS nominee thread

Feel free to comment here on President Bush's announcement this evening of his choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. Orin Kerr is so excited about this that he's breaking into song.

Peter Baker, Fred Barbash and William Branigin report in the Washington Post that:

[M]any Republican strategists are anticipating that his choice will be Judge Edith Clement of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals....

"I've heard nothing official, but it certainly does look like it," said a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House. "The word has gone out that we should be ready today. And the signs are all pointing to Clement."

TradeSports has Clement doing well, but I agree with Kerr that this is not terribly reliable evidence. [How do you pronounce that last name?--ed. Click here for the answer in Slate.]

The extensive network of legal spies working for report that Clement might be the perfect justice to navigate the 7-10 split that is the Senate confirmation process. I've heard experts on both sides of the aisle praise her. Jack Balkin thinks Clement would be a shrewd political move. Over at Power Line, John Hinderaker repeates a Reuters report that Clement would receive the support of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Andrew Sullivan has a whole bunch o' posts up, including a link to this Legal Times story, which suggests that, "Two of the most noteworthy opinions written by Clement are in the area of criminal rights and law enforcement." This may please The New Republic's William Stuntz, who argues that, "the Supreme Court's most important job is not managing the culture wars. Regulating the never-ending war on crime is a much bigger task."

Remember, however, that George W. Bush loves -- loves -- to surprise the media.

UPDATE: And he does -- it's Judge John Roberts from the DC Court of Appeals. Looks like John Derbyshire was wrong.

For more see Stuart Buck, Peter Robinson, Glenn Reynolds, Jeffrey Rosen, and the SCOTUSblog profile.

UPDATE: Listening to NPR, Jeffrey Rosen says that while no Supreme Court nominee is a slam dunk, this is pretty "dunky."

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

The U.S.-India entente

So, dear readers, who do you agree with -- John Bolton or George W. Bush? I ask because of this Washington Post story by Dana Milbank and Dafna Linzer:

President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974....

Under the terms of the deal, India agreed to place its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not its nuclear weapons arsenal -- under international monitoring and pledged to continue to honor a ban on nuclear testing. In return, it would have access, for the first time, to conventionalweapons systems and to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology that can be used in either a civilian or a military program. It could also free India to purchase the long sought-after Arrow Missile System developed by Israel with U.S. technology.

The agreement does not call for India to cease production of weapons-grade uranium, which enables India to expand its nuclear arsenal.

The United States did not offer support for India's drive to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and the sides did not reach agreement on India's plan for a $4 billion pipeline delivering natural gas from Iran. The administration opposes the deal on grounds that it provides Iran with hard currency it can use for its own nuclear program.

The White House faces two major hurdles to put the deal into effect. One is altering rules in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a consortium of more than 40 countries that controls export of nuclear technology. The group has been unreceptive to previous Bush administration initiatives and will be reluctant to create country-specific rules, said George Perkovich, a nuclear specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The other challenge will be persuading Congress to change the U.S. Nonproliferation Act, which prevents sales of sensitive nuclear technology to countries that refuse monitoring of nuclear facilities....

The India deal had been opposed by nonproliferation officials in Bush's administration, including John R. Bolton, who was the administration's point man on nuclear issues until March.

Bolton, Bush's nominee to become U.N. ambassador, argued that such cooperation would mean rewarding a country that built a nuclear weapon in secret, using technology it obtained under the guise of civilian power. Both North Korea and Iran are believed to have tried the same route to develop nuclear weapons. Some within the administration said the deal would be damaging at a time when the United States is trying to ratchet up international pressure on both those countries to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions.

The Bush administration's calculus is pretty obvious -- they think the geopolitical benefits of a close relationship with India outweigh whatever norm violation has taken place because of how India acquired nuclear weapons. According to the Post article, a Carnegie Endowment paper by Ashley J. Tellis, "India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States," spells out the administration's logic. UPDATE: Here's a link to Sumit Ganguly's take on Tellis' argument from the pages of Foreign Affairs.

Comment here on whether you think the tradeoff is worh it. My guess is that foreign policy analysts, regardless of idelology, will be split on this. Full disclosure: I've repeatedly advocated this move in a number of fora. The nonproliferation genie cannot be put back in the bottle for the subcontinent, and this move merely acknowledges reality [But what about the nonproliferation norm?--ed. Yeah, I don't assign a whole lot of explanatory power to that.]

UPDATE: The Economist does a nice job of spelling out the mixture of realpolitik and idealpolitik that's behind this:

American and Indian officials both stress that the two countries’ relationship is independent of their respective relations with China. Yet America’s stated ambition to help India “become a major power in the twenty-first century” cannot be viewed in isolation from apprehensions about China’s looming might. Nor can India’s determination to secure good relations with America be separated from its own long-term suspicions of China, with which it is at present enjoying something of a second honeymoon.

Both India and America recognise that, as democracies, they should have common interests. These were obscured by the legacy of the Cold War, which saw India lean towards the former Soviet Union, and America “play the China card”. The inevitable Indo-American rapprochement was further delayed by the attacks on America on September 11th 2001 and by the subsequent importance of Pakistan in the “war against terror”. Now, at last, India and America find themselves on the same side.

See this analysis by The Chistian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi as well.

posted by Dan at 12:31 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

Your surreal online moment for today

In the middle of an online Q&A on CAFTA with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman -- run by the White House, no less -- the following exchange took place:

Andrew, from Salem, Oregon writes:
Being the Trade Representative for the United States of America, would you trade a 1909 Honus Wagner for a Yogi Berra Baseball Greats Holo Card issued by Kellogs in the 80's?

Rob Portman
Is this a trick question? I’m a big fan of Yogi’s, but the answer is no, not a chance. Now do you feel better about me negotiating trade agreements?

posted by Dan at 12:07 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Today's Plame post

In one of the footnotes to Running the World, David Rothkopf has a great quote from former NSC director Anthony Lake:

If something that the government does can either be the product of a conspiracy or an accident, bet on the accident. It's just far too hard to get elements of the government working together well enough to conduct and execute--and keep secret--a conspiracy.

The flip-side of this argument is that, when an administration does something wrong, and the explanations are either malevolence or incompetence, bet on the latter.

The revelations of the last week regarding Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and the whole Plame Game business makes me wonder if this was a similar story -- that it turns out Rove/Libby were clearly involved in the Plame leak, but they didn't know they were the source, since they claim to have gotten the information from journalists. Indeed, Matt Cooper's story doesn't necessarily square with the original version of events, which had the White House aggressively calling reporters left and right to impugn Joseph Wilson and his wife.

In my own blogging on the topic, I have wavered between thinking the White House acted maliciously on a grand scale or acted incompetently... and maliciously on a petty scale.

All the stuff from last week suggested incompetence -- until I came across this Los Angeles Times story by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten:

Top aides to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were intensely focused on discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in the days after he wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times suggesting the administration manipulated intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq, federal investigators have been told.

Prosecutors investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, a CIA officer who had worked undercover, have been told that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were especially intent on undercutting Wilson's credibility, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Although lower-level White House staffers typically handle most contacts with the media, Rove and Libby began personally communicating with reporters about Wilson, prosecutors were told.

A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove reportedly responded: "He's a Democrat." Rove then cited Wilson's campaign donations, which leaned toward Democrats, the person familiar with the case said.

This story does jibe with the malevolent interpretation of events.

In commenting on this story, Kevin Drum points out something that's been bugging me about the Plame Game for the past week:

there's a part of the meta-story here that I can't quite figure out. This anecdote hasn't been previously reported, which means this is yet another leak from someone close to the case. But it's a tiny, inconsequential leak. Sure, it makes Rove look petty, but that's hardly very noteworthy since a quick Google search would turn up a dozen anecdotes about Rove that expose him as far worse than merely petty.

This is what's been happening for several days now. We've been treated to a succession of teensy little leaks, which means that multiple people close to this case apparently want to keep the story alive in the press. At the same time, despite the fact that the leakers are presumably privy to some or all of the grand jury testimony so far, they're either unable or unwilling to provide any genuinely juicy leaks.

But which is it? Unable or unwilling? Or is there a third possibility? The answer says a lot about how strong a case Patrick Fitzgerald is putting together and what kind of media game the principals in the case are playing.

I don't know what's going on here.... but I'm sure my commenters will.

posted by Dan at 12:11 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Rashomon in the nanny world

Continuing the theme of the professional downsides of blogging, Helanie Olen had a piece in yesterday's New York Times about firing her nanny because ofher blog:

Our former nanny, a 26-year-old former teacher with excellent references, liked to touch her breasts while reading The New Yorker and often woke her lovers in the night by biting them. She took sleeping pills, joked about offbeat erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson and determined she'd had more female sexual partners than her boyfriend.

How do I know these things? I read her blog.

She hadn't been with us long when we found out about her online diary. All she'd revealed previously about her private life were the bare-bones details of the occasional date or argument with her landlord and her hopes of attending graduate school in the fall.

Yet within two months of my starting to read her entries our entire relationship unraveled. Not only were there things I didn't want to know about the person who was watching my children, it turned out her online revelations brought feelings of mine to the surface I'd just as soon not have to face as well.

The ex-nanny posts her rebuttal, naturally, on her blog, which starts off as follows:

If you have come to this little blog today looking for prurient details of a "nanny gone wild" and another "nanny diary" detailing the sordid life of a family she works for, I am very sorry to disappoint you. Contrary to an essay published in the Style section of the NYTIMES, I am not a pill popping alcoholic who has promiscuous sex and cares nothing for the children for whom she works with. Nope. If you look carefully through my archives, instead you will find a young woman in her mid-twenties who decided to work as a nanny for a year while she prepared to enter the next phase of her professional life; namely the life of an academic pursuing a PhD in English Literature specifically focusing on the Late Victorian novel. But for those of you who dont want to comb through the archives, I will offer a refutation of the salacious, malicious, and really quite silly essay written by Ms. Olen.

I'd tell you to read the whole thing, but it is very, very long. Bitch Ph.D., who knows the blogger in question, posts her own thoughts on the matter:

In the end, of course, Olen's essay really isn't about [the nanny]; it's about Olen. She wanted her nanny to take care of her children, but it seems she also expected her nanny to take care of her.

UPDATE: Click here if you're wondering what ancient Chinese Philosophers would make of this issue.

posted by Dan at 09:56 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wait a minute... I could have hired a PR firm??!!!

Is it my imagination or does it seem that a story like this one by Felicity Barringer appears about once a quarter in the New York Times these days?:

The Office of Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking outside public relations consultants, to be paid up to $5 million over five years, to polish its Web site, organize focus groups on how to buff the office's image and ghostwrite articles "for publication in scholarly journals and magazines."

The strategy, laid out in a May 26 exploratory proposal notice and further defined in two recently awarded public relations contracts totaling $150,000, includes writing and placing "good stories" about the E.P.A.'s research office in consumer and trade publications.

The contracts were awarded just months after the Bush administration came under scrutiny for its public relations policies. In some cases payments were made to columnists, including Armstrong Williams, who promoted the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind and received an undisclosed $240,000. In January, President Bush publicly abandoned this practice....

The more extensive and expensive plan seeks help from public relations agencies to, among other things, "provide research, writing and editing of Office of Research and Development articles for publications in scholarly journals and magazines."

Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science magazine and a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he found the idea of public relations firms ghostwriting for government scientists "appalling."

"If we knew that it had been written by someone who was not a scientist and submitted as though it were the work of a scientist, we wouldn't take it," Mr. Kennedy said. "But it's conceivable that we wouldn't know, if it was carefully constructed."

He added that the practice of putting public relations polish on scientific work has already been practiced by industry. "We had seen it coming in the pharmaceutical industry and were sort of wary about it," he said. "The idea that a government agency would feel the necessity to do this is doubly troubling."

Speaking of ghostwriting, Mr. Kennedy said: "If the ghostwriting is the kind of ghostwriting that most of the good mentors I knew did with Ph.D. students on first paper, it could be a good thing. But I sincerely doubt if any for-profit P.R. firm hired in the interest of improving a scientific publication is going to be the right person to do that."

....As for the issue of ghostwriting for journals, she said: "Nothing's been done. Nothing's been awarded. What they envisioned is looking at this very technical" material presented by scientists and making it accessible to laymen. The ghostwriters, should they ever be hired, [EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher] said, "can't make up the material. They are taking scientists' work and making it more understandable."

Why the hell didn't anyone mention that I could have hired PR people to pimp up my material before I handed in my friggin' tenure file???!!!

posted by Dan at 11:43 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The international relations of baseball

I have an essay in today's edition of Newsday about the international relations of baseball -- in particular, what can be gleaned from the International Olympics Committee's decision to drop baseball from its roster of sports and Major League Baseball's decision to set up the World Baseball Classic.

The key paragraph:

In international-relations terms, baseball's exit from the Olympics would appear to symbolize the decline of America's "soft power" - a concept developed by Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye to characterize a country's cultural appeal to the rest of the world. But before the Bush administration gets blamed for the decline of baseball, we should consider the possibility that the Olympic Games actually give America's greatest game a worse deal than the Classic.

Go check it out. My favorite part is the tagline: "Daniel W. Drezner is assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox."

Some background links: click here for one example of corruption in the International Olympics Committee. Here's a link to Gary Sheffield's comments to the New York Daily News; and here for evidence on the number of national baseball federations.

I should point out one sloppy construction in the piece. The article says, "the National Hockey League allowed its players to participate in the Olympics, and they trashed their rooms after they lost their last game." That charge should be limited to the American NHL players; my apologies to any and all Canadians.

posted by Dan at 09:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)