Saturday, November 5, 2005

So Friday was a pretty good day....

Friday was a great day for two reasons. First, a 70 degree day in Chicago in November is a rare treat and needs to be properly savored.

[Wow, you're keeping up such a brave face after getting denied tenure--ed.] Well, that leads to the second and more important reason why Friday was a pretty good day.

I have formally accepted an offer to be an Associate Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, starting in the summer of 2006. Next year at this time, I will be teaching students pursuing a M.A.L.D. (Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy) or a Ph.D. at Tufts University in Medford, MA.

[Wait a minute. Wait just a friggin' minute. What exactly does "Associate Professor" mean?--ed.] It means that, subject to the approval of Tufts University's Board of Trustees, I will be a tenured professor.

[Why Fletcher? Did you have any other options?--ed.] I received a number of inquiries (at various levels of seriousness) from academic and non-academic institutions -- the latter including government, think tank, and publishing opportunities. This was both gratifying and useful. Gratifying because it's always nice to be wanted. Useful because it gave me the chance to ponder whether the academy was for me. In the end, Fletcher was the best choice for a combination of personal and professional reasons.

[So how are you feeling now? Still bitter at the University of Chicago?--ed.] I'm feeling pretty good, actually. Fletcher is an excellent public policy school for what I study, and they actually like the fact that I write for a wider audience on occasion. Oh, and Tufts seems to be doing an excellent job of facilitating policies I like.

As for the U of C, no, I'd say the bitterness level is down to a very tiny nub. Mind you, I still think they screwed up, but they've screwed up other decisions even worse. Anyway, that's the department's problem now, not mine. I will always have very fond memories the institution, the students, and many of my colleagues. We will miss Hyde Park's rumored restaurant renaissance -- but this will be more than compensated by the plethora of supermarket choices in the Boston 'burbs.

[So how do you feel about the blog now? Now that you're tenured, can you really cut loose?--ed.] No, it's just the opposite, I'm afraid. Brian Weatherson hit the nail on the head in Scott Jaschik's Inside Higher Ed story on blogging and academia:

While some believe tenure allows more freedom for a blogger, Weatherson said that if your audience grows, that — not tenure status — may be the factor that leads to restraint online. "The more widely the blog gets read the more cautious I am about saying something critical of anyone without quite a lot to back up the criticisms," he said. "Basically these days I can assume that anything I say critical of anyone in philosophy will get back to them, and I write as if the target of the criticism will be reading. So I probably hold back a little more than I did pre-tenure, when sometimes I would assume that the blog would just remain among friends."


[So you'll be tenured, huh? Well, there goes the last shred of any connection you have with the "real world" in which other American workers must cope!--ed.] You've been reading the comments too much. I don't want to go off on a rant here, but the meme about academics having no connection to the real world is a crock of s$#*. Yes, tenure equals lifetime employment. However, consider the following:

1) Compared to other professions that require equivalent education, academics earn lower wages. This is clearly a choice for many of economic security and a more flexible work schedule over increased income. But it is a choice with real economic costs.

2) It's not like getting a tenured position at a top-drawer school is the easiest thing to do in the world. You have to get accepted into a good Ph.D. program, write an excellent dissertation, demonstrate an ability to generate research of high quality and quantity, and trust your luck that these skills will be recognized by your senior colleagues inside and outside your university.

3) I can't stress this enough -- a professor's wage is almost entirely determined by the market. Yearly raises in our profession range from infinitessimal to nonexistent. The only way to earn big raises is to demonstrate our value to the outside market by getting a competing job offer. That's about as real as you can get in terms of the wage structure.

[Yeah, but you academics don't have to deal with your jobs being outsourced!--ed. Er... no, that doesn't wash. The premier positions in American academia have has a global labor market for decades now, so the effect is analogous to offshoring -- though The long-term effect of professorial podcasting will be interesting, because it suggests an inexpensive way to commodify aspects of teaching.]

[Man, a lot has happened to you since you started the blog -- you're going to need to update that "About Me" page--ed.] Yeah, I already thought of that.

[So you'll be moving to the Boston area, huh? How much NESN will you be allowed to watch?--ed.] My wife and I are deep in negotiations about this very question. With the Red Sox management currently imploding, however, this may not be much of an issue.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (121) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 4, 2005

November's Books of the Month

The international relations book this mo--- [Hold it!! Didn't you forget October's book selections?--ed. Um.. look, a lot happened in October. Cut me some slack? Just this once. You get denied tenure again, though, and I'm walking--ed.]

Er... where was I? Oh, yes, the book recommendations.

This month's books both deal with international relations. In fact, both deal with the use of language and rhetoric in IR and foreign policy. Both of them also have interesting things to say about the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, it's safe to say that they take veeeeerrrrry different approaches to the problem.

The first book is Anne Sartori's Deterrence by Diplomacy. The book's precis:

Why are countries often able to communicate critical information using diplomacy? Why do countries typically use diplomacy honestly, despite incentives to bluff? Why are they often able to deter attacks using merely verbal threats? International relations theory is largely pessimistic about the prospects for effective diplomacy, yet leaders nevertheless expend much time and energy trying to resolve conflicts through verbal negotiations and public statements. Deterrence by Diplomacy challenges standard understandings of deterrence by analyzing it as a form of talk and reaches conclusions about the effectiveness of diplomacy that are much more optimistic.

Anne Sartori argues that diplomacy works precisely because it is so valuable. States take pains to use diplomacy honestly most of the time because doing so allows them to maintain reputations for honesty, which in turn enhance their ability to resolve future disputes using diplomacy rather than force. So, to maintain the effectiveness of their diplomacy, states sometimes acquiesce to others' demands when they might have been able to attain their goals through bluffs. Sartori theorizes that countries obtain a "trade" of issues over time; they get their way more often when they deem the issues more important, and concede more often when they deem the issues less important. Departing from traditional theory, this book shows that rather than always fighting over small issues to show resolve, states can make their threats more credible by sometimes honestly acquiescing over lesser issues--by not crying "wolf."

Sartori's thesis is interesting for theoretical reasons because it recasts the literature on extended deterrence. Deterrence theory usually boils down to questions of how leaders can demonstrate a reputation for "resolve." Saartori suggests that the reputation that matters is one of honesty. In making this switch, Sartori also challenges game theorists who argue that diplomacy is "cheap talk" because there are no costs to words (as opposed to action). If an honest reporation matters at the global level, then diplomacy is not cheap talk -- lying is costly.

Sartori's arguments apply in interesting ways to the Bush administration's diplomatic style. On the one hand, it suggests that the administration has overemphasized the importance of demonstrating resolve as a means of advancing its interests. On the other hand, this approach also suggests that the administration's bluntness has greater value than mainstream foreign policy analysts have previously suggested.

The other book of interest is Jeff Legro's Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Legro asks a different question than Sartori: when do great powers engage in radical rethinks of their grand strategies? Why are such rethinks so rare in world politics? A summary of Legro's answer:

The nature of strategic ideas, Jeffrey W. Legro argues, played a critical and overlooked role in these transformations. Big changes in foreign policies are rare because it is difficult for individuals to overcome the inertia of entrenched national mentalities. Doing so depends on a particular nexus of policy expectations, national experience, and ready replacement ideas. In a sweeping comparative history, Legro explores the sources of strategy in the United States and Germany before and after the world wars, in Tokugawa Japan, and in the Soviet Union. He charts the likely future of American primacy and a rising China in the coming century.

Rethinking the World helps to explain the administration's grand strategy remains the status quo, despite limited success in Iraq and declining public support for the big neoconservative ideas. For there to be shifts in grand strategy, it can't just be the case that the current strategy is failing. There must also be a viable alternative around which others can rally -- one that can generate immediately attractive solutions to current problems.

At present, both realism and liberal internationalism have their champions. However, my suspicion is that the realists have the upper hand because their recommendations for Iraq (as graceful a withdrawal as possible) seem more compelling than liberal internationalism. Still, Legro's framework helps to explain why it remains an open question whether there will be a radical shift away from the current grand strategy.

Go check them out!!

posted by Dan at 05:26 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

The immigration wave hits New Orleans

Yesterday Michael Martinez wrote a front-pager for the Chicago Tribune about the influx of Latinos into New Orleans looking for post-Katrina reconstruction work. Today, Leslie Eaton has a similar story in the New York Times.

Some highlights from Eaton's piece:

[A trailer park] is a temporary home for hundreds of LVI's workers, some of whom said they were in the United States illegally. They are commuting into New Orleans, swabbing the mold off walls, ripping the guts out of buildings, removing mountains of soggy debris.

And they are stirring up resentment. Louisianians, from high-level public officials to low-wage workers, have begun to complain about the influx of outsiders they perceive as having come to profit off their pain....

Workers from all over have been pouring into Louisiana, some bused in by contracting companies, others simply turning up on their own in search of jobs. While nobody seems to know how many are here, there is plenty of work; the federal government estimates it will spend more than $450 million just to clean up hurricane debris.

And as that work continues, Louisianians are casting unhappy eyes on everyone from the giant construction companies that won federal contracts to the small-town builders driving big pickup trucks with out-of-state license plates.

Much of the overt hostility is focused on the army of Latino workers who appear to be doing much of the dirtiest cleanup work, often in the employ of those big companies, and often for less money that local workers might insist on....

Employers point out that they are not required to investigate the authenticity of employees' documents. And as for bringing in workers, some say they have no choice.

"People in the area of impact are disjointed, disoriented," said Burton T. Fried, president of LVI Services.

But in places where LVI will be working for a while, it tries to make a transition to local workers, Mr. Fried said. "The purpose is, forgetting morality, that we don't have to pay per diems, food service, transportation," he said....

Hard and unpleasant as cleanup work is, there are Louisianians willing to do it, said Barry Kaufman, the business manager of Construction and General Laborers' Local 689 in New Orleans. Mr. Kaufman has said he has at least 2,000 people willing to take cleanup jobs, although many of them - and the local's hiring hall - are now displaced in Baton Rouge, more than an hour's drive from New Orleans.

"The local guys are trying, but there's nowhere for them to stay," Mr. Kaufman said, adding that one of the camps "looks like Little Mexico."

The situation is new to Louisiana, which has little tradition of attracting large numbers of transient workers, unlike Florida and other booming areas, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for The stagnant economy here has not provided many job opportunities since 2001.

The complaints also reflect the widespread frustration over the continuing lack of housing in the area. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving their former residents adrift. Businesses of all sorts are frantically advertising for workers, even as the jobless rate for Louisianians jumped to 11.5 percent in September, from 5.8 percent in August.

This is interesting stuff, but for my money, the Martinez piece in the Tribune is of greater interest because of two points not mentioned by Eaton. I've highlighted them below:

The swelling numbers of Hispanic migrant laborers, legal or not, have raised political tensions. A Tulane University historian speaks of a possible "population swap" between the city's evacuated black population and its new Latino workforce, and the backlash was fueled by New Orleans' African-American mayor, C. Ray Nagin, who recently uttered remarks deemed offensive by some.

"How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?" Nagin asked at an October forum with business people as he discussed the city's future....

As more Latinos move into the region, a September survey found that most New Orleans evacuees in Houston, a large percentage of them black, didn't plan to return.

Officials don't have a count of the Hispanic workers in the Gulf Coast region, but their presence--made more visible because they are working in evacuated areas--has drawn attention to the demographic, economic and legal impacts of such a large, cheap labor force--a good portion of it composed of illegal immigrants. (emphasis added)

This story raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about immigration, race, and the economy.

For me, the big question remains -- if New Orleans was such a stagnant economy that those displaced to Houston don't want to return, just how much money should be committed to reconstruction efforts?

Over at The Plank, Jason Zengerle castigates the Times and other national outlets for not reporting on Nagin's remarks. Props to Martinez and the Tribune for catching it.

posted by Dan at 03:50 PM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2005

No one let Alan Wolfe study international relations

I see that Alan Wolfe has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education decrying the state of the political science discipline.

Wolfe makes a few well-worn but not completely worthless points -- and then we get to this paragraph:

Putting reality first would not only make political science more interesting, it would also make it more scientific.... Suppose, for example, we want to predict whether negotiations between historically hostile parties will produce an accord, or fail and result in war. Rather than search for universal laws, we are better off examining a concrete case — for example, the negotiations that brought Nelson Mandela to power in South Africa — and then seeing whether the conditions there are similar or different from those in, say, Northern Ireland or the Middle East. The real world contains a great deal of uncertainty, which makes perfect prediction impossible. But it also offers enough regularity to permit modest generalization, especially if we are willing to acknowledge the possibility of error and to revise our expectations accordingly.

I have two reactions to this suggestion. The first is to stop and gaze with awe at Wolfe's ability to unconsciously mimic those Guinness-in-the-bottle ads that were all over television last year:

Alan Wolfe: I've invented a new way of studying crisis negotiations... it's called the "case study".

Random Political Scientist: The Case study? BRILLIANT!!!

My second reaction is to ponder the logical implications of Wolfe's suggestion. Surely Wolfe must be aware of the dangers that come from generalizing from the study of a single case -- there are too many possible explanations. Wolfe would likely respond that the way to compensate is to assemble as many relevant examples of the category of interest as possible, and then determine what combination of factors is important.

Now there's a name for this kind of approach in political science -- behavioralism. Such an approach can be useful (see, for example, the CIA's State Failure Task Force from the 1990's) but presents two rather important problems.

First, these approaches -- just like any other social science technique -- generate methodological controversies (see, for example, Gary King and Langche Zeng's methodological rejoinder to the State Failure Task Force, or this summary of the debate in Nature). Methodology doesn't just matter for its own sake -- there are real world implications.

Second, pure behavioralism of the kind suggested by Wolfe is tricky without any theoretical guidance. Throwing a kitchen sink of variables at a question is not of much use unless the researcher has a good grasp of the relationships among these seemingly independent causes. Rational choice approaches are one useful tool, but there are others as well.

If Wolfe had provided an American politics example, I probably wouldn't have written this post (and, to be fair, Wolfe is riffing off of Ian Shapiro's latest book, The Flight From Reality in the Human Sciences, which I haven't read but is likely worth reading). But the IR example he offers is a powerful suggestion that Wolfe hasn't peered into the pages of either International Organization or International Security in quite some time. There are case studies -- as well as statistical analyses, formal models, social theory, and other types of analysis -- in those journals.

If the rest of the discipline wants to copy international relations more closely, fine with me. But I don't think Wolfe has lookec closely at how IR is actually studied.

I think that I've demonstrated my subfield's close attention to the real world, so if you'll excuse me, I have to run to hear a paper presentation.

[What's it about?--ed. Sovereignty and the UFO. You're f#@%ing kidding me!--ed. No, I'm really not.]

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

So what's going on in the Parisian suburbs?

OK, so the French appear to be experiencing some domestic disquiet in recent days. The Guardian has some details:

French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest.'

The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was involved in a series of crisis meetings today following the clashes between police and immigrant groups in at least 10 poor suburbs, during which youths torched car dealerships, public buses and a school....

The violence has once more trained a spotlight on the poverty and lawlessness of France's rundown big-city suburbs and raises questions about an immigration policy that has, in effect, created sink ghettos for mainly African minorities who suffer from discrimination in housing, education and jobs.

In the north-eastern suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, gangs of youths set fire to a Renault car dealership and incinerated at least a dozen cars, a supermarket and a local gymnasium....

Today, France's government was in crisis mode with Mr de Villepin calling a string of emergency meetings with government officials throughout the day.

One was a working lunch with the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been accused of inflaming the crisis with his tough talk and police tactics. Mr Sarkozy has called troublemakers "scum" and vowed to "clean out" troubled suburbs, language that some say further alienated their residents.

The unrest was triggered by last Thursday's accidental death in Clichy-sous-Bois, five miles from Aulnay, of two African teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation from what they believed, apparently wrongly, was police pursuit....

The minister of social cohesion, Jean-Louis Borloo, said the government had to react "firmly" but added that France must also acknowledge its failure to deal with anger simmering in poor suburbs for decades.

"We cannot hide the truth: that for 30 years we have not done enough," he told France-2 television.

[Wait a second -- there's a ministry of social cohesion in France?--ed. Well, sort of.]

Comment away -- but I am curious about the accuracy of the press analysis on the riots. After the reportage on Katrina, my radar is up about any exaggeration of chaos and mayhem.

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Offshoring tales from across the land

Writing about offshore outsourcing for a public audience carries many, many perks. One of them is getting e-mails like this one:

Since you seem to be a proponent of outsourcing, perhaps you would care to explain the national deficit and the fact that the United States in now the single biggest debtor nation in history. Your facts or lack of same simply do not wash.

OK, I'm confused -- are my facts wrong, or is it that I don't have any of them? Really, it's very hard to keep track.

Seriously, I also get more interesting anecdotes about those who experience outsourcing first hand. Consider this e-mail from a colleage who is in the middle of getting a book published:

I'm doing a book with Palgrave, and it turns out they've moved their entire production back-office operation to India. What I found interesting about this is that we generally think of the U.S. as high-tech and professional, and poor developing countries as more cottage-industry-ish. The opposite is true in this case. Copyediting here tends (in my experience) to be done in cottage-industry fashion, with the manuscript sent out to an individual who works for the publisher on a piecework basis. The Indian copyediting operation is high-tech (our interaction involves no paper, and they've taught me about all sorts of things that I had no idea one could do with Microsoft Word), corporate (there were no fewer that six people working on my manuscript, with a clear division of labour - an endnote person, a bibliography person, a grammar person, a 'sense and meaning' person, and one person whose sole job seemed to be to take out extra spaces after periods [I have a habit of double-spacing after periods]), and highly professional (they're really a pleasure to work with). Also, their English appears to be better than that of the average American copyeditor. So, in this case, not only has offshoring resulted (presumably) in lower costs for Palgrave, it's also likely to result (and I'm typing this with crossed fingers, because the process isn't finished yet) in a better book.

This is pretty interesting, in that the process that's described is not only about offshore outsourcing -- it's also about the fact that what used to be considered a complex task (the cottage industry of copyediting) has been segmented into a lot of very simple tasks (the person whose sole job it is to shorten the spaces after a sentence, for example). It's both high-tech AND low-tech.

This reminds me of something.... oh, yes, Karl Marx's Wage Labour and Capital (1849):

The greater division of labor enables one laborer to accomplish the work of five, 10, or 20 laborers; it therefore increases competition among the laborers fivefold, tenfold, or twentyfold. The laborers compete not only by selling themselves one cheaper than the other, but also by one doing the work of five, 10, or 20; and they are forced to compete in this manner by the division of labor, which is introduced and steadily improved by capital.

Furthermore, to the same degree in which the division of labor increases, is the labor simplified. The special skill of the laborer becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple monotonous force of production, with neither physical nor mental elasticity. His work becomes accessible to all; therefore competitors press upon him from all sides. Moreover, it must be remembered that the more simple, the more easily learned the work is, so much the less is its cost to production, the expense of its acquisition, and so much the lower must the wages sink — for, like the price of any other commodity, they are determined by the cost of production. Therefore, in the same manner in which labor becomes more unsatisfactory, more repulsive, do competition increase and wages decrease....

The economists tell us, to be sure, that those laborers who have been rendered superfluous by machinery find new venues of employment. They dare not assert directly that the same laborers that have been discharged find situations in new branches of labor. Facts cry out too loudly against this lie. Strictly speaking, they only maintain that new means of employment will be found for other sections of the working class; for example, for that portion of the young generation of laborers who were about to enter upon that branch of industry which had just been abolished. Of course, this is a great satisfaction to the disabled laborers. There will be no lack of fresh exploitable blood and muscle for the Messrs. Capitalists — the dead may bury their dead. This consolation seems to be intended more for the comfort of the capitalists themselves than their laborers. If the whole class of the wage-laborer were to be annihilated by machinery, how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labor, ceases to be capital!

But even if we assume that all who are directly forced out of employment by machinery, as well as all of the rising generation who were waiting for a chance of employment in the same branch of industry, do actually find some new employment — are we to believe that this new employment will pay as high wages as did the one they have lost? If it did, it would be in contradiction to the laws of political economy. We have seen how modern industry always tends to the substitution of the simpler and more subordinate employments for the higher and more complex ones. How, then, could a mass of workers thrown out of one branch of industry by machinery find refuge in another branch, unless they were to be paid more poorly?

Sounds very dire.... except that Marx, for all of his understanding of the forces behind technological innovation, never really got the idea that such innovation also creates entirely new categories of complex, high-skill jobs. It took Schumpeter to figure that one out.

[Er.... what about the demise of copyediting jobs? Doesn't that mean that offshoring leads to a net loss of employment?--ed.] Not according to AFP:

The outsourcing of technology jobs to low-wage countries will provide a $68.7-billion (U.S.) benefit to the U.S. economy in 2005, said a study released yesterday, challenging key assumptions about shifting work offshore.

The study, updating a report released in 2004 drawing the same conclusion, was commissioned by the Information Technology Association of America, a high-tech industry group, and conducted by research firm Global Insight.

The report concluded that despite the loss of some jobs to low-wage countries such as India, that worldwide sourcing of IT services and software generated 257,042 new U.S. jobs in 2005.

"No one is denying that there are job losses, but the net effect is that you create more jobs than you lose" in the overall economy, said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight and lead author of the report.

The benefits come from lower inflation, higher productivity and lower interest rates that boost economic activity, the report concludes.

The researchers calculated this provided a net benefit to real U.S. gross domestic product of $68.7-billion in 2005, and that this would rise by 2010 to $147.4-billion compared with a situation without any offshore outsourcing.

"The main thing is cost savings which radiate out in the form of lower prices for high-tech goods, and higher profit margins for the companies," Mr. Behravesh said.

"So you have lower inflation, which means higher real income; you have higher profits. Companies use higher profits to invest more; consumers use higher incomes to purchase more . . . all these produce a much stronger economy and produce more jobs than the offshoring destroys."

In terms of jobs, the report concluded that offshore outsourcing led to the creation of more than 419,000 jobs, more than offsetting the 162,000 technology jobs displaced by the shift.

[That's the number of jobs; what about wages?--ed.] The Global Insight page offers this tidbit on wages:

Workers enjoy higher real wages. Global sourcing adds to the take-home pay of the average U.S. worker. With inflation kept low and productivity high, worldwide sourcing will increase real hourly wages in the U.S. by $0.06 in 2005, climbing to $0.12 in 2010.

Click here to read the executive summary of the Global Insight report -- and click here to read my take on the 2004 version of the report.

posted by Dan at 10:16 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Kristol errs in predicting Bush's bottom

William Kristol, "George W. Bush's Not So Terrible Week," Weekly Standard, 28 October 2005:

Last week the Bush administration's second-term bear market bottomed out. On Monday, Bush nominated as the next Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who of all the leading candidates will be the central banker least hostile to tax cuts and least likely to direct monetary policy to any end other than combating inflation. At the end of the week, the Commerce Department announced that economic growth in the third quarter had been 3.8 percent, suggesting that, thanks in large part to Bush's supply-side tax cuts, our economy may remain strong enough to overcome the twin hurdles of high energy prices and rising interest rates....

With the dénouement of the Miers fiasco and the Fitzgerald investigation, President Bush's beaten-down political fortunes should be ripe for a rebound.

CBS News, "Poll: More Bad News For Bush," 2 November 2005:

The President's job approval rating is now 35 percent, his lowest rating since taking office in 2001. More than half the public [57%] disapproves of the job he is doing as president.

77 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance, and the President retains the support of some of his key constituencies. 61 percent of white evangelicals approve of the job he is doing (up from 55 percent a month ago), as do 54 percent of conservatives.

Democrats give the President widespread disapproval, and he gets little support from those Americans who profess no strong ties to either side of the ideological divide. Only 31 percent of Independents and 30 percent of moderates now approve of the job he is doing (nearly the same as a month ago).

35% is the lowest level for Bush for the past two months.

UPDATE: Hmm.... maybe I'm being unfair to Kristol. Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics points out that the weighting for the poll is a just a bit off. Unweighted, Bush's approval is still less than 38% though.

posted by Dan at 10:10 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The Syrian regime doesn't face a tough choice

Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, "Syrian regime faces tough choices." Why? Read on:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the starkest test of his five-year presidency following an ultimatum from the United Nations that he cooperate with an international probe into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister.
The choices the 40-year-old president makes in the next six weeks will decide the fate of his regime and the future of this country of 18 million citizens.

If President Assad fails to cooperate fully with the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria could face diplomatic isolation and crippling economic sanctions. But complying with the commission's demands could force Assad to gut his regime of its most powerful figures, including close relatives, potentially leaving it weakened and vulnerable.

That's not a tough choice, that's the easiest call ever -- Assad will fail to cooperate fully.

Why? First, the Syrian regime can try to obfuscate matters by feigning cooperation but not making any material concessions.

Second, while compliance would require Assad to weaken his own regime, defiance in the face of an external threat will strengthen the regime -- at least in the short term. So, for that matter, would diplomatic and economic sanctions. Syria has already set up a sanctions crisis team. The FT's Ferry Biedermann quotes the Syrian in charge of this team saying, "to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere."

Third, as this companion CSM story by Chris Ford makes plain, it's not clear that the Security Council will even agree to impose economic sanctions in the face of Syrian non-cooperation:

Russia and China, along with the only Arab nation on the Security Council, Algeria, refused to go along with Washington's desire to threaten economic sanctions against Syria should Bashar Assad's regime not cooperate.

To win unanimous support, France, Britain, and the US, who jointly sponsored the resolution, had to drop all references to sanctions other than a warning that the council "could consider further action" if Syria does not hand over for interrogation senior officials suspected of involvement in Mr. Hariri's murder.

Russia - a traditional ally of Syria's - "is very reluctant to endorse any sanctions when it is unclear where they might lead in the future," says Oxana Antoninka, a Russia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in London. "Moscow wants to prevent the Security Council from becoming a weapon to punish regimes that could lead to unforeseen action such as military action."

For Bashir Assad, this is the easiest call in the authoritarian playbook.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

Dr. Doom vs. the soft landing

As long as this blog has been in existence, Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach has been pessimistic about the U.S. economy. His latest missive is in today's Financial Times:

If the world's dominant deficit economy - the US - goes even deeper into deficit at the same time that the world's leading surplus economies start to absorb their domestic saving, the noose will tighten on America's external financing pressures. This raises the distinct possibility that these pressures will have to be vented in world financial markets in the form of a classic current account adjustment - complete with a weaker dollar and higher US interest rates. As long as the rest of the world was in an excess saving position, a big repricing of dollar-denominated assets could be avoided. But now, with surplus economies beginning the long march of absorbing their excess saving, it could well become all the tougher for the US to avoid this treacherous endgame.

Sure, this is all theory, leaving unanswered the key question of what it will take to spark the adjustments implied by this theory. There are several possible event risks, or shocks, that I believe would be capable of triggering the rebalancing. They include an energy shock, an outbreak of US protectionism, the bursting of the US housing bubble, a US inflation problem and the uncertainty that always arises during the transition to a new Federal Reserve Board chairman. All of these potential risks have two things in common - they are not a stretch and they could shake the confidence factor that underpins overseas investor appetite for ­dollar-denominated assets.

In the end, the history of economic crises is clear on one important thing: the longer any economy holds off in facing its imbalances, the greater the possibility of a hard landing. In my view, an unbalanced world has waited far too long to face up to the heavy lifting of global rebalancing. I would reluctantly conclude that there is now about a 40 per cent probability of a hard landing at some point in the next 12 months.

I'm a bit more sanguine than Roach. The U.S. has already absorbed several energy shocks in the last year, and the reaction by financial markets to Greenspan's successor has been pretty smooth. I'm just as worried as Roach about US protectionism, but it's not clear to me that the situation is going to worsen in the next twelve months, and the Doha round is still moving forward -- albeit very slowly.

[Yeah, but what about the housing market?--ed.] Mary Umberger writes in today's Chicago Tribune that the National Association of Realtors sees a soft landing rather than a hard one:

America's historic real estate boom is cresting, and the rate at which home prices appreciate should begin to slow significantly next year, according to the chief economic forecaster for the National Association of Realtors.

It was the closest statement yet to an admission by the real estate industry that the bull market for housing may have run its course.

"It's the peak of the boom," David Lereah said at the Chicago-based trade group's annual meeting, which ended here Monday. "But we're looking at a soft landing next year. I can't guarantee that there won't be some hard landings in some markets, where prices will actually decline. In fact, there will probably be two or three over the next two years that do pop."

....In many markets--though not in Chicago--there has been widespread speculation that the boom could turn into an unsustainable bubble that might eventually pop, causing prices to actually fall.

Lereah did not see that happening on a national scale, but a real estate market at the peak of its boom doesn't continue to skyrocket.

The NAR's prediction represents an acknowledgement that this could be the end of a joy ride that has allowed many in the industry to prosper. To make that statement at the real estate industry's convention--an annual celebration of its role in driving the economy--represented a break from the usual mood.

With average 30-year mortgage rates expected to reach 6.7 percent by the end of 2006, Lereah's forecast on Friday predicted that:

- Existing-home sales will decline 3.5 percent next year, to about 6.9 million from this year's projected 7.1 million;

- New-home sales will fall 4.5 percent;

- Home price growth should slow significantly--with this year's median 12.4 percent appreciation slowing to 5.3 percent in 2006....

[chief economist for National City Bank in Cleveland Richard] DeKaser said the NAR prediction of a "modest cooling" is a fair description, though rosier than his own analysis of existing-home sales dropping 7 percent and new-home sales declining by 12 percent.

"A downturn the likes of what the NAR is predicting would be almost ideal and welcome," DeKaser said. "It's not implausible, just a tad more optimistic than I would be expecting."

Real estate agents at the convention did not focus all their attention on the possible end of the boom. They still found good news to focus on.

"Real estate is going to be good forever because of the echo boom generation [born beginning in 1982]," J. Lennox Scott, a leading Seattle-area broker, told a roomful of conventioneers. "They're going to be streaming into the first-time buyer market: 75 million of them."

I'm not saying the chances of a hard landing are zero -- let's just say I'm twice as optimistic as Roach.

UPDATE: Kash at Angry Bear is more pessimistic -- and he has some persuasive reasons. The real question, to me, is not whether the economi

posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Say it ain't so, Theo!

Part of my faith in the Red Sox's future rested with general manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust he had assembled. In contrast to the byzantine organizational structure of George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees.

Alas, this week has scrambled those expectations. Steinbrenner managed to retain Brian Cashman as his GM, and Cashman managed to shift the center of gravity on decision-making away from Tampa and towards New ork.

Meanwhile, Red Sox wunderkind GM Theo Epstein has declined the Red Sox's offer of a new three-year contract. The Boston Herald's Michael Silverman explains why:

Money and length of the contract were not issues in the past few days for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year.

Epstein had come close to agreeing to a deal Saturday evening but had not officially conveyed acceptance of it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A leading contributing factor, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe in which too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, was revealed -- in a manner slanted too much in Lucchino’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information were leaked hours before Epstein was going to agree to a new long-term deal, it signaled excessive bad faith between him and Lucchino.

Epstein's innovation as a GM wasn't to use sabremetrics to analyze baseball players -- though he was part of the first wave of GM's to do so. No, Epstein's real gift was to think about the 40 man roster as a portfolio that needed to be diversified, and to exploit the healthy payroll he was given to the hilt. In positions where the Red Sox did not have an All-Star, Epstein managed to sign multiple players whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Think of Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn at second base in 2004, or the troika of Jeremy Gimbi, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar at 1B/DH in 2003, or Millar and John Olerud this year at first base. Not every signing paid off, but Epstein hit the jackpot way more often than he crapped out. And he did this without trading away all that much in the way of young talent.

Meanwhile, both David Wells and Manny Ramirez want out of Beantown because of a lack of privacy.

MSNBC's Mike Celizic thinks Epstein's departure is a harbinger of disasters to come to Red Sox Nation:

When a man walks out on the job he dreamed of having all his life, a job for which he’s just been offered triple his previous pay, there’s something seriously wrong either with the man or with the job.

With most people, I’d pick the man as the one who’s stripped the threads on a couple of mental screws. But not with Theo Epstein, the man who authored the Miracle of Fenway. If Epstein, who took over as the general manager of the Red Sox at 28 and won the World Series at 30, is willing to turn his back on the team he grew up cheering for, a job he was offered $1.5 million a year to perform, there’s something terminally wrong with it.

Red Sox fans had better get used to that realization, and they had better hearken back to what life was like before 2004, when they entered the spring of every season knowing that waiting for them in the fall was only heartbreak. The Red Sox will get another general manager, but the job he faces is daunting.

The left fielder wants out. The center fielder is a free agent who can’t play center field any more. There’s no closer in the bullpen and no middle relief. The starting pitching is a mess. The newspapers, even more smothering in their coverage of the Sox than the New York papers are in their coverage of the Yankees, are starting to nip at the team’s heels. In the clubhouse, which not long ago was happier than a squirrel in a birdfeeder, there are stories of dissension.

In other words, the Red Sox are turning back into what they always have been — a team playing a game, as Bart Giamatti once wrote, that’s meant to break your heart.

Methinks Celizic is way too pessimistic. A rebuilt farm system is going to be providing the Red Sox with a bevy of fresh arms and speed over the next few years. And I think the current owenership is still pretty interested in winning another World Series or two. That said, it's still going to be a very bumpy off-season -- but was true the year they won it all (remember A-Rod?).

However, the staff here at wishes the best of luck to Mr. Epstein in any of his futute career pursuits -- so long as they don't entail taking over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' GM job.

UPDATE: David Pinto has more at Baseball Musings here and here. Via his blog, I found this wonderful rant :

God Damn! They are now just another team. Here's the thing, kids. Here's what's different about Boston. Yankee fans are frontrunners, we all know that. They root for the 27 World Championships. Angels fans want to play with their thunder stix and Rally Monkey(r). Cubs fans want a party; the team is the medium for that. Sox fans aren't fans of the team. Rather, every Sox fan thinks he/she is ON the team. Theo was our guy who was ON THE TEAM. They could sell dirt from the '04 field, or blow up Fenway Park,or sell those silly membership cards, we didn't care. They could jam that effin' Sweet Caroline down our gullets every day (twice on the split admission day-nighters).

We didn't care. We were ON THE TEAM. Theo was our surrogate. He got Papi; he had dinner with Curt; he got rid of that pain in the ass Nomar.

We have all been kicked off the team. God Damn.

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Hey, Karen Hughes!!! Over here!!! It's about Pakistan!!!

Dear Underscretary of State Hughes:

Hey there. Sorry to shout again. I hope you've recovered from any jet lag suffered from your recent Middle East listening tour.

Anyway, I wanted to write you about Pakistan. You may or may not know that they've suffered a pretty devastating earthquake there recently. The U.S. has already dispatched aid to the region, but the amount that has been allocated pales in comparison to the aid dispersed after the tsunami in late 2004/early 2005.

The reason I bring this up is that the tsunami aid brought about a tremendous amount of goodwill in places like India and Indonesia. There's already some evidence that the aid sent to Pakistan is helping to burnish America's image in a distinctly anti-American portion of the globe. Anne-Marie Slaughter reprinted one letter on America Abroad that makes the point in a plain manner:

[H]aving just visited the region and spoken to many community leaders across the NWFP and Pakistani-held Kashmir, it is apparent that there is a tremendous strategic opportunity for the United States and its allies. For a fraction of the cost of what is spent in other arenas of the War on Terror, an extremely volatile region and country's hearts and minds can be won over. All that is required is a very substantial, very visible US relief effort.

To date, the US has provided helicopters and commitments of up to $50 million. What is needed-- for adequate relief and for this opportunity-born-of-tragedy to be capitalized upon-- is not a contribution, but a massive US presence and effort. The entire country is desperate, the entire Muslim world is watching; I cannot overstate how glaring and massive the opportunity is.
My sympathies for Pakistan aside, the US can buy a great deal of affection and moral currency by responding to this emergency-- it must not let this be just another cause for further alienation.

This is one of those instances where the U.S. can do good and do well by following through with significant relief and humanitarian efforts. It's the best kind of public diplomacy you could ever buy. And bear in mind that the costs of inaction here would be considerable. As Zahid Hussain reports in Newsweek International:

Islamist groups have gotten kudos for their response to the crisis; their vast networks of well-disciplined cadres quickly spread out across the devastated areas of Kashmir to provide food and shelter. "Ordinary Pakistanis have outshined the Army," says author Ahmed Rashid. The fact that such work bolsters their public image—dented by Islamabad's tamping down of the insurgency in Kashmir in order to improve relations with the United States and India—is not lost on their leaders.

In the New York Times last week, Alexander Saunders put forward a very interesting aid proposal:

The earthquake in Pakistan has left millions homeless. Umar Ghuman, Pakistan's minister of foreign investment and a longtime customer of my foundry supply company, has asked me to help find housing for as many of these people as possible before the onset of winter in the next few days.

Tents are not protection enough, and conventional prefabricated houses are neither readily available nor easy to ship. The solution, then, is to think of something less conventional, like the work shed-greenhouse combinations sold at Sam's Club and other retailers. Such sheds - small (882 cubic feet), plastic, weather-tight, insulated and portable - retail for around $2,000. Two hundred thousand of these houses - temporary homes for a million people - would cost less than $400 million....

This is an opportunity for the United States to present to the world a product of our manufacturing ingenuity delivered by our military might. The United States needs to regain credibility with its friends throughout the region, and the people there need housing desperately....

We need to do this now, not next week or next month. Winter - with mountain blizzards, powerful winds and subzero temperatures - will come to the Himalayas in days. The commercial air freight system is already shipping blankets, tents and medical supplies. That's a good start, but it is in no way adequate for housing people in winter.

This sort of proposal needs someone at the deputy or principal level for it to fly.

How about it, Karen?

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Alito thread

Feel free to comment here on President Bush's nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court.

[Well, what's your take?--ed. I don't know anything at all about Alito. That said, my legal bellwether is the Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr, and he seems pretty pleased with the choice. After reading this David Bernstein post, however, one wonders how the KKK will react.]

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a post up at Hit & Run that deconstructs some of the ThinkProgress/Center for American Progress/Daily Kos criticisms of Alito.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tell me something I don't know about pre-war planning

In the Financial Times, Stephanie Kirchgaessner report on a finding that will not surprise loyal readers of

The US government had “no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines” in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a “general lack of co-ordination” between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday.

His 110-page quarterly report, delivered to Congress at the weekend, has underscored how a “reconstruction gap” is emerging that threatens to leave many projects planned by the US on the drawing board....

While the most successful post-conflict reconstruction effort in US history – the reconstruction of Japan and Germany following the second world war – began being planned in the months after the US entered the war, Mr Bowen found that “systematic planning” for the post-hostilities period in Iraq was “insufficient in both scope and implementation”.

Here's a link to Bowen's actual report.

[C'mon, you're not hiding behind the incompetence dodge, are you?--ed.] Rosenfeld and Yglesias make some provocative points but in the end are unpersuasive. As Fareed Zakaria points out in today's NYT Book Review in his review of George Packer's The Assassins' Gate:

Packer recounts the prewar discussions in the State Department's "Future of Iraq Project," which produced an enormous document outlining the political challenges in governing Iraq. He describes Drew Erdmann's memo, written for Colin Powell, analyzing previous postwar reconstructions in the 20th century. Erdmann's conclusion was that success depended on two factors, establishing security and having international support. These internal documents were mirrored by several important think-tank studies that all made similar points, specifically on the need for large-scale forces to maintain security. One would think that this Hobbesian message - that order is the first requisite of civilization - would appeal to conservatives. In fact all of this careful planning and thinking was ignored or dismissed.

Part of the problem was the brutal and debilitating struggle between the State Department and the Defense Department, producing an utterly dysfunctional policy process. The secretary of the Army, Thomas White, who was fired after the invasion, explained to Packer that with the Defense Department "the first issue was, we've got to control this thing - so everyone else was suspect." The State Department was regarded as the enemy, so what chance was there of working with other countries? The larger problem was that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (and probably Dick Cheney) doggedly believed nation-building was a bad idea, the Clinton administration has done too much of it, and the American military should stop doing it. Rumsfeld explained this view in a couple of speeches and op-ed articles that were short on facts and long on polemics. But how to square this outlook with invading Iraq? Assume away the need for nation-building. Again, White explains: "We had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation, and therefore reconstruction would be short-lived." Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, went to Kuwait in April 2003 and told the American officials waiting there that the State Department had messed up Bosnia and Kosovo and that the Bush administration intended to hand over power to Iraqis and leave within three months.

SO the Army's original battle plan for 500,000 troops got whittled down to 160,000. If Gen. Tommy Franks "hadn't offered some resistance, the number would have dropped well below 100,000," Packer says....

Was all this inevitable? Did the United States take on something impossible? That seems to be the conventional wisdom today. If so, what to make of Afghanistan? That country is deeply divided. It has not had a functioning government in three decades, some would argue three centuries, and yet it is coming together under a progressive leader. Two million Afghan refugees have voted with their feet and returned to their country (unlike Iraq, where people are leaving every day). And the reasons? The United States allied itself with forces on the ground that could keep order. It handed over the political process to the international community, preventing any stigma of a neocolonial occupation (it was the United Nations that created the loya jirga, the national assembly, and produced Hamid Karzai). It partnered with NATO for much of the routine military work. In fact the Afghan National Army is being trained by the United States - and France. And it has accepted certain facts of Afghan life, like the power of its warlords, working slowly to change them.

"The Iraq war was always winnable," Packer writes, "it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is hard to forgive."

posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

The trouble with European Muslims....

One of the central tenets of the global war on terror and the National Security Strategy is that the primary source of ant-American terror comes from the Arab Middle East. Some, like Peter Bergen, challenge this assumption, arguing that the bigger threat comes disaffected Muslims living in Western societies.

Bill Powell has a long, disturbing essay in Time for Europe that makes Bergen's point for him. The nut paragraphs:

While the precise number of European jihadis is impossible to pinpoint, counterterrorism officials across the Continent believe the pool of radicals is growing. A 2004 estimate by the French police found that around 150 of the country's 1,600 mosques and prayer halls were under the control of extremist elements; in a study of 1,160 recent French converts to Islam, 23% identified themselves as Salafists, members of a sect that has been associated with violent extremism. In the Netherlands, home to 1 million Muslims, a spokesman for the Dutch intelligence service says it is believed as many as 20 different hard-line Islamic groups may be operating. Some are simply prayer groups adhering to radical interpretations of the Koran, while others may be organizing and recruiting for violence. In Britain, authorities say that as many as 3,000 veterans of al-Qaeda training camps over the years were born or based within its borders.

What explains the proliferation of Europe's homegrown radicals? Interviews by Time correspondents with dozens of Muslims across Western Europe reveal consistent answers as to why so many are responding to the call of extremism. Some lack a sense of belonging in European societies that have long struggled to assimilate new immigrants from the Islamic world. Many, in particular younger Muslims, suffer disproportionately from Europe's high-unemployment, slow-growth economies. Others are outraged over the bloodshed in Iraq and the persistent notion that the West is waging an assault on Islam itself. "There's a spreading atmosphere of indignation among normal Muslims that is echoing among the younger generation," says a French investigator with a decade of antiterror experience.

It's echoing loudly, in part because the anger is amplified by 21st century technology. In the past, the alienated would simmer in relative isolation, unable to connect or communicate with those who shared their anger. The Internet has changed that. Critical to the rise of generation jihad has been the ease with which its members can communicate with each other and peruse controversial websites like, run by Saudi dissident and London resident Mohammed al-Massari. While his other English site hosts what he calls "philosophical discussions," the Arabic site shows gruesome videos of U.S. and British troops being blown up by Iraqi insurgents, and beheadings of kidnap victims. Al-Massari says he cannot control what is posted there. These days, the very existence of such sites alarms the British government. Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the wake of the summer bombings, vowed to crack down on "specific extremist websites."

Combine alienation, unemployment, political anger and the power of the Internet, and the result is toxic.

The most disturbing aspect of Powell's story is that the turn to radicalism appears to be inculcated among second-generation Muslims:

What's striking about the rhetoric of second-generation radicals... is how much it differs from the experience of many newer arrivals to Europe. Moroccan Farid Itaiben, 30, who has lived outside Madrid for 10 years, came to Europe to find a job and a more comfortable life. "If we had work at home, believe me, we'd get out of Europe," he says. "We're not here to spread the Word, we're here simply to make a living." Itaiben has no patience for jihadis who come to Europe to fight holy war; his brother, Mohammed, was among those killed by the train blasts in Madrid on March 11, 2004. "Those people," he says, "weren't Muslims who did this thing. How can they call themselves Muslims?"

It's a critical question: how do second- generation European Muslims define themselves? Many say they feel a part neither of the country of their birth, nor of their parents' heritage. That some often live on the dole, unable to find work, only enhances their sense of estrangement. The attitude of Riad, a 32-year-old French citizen who has been unemployed since 2002, is all too common. Sitting in a café in the Lyons suburb of Vénissieux, he says, "They say we are French, and we would like to believe that as well. But do we look like normal French people to you?" His friend Karim, 27, insists they are discriminated against because of their long beards. "Who will give us a job when we look like this? We have to fend for ourselves and find a way out."

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)