Friday, November 11, 2005

Maybe AOL could buy me a Prius... coated in platinum

Inspired by the AOL takeover of Weblogs, Inc., I decided to take the "How Much is Your Blog Worth" test.

Here's what I found out:

My blog is worth $307,109.76.
How much is your blog worth?

Woo-hoo!! Priuses for everyone!! I'm richer than the New York Times!!

[Er, this site suggests that your blog's actual annual value is really closer to $4966.88--ed. I knew the dot-com bubble would eventually catch up to me.]

Props to Mickey Kaus for all of the links.

posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

I thought the problem was too many workers

Exactly one week ago I blogged about the inflow of Hispanic workers -- including illegal immigrants -- into New Orleans. The implication in the stories cited in that post was that these workers were crowding out employment opportunities for locals.

So imagine my surprise when Gary Rivlin reports in the New York Times that this is basically a crock of s**t:

Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rally's, a local restaurant chain, has nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour.

On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out fliers in downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits, for people willing to swing a sledgehammer or cart away stinking debris from homes and businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Canal Street, once a crowded boulevard of commerce, now resembles a sparsely populated open-air job fair.

Ten weeks after Katrina, government officials and business leaders worry that a scarcity of able-bodied workers is hampering the area's recovery....

Virtually every New Orleans business confronts the same conundrum: In a city without a functioning school system and with vast stretches that are still uninhabitable, where will they find the employees they need to begin the long recovery? Everyone from bank presidents to restaurant owners to the Port of New Orleans are approaching the task like a nurse in an emergency room performing triage on patients based on the most immediate need....

Like other businesses, Bollinger Shipyards has dispatched emissaries to shelters around the South, looking for displaced residents willing to return. For the moment, though, evacuees who are living free in a hotel or in a subsidized apartment while collecting a stipend from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not have the same pressing need to return to the stricken city as they might otherwise. Bollinger employees made 20 or so trips, but they did not sign up a single evacuee. Mr. Bollinger has yet to bump up his pay scale but he said that raises were inevitable.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

What do you do about Al Qaeda's new base of operations?

It appears that Al Qaeda in Iraq has erred badly in its Jordan bombings earlier this week. According to the Chicago Tribune's Joel Greenberg:

The offshoot of Al Qaeda spearheading the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq sought to defend its actions Thursday in the face of furious Arab protests in the streets of Jordan's capital over the hotel attacks that killed three suicide bombers and their 56 victims.

After first claiming responsibility for the Wednesday bombings of three hotels popular with Israelis and Westerners, Al Qaeda in Iraq later issued a second Internet statement that appeared to acknowledge that its tactics may have backfired and undermined any support the group enjoyed among the Jordanian population.

The group said the attacks were launched only after its leaders became "confident that [the hotels] are centers for launching war on Islam and support the crusaders' presence in Iraq and the Arab peninsula and the presence of the Jews on the land of Palestine."

They also were, the group asserted, "a secure place for the filthy Israeli and Western tourists to spread corruption and adultery at the expense and suffering of the Muslims."

But most of those killed were Jordanians or other Arabs, and many of the thousands of residents who marched in protest Thursday spoke of an assault on their sense of security in this tightly run city, which had been spared the carnage of suicide bombings elsewhere in the Middle East and was considered an oasis of stability.

In its editorial for today on the topic, the Washington Post points out that this is the latest in a long string of reversals for Al Qaeda in the Middle East:

Even as it has bloodied Iraq -- where two more suicide bombings were recorded yesterday -- support for violence and Islamic extremism has been declining elsewhere in the region. Two movements that pioneered suicide bombings, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, have at least temporarily set aside violence and are focused on participating in democratic politics. An al Qaeda branch in Saudi Arabia has found little support, and most of its leaders have been captured or killed. In Lebanon this year, a popular revolution embraced a democratic agenda, and a grass-roots democratic movement has appeared in Egypt. The government most under siege in the region is not the Jordanian monarchy but the Baathist dictatorship of Syria, which has been a tactical ally of the Zarqawi network and the Iraqi insurgency.

This doesn't even mention Al Qaeda's unpopularity in North Africa.

Here's the thing, though -- does any of this matter in terms of reducing terrorist activity in the region and across the globe? I ask because of this disturbing story by the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy:

If a claim of responsibility from Al Qaeda in Iraq and official Jordanian statements are true, terrorist bombings of three Amman hotels that killed 57 people on Wednesday may be the first sign that Iraq is no longer just a magnet for international jihaddis. Like Afghanistan under the Taliban, say counterterrorism experts, Iraq is becoming a base from which Al Qaeda can plan, train, and launch attacks against its designated enemies.

The Jordanians "run a very, very tight ship in terms of security so they have been able to foil a number of attacks," says Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.. "But particularly with the war in Iraq, there will be more spillover."

Mr. Jenkins says that as a result of the insurgency, Iraq has been a "net importer of jihadists" - --- drawing extremist sympathizers from other Muslim nations. But he worries the attacks in Jordan indicate Iraq will eventually become a net exporter of terrorists. That will have an impact on the jihadist movement worldwide, but particularly on countries like Jordan that are adjacent to Iraq and allied with the US, he says.

In other recent incidents involving Iraq-based militants, Kuwait briefly banned the import of prized watermelons from Iraq in June after bombs were found hidden inside a shipment trying to cross the border; Germany last year arrested members of Ansar al-Sunna, which operates out of Kurdish Iraq, that it alleged were planning attacks there; and in Syria, two shootouts in the past six months have taken place between government officers and militants said to have ties to Iraqi fighters....

"Look at his success rate. He had succeeded in killing one US diplomat, just one, before the Iraq war," says [Al Qaeda expert/author Evan] Kohlmann referring to Lawrence Foley, who was murdered at his home in 2002. Zarqawi "was tied to the attempt to blow up the Radisson in [Dec.] 1999 - that failed. Why is he successful now? Because he has an entire team of suicide bombers ready and waiting, and according to his Internet statement the people who carried this out belong to the ... same unit that carries out his suicide attacks in Iraq."

Kohlmann points out, it's useful to be close to your strongest recruiting pool. "What's been effective for Zarqawi has been recruiting Sunni Arabs - Iraqi, Saudi, Jordanian, North African. These are the people who have been proven to be the most destructive, capable and driven fighters," he says.

"It's all about a secure base and a good location. This is the reason that bin Laden and Zawahiri have so many problems - they're up in the mountains away from modern technology and ways of getting around. Zarqawi didn't come into his own until the jihad moved into an urban battleground, in Iraq."

This development has some bitter ironies for both the Bush administration and the opponents of the Iraq war.

The administration might take some PR comfort in the WaPo's assertion that, "The targeting of Jordan can hardly be blamed on the Iraq war," but it must accept the fact that the success of this attack (as opposed to a botched 1999 attempt) is directly attributable to the administration's pre-invasion failure to take out Zarqawi and post0invasion failure to ensure basic security in Iraq.

For opponents, however, the irony is even more bitter. The Bush administration might have been full of it when it claimed a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the invasion. However, as frustrating as it may be, Bush is correct to say that Iraq is now one of the focal points in the war against Al Qaeda -- the Jordan attacks are merely the latest evidence of this. As long as Zarqawi has a base of operations and a playground to train zealots, he will continue to be a potent source of trouble.

So, a question to those who advocate a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq -- how would a U.S. withdrawal help in any way towards removing Iraq as a base of operations for Al Qaeda?

posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What do you do with statesmen?

David Bosco and James Forsyth have a serio-comic essay in Slate about the divergent paths that former politicians take in the United States and Europe:

When prominent American politicians descend from the hustings, several well-worn paths stretch out in front of them. Former presidents putter in their libraries, tend their foundations, and ride the lecture circuit. Lesser lights are usually inclined to make gobs of money at law firms (Robert Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle), hedge funds (Dan Quayle), and lobbying shops (Dick Armey), though a few good souls land as university presidents (Bob Kerrey and David Boren). Those who can't stand the silence fulminate on cable or talk radio (Joe Scarborough and Mario Cuomo). If all else fails, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government usually has a free cubicle (Jeanne Shaheen, Alan Simpson, and Mickey Edwards have all done time there).

It's a different world for Euro-politicos, many of whom chart second careers in the supranational realm. The European Union, with a large and hungry bureaucracy, needs commissioners, representatives, and assorted other functionaries. Retired, defeated, or fatigued national politicians are good candidates. And it's not just Brussels that comes calling. U.N. agencies in New York and Geneva are natural spots for European has-beens, who tend to be less skeptical of the institution than Americans and more susceptible to the charms of multinational bureaucracies.

A libertarian might say, "Good for the U.S.A." upon reading these paragraphs -- better that ex-politicians try to get rich rather than try to spread well-intentioned but counterproductive and ineffectual governance structures to the rest of the world.

The problem is that matters are not that simple. The Slate grafs suggest that ex-politicians in the United States want to get rich, they thend to do so by exploiting their comparative advantage -- their knowledge of the intricacies of government. Regardless of party, ex-politicos have an incentive to ensure that the government retains some influence over the market -- so that they can exploit their influence over the government.

This political life after politics subverts the famous Harry Truman line: "A politician is a man who understands government. A statesman is a politician who's been dead for 15 years." In modern America, a statesman is a man who understands government and is paid very well for that understanding."

The rent-seeking implications of this kind of parastatal career are disturbing -- continued opacity of government. So which is worse -- European politicians who seem less interested in money but aspire to supranational forms of governance, or American politicians who are more interested in money and aspire to lobby the national level of governance?

posted by Dan at 04:52 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Jordan thread

Comment away on the latest suicide bombing attacks in Jordan.

Earlier in the week I had referenced Marc Lynch's overvations about prior Zarqawi-inspired attacks in northern Africa. I tend to agree with his preliminary read of this attack as well:

[C]alling it an "al-Qaeda attack" is misleading - you have to look at it, I'd say, as a Zarqawi operation aimed both at his Iraqi strategy and at his escalating intra-Islamist strategy. The timing and nature of this attack suggest that it may have more to do with Iraq and with Zarqawi's two-level games than with bin Laden's grand plan....

The nature of the attack - especially the sheer evil brutality of attacking a wedding celebration - once again throws dirt in the face of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who (assuming the authenticity of that letter) urged Zarqawi to stop doing things which would alienate Arab public opinion. That the traditional Jordanian opposition - including the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated professional associations - led an angry protest against Zarqawi speaks volumes. Jordanian public opinion (certainly the organized political opposition) has been more generally supportive of the insurgency than in most other places... to hear them shouting "death to Zarqawi" shows how thoroughly his methods alienate even potential supporters.

Here's an MSNBC story on the post-bombing protests:

Hundreds of angry Jordanians rallied Thursday outside one of three U.S.-based hotels attacked by suicide bombers, shouting, “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!” — a reference to the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, the terrorist group tied to the blasts that killed at least 56 people.

The protest was organized by Jordan’s 14 professional and trade unions — made up of both hard-line Islamic groups and leftist political organizations — traditionally vocal critics of Abdullah’s moderate and pro-Western policies.

posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

It's déjà vu at the Kansas Board of Education

So I see that the Kansas Board of Ed has approved new science standards that, "change the definition of science to allow for non-natural explanations and cast significant doubt on the theory made famous by Charles Darwin," according to Knight-Ridder's David Klepper.

Sounds pretty grim. Amy Sullivan, however, points out that Kansas wasn't the only place where this issue was subject to debate yesterday:

In [Dover, Pennsylvania] voters booted all eight Republican pro-intelligent design school board members who were up for re-election and replaced them with Democrats who oppose the curriculum policy. Dover is not some bastion of liberal politics; it's more like Kansas than parts of Kansas are. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that's a better indication of where the intelligent design fight is going than the Kansas decision. It's not a court striking down intelligent design, but voters taking matters into their own hands and deciding enough is enough.

Indeed, the Knight-Ridder story goes on to point out:

The vote brings to a close the latest chapter of the evolution saga in Kansas, but it is not likely to end it. A similar story played out in 1999, when the board removed most references to evolution, the origin of the universe or the age of the earth. Voters unseated conservatives in 2000, and a new board, dominated by moderates, changed the standards back.

Moderates hope the same thing will happen next year, and they vow to unseat conservatives in next November's elections. Voters will fill five board seats next year, four of them belonging to conservative incumbents. A handful of candidates have already announced their intention to run.

Ann Althouse has more, particularly on the interrelationship between the litigation and electoral strategies that tend to contain this kind of educational tom-foolery.

UPDATE: Oh, dear, I see that Pat Robertson has opened his mouth on this topic. According to the AP:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they "voted God out of your city" by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design....

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."....

Later Thursday, Robertson issued a statement saying he was simply trying to point out that "our spiritual actions have consequences."

"God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever," Robertson said. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Wait, I'm confused by that last sentence -- does this mean that Robertson believes that Charles Darwin's ghost is still around?

Anyway, it appears that God ain't pleased with Robertson.

posted by Dan at 06:05 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Douthat & Salam thread

The American Scene's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have written a manifesto for the Republican Party's future which is on the cover of the Weekly Standard. It opens by stating the depressing truth:

Forget the misplaced loyalty and incompetence on display in Hurricanes Katrina and Harriet. The intellectual exhaustion of the current majority should have been obvious at the close of the last legislative term. After months of political reversals--including the defeat, without a shot fired, of Social Security reform--the congressional leadership managed three victories: a pork-laden $286 billion in new transportation spending, an energy bill larded with generous corporate subsidies, and a noble but unpopular free trade act, CAFTA, that may prove a poison pill for vulnerable GOP congressmen come 2006. All in all, not a bad week--unless, that is, you believe in small government, expanding economic opportunity, and the long-term political viability of the Republican party.

So what's the solution? Douthat and Salam argue in favor of taking the "opportunity society" rhetoric and actually putting flesh to it:

Republicans face three obvious options. The first is to continue to muddle along with the domestic policy that produced the multi-trillion-dollar Medicaid drug benefit, three years of bloated appropriations bills, and the failed push for private retirement accounts, and hope that social issues and national security concerns are enough to keep the party's majority afloat. A second option is to attempt a return to a purer, more fiscally austere faith, even if it means ceding political power, and wait for the looming entitlement crisis to convince Americans of the wisdom of repealing the New Deal.

The third possibility--and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole--would be to take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can't have an "ownership society" in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family--the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security--at the heart of the GOP agenda.

Read the whole thing. I'm still mulling it over, but there are some ideas in there that are definitely worth some blog debate.

posted by Dan at 01:06 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

The rioters really are French

A lot has been written about the ongoing riots in France, but the best things I've seen have come from Megan McArdle and Daniel Davies.

From Miss Jane Galt:

Is it because Arabs/Muslims are a roiling repository of violent, seething hatred, ever threatening to bubble over onto unsuspecting victims in their path? Because the French are so damn mean?

Let me suggest another possibility: Muslim youth are rioting in France because breaking windows and setting cars on fire is fun.

But Davies wins the prize here, pointing out the one way in which this is all so... French:

These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

Indeed. The only difference between these riots and prior action like this by, say, Air France employees is that by this point in the game the French government would have already capitulated.

posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Way to go Zarqawi

Marc "Abu Aardvark" Lynch reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's latest tactics in Iraq haven't gone down well in the Maghreb states:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has taken another step to alienate mainstream Arab public opinion: kidnapping and threatening to execute two Moroccan embassy workers. Just as the murder of an Egyptian diplomat infuriated Egyptian opinion, and the murder of Algerian diplomats enraged Algerian opinion, the threats to kill the two Moroccans have set off a national protest....

Zarqawi's strategy aims at driving representatives of Arab states out of Iraq to prevent any Arab intervention on behalf of the struggling Iraqi government. The cost is the alienation of mainstream Arabs - tactical gain for strategic loss, or at least so it appears on the surface.

Read the whole thing -- the idea that Zarqawi is playing a tw-level game is an interesting one.

posted by Dan at 04:30 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

How hard is it to use a f#$%ing footnote?

Apparently, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown sent a letter to Mike DeWine regarding the Samuel Alito nomination, and the letter essentially copied a Nathan Newman post about Alito's take on labor rights. Brown's staff admitted to Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Stephen Koff that "90 percent of what Brown, an Avon Democrat, wrote in his letter was lifted from an Internet posting by a blogger."

I'm quoted by Koff in the story:

While the line dividing politicians and online political commentary sometimes seems fuzzy, University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Drezner, himself a blogger and co-editor of a forthcoming book on politics and blogging, says Brown went "outside the bounds."

He compared it with Sen. Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat who dropped out of the 1988 presidential race after it was learned he plagiarized part of a stump speech.

"It strikes me as pretty much the same thing," Drezner said. "It's plagiarism."

Brown's office acknowledged that it should not have used Newman's words without giving him credit. Spokeswoman Joanna Kuebler said she found Newman's work when researching labor issues. Brown's legislative staff confirmed its accuracy, and Brown then signed the staff-prepared letter, Kuebler said.

"We should have cited it, and we didn't," Kuebler said.

Ordinarily I woldn't post about this -- I've reached the point where I'm bored with my own media whoredom. However, this story has some lefty bloggers very annoyed -- including Newman:

Did the Plain Dealer do an in depth analysis of Alito's labor record in response?

No, they created a bullshit meta-story that was of such supposed breaking news value that they couldn't wait for me to get back from my mini-honeymoon to get my reaction.

Duncan "Atrios" Black -- who works at Media Matters, mind you, concurs:

Genuine plagiarism in this context is lifting out paragraphs of unique prose, not culling some information from a blog post.

While I have some sympathy with the idea of reporters focusing on actual policy substance, this is still a completely valid story. Consider this section of Koff's story and compare it with Black's defiinition of plagiarism:

For instance, Newman, an attorney and labor and community activist, posted this on his blog Nov. 1: "What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic rights of workers to have a day in court, much less interpreting the law in their favor."

Brown's letter merely changed the last clause so the sentence read, "What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic rights of workers to have a day in court, not to mention interpreting the law against them."

Brown's letter cited details of 13 rulings by Alito, who in early 2006 will face confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The problem is, Brown's descriptions in 12 of the cases were almost verbatim what Newman wrote on his blog.

This is a case of sloppy staff work in Brown's office and not much more -- but it's still a screw-up, which explains why Brown's office immediately copped to the miscue.

In NRO, Jonah Goldberg notes the special irony of Brown's mistake:

[T]here's a special irony here. I think all reasonable people can agree that plagiarism is a theft of intellectual property. Well, I did a very quick Nexis search and it seems Sherrod Brown's been out front in opposing trade deals because they don't provide enough protections for intellectual property.

UPDATE: Brown has sent another letter to DeWine acknowledging the failure to cite Newman. However, the press release accompanying the letter asserts that, "In coordination with an Ohio newspaper article published Tuesday, DeWine's staff dismissed concerns expressed by Brown in the Nov. 4 letter, instead focusing on citation errors." (emphasis added)

That's an interesting word choice -- Brown is clearly implying that DeWine's staff engineered the story in the first place. I have no idea if this is true or not -- but I'd like to hear of any evidence Brown has to back this up.

posted by Dan at 04:02 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

So how is trade integration going?

I've seen better weeks for those who want trade expansion.

At the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, everyone took a "wait-and-see" approach to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Economist explains:

At the first Summit of the Americas, in Miami in 1994, all the region’s governments signed up to a common vision of democracy and free trade. That consensus was starting to fray by the third summit, in Quebec in 2001; now at Mar del Plata, the fourth, it has unravelled. The gathering’s worthy official theme was to promote employment. But how? The plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), originally due to come into effect this year, has stalled, as Mr Bush admitted even before the summit, saying that the Doha round of world trade talks should take precedence. Brazil echoed this sentiment at Mar del Plata, saying it wanted to see the outcome of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) before moving forward on a regional agreement. Argentina also demurred. With three out of Latin America's four biggest economies reluctant, hopes for a regional agreement were dashed.

This makes sense. So how are those WTO negotiations going? The Associated Press reports that India's Commerce Minister is not optimistic:

The World Trade Organization may not be able to achieve the goals it has set for a new trade treaty when ministers meet in Hong Kong later this year, the Indian commerce minister said Monday.

"With the few days left, with the vastness of what is on the table, we may not be having" the complete blueprint that was planned, Kamal Nath told reporters following a meeting of key trade negotiators.

Ministers from the 148 WTO members meet in Hong Kong Dec. 13-18 aiming to create a detailed framework for a major trade treaty that would lower import barriers and reduce subsidies. But major differences exist in areas including agriculture and market access for manufactured goods.

"It isn't that Hong Kong is going to be a failure. We are tempering expectations based upon the timing and the intricacy," said Nath, who chaired the meeting of ministers from India, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and Japan.

With only weeks to go before the Hong Kong meeting, ministers seemed to be trying to avoid the kind of crushing disaster they faced at the last WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, in 2001, which collapsed in disarray and acrimony, paralyzing the global trade body for months.

[So this is Europe's fault, right?--ed. Well, at this point the answer is yes and no. Certainly EU intransigence on agricultural matters doesn't help. On the other hand, the developing countries are now in a position where they need to make concessions as well. Consider the Indian Commerce Minister's remarks in this story by the Independent's Philip Thornton In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent, Kamal Nath lashes out at the attitude taken by rich nations in the WTO talks ­ especially that of Europe's trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. He appears baffled that Europe has offered to eliminate domestic subsidies and reduce tariffs ­ but in exchange for concessions in other areas, notably service industries and market access for industrial goods.

"I welcome Peter Mandelson's proposal to say he will reduce by so much but then he says 'I want my pound of flesh'," Mr Nath said. He compared Mr Mandelson to a politician seeking a knighthood simply for obeying a traffic light. "He is looking to be rewarded and rewarded for behaving as one should.

"It is a step in the right direction but it is a question of giving an inch and asking for a mile ­ not just asking for a foot but a mile."

On the one hand, Nath is correct in saying that the EU should liberalize its agricultural sector no matter what. On the other hand, the GATT/WTO process was designed for states to get concessions from other countries in order to gain the concessions they want. From an economic standpoint, this kind of reciprocity makes no sense (it's better for countries to unilaterally lower all their tariffs, quotas, and barriers). From a political standpoint, however, the Indians -- and other large-market developing countries such as Brazil and China -- are going to have to reciprocate for the Doha round to have any meaning.

UPDATE: Oh, goody, the U.S. has scored a trade "victory," according to Edward Alden of the Financial Times:

Tuesday’s deal to restrain imports of Chinese textiles and clothing is the latest and largest – and the most surprising -- of those agreements. As recently as last month, the talks broke down in the face of Chinese demands for annual increases of as high as 30 per cent in exports to the US. But on Tuesday Beijing signed off on a deal that will bring it little more than 10 per cent annual growth through the end of 2008.

Mr Portman, speaking in London, called it “an example of how the US and China do have the ability to resolve tough trade disputes in a manner that benefits both countries.” Bo Xilai, China’s Commerce minister, said that while it’s “still a far cry from our original expectations” of free trade in textiles and apparel, the stability it brings is “a win-win result.”

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 7, 2005

That Burmese junta is just so wacky

In the Financial Times, Amy Kazmin reports that the military junta controlling Burma has found a brand-new way of ensuring its diplomatic isolation:

Burma’s military rulers have begun the relocation of civil servants and central government ministries to an isolated compound near Pyinmana, hundreds of miles north of Rangoon.

In a statement to diplomats on Monday, Kyaw Thu, deputy foreign minister, said the regime had decided to move the entire government to remote Pyinmana to help with the “formidable tasks of building a modern and developed nation throughout the whole country and, in particular, the border areas”.

The Burmese regime selected Pyinmana, halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay and surrounded by mountains and dense forests, as a “command and control centre based at a strategic location central in the transportation and communication networks of the entire country”.

Foreign diplomats and international aid workers said the move suggested the military junta was retreating into a physical bunker....

While construction of the complex has long been an open secret, few believed the move would take place.

Government officials, many of them civilians, were reportedly devastated on Friday when relocation orders were unexpectedly issued to 10 ministries, including foreign affairs, home, commerce, health, transport, and communications.

The first convoys of trucks with office equipment and personnel moved out of the capital at the weekend.

Rangoon residents said civil servants were warned they would be charged with treason if they sought to avoid the move by resigning from their poorly paid jobs.

In its statement, the foreign ministry advised diplomats: “If you need to communicate on urgent matters, you can send a fax to Pyinmana.”

posted by Dan at 05:45 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The pushback on Dick Cheney

One of the mantras on this blog from day one has been the excessive influence that Vice President Richard B. Cheney has played in the foreign policymaking process. This is not to say that a Vice President should have no influence -- merely that Cheney had his thumb so hard on the scale that the interagency NSC process was fatally compromised.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright have a front-pager in the Washington Post on the proposed amendment to prevent detainee abuse suggesting that Cheney's thumb is not as heavy as it used to be:

Increasingly, however, Cheney's positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism.

Personnel changes in President Bush's second term have added to the isolation of Cheney, who previously had been able to prevail in part because other key parties to the debate -- including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers -- continued to sit on the fence.

But in a reflection of how many within the administration now favor changing the rules, Elliot Abrams, traditionally one of the most hawkish voices in internal debates, is among the most persistent advocates of changing detainee policy in his role as the deputy national security adviser for democracy, according to officials familiar with his role.

At the same time Rice has emerged as an advocate for changing the rules to "get out of the detainee mess," said one senior U.S. official familiar with discussions. Her top advisers, along with their Pentagon counterparts, are working on a package of proposals designed to address all controversial detainee issues at once, instead of dealing with them on a piecemeal basis.

Cheney's camp is a "shrinking island," said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.

The report goes on to describe the lengths to which Cheney's camp is going to maintain the upper hand in the game of bureaucratic politics:

Beside personal pressure from the vice president, Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.

Andrew Sullivan has more -- a lot more.

This issue, by the way, also raises some interesting questions for realists -- the flavor of the month in critical foreign policy circles. Consider Cheney's explanation for why the proposed limitations on interrogation would hamper U.S. national security, according to Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff:

Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room—what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate's overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president's hands and end up costing "thousands of lives." He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. "We have to be able to do what is necessary," the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present.

Now, if you're a realist, this should be an easy call if you accept Cheney's assertion -- aggressive interrogations yield useful intelligence. Removing this option might preserve some soft power and demonstrate grater respect for international law, but neither of those things should matter in realpolitik world anyway.


UPDATE: Daniel Benjamin has more on Cheney's role in national security policymaking in Slate.

Oh, and just to be clear -- Cheney's oversized role in this does not mean that I believe Cheney is the main culprit for U.S. missteps in either Iraq or interrogation policy. The responsibility for those policies -- and the process that abetted them -- lies with the president.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, now that I have everyone's attention, let's highlight one more fissure this kind of issue generates among conservatives. On the one hand there are the Hamiltonians who place a great deal of trust in the executive branch to execute policy in a good faith manner. On the other hand there are Madisonians who inherently distruct executive power and wish to see limitations placed on its use.

If you study foreign policy, there are many compelling reasons to prefer the former approach -- but I'm starting to have great sympathy for Madison in recent years.

posted by Dan at 01:26 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Is American political fiction really so bad?

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Christopher Lehman has a long essay in the Washington Monthly asserting the poverty of American political fiction:

To gauge the arrested development of American political novels, one need look no further than the pallid state of our own literary satire. Christopher Buckley now passes for the high-water mark of political satire in the nation's literature. In 1994, Buckley drew upon his experience as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush to produce Thank You for Smoking, an engaging send-up of the grimly farcical rounds of advocacy for the tobacco industry, as well as of the excesses of its opponents. Since then, however, Buckley's novels have acquired a one-note tetchiness in both tone and subject. They read less like gimlet-eyed parody than gussied-up "O'Reilly Factor" transcripts....

[F]or all the impact of novels of advocacy, we have consistently failed Whitman's prophecy in one crucial respect. America has almost never produced a serious novel addressing the workings of national politics as its main subject. Indeed, it's hard not to read Whitman's own rueful characterization of his own literary generation—a “parcel of dandies and ennuyées” usually just “whimpering and crying about something, chasing one aborted conceit after another, and forever occupied in dyspeptic amours with dyspeptic women”—and not remember many of the scribes churning out the modern American political novel. The genre is as distressingly flat and uninvolving as it was when “Democratic Vistas” was published.

Well, surely those who have seen the belly of the beast -- politicians themselves -- could produce a good political novel. Oh, wait... [Well, what about political scientists?--ed. Don't go there.]

This particular subgenre of fiction is the topic of Rachel Donadio's NYT Book Review essay for today. Curiously, Christopher Buckley makes a cameo appearance there as well:

Novels by politicians are generally regarded as vanity projects or curiosities, written out of egomania, boredom or a drive to "get out the message." Often culled by reporters looking to leaven political profiles, most have fairly tepid sales before being quickly forgotten....

For the most part, novels by politicians quickly fade from the conversation - and the bookshelf. Christopher Buckley, the novelist and Washington gadabout, recalled how he unloaded a lot of books in a house move. Years later, he ran into William S. Cohen, an acquaintance and the author of several novels of international intrigue, some written in the 80's with former Senator Gary Hart. Cohen, who was then President Clinton's first secretary of defense, invited him to lunch.

"I went to the Pentagon for lunch in his office, which is a very formidable office, and he greeted me at the door and handed me a piece of paper," Buckley recounted. It was a printout from the online bookseller Alibris, with the listing for one of Cohen's books. "It said, 'Very fine first edition, excellent condition, inscribed to a fellow author, Christopher Buckley.' The price listed was $3,500. I said, 'Well, Bill, this is most embarrassing.' " Besides, Buckley added, "I thought it likely there had been a decimal error in the price."

Is the state of American political fiction really so parlous perilous? At first I was skeptical, but after perusing my bookshelf, maybe Lehman has a point. He missed a few greats in his conversation. I liked Buckley's Little Green Men better than Lehman, in part because the premise is so delightfully loopy. I'd also include Tom Perrotta's Election and Ward Just's Echo House. Lehman's biggest oversight is Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, but that might be because this small masterpiece is as much about Vietnam as it is about what it means to be a politician. Still, that's not such a big list.

What's the explanation? Lehman thinks it's because the overarching theme in American political fiction is the loss of innocence -- which doesn't jibe with how politics actually works:

The American political system has never really staked anything on the preservation of innocence. Indeed, its structural genius is very much the reverse—using the self-interested agendas of political players to cancel each other out, interlacing the powers of government in order to limit the damage that one branch can do, and making ambition at least address, if not fulfill, the public good in spite of itself. Our federal government, as any good reader of “Federalist 10” can report, is an instrument of cynicism erected on the open acknowledgment that human nature is flawed. It has unfailingly survived (and thrived) despite the vices novelists suggest have brought it to its knees. Expecting anyone to journey to the seat of national power and deliver a Mr. Smith-like blow for the sanctity of scouting and motherhood is a bit like wanting the final act of a musical to be all gun battles and explosions: It's what the critics call a genre error.

What's more, this stubborn moralizing impulse is what makes American political fiction, even today, such watery and unsatisfying literature: It deprives writers of the best material. Don't the intrigues sprouting from our well-known human flaws and excesses ultimately make for more engaging plots and character studies than the falls from grace of a thousand or so Washington ingénus?

This echoes the complaint voiced by Slate's David Edelstein a few years ago about how politics is portrayed in film and television:

The real party line in campaign movies turns out to lead straight to the Big Speech (let's call it the BS)—the one in which the candidate either bravely affirms principles over politics and is transfigured, or cravenly yields to expediency and is damned. Compromise, the core of the political process, is regarded not as an art but as a black art.

The transfiguring BS happens like this: The crowd is primed to cheer. The candidate (a man, generally) begins a speech that has been worked on by his handlers, the one designed to please the fat cats and ward heelers—i.e., the "special interests." But at the last second, he cannot bring himself to read what's in front of him. He eyeballs the eager crowd, then lays aside that accursed speech and begins to extemporize. I have met the devil, he says, and nearly sold my soul to get elected. This country, he goes on, deserves better. The people deserve better. The candidate's spouse, who has only recently discovered that he wasn't the Superman of integrity she thought she'd married, regards him again with Lois Lane eyes. The crowd goes wild: Balloons and confetti and soaring music signal the politician's apotheosis.

I'm not sure I have a better answer than Lehman or Edelstein, except to say that I'm not at all sure the problem is peculiarly American. Good fiction set in an democratic political milieu just might be a difficult feat to execute.

Readers are warmly encouraged to suggest their favorite political novels.

posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)