Saturday, December 17, 2005

Is there a deal or not?

After a long night, the Associated Press is prematurely reporting that a trade deal has been reached:

Negotiators at the World Trade Organization have agreed on a sweeping trade deal dismantling barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services, India's trade minister said Sunday....

Delegates met overnight into Sunday and managed to overcome differences on a draft text. A final agreement on an exact date was expected later in the day, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said.

"We'll have a definite date," he said. "We have a deal."

Nath said that ending agricultural export subsidies by 2013 would be acceptable to India, one of the leading developing nations and a key player in the rules-setting WTO.

CNN reports that there's just one sticking point remaining:
Just one issue remained unresolved as World Trade Organization negotiators worked to reach a series of agreements to end agricultural, manufacturing and service trade barriers, according to a WTO official Sunday.

The issue yet to be settled is the date for ending export subsidies, WTO press officer Emmanuelle Ganne told CNN.

This sounds great... except I just talked to an EU official who's making the rounds in the press room and apparently that sticking point ain't going anywhere for a while. The sticking point remains ending agricultural export subsidies, and that the EU did put forward 2013 as the end date. The problem was that at the last minute Brazil pushed for an earlier date -- and it all fell apart.

My hunch is that Humpty Dumpty has a decent chance of being put together again -- I think the EU is trying to tell the Brazilians and others it's either 2013 or no deal, and I suspect the Brazilians will take what they can get. One possible explanation for Nath's statement is that the Indians are trying to publicly signal to the Brazilians to accept the deal on the table. That said, the EU folks are exceedingly grumpy right now, so I wouldn't place a great deal of faith in that hunch.

The hard deck for the Ministerial will be 5 AM Hong Kong time on Monday (4 PM Sunday EDT). That's when the Convention Center here has to prep for its next booking.

A side note: one of the amusing features of being in the press room is seeing the pack mentalityof journalism in action. If a sufficient number of journalists are congregating around person A, then that group starts acting like a powerful magnet attracting the individual iron fillings of other journalists. Sometimes this makes a great deal of sense -- as when the EU tspokesman contradicts the India statement. Sometimes it makes no sense -- as when a great throng materialized to get their hands on... a schedule of the Ministerial's closing ceremonies. No one gives a flying fig about that.

UPDATE: Both the AP and Reuters are reporting that there's a deal. The AP story has more details:

WTO negotiators reached a breakthrough on the most contentious issue of their six-day talks, agreeing that wealthy countries would eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013, according to a final draft of the accord. The deal paves the way for a broader agreement to cut trade barriers across various sectors.

The breakthrough, coming after all-night negotiations, appeared to save the World Trade Organization meeting from an embarrassing collapse provided the final draft is approved by all 149 member nations and territories who are meeting later Sunday.

The 2013 date was a key demand of the European Union, which held out against intense pressure from Brazil and other developing nations to phase out a significant proportion of its farm export subsidies by 2010. Developing nations say the government farm payments to promote exports undercuts the competitive advantage of poor farmers.

The revised text also sets April 30, 2006, as a new deadline to work out formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs and subsidies - a key step toward forging a sweeping global free trade treaty by the end of next year....

The final draft also calls on wealthy nations to allow duty-free and quota-free privileges to at least 97 percent of products exported by the so-called least developed countries by 2008.

In addition, the draft retained an earlier proposal that rich countries to eliminate all export subsidies on cotton in 2006.

posted by Dan at 09:15 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

So this is what it's like to be in a lockdown

Despite the fact that the WTO negotiations are, at best, making marginal progress, the Korean Peasants Association appears bound and determined to wreak havoc in Wan Chai (the neighborhood where the Ministerial is being held).

The result is that Hong Kong's Secretary for Security made an announcement for the public to leave Wan Chai. Which is great, except for those of us staying in hotels in Wan Chai.

The result is that I've spent this evening looking at policemen sheathed in protest gear -- gas masks, body-length Plexiglass shielding, truncheons, etc. -- while drinking and dining at the hotel buffet along with a healthy number of WTO delegates. It's more than a bit surreal.

The truly bizarre thing is that, having ventured out earlier in the evening, I'm quite certain that the number of curious onlookers outnumbers the actual protestors, the press contingent outnumbers the protestors, and the police most definitely outnumber the protestors. The Korean protestors are certainly causing inconveniences beyond their numbers, but this is a much smaller contingent of activists than were present at either Seattle in 1999 or Cancun in 2003. And any press report suggesting otherwise is full of it.

Do check out Simon's World for a link-rich post on the Ministerial.

posted by Dan at 11:00 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wherein the University of Chicago defies all reason

A few months ago when the whole tenure and blogging question became a hot topic (I'm still fielding press inquiries) I tried to reiterate the same point over and over again -- it's possible that blogging played a role in my own denial, but I seriously doubt it was the overriding factor.

I bring this up again because Jacob Levy has gone public with his own denial of tenure. Read the whole thing, but Jacob closes his post with the following:

Mainly I'm putting this up because the publicity around Dan Drezner's case led to a lot of e-mailed questions and some blog speculation about mine. If you're looking for things in common between Dan's case and mine, don't look to blogging; and don't look to our libertarian politics.... Look to the fact that both political economy and liberal political theory are outside the emerging, Perestroikan, sense of what this department's about.
I've blogged about perestroika and political science in the past -- check out those posts for my take on the debate.

I can neither confirm nor deny Jacob's hypothesis about perestroika's deletrious effects on my department. After witnessing my department's treatment of Jacob's case, I'm afraid that the primary hypothesis I cannot falsify is that a majority of my senior colleagues are complete and total wankers have unorthodox views of what constitutes appropriate social science.

Chris Lawrence has further thoughts.

posted by Dan at 03:04 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 16, 2005

When trade negotiators get cranky

What happens when you stick great power trade ministers in a green room in a strange city, deprive them of sleep, and then throw some spanners into the negotiating machine?

They get damn cranky is what happens.

I just left a series of press conferences, and pretty much everyone was tired, frustrated, and occasionally pissed off. The Americans, the Brazilians, the West Africans, and especially the Europeans were all upset. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had the following utterances at his press conference:

Some people in Hong Kong will lose their strategic gains by pursuing tactical maneuvers.... The level of ambition [in the Doha round] is going backwards.... [There is] no clear basis for negotiations.... Hard to see where progress can be achieved in Hong Kong.
If I were WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, I'd suggest a nice "time out" for tomorrow. And maybe some snack time.

UPDATE: The Independent publishes a day in the life of Peter Mandelson that reaffirms this point: [Mandelson] has been asleep for five hours and ahead of him are 10 meetings spread over at least 18 hours. Welcome to the mad, mad world of global trade negotiations....

Mr Mandelson is also garnering a reputation of squashing journalists whose questions he doesn't like. On Tuesday he destroyed a German reporter and now he shows his exasperation at an Indian journalist who asks a question that, in fairness, he has answered twice already.

posted by Dan at 02:00 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Everything you always wanted to know about Aid For Trade

A big issue that's come up at the Hong Kong Ministerial is the idea of Aid For Trade. What is Aid for Trade? According to paragraph 51 of the draft Ministerial text of the WTO:

Aid for Trade should aim to help developing countries, particularly LDCs [Least Developed Countries], to build the supply-side capacity and trade-related infrastructure that they need to assist them to implement and benefit from WTO Agreements and more broadly to expand their trade. Aid for Trade cannot be a substitute for the development benefits that will result from a successful conclusion to the DDA [Doha Development Agenda], particularly on market access. However, it can be a valuable complement to the DDA.
That's still a bit vague, so I've asked Paul Applegarth, a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States -- and the former CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation -- to explain the idea in a bit more detail:

It has long been agreed that this WTO round should be a Development Round, benefiting the poorest people and the poorest countries in the world. Ironically, even as the on-going talks at the Hong Kong Ministerial struggle with issues important for development like agricultural Market Access and trade-distorting subsidies, there has been an increasing recognition that freer trade alone is not enough. Any trade agreement will need to be accompanied by a development financing package to help the poorest countries build the capacity to participate in freer markets.

Providing financing for development does not fall normally within the purview of the WTO, but the issue of Aid for Trade or Trade Capacity Building has achieved sudden prominence here in Hong Kong. The United States has announced its intention to double its Trade Capacity Building assistance by 2010, and it is not alone. Some EU states and Japan have also weighed in. Cynics argue that in some cases the offers are intended to distract from the failure to take more meaningful steps like granting increased market access, but in at least some cases the offers seem genunine. (The U.S. offer for example does not appear to be conditioned on an acceptable WTO deal).

A puzzle in all this is that despite all the talk, there seems to be little understanding of what exactly Aid for Trade or Trade Capacity Buidling is. Some talk about infrastructure, others about meeting international quality standards or reducing customs delays. The World Bank is pushing for expansion of something with the brain-numbing title of the "Enhanced Integrated Framework", notwithstanding the fact that this framework has been around for several years and accomplished little, and on initial examination seems to involve strengthening the capacity of poor countries to negotiate at WTO headquarters in Geneva and funding a number of expatriate consultants to write studies diagnosing the trade needs of LDC's. Good stuff, perhaps, but unlikely to have an immediate impact on boosting the incomes of the rural poor.

It would be easy to dismiss all of this as simply more international bureacratic chatter, if the stakes were not so high. The funding is real, and the opportunity to use it well is real. Fortunately, there are some groups and institutions trying to bring some clarity to the discussion, with the recognition that some concrete proposals need to be developed quickly if the opportunity is not to squandered.

Yesterday, the German Marshall Fund of the United States convened a discussion of key players to move the ball forward. The discussion was led off by remarks from Swedish Ambassador to the WTO Mia Horn, and Miguel Rodriquez of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva. There was active partcipation by senior representatives of the Wolrd Bank, the U.K.'s Department for International Development, UNDP, the IMF, USAID, Oxfam, the Overseas Development Institute, the Hewlett Foundation, the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, the International Lawyers and Economists Against Poverty, the WTO Secretariat, and others.

There was no consensus on the initial range of issues discussed, other than that the opportunity existing to develop some meaningful proposals and that the work needed to be done quickly to take advantage of that opportunity. However, significant progress was made in identifying the key issues: who shoulfd benefit, how to determine effectiveness, funding, and expanding participation by the LDCs themselves.


posted by Dan at 10:35 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

It's déjà vu in Hong Kong... or is it?

A former U.S. trade negotiator during the Uruguay round sent me an e-mail that contained the following:

I haven't keep current, thank goodness, on ag trade policy issues for more than 10 years. However, I suspect the lay of the land hasn't changed much: - Agricultural trade, as usual, is the biggest block to freer trade for agricultural products... but also non-agricultural products since the agricultural stalemate is holding up progress in non-agricultural talks:
- The EU is the biggest block to freer trade in ag products.

- France is the biggest block to the EU accepting freer trade in ag products (and therefore non-ag products).

- French agricultural organizations (especially FNSEA) are the biggest block to the government of France accepting freer ag trade.

- French grain and meat producers are the biggest anti-free trade forces in the FNSEA.
Given the current stalemate in talks -- and Peter Mandelson's intransigence on the EU taking the next step on ag subsidies -- it would seem that everything old is new again. However, there are two new wrinkles to current negotiations as opposed to prior rounds.

First, small countries have figured out that they can use the need for consensus to threaten walkouts if they don't get something. For example, The Independent's Philip Thornton reports that the west African country of Benin is now a major player:

The mood soured [at the WTO meetings] further when Benin indicated it was prepared to walk out of the talks over the failure of the US to meets its demand to end cotton subsidies.

The last meeting two years ago in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed after a handful of countries walked out over cotton, depriving the WTO of the 100 per cent mandate it needs to strike a deal.

Samuel Amehou, Benin's ambassador to the WTO, said African cotton producers have to compete against vast subsidies paid to US farmers. He said African states would "not accept any consensus that did not take the legitimate interests of the African farmers into account".

He added: "The conference in Hong Kong is the place to hold people to their commitments."

Ibrahim Malloum, the head of the African Cotton Producers Association, said he did not want a repeat of Cancun but added: "We came here to get concrete results, not to hear more proposals that will never be respected."

Second, the "advanced" developing countries are getting just as good at being hypocrites on trade issues as the developed world. Consider these excerpts from Victor Mallet's FT story on Indian commerce minister Kamal Nath:
Kamal Nath, India’s commerce minister, said there would be no deal at the WTO talks in Hong Kong unless developed nations stop demanding concessions from poor countries in exchange for reducing agricultural and other protectionism that should not be there in the first place.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Nath said: “What really upsets me is that developed countries are asking: ‘If we stop doing what we shouldn’t be doing, what are you willing to pay us for it?’”

“That approach is not one which is going to fly.”

He added: “We can’t have our economy shaken by subsidised exports of food, of grains, and at the same time we can’t have our economy shaken just as we are nurturing our manufacturing sector.”

This sounds great -- but let's reconsider what Arvind Panagariyapointed out in Foreign Affairs about levels of protection in the developing and developed world.
Take sugar, for example: Sugar is highly protected in virtually all major developed and developing countries. It is subject to the following MFN rates, for example: 72 percent in South Africa, 60 percent in India and Japan, 56 percent in high-income developing Asia, 43 percent in the United States, 23 percent in Central America and the EU (and 74 percent in other European countries), 18 percent in China, and 17 percent in Argentina and Brazil. Thus, reforming tariffs on sugar will require virtually all WTO members to liberalize. The EU and the United States are major offenders, but others -- including developing countries -- are not without blame....

[T]he EU also needs compensation for its [agricultural] concessions. Recall that at Cancún it dropped investment, competition policy, and government procurement from the Doha agenda. And because the EU does not have a comparative advantage in agriculture, it is naturally seeking cross-sector reciprocity in the form of liberalization in industrial products and services. The next step in breaking the U.S.-EU impasse is to put offers on industrial products and services on the table quickly. This would be a step forward: the elimination of tariff peaks in developed countries and liberalization by developing countries in trade in the industrial sector promise gains commensurate with agricultural liberalization.

But for tariff reductions to really be beneficial, action will be required of both developed and developing countries. The gains to developing countries from lowering border barriers will be minuscule if reform is limited to developed countries.

When Nath blames EU intransigence on agriculture for the talks not going anywhere, he's half right -- because at this point India deserves just as much of the blame.

posted by Dan at 06:05 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I sound very smart in German. Not so much in English.

A few months ago I gave an interview to Norweigan journalist Olav Anders Øvrebø on the politics of blogs in the United States. For those of you who understand German, it's now up at the Netzeitung web site. Among other things, I say:

Das Bloggen ist aber kein ausschließlich demokratisches Phänomen. Es ist einfacher bekannt zu werden, wenn man quasi offiziell zur Elite gehört, zum Beispiel als Professor. Aber das alleine reicht nicht. Man muss schreiben können, und das im Blog-Stil. Einige meiner Kollegen haben versucht zu bloggen, haben aber offenbar nicht verstanden, dass ein wissenschaftlicher Artikel als Blog-Eintrag nicht funktioniert. Man braucht einen guten Stil - und man muss bereit sein, Fehler einzuräumen und zu korrigieren.
[Wow, sounds very erudite. What does it mean?--ed.] Well, translated through Babelfish:
The Bloggen is however none excluding democratic phenomenon. It is more simply admits to become, if one belongs quasi officially to the elite, for example than professor. But that alone is not enough. One must be able to write, and in the Blog style. Some my colleagues it have tried to bloggen, however obviously did not understand that a scientific article does not function as Blog entry. One needs a good style - and one must be ready to grant and correct errors
[That sounds.... less erudite--ed.] Readers are encoraged to find the sentence in the interview that sounds the most ridiculous when re-translated into English.

posted by Dan at 08:45 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is getting some bad press -- again

Poor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president just can't escape his press stereotype. Marc Wolfensberger has the latest story for Bloomberg:

The West has "fabricated a myth under the name 'Massacre of the Jews,' and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves,'' Iran's leader told thousands of supporters in the south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, state television showed in a live broadcast.

"If you say and insist it's true that you killed 6 million Jews in crematoria during World War II, then why should the Palestinians pay for that?'' Ahmadinejad asked. "Our proposal is that you give a piece of your land in Europe, the U.S., Canada or Alaska. If you do that, the Iranian people will no longer protest against you.''

This is the strongest anti-Israeli public comment by Ahmadinejad since he took office in August. The Iranian president drew international condemnation on Oct. 26 after saying that Israel should be "wiped off the map.'' On Dec. 8, he prompted another outcry when he said Europe should host Israel on its soil. Some 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis until Germany's defeat in the 1939-1945 war.

Now, far be it for me to pass up an opportunity to poke some fun at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but if I were his spinmeister, I'd stress that he really didn't say anything new in these statements. He's articulated his belief that the Holocaust did not happened, and he's articulated his belief that Israel should be removed from the Middle Eastern region. All Ahmadinejad did in his recent utterances was reaffirm his previous positions. So, I'd make darn sure the press got the following bullet point:
The President of Iran has not ratcheted up his anti-Israeli rhetoric -- his views on Israel have remain unchanged since he took office.

posted by Dan at 07:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

The good news about tsunami aid

With the one-year anniversary of the Asian tsunami upon us, it's worth following up on the outpouring of aid that took place. All too often the topline numbers look impressive, but the follow-through is weak -- money is either misallocated or not spent at all.

So how has the tsunami aid worked out? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee has tracked oficial aid flows, and reports that the aid got to where it was supposed to go:

Two-thirds of the aid which the European Commission and the 22 member governments of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee pledged to countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami has been spent or ear-marked for specific projects, according to statistics gathered by the OECD....

Donor governments and the European Commission have committed USD 1.7 billion to emergency aid and USD 1.9 billion to longer term reconstruction projects, to be spent by 2009. More than 90% of the emergency aid – nearly USD 1.6 billion – was spent in the nine months immediately following the disaster. For reconstruction, USD 473 million has been spent, leaving USD 1. 4 billion committed and in the pipeline for spending over the coming years.

The rest of the money pledged will be committed once other specific projects and programmes have been identified.

Together, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have received more than 60% of the funds committed so far.
2005 has been a year of extreme humanitarian challenges. The tsunami was by far the greatest in terms of lives lost and destruction and donors responded generously.

Click here for a glance at the country-specific tables.

Has the money done any good? Over at Foreign Policy's web site, Karl F. Inderfurth, David Fabrycky, and Stephen P. Cohen say yes:

[T]he danger existed that the tsunami relief story would play out like too many others: Aid pledges are made following the disaster, only to go unfulfilled as interest and attention wane. But tsunami relief has been sustained. Donors are keeping their pledges, NGOs have billions in the bank to spend on projects, and survivors continue to be cared for relatively well. Substantial government aid packages have been complemented by an astonishing level of private giving. For example, the U.S. government has pledged a total of $857 million, and U.S. private and corporate donations total at least $1.48 billion....

The region is now transitioning from relief to recovery. Almost all the 150,000 Indonesian students who lost their educational facilities returned to school within two months of the disaster. Most are meeting in tents or temporary facilities, but plans are in place to rebuild more than 350 schools. Tens of thousands of unemployed people have gone back to work through cash-for-work programs and the busy construction sector.

These are temporary fixes, however, and a long-term solution depends on restoring the devastated fishing, agriculture, and small-business sectors and diversifying the local economies. Fortunately, the tourism industries of affected countries have bounced back quickly, with the exception of the Maldives, which has seen a 45 percent drop in visitors this year. Food supplies are adequate. Health and sanitation remain good as the reconstruction of medical facilities progresses. Housing is the short-term challenge that most frustrates the displaced persons and aid donors....

Enough money has been raised to cover most medium-term reconstruction costs, if it is well spent. The unprecedented amount of resources mobilized may allow affected areas to realize the relief community’s mantra of “building back better”—rebuilding communities with better housing, education, healthcare, and economies than existed before the disaster. Due to their sizable aid commitments, international donors have sustained their focus on transparency and accountability in the recovery process. Innovative publicly available systems have been developed to track tsunami-related spending and to match donors with recipients, such as the U.N. Tsunami Expenditure Tracking System and publicly accessible online databases that keep track of aid dollars. Indeed, the most pressing need is for better coordination of the hundreds of groups involved. Ironically, one problem at this point may be that some organizations have too much money. Some relief officials complained earlier in the year that NGOs flush with money were able to work alone and “fly the flag,” ultimately hindering the integration of relief operations and leading to duplication.

When too much money is a problem, it's safe to say the aid effort has been remarkably successful.

Alas, as these charts demonstrate, the outpouring of aid for the tsunami has not been matched in other disasters. Whereas more than 80% of funding requirements for the tsunami have been met, aid levels for the victims of the South Asian quake have at only 30% of needed levels.

posted by Dan at 12:32 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ag subsidies revealed!!!

We know that a sticking point in the WTO negotiations is the resistance by the developed world to reduce their agricultural subsidies. Within that simple statement, however, the nature of ag subsidies is incredibly opaque. If you read Arvind Panagariya's Foreign Affairs essay, you discover that there are different "boxes" of subsidies. You also discover -- according to Cato's Daniel A.Sumner -- that many of these subsidies could soon be ruled as in violation of existing U.S. commitments to the WTO.

For now, however, these subsidies are here -- but who, exactly, gets them?

For that answer, I encourage you to check out the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database. Through many, many FOIA requests, they have produced. an interactive website chock full of interesting facts. For example:

  • Half of all subsidies go to only 5% of Congressional districts.

  • Four commodities—corn, wheat, rice and cotton—account for 78 percent of all ag subsidies.
  • EWG also has an interesting proposal to reallocate the ag money away from subsidies but towards rural areas where farmers actually generate high value-added goods already.

    [Yes, we know U.S. subsidies are bad. What about EU ag subsidies?--ed.] Until recently, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy was way more opaque in terms of its allocation of funds. However, there's a new website called, which provides as much info on CAP subsidies as is available (shockingly, countries like France have ignored an EU directive and refused to make their subsidy records available to the public).

    Among the more useful tidbits of info:

  • More than 80 percent of CAP payments go into 20 percent of farms -- including, deliciously enough, members of European royalty. The Queen of England, for example, received over 230,000 euros a year.

  • 5 million farms recceive less than 1,250 euros in payments

  • New EU members from Eastern Europe pay more into the CAP program than they receive in subsidies.
  • Go check it all out.

    posted by Dan at 07:16 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    What happens at a WTO Ministerial -- day one

    One would assume that a minister-level meeting of a big international governmental organization like the WTO would consist of a lot of big plenary sessions combined with backroom, smoke-filled, coffee-laden negotiations. This is probably true, but in the era of NGOs and mass media coverage, there's a new wrinkle to these kind of meetings -- all of the NGO-related public panels designed to attract NGO reps and reporters who cannot attend the back-room sessions.

    The result is a weird amalgamation of quasi-academic workshop and floating press conference. NGOs supply a bevy of panels, roundtables, and speeches -- the goal being to attract as much press coverage as possible (see Victor Mallet and Justine Lau's story in the Financial Times for more on this). The conundrum is that the substance of trade issues are so mind-numbingly boring that just uttering the word "modalities" sends most reporters into a coma.

    The result is that the events that capture the most attention are the ones with the greatest celebrity or the greatest divergence of views. Yesterday, for example, OxFam attracted a great deal of press coverage for its handoff of a petition to WTO Director General Pascal Lamy. Part of this was because Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal was there as official OxFam presenter (Bernal also succeeded in generating a fair amount of swooning from many of the female attendants and not a small number of male ones).

    For an example of divergence of views, there is the debate that I'm sitting in as I type this, between WTO official Alejandro Jara (he's fer trade) vs. director of Focus on the Global South Walden Bello (he's agin' it). At this debate, the press outnumbers the attendants 4 to 1.

    The trick at these sort of meetings is to separate the wheat from the chaff -- most of the time, these meetings are an exercise in repeating talking points. Occasionally, someone will say something edifying. In this case, the only illuminating statement was made by Jara, who pointed out that despite the image of horsetrading among member countries during the Doha round, there have been no new commitments to liberalize for the Doha round -- just a commitment to lock in prior, autonomous, unilateral moves towards liberalization. This does not bode well for these meetings -- because without some horse trading, nothing's gonna happen.

    There was a defender of ag subsidies at the meeting, however. A U.S. soybean farmer piped up halfway through, arguing that international competition ruins the small family farmer. This has a grain of truth to it in the developed world, but I don't see why agriculture is so special -- last I checked, there are no subsidies for hunter-gatherers being proposed. The farmer's cure for this was "supply management," which as near as I could discern was a polite term for.... government support for family farms.


    posted by Dan at 10:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    What's the difference between Time and Newsweek?

    So I see that Time and Newsweek have dueling cover stories about George W. Bush, his recent political misfortunes, and his plans for the future. Both of them focus on Bush's insularity, his unwillingness to change course, and his general disdain for critics.

    This leads to the age-old question that is the title of this post. Is there any difference between Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe's Newsweek essay and the Time story by Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen?

    As near as I can discern it, there are four differences:

    1) Tumulty and Allen seem to have slightly better sources within Bush's inner circle;

    2) Perhaps because of #1, Time's story seems to have better information.

    3) Again perhaps because of #1, Time's story has a more Bush-friendly spin. Here's the opening paragraph:

    The Yuletide decorations at the White House are simpler this year. The gaudy tinsel and the 155,000 lights of 2004 have given way to a more natural look of Christmas trees decorated with white lilies and pink roses that are replaced as they wilt. Guests at the holiday parties are noticing a different tone to George Bush too. He has never liked the 26 receptions, the thousands of punishing or limp handshakes, the graceless requests for souvenir cuff links with the presidential seal. But at some of the smaller gatherings this year, Bush has freed himself from the photo line to circulate with an intensity his friends haven't seen before. An adviser who encountered Bush on one of these reconnaissance missions through the Red Room last week tells TIME, "He's listening a little more because he's looking for something new. He's looking for ideas. He wants to hear what people are saying, because something might strike him as worth following up on."
    The man is actually talking to people invited to his White House parties? Wow, that is stepping out.

    4) Time refrains from awful historical analogies like this one in the Newsweek story:

    Bush is not Lyndon Johnson. Johnson liked to keep three TVs blaring in his office, and he would call reporters at home to browbeat them. Bush has said he does not read the newspapers (actually, he does). "I'm not LBJ," Bush told a recent gathering of lawmakers. "I'm not going to sit around some map room and micromanage the war." Bush was slightly confusing his wars and presidents. It was Franklin Roosevelt who ran World War II from the Map Room; LBJ descended into the Situation Room in the basement to pick bombing targets. It is true that LBJ was nearly driven mad by his obsession with Vietnam and his insecurities about the "Harvards," whom he blamed for sucking him into the war. But forced to listen to his critics—the so-called Wise Men who gathered at the White House in March 1968 to tell him that the war was unwinnable—LBJ was able to reverse course and begin the drawdown of troops from Vietnam.
    The idea that a Johnson strength as president was how he responded to criticism on Vietnam is certainly an.... interesting interpretation of the historical record.
    Readers are encouraged to read both stories and post their thoughts.

    posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

    Note to self: avoid Seth Mnookin

    Seth Mnookin has a long Vanity Fair story about the Judith Miller saga at the New York Times. Few people at the Times look good, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr.comes off looking like an insecure, incompetent ass. That said, I still think that Mnookin does the biggest number on Miller. The devastating part is below:

    Miller, it soon became clear, was not going to be an easy source to deal with. She initially refused to speak with [Times reporter Adam] Liptak because, she said, his story about her release from jail implied that she hadn't gotten a better deal from the prosecutor than the one that was available to her before she was imprisoned. She refused to speak with [Times reporter Janny] Scott because, she told friends, Scott had not bothered to write to her when she was in jail. (She also told people that she knew Scott was "judging" her.) At various points she wouldn't speak with [Times reporter Don] Van Natta either. On Tuesday afternoon, Van Natta approached Miller in the Times's newsroom. Miller immediately gave Van Natta a hug. "I'm so glad you're involved in this," Miller said. "Well, I'd really like to talk to you, now, if you have time," Van Natta replied. "I can't do it now," Miller answered. "I'm running off to go meet with Barbara Walters."

    "That was pretty amazing to me. I'm a colleague of hers, I'm trying to get an interview, and she doesn't have time for that, but she has time for Barbara Walters. And that night she did another one with Lou Dobbs." The next day, Van Natta ran into Miller again, in Bennett's Washington office; at that point, Miller told Van Natta she couldn't speak with him because Libby had given her permission to talk only to the grand jury. That's odd, Van Natta told her. On Monday in the newsroom, she had told the whole world Libby was her source....

    The pressure only increased over the next week. Miller kept avoiding having on-the-record conversations with Van Natta; at one point, she complained to [Times executive editor Bill] Keller about Van Natta's line of questioning, and Van Natta felt she was trying to have him removed from the story. (Miller did something similar in my case. After I approached her for this story, she complained to the editor of this magazine and raised questions about my allegiances. She also wrote to me in an e-mail, "Seth, I read what you wrote about me in your book. You never bothered to check any of your alleged facts about me. I have absolutely no intention of talking to you." Three weeks later, after the story had been written and edited, she sent another e-mail that read, "When you are finished with your research, and want my input before you write, send me a list of questions." I sent Miller questions on two occasions, to which she never replied. Outside of noting that Miller's pre-war W.M.D. reporting was faulty—which Miller herself now acknowledges—there are barely any mentions of Miller in Hard News, my book about Howell Raines and the Times. What's more, while writing it, I tried to reach her numerous times for comment. She never responded.)

    Note to self: if Seth Mnookin calls me about anything, answer in full.

    Miller now has a quasi-blog -- I'll be curious to see if she responds to this piece. [Actually, Mnookin characerizes as a website, "contain[ing] self-justifying posts and cherry-picked, laudatory articles"--ed. The man is clearly unfamiliar with blogs.]

    posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Notes from Wan Chai

    There's nothing watching a city gearing up for a major economic meeting. Hotels in Wan Chai -- the neighborhood near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where the WTO meetings will be held -- have set up X-ray scanning machines in the lobbies to check for... well, I'm not sure what, exactly but it's definitely a pain.

    Protestors started coming out in force two days before the official events even begin. According to The Standard's Doug Crets and Leslie Kwoh, the protests were peaceful but:

    Police said they were... alarmed by the mysterious disappearance of uniforms belonging to janitors, watchmen and others from local laundries and dry cleaners. The AFP news agency quoted police as saying protesters might use the uniforms to infiltrate the talks.
    Meanwhile, the presence of the protestors has also encouraged some investment firms based in Wan Chai to give their employees an early Christmas break. One commentator on Bloomberg TV said, "Happy Holidays -- and thank you, protestors!" And, of course, the strip clubs in the downtown area seem crowded with more raucous Westerners than usual. [How would you know?--ed. I swear, I walked by them to get to dinner last night.]

    Of course, in Hong Kong, there are some additional measures taken in the wake of a big meeting. In my NGO accreditation materials, there's a lovely "Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Kit" put out by Hong Kong's Department of Health. According to this document, "If one has not come into close contact with infected live poultry or birds or their droppings, there is no need to be unduly alarmed about acquiring avian flu." So if any pigeons get near me, there's going to be trouble.

    But all of this is great for the local economy, right? Well, not according to The Standard's Andrea Chiu:

    Wan Chai residents said that, while they welcome the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference and the thousands of protesters in ideological tow, so far they aren't getting much out of it.
    "There's nothing we can do," philosophized Chow Fook-wah, a newspaper hawker on the corner of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, near the start of the march route. "The police have blocked off roads and that's affected business because fewer people are walking by."....

    Wan Chai District Council chairwoman Ada Wong said she blames the government and police for creating a climate of fear in her district.

    Wong said she witnessed an overwhelming police presence in Causeway Bay, "doing nothing but patrolling."

    "If this event is so scary, why did the Hong Kong government agree to host it?"

    The police were not the only ones on high alert as many businesses along Hennessy Road closed their stores before the march started at 4 pm. The exterior metal gates at Hennessy Centre, which houses the Mitsukoshi department store, were halfway down before the march started. A security guard, one of five standing at the doors, said the shopping center would remain open as normal unless there was an incident.

    Down the street, several banks closed their ATM terminals to the public. The Nan Yang Commercial Bank posted a notice that said ATM machines would only be available when the branch is open "as a precautionary measure in response to traffic and security arrangements."

    The Bank of China, however, shut its branch at the China Resources Center on Gloucester Road for the entire week.

    Well, at least something of substance will be achieved at the WTO Ministerial itself, right? Er, not according to the Financial Times' Frances Williams:
    For many of the ministers gathering in Hong Kong for the World Trade Organisation’s biennial jamboree, which opens on Tuesday, the accession ceremony for tiny Tonga could be the highlight of their week.

    When even the main protagonists in the Doha global trade talks are vague on what they hope to achieve in the next six days, the rest of the WTO’s 149-strong membership could be forgiven for sneaking off to do a little shopping.

    . One last note -- if you're coming to Wan Chai, try to avoid staying at the Novotel Century Hotel. If you took a slab of concrete and wrapped it up in Kevlar, it would still be softer than my mattress from last night

    posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)