Saturday, January 14, 2006
And the dumbest thing said by a Senator is.....
The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com would like to thank the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for their performance this past week. They provided a lot of grist for contest-entrants and commentators alike.
It's telling that the week ended with numerous pieces on how to improve the confirmation process -- even though Alito proved relatively forthcoming in his answers. Dahlia Lithwick reminds Democratic Senators that members of the Federalist Society are not teeming with hate and rage; T.A. Frank suggested at TNR Online that the way to rescue the dignity of the hearings is to remove television from the equation.
My one good government suggestion -- give both the majority and minority counsel for the Judiciary Committee an hour or two to question the nominee. That'll never happen, of course, but it might actually generate some useful back-and-forth.
Now, on to the contest -- on Monday, readers were encouraged to submit "the single dumbest thing a Senator says during the hearings." A lot of very worthy entrants were submitted. In the end however, there can be only one.
And the Senator who said the dumbest thing is.....
Congratulations to Senator Diane Feinstein of California for this exchange with Alito:
FEINSTEIN: So if I understand this, you essentially said that you wanted to follow precedent, newly established law in this area. And you left a little hedge that if Congress made findings in that law, then that might be a different situation.Feinstein had some tough competition -- The Kennedy/Specter exchange over mail delivery, Tom Coburn's auto accident metaphor, anything that came out of Chuck Schumer's mouth, and what I can only figure was Joe Biden's attempt to win a bet in which he could use the word "Princeton" in every sentence he used for an hour. And I confess I might be biased in favor of Feinstein because of her runner-up status during the Roberts confirmation. Let me stress that dumber things might have been said this week -- but the folks here at danieldrezner.com could only judge the submissions we received.
In the end, Feinstein's ability to deny the existence of a hypothetical in her question about... a hypothetical was what swayed the judges. To be fair, Feinstein was talking about a counterfactual, but I think it's safe to say that counterfactuals were included in Altio's definition of hypotheticals.
Congratulations to Millers Time for being the first to submit the winning entry! [What's his prize?--ed. What all bloggers desire -- links and attention! Plus, you gotta check out this other post of his -- it's the funniest blonde joke I've ever seen.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Why are Americans better at FDI?
Matthew Higgins, Thomas Klitgaard, and Cédric Tille have an article in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's December 2005 edition of Current Issues in Economics and Finance on net flows in international investment income. Given the fact that foreigners currently have a net claim on $2.5 trillion in U.S. assets, onme would expect the U.S. to be paying out a lot more in interest, dividends, and profits to foreigners than Americans would receive from their investments.
The weird thing is that, so far, this hasn't been true. Last year the U.S. earned $36 billion more on their foreign investments than foreigners earned in the United States. The question is, why?
Higgins et al have a simple answer and a more complex answer. The simple answer is that foreigners are investing heavily in fixed-income, interest-bearing assets, while Americans concentrate their outflows in riskier but more rewarding areas -- foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment. This result is actually consistent with a point I was trying to make before about the comparative advantage Americans hold in risk attitudes.
What really intrigues me, however, is this fact -- even if one limits the discussion to FDI, Americans do better abroad than foreigners do here:
[T]he rate of return on U.S.FDI assets has consistently been higher than that on FDI liabilities (Chart 4). Since 1982, the rate of return on FDI assets has, on average, exceeded that on FDI liabilities by 5.6 percentage points, and not once during this period has the differential dropped below 3.2 percentage points. Surprisingly, perhaps, there is no consensus about the reason for this large and persistent difference in rates of return....This puzzle is pretty damn important. The gap in returns is significant enough so that Harvard economists Ricardo Hausmann and Federico Sturzenegger talking about this as "dark matter", explaining why the U.S. has been able to run a persistent current account deficit without any decline in the U.S. surplus on investment income.
Higgins et al proffer some possible explanations -- tax differentials, less experienced foreign investors, U.S. firms are better governed and more efficient, or the U.S. market is just more competitive and so profits will be lower here. Only the last argument persuades me much.
Higgins et al also don't think this situation will persist. Haussman and Sturzenegger, on the other hand, push the argument that US has a comparative advantage in FDI very hard:
Imagine the construction of EuroDisney at the cost of 100 million (the numbers are imaginary). Imagine also, for the sake of the argument that these resources were borrowed abroad at, say, a 5% rate of return. Once EuroDisney is in operation it yields 20 cents on the dollar. The investment generates a net income flow of 15 cents on the dollar but the BEA [Bureau of Economic Analysis] would say that the net foreign assets position would be equal to zero. We would say that EuroDisney in reality is not worth 100 million (what BEA would value it) but four times that (the capitalized value at our 5% rate of the 20 million per year that it earns). BEA is missing this and therefore grossly understates net assets. Why can EuroDisney earn such a return? Because the investment comes with a substantial amount of know-how, brand recognition, expertise, research and development and also with our good friends Mickey and Donald. This know-how is a source of dark matter. It explains why the US can earn more on its assets than it pays on its liabilities and why foreigners cannot do the same. We would say that the US exported 300 million in dark matter and is making a 5 percent return on it. The point is that in the accounting of FDI, the know-how than makes investments particularly productive is poorly accounted for....They might be right -- but they don't have any evidence that this is true beyond the persistence in the gap between U.S. and foreign rates of return in FDI.
This is a really, really interesting puzzle, however -- and I'm very surprised some B-school professor hasn't written something so definitive on the topic that the book is a must-read. Maybe I'm out of it, but I haven't seen any book like this.
In lieu of a tome, commenters are free to figure out and post on this puzzle for themselves.
I'm asserting that you should read this
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has released its State of the News Media 2005 online.
Here's a link to the executive summary, in which five trends are delineated. Here are two of them:
There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward these which are faster, looser, and cheaper. The traditional press model—the Journalism of Verification—is one in which journalists are concerned first with trying to substantiate facts. It has ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new Journalism of Assertion, where information is offered with little time or attempt to independently verify its veracity. Consider the allegations by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” and the time lag of weeks required in reporting to find the claims were unsubstantiated. The blogosphere, while adding the richness of citizen voices, expands this culture of assertion exponentially, and brings to it an affirmative philosophy: publish anything, especially point of view, and the reporting and verification will occur afterward in the response of fellow bloggers. The result is sometimes true and sometimes false. Blogs helped unmask errors at CBS, but also spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the GOP stole the presidential election in Ohio. All this makes it easier for thoseI'll leave the assertive responses to this report to the commentators.
The unasked question about Mexican expatriates
Lurking among the many fears of anti-immigration advocates -- and Sam Huntington -- is the fear that the large influx of Mexican immigrants into this country will have divided loyalties -- or worse, develop no sense of American identity. Another fear is that this is a conscious policy of the Mexican government in order to wield influence in the United States.
This brings me to a story by Oscar Avila and Hugh Dellios in the Chicago Tribune about Mexican government efforts to get expats to vote in Mexican elections. Apparently it's not going so well:
At a registration drive in Pilsen, radio host Javier Salas tried to energize his countrymen about their historic opportunity to vote in Chicago for their homeland's next president. "Let's hear it!" he shouted into his microphone Thursday. "Viva Mexico!"The story blames cumbersome bureaucratic procedures for the low turnout, but I have to wonder -- how much of this is due to the fact that Mexicans coming to the United States don't really care about Mexican politics any more?
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Should Cuba play in the World Baseball Classic?
I wrote about the World Baseball Classic back in July, so I suppose I should comment on the recent low-level decision to ban Cuba from participating in the 16-game tournament, and whether this is the right thing to do or not. Short answer -- yes, let the Cubans play even if they make a buck off of it.
This is a post of obligation, however, because it requires me to talk about one of my least favorite topics -- the Cuba embargo.
Some background: for the "Yes, let's ban them," go check out Roberto González Echevarría's op-ed in the New York Times from earlier this week (hat tip to David Pinto, who's been keeping close tabs on the issue). For the "let 'em play" argument, check out prett much any sportswriter you can find -- Sports Illustrated's Frank DeFord is serviceable enough here.
Those who want to ban Cuba have a leg to stand on. There's no question that the Castro regime is pretty thuggish. And there's some evidence that denying them opportunities like participation in the World Baseball Classic could have a negative effect on the Castro regime. There's a scholarly literature out there that argues the apartheid regime in South Africa lost its base of support once they were banned from various sporting events, including the Olympics.
The thing is, the World Baseball Classic is just getting started, so I don't think preventing Cuba from participating will have much of an effect on the regime -- whereas it would have a deleterious effect on the tournament itself. The International Baseball Federation is threatening to pull its imprimatur from the event, which could trigger the withdrawal of other countries.
More importantly, denying them from participating is a self-inflicted wound. The WBC is a rare opportunity to highlight the common sports heritage the U.S. shares with Latin America and the Pacific Rim. It's an opportunity to popularize a sport that originated in the United States. It's even, dare I say, a chance for the United States to build up a little soft power -- if our pitching holds up.
This is particularly true with regard to Cuba. Consider:
1) While their best players might be good enough for Olympic gold medals in baseball, they're going to face American and Dominican squads stacked with all-stars if they participate in the WBC. My hunch is that they won't do so well in the standings.Let the Cubans play ball -- and let them get their butts whipped.
Michael Ignatieff.... politician
David Sax has an essay on Foreign Policy's web site about Harvard Professor Michael Ignatieff's quixotic move towards politics. Ignatieff is the flip-side of all the anti-war/anti-Bush protestors who threatened to move to Canada and then didn't; he supported the war but has decided to move to Canada... and run for Parliament:
Canadians normally don’t get fired up about foreign policy in their parliamentary elections. Then again, Michael Ignatieff is not a normal candidate. Last fall, the professor left his post as director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to run for parliament in his native Canada. His new office is in a bare-bones campaign headquarters on an industrial corner in suburban Toronto, where he prepares for the January 23 election. Ignatieff, a Liberal Party candidate who is considered by many to be one of the best minds Canada has ever produced, wants Canada to assume a greater role in world affairs....Ignatieff is in a can't lose situation. Wither he wins and climbs the ladder of Liberal Party politics -- or he loses and writes a book that's excerpted in the New York Times Magazine about what it's like to be a candidate who speaks truth to power.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The good news about avian flu
There have been a series of avian flu cases reported in Turkey over the past week, and oddly enough there's been some good news from this development.
World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said that the 14 cases of avian flu recently discovered in Turkey were contracted through contact with infected animals and that there is absolutely no evidence that human-to-human transmission is occurring.Link via Glenn Reynolds, who has more here about US preparedness. I remain convinced that calling for the US to engage in crash preparedness can lead to more harm than good.
Second, Elizabeth Rosenthal of the International Herald-Tribune reports on a very interesting development among some of the avian flu diagnoses -- they're not getting sick:
Two young brothers, aged 4 and 5, are being closely watched at the gleaming new Kecioren Hospital here, a police car at the entrance guarding a potential scientific treasure. Though both boys have tested positive for the H5N1 virus after contact with sick birds, neither has any symptoms of the frequently deadly disease.Here's a link to the medical study abstract cited in the article. Their conclusion is a touch more neutral: "Our epidemiological data are consistent with transmission of mild, highly pathogenic avian influenza to humans and suggest that transmission could be more common than anticipated, though close contact seems required. Further microbiological studies are needed to validate these findings."
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
A very important post about.... how I wasted an hour today
So I stumbled across MyHeritage.com today -- which claims to have a face recognition program that lets you upload a photo and tells you which celebrities you look like.
Of course, I couldn't resist. After uploading the picture on the front of the web site, here's the list of celebs I was told I resemble:
Matt LeBlancIf you've managed to contain yourself to this point, well, you have better self restraint than I.
Needless to say, their technology appears to be heavily dependent upon the angle of the face in the photo, hair length, facial hair, the presence of eyeglasses, etc. In other words, it's pretty much rubbish. When I uploaded a Salma Hayek photo, the program declared her to be only a 74% match with... Salma Hayek.
So this was a waste of time..... until I realized that I could upload pictures of other bloggers and see who they resembled. The resulting lists of names are pretty friggin' funny.
Ward CunninghamVirginia Postrel:
KajolAndrew Sullivan -- no matches. I tried two different photos, and Andrew stumped the computer.
Leonardo DiCaprioTyler Cowen
Boris TrajkovskiAna Marie Cox:
Annette BeningMegan McArdle:
Katie HolmesOh, and as a final check, I uploaded this photo of Henry Farrell and myself:
George ClooneyFor myself: Henry
Monday, January 9, 2006
Those young, whiny whippersnappers
I'm roughly the same age as Daniel Gross, and I'm not surprised to see that I had roughly the same reaction as he had in Slate to the latest Generation Y laments about how hard it is to find a financially rewarding job:
The economic jeremiad written by a twentysomething is a cyclical phenomenon. People who graduate into a recessionary/post-bubble economy inevitably find the going tough, which compounds the usual postgraduate angst. And with their limited life experience and high expectations, they tend to extrapolate a lifetime from a couple of years. I know. Back in the early 1990s, when my cohort and I were making our way into the workforce in a recessionary, post-bubble environment, I wrote an article on precisely the same topic for Swing, the lamentable, deservedly short-lived David Lauren twentysomething magazine. If memory serves, the headline was something like "Generation Debt."....Lest one think Gross is being overly Panglossian about the economy, click on his blog. [But you're Panglossia about life in your thirties, right?--ed. No, families and potentially higher incomes do not come without their tradeoffs.] His larger point, however, is that people -- particularly educated people who try to write books in their twenties -- tend to make a significant move up the income chain when they hit their thirties.
UPDATE: Check out Gross' e-mail exchange with Kamenetz on the latter's blog. Kamenetz thinks she can "declare victory," after the exchange, but I don't find her response either persuasive or elegant.
One last point -- the crux of the issue appears to be the rising cost of college education. There is no doubt that the retail price of a 4-year college education at a private university has drastically risen over the past two decades. However, that overlooks a few key questions:
1) What percentage of college students pay the retail price? To what extent does student aid reduce the burden, even if there's been a shift towards "more loans and fewer grants"?
Senate Judiciary Committee contest!!!
When the hearings were held for John Roberts last year, there was a lot of silliness uttered by a lot of people -- mostly members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
So, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com announces its first contest -- finding the single dumbest thing a Senator says during the hearings.
For example, my winner for the Roberts confirmation would have been Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who averred, "[I am using] my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under." Diane Feinstein gave Coburn a run for his money, but this was stupidity in its purest form.
So, listen closely and post your nominations in the comments below. Be sure to provide a link to the source of the quotation for our legal staff here. [What does the winner receive?--ed. Hmmm.... suggest your own reward as well, and I'll see what the staff can whip up.]
To kick things off, consider this example from Patrick Leahy's opening statement:
Last October, the President succumbed to partisan pressure from the extreme right of his party by withdrawing his nomination of Harriet Miers. By withdrawing her nomination and substituting this one, the President has allowed his choice to be vetoed by an extreme faction within his party, before hearings or a vote. That eye-opening experience for the country demonstrated what a vocal faction of the Republican Party really wants: They do not want an independent federal judiciary. They demand judges who will guarantee the results that they want.Right. I'm pretty sure that:
a) Opposition to Harriet Miers was across the board;This should be an easy one to top -- get to it, readers!!!
UPDATE: Click here to find out who won!
Sunday, January 8, 2006
Talk about reviewer whiplash
So do I go buy Ana Marie Cox's novel Dog Days? The dearly departed Wonkette has already cost me a great deal of money when I made the mistake of letting her order the menu at the dinner after our APSA blog panel from 2004. Should I plunk down an additional $17.00?
In "Dog Days," Cox's brisk, smart, smutty, knowing and very well-written first novel, the 28-year-old protagonist Melanie Thorton, a Democratic presidential campaign staffer, diverts media attention from her candidate's political troubles - and her own romantic ones - by creating a fictitious blog supposedly written by a local libertine calling herself Capitolette. (Yes, rhymes with toilette.)Sounds promising.
Washington's pretensions, blown so large in skins so thin, should produce bursts of hilarity when poked with the dullest of tools, and Dog Days is that....Well, this is a quandry. Furthermore, if you read both reviews, you'll find many positive nuggets contained within O'Rourke's pan and quite a few backhand compliments contained in Buckley's thumbs-up.
In the end, I suspect I'll grab a copy, because a) The excerpts I've seen do match Cox's spicy wit; and b) The last political novel I recall O'Rourke panning was Primary Colors -- which wasn't a great work of literature but is an extraordinary read and remains, in my opinion, the piece of writing that best captures Bill Clinton (and this includes his memoirs). So, I'm going to judge Buckley's acumen as slightly more on target than O'Rourke.
That said, P.J. does have a paragraph that goes a good way towards explaining why there are so few good novels set inside the beltway:
The problem is that fiction, especially comic fiction, concerns why people do what they do. The more unlikely or bizarre the reasons the heart has, the better. Why people do what they do in Washington is so obvious that a beginner novelist would be advised to take up a subject that involves more complex motivations. Breathing, for example.This might answer the question Chrisopher Lehmann raised a few months ago in The Washington Monthly about the state of American political fiction.
Lehmann, of course, is Ana Marie Cox's husband.
Ah, now the circle is complete.