Saturday, May 13, 2006
More good news about avian flu
The New York Times' Donald McNeil Jr reports on an encouraging trend in the place where avian flu started:
Even as it crops up in the far corners of Europe and Africa, the virulent bird flu that raised fears of a human pandemic has been largely snuffed out in the parts of Southeast Asia where it claimed its first and most numerous victims.If we are very, very lucky, the fear of an avian flu pandemic will be akin to fears about the imact of the Y2K bug -- serious and real, but successfully contained through the necessary policy responses.
Friday, May 12, 2006
How low can Bush go?
I don't like kicking a man when he's down, but the latest poll numbers have the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com debating among themselves: how low can Bush's poll numbers go?
Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April.Then there's this bit from CNN's poll:
In a new poll comparing President Bush's job performance with that of his predecessor, a strong majority of respondents said President Clinton outperformed Bush on a host of issues.The fact that Clinton is even in the ballpark on this last question has got to depress the White House staff.
So, question to readers: how low can Bush's poll numbers go? Previous predictions of bottoming out have not turned out well, so proceed with caution.
UPDATE: Mystery Pollster points out that the recent NSA revelations will probably provide a slight boost to Bush's numbers:
MP makes no predictions, but Bush can only stand to gain if the public's attention shifts from his handling of gas prices, the economy, immigration and Iraq to his administration's efforts to "investigate terrorism." The Post-ABC poll found that 51% approve (and 47% disapprove) of "the way Bush is handling Protecting Americans' privacy rights as the government investigates terrorism." That is "hardly a robust rating," as the ABC release puts it, "but one that's far better than his overall job approval, in the low 30s in recent polls."LAST UPDATE: Well, here's another poll where Clinton outperforms Bush -- but I think Bush would be happy with that.
How to write back to Mahmoud?
President Bush should publicly respond to the letter—at length and in detail. Daffy as the letter is, it does contain one clue that Ahmadinejad might really be seeking a dialogue. More to the point, many people and governments in the world, especially (but by no means exclusively) in the Muslim world, are taking the letter seriously and believe that it deserves a reply.Kaplan is correct about Ahmadinejad's letter being a PR boost in the Muslim world -- which is truly depressing, for the letter is a rambling, inchoate, milleniarian text.
Readers are invited to outline what should be contained in the best possible response letter.
The only downside to responding would seem to be that a response somehow confers legitimacy upon Ahmadinejad -- which Bush is anathema to do.
A final note: Kaplan also goes onto confirm that I'm not crazy in being ticked off at the administration for whiffing on an opportunity to negotiate a grand bargain with Iran back in 2003. Kaplan links to the obvious source for the original FT story on this -- former NSC senior director Flynt Everett. Check out his January 2006 New York Times op-ed here and his Q&A with cfr.org interviewer extraordinaire Bernard Gwertzman here.
UPDATE: Historian par excellance Mary Sarotte recounts the history of letters as a tool of diplomacy in the Washington Post. Her conclusions are consistent with Kaplan's:
If there is a lesson from this checkered history of correspondence in crisis, it is this: Content doesn't count. The historical record shows a clear mismatch between what was written in a letter and its consequences. Zimmermann meant to threaten the United States in secret; instead, his leaked telegram shored up its public resolve. Bismarck used a boring missive to mount a war; Kennedy ignored public demands of the Soviets to maintain peace.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Open CIA thread
I've been remiss in posting about the debates over who should head the CIA and what it should do, so here's an open thread.
Readers are encouraged, before posting, to read John Crewdson's dissection in the Chicago Tribune of the bureaucratic conflicts at work behind Porter Goss' resignation and the Hayden nomination:
[A] senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of events says Goss was dismissed as CIA director after the White House became convinced that strong disagreements with his immediate boss, John Negroponte, were beyond resolution. Those disputes involved changes that Goss feared would limit the agency's scope and influence, undercutting its role in analyzing intelligence.It should be noted that Crewdson's chief source was a Goss loyalist.
I tend to agree with Matt Yglesias and Fred Kaplan that Hayden's military status is a nonissue -- though, on the other hand, Amy Zegart does seem exercised about it, and that it reason enough for concern here at danieldrezner.com.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Am I a liberal in bloggers' clothing?
However, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has begun to ask me whether, given my lack of faith in either the Republican administration or the Republican Congress, I'm really a Republican. Now I'm a libertarian, so I've never fit perfectly within much of the Republican canon. But has my opposition to Bush caused me to unconsciously morph into left-libertarianism?
The liberal party planks that I'm supposed to support are below. My answers are underlined:
1) Repeal the estate tax repeal: Hmmm... I confess to being pretty agnostic about this one on philosophical terms, but in the spirit of fiscal rectitude I'll back it.So, that adds up to five and a half points of agreement, which equals only 36.6% agreement. So no, I'm not a liberal. I'm a bit more sympatico with the DLC crowd, but that's not terribly surprising.
Readers are encouraged to see if they are liberals too. However, my gut tells me that readers of danieldrezner.com are wonks more than anything else, so reading statements like "details matter" or "some more regulation" will make them a bit itchy as well.
UPDATE: Whoops, I missed the question on the bankruptcy bill -- I'm afraid I have to plead uninformed on it. Megan McArdle -- who pays more attention to domestic policy than yours truly -- performs the valuable public service of also taking the test. She gives more detailed answers, and reminds me that on the progressivity point, I certainly support the premise behind the EITC/negative income tax.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge takes the test too.
Drezner dares you to explain HUD!
Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of "random variation" -- in layman's terms, "we have no idea what's going on."
Which brings me to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Dallas Business Journal's Christine Perez describes the close of a speech he gave in late April to minority contractors:
After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.This prompted a lot of blogosphere reaction -- as well as some coverage in the Washington Post.
Today, the story gets even stranger, as Frank James of The Chicago Tribune's DC blog The Swamp reports:
I called HUD and talked with Jackson's spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, about the incident. After talking with Jackson, she returned with information that made the matter even more extraordinary.I, for one, would like to thank Secretary Jackson for his odd behavior -- until now, the only thing about HUD that I had found funny since Eddie Murphy's TV series The PJs put a sign outside a government building saying, "HUD: Keeping you in the projects since the 1960's."
Readers are invited to try to divine what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Who's the least trusted of them all?
BBC and Reuters commissioned a poll of 10 countries to find out how much media sources are trusted. One finding that was consistent across countries stood out:
National TV was the most trusted news source overall (trusted by 82%, with 16% not trusting it) - followed by national/regional newspapers (75% vs 19%), local newspapers (69% vs 23%), public radio (67% vs 18%), and international satellite TV (56% vs 19%). Internet blogs were the least trusted source (25% vs 23%) – with one in two unable to say whether they trusted them.
Monday, May 8, 2006
Dear George: Hi, it's Mahmoud.....
Both the New York Times and the Financial Times report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush about the current tensions between the two countries. The NYT story by Christine Hauser is more thorough:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush with suggestions on how to resolve current international tensions, Iranian officials said today, but there was no immediate information about whether he was proposing a solution to differences over Iran's nuclear program.Readers are warmly encouraged to imagine what such a letter would have to say in order to ratchet down tensions between Tehran and Washington.
UPDATE: Here's a link to the actual letter, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations. I found this part intriguing:
Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.You know the world is a cockeyed place when George W. Bush is considered to be the secular alternative.
Sunday, May 7, 2006
Do tax cuts starve or stoke the government beast?
Kevin Drum links to a Jonathan Rauch column in the Atlantic Monthly (non-subscribers can click here to read the whole thing), which summarizes William Niskanen's finding that starving the government of tax revenue doesn't starve the beast of government spending -- if anything, the trend is the exact opposite. From Rauch's story:
Even during the Reagan years, Niskanen was suspicious of Starve the Beast. He thought it more likely that tax cuts, when unmatched with spending cuts, would reduce the apparent cost of government, thus stimulating rather than stunting Washington’s growth. “You make government look cheaper than it would otherwise be,” he said recently.Without necessarily endorsing the "starve the beast" theory of political economy, my first reaction is to ask about lagged effects. As I've understood it, the starve the beast idea does not say that government spending will immediatekly go down as deficits rise; it argues that eventually the increase in deficits creates market and political pressure to cut government spending. My guess is that if you lagged taxes by five years you might get a different result.
I see that this paper made the blog rounds a few years ago -- but it does not appear to have been published. Furthermore, the link to the original conference paper is not not working.
Still, the argument is provocative enough for readers to chew on.