Friday, June 23, 2006

A libertarian move by the Bush administration.... really, I'm not kidding

Reuters reports that President Bush has decided that the federal government won't take advantage of the Kelo ruling. Reuters' Jeremy Pelofsky explains:

President George W. Bush issued an executive order on Friday to limit the U.S. government from taking private property only for the benefit of other private interests, like corporations.

The order came exactly a year after a divided Supreme Court ruled a city could take a person's home or business for a development project to revitalize a depressed local economy, a practice known as eminent domain.

"The federal government is going to limit its own use of eminent domain so that it won't be used for purely economic development purposes," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

She said more than 20 states had already enacted laws that prohibit the use of eminent domain for purely economic development purposes and four states have proposed constitutional amendments on November election ballots.

Here's a link to the actual executive order.

Happy as I am about this, two aspects of this move puzzle me:

1) Why did it take a whole year?

2) Why release this news on a Friday afternoon in the summer? That's normally the time a White House would dump out garbage it didn't want to receive a lot of press coverage. Maybe my libertarianism is clouding my judgment, but I don't see this move as prompting much of a backlash.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin is not impressed:
Read carefully, the order does not in fact bar condemnations that transfer property to other private parties for economic development. Instead, it permits them to continue so long as they are "for the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken."

Unfortunately, this language validates virtually any economic development condemnation that the feds might want to pursue.

posted by Dan at 08:09 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the hard balancing going?

For the past fifteen years, the big question in international relations is why no balancing coalition has emerged against the United States.

The answer you get depends on who you ask. During the nineties, some liberals credited the existing framework of international institutions as forming binding constraints on the U.S., assuaging the concerns of other states. Other liberals credited America's "soft power" in getting other countries to want what we want. Still more liberals would have answered with variations on the democratic peace. Realists didn't say much about the topic during the nineties, other than to warn that a balancing coalition was sure to come, you betcha.

With the arrival of George W. Bush, the September 11th attacks, the U.S. response, and the Iraq war, just about everyone has been predicting a balancing coalition. And yet the funny thing is that it hasn't happened.

Sure, some realists have claimed the existence of "soft balancing," but that's really just a fancy term for self-interested diplomacy. Plus, it's just plain odd to read realists who would otherwise pooh-pooh the existence of international organizations suddenly claim that the diplomatic activity taking place within those organization really matters. The lack of appreciable evidence is also kind of a problem.

This head-scratcher has caused people to start looking for hard balancing coalitions in out of the way places -- inside sofa cushions, under rocks, near Central Asia, you name it. The latest example is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which the Guardian's Simon Tisdall breathlessly reports as follows (link via Peking Duck):

China's president, Hu Jintao, says the SCO represents "a new security concept" based on mutual trust and benefit. "Experience has shown that the SCO is an important force in safeguarding regional and world peace," he said last week. Sino-Russian relations, increasingly the group's cornerstone, had never been better, he said. It was not exclusive and did not target third parties.

It looks different from Washington, whose applications for SCO observer status have been refused, and Japan, the western ally with potentially the most to lose. "The SCO is becoming a rival bloc to the US alliance. It does not share our values. We are watching it very closely," a Japanese official said.

Russia and China are suspected of using the SCO to shut the US and its allies out of fast-developing central Asian energy markets, thereby monopolising supply. Beijing, for example, is offering $900m (£480m) in soft loans to central Asian partners. At a deeper level, US strategists see a threat that might one day produce renewed, cold war-style confrontation between opposing east-west poles. In some analyses, the SCO is a born-again Warsaw pact; Russia has already been "lost"; India and Pakistan are swing voters; and Iran is the wild card.

Tisdall is not the only commentator to think of the SCO in this way.

Over at, however, Stephen Blank points out that the SCO suffers from even greater inrernal tensions than, say, NATO (hat tip to Passport's David Bosco):

Beijing and Moscow have differing visions for the SCO, but these differences are being papered over at present by both countries’ shared desire to drastically reduce, or eliminate altogether US influence in Central Asia. Russia wants to transform the SCO into a club of energy producers, of which it would be the dominant partner. This notion, of course, not only goes against the interests of Central Asian producers, it also poses a threat to China and India, both of which are major consumers of Russian and Central Asian energy.

In sharp contrast to the Russians view, China wants to use the SCO as a facilitator of regional trade and investment, something that would enable Beijing to play the leading role. In political terms, China sees the SCO as a catalyst for the establishment of a new pan-Asian order, in which American military power and calls for democratization are either excluded, or are negligible.

Prior to 2005, Russia did not take the SCO so seriously, tending to see it as Beijing’s creature. But with the sudden turn of events in 2005, which saw the United States lose its military base in Uzbekistan, while China pursued bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Russian interest in the SCO rapidly increased. Moscow found itself determined to breathe new life into the SCO and advance its own agenda for the organization. Russia favors a US withdrawal only from Central Asia, not the entire Asian continent. Keeping a US presence on the Korean Peninsula, for example, would serve as a check on China’s growing power-projection capabilities. Russian officials worry that without a US presence in East Asia, China would establish itself as the dominant partner in the SCO and other multilateral groupings -- an unsavory prospect for Russian elites.

Thus, behind the shared anti-American feelings, China, Russia and the other SCO members and observers harbor serious differences of opinion. Given these, it is unlikely that the SCO can develop anytime soon into an anti-NATO-like grouping along the lines of the Warsaw Pact. The SCO’s consensus is a negative one, in which the parties agree only on what they don’t like.

A negative consensus is sufficient for a hard balancing coalition when the threat is so pre-eminent that state survival is at stake. The United States does not constitute that threat.

UPDATE: Drat!! Dan Nexon beat me the blog punch on this. Go check out his post as well.

posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My third concentric circle in hell

No words that can accurately convey my reaction to this video.

Well, I have five six -- Connie Chung is no Michelle Pfeiffer.

posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Now the circle of co-optation is complete

Way back in August 2004, Henry Farrell and I wrote the following:

We predict that as blogs become a more established feature on the political landscape, politicians and other interested parties will become more adept at responding to them, and, where they believe it necessary, co-opting them. To the extent that blogs become more politically influential, we may expect them to become more directly integrated into ‘politics as usual,’ losing some of their flavor of novelty and immediacy in the process.
That pretty much sums up what's happening with the allegations of "blogola" -- excessive chumminess betweek Markos Moulitsas, Jerome Armstrong and whoever hires Armstrong as a political consultant.

For links on what's happening, see Mickey Kaus, James Joyner, NRO's Jim Geraghty, Ann Althouse, and Jason Zengerle at TNR's The Plank (this post about Kos' marketing power is particularly interesting). UPDATE: Thanks to Bob McManus for providing links to the left half of the blogosphere -- Ezra Klein, Max Sawicky, Stirling Newberry, Duncan Black, and Kos himself (see this Kos post on Zengerle's Plank posts as well).

Read all the links. What's going on is not illegal, or even out of the ordinary in Washington, DC. It's politics as usual. The only reason the story is noteworthy is because bloggers like Kos have persistently said that they and theirs -- a.k.a., the netroots -- are not about politics as usual.

Over time, however, that claim looks less and less viable. The question is whether bloggers like Kos find that their legions of readers are turned off by these kind of revelations, or whether they comfortably adjust into being middleweight power brokers.

UPDATE: Commenters seem to be very upset that I'm accusing Moulitsas and Armstrong of corruption. I find this puzzling since I specifically did not do that. All I'm saying is that as Armstrong and Moulitsas rub elbows with powerful Democrats on a repeated basis, it becomes tougher and tougher for them to play the role of independent outsiders without a stake in the system. As Markos himself points out:

I have friends that work or are closely allied with every single 2008 candidate. I have friends working in every single high-profile Senate race this fall. And at the DCCC, DSCC and DNC. Fact is, in this biz, I've made a s***load of great friends. And I won't tell them to f*** off because they work for a campaign. In fact, I ENCOURAGE my friends to work for campaigns. It's -- gasp! -- a good thing.
Garance Franke-Ruta makes this same point in Tapped. In other words, the gates have been crashed.

This is pretty much what Henry and I predicted, and it's coming to fruition (and it's certainly not limited to the left half, either).

posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Ozzie Guillen's unique gift of gab

Ozzie Guillen is the manager of the Chicago White Sox, and congenitally incapable of going two days without doing or saying something controversial.

Last week he got into hot water in a game against the Texas Rangers because Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was hit by pitches twice in the game. Sean Tracey, a White Sox rookie, was in the game with instructions to drill Texas' Hank Blalock. He didn't do it (he tried, but darnit, he got Blalok to ground out). TV cameras showed Guillen screaming at Tracey in the dugout. Tracey apparently broke into tears and was sent to the minors the next day.

That's nothing, however, compared to his latest screw-up. explains:

On Tuesday to reporters, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen referred to Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Around the Horn contributor Jay Mariotti as a derogatory name for a homosexual.

Angry with a recent column by Mariotti critical of Guillen's handling of recently demoted relief pitcher Sean Tracey and upset with Mariotti with columns of the past, Guillen said to reporters when referring to Mariotti before Tuesday's game with the Cardinals, "What a piece of [expletive] he is, [expletive] fag."

Sports columnist Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times puts this latest statement in context -- and then gives Guillen enough rope to hang himself:
The issue is that Guillen said the wrong thing, and he does it often and it never sticks to him. That's just Ozzie, we hear. And the Sox tend to chuckle about this stuff, as if we can just forgive him. Why? Because English is his second language?

Not good enough. Last year in New York, he referred to someone as homosexual and a child molester, equating the two.

He took some heat for that one, briefly. So he should have known.

Guillen is not dumb. Let's not insult him. He knows what he's saying, and he certainly knows that it's not acceptable. He has been in this country for a quarter of a century. This offseason, I went to his swearing-in as a U.S. citizen....

After the game, I told Guillen what I was planning to say here, and I gave him a chance to explain. Here's what he said:

"I don't have anything against those people. In my country, you call someone something like that and it is not the same as it is in this country.''

Guillen said that in Venezuela, that word is not a reference to a person's sexuality, but to his courage. He said he was saying that Mariotti is "not man enough to meet me and talk about [things before writing]."....

He also said that he has gay friends, goes to WNBA games, went to the Madonna concert and plans to attend the Gay Games in Chicago. (emphasis added)

Wait a minute, he attends WNBA games? He gets a pass from me then!!

Seriously, to answer Couch's question -- the reason people tolerate Guillen in Chicago is that his team is winning. The moment that changes, Guillen, like Billy Martin before him, will quickly get frogmarched out of town.

What is it about managers of Chicago baseball teams, anyway?

UPDATE: Ozzie apologizes -- in an Ozzie kind of way:

Before Wednesday night’s game, Guillen acknowledged that his use of the word might have offended some.

“I shouldn’t have mentioned the name that was mentioned, but I’m not going to back off of Jay,” Guillen said, using another profanity to describe Mariotti.

“The word I used, I should have used something different. A lot of people’s feelings were hurt and I didn’t mean it that way.”

Guillen said he had spoken to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about the incident.

“Jay, I think I made this guy a lot of money and he’s famous. If not for Ozzie Guillen, no one would have heard of him,” Guillen said. “If I hurt anybody with what I called him, I apologize.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Mariotti responds in his Thursday column:
I can shrug it off as an occupational hazard, knowing I'm called meaner things at the coffee stand every morning. I also know it places me on an extraordinarily long list of people the Blizzard has dissed or launched into, including Magglio ("Venezuelan [bleep]'') Ordonez, Buck Showalter, Phil Garner, Sean Tracey, the Los Angeles Angels, every American League umpire, the reporter he threatened to rub out last winter and, by not showing up at the White House for a ceremony, the President of the United States.

Ozzie? He makes Mark Cuban seem like Virginia McCaskey.

But I am not the story here in the latest chapter of OzFest, a farce that is averaging two new targets a week and will have another co-star as soon as tonight. The story is Guillen's mouth and the warped diatribes of a man who thinks slurs are an acceptable means of retaliation in American life, like one of his dugout-ordered purpose pitches. Twice in less than a year, Guillen has dropped derogatory homosexual terms in his public dealings as White Sox manager. Last year at Yankee Stadium, he claimed to be greeting a friend warmly when he said, "Hey, everybody, this guy's a homosexual! He's a child molester!'' Two New York-area columnists took offense, as they should have, and so did I -- the only writer in Chicago who did, which is often how it works in a town softer and more politically driven by the sports franchises than a genuinely tough, independent sports media town such as Boston....

The time has come for a two-week suspension, long enough for human sensibility and decency to kick in. It's more important the Sox send a message about what they stand for than what Guillen's absence might mean in a pennant race. Let Ozzie think about life a little. Send him out for some professional sensitivity training, not what is being attempted by unskilled shrinks in the public-relations office. Tell him why it's fine to admonish a media person all he wants -- a critic should accept criticism, naturally -- as long as Guillen doesn't step over the line and slur gay groups. Most importantly, explain what happened to Schott, Al Campanis and Jimmy "The Greek'' Snyder when they made insensitive comments.

Eric Wilbur thinks Mariotti is being too kind to Boston beat writers.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Wacky government incentives, continued

A quick follow-up to my post on the bizarre tax incentives for hybrid vehicles.

As fate would have it, David Leonhardt at the New York Times looks at this scheme and confirms the explanation made by many commenters in the last thread -- the goal of the tax credit is to help the domestic auto industry, not energy conservation:

The first thing to understand about the hybrid tax credit is that it was never really intended to reduce oil imports from the Middle East or slow the effects of global warming. The credit was created to prop up Detroit while giving conservation a nod.

Last summer, when Congress was completing an energy bill, Toyota's and Honda's hybrids were already winning people over in the marketplace, and it was clear that any tax credit would go overwhelmingly to buyers of Japanese cars. So members of Congress, with help from Detroit's lobbyists, came up with an ingenious solution. They created a cap, a maximum number of hybrids that any single manufacturer could sell — 60,000 — before a clock started ticking, causing the credits for that carmaker to begin disappearing two quarters later.

The idea, Mark Kemmer, a G.M. lobbyist, told Automotive News, was to keep any one company from getting "a runaway benefit."

Toyota hit the 60,000 mark last month, less than five months after the Jan. 1 start of the program, and the credits for its hybrid buyers will be cut in half on Oct. 1. (Because there are waiting lists for the Prius and Camry Hybrid, people who buy one in August or September may get their car after Oct. 1.) On April 1, 2007, the credits will be cut in half again. On Oct. 1, 2007, they will vanish. Honda, for its part, will probably hit the cap next year.

And the Big Three? Combined, they have sold fewer than 15,000 eligible vehicles so far, all by Ford, largely because their hybrids have not impressed buyers. Rather than building highly efficient hybrids like the Prius, Detroit has tinkered with gas guzzlers like the Chevrolet Silverado, adding hybrid technology to them so that they get slightly better mileage.

Come next year, then, the government will pay you to buy a Silverado hybrid (which gets about 16 miles per gallon) or a Ford Escape Hybrid (which gets about 26, according to Consumer Reports), but not a Prius (44) or a nonhybrid Corolla (29).

I'll close this post with an e-mail excerpt from a good friend and high-powered Chicago lawyer who shall remain nameless:
Much of the law has a kind of internal coherence. The common law, especially, is a kind of organic effort to rationally work out social ordering. Federal statutes are often broad efforts to impelement a basic policy objective -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Because the law "makes sense" much of the time, one can usually infer the "purpose" of a law from its provisions.

When I took tax in law school, I learned exactly one thing: Do not spend any time trying to make sense of tax law. It has no coherence. It is pure sausage. Special interests get the most they can get away with, and if what they fail to get often does not reflect any argument they lost but instead reflects the limits of their power weighed against other budgetary considerations.

posted by Dan at 01:56 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

So what's it like outside of the Green Zone?

The leaked memo from the Baghdad embassy to Condoleezza Rice on the situation for Iraqis in Baghdad makes for very sobering reading.

Read it and comment away. The first thought that came to mind for me: please, please tell me that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has sources of intel on the situation there beyond the locals working at the embassy.

I hope Dick Cheney is right when he says that 10 years from now people will look back at 2005 and say, "That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq." Memos like the one linked above, however, make Cheney's assertion look pretty out-of-touch.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Who's the best briber at the International Whaling Commission?

At academic conferences, when the whiskey and the port run low, and all the international relations specialists bask in the warm glow of having power-schmoozed all day vigorously debating important scholarly and policy debates of the day, inevitably the question comes up:

"What's your favorite international governmental organization?"
OK, that never actually happens -- we're not that geeky, and most IR types I know are oenophiles rather than whiskey-drinkers, and on the whole we can't afford good port.

This is too bad, because I have an answer -- the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC has a fun history. Originally set up by countries with active whaling industries, powerful members shifted policies once environmentalists became a more influential domestic lobby than whalers. By 1986, the IWC had institued a ban on all commercial whaling.

At present, the United States supports a ban on the commercial hunting of all whales to protect the endangered species. Because of their politically powerful whaling industries – and consumer preferences for whale meat – Japan and several Scandinavian countries prefer reversing the ban. Japan has tried to circumvent this rule by authorizing the hunting of more than 500 whales in the North Pacific, ostensibly for scientific research – but much of the whale meat harvested from these scientific hunts has found its way into commercial restaurants.

In an effort to alter the status quo, Japan has attempted to pack the IWC membership with loyal votes, paying membership dues so microstates such as Dominica, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands can join. These countries have consistently supported Japan’s position in return for large dollops of official development assistance, preventing the creation of new sanctuaries for whales in the South Pacific.

This, by the way, is why I love the IWC -- it's not that there isn't vote-buying in other venues (including the UN Security Council), it's just that the bribery at the IWC is so wonderfully blatant.

This leads us to today's plenary meering. Let's start with the Independent's rather hyperbolic coverage:

The environment movement suffered one of its greatest reverses late last night when pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, gained control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and immediately began undermining the 20-year-old international whaling moratorium.

In a stunning diplomatic coup, Japan and its allies, including Norway and Iceland, won a voting majority in the IWC for the first time, as a result of a remorseless 10-year Japanese campaign to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean countries in exchange for multimillion-dollar foreign aid packages.

At the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, the pro-whalers scraped home on a catch-all resolution that condemned the moratorium as invalid, blamed whales for depleting the fish stocks of poor countries, and attacked environmental pressure groups campaigning against whaling such as Greenpeace.

The vote on the so-called "St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" was won by 33 votes to 32, with one nation - China - abstaining. The Japanese had been widely expected to achieve a majority in the meeting after bringing three new states into the IWC this year to vote on their side - Cambodia, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala - but they had lost four earlier votes by narrow margins.

Yet that does not matter now. The simple 51 per cent majority they have now secured will not allow them to scrap the moratorium directly - for that they need a majority of 75 per cent. But for them it is an enormous moral victory, and its significance was immediately realised by opponents and supporters of whaling alike.

I think the Independent is hyperventilating just a bit (click here for the more buttoned-down AP report). Here's why.

First, the pro-whaling coalition still needs to get another 25% of the membership on their side.

Second, the pro-whaling coalition has a point -- there are some species of whales which are not endangered. The Economist (subscription required) points out that not even Japan is proposing hunting blue whales or other endangered species right now. UPDATE: This Joshua Kurlantzick piece from 2004 in The New Republic makes the policy and gastronomic case for why the whaling ban should be partially lifted.

Third, the United States and other anti-whaling countries have not begun to bribe (though they have in the past). I therefore predict a vast expansion of the IWC's membership over the next few years, as both pro and and anti-whaling countries sponsor members.

Which leads to the question at the top of this post.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Wacky government incentives

In moving to Massachusetts, the Drezner family needs to buy a second car, and we're thinking about a Prius (like Virginia Postrel, I like the styling as well as the gas mileage).

This caused us to stumble onto one of the odder tax credit schemes I've seen, the 2005 Energy Policy Act's credit for qualified hyrbid vehicles. The credit is based in part on the fuel-efficiency of the hybrid vehicle, which makes sense... sort of (why someone should get a tax credit of over $1,500 for a Lexus GS 450h when its gas mileage is below a lot of non-hybrid cars on this list is beyond me).

What makes no sense to me at all is the tax credit's half-life. Here's the IRS's explanation:

Consumers seeking the credit may want to buy early because the full credit is only available for a limited time. Taxpayers may claim the full amount of the allowable credit up to the end of the first calendar quarter after the quarter in which the manufacturer records its sale of the 60,000th vehicle. For the second and third calendar quarters after the quarter in which the 60,000th vehicle is sold, taxpayers may claim 50 percent of the credit. For the fourth and fifth calendar quarters, taxpayers may claim 25 percent of the credit. No credit is allowed after the fifth quarter.
Unless it was designed to reduce the fiscal impact of the tax credit, this makes no sense to me. All it does is give people an incentive to buy cars in the first half of the year. If anything, the incentive penalizes brands and models that perform well -- since they would hit their cap quicker than less appealing brands.

Knowledgable readers are implored to comment on any rational reason for puting a quantity cap on the tax credit.

It should be stressed, however, that this is not the most bizarre government incentive scheme in recent years. No, you're going to have to click here to read about the government incentive scheme that generated the most bizarre, disturbing -- and yet thoroughly predictable -- response.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

You wanna know why America is unilateralist?

After a timid and embarrassing peformance against the Czechs, the United States tied Italy in its World Cup match today, 1-1. In doing so, the US team earned its first point in a World Cup tournament held in Europe.

The outcome of the game also helps to explain the source of the occasional American impulse towatds unilateralism -- when Americans agree to play by the rules, the rules are suddenly changed to stack the deck against the Americans. The U.S. team outplayed Italy in this game, and might have won if the friggin' ref hadn't gotten red-card happy. Apparently the British commentators were even more cheesed off about the bad refereeing in the game than ABC, according to Frank Foer. His comment about the refereeing is on point:

How can we account for his Mickey Mouse performance? What hint of corruption will be turned up? Was this a display of anti-Americanism? Or just sheer incompetence? Clearly, his miscues affected both sides--and clearly they affected one side more than the other.
I implore the referees to announce prior to the U.S.-Ghana game that they will be vigilant and even-handed -- otherwise, I can see either Bruce Arena authorizing a pre-emptive raid against FIFA or George W. Bush authorizing a pre-emptive strike against Ghana.

posted by Dan at 12:23 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)