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.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?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."
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.Tisdall is not the only commentator to think of the SCO in this way.
Over at EurasiaNet.org, 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.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.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
My third concentric circle in hell
Well, I have
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).
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. ESPN.com 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.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?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?
Before Wednesday night’s game, Guillen acknowledged that his use of the word might have offended some.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.Eric Wilbur thinks Mariotti is being too kind to Boston beat writers.
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.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.
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.
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
"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.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.
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.
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.