Saturday, August 12, 2006
The political economy of NOCs
The Economist runs a good backgrounder (subscriber only) on national oil companies (NOCs) and their various organizational pathologies. In particular, the article identifies the central peculiarity of nationalized energy companies -- inefficiences now give them greater market leverage in the future.
If nothing else, the story places "big oil" in the proper perspective:
Exxon Mobil is the world's most valuable listed company, with a market capitalisation of $412 billion. But if you compare oil companies by how much they have left in the ground, the American giant ranks a lowly fourteenth. All 13 of the oil firms that outshadow it are national oil companies (NOCs): partially or wholly state-owned firms through which governments retain the profits from oil production.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Gonna be a fun month to fly
Congrats to all involved on foiling that terror plot.
And now, a very selfish request:
Please, please, please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, allow things to calm down enough so that next month when I have to fly to and from the UK, these travel restrictions are no longer in place.UPDATE: Although the media reaction has focused on this latest plot as an example of the vitality of terrorists, I tend to agree with much of this Stratfor analysis:
There are four takeaway lessons from this incident:
If there was a stock market for cabinet officers....
Then Condi Rice's stock would be going down, while Henry Paulson's stock would be slowly rising. Whether that's fair is another question.
The New York Times runs stories about both of them, and the tone of the stories is pretty different.
Helene Cooper's piece on Rice suggests that she's a prisoner of bureaucratic politics:
As Ms. Rice has struggled with the Middle East crisis over the last four weeks, she has found herself trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties at home.In contrast, Steven Weisman's piece on Paulson suggests a man surmounting the push and pull of different bureaucracies:
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has spent his first weeks in office seeking to assert control within the administration over international economic issues, focusing in particular on developing a new plan to confront China’s growing economic clout, administration officials say.Are these perceptions fair? Maybe. But buried within both stories are facts suggesting that these perceptions have more to do with the intrinsic difficulties of the policy problems at hand rather than the relative competencies of Rice and Paulson.
For example, there's this in the Rice story:
Several State Department officials have privately objected to the administration’s emphasis on Israel and have said that Washington is not talking to Syria to try to resolve the crisis. Damascus has long been a supporter of Hezbollah, and previous conflicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shuttle diplomacy with Syria.And there's this in the Paulson story:
Kenneth S. Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard, said he detected a subtle shift in Chinese thinking recently. Other economists, noting the shift, say that Mr. Paulson should now take advantage of it and may do so soon.What does this information tell us? That Rice's options might be limited by external as well as internal factors, while Paulson is not. Which makes Paulson's job a heck of a lot easier.
Find a hobby for Cynthia McKinney!! Please??!!
From an Associated Press story by Errin Haines on Cynthia Mckinney's primary loss:
"Cynthia McKinney is loved nationally, locally and internationally," said Brooks, who is president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. "I expect her to move to the international scene, especially as it relates to peace, justice and environmental issues. This is going to elevate her to another level."It's always nice to see Americans interested in foreign affairs -- but I'm not entirely sure that this is the best use of McKinney's .... er... talents.
Readers are encouraged to offer Rep. McKinney career advice that does not involve her entering the "international scene."
Please? Pretty please?
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Day of the lefties
"Among the college-educated men in our sample, those who report being left-handed earn 13 percent more than those who report being right-handed," said economist Christopher S. Ruebeck of Lafayette College. Ruebeck and his research partners, Joseph E. Harrington Jr. and Robert Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University, reported the findings in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.I'll leave it to my readers to speculate on possible explanations.
The trouble with obsessing about exports
Adam Posen has a very good column in the Financial Times today (alas, subscriber only) about the folly that is focusing on export competitiveness. The highlights:
If governments want to increase their economies’ share of global production in high-value-added sectors or, better still, create new such products and sectors, then the policy goal should be to increase competitive pressure upon an economy’s own businesses. In spite of the frequently cited examples of export-led growth for some developing countries, there is mounting evidence that the benefits to growth of countries’ engagement in trade are attributable to openness. These include: the direct benefits of importing lower prices and greater variety; the efficiency gains from challenging (rather than protecting) domestic businesses; and policy choices that contribute to a broadly liberal and market-orientated framework across the economy. Exports taken on their own, the usual narrower target of competitiveness policy, are not correlated with average per capita income growth.This ties into a key political problem in reviving Doha -- the trade rounds are organized in such a way as to magnify the economic importance of exports. Edward M. Graham explained this in a op-ed last month that's worth highlighting:
[T]he notion that benefits come mostly from increased exports while increased imports are a "cost" that trade negotiators must try to minimize remains a lie. Rather, what is true is that the most immediate public benefits from a successful trade negotiation are actually created by import expansion. Such an expansion thus should be treated as a benefit—not a cost. It is via lower import prices and greater product variety that consumers benefit from trade expansion. In fact, the $287 billion of calculable benefits from the Doha Round as noted above come mostly from price reductions of imports. Indeed, almost two-thirds of this figure would result from lower prices of agricultural goods and elimination of efficiency-distorting subsidies to farmers. Much of the rest comes from lower prices of clothing. But to achieve this benefit, the trade negotiators and politicians behind them must be ready to take on the farmers and textile interests who oppose these negotiations. Moreover, the main reason the negotiations are failing is simply that trade negotiators from key "players"—the European Union, the United States, Japan, Korea, and others—are placing the interests of local farmers and textile producers over those of the general public. Farmers worldwide threaten to make noise if agricultural protection and subsidies are reduced. But the public at large seems indifferent to the possibility that a successful negotiation could lead to lower bills at the food store. Moreover, reform of trade in agricultural and textile-based goods could stimulate the export industries of some of the poorest countries.UPDATE: Mark Thoma has further thoughts.
Noam Scheiber confuses me
My specialty is in international relations and not American politics, so maybe that explains why I don't completely understand Noam Scheiber's op-ed in the New York Times on the implications of the end of Joementum:
[T]here was a time when the support of key Democratic interest groups would have more than made up for such heresies. That he could not depend on that traditional lifeline this time should be alarming even for those who hoped for his defeat.Formally, Scheiber's argument has some logic -- if an interest group holds a veto over the nomination process, and they care only that their rep take position A* on issue A, then Congressman Smith can adopt any position on issues B-Z. If the netroots have veto power, Scheiber is arguing that Smith can adopt A' rather than A*, so long as he compensates by modifiying his positions on issues B-Z such that they conform to the base's preferences.
There's only one problem with this argument, and it's contained within Scheiber's op-ed: "they care as much about style as about issues — they want Democrats to denounce Republicans loudly and stridently, and to block the administration’s agenda whenever possible." The netroots would not tolerate Congressman Smith adopting a free-trade position -- because that means cooperating with the Republicans. Indeed, since cooperation with the other party is more politically visible than one's ideological profile, this will matter a lot more.
The point is, I don't see the netroots generating more free-trade Democrats in the rust belt.
So what's it like in Northern Uganda?
Taylor Owen at Oxblog relays a first-person account from Erin Baines about negotiations to end a conflict in Uganda. You know a situation must be pretty dire when the Sudanese government is the mediator in a dispute.
Go check it out.
How the academy is efficient
Occasionally the marginal idea escapes the academy and has an impact, but by and large students just want to graduate, academics just want to be insulated from the real world, and the real world wants to be isolated from loonies who go on about how great Che Guevara was. In this light, the Academy is a very efficient mechanism, creating surplus for all.Click here to read this in context.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Pirates of the Malacca Strait: Lloyd's Curse
One of the low-level globalization stories that occasionally bubbles to the surface is the apparent difficulty of combating piracy in the sea lanes.
One of the world’s busiest and most hazardous shipping routes was yesterday declared to be winning its fight against piracy when Lloyd’s, the shipping insurer, dropped its war risk designation for the Malacca Strait.
James Baker's mystique and aura
The Washington Monthly runs a story by Robert Dreyfuss on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, supported by no less than four think tanks, in order to "conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests."
There's not much out of the ordinary about such a congressionally-created group. However, it's a testament to the times we live in -- and Baker's reputation as the ne plus ultra of power brokers -- that Dreyfuss' entire story seems dedicated to showing why this group really, really politically significant:
Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."....I think Dreyfuss is stretching the definition of "leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party" just a wee bit. The Democratic "bigwigs" on the commission are Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William H. Perry, and Charles Robb. While Perry's an undisputed heavyweight, neither Jordan nor Panetta are thought of as foreign policy experts, and Robb is more of a light heavyweight. The Democrats might not have a deep foreign policy bench, but this commission is hardly going to lock the party into any position on Iraq come 2008.
Furthermore, it's not clear at all to me how Baker's commission can put a halt to the alleged scenario Dreyfuss lays out in the first quoted paragraph. Baker's commission is not going to be able to anything between now and the midterms, and after that, it doesn't matter what they do -- either the Democrats will be able to convene hearings or they won't. There's nothing mutually exclusive about holding investigative hearings on past decisions while supporting a commission to devise a way out of Iraq. Indeed, it might actually help Democrats who, having supported the war in the first place, now feel the need to sound more anti-war than Al Gore.
I do hope that Baker's group devises the perfect solution to the Iraq mess. This article is proof, however, that James Baker's gravitas is now so extreme that it badly distorts the reportage that surrounds him.
Cheaters are everywhere
Given the many doping scandals in sports like cycling and baseball, the New York Times' Dylan Loeb McClain points out that cheating exists in "mental sports" too:
Accusations of cheating at the largest tournament of the year have the chess world buzzing — and have tournament directors worried about what they may have to do to stop players from trying to cheat in the future.
Monday, August 7, 2006
Faked Reuters photos -- open thread
Comment away on the Reuters decision to withdraw all photographs by a Lebanese freelancer because he doctored his photographs to make Israeli bombing damage appear worse than it actually was -- and the role the right-wing blogosphere played in this decision.
I confess to actual shock -- I thought this kind of thing only happened when O.J. Simpson was arrested.
Two more serious thoughts:
1) Is this the tip of the iceberg or merely an isolated incident? If the former, how much misperception does such photo doctoring create about the current conflict?
Apparently, the counterinsurgency manual needs a rewrite
My Fletcher colleague Richard H. Shultz co-authors an op-ed in the New York Times the Army's efforts to develop a new manual about about counterinsurgency tactics from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some sobering highlights:
In today’s internal wars several different types of armed groups — not just traditional insurgents bent on changing a national regime — engage in unconventional combat. Iraq is illustrative. Those fighting American forces include a complex mix of Sunni tribal militias, former regime members, foreign and domestic jihadists, Shiite militias and criminal gangs. Each has different motivations and ways of fighting. Tackling them requires customized strategies.This part is particularly interesting:
Meeting and defeating terrorist groups requires a far deeper understanding of their factions — and the exploitation of the rifts between them. Consider how such profiling led to the demise of the Abu Nidal organization, which 20 years ago was the world’s most lethal terrorist group.An interesting question to ask is the extent to which western and Arab intelligence agencies have managed to penetrate Al Qaeda's network -- and whether such penetration is more difficult because of the Islamist nature of that organization. It might be tougher to penetrate networks where the identity rests on a theocratic foundation.
Intriguingly, this problem has the potential to cut both ways. Dexter Flikins' review of Lorenzo Wright's new book contains the following nugget of information:
Al Qaeda’s leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter.
Sunday, August 6, 2006
Your DVD selections for the summer
Now is normally the time of the month when the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com has sifted through the mountain of book submissions, and -- after debating the finer points of international relations theory in a manner that would have done Bloomsbury or the Algonquin Round Table proud -- selects the much-sought-after prize of being a Book of the Month club selection.
Well, it's August, and it's been really friggin' hot in Boston for the past week or two. This got the staff thinking -- maybe for August, entertainments should be selected that do not tax the mind in such a laborious fashion. Maybe August is the time of lighter fare.
So, without further ado, here are two DVD selections for the dog days of August.
First, for those Buffy fans in the audience, let me recommend what others have urged me to do for several years -- go out and buy the first season of Veronica Mars. The parallels between Veronica and Buffy are quite strong -- formerly-popular-and-now-mostly-alone-but-very-comely girl going to high school in a California town, battling the forces of corruption and evil.
However, Veronica is both less and more scary than Buffy. Less scary in that there are no supernatural demons in the fictional town of Neptune, and there is more than one competent and good-hearted adult in this world. More scary in that the murders, frame-ups, and other evildoings in Veronica Mars all emanate from the hearts of men and not demons -- and as such, exact a greater psychic toll on our heroine. Buffy was better at bringing the funny, but Veronica Mars nails the petty and grand cruelties of high school better than any show I've seen in quite a while.
Don't take my word for it, though. Ask Veronica Mars' biggest fanboy -- Joss Whedon:
Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season....Season two is coming out soon -- check them out so you're all caught up for season three.
If spunky heroines are not your kettle of fish, well, then let me recommend going out and buying a DVD of one of the cheesiest eighties movies you'll ever see -- yes, I speak of Road House.
Terms of Endearment. On Golden Pond. Children of a Lesser God. All these acclaimed films came out in the 1980s, but if you had to pick the one movie that best sums up the entire decade, it would be about a bouncer with a goofy name and goofier hair, notorious for spouting such oxymorons as ''pain don't hurt.'' It would be Road House. This Patrick Swayze curiosity symbolizes the excess of the '80s in pretty much every way imaginable, with some of the most awesomely ridiculous barroom-brawl scenes of all time, numerous naked bimbos, and plenty of classic bad-guy taunting (''I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that's missing is your ass!'').Ross misses two things. The first is the hair. Swayze's hair in this move is actually more feathered than co-star Kelly Lynch. Second, he missed the most blatantly homoerotic moment in an action movie -- you'll have to see the move to understand what I mean.
The latest DVD features a commentary track from fellow Road House fan Kevin Smith. Go check it out -- and feel your brain cells wither and die.