Saturday, September 9, 2006
Open CIA secret prisons/Gitmo thread
Blogging might be intermittent over the next few days, as I will be heading to Oxford as an outside reader for a dissertation viva.
In the meantime, comment away on:
The trouble with implementing fair trade
The Financial Times' Hal Weitzman has an interesting story about the failure to enforce "fair trade" labels on items like coffee:
“Ethical” coffee is being produced in Peru, the world’s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.Click here for a companion story by Weizman that gets at the details of the problem. The most interesting section of the latter piece comes here:
“No certifier is able to check that at no time are workers paid below minimum wage,” says Luuk Zonneveld, Managing Director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) in Bonn. “This issue comes up everywhere. Poor people struggle to pay their workers fairly.”This suggests the following:
1) If fair traders really want workers to receive what they believe is a living wage, they're going to have raise the price of properlylabeled coffee;Is there a solution to the problem? My solution would be to raise the price of fair trade coffee such that everyone in the distribution chain can receive higher wages, and let consumers decide whether the higher price is worth it.
A perfect solution? Hardly -- but it's the one that is the most honest while not restricting employment in poor economies like Peru.
Friday, September 8, 2006
The New York Times blows the lid off of pissant think tank contributions
I've been known to question the value-added of think tanks from time to time, so I looked with interest at Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom's New York Times story on how Wal-Mart is potentially buying ideological support through it's support of consevative think tanks:
As Wal-Mart Stores struggles to rebut criticism from unions and Democratic leaders, the company has discovered a reliable ally: prominent conservative research groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute.[Uh-oh, another potential payola scandal in the think tank community. We're talking millions here, right?--ed.] As it turns out, not so much, no:
At least five research and advocacy groups that have received Walton Family Foundation donations are vocal advocates of the company.In plain English, the Walton Foundation gave AEI an average of $33,000 a year, PRI $35,000 a year, and a whopping $3,667 a year to Heritage.
Besides the fact that the story reveals no link between the donations and think tank outputs, besides the fact that these groups would be ideologically predisposed to support Wal-Mart anyway (just as EPI would support the union position), it's worth stressing that in the think tank world, these are nothing amounts. These sums of money buy a B.A.-level RA and some cocktail shrimp at a reception. After reading the article, I'm not amazed that Wal-Mart is giving money to these think tanks -- I'm amazed they'e giving so little.
This leads to a fundamental question -- what on earth motivated the New York Times to put this article on the front page of its Business section? Properly headlined, an article that blares, "Little Money Flowing Between Wal-Mart and Washington Think Tanks" wouldn't even have run, much less on the front page. Instead, we get,"Wal-Mart Finds an Ally in Conservatives."
In Congress, there's a threshhold below which legislators are not required to report gifts because they are so minor. The sums we're talking about here are below the threshhold to motivate a NYT story.
UPDATE: For the record, I have received no money or gifts from Wal-Mart at any time.
And frankly, I'm a little hurt.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Volokh, David Bernstein also has some fun with the article.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's an example of a Heritage analyst -- the very same one who's cited as pro-Wal-Mart in the story -- adopting an anti-Wal-Mart position. Thanks to Heritage's Khristine Brookes for the pointer. [You remembered to ask her for cash, right?--ed. D'oh!!]
Today's debate about the yuan
In his "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, Tyler Cowen makes a counterintuitive argument:
Contrary to popular opinion, China may be good for our trade balance. American consumers seem determined to spend money, and Chinese businessmen have made the bill cheaper.This column has caused something of a ripple in the economics portion of the blogosphere. See Greg Mankiw for a supportive post.
I had to write about this issue in a white paper for U.S. Trade Strategy, so a few quick thoughts on the matter:
1) Debating about what happens to the yuan if China liberalizes its capital markets is pretty much a red herring at this point, because it's not happening anytime soon. I lean towards Tyler's view that the yuan would likely fall, because the amount of Chinese savings that would leave would dwarf the amount of investment capital that would flow in (one of the scarier facts about the Chinese economy is that to my knowledge no one has any idea of how to gauge the efficiency of recent Chinese investments). Again, though, it's a red herring.I fully expect my readers to weigh in on the matter.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
When is it a civic uprising and when is it populism run amok?
During the eighties there was a raging ideological debate within the United States about which regime was more brutal and/or repressive, El Salvador or Nicaragua. It was impossible to condemn or support both governments -- the ideological divide was too strong.
I bring this up because there's an interesting contrast to make between developments in Mexico and Bolivia. In the former country, James C. McKinley offers a sympathetic explanation in the New York Times for why Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to keep a third of the country mobilized behind him:
[W]hy do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?
Depending on my readers' political inclinations, I have every confidence that they know whether they side with Calderón or Obrador.
Now, we come to Bolivia, where there's a similar problem but the politics are reversed. Hal Weitzman explains in the Financial Times:
Bolivia’s regional and social divisions may be deepened by allegations that President Evo Morales is seeking to dominate an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.My ideological predilections tell me to sympathize with the Bolivians as rejecting the erosion of the rule of law, but to tut-tut López Obrador’s supporters for similar (though not identical) actions.
Question to readers: is there any non-fascist formulation whereby one can sympathize with either both governments or both protest movements?
My top five foods at Trader Joe's
One of the major perks of moving from the south side of Chicago to the west Boston suburbs is that even during rush hour, we are now less than 10 minutes away from Trader Joe's.
In an ode to the store, Laura McKenna recently posted her top 5 favorite foods to get there. While I respect Laura's opinion on a great many matters, I fear that my list is very different from hers.
Without further ado:
1) Chocolate-covered espresso beans. Sweet Jesus, are they decadent. After many years of struggle and toil, my wife and I only consume these delectibles on the rarest of occasions. In a perfect world, however, I could scarf these things down every ten minutes with zero effect on my metabolism and BMI.Now, if my children were doing this list, the Annie's Mac and Cheese and the frozen chicken nuggets would also be making appearances.
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
How to thoroughly annoy a potentially friendly Middle Eastern country
In the past eight months, the United States has done a bang-up job of befriending the United Arab Emirates, a decentralized Gulf country that wants to be the trading hub for the Middle East.
That, of course, helped the U.S.-UAE free trade agreement stall out.
And now the Economist Cities Guide reports that the port of Dubai has further reason to be ticked off at the United States:
Many Dubai residents are threatening to boycott American universities in protest against seemingly discriminatory security practices. The catalyst came on August 21st when immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport detained Saif Khalifa al-Sha’ali, a 26-year-old student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his wife and three children. The family was questioned for 26 hours until the UAE embassy intervened.
I envy Jane Galt
It's true, I have committed one of the seven deadly sins in thinking about Ms. Megan McArdle -- and it's not even one of the interesting sins.
No, I am envious of her because she wrote this post, which contains this paragraph:
I've had a taste of both academia and investment banking. The dominance hierarchy of banking is so strong that if you could get the bankers out of their pinstripes for an hour, you could have filmed your average pitch meeting for the Discovery Channel. Yet when it comes to hyper-obsession with invisibly fine status distinctions, no banker could hold a candle to the average academic--or journalist, for that matter.Read the whole thing.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Are you safer than you were five years ago?
The White House just released its new National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism. Here's the punchline:
From the beginning, we understood that the War on Terror involved more than simply finding and bringing to justice those who had planned and executed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Our strategy involved destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement. Since 9/11, we have made substantial progress in degrading the al–Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support. Through the freedom agenda, we also have promoted the best long-term answer to al–Qaida's agenda: the freedom and dignity that comes when human liberty is protected by effective democratic institutions.Given the supposed metamorphosis in the terror threat, why does only one of those bullet points address the "radical ideology" that is supposedly so threatening?
Also worth checking out -- the Center for Strategic and International Studies balance sheet on Five Years After 9/11. There's a lot of congruence between the reports -- but CSIS does have the advantage of candor. For the Democrat take, click here.
UPDATE: On the other hand, this GovExec interview with assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism Frances Townsend seems pretty candid to me.
The Australian's Matthew Warren reveals that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is about to revise its global warming projections in a way that will be inconvenient for Al Gore:
The world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years.Read the whole thing.
Global warming is still a real phenomenon, and it will bring costs associated with it -- but any day when the worst-case scenario looks more than 50% better than it did yesterday is a very good day.
UPDATE: OK, having read Tim Lambert and Gavin Schmidt, I'm withdrawing my endorsement of the Warren article. He appears to have "confused climate sensitivity (how much warming will eventually occur if we double CO2) with projected 21st century warming," according to Lambert. Which means the reduction of the worst-case scenario outcome is nonexistent.
Apologies to one and all.
Blogging's become respectable... what a drag
Looking at the top 10 most trafficked blogs, only DailyKos, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, and Instapundit started out as lone blogger-hobbyists. The other 6 (including The Huffington Post, The Corner, and Think Progress) are either planned business enterprises, outgrowths of existing MSM pubs, or online presences of otherwise established orgs. Many may have a romantic ideal of bloggers as loners mashing away at a keypad in their pajamas, but the biggest and best blogs all feature intelligent professionals, often with advanced degrees, commenting on issues at least tangentially related to their field of expertise. As these enterprises gain in influence and profitability, should we really be that surprised as they become more professional as well?As one of those intelligent professionals with advanced degrees, my only regret is that I'm going to have to hear endless laments about how blogging was so much better during the early years... when it was about the music.
The most blog-friendly country in Europe
Here's a question: blogs have had the greatest political impact in which country in Europe?
Answer after the jump....
According to the Financial Times' Martin Arnold, the answer is... France:
Next year's French presidential elections will be the first to take place since blogging caught the public imagination.Question to readers -- why France?
Monday, September 4, 2006
Two steps forward for TNR Online
Over the weekend, TNR Online has taken two steps forward to improve its online content.
It's dedicated to thinking about not just the news of the day but also the news from the academy: Controversies in campus politics that warrant thoughtful discussion. Scholarship from our various disciplines that we think deserves a broader hearing. Ideas we had in doing our research that seem eerily relevant to something we read in The New York Times today.If you peruse the list of contributors, you'll see that Open University contains more than a few academics of some distinction.
And then there's me.
By academic standards, I'd label initial feedback as guardedly optimistic. As one commenter to the introductory post put it, "This is a good idea -- at least half the people on your contributors list should be worth reading."
Trust me when I say that's a much higher percentage than you'd get at your typical university.
From Tragedy to Farce
In response to more than a dozen requests at the American Political Science Association annual meeting to blog about this, here's a link to Dana Millbank's Washington Post piece from last week that catches up with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "Israel Lobby" road show:
It was quite a boner.A few thoughts:
1) Millbank's opening is nothing more than a cheap shot -- for the record, I thought "Beohner" was pronounced "boner" as well. It's that kind of snottiness that undermines the more trenchant factual critiques Millbank makes later in the piece.The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com will look forward, in a few months, to someone restarting this debate from a more reliable factual and conceptual base.