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:

  • President Bush's recent admission of secret CIA prisons;
  • Bush's transfer of these prisoners to Gitmo to try them;
  • Resistance to this proposal from both Congress and the military;
  • The fallout this will inevitably have on the European allies that housed the CIA facilities.
  • Bush's attempt to exempt CIA personnel from the Geneva Concention restrictions on torture.
  • posted by Dan at 04:18 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    This casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage.

    It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.

    As the board member of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer told the FT: “No certifier can guarantee they will purchase 100 per cent of a co-operative’s production, so how can they guarantee that every bag will be produced according to their standards?”

    Though certified coffee makes up less than 2 per cent of the global coffee trade it has become increasingly mainstream as large retailers such as Starbucks and McDonald’s adopt it.

    The FT visited five Peruvian smallholdings, all of which have Fairtrade certification.

    Each farm hires 12-20 casual coffee pickers during the harvest season. All house and feed their workers, which allows them to deduct 30 per cent from their wages.

    After that reduction from the legal daily minimum wage for casual agricultural workers of 16 soles ($5), farm owners are still obliged to pay at least 11.20 soles a day. In four of the five farms visited by the FT, pickers received 10 soles a day, while the other farm paid workers 12 soles a day.

    Luuk Zonneveld, managing director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the Bonn-based body that sets fair trade standards, told the FT that the certification system “is not fool- and leak-proof” but said the problem should be put in context.

    “Poor farmers often struggle to pay their workers fairly,” he said. “Why are casual labourers there at all? There are wider issues here. We need to ask why this goes on and what we can do to help.”

    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.”

    The FT’s findings cast doubt on the certification process. “The low pay issue wasn’t picked up in our audit because it wasn’t done at harvest season,” says Chris Wille, Chief of Sustainable Agriculture at Rainforest Alliance. However, Mr Wille says his organisation is aware of the problem and is developing a plan to tackle it.

    “There no way to enforce, control and monitor – in a remote rural area of a developing country – how much a small farmer is paying his temporary workers,” says the founder of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer. “Many farmers are earning less than minimum wage themselves.”

    Although farmers were paying casual labourers less than the minimum wage in four out of the five certified farms visited by the FT, Mr Zonneveld contends that low pay is not systemic in the coffee sector. That is a view contradicted by Eduardo Montauban, head of the Peruvian Coffee Chamber, a private exporters’ group. “No one in the industry is paying minimum wage,” says Mr Montauban. “It’s simply not feasible for producers.”

    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;

    2) The Rainforest Alliance can't be all that serious about enforcement -- why conduct an audit during off-harvest time unless you are trying not to find violations?

    3) Simply demanding that coffee owners pay higher wages won't work -- that's not the market price for labor. This isn't because of evil multinational corporations -- it's the nature of commodity markets in general, plus the labor market in Peru

    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.

    posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    Top policy analysts at these groups have written newspaper opinion pieces around the country supporting Wal-Mart, defended the company in interviews with reporters and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington.

    But the groups — and their employees — have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant discount retailer: financing from the Walton Family Foundation, which is run by the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s three children, who have a controlling stake in the company.

    [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.

    The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, for example, has received more than $100,000 from the foundation in the last three years, a fraction of the more than $24 million it raised in 2004 alone.

    ....the Walton Family Foundation gave Pacific Research [Institute] $175,000 from 1999 to 2004....

    ....the $20,000 Heritage has received from the Walton Family Foundation since 2000 amounts to less than 1 percent of its $40 million budget....

    Conservative groups are not the only ones weighing in on the Wal-Mart debate. Ms. Williams of Wal-Mart noted labor unions have financed organizations that have been critical of Wal-Mart, like the Economic Policy Institute, which received $2.5 million from unions in 2005.

    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!!]

    posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    It is not the case that China is simply draining the United States of money. Most of the growth in Chinese exports to the United States has come from switching manufacturing and assembly from other, more expensive, Asian countries. In 1985, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea accounted for 52.3 percent of America’s trade deficit. By 2005, this percentage had fallen to 40.9 percent, in part because of cost savings from buying Chinese....

    The Chinese keep the yuan low, relative to the dollar, by buying up United States Treasury securities; as of early 2006, the Chinese central bank held up to $470 billion in Treasury securities. This huge accumulation of relatively low-yielding assets is the investment strategy of risk-averse bureaucrats, but it may bring longer-term benefits. Those assets can someday be sold or otherwise transferred to underdiversified Chinese financial institutions. The accumulation gives the Chinese a stake in American prosperity and signals that the Chinese are committed to long-term participation in the global economy. On the American side, the Treasury market is more liquid and the budget deficit can be financed at lower cost.

    The yuan should not, as matters stand, float freely with free capital movements. Large quantities of Chinese savings, currently restricted to the domestic currency, would probably flee the country, worsening the serious solvency problems at Chinese banks. The Chinese must first clean up their banking system before they can have free capital markets. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a market-determined value for the yuan might well be lower than today’s exchange rate, not higher....

    Revaluation advocates claim that the Chinese need a stronger currency to prevent their economy from “overheating.” China may indeed not be stable. But it is unlikely that the United States government can successfully micromanage another country of 1.3 billion people into a soft landing. Chinese economic data is very poor and Americans do not have a good record in advising transition economies. The Chinese recipe for economic growth, which encouraged exports, seems to be working, although it ran counter to efforts by American economists and policy makers to promote the privatization of state-owned companies.

    The climb of the Chinese economy out of Communism and into prosperity has brought the world, and the United States, a free lunch. Consumer goods of many kinds are cheaper and the Chinese are likely to generate many scientific and technical innovations. Steering the value of the Chinese currency — from Washington — is unlikely to increase those gains. The United States should not be spending its international political capital on yuan revaluation, which is at best a nonevent.

    This column has caused something of a ripple in the economics portion of the blogosphere. See Greg Mankiw for a supportive post.

    For more critical takes see Brad DeLong and particularly Brad Setser (Cowen responds to Setser here).

    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.

    2) The debate boils down to whether you believe a small shift in the trade balance, which would be caused by a small revaluation of the yuan, is worth the large amounts of political and diplomatic capital required to get China to move. The Brads think the answer is yes, because any nudge towards reducing global imbalances is a good thing, and such a reduction would prevent U.S. overinvestment in nontradables. Tyler thinks that U.S.policymakers should swallow a dose of humble pie and recognize that given the current domestic political economy of China, us nudging them to devalue might make sense in theory but not practice.

    On this point I'm moe sympathetic to the Brads, but in the end concur with Tyler that no poicy wonks have been willing to acknowledge the downsides of a devaluation gone wrong. Those scare me just as much as the long-term imbalances.

    I fully expect my readers to weigh in on the matter.

    posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    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?

    One reason is history. After decades of one-party rule sustained by fraudulent elections, many Mexicans still deeply distrust their institutions and courts. But it is also because Mexicans have a very different notion of electoral fraud than voters in the United States, a notion that goes beyond stuffing ballot boxes....

    For instance, most of Mr. López Obrador’s supporters complain bitterly about the “intervention” of President Fox in the election. They talk about “a state election” and the “imposition” of the candidate from Mr. Fox’s conservative party, Felipe Calderón, whom the electoral tribunal finally proclaimed president-elect on Tuesday.

    There is no doubt that Mr. Fox used his position as president and his official tours to campaign vigorously against Mr. López Obrador. Though he never mentioned the leftist candidate by name, he used code words for him, railing against populism, demagogy and false messiahs....

    The magistrates’ decision not to see the errors on tally sheets as evidence of fraud has fed suspicions that the court cannot be trusted, a theory that Mr. López Obrador reiterates in every speech and which is fortified by the country’s long history of corrupt judges, though no proof has been presented.

    Mr. López Obrador’s followers also have no confidence in the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized the election. In October 2003, when congressional leaders were making deals to appoint new members to the institute’s governing board, Mr. López Obrador’s party was shut out. Since then the leftists have regarded just about every decision the electoral institute makes with suspicion.

    In the end, the court ruling may have put Mr. Calderón in the president’s office, but it has not dispelled feelings among Mr. López Obrador’s supporters that they were robbed. “What more proof do you need?” said one López Obrador supporter, Enrique Ramírez, after the ruling. “At his rallies, Andrés Manuel has given us the proof of fraud, and we believe him, or at least I do.”

    Mr. López Obrador is now calling for a “national convention” this month to mount a civil disobedience campaign to “re-found the republic” and reform “institutions that don’t deserve any respect.”

    How far the movement can go and whether it can remain peaceful remains to be seen and may depend on how deep the suspicions of fraud, as seen in Mexico, run.

    What is sure is that Mr. López Obrador has defined himself for many voters as the candidate who lost the election, not through his own errors but because the entire apparatus of the state was against him. That is an old tune in Mexico, one that many know the words to.

    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.

    Four of the country’s nine departments have called a general strike for Friday in protest over proposals by Mr Morales’s allies in the Constituent Assembly to change the rules for voting within the body.

    The legislation passed by Bolivia’s Congress to establish the assembly specified that constitutional measures could be approved only with a two-thirds majority of the delegates. The governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) party wants to lower the limit to allow proposals to pass with a simple majority.

    The MAS controls 137 seats in the 255-seat body, short of the 170 votes it would need to have two-thirds of the assembly’s votes. Opposition parties say the proposed change in voting rules is a power-grab by what they view as an increasingly authoritarian government.

    The general strike has been called by departments in the eastern lowlands, where much of the opposition to Mr Morales is based. The four regions voted in June for greater autonomy from La Paz, and hope to use the assembly to entrench regional devolution in the new constitution. Many activists want to pull out of the assembly if they cannot secure autonomy.

    Mr Morales said the strikers “want to divide the country” and warned them he could use troops against civil unrest. “We call on the armed forces to assume their constitutional role to defend sovereignty and the national territory,” he said....

    Mr Morales’s approval ratings have fallen from 81 per cent in May to 61 per cent, according to a poll released this week by Apoyo, a respected regional pollster.

    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?

    posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    2) Cuban-style black beans. Steam some rice, saute some onions, and heat these up -- you have a tasty side dish in no time.

    3) Lemonade. The perfect equipoise between sweet and tart, and a great treat during the summer.

    4) Frozen mushroom medley. Here I'll give a nod to Laura and say that for convenience's sake, having a bage of these in the freezer is good when there is a sudden emergency for a mushroom stir-fry.

    5) The rosemary-seasoned lamb roast. It's because of this product that my son once said, "There's nothing like some nice, cold lamb for dinner!"

    Now, if my children were doing this list, the Annie's Mac and Cheese and the frozen chicken nuggets would also be making appearances.

    posted by Dan at 02:46 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    First, there was the whole Dubai Ports World fiasco.

    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.

    Mr al-Sha'ali, who was completing a doctorate in computer science at Claremont University, also happens to be the nephew of Mohammad Hussain al-Sha’ali, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs. Scores of UAE nationals—and many expatriate residents—have written to local newspapers pledging to boycott American universities, which traditionally have been popular with Emiratis. The case has also inflamed general anti-American sentiment in the UAE—normally one of the more sympathetic Arab states—as it comes on the heels of the recent fighting in Lebanon, in which America was perceived to have backed Israel.

    posted by Dan at 10:57 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    posted by Dan at 10:27 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    In response to our efforts, the terrorists have adjusted, and so we must continue to refine our strategy to meet the evolving threat. Today, we face a global terrorist movement and must confront the radical ideology that justifies the use of violence against innocents in the name of religion. As laid out in this strategy, to win the War on Terror, we will:

  • Advance effective democracies as the long–term antidote to the ideology of terrorism;
  • Prevent attacks by terrorist networks;
  • Deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states;
  • Deny terrorists control of any nation they would use as a base and launching pad for terror; and
  • Lay the foundations and build the institutions and structures we need to carry the fight forward against terror and help ensure our ultimate success.
  • 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.

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

    Inconveniently updating the truth my screw ups about global warming

    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.

    A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained exclusively by The Weekend Australian, offers a more certain projection of climate change than the body's forecasts five years ago.

    For the first time, scientists are confident enough to project a 3C rise on the average global daily temperature by the end of this century if no action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Draft Fourth Assessment Report says the temperature increase could be contained to 2C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are held at current levels.

    In 2001, the scientists predicted temperature rises of between 1.4C and 5.8C on current levels by 2100, but better science has led them to adjust this to a narrower band of between 2C and 4.5C.

    The new projections put paid to some of the more alarmist scenarios raised by previous modelling, which have suggested that sea levels could rise by almost 1m over the same period.

    The report projects a rise in sea levels by century's end of between 14cm and 43cm, with further rises expected in following centuries caused by melting polar ice.

    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.

    posted by Dan at 04:35 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

    Blogging's become respectable... what a drag

    From today's Hotline Blogometer:

    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.

    UPDATE: More evidence of blogger professionalization (link via ISN's blog).

    posted by Dan at 02:15 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    With surveys showing the French are among Europe's the most active readers of blogs, the ruling UMP party for the first time invited 12 of the country's leading blogs to attend its youth convention in Marseilles as part of the press corps.

    The UMP's move is a sign that France is catching up with the US, where bloggers have been attending Republican and Democratic party conventions for years.

    "A big population of French people only get their news via the internet, so we wanted to reach them, as well as to create some excitement around the youth convention," says Thierry Solère, head of internet strategy at the UMP.

    Loïc Le Meur, author of one of France's best-known blogs - - says: "They have really created a buzz in the blogosphere. It is really very clever, as they have understood that they can reach several million people through us."....

    Last year campaigners in favour of the European constitution were caught out by the No campaign's domination of the online debate ahead of the French referendum that rejected the treaty.

    It has since become de rigueur for presidential candidates on left and right to start a blog. Ségolène Royal, the favourite to be the Socialist presidential candidate, has invited readers to submit ideas for a manifesto-style book she is publishing online....

    France has stolen a march on the rest of Europe in the blogosphère. More than 4.5m people have created a blog in France, or 18 per cent of the 26.9m people who have an internet connection, according to a study published last week by Ipsos.

    While 36 per cent of internet users visited blogs in France, this figure was only 24 per cent in the UK, 18 per cent in Italy and 9 per cent in Germany, according to a study in June by Média-métrie. France's blogging boom is being driven by the young: 80 per cent of French blogs were created by people aged 25 or under.

    Question to readers -- why France?

    posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    First, Lee Seigel got voted off the island. No point belaboring the utter stupidity involved here... though if you ewant an extra helping of schadenfreude , click over to this Brad DeLong post.

    Second, TNR has launched a new blog, entitled Open University. Here's its modus operandi:

    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.

    For my first contribution -- a response to Alan Wolfe -- click here.

    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.

    Go check it out!!

    posted by Dan at 03:33 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    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.

    University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer was in town yesterday to elaborate on his view that American Jewish groups are responsible for the war in Iraq, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and many other bad things. As evidence, he cited the influence pro-Israel groups have on "John Boner, the House majority leader."

    Actually, Professor, it's "BAY-ner." But Mearsheimer quickly dispensed with Boehner (R-Ohio) and moved on to Jewish groups' nefarious sway over Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who Mearsheimer called " Von Hollen."

    Such gaffes would be trivial -- if Mearsheimer weren't claiming to be an authority on Washington and how power is wielded here. But Mearsheimer, with co-author Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School, set off a furious debate this spring when they argued that "the Israel lobby" is exerting undue influence in Washington; opponents called them anti-Semitic.

    Yesterday, at the invitation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they held a forum at the National Press Club to expand on their allegations about the Israel lobby. Blurring the line between academics and activism, they accepted a button proclaiming "Fight the Israel Lobby" and won cheers from the Muslim group for their denunciation of Israel and its friends in the United States.

    Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn't exactly scholarly.

    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.

    2) Millbank is a smart political reporter, and the fact that he and his editors opened the story in this way is indicative of the way the public debate over "The Israel Lobby" has transpired. Even though I think Mearsheimer and Walt had the kernel of a good idea in their original LRB essay, the essay was so riddled with slipshod rhetoric and historical inaccuracy that the idea was drowned out by claims of anti-Semitism and counterclaims of philo-Semitism.

    3) Mearsheimer and Walt's tendency to present this argument only to friendly fora -- and to use increasingly sloppy rhetoric to characterize their argument -- suggests that they have no intention of modifying their tone or their thesis. I'm not surprised, given the crap they've had to deal with on this topic -- but I am disappointed (indeed, one wonders if Mearsheimer and Walt's CAIR presentation is an example of Cass Sunstein's "echo chamber" effect).

    4) I think we're at the point where it is time to recognize that it will be impossible to have anything close to a high-minded debate on this topic when the starting point is "The Israel Lobby" essay. Don't get me wrong -- besides the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt badly defined their independent variable, miscoded one alternative explanation, omitted several other causal variables, poorly operationalized their dependent variable, and failed to fact-check some of their assertions, it's a bang-up essay. With this foundation, however, any debate is guaranteed to topple into the mire of anti-Semitic accusations, Godwin's Law, and typing in ALL CAPS.

    The hardworking staff here at will look forward, in a few months, to someone restarting this debate from a more reliable factual and conceptual base.

    posted by Dan at 07:35 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)