Saturday, September 16, 2006

Trade policy, crazy conservatives, and UFOs

I have no idea what the three things in my post title have in common. All I know is that this morning I checked out my primer of U.S. trade policy at and discovered the following five books under the "Customers who bought items like this also bought" category:

F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare by Sam Seder

The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West by Joel Achenbach

Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean

If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb

Sight Unseen: Science, UFO Invisibility, and Transgenic Beings by Budd Hopkins

Readers are warmly encouraged to explain this set of rather odd correlations.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 15, 2006

If only Dubai Ports World could somehow run our ports

I'll just file this announcement from Dubai Ports World under "irony" and move on:

DP World, a leading global marine terminal operator, has become the first global company in the transport and logistics industry to gain certification to an international standard for its security management systems and operations. Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), an independent international certification body, has audited DP World for compliance with the international standard ISO/PAS 28000:2005 at both the corporate head office in Dubai, UAE, and its chosen site, Djibouti Container Terminal....

As a consequence of DP World’s adoption and implementation of the standard, its network of ports will have the ability to effectively implement mechanisms and processes to address any security vulnerabilities at strategic and operational levels, as well as establish preventive action plans. All terminals will also be required to continually assess security measurements in place to both protect its business interests and ensure compliance with international regulatory requirements such as the ISPS Code and other international supply chain security initiatives. The standard will complement all international security legislative codes DP World already conforms to at its terminals.

Hat tip: Michael Levi.

posted by Dan at 07:28 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's get some odds of the Pope being burned in effigy

The BBC reports that some Muslims are none too keen on what the Pope said yesterday... or rather, who the Pope quoted yesterday:

A statement from the Vatican has failed to quell criticism of Pope Benedict XVI from Muslim leaders, after he made a speech about the concept of holy war.
Speaking in Germany, the Pope quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor who said the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things.

Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution on Friday criticising the Pope for making "derogatory" comments.

The Vatican said the Pope had not intended to offend Muslims....

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the Pope's remarks "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world"....

In his speech at Regensburg University, the German-born Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The emperor's words were, he said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict said "I quote" twice to stress the words were not his and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added in the concluding part of his speech.

"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Click here for the controversial excerpts from the speech. And here's a link to the full text of the speech, as posted by the Vatican.

Question to readers -- will this be the sequel to the Muhammed cartoon controversy, something not quite as serious, or something even more serious?

UPDATE: OK, less than 24 hours for the burning of the Pope in effigy. If the Feiler Faster Thesis ever gets applied to world politics, I expect to see effigy-burning take place within an hour of whatever triggers the controversy.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole has little sympathy for the Pope, "The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations."

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Mexico returns to normality

James C. McKinley reports in the New York Times that after an interesting period of protest, Mexico is now returning to normal:

Supporters of a leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election this summer were tearing down five miles of tents on Thursday that have blockaded this capital’s central avenues for six weeks.

“It’s an emotional situation,” Juan Gutiérrez Calva, 45, a street vendor, said as he packed up his tent. “I’m calm. I’m not sad or happy. It was always clear that we were not going to advance much toward a real democracy in this country.”

The move signaled a shift by their leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, who says he was robbed of an election victory.

Having lost a legal battle for a full recount, and facing a steady defection of supporters, Mr. López Obrador is now striving to find a way to remain a political force over the coming six years, while Felipe Calderón, a conservative, serves as president.

It is an interesting irony that one of the reasons for this is Mr. López Obrador's self-defeating strategy -- by alienating so many of his supporters, he created a consensus for Calderón that did not exist at the time of the election:
Now even Mr. López Obrador’s aides acknowledge that he is losing some support among middle-class liberals and influential leftist politicians and intellectuals, as Mexicans seem prepared to move on from the election dispute, even if Mr. López Obrador is not.

The founder of his party, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, for instance, published a letter on Thursday accusing Mr. López Obrador and his inner circle of being intolerant of dissent.

“It worries me profoundly, the intolerance and demonization, the dogmatic attitude that prevails around Andrés Manuel for those of us who do not accept unconditionally his proposals and who question his points of view and decisions,” he wrote.

And Carlos Fuentes, the giant of Mexican letters, also assailed Mr. López Obrador this week for continuing to insist there was widespread fraud in the election, while he never challenged the elections of his party’s members to the Legislature.

“There could have been fraud in the Chamber of Deputies, there could have been fraud in the Senate, but there wasn’t,” he said. “There was only fraud for the presidency of the republic. How strange, no? I don’t believe it.”

There have been other signs of weakening support. Mr. López Obrador’s party voted down a slate of his closest allies for leadership positions in Congress, choosing the leaders of other factions. Two prominent governors from his party have also recognized Mr. Calderón’s victory.

The questioning extends to the voters. Several said in interviews that the prolonged blockade of the city’s central avenues and main square, as well as Mr. López Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat, only confirmed the accusations of his political enemies that he was autocratic and had little regard for courts or the law.

posted by Dan at 09:02 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Won't you take me to.... Think Tank Town?

I was recently made aware of a place called Think Tank Town. edits and publishes columns submitted by 10 prominent think tanks on a rotating basis every other weekday. Each think tank is free to choose its authors and the topics it believes are most important and timely.

For better or for worse, the Council on Foreign Relations chose me to provide a precis of U.S. Trade Strategy:

U.S. trade policy is at a crossroads between pursuing freer trade or fairer trade. A free trade approach would jumpstart Doha by cutting agricultural subsidies or allowing greater cross-border movement of foreign workers; pursuing free trade agreements with South Korea, India, or Japan if the Doha round cannot be restarted, and pledging an all-out political push for the renewal of TPA in early 2007. A fair trade approach would refuse to make further concessions in the Doha round of negotiations until developing countries and the European Union demonstrate a greater receptivity to American exports; halting bilateral free trade agreements with developing countries; and relying more on "managed trade" arrangements, unilateral trade sanctions, escape clauses and safeguard mechanisms to rebalance U.S. trade.

The free trade orientation provides a more coherent set of economic policies, but carries a significant political risk. Adopting a free trade orientation will promote economic growth, control inflation, and reaffirm U.S. economic leadership to the rest of the world. At the current moment, however, freer trade runs against the tide of public and congressional opinion -- the political price of this policy will be steep. The fair trade orientation provides a more popular set of policies, but carries a significant policy risk. Adopting a tough position on slowing down imports while boosting exports will resonate strongly with many Americans. Because almost any trade barrier can be advocated on grounds of fairness to some group, however, special interests can easily hijack this policy orientation. Internationally, such a policy will be viewed as an abdication of U.S. economic leadership. Slowing down imports will encourage other countries to erect higher trade barriers against U.S. exports. Any kind of global trade war would severely damage the American economy -- and American workers.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How much meritocracy is there in American politics?

In my last appearance, Mickey Kaus and I debated whether Paris Hilton's rise to fame was proof that there was a meritocracy within different American subcultures (Mickey and Bob Wright follow up on that question here).

This question came back to mind as I was perusing Chris Cillizza's blog on the latest primary results:

Famous Last Names: Last night's results in Rhode Island proved that the Chafee name is still a powerful brand in the state's politics. But Lincoln Chafee wasn't the only candidate who benefitted from his last name last night. Attorney John Sarbanes (D), the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), won the primary in the open 3rd District House seat in Maryland. The seat, which is being vacated by Senate nominee Ben Cardin, has a strong Democratic lean and Sarbanes should have little trouble winning it this November when a number of other political legacies are on the line. There are plenty of other famous last names on the ballot this fall. In Delaware, Beau Biden (D) -- son of Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- is seeking the state Attorney General's office. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, officially claimed the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in November. Across the Hudson in New York, another Cuomo looks likely to hold a statewide office.
Now, this penomenon has existed in one form or another since the dawn of the republic (see Adams, John Quincy). And the children of politicians have often acquitted themselves well as statesmen (again, see Adams, John Quincy -- as Secretary of State, not President).

Still, a question to my colleagues in American politics -- to what extent has politics become a hereditary sport?

posted by Dan at 08:06 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Paulson's big speech

Your humble blogger is now back in the USA, but jet-lagged and buried under lots of e-mail and lecture notes.

Sooo.... devoted readers of this space should read Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's big speech on the global economy. Paulson is headed to China next week, and this will be his template in future economic negotiations. It's worth noting that in the three months Paulson has been Treasury Secretary, he's received more attention than John Snow received during his last three years on the job.

One interesting part:

Protectionist policies do not work and the collateral damage from these policies is high. By closing off competition and blocking the forces of change, protectionism reduces the losses of the present by sacrificing the opportunities of the future. Jobs saved in the short term job are off-set by more job losses and a lower standard of living in the future.

I believe it is the responsibility of all nations to search for ways to moderate income disparities and help those who lose their jobs to international competition. We in America must think creatively about how to assist those who fall behind. As the President has repeatedly emphasized, the most effective method for generating new, high-quality jobs, and higher living standards, is to develop the skills and the technologies that promote economic competitiveness. This means helping people of all ages pursue first rate education and training opportunities.

Because I care deeply about the competitiveness of the U.S. economy I will be an outspoken advocate for maintaining – and extending – free and fair trade. The United States wants open markets. We welcome foreign investment. And we seek partners to join us in advancing a global agenda that will help realize the benefits of economic liberalization and competition. We will not heed the siren songs of protectionism and isolationism.

All well and good... but I am immediately suspicious of any politician who articulates a program of "free and fair trade." It's one of those terms of art that functions more as a Rorshach test of how people feel about trade -- everyone supports it, but no two people agree on precisely what it means.

posted by Dan at 06:05 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How do we classify the embassy attack in Syria?

Over at Open University, I posted the following question last week:

While security officials are largely focused on organized terror groups like Al Qaeda, lone attackers like Mr. Jaoura present a new challenge. They are hard to track and even harder to stop, making them an especially difficult target for the police and security officials.

"No force on earth could have prevented an attack like this," said a senior Jordanian security official, who said Mr. Jaoura was surprisingly forthcoming under interrogation. "He was not an Islamist. He was isolated, and he did it on his own."

With tensions soaring high in much of the Middle East in the aftermath of Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the risk of copycat attacks has grown higher....

If you read the whole story, this seems like the kind of attack that, in the United States, would qualify as a drive-by shooting rather than "Islamofascism."
Now, the Syrian attack does not qualify as a drive-by shooting. At the same time, the odds of success of such an enterprise in Damascus seem very low -- as the Guardian points out:
Peter Ford, Britain's ambassador to Syria, told CNN that the incident did not seem similar to an al-Qaida attack, but appeared to be "an operation by a small group".

Security forces have clashed with Islamist militants several times since last year, usually in raids carried out to arrest them.

Hugh Macleod, a freelance reporter at the scene, said hundreds of troops and other security personnel were at the embassy following the attack.

"This looks to have been a suicide mission by Islamist militants," Macleod told Guardian Unlimited. "This is one of the most heavily guarded streets in Damascus.

"President Bashar al-Assad has his office on the same street, the EU building is here ... there are a number of embassies, including the Chinese embassy, which is next to the US building."

So, either a) Al Qaeda's having a really bad draft year, or; b) This was a local operation with zero ties to AQ.

I'll leave it to the commenters to sort this out.

posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 -- five years on

In an odd twist of fate, five years after the 9/11 attacks I'm again out of the country, and again in the U.K.

I have no idea what to do with that information, but then again, I have no idea what to say about the five-year anniversary.

I am sure this lack of ability on my part will not impair my readers from imparting their comments.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the BBC broadcast part 1 of The Path to 9/11 last night. I'm vaguely aware that many Clintonites have complained about the drama portion of this docudrama, and that some have complained about the religious background of the miniseries director. Having seen Part I, my take is that these objections are either overblown or ABC responded adroitly to them.

Having watched it, I didn't see anything flagrantly wrong with the Clinton portion -- none of the policy principals look like fools or incompetents. Some of them look like they did not place Al Qaeda as their highest priority, which is certainly accurate of both the Clinton and Bush adminisatrations. On the whole, it was surprisingly gripping -- perhaps because, in part I, there were victories (the capture of Ramzi, etc.) as well as defeats.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Having now seen part two as well, it strikes me that the complaint a partisan Democrat could lodge against the program was not what was included but what was omitted. There was no shot of President Bush reading My Pet Goat or otherwise looking wobbly on the day of the attack. There was no scene of Sandy Berger briefing the Bush team about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat, etc. On the whole, however, it was a well-constructed docudrama, and Harvey Keitel and Patricia Heaton were particularly good.

David Greenberg makes an interesting criticism of the whole enterprise:

For my part, I think it's an abuse of history to place much blame on either the Clinton or the Bush administration for "not doing more to prevent September 11" (as both teams are often alleged to have done, or not to have done). Anyone can second-guess others' actions with the benefit of hindsight. But historians are supposed to try get into the minds of the actors of a bygone era--and the time before September 11, 2001, does represent, in the matter of counterterrorism, a bygone era. Everybody thought about terrorism differently back then, and it's a historical fallacy to blame Sandy Berger or Condi Rice for not having a post-9/11 mindset.
Actually, it's worse than that -- the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings.

posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)