Thursday, October 12, 2006

Robert D. Kaplan's exaggeration of the day

Korea may be the most dismal place in the world for U.S. troops to be deployed—worse, in some ways, than Iraq.

Robert D. Kaplan, "When North Korea Falls," The Atlantic Monthly, June 2006.

UPDATE: Just to clear up any confusion, Kaplan is talking about being deployed in South Korea.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Boy, my tribe can be dumb sometimes

Michael Powell has a story in the Washington Post about how Tony Judt got prevented from speaking at the Polish Consulate last week:

Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained.

I might think Tony Judt is wrong about the Israel Lobby, and I think his one-state solution to the Israel/Palestinian problem borders on delusional, but if the ADL and AJC did what Powell implies, their behavior is absurd, counterproductive, and, frankly, un-American.

If they think Judt is wrong, say so, protest his talk, critique his arguments, the whole megillah -- but preventing him from speaking merely provides fodder for Judt's claim about the stifling of debate in this country.

UPDATE: Suzy Hansen has more background on what happened in the New York Observer. After reading the story, the extent of ADL and AJC pressure is still not clear to me.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hey, this Jew really does control Mel Gibson

From my August 1, 2006 blog post, "Dogpiling on Mel Gibson," here's the beginning of my predicted narrative arc for Gibson:

1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

c) Cries on camera.

From ABC News, "Mel Gibson Says He Feels 'Powerless Over Everything'":
In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Mel Gibson talks about his recent D.U.I. arrest, his battle with alcoholism and his anti-Semitic remarks.

Actor Mel Gibson is speaking out for the first time about the anti-Semitic comments he made to police when they booked him for drunken driving last summer.

Gibson tells ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview that his anti-Semitic statements were "just the stupid rambling of a drunkard."....

[Gibson] admits that staying sober is a constant struggle.

"Even fear -- the risk of life, family is not enough to keep you from it," Gibson says. "That's the hell of it. You're indefensible against it. If your nature is to imbibe. & So you must keep that under arrest, in a sense. But you cannot do it yourself. And people can help you. But it's God. You gotta go there, you gotta do it, or you won't survive. All there is to it."

I'm not right about a lot, but I was right about J. Lo, and now Mel comes through for me as well.

All I need is for Apocalypto to tank, and my claim to be this generation's Nostradamus will be complete.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm elsewhere in the blogosphere

If blog posts are light this week, it's for two reasons:

1) I'm trying to debug the comment spam problem (and tech-savvy readers, feel free to e-mail me advice on this one).

2) I'm blogging elsewhere.

At Open U., I'm explaining why the academy might not want to use the Moneyball approach to building a top-tier department.

At TPM Cafe, I'm participating in a book club on the Princeton Project on National Security's Forging A World of Liberty Under Law. Other contributors include David Rieff, Peter Trubowitz, and Stephen Walt

Go check them out!

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the Kyoto Protocol working out?

I'm shocked, shocked at this Associated Press report that some industrialized nations might not be living up to their Kyoto Protocol obligations:

With few exceptions, the world’s big industrialized nations are struggling to meet the greenhouse gas reductions they committed to in the embattled Kyoto pact on climate change. Europe is veering off course, Japan is still far from its target and Canada has given up.

he latest figures of heattrapping gases spewing out of chimneys and tail pipes are grim news for the agreement’s supporters and welcome ammunition for the told-you-so camp in such non-Kyoto nations as the United States and Australia....

Pro-Kyoto activists dismiss such conclusions, saying the targets are within reach if nations just try a bit harder....

The United States, the world’s biggest greenhouse generator, dropped out of the Kyoto accord, complaining it would hurt the U.S. economy, and that such big-polluter developing nations as China and India were not included.

Other nations decided to forge ahead regardless, and the latest U.N. figures show that as a group the 36 countries committed to the pact can meet the 5 percent target. That progress came mainly from a one-time boost in the 1990s, however, when excommunist states of Eastern Europe slashed greenhouse emissions by shutting down or modernizing heavy-polluting Soviet-era industries.

Elsewhere, the situation is more dire. Yvo De Boer, head of the U.N.’s climate change secretariat, said industrialized countries needed to ‘‘take a lot of action at home’’ to meet their targets.

‘‘But fortunately they do still have a number of years to meet those targets because in a number of cases it’s not going to be easy,’’ he said.

Among the worst off is Canada, the current president of U.N. climate change talks, which this year became the first country to announce it would not meet its Kyoto target of a 6 percent emissions cut on average over the years 2008-2012. Canada’s emissions have ballooned by 29 percent instead.

With oil production growing in the tar sands of Alberta, the Conservative government saw no other option than to jump the Kyoto ship. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has stated interest in a rival, U.S.-led pact, the Asia-Pacific Partnership, which has no targets, and said the government was working on a ‘‘made-in-Canada’’ solution.

Japan, too, has a long way to go to meet its reduction.

Hat tip: Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The report does observe that the EU as a whole could achieve its target -- provided that they "make full use of carbon credits for investing in clean technology projects in developing countries." However, another AP report by Charles Hanley points out the pitfalls of trading scheme as implemented:

As the world grows warmer, poorer nations are helping the rich by reining in heat-trapping gases in a multibillion-dollar "carbon trade" that is outrunning its U.N. overseers and founding principles, and spawning conflicts of interest and possible abuse....

The U.N. body [Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism] relies on private accounting and inspection firms to validate that projects will cut emissions and enhance economic development and the environment, and to verify later that gases are being reduced - all the while being paid by project participants. Specialist firms can act as developers for some projects and validators or verifiers for others. Critics see conflicts of interest.

"You're creating all kinds of incentives for corruption," said Daphne Wysham, a CDM expert at Washington's Institute for Policy Studies.

UPDATE: Ah, it appears that the EU has devised a new way to ensure countries honor their commitments to halt global warming. Sounds like some commissioners must have been talking to Joe Stiglitz.

posted by Dan at 01:17 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

China, China... what to do about China? is hosting a debate between Stephen Roach and Desmond Lachman on "Is China Growing at the United States' Expense?" The (somewhat hyperbolic) overview:

The Chinese economic boom could change the global order and lift Beijing above Washington in economic might and influence. The United States is worried about China's tactic of undervaluing its currency to boost exports, but Beijing has resisted repeated calls to raise the yuan's value. The result has been a boost for U.S. consumers buying low-cost Chinese goods, as well as what some say is a severe trade imbalance. In addition, the overheating of the Chinese economy would have worldwide repercussions. The U.S. Congress has entertained threats of trade retaliation, but administration policymakers have adopted a more cautious approach.

Stephen Roach, chief economist and director of global economic analysis at Morgan Stanley, and Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute debate the seriousness of the challenge posed by China and appropriate steps to respond to its rise.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Are economic sanctions an option for North Korea?

Now that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, and now that China and North Korea are actually upset about it, what is the appropriate policy response?

First, let's acknowledge that a military strategy is not terribly viable. I suspect that North Korea's military, as in other communist societies, is not quite as fearsome as defense analysts assert. This suspicion includes whether their nuclear test was really as successful as they claimed. That said, I have every confidence that the DPRK could rain a hellfire of conventional missiles and artillery shells upon Seoul -- so there's no point going there.

When it comes to sanctions, the Guardian's Ewen MacAskill suggests that the UN Security Council will be reluctant to go all-out because it's haunted by the Iraq sanctions:

Negotiations between the council members will centre on a draft resolution prepared by the US that sets out punitive measures including a trade ban on military and luxury items, authorising the inspection of all cargo entering or leaving the country, and freezing assets connected with its weapons programmes. Mr Bolton last night distributed the document listing a broad range of sanctions.

The measures, some of the most restrictive in years, also included the banning of trade in any materials that could be used to make or deliver weapons of mass destruction. The document says the US wants the resolution to fall under chapter seven of the UN charter, which deals explicitly with threats to international peace and security.

But it will be difficult for the security council to find effective sanctions that will put pressure on the North Korean leadership while avoiding further punishing a population already close to the breadline in many regions. And if North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, has decided that possession of a nuclear weapon is more important than ties with the outside world, that may be a fact the world will have to live with.

This problem is pretty much a red herring, because of a grisly fact -- the DPRK leadership has essentially been sanctioning its own people for the past fifteen years. The only North Koreans who benefit from the current structure of the DPRK economy are the elite. Assuming that China and South Korea buy in, sanctions against North Korea would actually have a powerful effect.

Perhaps too powerful -- a point that Aditya Tiwathia raises ove at Passport:

So what can be done? Deepening its isolation, as Ian Bremmer points out in his book, The J-Curve, only shores up the regime. Even if sanctions succeed in regime collapse, that's the last thing that neighbors China and South Korea want. As Ivo H. Daalder points out, this would flood them with millions of destitute refugees and destabilize the region. That explains their minimal enthusiasm for Washington's hardline approach in the six-party talks.

....US policy needs to start reflecting this North Korean calculus and the fact that regime collapse is not necessarily the best outcome.

Tiwathia's positive analysis is correct, but her normative assessment is not. Given the history of the DPRK, regime collapse is the best policy outcome. An eventual DPRK metamorphosis into a peaceful, capitalist-friendly state would be the best outcome.... in Fantasyland. Here on the planet Earth, that's just not going to happen.

So, how to get China and South Korea to favor regime colapse? Ralph Cossa makes some good suggestions in the International Herald-Tribune:

Beijing should also note that economic sanctions imposed as a result of a nuclear test will be accompanied by an "open border" policy and the establishment of UN-sponsored refugee camps on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. China, at North Korea's insistence, presently forces most refugees to return, where they meet a most unpleasant fate. This policy must change.

Neighboring Russia and Mongolia can also provide safe havens and South Korea (along with the United States, Japan, and others) should be prepared to support refugee relocation.
Now it might be more cost-effective to pay off the DPRK periodically rather than pay to reconstruct the North. Given the DPRK's willingness to proliferate, however, I say sanction them. Sanction them now. And sanction them with the Security Council's imprimatur.

posted by Dan at 09:59 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open North Korea test thread

Comment away on North Korea's decision to see whether the rest of the world will pay attention to it now that it's apparently conducted a nuclear test. According to the official DPRK statement, "[The test] was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation.... It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it." Oh, so there's nothing to worry about then.

The Chinese response so far is interesting, in that it's clear they're pretty pissed off:

The DPRK [North Korea] ignored universal opposition of the international community and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test on October 9. The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to it.
We'll see if the South Koreans are equally perturbed.

More later if possible -- I have discivered my hell on earth and it is being trapped in the Miami International Airport waiting five hours with the kids for a flight for which we only have standby status.

UPDATE: Comments appear to be down. I'll try to get Movable Type on the case.

In the mean time, because Amos Bitzan took the time to e-mail me his comment, it goes in the post:

The Chinese may be pissed off but there is nothing they or the South Koreans can really do. Neither country wants the NK regime to collapse right now. They are just going to have to increase the shipments of food and energy to Pyongyang. In any case, it's another MASSIVE failure for the Bush administration. The US should have been at the table with North Korea, carrying out bilateral talks, a long time ago. I think the South Koreans will be more perturbed by further Bush bungling or by Japanese plans to beef up their military (or, God forbid, go nuclear themselves) than by the North Korean test. In any case, a military solution is simply not in the cards. If only Bush had not been so insistent on linking North Korea to Iran. Now there...that's a real problem. And now he's put himself in the position where a concession to NK also means a victory for Iran because - hey - they're both part of the Axis of Evil.

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

What is the utility of price stability?

In the Detroit Free Press, Alejandro Bodipo-Memba has an odd story about OPEC's declining influence over oil prices -- and why this might be a bad thing:

But as the price of crude oil -- the feedstock for gasoline -- creeps back up on news that several members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plan production cuts, it's clear that the cartel no longer wields the power over fuel costs that it once did.

For instance, recent announcements by OPEC members Nigeria and Venezuela that they plan to cut their combined production by 170,000 barrels a day in order to push oil prices back above $60 a barrel did not alter the per-barrel price.

For Michiganders, the diminishing power of OPEC has two key implications.

"In some sense, this is a good thing in that you are taking power away from an oligopoly like OPEC and lessening the influence the group has had on U.S. foreign policy," said Sudip Datta, finance professor and chairman of the T. Norris Hitchman Endowment at the Wayne State University School of Business Administration.

On the other hand, with no consensus among the world's leading oil producers, supplies fluctuate and domestic fuel prices are adversely affected.

Oil prices more than tripled from an average of $21.84 a barrel in 2001 to a record high of $78.40 in July. Meanwhile, pump prices in Michigan more than doubled to $3.11 a gallon this summer, as OPEC continued to cede its power to speculators in the petroleum market. Barring a major supply disruption because of a hurricane or an accident this fall, gas prices are expected to stay at $2 to $2.25 a gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration in Washington, D.C.

Part of OPEC's stated mission is to "coordinate and unify" global petroleum policies and "ensure the stabilization of oil prices" to provide a steady supply of product at a fair price.

The 11-member oil cartel said on its Web site that oil prices were "out of line" with supply and demand fundamentals. It also acknowledged that its influence over petroleum pricing was increasingly limited....

From 1975 to 1990 and the start of the Persian Gulf War, the price of imported oil rarely got above $32 a barrel and Michigan gas prices hovered between 50 cents and $1, in large part because of OPEC's use of production controls that often benefited U.S. consumers.

Today, hedge funds, pension fund managers and investment bankers are placing huge bets that oil prices will keep going up because political unrest in some OPEC countries and the emergence of China and India as major consumers of petroleum will continue to make oil a rare commodity.

This is an odd story for a few reasons.

First, the claim that "OPEC's use of production controls... often benefited U.S. consumers" is certainly an interesting one. Saudi Arabia was certainly responsible for whatever downward pressure there was on oil prices during this period -- but claiming that OPEC kept oil prices low during this period is certainly an interesting one.

Second, if you look at the OPEC statement cited in the story, it becomes clear that OPEC's motives might differ somewhat from what Bodipo-Memba ascribes to them:

The reasons for this protracted volatility are, by now, familiar to OPEC Bulletin readers and relate to an unusual convergence of factors: the exceptionally strong world economic growth and, in turn, oil demand growth, especially in developing countries; the slow-down in non-OPEC supply growth, although this is picking-up again; tightness in the downstream sectors of major consumer countries; geopolitical concerns; major natural disasters; and heightened levels of speculative behaviour....

OPEC is very much aware that the more prices are out of line with demand and supply fundamentals, the more likely they are to lead to increased volatility, and this can be damaging to all the players in the market.

However, the impact of OPEC’s measures varies according to the market conditions. Throughout the present volatile conditions, OPEC has ensured that the market has remained well-supplied with crude, as well as accelerating plans to increase production capacity, so as to help cater for the continued rise in demand forecast for the coming years. But, since other factors have been primarily responsible for the recent price rises, OPEC’s influence has been limited.

This assessment has some truth.... but it's also a way for OPEC to say, "Don't blame us for the high prices that are enriching our members."

Finally, Bodipo-Memba overlooks the obvious angle for why Michiganders would benefit from price stability, even if the price of oil is relatively high -- it provides a set of stable expectations for car manufacturers as they plan production for the future.

This raises a few interesting questions:

1) For which commodities is price stability a particular virtue?

2) What is the acceptable premium for keeping a price stable over prices that are lower on average but with greater volatility?

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)