Saturday, December 23, 2006
What the f%$@ was Sandy Berger thinking, redux
I was dumbfounded by Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents when it was originally reported, but was "willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives."
The latest round of reporting makes that second part impossible. From the Associated Press:
President Clinton's national security adviser removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer and later tried to find the trash collector to retrieve them, the agency's internal watchdog said Wednesday.For more details click here and here. This is the kind of case where the accused either pleads incompetence or malevolence. In this case, he might have to go with both.
Question to readers: will this new news cycle in any way affect Berger's current venture, Stonebridge International?
Friday, December 22, 2006
Five things you don't know about me
Eszter Hargittai has tagged me with the "Five-Things-You-Didn't-Know-About-me" meme. So, here goes, in chronological order:
1) From the ages of eight to sixteen, I wore glasses before switching to contact lenses. Not a big deal, except that my glasses were housed in the most hideous-looking square peuter frames you could possibly imagine.OK, I tag Jacob Levy, Laura McKenna, Dan Nexon, Kevin Drum, and Megan McArdle.
You mess with the wheat, you'll get the chaff
The Washington Post wraps a series on federal farm subsidies with a story by Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen and Gilbert M. Gaul on what happens when you mess with the trough. This part of the story goes back to 2001, and does something I would not have thought possible -- it makes me sympathize with Karl Rove:
One of the most remarkable examples of the farm lobby's power came in 2001 and 2002, when the existing farm bill was written, expanding payments again over the opposition of the White House and key lawmakers. Reformers see it as a cautionary tale.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
My governor-elect needs some economics tutors... badly.
A bad week for Ahmadinejad
I was on Hugh Hewitt's radio show on Tuesday evening to talk, ostensibly, about my Washington Post essay on grand strategy. We wound up talking about Iran mostly. You can read the transcript here. Hewitt is of the belief that the U.S. cannot afford even a small risk of someone like Ahmadinejad possessing nuclear weapons. I am of the belief that Ahmadinejad is not that as powerful inside Iran as Hewitt believes.
It's been a good week for my argument. First, there are election returns:
Opponents of Iran's ultra-conservative president won nationwide elections for local councils, final results confirmed Thursday, an embarrassing outcome for the hardline leader that could force him to change his anti-Western tone and focus more on problems at home.Then you've got your student protestors -- Nazila Fathi explains in the New York Times:
The student movement, which planned the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy from the same university, Amir Kabir, is reawakening from its recent slumber and may even be spearheading a widespread resistance against Mr. Ahmadinejad. This time the catalysts were academic and personal freedom.Well, it's going to be tougher for Ahmadinejad to boost economic growth is more foreign direct investment doesn't come through. The Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Roula Khalaf report that this is now a problem:
Iran’s oil minister on Wednesday admitted that Tehran was having trouble financing oil projects, in a rare acknowledgment of the economic cost of its nuclear dispute.The Security Council should be approving sanctions today.
None of this means that Ahmadinejad will disappear tomorrow. It does mean, however, that the president of Iran will be worrying about more than being "insulted" by student protests.
The dictator for life is dead
If there were a contest for wackiest dictator in the world, many Vegas oddsmakers would have made Kim Jong Il the putative frontrunner. In truth, however, until today the hands-down winner would have been Turkmenistan president Saparmurat Niyazov:
He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, Türkmenbaşy after himself, in addition to renaming several schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and his immediate family. He even named the months, and days of the week after himself and his family. Niyazov's face appears on Manat banknotes and large portraits of the president hang all over the country, especially on major public buildings and avenues. Statues of himself and his mother are scattered all over Turkmenistan, including one in the middle of the Karakum Desert as well as a gold-plated statue atop Ashgabat's largest building, the Neutrality Arch, that rotates so it will always face into the sun and shine light onto the capital city. Niyazov commissioned a massive palace in Aşgabat commemorating his rule. He was given the hero of Turkmenistan award five times. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want," Niyazov said.The Independent has more on the Niyazov looniness:
He renamed the month of January after himself and April after his mother and banned ballet, gold teeth and recorded music. A planet of the Taurus constellation, a crater on the Moon and a mountain peak were other things named after him....
In 1999, the Turkmen parliament elected him president for life. Which apparently lasted only seven years. The Financial Times has his obit:
Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, has died leaving the gas rich Central Asian republic he had ruled for over twenty years impoverished, internationally isolated and with no obvious successor.Western diplomats are right to be concerned -- it's going to be an interesting few weeks ahead in Ashgabat.
Whether this translates into a few interesting weeks for global energy markets remains to be seen.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
How good is the data on Giuliani?
I received an e-mail today about the join Rudy website. This triggered a question that's been in the back of my head since I read Ryan Sager's The Elephant In The Room. Sager mentioned in the book that in a 2005 CPAC straw poll, Rudy Giuliani was the co-leader. Given CPAC is probably to the right of Guliani on every social issue known to man, this was a bit of a surprise. And somewhere in my brain I've been registering this kind of support for Giuliani in various straw polls.
So along comes this Washington Post story by Michael Powell and Chris Cillizza, saying, essentially, that Giuliani has no shot in hell of getting the GOP nomination:
His national poll numbers are a dream, he's a major box office draw on the Republican Party circuit, and he goes by the shorthand title "America's Mayor." All of which has former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani convinced he just might become America's president in 2008.Scarborough's statement is not surprising. However, Hugh Hewitt thinks Scarborough is wrong:
There is an advantage in doing scores of events for radio audiences and Republican activists over the past two years: At each of them I get to conduct my straw poll. In early 2005, I offered audiences the right to vote for one of five possible nominees --Senators Allen, Frist or McCain, Mayor Giuliani, or Governor Romney.From the rest of Hewitt's post it seems like he's a Romney booster, so the fact that he said this about Giuliani is telling.
Or is it? Is the WaPo right and online commentators like Hewitt and Sager are wrong? The National Journal's Blogometer thinks it's the latter. But Glenn Reynolds notes:
I caught a bit of Hannity's show on XM today, and there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rudy Giuliani from conservative callers there. That's happened before. Maybe the larger GOP base isn't as socially conservative, at least in the context of the 2008 Presidential election, as people think.Now is normally the time when I offer my sage bits of wisdom on the matter.... and I've got nothing. I don't know how much to trust the data. It's all anecdotal, except for straw polls, which at this stage of the campaign are only a slight bump above anecdotal.
Do any readers believe that Giuliani's popularity with the GOP base is anything other than an ephemeral phenomenon? Will they continue to support a man who endorsed Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994? If so, why?
UPDATE: Yes, I misspelled Giuliani's name in my original post. So sue me.
So how are the capital controls going?
Note to self: if I ever instigate a coup in a Pacific Rim country, do not attempt to impose capital controls three months later:
Thailand was forced into an astonishing retreat from its controversial move to impose controls on equity investment by foreign investors after Bangkok shares suffered their steepest one-day plunge since 1990.
The China mystery
The great Henry Paulson-led expedition to China ended a few days ago, and beyond the purchase of a few nuclear reactors, it's not clear that any policy movement took place. Indeed, the most notable event of the trip was what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke planned to say but did not actually say:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke urged China to let its currency gain at a faster pace to end a "distortion'' that benefits exporters.Brad Setser decides to tread where Bernanke does not:
Bernanke doesn’t connect the surge in China’s exports to the real depreciation of the dollar, and the real depreciation of the RMB, but I will. The RMB's link to the dollar is a bigger political issue in the US than in Europe, but China’s exports to Europe have actually grown faster than its exports to the US over the past few years....However, it's what Setser says in this post that caught my attention:
Right now, China is worried about too much growth and an overheated economy, not too little growth. A stronger RMB could substitute for administrative controls on investment. Rather than leading to slower growth, a stronger RMB might help to rebalance the basis of Chinese growth.My take is similar to Brad's -- China's economy would be better diversified if more of its growth came from domestic consumption, China's environment would be better off if growth slowed down by a percentage point or two, and the exchange rate is one of the few non-administrative policy options available.
So, the question is, why isn't China pursuing this course of action? A few possibilities:
1) Interest group politics exist in China, and the export lobby is very powerful. That's the implicit argument in this Steven Weisman piece for the NYT:American officials and specialists on China have said that Wu Yi, a vice prime minister and the country’s highest-ranking female official, might not have the inclination, or the influence, to challenge the party apparatus that is tied to the sprawling state-owned export industries....2) The Chinese leadership is worried about domestic political stability: Howard French's story about Shenzen in today's New York Times
Readers are encouraged to offer their answers to the China puzzle.
Your holiday quote of the day
It's the holiday season in New York, which means the festive sight of twenty-somethings decorating the early morning streets with the former contents of their stomachs.I strongly suspect that many New Yorkers will vent about this during the celebration of this holiday.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Suddenly, a large wooden cube materializes in the middle of the auditorium, blocking Judge Posner from the audience-- an apparent griefer attack on the event, or the Judge himself.Hat tip: Will Baude.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, social constructivist
As the dust settles on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust conference from last week, it's becoming clear that Ahmadinejad sees the world through the lens of social constructivism.* As this Time inteview suggests, for Ahmadinejad there is a direct link between a conference on the Holocaust and Iran's current foreign policy:
Q: You've just held a conference questioning the Holocaust. Why not hold a peace conference instead? You could invite the Israelis and Palestinians to talk about peace, instead of what happened 60 years ago.This comes through in BBC reporter Frances Harrison's personal reflections on the conference as well (worth reading in their entirety to comprehend Harrison's revulsion at the whole exercise):
[One presenter] summed up his argument succinctly. He claimed there were no gas chambers at all - millions of Jews did not die - therefore there was no holocaust.The Ahmadinejad administration is not the only one to buy into a social constructivist foreign policy. And, like these other administrations, Ahmadinejad will run into two major constraints to his approach:
1) There are limits to social construction when brute facts are involved. Ahmadinejad's assumption, for example, that the Israeli government has no material power of its own borders on delusional.If only Ahmadinejad had done some more reading in international relations. Ah, well, my hunch is that Ahmadinejad will start feeling the effects of his policies right about now.
* Readers should not come to the conclusion from this assertion that just because I'm saying Ahmadinejad is attempting a constructivist gambit, all academic approaches to social constructivism are evil, wrong, etc. I'm sure some will, however.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
In your face, everyone else!!!!
Time tells me what my ego wants to hear:
[F]or seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.Hah!! I knew it!!! I knew I was Person-of-the-Year material!! Take that, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- you couldn't do better than second!! Go suck an egg, George W. Bush!! Daniel Craig, I don't care any more that my wife really, really liked that bathing suit scene in Casino Royale. I'm the king of the world!!!!
[Um... you know they meant "you" in the global sense--ed.] Oh.... never mind.
UPDATE: Ann Althouse believes this gambit is "unbelievably dorky." I wouldn't go that far. It's certainly amusing -- I couldn't stop laughing when I first read it. Beyond the instinct to giggle and the God-awful bubble-headed prose, however, there is the core of an idea worth expanding into a popular book -- the idea of production by consumption.
For a wide variety of products, traditional consumers now add value by mixing, matching, riffing, sampling, commenting, critiquing, customizing, and mutating goods and services. In the process, value-added is created. It's an interesting phenomenon, and someone like Virginia Postrel or Robert Wright or James Surowiecki or Steven Johnson should take the idea and run with it -- they'd have to do better than Time.