Saturday, January 13, 2007

The truest sentence I will read this weekend

People rarely watch their language when they’re about to be eaten by a giant crocodile or shot in the head by a glowering thug.
Parental warning accomanying A.O. Scott's New York Times review of Primeval.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 12, 2007

A question about Somalia

Over at Across the Aisle, Eugene Gholz is puzzled about U.S. policy in Somalia:

[T]he most interesting choice, from my perspective: as Kenya sealed its border with Somalia to prevent the escape of the Islamic Courts fighters (at the request of the interim government and the Ethiopians), the U.S. used naval forces off the Somali coast to try to block Islamic Courts fighters’ escape by sea....

[T]he choice to declare that policy at all seems remarkable to me. Of course U.S. forces generally do their best to chase al Qaeda operatives around the world — specific people who have done the U.S. harm or have tried to do the U.S. harm. But the Islamic Courts must have had many more supporters than the small number of people there who specifically have attacked the United States (or even our allies). Most people fighting in Somalia presumably cared most about stability in Somalia or, perhaps, Islam in Somalia. Somalia is apparently relatively homogeneous ethnically and religiously, but clan (and subclan) differences lead to a constant struggle for power there; some people seem to think that Islam might serve as a uniting and stabilizing force there. If the U.S. is now in the business of rounding people up solely because they supported an Islamic government, are we not substantially expanding the list of adversaries in the War on Terror?

Read the whole thing. The only point where I might differ with Eugene is that he downplays the Islamic Courts' belligerent attitude towards Ethiopia (an attitude that Ethiopia reciprocated in full). Click here for more background info on this from the Economist.

One last point -- the problem right now with U.S. policy is not that it's tried to strike at Al Qaeda suspects in Somalia, which is perfectly justified. The problem with U.S. policy is that this action is taking place after three years of Abu Ghraib revelations, four years of futile war in Iraq, five years of revelations about faulty U.S. intelligence, five and a half years of internments in Guantanamo, and nearly six years of bellicose rhetoric from the Bush administration. In this context, even justifiable military actions come with terrific amounts of blowback.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The thing about credible commitment....

The masses ain't too thrilled with the surge option. This has little to do with the actual merits and demerits of the option. According to Mystery Pollster:

[T]he data above suggest that general assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans - are driving judgments about the troop surge. Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also skeptical of this new proposal.
So what about the actual plan? Over at NRO, John Derbyshire confronts the paradoxes of the latest Bush plan on Iraq:
The central and most glaring contradiction is the implied threat to walk away... Yoked to the ringing declaration that, of course, we can't walk away. We seem to be saying to the Maliki govt.: "Hey, you guys better step up to your responsibilites, or else we're outa here." This, a few sentences after saying that we can't leave the place without a victory. So-o-o-o:

—-We can't leave Iraq without a victory.

—-Unless Maliki & Co. get their act together, we can't achieve victory.

—-If Maliki & Co. don't get their act together, we'll leave.

It's been a while since I studied classical logic, but it seems to me that this syllogism leaks like a sieve.

Tom Maguire offers a valiant attempt to bail out the syllogism:
However, it *may* be that Bush is simply greasing the skids for something resembling an "acceptable" US defeat. Increasing our troops shows our commitment and gives the lie to Osama and others who took from Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia that the US lacked the stomach for an extended fight.

However - if we "lose" because the Iraqis don't have the will to a fight, well, we didn't really lose, now did we? We're not the paper tiger, they are. Say it with me, say it a lot, and maybe someone will believe it.

Look, of course this is pretty thin, but let me throw it out there as a possibility - Bush's plan is meant to lead either to something resembling victory, or to a face-saving withdrawal.

Even Tom knows this is weak beer, but it's worth pointing out one empirical flaw in Maguire's reasoning: what Bush is proposing now is exactly what happened in Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia.

In each case:

1) The United States suffered a pivotal attack that altered their perception of the enemy (the Tet Offensive, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, and the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident);

2) The American response at some point after the attack was a show of escalation, not de-escalation (Nixon/Kissinger escalation in Vietnam, naval and air bombardments in Lebanon, six-month force expansion in Somalia);

3) After this display of strength, the U.S. withdraws;

4) Despite the increase in forces and retaliatory attacks, everyone recognizes the withdrawal for what it was.

I see very little reason to go through this charade again.... but I'm willing to listen to commenters who disagree. To them, I must ask -- how with the surge option be anything other than a more grandiose version of the Clinton administration's response to the Somalia bombings?

[So you're saying that no matter what we do, our credibility is damaged for the future?--ed.] Not necessarily. In Calculating Credibiliy: How Leaders Assess Military Threats, Daryl Press argues that the past is not a significant factor when leaders assess the credibility of other states' actions.

posted by Dan at 06:58 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

Opinio Juris scores a (perfectly legal) coup

The international law blog Opinio Juris announces what I believe to be a first -- an executive branch official openly participating in a blog:

Opinio Juris is very pleased to announce that John Bellinger will be guest blogging with us for the week of January 15. As our readers well know, Bellinger is the State Department Legal Adviser, the top lawyer at the Department of State. In that capacity he is the principal adviser on all domestic and international law matters to the Department of State, the Foreign Service, and the diplomatic and consular posts abroad. Full details of his bio are available here.

The format will be as follows. Bellinger will post six posts over the course of next week. The discussion will begin on Monday morning with an introduction to the Legal Adviser’s office, and then turn to substantive discussions of the treatment of detainees, international humanitarian law, and sovereign immunity.

UPDATE: Another first for bloggers.

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

This post is dedicated to my brother....

Two years ago, I was the best man for my suspicious-looking yet disgustingly affluent I-banker of a brother at his wedding in in Hawaii. A few minutes before the ceremony started, he turned to me and, with a sheepish look, said: "Hang onto this, and don't tell [the bride]. She told me I couldn't bring this to the ceremony."

Then he gave me his Blackberry.

I bring this up (with the permission of my happily married brother), because for some reason I thought of him when I saw this story in The Onion (WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE):

New Mobile-Device Purchase Makes Asshole More Versatile

The Onion

New Mobile-Device Purchase Makes Asshole More Versatile

NEW YORK—The new BlackBerry 8703c has allowed total shithead Robert McClain to assign more work to his assistants while he is gambling in Atlantic City.

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sheryl Gay Stolberg owes me big time!!

Daniel Drezner, "Open Surge Thread," January 10, 2007:

Since November, President Bush has received an electoral rebuke, the Iraq Study Group report, a statement from his own Defense Secretary, and a whole lot of other free advice saying essentially the same thing: the current policy is not working, and it's simply too late for putting more troops on the ground. A surprisingly large number of people who work for him agree with this assessment. In response, Bush has shuffled around his high command and proposed a surge. Is is possible to draw any conclusion other than, "George W. Bush is a stubborn ass?"
Lead paragraphs for Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Bush’s Strategy for Iraq Risks Confrontations," New York Times, January 11, 2007:
By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq....

The plan, outlined by the president in stark, simple tones in a 20-minute speech from the White House library, is vintage George Bush — in the eyes of admirers, resolute and principled; in the eyes of critics, bull-headed, even delusional, about the prospects for success in Iraq.

[Um... wasn't that the obvious way to frame it?--ed. Hey, I found that $20 bill on the sidewalk first, dammit!]

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"The next year of the war could be bloody"

Comment away here on the President's speech tonight, in which, according to the Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright, "President Bush will announce this evening that he is sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq and will warn Americans that the next year of the war could be bloody as U.S. and Iraq forces confront sectarian militias and seek to quell the Sunni Muslim insurgency."

Here's a link to the NSC slide show report that apparently summarizes Bush's own Iraq Strategy Review.

I've filed this under "politics" rather than "foreign policy" for reasons proffered earlier today.

posted by Dan at 08:12 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

You have to have AAFTA

The Wall Street Journal op-ed page is currently the Beltway bulletin board on trade. A few days ago, former USTR and deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick wrote an essay proposing that the United States consolidate our trade diplomacy in the region:

This year President Bush and the Democratic-led Congress should launch a new Association of American Free Trade Agreements (AAFTA). The AAFTA could shape the future of the Western Hemisphere, while offering a new foreign and economic policy design that combines trade, open societies, development and democracy. In concert with successful immigration reform, the AAFTA would signal to the Americas that, despite the trials of war and Asia's rising economic influence, U.S. global strategy must have a hemispheric foundation.

Successful and sustainable international strategies must be constructed across administrations. Ronald Reagan called for free trade throughout the Americas, opened U.S. markets to our Caribbean neighbors, and completed an FTA with Canada. George H.W. Bush completed negotiations for a North American FTA, offered trade preferences to the Andean countries, negotiated peace in Central America, and freed Panama. Bill Clinton secured the passage of Nafta, launched work on a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and backed Plan Colombia.

George W. Bush enacted FTAs with Chile, the five states of Central America and the Dominican Republic. He also completed FTAs with Colombia, Peru and Panama. If Congress passes these agreements, the U.S. will finally have an unbroken line of free trade partners stretching from Alaska to the tip of South America. Not counting the U.S., this free trade assembly would comprise two-thirds of both the population and GDP of the Americas.

The AAFTA would draw together these 13 partners to build on the gains of free trade. It could also include the island states of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. Starting with a small secretariat, perhaps in Miami, the AAFTA should advance hemispheric economic integration; link development and democracy with trade and aid; improve working and environmental conditions; and continue to pursue the goal of free trade throughout the hemisphere. It might even foster cooperation in the WTO's global trade negotiations. The AAFTA might be connected to an academic center, which could combine research and practice through an association among universities in the Americas....

The U.S. cannot afford to lose interest in its own neighborhood. The pied pipers of populism in Latin America are taking advantage of the genuine frustrations, especially in indigenous communities, of people who have not been able to climb the ladder of opportunity. We should not let these populists dictate the debate. We already have seen that electorates in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Central America and the Dominican Republic have recognized that trade with the U.S. offers jobs and hope. We need to build on that foundation with results that link trade, aid, good governance, property rights and better working and environmental conditions. Even where populists prevailed, substantial constituencies who view the U.S. as an economic partner have constrained backward policies.

To launch the AAFTA, the president and the congressional leadership must stand up to America's populist protectionists, too. The new chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, Charles Rangel and Max Baucus, have signaled that trade may offer the best economic policy opportunity to work with the president. As Finance Committee Chair in 2001-02, Sen. Baucus worked closely with Sen. Grassley to authorize the negotiations for these FTAs. Rangel helped push preferential trade for Africa and the Caribbean. In response to urgings from New Democrats and Blue Dogs, the U.S. is the only country that includes mutual labor and environmental commitments in its FTAs, backed by enforcement. The administration worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its developing country partners to check their laws with core ILO standards. In cooperation with Sen. Baucus, the administration developed special environmental review and comment procedures for Cafta, strengthening the role of local NGOs. The AAFTA offers more: an opportunity to design labor and environmental partnerships that would complement the rules in the FTAs. The alternative -- ignoring Latin America or defeating FTAs to court economic isolationists -- would leave the causes of workers and the environment to unlikely friends: poverty and populism.

I'm curious to see how Democrats like Sherrod Brown would react to this, since in many ways, Zoellick is simply proposing a political trade with our FTA partners -- deeper economic integration in return for adding on stringent labor and environmental standards. Nominally, at least, this is what populists like Brown claim to want.

However, I confess that the real point of the post, if you've read this far, is to see how Lou Dobbs covers this sort of proposal:

The answer seems to be, "very, very poorly."
posted by Dan at 07:52 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thank you, Mr. President

The Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri and Maria Sacchetti report that Harvard has narrowed its shortlist for the presidency position. There's some good news -- for me, at least:

Harvard University has narrowed its hunt for a president to a handful of candidates, including three Harvard administrators and a Nobel Laureate who heads a scientific research institute, according to people familiar with the search.

The Harvard insiders on the short list are the provost, Steven E. Hyman, a neuroscientist; the dean of the law school, Elena Kagan; and the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Drew Gilpin Faust.

Another top contender is Thomas R. Cech, a 1989 Nobel Prize recipient in chemistry who is president of the multi billion dollar Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the top philanthropies and research organizations in the world.

Harvard also has asked the president of Tufts University, Lawrence S. Bacow, to be interviewed, but he refused.

Bacow has said several times that he expects to remain at Tufts. (emphasis added)

[So, what, you bucking for an endowed chair or something?--ed. No, a better parking spot. That's like gold in academia. Gold!!!]

UPDATE: The Harvard Crimson's Javier Hernandez and Daniel Schuker report that, "the [search] committee may not yet have ruled out Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow." Damn you, Harvard!!!

posted by Dan at 07:27 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

I am so going to hell for this link

Pssst..... hey, you, the IR grad students who furtively read this blog.... want to waste a few hours?

Then click here.

If you are not an IR grad student, then this link will not interest you.... unless you like fantasy sports, in which case you'll have a good chuckle.

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Open surge thread

I've been mute about the proposed surge in U.S. troops as a way to achieve some semblance of victory in Iraq. That does not mean my readers have to be mute as well. So, comment away.

To stack the deck a little, however, surge proponents need to answer three questions for me:

1) How would a surge of only 20,000 troops make any difference, when even the proponents of such an option were talking about 50,000 troops in the fall? Is anyone going to claim that Iraq is more stable now than then?

2) Given that even proponents of a surge are only talking about an 18-month window of placement in a limited part of Iraqi territory, why wouldn't insurgents simply melt away/move to other parts of the country?

3) Since November, President Bush has received an electoral rebuke, the Iraq Study Group report, a statement from his own Defense Secretary, and a whole lot of other free advice saying essentially the same thing: the current policy is not working, and it's simply too late for putting more troops on the ground. A surprisingly large number of people who work for him agree with this assessment. In response, Bush has shuffled around his high command and proposed a surge. Is is possible to draw any conclusion other than, "George W. Bush is a stubborn ass?"

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The energy follies, continued

I might need to create a new category for the blog: file under Utterly Stupid Moves by Energy-Abundant Regimes.

First, there's Venezuela. Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss explain in the New York Times:

Investors reacted with alarm here and in markets in the United States and throughout Latin America on Tuesday as they measured the impact of the plan by Mr. Chávez to nationalize crucial areas of the economy. Memories of past nationalizations during another turbulent era, in places like Cuba and Chile, helped drive down the Caracas stock exchange’s main index by almost 19 percent....

Owners of Venezuelan steel, banking, cement and hotel companies — even the cable car operator that takes tourists to the top of the Ávila mountain here — could be affected by the push toward nationalization, analysts said.

“Chávez is deepening his revolution, but in doing so will he follow the law and compensate the companies whose assets will be nationalized?” said Miguel Octavio, executive director of BBO Servicios Financieros, a brokerage firm, who calculated the costs of taking over companies in the telecommunications, electricity and oil industries, as well assuming their debts, at more than $15 billion.

“It doesn’t seem like the government has thought this project out yet,” Mr. Octavio said.

Tony Snow, a White House spokesman, said on Tuesday, “Nationalization has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world. We support the Venezuelan people and think this is an unhappy day for them.”

Mr. Chávez further intensified worries with his request for vastly enhanced presidential authority from his Congress. If successful, those new powers would allow him to decree measures into law for one year, bypassing any debate in the legislature, where in any case all 167 deputies are his supporters. On top of that, he made a request to abolish the autonomy of Venezuela’s central bank. The Venezuelan government did not immediately contact the American companies, which declined to discuss details.

Then there is Russia. [For forcing Belarus to pay higher prices for energy?--ed.] No, and let's be clear about this -- as with Ukraine last year, Russia is perfectly justified in switching to market rates for their energy exports. It's the way in which they go about trying to do this that's so wrong-footed. In the International Herald-Tribune, Judy Dempsey and Dan Bilefsky explain why Europe is so ticked off:
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday publicly rebuked Russia for not consulting its European partners before suspending oil shipments destined for Poland and Germany in a dispute with Belarus.

"It is unacceptable when there are no consultations over these actions," Merkel said during a joint news conference with the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, in Berlin. "That hurts trust and it makes it difficult to build a cooperative relationship based on trust."

Russia on Monday halted shipments to Belarus after Minsk imposed a tariff on Russian oil in retaliation for an increase in the price of Russian oil exports to Belarus. Belarus, one of Russia's main routes for piping its oil to Europe, admitted that it had siphoned off some oil destined for European customers after Russia cut the shipments through the Druzhba, or Friendship, pipeline.

Barroso said it was "not acceptable for suppliers or transit countries to take measures without consultation," adding, "Of course this is a matter for concern."

Germany depends on Russia for a third of its natural gas and a fifth of its oil. Russia supplies a quarter of the EU's gas and about a fifth of its oil.

I don't understand the lack of consultation on this one. It's not like the European Union is going to be upset about squeezing the Belarusian leadership -- and with sufficient preparation, this could have been handled much more smoothly. Why not consult?

Finally, we have Iran. As the United States ratchets up its own sanctions, the Iranian leadership seems surprised that, like, they have alienated a lot of countries. In the Financial Times, Daniel Dombey and Gareth Smyth explain the confusion in Tehran:

[T]he new UN regime - which took months to negotiate in New York - appears to have surprised parts of Iran's leadership, with differences emerging on how best to respond. After a period in which Iran saw its regional influence increase at relatively little cost, Tehran now faces greater isolation....

A regime insider told the FT last week there was no chance Iran would accept the resolution within the 60-day deadline, and would go ahead with plans to extend the number of centrifuges - devices for enriching uranium - in the research plant at Natanz.

But pragmatists in Tehran have become bolder in pronouncements, because of their concern at the scope of the UN resolution and because of the reverse suffered by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad last month in elections for local councils and for a top clerical body. "The mood has shifted but not yet policy," the insider said. "There may well be changes in the leadership's approach, but not immediately."....

Iran's Fars news agency yesterday ran a long interview with Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator close to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in which he described the UN Security Council as the "highest international legislative authority" and criticised the government of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad for attacking the council's resolution as "illegal".

But yesterday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, reiterated that nuclear energy was "a source of pride for the Iranian nation and Islamic world" and that Iran would not give up its "right".

Even the Nelson Report observes that, "there’s no question that, along with the EU, Washington and Beijing are simultaneously taking a tough line on Iran. And the implicit 'message' of the arrival in China of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, today, is clear to all concerned."


posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

How will the Olympics affect China?

When historians debate what caused the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, there is occasionally a mention of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. As the narrative goes, the Soviets invested enormous sums to turn Moscow into a showcase for the international media -- and bankrupted themselves in the process.

I bring this up because the Economist's Asia.view column reports on how China is, temporarily, changing its laws for the 2008 summer games in Beijing:

China wants to show that its relations with the foreign media are in line with those of other countries that have hosted the games in the past 20 years. It does not want its Olympics marred by the sort of boycotts and tensions that spoilt the 1980 games in Moscow―the only other communist capital to have hosted the event.

The games are of enormous political importance to China. They are designed to show off the country’s economic achievements and to demonstrate its growing pride and confidence. China wants the event to strengthen its ties with the West. It worries that restrictions on foreign media might complicate that task.

The old media rules had changed little, on paper at least, since communist China first allowed Western journalists to open offices in Beijing in the 1970s. For example, if a resident foreign journalist wanted to conduct interviews outside the city where he was based, he had to obtain permission from the relevant provincial government. In recent years most journalists ignored this restriction, and the central government largely turned a blind eye, but local governments did not. A trip to the provinces on a sensitive story could mean a cat-and-mouse game with the local police, who would happily expel the foreigner for “illegal” reporting.

The old rules, though not formally repealed, have been superseded from January 1st by more liberal regulations which remain in force until the games are over. In theory foreign journalists can travel around China pretty much as they please.

And if they highlight some shortcomings in the course of their provincial travels, the central government will probably not be too upset. It wants to bring wayward local governments to heel, as part of its drive to cut corruption and impose more order on the economy. A bit of publicity may be helpful.

Sounds like the 2007 Beijing leadership is savvier than the 1980 Moscow leadership. It will be interesting to see whether the cental government manages to stay ahead of whatever adverse developments emerge over the next 18 months. As the column concludes:
It remains to be seen, however, how local governments respond. They have long been adept at ignoring central directives they dislike. Some have deployed thugs to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

The new rules are meant to signal that China is moving closer to developed countries in the way it handles the media. But unless local governments accept them too, a very different message may be sent: that China is moving rapidly closer to the norm of a developing country where central authority is weakening and disrespect for the law is widespread. Journalists, Chinese and foreign alike, will have to deal with the hazards this trend poses.

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, January 8, 2007

This is every academic's secret nightmare

After reading the headline, "Gas-Like Odor Permeates Parts of New York City," I was convinced that my secret fear had come true.

You see, at this very moment I have an article manuscript that's being edited by someone in New York City. Clearly, I thought (OK, not so clearly), my work has become so bad that the metaphorical has become literal. It's my fault!! MINE!!.

[Get your head out of your narcissistic ass!--ed. Thank you, I needed that.]

Surfing the web on the story, the most interesting tidbit I found was in Nathan Thornburgh's story at

New York, of course, has had its share of mystery aromas, big and small. In 2005, an odd maple syrup smell overcame parts of Manhattan and New Jersey. Last August, an unidentified odor sent people to the hospital in Staten Island and Queens.
I kind of like the idea of maple syrup wafting through my town.

posted by Dan at 07:09 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Next year, I'm putting my money on Latvia

Another January, another energy dispute between Russia and a former Soviet republic freaks out the Europeans:

Russia, accusing Belarus of stealing oil from a major pipeline, has shut off oil exports to its western neighbour, halting supplies to Poland and Germany and threatening wider disruptions in central Europe.

Russia’s pipeline monopoly Transneft said on Monday it was forced to act because Minsk had been siphoning off oil illegally from the Druzhba (’Friendship’) pipeline system.

The oil supply cut was reminiscent of a stand-off last year between Russia and Ukraine that hit gas supplies to Europe. It escalates a tit-for-tat dispute between Russia and longtime ally Belarus, who have imposed punitive oil levies on each other.

The European Union demanded an “urgent and detailed” explanation, a spokesman for Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said. Europe is heavily reliant on energy powerhouse Russia for its oil and gas and extremely vulnerable to Russian supply cuts.

What's odd about this dispute is that Belarus backed down last week when faced with similar Russian pressure on natural gas. Lukashenka agreed (he wasn't thrilled, obviously, but he agreed) to a ramp up in Gazprom's natural gas price.

Writing in the Financial Times, Arkady Ostrovskyin reports that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has backed himself into a corner:

Speaking for the first time since Belarus succumbed to Russia's demands to double gas prices and take control of half of its pipeline infrastructure, Mr Lukashenko said he had instructed his government to propose to Moscow that it pay for everything "they are getting here for free, from military objects to transit of oil".

Analysts said Mr Lukashenko's angry comments should be put down to the frustration of a leader push-ed into a corner.

"Lukashenko is in an extremely weak position - both economically and politically. He is already isolated by Europe and Russia is his only lifeline," said Christopher Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.

On New Year's eve, Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas group, forced Belarus to sign a new five-year gas deal which will bring gas prices to European levels by 2011. Russia also threatened to slap a full duty on Russian - currently duty-free - crude oil exports to Belarus of $180.70 (£92.71) per tonne from next year.

These measures would wipe out most of the $4bn plus subsidy that Mr Lukashenko has enjoyed over the past years and which helped him retain his popularity. However, unlike Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that irritated Russia by pushing closer to Europe, Belarus has few friends in the west and now risks straining its relationship with Russia to a breaking point.

The big question here is whether Western Europe will force Russia to turn the oil tap back on before Lukashenka is ousted by someone not stupid enough to annoy Belarus' only ally. From a human rights perspective, it would seem hard to believe that anyone in Belarus could be worse than Lukashenko. On the other hand, it's not clear that a replacement would be much better, either -- and there's the pesky problem of heating homes and such.

My prediction: If this kind of standoff lasts more than a week, Lukashenko is gone. But I suspect European pressure will force an agreement before Lukashenko is ousted.

Readers are invited to speculate which country will be the focus of next year's energy squeeze.

UPDATE: The Economist's Democracy in America blog thinks the target of this cutoff isn't Belarus -- it's Germany and Poland.

posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

So that's why tenure is such a big deal

In my day, I have read many a rant about how the tenure system in academia is merely a con job that ivory tower types have used to hoodwink the lumpenproletariat not privileged enough to sit in on the mind-numbing minutiae that are facult meetings. Academics usually trot out the importance of "academic freedom," but this is dimissed by most as unimportant.

I will now refer these ranters to this Inside Higher Ed piece by Elia Powers:

Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School, lowered her spectacles and, as if addressing a group of students, presented her audience with a case study.

This one involved the University of Minnesota, where students had protested the hiring of a part-time Constitutional law instructor on the grounds that he was co-author of the controversial Department of Justice torture memo.

As dean, Kagan asked the audience, would you have hired the professor, Robert Delahunty? The answers were mixed.

Then Kagan changed the scenario. What if the professor was tenured at the time when the same facts came out? Would he be protected under the banner of academic freedom?

Yes, the audience of lawyers, law school professors and administrators almost unanimously agreed.

Read the whole thing to see Kagan's explanation of this seeming paradox.

Then again, Stanley Fish does not hold that capacious a view on academic freedom more generally:

[I]s academic freedom worth protecting? Only when one applies a limited definition, Fish argued. Worthy of protection: a professor’s ability to introduce material and equip students with analytical skills.

“That’s it,” he said. “There’s nothing else. The moment a professor tries to do something else [such as inject a political opinion], he is performing an action for which there should be no academic freedom.”

Fish added that a professor who comes clean about her political view at the start of class still shouldn’t be protected. “Ask this question,” he said. “Is it an account or an advocacy of an agenda?

I have to assume that Fish was limiting his remarks about protecting academic freedom within the context of a classroom setting. Because if he's saying that research topics and research output should not be protected, then dear God, keep that man away from my campus. One also wonders what Fish's views would be about blogging....

UPDATE: Only tangentially connected, but it seems appropriate here to say goodbye to Michael Berube's blog -- he hung up his blogging spurs today. He makes a valid point in his last post:

[L]et me try to answer the most serious question I’ve gotten about this decision: why not just cut down? Post something under 2000 words for a change? Post once a week or once a month, instead of maniacally posting every weekday?....

I’ve tried that, actually, but it doesn’t work. Blog maintenance on this scale is a daily, sometimes hourly thing, regardless of whether there’s a new post up. And even if I didn’t try to maintain the blog on this scale (a good idea in itself), there’s still the problem of the invisible blogging. I don’t write these posts out in advance, you know. I sit down for an hour or two (more for the really long posts), write them in one take in WordPerfect, look ‘em over, transfer ‘em to the blog, preview, edit, submit, and then proofread one last time once they’re up. (Because sometimes you can’t catch a typo until it’s really up there on the blog, and even then, I’ve missed a bunch so far.) Which means, among other things, that I do a great deal of the planning-before-the-writing while I’m not blogging. And that’s what’s been so mentally exhausting. It’s like ABC from Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Composing. And while it’s been great mental exercise, and it’s compelled me to think out (and commit myself in public to) any number of things that otherwise would have simply laid around the mental toolshed for years, it’s not the kind of thing I can keep up forever, and it wouldn’t be seriously affected if I went to a lighter posting schedule. I’d still spend way too much time thinking about the Next Post and the Post After That.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

A few good trade links

A few if the saner things written about trade in the past few weeks:

1) William Overholt, "Globalization's Unequal Discontents,", December 21, 2006:

Some manufacturing workers in the United States -- such as those who labored in huge factories making basic steel -- have suffered as they've seen their jobs leave America for low-wage countries. But for workers as a whole, the truth about globalization and inequality is the opposite of what the protectionists claim. There are three caveats to the steel worker's story and two larger perspectives on inequality.

One caveat is that protectionists enormously exaggerate the negative effects of globalization by attributing virtually all manufacturing job losses to competition with China. We are told by union leaders and some politicians that America is exporting millions of jobs to China. This is absolutely untrue.

Scholarly studies show that most job losses in the United States are attributable to domestic causes such as increased domestic productivity. A few years ago it took 40 hours of labor to produce a car. Now it takes 15. That translates into a need for fewer workers. Protectionists who blame China for such job losses are being intellectually dishonest. In fact, both China and the U.S. have lost manufacturing jobs due to rising productivity, but China has lost ten times more -- a decline of about 25 million Chinese jobs from over 54 million in 1994 to under 30 million ten years later.

A second caveat is that there are two ways to increase people's standard of living. One is to increase their wages. The other is to decrease prices so that they can buy more things with the same amount of money.

The ability to buy inexpensive, quality Chinese-made shoes and Japanese-made cars at lower prices disproportionately benefits lower income Americans. The Wall Street banker who pays $350 for Church's shoes benefits relatively little, but the janitor who buys shoes for $25 rather than $50 at Payless or Target or Wal-Mart benefits greatly.

Lower prices due to imports from China alone -- ignoring all other similar results of globalization -- probably raise the real incomes of lower income Americans by 5 to 10 percent. That's something no welfare program has ever accomplished.

A third caveat is that the protectionists never mention the jobs created and saved by globalization. If General Motors avoids bankruptcy, as seems likely, one important reason will be the profits it has made by selling cars in China. The vast China market, and the ability of American corporations to expand and refine their operations though a division of labor with China, creates many high level jobs in U.S. operations ranging in diversity from Motorola to IBM to Caterpillar to Boeing to farming.

The first of the larger perspectives on globalization is that open economies adjust faster to their real competitive advantages, allowing them to employ their own people. The most recent U.S. unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. France, along with other relatively protected economies, typically has twice as high a proportion of the population unemployed because their workers are stuck in inappropriate jobs.

Still more protected economies, like many in Latin America, often run much higher rates of unemployment -- up to 40%. Economies more open than the U.S. -- like Singapore and Hong Kong -- historically run lower rates of unemployment.

The worst inequality is between families whose breadwinners have jobs and those who don't. Globalization minimizes that problem.

Globalization has brought countries with about 3 billion people from subhuman conditions of life into modern standards of living with adequate food, basic shelter, modern clothing rather than rags, and life spans that are over 60 rather than under 45. (In the early 1950s China's life expectancy was 41 years, in 2005 it was 72.7 years. This is the greatest reduction of inequality that has happened in human history.

2) Jagdish Bhagwati, "Technology, not Globalisation, Drives Wages Down," Financial Times, January 3, 2007:
Lou Dobbs of CNN, the labour groups’ think-tank Economic Policy Institute and nearly all the Democrats newly elected to Congress believe that globalisation has much to do with the economic distress of the working and middle classes. Therefore they have coherence on their side when they want to lean on the door – even to close it – on trade with poor countries and occasionally on unskilled immigration from them.

Proponents of globalisation, however, find themselves in a politically implausible position: they typically skirt around and hence accept this “distributional” critique of globalisation – yet nonetheless propose that those adversely affected should accept globalisation but be aided so as to cope with their affliction in other ways.

As it happens, globalisation’s supporters are on firmer ground than they fear. Examine the common arguments linking globalisation to the distributional distress and little survives....

The decline in unionisation has been going on for longer than the past two decades of globalisation, shows no dramatic acceleration in the past two decades and is to be attributed to the union-unfriendly provisions of the half-century-old Taft-Hartley provisions that crippled the ability to strike....

The culprit is not globalisation but labour-saving technical change that puts pressure on the wages of the unskilled. Technical change prompts continual economies in the use of unskilled labour. Much empirical argumentation and evidence exists on this. But a telling example comes from Charlie Chaplin’s film, Modern Times. Recall how he goes berserk on the assembly line, the mechanical motion of turning the spanner finally getting to him. There are assembly lines today, but they are without workers; they are managed by computers in a glass cage above, with highly skilled engineers in charge.

Such technical change is quickly spreading through the system. This naturally creates, in the short-run, pressure on the jobs and wages of the workers being displaced....

The pressure on wages becomes relentless, lasting over longer periods than in earlier experience with unskilled labour-saving technical change. But this technical change, which proceeds like a tsunami, has nothing to do with globalisation.

One slight cavil -- that last paragraph by Bhagwati strikes me as a bit of a stretch. I have to think that globalization is one of the drivers for greater technical change.

3) Susan Aaronson, "Labor Rights Not Optional,", January 5, 2007:

[Both] the Democratic alternative and the current Bush administration approach do little to bolster the demand in developing countries for strong labor protections. Neither approach facilitates the ability of citizens in our trade partners to participate in and monitor labor rights enforcement. In countries such as Oman, a U.S. free trade partner, workers cannot easily influence their government or obtain due process in administrative procedures. In addition, some of America’s free trade agreement partners do not provide their citizens with full information about their labor rights under the law. As a result, it is difficult for activists to monitor their government and hold it accountable.

Labor rights advocates should take a page from the environmental chapters of several recent free trade agreements. In 2004, Democratic Senator Max Baucus pressed U.S. trade policymakers to strengthen public participation provisions and embed them in every future trade agreement.

The Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) is the first trade agreement built on Baucus’ suggestions. It includes both a mechanism and secretariat that allows citizens from any one of the seven signatory nations to challenge enforcement of environmental laws. Moreover, the trade agreement requires policymakers to respond to these complaints. To ensure the viability of this model, the United States agreed to fund the first year of the secretariat’s work. In addition to setting up a complaint mechanism, trade and/or environmental ministries in each of the CAFTA countries reached out to their constituents on the environmental chapters. They held hearings, called for public comments, and published their new regulations on the web and in print. Each environment ministry developed a website on environmental activities and outreach. USTR has agreed to replicate this model in other free trade agreements with Colombia and Peru.

But these citizen submission strategies should not be limited to the environmental chapters of free trade agreements. The U.S. government should adopt a similar approach in the labor chapters as well. As the Democrats have promised, the U.S. first should ask its trade partners to ensure that their labor laws meet internationally accepted labor standards before negotiating a trade agreement. In addition, policymakers should also include provisions that ensure public comment on labor law development and or enforcement; allow citizens to petition their government regarding labor law violations; and set up a complaint and hearing process related to labor rights. By so doing, the U.S. would be strengthening local labor movements as well as expanding grassroots pressure for democratic accountability.

America’s founding fathers recognized that democracy and good governance could not flourish if the public did not participate in decision making. In the long run, good governance, like democracy, can’t be exported. But the U.S. can use trade policy to help workers abroad influence and monitor labor rights in their home countries.

UPDATE: Brad Setser protests in the comments about the Overholt piece -- which reminds me that I should have linked this post of his from last week.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)