Friday, May 11, 2007

The most bizarre analyses I've seen today

This is what I get for surfing the web instead of revising that paper-that's-really-just-perfect-the-way-it-is-and-I-don't-care-what-those-stupid-peer-referees-think.

First up, Scott Sullivan, "U.S. Jews Must Protect Wolfowitz," The Conservative Voice:

US Jews must protect Wolfowitz because the allegations against him are baseless and Germany’s motives in pushing these allegations are suspect. Meanwhile, President Bush wants to purge his administration of anti-Iran policy makers. As his legacy, Bush wants to make a strategic partnership with Iran’s Nazi President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Firing Paul Wolfowitz is the down payment on Bush's strategic partnership with Iran.

Next up: Grady Hendrix, "Mocha Zombies," Slate:

The rage virus, with its ability to create red-eyed, screaming monsters, with its instantaneous transmission via liquid, and the fact that its frantic growth can only be stopped by firebombing, is an effective metaphor for the unstoppable, global spread of Starbucks.... Images of rabid globalization... still deliver a kick, and there's nothing that says "New World Order" more than a horde of single-minded zombies devouring the quick and assimilating them into their anonymous, ever-expanding ranks.
I think this one is intended to be funny, but I'll let the readers be the judge.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

There's a domestic deal on trade

I still need to look at the fine print, but this Steven Weisman story in the New York Times suggests that a deal has been cut on trade deals for the future:

The Bush administration reached agreement on Thursday with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats to attach environmental and worker protections in several pending trade accords, clearing the way for early passage of some pacts and improving prospects for others.

The unusual agreement, which came after weeks of negotiations, would guarantee workers the right to organize, ban child labor and prohibit forced labor in trading-partner countries. It would also require trading partners to enforce environmental laws already on their books and comply with several international environmental agreements.

While the understanding was a victory for Democrats, it also represented a shrewd compromise by the White House. The agreement is the first major bipartisan economic deal to emerge since Democrats took control of Congress in January. It has immediate importance for four countries — Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea — that are seeking to enter into trade pacts with the United States.

But officials in Washington predicted that the agreement’s effect would go beyond those countries and could be a template for all trade deals, including a possible worldwide accord.

Administration officials are hoping that the agreement will cause many Democrats to support future trade deals. They hope that enough Democrats will join with Republicans, who generally support such measures, to make passage of the agreements probable, if only narrowly.

Pelosi's presence at this announcement suggests that the dynamics I discussed back in late March kicked in.


UPDATE: Here are links to the Financial Times and Washington Post stories. The Post highlights the key concession:

The key to the agreement, said those involved, was the Bush administration's reluctant assent to Democratic demands for more stringent labor rules. Under the new policy, enforceable labor provisions will be written into the texts of trade deals to protect the rights of workers abroad to organize unions and bargain collectively, while banning forced labor, child labor and workplace discrimination.

The Bush administration resisted such rules, reflecting the fears of business interests that they could boost the power of U.S. labor unions, opening a backdoor for them to rewrite U.S. law to their advantage. But the administration concluded that it had to swallow the labor rules lest its trade deals die in a Congress controlled by the other party.

The deal also includes an agreement between the White House and Congress to develop a "strategic worker assistance and training initiative" that would increase job training and financial assistance for communities that suffer job losses to overseas competition and automation. Democrats said those programs would go beyond existing benefits, but they provided few details.

This should make Dani Rodrik very happy. Predictably, it's pissed off both David Sirota and organized labor.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The New York Times looks deep into my blogging soul

Natasha Singer has a story in the NYT Styles section about blogs critical of the beauty-industrial complex. This is the lead paragraph:

Most bloggers have never met a beauty product or treatment they didn’t love. The fill their columns with wildly enthusiastic prose about the latest blush, the newest procedure or research that they laud as cutting-edge.
This is just so true. Why, only yesterday James Joyner and I were getting facials and talking about how Glenn Reynolds was using this awesome new foundation that really brought out his cheekbones (but what is the deal with this fashion choice?).

Then it was off to a manny-peddy with Kevin Drum, who scored some cutting-edge Clinique products gratis because of his constant beauty blogging (though, man, could Drum be any bitchier about Andrew Sullivan's fashion choices?).

While we were waiting for our nails to dry, we regaled each other with the great Megan McArdle-Virginia Postrel blog feud over the best nail polish to wear when appearing on a Sunday morning talk show (let's face it, they're both just jealous of Laura McKenna's flaming red hair and Ann Althouse's age-defying skin cream).

Of course, my day was ruined when Jacob Levy came in to get some fancy-schmancy new chest waxing procedure. Whenever I bump into Jacob at the beauty parlor, he lords it over me how he has a named chair even though he's three years younger than me. It kills me that he looks ten years younger because of those killer highlights in his beard.

The New York Times: your infallible guide to the soul of the blogosphere.

posted by Dan at 08:14 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Time for the September call-ups in foreign policy

The Financial Times' Edward Luce reports that the Bush administration might have to put out a "Help Wanted" sign for its foreign policy team:

The Bush administration is facing growing difficulties in filling a rising number of high-level vacancies following a recent spate of senior departures.

In the last 10 days alone Mr Bush has lost four senior officials and more resignations are expected to follow. “I wouldn’t describe this as disintegration,” said one senior official. “But there are worrying large gaps opening up and it is very hard to recruit high-quality people from outside.”

Recent departures include J.D. Crouch, the deputy head of the national security council, who wants to spend more time with his family, and Randall Tobias, the head of USAID, who resigned after it was revealed that he used a call girl agency for “legal” erotic services. Mr Bush has also lost Dina Habib Powell, the administration’s most senior Arab-American, who is leaving the State Department to join the private sector, and Timothy Adams, the number three at the Treasury department.

Officials say that the flurry of departures is not unusual during the latter part of a second term and deny there are common themes driving their exits. But they come at a time when Mr Bush is having difficulty filling the new position of “war czar” to oversee the administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq.

The last two years of an unpopular lame-duck presidency have the same feel of a losing baseball team's last month of the season. In September, all teams call up promising minor league players to see if they can hack it in The Show. In both cases, organizations respond to failure by giving the kids a chance to screw up.

The Bush administration will fill these positions because.... well, because they have little choice. My guess is that, rather than getting people with resumes commensurate with the positions (i.e., Paulson, Gates), they'll have to go a bit younger.

[Why would anyone take these jobs?--ed. Because if they want to get even better positions the next time a Republican takes office, they need to punch their ticket now. Are you one of these people?--ed. Not after this statement, no.]

posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Rainbow/PUSH goes off the deep end

As a recent academic study of NBA referees demonstrates, there's no question that race is something to be talked about in sports. Clearly, according to an ESPN/ABC poll, African-Americans view Barry Bonds' pursuit of the home run record in ways different than whites. Those differences are worthy of conversation, debate, and maybe even a bit of learning on both sides.

However, is it possible for sports fans of all races to agree that, according to this Atlanta-Journal Constitution story by Carroll Rogers, Rainbow/PUSH has offiially gone way, way off the reality-based reservation?:

Upset over the lack of African-Americans on the [Atlanta] Braves roster, members of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH Coalition asked for a meeting with team officials. They got one Monday.

Joe Beasley, Southern Regional Director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said he and Dexter Clinkscale, the director of sports for the organization, met Monday morning for nearly two hours with Braves general manager John Schuerholz, assistant general manager Frank Wren and three other Braves officials.

"The team slipped ... down to [no African-Americans]; it wasn't something that just happened," Beasley said Monday afternoon. "I think it was a lack of diligence on the part of the Braves to recruit African-American players. There's not diminished enthusiasm for African-Americans playing baseball. It's simply the opportunity hasn't presented itself."....

Less than 10 percent of major league players are African-Americans. In a recent interview on the subject, Schuerholz said: "You go to where the talent leads you. Finding major league-caliber baseball players is far too difficult if you try to narrow your criteria down to demographics."

Countered Beasley, "As I expected, [Schuerholz?s] idea is the bottom line: I'll put the best 40 men I can get wherever I can get them from on the field, and that's fair. But the fact of the matter is if they put resources into recruiting here in the United States, and more specifically here in Atlanta, there are talented players here."....

"You slipped down to nothing, now you've got one, we expect it to start going up higher," Beasley said was the sentiment he voiced in the meeting. "We want to see incrementally it move back up, rather than moving down. There was an openness on [Schuerholz's] part to talk and to be in dialogue and hopefully be in partnership in trying to make sure that it happens. He was very nice, a gentleman. I'm going to hold him to his word to work with us and move those numbers back up to a respectable level." (emphases added)

For those in the audience sympathetic to affirmative action: is there any way to interpret Beasley's statements as anything other than a demand for a quota of African-Americans to be on the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster?

Is there any way to interpret these comments without arriving at the conclusion that Rainbow/PUSH is run by idiots?

Seriously, I want to know.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The incredibly loud Hawaiian shirt edition of

My latest bloggingheads debate is up, with Matthew Yglesias. As a special treat, I'm wearing a Hawaiian shirt loud enough to wake Don Ho from the dead. It's... arresting.

Topics include:

1) The Jon Chait netroots article.

2) Our place in the wonkosphere (and, yes, Henry, you should feel bad for that neologism).

3) Is Alan Blinder on crack or is he on crack... like a fox?

4) Those bigoted NBA refs.

5) Those bigoted baseball fans.

6) Why France will not change.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Do I have blinders about Blinder?

Over the weekend, Alan Blinder once again vented his concerns about the future of offshoring, this time in the Washington Post:

[T]wo powerful, historical forces are driving these changes, and both are virtually certain to grow stronger over time.

The first is technology, especially information and communications technology, which has been improving at an astonishing pace in recent decades. As the technology advances, the quality of now-familiar modes of communication (such as telephones, videoconferencing and the Internet) will improve, and entirely new forms of communication may be invented. One clear implication of the upward march of technology is that a widening array of services will become deliverable electronically from afar. And it's not just low-skill services such as key punching, transcription and telemarketing. It's also high-skill services such as radiology, architecture and engineering -- maybe even college teaching.

The second driver is the entry of about 1.5 billion "new" workers into the world economy. These folks aren't new to the world, of course. But they live in places such as China, India and the former Soviet bloc -- countries that used to stand outside the world economy. For those who say, "Sure, but most of them are low-skilled workers," I have two answers. First, even a small percentage of 1.5 billion people is a lot of folks. And second, India and China will certainly educate hundreds of millions more in the coming decades. So there will be a lot of willing and able people available to do the jobs that technology will move offshore.

Looking at these two historic forces from the perspective of the world as a whole, one can only get a warm feeling. Improvements in technology will raise living standards, just as they have since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. And the availability of millions of new electronically deliverable service jobs in, say, India and China will help alleviate poverty on a mass scale. Offshoring will also reduce costs and boost productivity in the United States. So repeat after me: Globalization is good for the world. Which is where economists usually stop.

And where my alleged apostasy starts.

For these same forces don't look so benign from the viewpoint of an American computer programmer or accountant. They've done what they were told to do: They went to college and prepared for well-paid careers with bountiful employment opportunities. But now their bosses are eyeing legions of well-qualified, English-speaking programmers and accountants in India, for example, who will happily work for a fraction of what Americans earn. Such prospective competition puts a damper on wage increases. And if the jobs do move offshore, displaced American workers may lose not only their jobs but also their pensions and health insurance. These people can be forgiven if they have doubts about the virtues of globalization.

We economists assure folks that things will be all right in the end. Both Americans and Indians will be better off. I think that's right. The basic principles of free trade that Adam Smith and David Ricardo taught us two centuries ago remain valid today: Just like people, nations benefit by specializing in the tasks they do best and trading with other nations for the rest. There's nothing new here theoretically.

But I would argue that there's something new about the coming transition to service offshoring. Those two powerful forces mentioned earlier -- technological advancement and the rise of China and India -- suggest that this particular transition will be large, lengthy and painful.

I've read Blinder's longer paper on this topic, and I must confess -- again -- that I don't see how he's coming to this "large, lengthy and painful" conclusion. As Greg Mankiw points out:
Alan says the transition to the new equilibrium will be "large, lengthy and painful." When he spoke at Harvard last week, he said the transition would take about 30 years. But the very length of the transition will make it less painful. Over the course of a generation, workers can gradually retire from shrinking industries, and new workers can be trained for the growing industries that take their place. Of course, some individuals will experience painful transitions, but that is always the case in a dynamic market economy. I don't expect future transitions to be macroeconomically different than past transitions. Even if imports as a percentage of GDP continue to rise as Alan predicts, I would nonetheless expect the average rate of unemployment for the U.S. economy to be about the same over the next thirty years as it has been over the past thirty.

After the Blinder-Bhagwati debate last week, there was a dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club at which Ben Friedman asked Alan a good question: Now that Alan has had this epiphany about offshoring, does he favor economic policies any different than he favored a decade ago? Alan thought about the question for a moment and then said no. I found that answer reassuring. My fear is that many politicians reading Alan's work on offshore outsourcing will not come to the same conclusion.

This brings us to a point that Dani Rodrik raised earlier in the week about what happens when economists start debating public policy:
Finally, let me note the irony in how a discussion on free trade among economists quickly ends up being a debate on its politics—that is, a debate on whether this or that trade policy which on economic grounds is actually desirable can also be politically feasible. We are way beyond our area of expertise. Your hand-waving is as good as mine.

Scratch any strongly-held view about free trade, and you will find (typically) unexamined political assumptions underneath. Even if we do not end up agreeing, the value of the present exchange is that it is getting us to reveal what those assumptions are.

If you eliminate the word "free" from both paragraphs, then I agree 100 percent with Rodrik.

By economist standards, Alan Blinder is remarkably sophisticated about the ways in which politics and economics intersect. What puzzles me, therefore, is why he is making Cassandra-like noises about a phenomenon that does not justify such warnings if it takes place over several decades (and there's decent evidence that this is the case). As a political scientist, I have two hypotheses:

1) Blinder believes that the political effects of increased offshoring will be substantial enough to make the current tide of protectionist sentiment seem like a baby wave. To prevent a stronger backlash, he feels it necessary to warn people with Very Scary Numbers to prompt action.

2) Blinder believes that the United States should more closely resemble the Scandanavian countries in being both economically open and more socially democratic. Since a direct political campaign for a European-style social welfare state will not fly in the U.S., he feels it necessary to use Very Scary Numbers about trade as a backdoor tactic.

My concern is that however well-intentioned Blinder's tactics might be, he's overlooking another possible outcome of his self-proclaimed apostasy, which is that it empowers economic populists with the mantle of intellectual respectability. Saying that upwards of 40 million jobs will be threatened by offshoring sounds scary, even if the data as of yet doesn't show those jobs have actually been offshored. As some other economists have observed, entrenched interests will always exploit these kind of economic fears to implement policies that serve their own interests. Furthermore, some political scientists have pointed out that these protectionist policies will also be far from transparent.

Maybe Blinder is speaking truth to power and I am simply adopting too static a view of trade policy. But I can't shake the feeling that Blinder has adopted the Jeffrey Sachs theory of political change.

UPDATE: Robin Toner has an excellent front-pager in the New York Times today that gets at how these political questions are playing out among House Democrats. Some of them clearly share the Blinder view of what to do. What disturbs me, however, are passages like this:

Since the Democrats took control of the committee in January, the 75-year-old Mr. [Sander] Levin has met with restless Democratic freshmen who helped their party regain the majority by promising to “do something” about the job losses caused by a globalized economy — and who now want to deliver....

Mr. Levin and his fellow Democrats face a political backlash on trade and globalization as intense as it has been in years, a point underscored by the freshman class of 2006. Across the industrial heartland and the Northeast, those freshman campaigned on a scathing critique of American trade policies. How could Americans compete against workers in developing countries, they asked, while maintaining decent wages, health benefits and pensions?

“It’s an issue near and dear to our hearts, and one we feel we need to deliver change on,” said Representative Betty Sutton, a Democrat from northeast Ohio.

Whenever a politician presents a demand or proffers a promise to "do something" about trade, I get hives.

posted by Dan at 11:49 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Well, this was a bit of a surprise
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Your Result: Goddess Bast

You are the Goddess Bast. You are quiet and calm, but when need be, you are firm and fierce. You are full of love, and you always care. People often come to you for advise or guidance, and you willingly give it. Congatulations!! You are Goddess!!

Goddess Sekhemet
The Christian God
God Zeus
You are your own God or Goddess
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Make Your Own Quiz
posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

My bold prediction about Sarkozy

Nicholas Sarkozy will be the next French President. The Economist spells out what this means:

By sheer drive and political cunning, Mr Sarkozy managed to build up an electoral machine, through the party that Mr Chirac originally founded, and reinvent himself—30 years after entering electoral politics—as a force for change.

The question now is how far Mr Sarkozy will be able to implement some of the controversial reformist elements of his programme. In his election-night speech, he declared that "the French people have chosen change.” Among the first reforms that he intends to bring about are labour-market measures: he plans to secure minimum service on public transport during strikes; to break the big five unions' stranglehold on union representation; to change the unemployment-benefit rules to penalise those who refuse two job offers; and to introduce a single job contract with progressive rights.

Unlike President Chirac, who in 1995 also tried to bring about reform but had been elected on an uncontroversial promise to "heal the social fracture", Mr Sarkozy arrives in office with a clear mandate to change. Not only was his score high, but turn-out—at about 85%—was too. Mr Sarkozy knows that he has to move fast to capitalise on that. On minimum service for trains and buses, for instance, he says that he will let the unions and bosses' organisations try to negotiate a deal until the end of the summer; after that, in the absence of agreement, he will legislate. There will doubtless be resistance, and strikes and street protests are widely predicted. Indeed, on election night there were already clashes between riot police and anti-Sarkozy protesters.

In a prediction that I believe Kevin Drum would label as, "Drezner says the sun will rise in the East tomorrow," I'm not terribly optimistic about Sarkozy's chances for reform implementation. Craig Smith put it nicely in yesterday's NYT Week in Review:
In the months leading up to today’s presidential voting in France, there was a lot of talk about breaking with the past. Don’t bet it will happen.

The French are notoriously resistant to change, and any new president would be hard-pressed to deliver any dramatic departure from the way people here live and work and get along with each other (or don’t)....

Mr. Sarkozy promised pension reforms and limits on unions’ ability to strike. Already, the most critical union federations are warning him to expect people in the streets if he tries to push through either change.

“Radical change in an authoritarian manner will lead to a situation of blockage,” said Michel Grignard, national secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor. French unions are strong in part because the right to strike is written into the Constitution.

And then there is the French love of their vacations.

Parliament usually is away from mid-July to October, but Mr. Sarkozy has suggested he would call a special session to push through legislation while most of the French are vacationing — and when it would be hard for unions to mobilize them.

The unions warned against it. “Whoever is elected president, if he or she thinks there are things that must be decided very fast, in a flash, and pass them in July, watch out,” said Mr. Mailly of the Force Ouvrière federation. “There’ll eventually be a boomerang effect.”

[But what about Franco-American relations? Sarkozy has made repeated statements expressing his fondness for most things American!!--ed.] Yes, why, Sarkozy is clearly the most pro-American French president since.... Jacques Chirac, who when elected president stressed his fondness for America, developed after he worked in the States.

My guess is that Sarkozy will adopt more anti-American rhetoric -- regardless of U.S. foreign policy -- right around the time his first major domestic reform effort shuts down the streets of Paris.

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

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Random questions on a Sunday morning

Perusing the Sunday papers,I have two political questions for readers:

1) Maureen Dowd, covering the French presidential election, has some fun at Segolene Royal's expense, but then drops this stunner of a sentence:
France is chauvinistic — women got the vote in 1944 and compose only a small percentage of the National Assembly — but the country seems less neurotic than America about the idea of a woman as president.
Question: on what basis is Dowd making this assertion? I know that Hillary Clinton has many, many detractors, but has the discourse on her campaign to date really focused on her gender all that much? The dominant theme in the discussions about Clinton have been her position on Iraq and her campaign's Bush-like quality of recording friends and enemies. Where is this gender neuroses Dowd mentions?

2) In the Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr. profiles the GOP's non-candidate candidate, Fred Thompson. The lead is pretty clear:

Fred Thompson fervently backed the Iraq war, railed against an expanding federal government, took stands that occasionally annoyed his party and rarely spoke about his views on social issues during his tenure as a senator from Tennessee or in his writings and speeches since leaving office.

In short, the man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Sen. John McCain.

The story makes it clear that besides his strong defense of federalism and his obvious telegenic qualities, Thompson does not cut a profile different from the top-tier GOP candidates. Question: will Thompson only be the flavor of the month until he announces?

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)