Friday, July 27, 2007
A great way to referee the Obama-Clinton debate
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been a fussin' and a feudin' since their disagreement at the YouTube debate over whether they would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators. The Washington Post's campaign blog summarizes the state of play:
Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states.Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early.
However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:
Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Matthew Yglesias agrees with John Bolton
What's happening in this deal is that we're granting India concessions related to its nuclear program and India is giving us . . . essentially nothing in exchange....Yeah... there are a few problems with this interpretation. The biggest, of course, is that the biggest neocon involved in the nonproliferation question opposed the India nuclear deal.
As for Matt's interpretation of the deal.... I've defended it before, but I'll ask the same question again -- under what set of magical circumstances was India ever going to agree to give up their nuclear weapons?
Not everything the Bush administration does is part of the neocon grand plan. Indeed, I think we can all agree that "neocon grand plan" is a really bad joke.
I'm very rarely right, so I'm going to savor this
Three years ago, I argued in Foreign Affairs that the growth projections about offshore outsourcing were wildly overstated. Others have suggested that growth projections about offshore outsourcing are wildly understated.
The latest quarterly report on the state of global outsourcing from TPI, a consultancy, was published earlier this month. It showed that both the number and value of contracts awarded during the first half of this year had declined in comparison with the same period in 2006. In 2007 the total value of contracts awarded in the first six months was the lowest since 2001....
The power of the farm lobby
The New York Times' David Herszenhorn explains in depressing detail why farm subsidies will not be cut back anytime soon -- despite the fact that market conditions are at an ideal point for doing so:
For the many critics of farm subsidies, including President Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, this seemed like the ideal year for Congress to tackle the federal payments long criticized as enriching big farm interests, violating trade agreements and neglecting small family farms.
A post in which I send my readers on a blog hunt
President George W. Bush and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer both seem way too fond of executive privilege.
Bush, of course, has gone so far as to order Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten ignore Congressional subpoenas. The AP story sums up the state of play:
Miers' testimony emerged as the battleground for a broader scuffle between the White House and Congress over the limits of executive privilege. Presidents since the nation's founding have sought to protect from the prying eyes of Congress the advice given them by advisers, while Congress has argued that it is charged by the U.S. Constitution with conducting oversight of the executive branch.Miers and Bolten now face possible contempt of Congress charges.
Now we turn to Eliot Spitzer. Danny Hakim summarizes the state of play in the New York Times:
Gov. Eliot Spitzer vowed on Wednesday to fight any State Senate inquiry into his administration’s internal operations, even as Republican senators were laying the groundwork for an investigation that could lead to subpoenas of top officials.Assignment to blog readers: is there anyone in the blogosphere partisan enough to defend one of these claims of executive privilege but attacked the other?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
A small Harry Potter break in the blogging.... and we're back and grumpy
Am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with spare time.
[It took you five days to get the book?--ed. No, it took the Official Blogwife that many days to read it and then give it to me.]
Everyone go away for a while. Like Megan McArdle, I'm going into semi-withdrawal for a few days.
UPDATE: Is it just me, or does anyone else derive satisfaction from tearing through Rowling at warp speed? I normally don't plow through 750 page books in a day, but I always read Harry Potter about twice as fast as other books. My hunch is that Michael Berube is correct -- the books are a combination of a fully imagined world and the pure essence of plot and narrative. I feel the same way reading a Harry Potter book as I do when I was running a really fast wind sprint.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Fans of both Harry Potter and the Sopranos should really click here.
FINAL UPDATE: OK, I've finished the book and opened the comment thread back up. My critical take on the book appears after the jump [WARNING: MASSIVE PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]:
I have to say, I thought Deathly Hallows was the weakest of the bunch. Part of this was inevitable -- the ending can't satisfy everyone, a lot of loose ends needed tying up, and there is a clear tension between what Rowling's adult fans and younger fans wanted to see happen. These tensions existed in the previous books as well, but Rowling was always able to kick the can down the road in the earlier volumes. As a reader, I was always confident that unanswered questions (what is Snape up to?) would be dealt with before the series ended.
Now that the series has ended, however, there are still a bunch of cans lying on the road. Rowling has always been able to control her unruly plots, but when I finished this book, I had a hell of a lot of questions:
1) How the bloody hell does the sword of Gryffindor get into the friggin' Sorting Hat? UPDATE: I knew Wikipedia had its uses: "The two items share a particular bond; whenever a "true Gryffindor" needs it, the Sword will let itself be pulled out of the hat."It wasn't all bad. The scene with Harry walking to his doom, accompanied by all the dead who love him, was particularly affecting. The battle of Hogwarts was friggin' awesome (one looks forward to seeing that on film). Rowling always knows when to surprise with the humor. And I think I liked the epilogue more than most -- Harry and his friends have more than earned their happiness. On the whole, though, Michiko Kakutani is full of it -- Dealthly Hallows is a disappointment.
Rowling provides a few more details about the epilogue here.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
When should experts matter?
An underlying theme of a few recent posts is the role that experts could and should play in a democracy. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. One can extol the wisdom of crowds -- except when crowds are sometimes mobs. One can extol experts -- except that experts are frequently wrong. This issue is especially sticky with social science questions, because while expertise exists, it is more inexact and generally less respected by publics.
Of course, even "hard science" has its problems in the policy world. For a non-American example, the following New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal:
Amflora potatoes, likely to become the first genetically modified crop in the last decade to be approved for growth in Europe, have become the unlikely lightning rod in the angry debate over such products on the Continent.A few questions to readers:
1) Is massive public hostility to GMOs a sufficient reason to ban their use?
In honor of great aunt Shirley
The White Plains Times runs a story about my great aunt Shirley Rodkinson, who celebrated her 106th birthday last month. My favorite part of the article:
It’s clear that Shirley has always lived her life by her own terms. According to Richard, his grandmother has “rode life at a very even keel,” and has always been both independent and “firm in her opinion.” He added, with a laugh, that “Shirley’s not your typical Jewish grandmother; she never tried to tell you how to live your life.”Aunt Shirley is my late grandfather's older sister. I'm very fond of her -- despite her New York Yankee loyalties.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Why TAA is not a valuable bargaining chip
I've had enough conversations with Hill staffers to know the political lay of the land on expanding Trade Adjustment Assistance to service sector workers:
1) Everyone recognizes that the current TAA rules -- which only apply to the manufacturing sector -- make little sense in a world where more and more services are tradeable;I bring all this up because of Lori Montgomery's front-pager in the Washington Post today:
As part of their campaign to soothe an anxious middle class, congressional Democrats are preparing legislation that would significantly expand federal aid to the most obvious victims of the global economy: workers whose jobs move offshore or are lost to foreign imports.I'd love it if the GOP could get this quid pro quo, but it ain't gonna happen. I can't see any TAA program that would convince Democrats to renew fast track.
This is so partly because although many Democrats genuinely want to expand the program, others are offering it only lip service. Unions, in particular, loathe TAA, because even if it provides fiscal relief to their members, it also facilitates the movement of workers to non-union sectors. In other words, TAA undercuts the organizational power of unions. They can't outright oppose it, because they've been calling for it for decades now, but they don't love it.
So, an interesting question -- knowing that fast track ain't happening, should TAA be exapanded? I say yes, because of the poll numbers discussed in the last post. My hunch, however, is that GOP congressmen are going to say no.
The two direct losers from this kind of impasse: service sector workers displaced by offshore outsourcing, and free trade advocates. The first group is small -- the second group is smaller.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
The public aims at the wrong bogeymen
What you see above you is the result of a Financial Times/Harris poll among various OECD countries about globalization (note, by the way, that the FT wierdly flip-flops the categories halfway through the graph). The associated story sums it up as follows:
The depth of anti-globalisation feeling in the FT/Harris poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 people online in each of the six countries, will dismay policy-makers and corporate executives. Their view that opening economies to freer trade is beneficial to poor and rich countries alike is not shared by the citizens of rich countries, regardless of how liberal their economic traditions.Indeed, as the poll shows, there's either majority or plurality enthusiasm for "setting pay caps for the heads of companies." The breadth of support surprises Mark Thoma.
For a pro-globalization type like me, there's not a lot that's funny about this kind of public sentiment. There is something ironic, however, about the extent to which publics believe that this kind of measure will reduce income inequality. On this point, I click over to Marginal Revolution and find the following:
We consider how much of the top end of the income distribution can be attributed to four sectors -- top executives of non-financial firms (Main Street); financial service sector employees from investment banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, and mutual funds (Wall Street); corporate lawyers; and professional athletes and celebrities. Non-financial public company CEOs and top executives do not represent more than 6.5% of any of the top AGI brackets (the top 0.1%, 0.01%, 0.001%, and 0.0001%)....Oh, and there's no apparent correlation between higher pay and the openness of a sector to international trade.
To be fair, I suspect publics would support capping the income of Wall Street groups if they were asked. CEOs might simply be a proxy for "evil capitalist pg-dogs." That said, CEOs do tend to be the first target whenever this kind of sentiment is translated into political action.
I can't dispute the rising resentment about rising inequality -- but that doesn't mean that the resentment has acquired the correct target (I don't think there is a clear target, but that's a topic for another day). There is support, clearly, for some really stupid policies.