Saturday, August 4, 2007

Your discussion question for the weekend

Your humble blogger will be away for the rest of the weekend.

Before I go, I could leave you with a link to some fluff like Entertainment Weekly's list of celebrity bloggers (where else but her blog would you find Pamela Anderson's statement, "I love theatre."). But that would be wrong.

Instead, I want to pose a discussion question to the group.

Liberal progressive bloggers are abuzz about this Ezra Klein post about a foreign policy panel over at the third concentric circle of hell Yearly Kos:

[Peter] Beinart in particular has moved substantially left over the past few years, and now says things like, "What separates conservatives and progressives is the recognition that America's pathologies can threaten the rest of the world just as their pathologies can harm us. Interdependence is reciprocal. If other countries owe us more, than we owe them more. If you don't recognize the second part of that equation, than you are, indeed, in some ways, an empire." From there, he moved towards a full-throated defense of international institutions in their oft-loathed role as shackles on American autonomy. "The great triumph of the institutions built during after the Iraq War was that they constrained our power. By giving weaker nations some influence over our power, we make our power legitimate."

A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Beinart would be anchoring a YearlyKos panel on a progressive foreign policy. Now, he's not only do it, but he's doing it from within progressivism, rather than as a critic of the crowd's opinions. The degree of convergence among the intellectuals in the foreign policy left in recent years is quite impressive, even if it's not been quite as much in evidence within the class of foreign policy experts who advise Democratic candidates. (emphasis added)

This prompts Duncan "Atrios" Black to ask: "Why is there a 'foreign policy community?'"

This prompts Matthew Yglesias to observe:

It's a good question. The consequences of its existence don't seem to be particularly beneficial. Steve Clemons is talking at a panel on foreign policy, blogging, and activism and gives voice to something that I think a lot of us tend to suspect, saying he was one of the few members of said community to go on television and speak against the Iraq War not because he was the only one to think it was a bad idea, but "because everyone else was a coward."

"People like me," he says, "were being fed quite a bit of inside information from people who were every bit as horrified" but very few people said anything. And it's true -- alongside the famously pro-war elements of the establishment, there's a shockingly large number of people at places like Brookings, CSIS, the CFR, etc. where if you try to look up what they said about Iraq it turns out that they said . . . nothing at all.

His perspective, he says, is that Washington is "a corrupt town." From that perspective, he says that "the political-intellectual arenas is essentially a cartel" -- a cartel that's become extremely timid and risk-averse in the face of a neoconservative onslaught -- and "blogs allow smart people to break the cartel." That all seems very true to me, and I'm not sure what I have to add.

So, in addition to seeing commenter answers to Atrios' question, I have one of my own: If there are no virtues to a monolithic, cartelistic 'foreign policy community,' what are the virtues of an ideologically uniform, progressive foreign policy community?

[But they were right about Iraq!!--ed. Kudos to them, but I'm afraid that this merely deepens my skepticism. Beware of foreign policy hedgehogs -- particularly those seeking ideological conformity within their ranks.]

Oh, and one last thought -- my scant experience with Beltway insider information is that 50% of the time it's dead on, but 50% of the time it's absolute horses#$t.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 3, 2007

This is, I believe, the third concentric circle of hell

Garance Franke-Ruta describes the 2nd annual YearlyKos convention:

[T]his conference does not feel as grassroots or exciting as last year's. It feels like a cross between the annual Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet conference in Washington (which draws a who's who in political technology circles), a marathon viewing session, and a bunch of National Press Club press conferences by liberal interest groups.
Run, Garance, run!!!

Seriously, this is simply another data point confirming that the co-optation phenomenon Henry and I predicted oh so many years ago (it's coming out in a real political science journal very soon! We swear!!) is coming to pass.

UPDATE: More confirming evidence from Matthew Yglesias:

[I]t really was striking to get the visual of yesterday's gate crashers quite literally mingling with the dread establishment at a cocktail party. The question that nobody seems to know the answer to, though, is whether the revolution ended because the revolutionaries won, or because they sold out? The boring, but probably boring-because-accurate, answer is that it's a little of both.

posted by Dan at 08:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your disturbing sentences of the day

From today's New York Times story on the Minneapolis bridge collapse:

[O]fficials said the bridge’s design had been considered outmoded for decades because a single failure of a structural part could bring down the whole bridge. About 11 percent of the nation’s steel bridges, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, lack the redundant protection to reduce these failures, federal officials said.

Over all, the bridge was rated 4 on a scale of zero to 9, with 9 being perfect and zero requiring a shutdown. An inspection report last year said the supporting structure was in “poor condition,” far from the lowest category. Hundreds of other working bridges are in similar shape, but the report did indicate that the bridge had possible issues that needed to be regularly inspected.

The bridge has been inspected annually since 1993, but independent engineers acknowledged yesterday that there are well-known limits to how useful an inspection can be. Bridges, they said, are prone to a variety of problems, and some are hard to spot. At the Minnesota Department of Transportation, shaken engineers made it clear that they knew something crucial had somehow been overlooked.

“We thought we had done all we could,” said Daniel L. Dorgan, bridge engineer at the department’s bridges division. “Obviously something went terribly wrong.” (emphasis added)

What on God's green earth would be lower than a "poor" rating? A "Jeebus, we're lucky we got off the bridge in time to file this report" rating?

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

DC in the summertime

The quote of the day goes to the official Blog Brother, sightseeing in Washington, DC. His description of the city during the summer:

Lots of young people walking around believing that they are very important.
He's referring, of course, to the interns. Which is as good an excuse as any to link to this six-year old Slate essay by David Plotz defending interns. Plotz's key point:
In fact, interns deserve neither derision nor fear. They are a wonderfully useful segment of Washington. They are a "backbone" of the city, argues Mary Ryan of the intern-placing Institute for Experiential Learning. For better or worse, they often serve as cheap clerical labor, replacing secretaries at a fraction the cost. They can also make more substantive contributions. They often do hard, nasty work, such as the unpleasant background research for nonprofits or the dirt-digging on a campaign opponent. Interns, in short, are not pointless.

(Nor are internships pointless: If you perform, you'll win a real Washington job. Washington is run by ex-interns. Today's 20-year-old mail-room smartass becomes a 22-year-old legislative assistant, and then a 25-year-old press secretary, and then a 29-year-old lobbyist. … According to Ryan, 20 percent-30 percent of the interns she places in D.C. return to jobs where they interned.)

Washington's interns are valuable more for psychological reasons than economic ones. Though Hill rats would never admit it, interns decynicize D.C.; Washington thrills them (at least for the six weeks till their disillusionment). They may be calculating and ambitious, but they remind their beaten-down editor, their dispirited chief of staff, their venal executive director of why what they do is important and interesting and exciting. Their idealism is fuel for the city.

The libertarian in me is a little afraid of what happens when you combine idealism with government power. That said, the ex-research intern in me nods in sympathy.

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

How price controls favor the few

Today the New York Times has a front-page story by Michael Wines on the economic disaster that is Zimbabwe:

Bread, sugar and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished, seized by mobs who denuded stores like locusts in wheat fields. Meat is virtually nonexistent, even for members of the middle class who have money to buy it on the black market. Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic.

Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss. Businesses are laying off workers or reducing their hours.

The chaos, however, seems to have done little to undermine Mr. Mugabe’s authority. To the contrary, the government is moving steadily toward a takeover of major sectors of the economy that have not already been nationalized.

There's nothing really new here, except the depressing way in which government efforts to impose price controls favors those connected to the government:
Ordinary citizens initially greeted the price cuts with a euphoric — and short-lived — shopping spree, since they had been unable to buy even basic necessities because of hyperinflation. Yet merchants and the government’s many critics say that much of the cut-rate merchandise has not been snapped up by ordinary citizens, but by the police, soldiers and members of Mr. Mugabe’s governing party who have been tipped off to the price inspectors’ rounds.

In Plumtree, near Zimbabwe’s border with Botswana, a line of shoppers gathered outside a shoe store last week even before opening hours, said Moses Mzila, who represents the area in Parliament. As the store opened, government inspectors appeared — and the throng followed them in, buying up stock as it was marked down.

“It’s theft, outright theft,” Mr. Mzila said. “Some of them had big cars, shiny, sparkling double-cabs, and they filled them up with shoes and just drove away.”

posted by Dan at 08:46 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A man of the relative left

My latest diavlog is up, with Byron York of the National Review. Among the topics discussed:

1) The latest Gallup poll about the 2008 race and what it means (a segment during which I become a human graphic);

2) Why I deserve tenure;

3) The latest turning-of-the-corner in Iraq;

4) Why Republicans don't seem tolike YouTube all that much.

Go check it out. I still like the idea I proposed in the first minute of the exchange, which is to shoot a film noir version of bloggingheads. But only if Megan McArdle plays the gun moll.

posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

At least the Club for Growth is realistic

The Washington Post reports that Congress is preparing to pass a really stupid, counterprouctive bill to punish China.

In the meanwhile, over a thousand economists have signed the following:

We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about the recent protectionist sentiments coming from Congress, especially with regards to China.

By the end of this year, China will most likely be the United States' second largest trading partner. Over the past six years, total trade between the two countries has soared, growing from $116 billion in 2000 to almost $343 billion in 2006. That's an average growth rate of almost 20% a year.

This marvelous growth has led to more affordable goods, higher productivity, strong job growth, and a higher standard of living for both countries. These economic benefits were made possible in large part because both China and the United States embraced freer trade.

As economists, we understand the vital and beneficial role that free trade plays in the world economy. Conversely, we believe that barriers to free trade destroy wealth and benefit no one in the long run. Because of these fundamental economic principles, we sign this letter to advise Congress against imposing retaliatory trade measures against China.

There is no foundation in economics that supports punitive tariffs. China currently supplies American consumers with inexpensive goods and low-interest rate loans. Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment. Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war. American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.

We urge Congress to discard any plans for increased protectionism, and instead urge lawmakers to work towards fostering stronger global economic ties through free trade.

This also appears in an ad today in the Wall Street Journal.

As Greg Mankiw sadly observes, petitions like this have very little political effect. Indeed, by linking to this older petition, the Club for Growth recognizes this as well.

posted by Dan at 08:27 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dan Balz confuses me

Over at the Washington Post's blog The Trail, Dan Balz makes an observation about the Democrats shifting to the left:

The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party's leftward drift?

That's the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story.

In the past two years, the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC's) annual summer meeting has been a Mecca for would-be candidates. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was there along with three Democrats who have since fallen by the wayside: Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Last year in Denver, Clinton among others was there again.

Today, none of the presidential candidates will be in Nashville to address the group that helped redefine the Democratic Party in the late '80s and early '90s -- but the man who did most to put the DLC on the map and who used it as a springboard to the presidency, Bill Clinton, will be.

The candidates cite scheduling conflicts for their absence in Nashville, but a number of them have found time later this week to address the second Yearly Kos convention in Chicago--a clear sign of the ascendance of the blogosphere's influence on politics generally and the Democratic Party in particular.

So what's the whole story? I'm not entirely sure. Balz implies that the DLC is simply less relevant now because of, "the collective desire to put aside what differences remain and focus on winning the White House in 2008." Um, OK, but didn't that collective desire also exist in 2004? Isn't the primary difference between then and now is that the netroots are better organized?

Then Balz closes with:

The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war. But DLC officials predict the party's nominee almost certainly will be at next summer's gathering.
Again, that's actually a sign of waning DLC influence. What matters now is whether the DLC-types can influence who the nominee will be. They have little choice but to provide a platform for whoever the Dems pick.

The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty damning straightforward and uncomplicated evidence to me of where the party has traveled over the last four years.

UPDATE: Changed the word "damning" -- it was a bit more pejorative than I had intended.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum thinks the shift is less about substance than style:

The real difference is that the average Kossack is obsessed with Democrats having the stones to stand up to the modern Republican machine. Presidential candidates get trashed in the Kos diaries not so much when they take disfavored policy positions (though of course that happens too), but when they're viewed as backing down from a fight. The median Kossack may indeed be to the left of the median Democrat — it would be shocking if an activist group weren't — but mainly they just want their candidates to show some backbone.

I suppose in some sense this is a distinction without a difference. A median Democrat who stands up to the GOP and refuses to budge is, willy nilly, going to end up to the left of a median Democrat who looks for bipartisan compromise. But let's face it: if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you'd see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party's positions ten years ago. If that's the case, though, I've missed it. No one's talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one's proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they're personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that's a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.

posted by Dan at 09:33 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

I, for one, suspect Michael Bay

First Ingmar Bergmann dies.

Now it's Michelangelo Antonioni.

Clearly, someone or something is killing Europe's great film directors.

Anyone seen Michael Bay recently? How about Brett Ratner?

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 30, 2007

It's not so bad out there

Gideon Rose argues in the international edition of Newsweek that despite the dour headlines, the world is actually not going to hell in a handbasket... yet:

For all the whining and worrying in the United States and abroad, therefore—and for all the real and pressing problems that remain—the world has never had it so good. The most advanced countries are allies and are generally devoted to the betterment of their own and other peoples. More than a third of humanity lives in countries growing at about 10 percent annually. Living standards have never been higher, life spans longer or politics freer, and there is every reason to expect such trends to continue. This generally benign context, in which great-power war and depressions are extremely unlikely, is the backdrop against which less serious or more speculative problems—terrorism, diplomatic rivalries, slow or unevenly distributed growth, future climate changes—loom large.

It is crucial to remember, however, that our generally happy condition is neither accidental nor inevitable. It is the result of wise choices made by leaders and publics in decades past—a legacy that could be squandered if we take things like great-power peace or an open global trading system for granted, or get spooked into rash or imprudent actions that create more problems than they solve.

This was the Bush administration's real failure: intoxicated by self-righteous hubris, it never understood that dominance could be exercised but legitimate authority had to be earned. So it scorned the routine diplomatic maintenance necessary to keep the system in good working order, only to find itself isolated when its pet projects came a cropper. At this point, having squandered most of his capital and having defined himself so starkly through his initial policies, there is little Bush can do to change anyone's mind about anything. His successor, however, will get a fresh start. And if the next administration can avoid Bush's mistakes, it should find keeping the world on track much easier than most currently expect.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The power of a bad airport

In the Financial Times, Christopher Adams reports on British concerns about a badly functioning airport:

London’s status as one of the world’s leading financial centres risks being undermined by excessive delays at Heathrow and the airport’s sprawling layout, the new City minister warns on Monday.

In her first interview in the role, Kitty Ussher has told the Financial Times that the government shares business concerns about queues at passport control, the effect of security measures and the airport’s set-up.

Calling herself an “advocate” for business in government, she spoke of the unhappiness felt by executives at the so-called “Heathrow hassle” and the miserable experiences they have suffered.

In frank criticism that reflects mounting government concern, she voiced fears that multinational companies could question the rationale for holding annual or other important meetings in London. “I want multinational companies to feel really confident about housing their annual general meetings here,” she said.

“They often have it in a different financial centre every year, or board meetings, that kind of thing. I don’t want their New York or Dubai executives saying ‘Oh God, I don’t want to go through Heathrow’. I don’t want that to be an issue.”

She said of the airport: “You spend so much time being processed. That’s the issue... passports, security, just the layout of the buildings which makes it more difficult.”

I understand Ussher's concerns, but if a bad airport really drove away that much business, the city of Miami would desolate wasteland.

Still, this prompts a question to readers -- in terms of lines and general disorganization, what's the worst airport you've ever experienced? Has an airport been so bad that you actually altered your future tavel to bypass it?

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)