Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sui generis, anyone?

Jacob Heilbrunn has a truly odd post up about Samantha Power, in which he claims the following:

[N]o matter how ill-conceived they may have been, Power’s bellicose words aren’t an aberration. Instead, they highlight the adversarial style of a new generation of Democratic foreign-policy mavens who have more in common with the raucous world of bloggers than the somber, oak-lined environs of the Council on Foreign Relations.
OK, I follow this world pretty closely, and I have to ask -- who the hell is Heilbrunn talking about?

No doubt there are netrootsy types -- Spencer Ackerman, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias, for example -- who blog about foreign policy with a fierceness that matches Power's rhetoric. None of these guys are "Democratic foreign-policy mavens," however. On the other side of the ledger, the foreign policy mavens who populate either the Center for American Progress or Democracy Arsenal aren't terribly bellicose.

Seriously, I'd like Heilbrunn or others to name names here. Is there a generation of bellicose mavens who slipped under my radar?

My guess is that Samantha Power was sui generis -- a crusading journalist who made the leap to policy advisor (the only other person I can think of who made a similar leap was Strobe Talbott.... minus the crusading). It's a pretty rare crossover.

UPDATE: The New York Times' Ashley Parker -- in a story about how bloggers live/work/geek out in DC -- provides one data point for Heilbrunn:

Mr. Ackerman, who also lives in the house, blogs and works for The Washington Independent, a Web site that covers politics and policy. In April, his personal blog will move to the Web site of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group.
Still, this is insufficient data to characterize a trend.

posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Scheiber effect?

Four and a half years ago, Noam Scheiber wrote a cover story for The New Republic about Howard Dean's great new political machine and how it was going to transform politics. The piece was beautifully written, utterly convincing, and -- of course -- wound up overhyping the Dean phenomenon just a tad.

Fast forward to the present. Scheiber writes another story for The New Republic, "The Audacity of Data," about the pragmatism and savviness of Obama's economics and foreign policy advisors. Once again, the story takes a fresh angle, and is utterly convincing -- partiularly to meself.

In the week since Scheiber's piece went online:

1) Chief economic advisor Austan Goolsbee gets into trouble for saying or not saying things to a Canadian consular official about NAFTA;

2) Foreign policy advisor Susan Rice, responding to the Hillary ad on national security, tells MSNBC's Tucker Carlson “They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call.” -- not the most comforting way to frame the argument.

3) Foreign policy advisor Samantha Power gets into hot water for thinking she was off the record speaking to The Scotsman's Gerri Peev: Ea

rlier, clearly rattled by the Ohio defeat, Ms Power told The Scotsman Mrs Clinton was stopping at nothing to try to seize the lead from her candidate.

"We f***** up in Ohio," she admitted. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win.

"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.

Ms Power said of the Clinton campaign: "Here, it looks like desperation. I hope it looks like desperation there, too.

"You just look at her and think, 'Ergh'. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."

The Scheiber effect: correlation or causation? You be the judge. However, if I were on the Clinton or McCain campaign teams, I'd be wanting to say as far away from Noam Scheiber as humanly possible.

The curel irony, of course, is that Goolsbee, Rice, and Power did nothing to suggest they would be bad policy advisors. Indeed, all three of them appear to have proffered candid and correct (well, maybe not the "monster" line" advice. It's just that they committed Michael Kinsley-style gaffes.

posted by Dan at 08:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

That's an.... interesting interpretation of recent economic history

Robert Lighthizer has an op-ed in today's New York Times that essentially argues that conservatives have a long tradition of trade protectionism that John McCain should embrace:

Free trade has long been popular with liberals, and it remains so with liberal elites today. The editorial pages of major newspapers consistently support free trade. Ted Kennedy supported the advance of free trade. President Bill Clinton fought hard to win approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite some of his campaign rhetoric, Barack Obama is careful to express qualified support for free trade, even when stumping in the industrial Midwest.

Moreover, many American conservatives have opposed free trade. Jesse Helms, the most outspoken conservative in the Senate for three decades, was no free trader. Neither was Alexander Hamilton, who could be considered the founder of American conservatism.

OK, this kind of argument requires a few mental gymnastics, but there is a patina of plausibility to this narrative. It's not the whole truth, mind you, but truth is contained in those paragraphs.

Then we get to these paragraphs:

President Reagan often broke with free-trade dogma. He arranged for voluntary restraint agreements to limit imports of automobiles and steel (an industry whose interests, by the way, I have represented). He provided temporary import relief for Harley-Davidson. He limited imports of sugar and textiles. His administration pushed for the “Plaza accord” of 1985, an agreement that made Japanese imports more expensive by raising the value of the yen.

Each of these measures prompted vociferous criticism from free traders. But they worked. By the early 1990s, doubts about Americans’ ability to compete had been impressively reduced.

Um.... wow, where to begin:
1) On what planet can voluntary export restraints be described as "working"? I mean, they certainly did work... in the sense that they encouraged Toyota and Honda to create luxury car divisions like Acura and Lexis in order to boost profits -- and make even further inroads into Detroit's market share. Most trade experts I know consider the VERs to be the single dumbest trade policy deployed in the last thirty years.

2) Which free traders opposed the "Plaza" agreement? Why would this agreement be seen as protectionist? Seriously, I want names. There was a general consensus in 1985 that the dollar was overvalued -- just like there is general consensus now that the yuan is overvalued (what to do about overvaluations is often a more contested issue).

3) On what basis can Lighthizer plausible claim that "By the early 1990s, doubts about Americans’ ability to compete had been impressively reduced"??!!! The early nineties was the peak of anti-Japan hysteria (go and read Rising Sun if you don't believe me).

Indeed, doubts about American competiiveness did not subside until the mid-to-late nineties -- after NAFTA and the Uruguay round of the GATT had been ratified.

The latter did not directly cause the former, of course -- robust economic growth is what alleviates public fears about trade. But if Lighthizer can make mendacious claims on the New York Times op-ed page (seriously, who fact-checked this piece of garbage?), then I get to do it on my blog.

posted by Dan at 08:17 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Faculty recruitment at Oklahoma is going to be a bitch

The New York Times' Randal C. Archibold writes about a proposal in the Arizona state legislature to make campus life more interesting:

Horrified by recent campus shootings, a state lawmaker here has come up with a proposal in keeping with the Taurus .22-caliber pistol tucked in her purse: Get more guns on campus.

The lawmaker, State Senator Karen S. Johnson, has sponsored a bill, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week, that would allow people with a concealed weapons permit — limited to those 21 and older here — to carry their firearms at public colleges and universities. Concealed weapons are generally not permitted at most public establishments, including colleges.

Ms. Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, said she believed that the recent carnage at Northern Illinois University could have been prevented or limited if an armed student or professor had intercepted the gunman. The police, she said, respond too slowly to such incidents and, besides, who better than the people staring down the barrel to take action?

Let me confess that after a day of back-to-back-to-back-to-back committee meetings, I find the idea of packing heat on campus to be oddly soothing. I suspect, however, that as a general public good this would probably not be a good idea.

The Times alsp provides a helpful graphic describing pending legislation across the states:

The social scientist in me hopes that all of this legislation passes, because the variance across the states would make for some nifty Freakonomics-style regression analysis. The academic in me, however, shudders at the fallout from various anti-social academics, students and staff deciding to bear arms.

Final question: what did us professors ever do to the state of Oklahoma?

posted by Dan at 09:51 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Identity politics and the irony of the 2008 campaign

MoDo's column about identity politics in the Democratic Party today actually got me thinking. Particularly this part:

Dianne Feinstein onto the Fox News Sunday-morning talk show to promote the idea that Hillary should not be forced out, regardless of the results of Tuesday’s primaries, simply because she’s a woman.

“For those of us that are part of ‘a woman need not apply’ generation that goes back to the time I went out to get my first job following college and a year of graduate work, this is an extraordinarily critical race,” the senator said.

With Obama saying the hour is upon us to elect a black man and Hillary saying the hour is upon us to elect a woman, the Democratic primary has become the ultimate nightmare of liberal identity politics. All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts.

People will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism, or is racism worse than misogyny?

As it turns out, making history is actually a way of being imprisoned by history. It’s all about the past. Will America’s racial past be expunged or America’s sexist past be expunged?

This leads to a central irony about this campaign. I don't doubt that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have suffered a multitude of small slights in their professional and personal lives because of their gender or race. However, if you think about this as a contest to see who has suffered the greatest because of their identity, it's not even close.

The candidate who has suffered the most in his lifetime is.... John McCain. As an individual, he has paid a much higher price for his identity as an officer in the United States military than Obama or Cinton has individually paid for their race or gender. And there's simply no way to spin it otherwise.

As a collective entity, of course, African-Americans and women have white males beat on the suffering front. It is interesting, however, that the avatars of identity get all jumbled up once we look at the candidates' individual biographies.

posted by Dan at 08:34 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Open Super Tuesday II thread

Me, I'm just going to watch some episodes of House on the DVR for the next few hours, but the rest of you feel free to comment away on tonights primary results.

I can't resist one thought, however. Howard Fineman blogs "Win or lose, pressure on Clinton to exit will mount" over at Newsweek:

It's no longer a question of what Hillary herself thinks—she wants to stay for the duration, a close friend of hers tells me—but whether and when the leaders of the Democratic Party unite, publicly and privately, to tell her to get out if she wants to have a future leadership role in her own party.

As my colleague Jon Alter convincing showed today—calculator in hand-there is just no way, barring some kind of cataclysmic event, that Clinton can overtake Sen. Barack Obama in pledged delegates. Obama won't have enough of them to clinch the nomination on that basis alone, but she can't catch him....

[I]f Clinton continues to the next stage-if the results tonight allow her to fend off those telling her to quit—the next round is going to be a lot nastier. It's going to get into Obama's South Side Chicago roots; into some of the wilder statements of his longtime minister, Jeremiah Wright; and into the not-so-sly raising of doubts about Obama's religious beliefs.

Does Hillary really want to go there? Maybe not, which is why I think some of her own supporters (and maybe even some of her own campaign aides) would just as soon that this thing end tonight.

Here's the thing, though -- I think the mainstream media has underestimated the number of core Hillary supporters who would be unbelievably pissed by the optics of the Democratic "establishment" -- read, mostly men -- telling Hillary that her time on the stage has ended. Trust me, these people do exist, and they exist in significant numbers.

So my prediction is that any kind of stage-managed effort by the Democratic Party leadership to nudge Hillary Clinton aside will end in disaster. Either Clinton will refuse the overtures, declaring herself to be a "fighter" for the upteenth time -- or she will step aside in such a way that it costs Obama significant slices of the Democratic demographic come November.

UPDATE: Wow, CNN's numbers are screwy on Texas. As of 8:45, Obama and Clinton combined have nearly 800,000 votes, with less than one percent reporting. Unless the illegal immigration and ballot fraud problems are a lot worse than I thought, those vote counts are way too high.

posted by Dan at 08:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Pick my fake memoir title!!

The New York Times' Motoko Rich reports on the latest memoir scandal:

In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed....

The revelations of Ms. Seltzer’s mendacity came in the wake of the news last week that a Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, was a fake, and perhaps more notoriously, two years ago James Frey, the author of a best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” admitted that he had made up or exaggerated details in his account of his drug addiction and recovery.

Once you hit three examples, a media trend is officially declared. Since I am such a slavish follower of these trends, I have decided to write my own fake memoirs!!

My problem is that it strains credulity for me to claim the kind of drug or criminal experiences that Frey and others concocted. So, clearly, I need to devise a plausible set of fake bad behaviors that I can use to hawk my own fake memoirs.

Afer racking my brain for a few seconds, I have come up with three possible fake memoir titles. Let me know in the comments which one you prefer -- or come up with one of your own!!:

1) Confessions of a Housing Hit Man: Why I Helped Blow Up the Housing Bubble (With the Help of, You Know, the People Who Decided to Buy the Houses) and Now Regret It.

2) I Am Sprezzatura: How I Made a Living Writting 95% of All Comments in the Blogosphere

3) Not Just a Gigolo: My Life and Times in Hollywood Servicing the Body and Mind of Salma, Ashley, Angelina, Scarlett, Tina, Jessica, Jessica, and Jessica... but mostly Salma.

UPDATE: I forgot... fake names for the fake memoir title would be appreciated. Come to think of it, there should be a formula for this kind of thing, like figuring out your porn star name.

I hereby declare the formula to determine your Fake Memoir Name to be......drumroll..... the first name of your gender-appropriate paternal grandparent + the last name of your first-grade teacher.

In which case, my Fake Memoir name is.... Lou Hayes.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Principled criticism -- and bureaucratic politics -- at the UN

Frances Williams reports in the Financial Times that one arm of the UN is criticizing another arm of the United Nations:

In a speech to the opening of a four-week session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, [UN Secretary General] Ban [Ki-Moon] questioned whether the council was “fully meeting the high expectations” of the international community.

These were “that this council will recognise and promote the universal application of human rights values – and that it will do so without favour, without selectivity, without being impacted by any political machinations around the world”.

In its nearly two years of existence, the council has attracted many of the same criticisms as the discredited UN Human Rights Commission it replaced. In particular it has issued repeated condemnations of Israel while showing a strong reluctance to denounce rights abuses elsewhere.

African and Muslim countries, which have a majority of seats on the 47-nation body, have consistently blocked criticism of the Sudanese government for human rights violations in Darfur and its failure to bring perpetrators to justice. African solidarity has also protected Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe from censure.

Well, this criticism certainly seems well-placed.

Of course, as one reads on, one finds that Ban also has his own bureaucratic interests in making this criticism:

Mr Ban’s remarks additionally appeared aimed at heading off a bid by the African group to rein in the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR), who is appointed by the UN secretary-general with an independent mandate to advance the cause of human rights globally.

The office of Louise Arbour, the present high commissioner, has issued highly critical reports and statements on abuses around the world, including Darfur, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Mr Ban said the OHCHR had “all the authority of my office behind it” and told the council that it should proceed on a “collaborative path”, as envisaged by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Ban is clearly in the right in this little tussle -- but this also shows how bureaucratic politics exist at the global level as well as the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The three rules to understanding Canadian-American relations
In the wake of Canadian memos flying about on what exactly Obama's chief economist told a Canadian consular official, Noam Scheiber asks a befuddled question:
What is it with these Canadians? Are they running some sort of entrapment operation up there? Why do they keep trying to torpedo Democratic candidates?
Based on my extensive experience with the people of the Great White North, I'll be happy to answer Scheiber's question. All understanding about Canadians are based on based on three very simply rules of thumb:
1) Canadians are the most polite people on earth. Really, compared to Americans, it's just embarrassing at times. Canadians never lose their temper in meetings, ever. This is deceptive, however, because.....

2) Canadians are also the most passive-aggressive nationality on earth. For their entire lives, Canadians have had to cope with the fact that everyone assumes they're essentially just like Americans -- including Americans. The best way to make a Canadian blow a gasket is to mistake them for an American. There are other dyads that have this kind of dynamic as well (Russia-Ukraine, Australia-New Zealand), but among Canadians it leads to this kind of resentment boiling just beneath the surface that, if ever unleashed, would look like a scene from 28 Days Later.

This has a profound effect on Canadian behavior vis-a-vis the rest of the world, because just when you think a Canadian is on your side, s/he does something that completely gums up the works of a policy initiative. In the case of Canadian-American relations, this is compounded by the final rule....

3) Canadians are really schizophrenic about American attention. On the one hand, countries that are the focus of lots of American attention don't necessarily fare all that well. Canadians like the fact that their country is often below the radar.

That said, I'm always surprised when, every four years, Canadians ask me, "So will Canada be an issue in the presidential campaign?" Every time, I say, "no chance in hell." Clearly I've been proven wrong this year, but this is because the Canadians themselves lengthened the news cycle.

So to answer Noam's question: the Canadians are doing what they're doing because they don't want any Americans taking Canada for granted. But they'll do it as politely as possible.

Try applying these rules whenever one deals with Canadians -- they're easy, and fun!

posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Those naïve Brits

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that the London Times' Sarah Baxter gets face time with Barack Obama. Some fascinating nuggets come out:

Obama is hoping to appoint cross-party figures to his cabinet such as Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and an opponent of the Iraq war, and Richard Lugar, leader of the Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee.

Senior advisers confirmed that Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran and one of McCain’s closest friends in the Senate, was considered an ideal candidate for defence secretary. Some regard the outspoken Republican as a possible vice-presidential nominee although that might be regarded as a “stretch”.

Asked about his choice of cabinet last week, Obama told The Sunday Times: “Chuck Hagel is a great friend of mine and I respect him very much,” although he was wary of appearing as though he was already choosing the White House curtains....

Obama believes he will be able to neutralise McCain by drawing on the expertise of independent Republicans such as Hagel and Lugar, who is regarded by Obama as a potential secretary of state.

Larry Korb, a defence official under President Ronald Reagan who is backing Obama, said: “By putting a Republican in the Pentagon and the State Department you send a signal to Congress and the American people that issues of national security are above politics.”

Korb recalled that President John F Kennedy appointed Robert McNamara, a Republican, as defence secretary in 1961. “Hagel is not only a Republican but a military veteran who would reassure the troops that there was somebody in the Pentagon who understood their hopes, concerns and fears,” he said.

Now besides the virtue of poking Paul Kruigman with a sharp stick, I have to think that this is just one of those "let's have some fun with Fleet Street" moments in an otherwise exhausting campaign. To be sure, I suspect Obama actually will appoint at least one Republican to an important Cabinet department -- but there is zero chance of both Hagel and Lugar becoming cabinet secretaries in an Obama administration. There are simply too many Democrats who desire high-ranking positions at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom for this to happen.

Not to mention the fact that if Obama is smart, he wants Hagel and Lugar exactly where they are. They might be Republicans, but they are also GOP Senators willing to "do business" with an Obama administration in the Senate. Unless the fall election is a complete blowout (a possibility to be sure), these politicians are scarce commodities.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)