Tuesday, June 17, 2003
SORRY FOR THE LACK OF POSTS: Trust me, it's not due to a lack of trying. Blogger has upgraded their software, but the upgrade seems to like eating my posts. I'll be back tomorrow to comment on Andrew Sullivan's call to action.
Monday, June 16, 2003
SAME STORY, DIFFERENT WORLDS: As worldwide pressure grows on the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, media reaction has differed on Colin Powell's rhetorically tough approach. Here's the International Herald-Tribune:

The Southeast Asian neighbors of Burma broke with precedent Monday to chastise it publicly for its crackdown on dissent and detention of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Their criticism, at a regional forum in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, significantly increased pressure on the ruling generals, adding to growing condemnation around the world....

The association has in the past held back from criticizing Burma, because of a long-standing policy of what they call interference in each other's affairs. But analysts said their continuing silence now as the world rallies against Burma had become embarrassing and risked making them appear ineffectual. "We in ASEAN are now sharing in accountability to the world about the slow progress of the transition to democracy in Myanmar," said the Philippine foreign secretary, Blas Ople.

In this version of events, the West has shamed the East into action.

Now, consider this Bangkok Post version of events:

Burma has long been a major cause of tension between the United States and Asia. Now US Secretary of State Colin Powell has virtually declared war on Asia, with his statement published in the Asian Wall Street Journal last week demanding that the countries of Asia join the US in putting pressure on Burma's junta to free Suu Kyi and introduce democratic reform.

"The thugs who now rule Burma must understand that their failure to restore democracy will only bring more and more pressure against them and their supporters,'' Mr Powell concluded in his statement.

But this hard-line message is unlikely to have much impact -- either on Rangoon or on the generals who head the regime. In fact, it is almost certain to be counter-productive. ``The US secretary of state's blast to Asia has clearly upset many of the leaders in the region, who already had misgivings about Washington's bullying approach to the region in the past,'' said a senior western diplomat in Southeast Asia who did not wish to be identified....

Southeast Asian leaders have discussed Burma in the past. A couple of years ago, Goh Chok Tong, the Singaporean prime minister, while hosting the annual Asean summit, initiated a private huddle of leaders which is believed to have been instrumental in convincing Burma's top general, Than Shwe, to start a dialogue with Suu Kyi and accept the UN envoy Razali Ismail as the facilitator....

There have been growing signs from many Asean governments over the past two weeks that the policy of non-interference would not prevent Burma from being discussed. Both Cambodia and Thailand's foreign ministers have alluded to the fact that the situation in Burma is an international issue and that the non-intervention policy was evolving and some internal issues needed to be addressed even in the face of strong objections from some member countries.

"The result of these discussions will not be made public,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Phnom Penh for the meetings said. "There is no way Asean can publicly criticise one of its members, but that doesn't mean there would not be substantial pressure brought to bear on Rangoon privately.''

The United States, largely supported by Europe, has been continually at odds with Asia, particularly the countries of Southeast Asia, over how best to encourage Burma's ruling generals to introduce economic and political change.

"The Asean and Asian approach to Burma emphasises constructive engagement -- not destructive isolation,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Bangkok said.

A Rangoon-based Asian diplomat added: "There is no way that Asia, including Japan and China, could support an international economic boycott of Burma. And no amount of US pressure will change that.''

Who's right? One is tempted to dismiss the Post version of events, since it includes a passsage in which Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia's president, is chagrined at the thought of the Burmese junta taking over the ASEAN presidency in 2006. Mahathir's own actions suggest he is hardly the most democratic of leaders. Furthermore, the "quiet diplomacy" argument has the advantage of nonfalsifiability.

And yet, there is a difference between someone like Mahathir, who has some respect for the rule of law, and the thugs of Burma. And the Post is correct in observing that rhetorical pressure is unlikely to have any effect, and that economic sanctions will not work unless China actively participates, which is highly unlikely.

In the end, however, the most significant fact in this story is not the immediate effect on Burma, but the effect on ASEAN. The organization recognizes that its non-intervention policy needs to evolve, in part due to Western pressure. Its members are either actual democracies -- Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines -- or are rhetorically committed to democracy -- Signapore, Malaysia, Cambodia. Furthermore, local crises, such as the 1997-98 financial panic or the SARS outbreak, generally force greater regional openness.

I don't hold out much hope for a democratic Burma anytime soon. An ASEAN that recognizes the value of democracy, however, is an intriguing possibility.


WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING IN POLITICAL SCIENCE?: I pretty much abhor popular writing about political science. It's usually off the mark, and some of it (Emily Eakin, I'm looking in your direction) is responsible for popularizing what I can only describe as complete mush.

So I write with pleasant surprise that Sharla Stewart has written a pretty accurate piece on the current state of the political science discipline for the University of Chicago alumni magazine. Go take a look if you're so inclined.

[And where do you stand on these various fault lines?--ed. I straddle a fair number of them. My research involves all of the methodologies discussed in the article. I am by no means an area studies type, however.]
Friday, June 13, 2003
ACADEMIC MASOCHISM: Eric Muller (link via Orin Kerr) posts his worst student evaluation ever, as well as his retort.

Warning to academic bloggers: although I have no problem with Muller's post, my spider sense tells me that this is crossing a veeerrrryyyy dangerous line. I'm actually surprised more students haven't created blogs to rate their teachers. That's not a phenomenon I anticipate with glee.

[Is this because you fear being exposed as a bad teacher?--ed. No -- an alert reader pointed me to one online ranking of my teaching -- tough but clear -- which I'd describe as reasonably fair. The source of this unease is probably the same thing that causes me never to blog about my students, no matter how brilliant or inane they turn out to be. The student-teacher relationship is not like a doctor-patient one, but there are aspects that I would prefer not to see publicized. I may just be priggish on this point, however.]
IT'S A STRANGE DAY IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: On the one hand, we have conservative free market advocate Andrew Sullivan acting like a PBS affiliate during the middle of pledge drive week (suggested sociology thesis topic -- are NPR pledge drives strongly correlated with increased incidents of road rage?).

On the other hand, we have liberal interventionist Josh Marshall making "arrangements to start accepting advertisements on a limited basis." The paragraph that follows that quote is Marshall describing his desirable market demographic.

Actually, I wouldn't read too much into this -- Sullivan already has ads, and Marshall has collected contributions from readers. It's still pretty funny.

[Jealous that you can't attract either pledges or ad space?--ed. Again with the jealousy meme! No, I have no beef with either pledge drives or advertisements. In fact, I'm still weighing whether it would be appropriate to launch a fundraising drive to move off Blogspot and onto an independent web site. Feedback appreciated on this point. As for advertising, to quote Spinal Tap, my audience might not be larger than Marshall, but it is more... selective].
INTENTIONS AND OUTCOMES IN IRAQ: Matthew Yglesias and David Adesnik have a good debate on the role that good intentions played and is playing in U.S. foreign policy. Yglesias first:

There are some genuine neoconservative idealists in the administration — Wolfowitz, most famously — but I think the main purpose they serve in the administration is to rhetorically co-opt hawkish wilsonian liberals (TNR, Nick Cohen, Tom Friedman, etc. you know the type) into supporting Bush's half-assed warmaking against their better judgment. The administration's actions in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq have, however, made it clear that humanitarianism — like everything else — is a banner to be picked up and then discarded according to the immediate needs of political opportunism.

Adesnik responds with New York Times and Washington Post stories demonstrating that things are improving in Iraq. For an even better example, click on this Chicago Tribune story on the U.S. position on the Marsh Arabs, a group that was the target of what can only be described as a Baathist effort at genocide.

Adesnik concludes:

While Matt is right that no one -- especially not liberal hawks -- can afford to be complacent about the Administration's foreign policy, it is no less imperative for doves to overcome their their resentment of the President and recognize that, for all his flaws, he has done certain things very right.

Mediator that I am, I think both Yglesias and Adesnik are correct. I agree with Matt that Bush principals control the neocons and not vice versa. This was why I thought all the conspiracy theory hysteria of the past few months was so absurd.

However, just because the key Bushies are not closet Wilsonians does not mean they do not recognize that frequently countries do well by doing good. Everyone acknowledges that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam, but that is but one example of this. The administration decision to increase foreign aid by 50% and create a new AIDS initiative fall under this category as well.

I suspect there is a deeper debate underlying this question -- should individuals be rewarded for good intentions or good outcomes? If a leader acts in an altruistic fashion for self-interested reasons, how does one evaluate such behavior? I strongly suspect that one's answer to this question depends on one's political affiliation.

PENTAGON UPDATE: Phil Carter provides a "not entirely responsive" response to my query on what's going on at the Pentagon. Go check it out.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFRICA?: Sudhir Muralidhar has a link-filled post updating the various areas of instability in Africa.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN ALL OF IRAQ?: OxBlog's David Adesnik links to a Washington Post story demonstrating the relatively high degree of cooperation between the U.S. military, Shiite clerics, and a reconstituted civilian authority in Karbala. Adesnik's conclusions:

The first is that American soldiers are more dependable than American diplomats when its comes to putting American values into practice. The second is that we should expect far more violent resistance to the occupation from Sunni Ba'athists than from Shi'ite opponents of Saddam....

This story belongs to a genre that is becoming increasingly familar: pragmatic US officer wins over suspicious locals. It's already happened in Mosul and Kirkuk.

These reports, combined with Mark Steyn's lovely travelogue, leads one to wonder if the coverage of Iraq now suffers from capital captivity. Coverage of Baghdad -- where things are clearly problematic -- is generalized to the rest of the country. Such a generalization may apply to Sunni strongholds like Fallujah and Tikrit, but not the vast majority of the country.

WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE PENTAGON?: One of the hallmarks (or frustrations, depending on your ideology) of the Bush team has been their message discipline, no matter what the clamor from the outside world. Weakness was never to be admitted or demonstrated.

It's something of a surprise, then, to see the recent torrent of statements coming from high-ranking civilians in Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department. First, Paul Wolowitz gets into trouble in a Vanity Fair interview [Are you talking about the bogus claim in the piece that had Wolfowitz asserting that the Bush administration didn't really believe its own WMD story?--ed. No, I'm talking about something else in the interview. According to Josh Marshall,

[F]or all the buzz surrounding the WMD quotes, the real stunner comes in the very next paragraph. It's there where Tanenhaus says Wolfowitz is "confident" that Saddam was "connected" to the original World Trade Center attack in 1993 and that he has "entertained the theory" that Saddam was involved in the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995

There's some dispute over whether Wolfowitz intended this part to be on the record. However, Brad DeLong is correct in pointing out that for us non-journalists, the important part of this is the substance of Wolfowitz's comments.]

Then there is Douglas Feith's attempt to refute allegations that the DoD tried to spin the WMD story. The New Republic's &c points out that Feith's attempt backfired, leading to accusations of "doublespeak" and labeling Feith and others "browbeaters."

Today, it's a Deputy Assistant Secretary, according to USA Today:

A Pentagon official conceded Tuesday that planners failed to foresee the chaos in postwar Iraq, as another U.S. soldier was killed and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signaled that guerrilla-type attacks could continue there for months.

Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations, said that despite careful planning, the Pentagon was surprised by the extent of looting and lawlessness. Postwar conditions have ''been tougher and more complex'' than planners predicted, he said.

Assignment to Phil Carter: is this just a series of unanticipated screw-ups, or is this an example of Rumsfeld losing the ability to rein in his subordinates?


"YOU CANNOT SAY ANYTHING TOO BAD ABOUT THE YANKS AND NOT BE BELIEVED.": That's the depressing assessment of this Guardian (yes, the Guardian!) essay on the hoax that was the Baghdad Museum looting story (link via Virginia Postrel).
LET ME PREEMPT YOUR QUERIES WITH SOME USEFUL LINKS: The key government documents cited in my TNR Online essay are the September 2002 National Security Strategy and the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.

[UPDATE: While I was technically correct in the TNR piece when I said that the word "pre-emption" never appeared in the National Strategy to Combat WMD, I was wrong in substance. On p. 3, the document states:

Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, U.S. military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary's WMD assets before these weapons are used.

Apologies for the error, and thanks to reader M.R. for e-mailing me the correction.]

Some newspapers and columnists have gotten into trouble by misquoting Bush officials, so let’s get those links out of the way. Go to this post from last week on Wolfowitz to get the gist of his comments comparing North Korea and Iraq. As for Rumsfeld, here's a link to his quote from November 2001, and here's a post of mine from late April that provides the second quote in the article. That post also discusses the Army's decision to shut down the Peacekeeping Institute.

The Pew Research Center's "Views of a Changing World 2003" is available here. The quote in the article is from page 3 of the overview.

The Niall Ferguson quote comes from his Wall Street Journal op-ed from last week. Dr. Shireen M. Mazari is the Director General of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies ; her comments came from this essay.

Click here for a March 2003 Washington Monthly essay by Nicholas Confessore that discusses how U.S. military personnel are being stretched to their limit. Ironically, Confessore lowballs his estimate of how many U.S. tropps would be needed in Iraq. And, to be fair, Rumsfeld seems to be following some of Confessore's recommendations. Phillip Carter points out that even now, there are too few troops on the ground in Iraq.

For those of you curious to know what was in NSC-68, click here. For the import of this document for U.S. Grand Strategy, go read chapter four of Strategies of Containment by John Lewis Gaddis.

THE LIMITS OF PREEMPTION: My new TNR Online piece is now up. It's a discussion of why the doctrine of preemption is not going to be exercised again. Go check it out.
END OF AN ERA: George Soros is a third-rate philosopher but a first-rate philanthropist [How does he rate as an international financier?--ed Well, he used to be first-rate, but Daniel Gross now believes his influence is on the wane]. Soros has been a fixture on the Slate 60 ranking of philanthropy.David Plotz notes, "George Soros has poured much of his fortune into civil-society projects. His Open Society Institute is a Bell Labs of civil innovation, seeding schools, NGOs, and organs of a free press all over the world." He correctly identifies Soros' philanthropy as a guide for building civil society in Iraq.

So it's somewhat sad to link to this Washington Post story :

Now more than 15 years and $1 billion later, George Soros has concluded that his mission is over. With the government in Moscow stabilized and a new generation of homegrown philanthropists emerging, the international financier has decided to leave Russia to the Russians and effectively withdraw from a country that has absorbed much of his time and energy.

"I'm basically closing it down in its present form," Soros said of his foundation in an interview this weekend. "I've spent a very large amount of money here and a lot of it was really money where I was substituting for the state. I don't think that's appropriate anymore. Russia as a state is reestablished and doesn't need my subsidy."

He will remain involved in small projects. But Soros's exit as a major benefactor is a milestone in Russia's development since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. No other private initiative from the West has had such influence in shaping the new Russia as his Open Society Institute. "The Soros foundation was instrumental in the development of nonprofit organizations in Russia," said Olga Alexeeva, director of the Moscow office of the Charities Aid Foundation, a British organization. "I can't compare anyone else with Soros and that will leave a significant gap."....

The Open Society Institute in Russia will become 15 organizations that will continue their work but will have to find other funding. After spending $1 billion in Russia over the last 15 years, Soros said he will scale back to just $10 million a year.

As someone who used to work for an organization that Soros helped midwife, it's worth noting that the genius of Soros' civil society work was his firm message to the organizations he funded that his largesse would be temporary. This knowledge provided the necessary incentives for these groups to keep their bureaucracy to a minimum and actually dispatch people beyond national capitals into areas that needed civil society the most. His decision to largely pull out of Russia is fully consistent with that philosophy.

To reiterate -- I think Soros' philosophy is hackwork and his politics border on the histrionic. In his philanthropy, however, Soros epitomizes the rare combination of geneosity and hard-headedness that is needed to build civil societies from the ground up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
A GENERATIONAL BREAK?: This Josh Chafetz post suggests that by 2008, there will be a clear dividing line among conservatives between those who still care about the Clinton Wars and those who have moved past it:

Conservatives are at their absolute worst when the name "Clinton" comes up. There's a visceral hatred there, every bit as deep as the far left's hatred for President Bush, but the conservative hatred for the Clintons seems broader....

But the thing is, who cares? Maybe she [Hillary] lied; maybe she didn't. Honestly, I don't think most of us will ever know. But why are conservatives so obsessed with speculating about it? Sure, if she knew about President Clinton's infidelities earlier than she claims, then she lied in some public interviews. But lots of politicians have lied in lots of interviews about lots of things much, much worse than whether or not their spouse was sleeping around. Conservatives really, really should move on. Because right now, it just looks like a lot of them are pursuing a vendetta -- they have the tone of the outraged self-righteous moralist who can't believe that the public still hasn't figured out how superior they are to the scum which, inexplicably, keeps rising to the top. Get over it. Bill Clinton was a popular president, and, by most accounts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a popular senator. If the GOP really feels the need to attack Senator Clinton, it should spend less time drawing horns on pictures of her and more time arguing against her policy proposals (which, as far as I can tell, have generally been moderate since she took office). Enough is enough: personal animosity is not a political platform. At least not one that I am willing to support.

I'm with Josh on this... and I've never even met Chelsea (go read Josh's post to understand that line).

Monday, June 09, 2003
WHAT'S WRONG WITH HILLARY CLINTON AND THE PRESS: Brad Delong has yet to recover from his policy run-in with Hillary Clinton in the early 1990's:

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.

Keep reading his post for precise details of Clinton acting like a martinet.

Now, upon first reading this, I strangely found myself to the left of DeLong. The health care debacle happened a decade ago, when Clinton was new to the ways of Washington. A lot has happened since then. I don't have any great love for Hillary Clinton, but I do believe that people can learn from their mistakes.

Then we go to Andrew Sullivan's reaction to Clinton's interview with Barbara Walters:

What struck me most was her absolute belief the she and her husband did nothing - nothing - of any substance to deserve the kind of scrutiny they got in eight years in office. Their only fault was naivete. I guess I'm not surprised by therigidity of her denial and composure. But something in me hoped for a little more - maybe a real reflection on her choices, her decisions, her unelected power, her stonewalling of the press, her enabling of her husband's adulterous relationship with the truth, and so on. But nope.

So I wind up agreeing with DeLong (and Sullivan) after all.

What got DeLong exercised in the first place was this week's Economist "Lexington" essay on Hillary's prospects for the presidency in 2008. The essay really sets DeLong off:

[T]here is nothing in the column to give the reader any information about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president, or about whether "Lexington" thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president. Is there anything else that readers--most of whom are Americans, most of whom vote--more need to learn than whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president? No, there isn't. So why does "Lexington" spend so much time on insider political baseball and trying to settel (sic) scores? Why doesn't he do something useful with his space--like tell us whether he thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a better president than George W. Bush (almost surely) or would make a good president (almost surely not)?

We really do need a better press corps. We need one very badly. (emphasis in original).

What's interesting about this rant is DeLong's implicit belief that good opinion writing should care only about normative outcomes and not tactical political analysis. This is utter nonsense -- the best opinion writing contains elements of both.

Which leads me to the smartest thing I've read on this point in a good long while -- from Virginia Postrel on what ails the New York Times:

[T]here is a huge, gaping hole in the Times opinion lineup--and, for that matter, on the news pages. The Times lacks a genuinely sophisticated, Washington-based political writer, someone who understands both the mechanics of practical politics and the nuances of the many components of both the liberal/Democratic and conservative/Republican coalitions. The Times alternates between casting politics as an utterly cynical contest between phony image consultants and as a battle between the monolithic Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness. Neither view is accurate, and both portraits make the nation's leading newspaper look like its political reporters just rolled off the cabbage truck. The Washington Post is, not surprisingly, far more sophisticated. But so, though not at the Post's level, are the WSJ, the LAT, and the politics-loving Boston Globe. So is USA Today.


Saturday, June 07, 2003
WHY HUGH HEWITT IS WRONG: Hewitt's Weekly Standard piece on the Blogosphere begins as follows:

Joshua Micah Marshall is frustrated. He's the young-Blumenthal-in-training of partisan punditry, but in recent days his favorite story line can't get any traction. "It's amazing what it takes to start a feeding frenzy these days," he lamented at TalkingPointsMemo, his web log, last week.

Marshall has been flogging his Tom Delay-is-Magneto story for what seems to be a year, and it has been largely ignored not just by elite newspapers, but also by the blogosphere. An opinion storm requires certain ingredients to conjure it, and in the world of the blogosphere in 2003, you need one of the Big Four to buy in.

The Big Four are Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and The Volokh Conspiracy. These four sites are usually visited by news junkies many times a day because they are staffed by bright people and continually updated, and thus they can guide the chattering class to a breaking story or even a hitherto ignored story. Trent Lott is no longer majority leader in part because these superpowers of the blog filed and fueled the story of his remarks at Strom's birthday bash.

There are a few problems with this story.

First, it conveniently overlooks the fact that Josh Marshall was the first blogger to jump on the Trent Lott story. He also was instrumental in generating the drip, drip, drip of small stories that fueled the media and online frenzy. I agree with Hewitt that had the Big Four not gotten involved, the story may have died. To deny Marshall his due on Lott distorts the facts, however.

Second, it overlooks the fact that at times the Big Four have raised a stink about an issue, but the earth did not move. Sullivan, for example, took up Rick Santorum's problems with homosexuality (but not homosexuals!!) story, as did Volokh and InstaPundit. Bush issued a statement and that was that.

Third, to claim -- as Hewitt does later on in his essay -- that the Big Four will affect the Democratic primary is absurd. Democrats are not going to follow the lead of conservatives, neoconservatives, or libertarian hawks when they consider their candidate. Marshall will have a much greater influence -- if he wants to exercise it -- on the Dems. [What about the general election, or future Republican primaries?--ed. That's another story.]

I'm not saying that blogs -- particularly the ones Hewitt mentions -- don't matter. I'm saying that the Hewitt essay contains as much wish fulfillment as it does prognostication. Even Sullivan sounds more hopeful than assertive in evaluating Hewitt's claim.

[You're just upset you're not one of the Big Four, aren't you?--ed. Only if they have cool warm-up jackets.]

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel adds further thoughts about how the Blogosphere operates. And Glenn Reynolds e-mails that this is the closest he gets to a warm-up jacket.

Friday, June 06, 2003
THE "INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY" AND THE AXIS OF AUTOCRATS: Hobnobbing with Council on Foreign Relations heavyweights all day, there was much rending of hair and gnashing of teeth about how the "international community" -- code for Europe, Japan, and the United Nations bureaucracy -- feels about the United States. Can the rifts created by Iraq be healed?

Let me propose a step in the right direction -- focusing on countries hell-bent on extinguishing freedom. For example, today the European Union announced economic sanctions against Cuba in response to the Castro regime's recent crackdown.

That's a good start, but it's not enough.

What I'd really like to see is concerted action against any authoritarian government that thinks it can exploit divisions within the West to crack down on their own populations.

For example, Western governments must demand and/or coerce Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe to release opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai, who has been arrested on treason charges following five days of demonstrations against the government. Thabo Mbeki, I'm looking in your direction.

Even more pressing is the case of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who -- along with 17 other opposition leaders -- has been held incommunicado since late May. To date, the Burmese military junta has ignored calls for her release. ASEAN leaders, quit making excuses for the regime. [UPDATE: for more on the ASEAN problem, go to this Boomshock post.]

The developed world needs to remember that when it comes to advancing the cause of democracy, they share a common purpose.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
I'M OFF TO RUN THE WORLD AGAIN: In the realm of conspiracy theories about who runs the world, the Council on Foreign Relations is more recent than the Trilateral Commission but older than the Straussians (for an example of the CFR conspiracy meme, click here).

Anyway, I'm a CFR term member, so I'm off for the next few days to their two-day National Conference, to be held in NYC. Chatham House rules apply, so don't expect any posts about it.

UPDATE: I take one plane trip and by the time I touch down, Howell Raines has resigned and The Guardian has posted a full retraction. Moral of the story: don't mess with either the Blogosphere ... or the Council on Foreign Relations.
THE BLOGOSPHERE GETS RESULTS FROM THE GUARDIAN: The good news: The Guardian story that caused such a ruckus yesterday has been taken down from their web site [UPDATE: Here's the Guardian's full, contrite explanation. Good on them]. As a side note, this isn't the only story they've had to retract this week.

The bad news: the Guardian's blatant distortion of events has already been picked up by hostile media outlets in South Africa, the Middle East, and the United States.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD: In the wake of the myriad difficulties and perceived roadblocks to the democratization process in Iraq, it is easy for one's inner Burke to emerge and assume that there are limits to the transplanting of liberal democracy outside of the West. I won't deny having had these occasional qualms recently, even though I argued two months ago that the chances for democratizing Iraq were better than skeptics believed.

As a balm for these occasional worries, go read Larry Diamond's June 2003 article "Universal Democracy?" in Policy Review. For the academics in the crowd, here's a link to the version with the statistical tables. Diamond's punchline:

The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

In short, the international context has never mattered more to the future of democracy or been more favorable. We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point, when a visionary and resourceful strategy could — if it garnered the necessary cooperation and effort among the powerful democracies — essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two.

The entire first half of the paper is a refutation of the argument that democracy can't thrive in non-rich, non-Western countries. One key passage:

Moreover, the overwhelming bulk of the states that have become democratic during the third wave [of democratization, from 1974-1991] have remained so, even in countries lacking virtually all of the supposed “conditions” for democracy. Pre-1990 Africa aside, only four democracies have been overthrown by the military in a conventional coup. Two of those (Turkey and Thailand) returned fairly quickly to democracy, and the other two (Pakistan and the Gambia) have felt compelled at least to institute civilian multiparty elections. Several democracies have been suspended in “self-coups” by elected civilian leaders, while other elected rulers have more subtly strangled democracy. Overall, however, only 14 of the 125 democracies that have existed during the third wave have become authoritarian, and in nine of these, democracy has since been restored.

If democracy can emerge and persist (now so far for a decade) in an extremely poor, landlocked, overwhelmingly Muslim country like Mali — in which the majority of adults are illiterate and live in absolute poverty and the life expectancy is 44 years — then there is no reason in principle why democracy cannot develop in most other very poor countries.

Give it a close read.

GALACTICALLY STUPID DISTORTION AT THE GUARDIAN: The headline to this Guardian story blares "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil". Here are the lead grafs:

Oil was the main reason for military action against Iraq, a leading White House hawk has claimed, confirming the worst fears of those opposed to the US-led war.

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Mr Wolfowitz went on to tell journalists at the conference that the US was set on a path of negotiation to help defuse tensions between North Korea and its neighbours - in contrast to the more belligerent attitude the Bush administration displayed in its dealings with Iraq.

Sounds pretty devastating, right? The quote makes it seem like Wolfowitz is arguing that Iraq was such a lucrative prize that it would have been stupid not to invade and grab the oil.

Now let's go to the actual transcript and see what Wolfowitz said in context:

Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.

Clearly, what Wolfowitz meant was that Iraq's oil made it easy for Saddam Hussein's regime to survive economic sanctions, while North Korea might be more vulnerable to economic pressure.

This is how every other news outlet -- UPI, AP, Fox News, The Australian -- covered the story. UPDATE: alert reader D.B. points

The Guardian's version of events in such a ludicrous distortion of Wolfowitz's words that it falls into the "useful idiots" category. By apparently relying on a German translation/distortion of Wolfowitz's words -- when multiple English-language sources of the actual comments were available -- I have to wonder if the Guardian is guilty of libel in this case. [UPDATE: The Guardian is even more incompetent than I thought -- on Saturday, they ran the AP story I linked to above with the correct version of the quote!!! Thanks to alert reader D.B. and CalPundit's comments page for the link.]

By the way, almost all of the above information comes from The Belgravia Dispatch -- unfortunately his permalinks aren't working, which is why I've blogged about it here. He also has a link to Wolfowitz's actual response to a direct question about whether the war is about oil.

UPDATE: More on this from Tacitus, InstaPundit, CalPundit, and Bill Hobbs, Doc Searls , and South Knox Bubba.

HOWELL RAINES, OP-ED COLUMNIST?: In his latest Slate essay, Jack Shafer strongly suggests that Howell Raines is toast as New York Times executive editor (link via Sullivan):

Having surrendered his "fear and favor" management tools, how long can Raines lead the newspaper effectively? Imagine the empty joy of running the newspaper holed up like Richard Nixon during the impeachment summer of 1974. Raines might quit next week—like a Roman—to stave off a crisis. Or he might even quit so somebody else can lead the paper back to normalcy where people can do their work instead of attend committee meetings.

But at some point, his boss, who dreams of projecting the Times "brand" around the world, will recognize the injury done to the brand. Arthur Jr. will do as Arthur Sr. did when he maneuvered a similarly head-strong tyrant, A.M. Rosenthal, out the door in 1986. He'll get rid of the old editor and ask the new editor to make the paper even greater, and he'll ask him to make the newsroom a happy place again.

Times-bashers may be cackling with glee at this prospect. I, on the other hand, am quite anxious about this prospect.

Why? Because, if memory serves, when A.M. Rosenthal got the boot, his golden parachute was a Times op-ed column entitled "On My Mind." Rosenthal's mind turned out to be a vacuous, barren, desolate wasteland. His column -- a hackneyed collection of incoherent and infantile ramblings -- made me wince every second I read it until I went cold turkey in the mid-1990s. I might think Paul Krugman has become too shrill, but Krugman's column is an oasis of rigorous thinking and precise prose compared to Rosenthal's mindless blather.

Op-ed space in the New York Times is a scarce commodity. Even if it has a liberal bias, I want to read smart liberals -- Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Kieran Healy, Brad DeLong, Henry Farrell -- not pompous windbags like Rosenthal. My fear is that if Raines is given an op-ed slot, he will crowd out higher-quality contributors.

Maybe Raines would be a better columnist than an executive editor, but my suspicion is that he'll wind up being a carbon copy of Rosenthal.

UPDATE: Sridhar Pappu also thinks Raines won't be able to hold on (link via Kaus)

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
DOHA ROUND UPDATE: I'm frequently asked by students about when a theory of international relations should be discarded due to a lack of explanatory power. In response, I will occasionally launch into a disquisition about Kuhn and Lakatos, but more often I give the following answer:

Any theory must do a better job of explaining variation than a simple rule of thumb, such as, "Every major disruption of the global political economy is the fault of the French."

Laugh if you want, but that rule of thumb actually jettisons a lot of bad theory. Which leads me to the current state of the Doha round of world trade talks. From today's Financial Times:

Franz Fischler, the European Union's farm commissioner, on Monday vowed to stand firm over his proposals for a sweeping overhaul of EU farm subsidies, amid growing signs that member states will agree to at least substantial parts of his reform package at a meeting next week.

The US and many other WTO members view next week's talks as vital to the fate of the Doha round, in which agriculture is the biggest stumbling block. They say the success of the CancĂșn meeting hinges on the EU agreeing reform of its farm subsidies. A successful outcome would inject some much-needed momentum into the stalled talks on liberalising farm trade....

At the heart of Mr Fischler's package lies a plan to sever the link between subsidies and agricultural production, leaving farmers free to tailor output to demand. In theory, this should reduce overproduction and put an end to the dumping of farming oversupply on to world markets - a practice widely criticised for hurting farmers in developing countries and distorting trade....

However, he is facing strong pressure to scale back his plans - especially from France, which receives the largest share of EU farm subsidies and has long been the most ardent defender of the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy].

Officially, France remains strictly opposed to cutting production-linked subsidies ("decoupling"), but Mr Fischler insisted on Monday he was not prepared to sacrifice the central plank of his plans.

"To be absolutely clear: a reform without decoupling is no reform," he said

The U.S. is far from pure on the question of agricultural subsidies. However, the success of the Doha round of world trade talks now hinges on whether the French are willing to walk away from the Common Agricultural Policy.


UPDATE: Kevin Drum has additional thoughts on the matter -- and there's an interesting debate among his commenters.

Monday, June 02, 2003
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE INVISIBLE HANDS: A sleep-deprived and procrastination-obsessed Josh Chafetz at OxBlog is having a contest for "the worst political philosophy / political theory pick-up lines".

Kieran Healy and Kevin Drum have already come up with theirs. Here's mine:

"Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience. So let us go now, you and I, and test our consciences to their fullest extent."

For me, it's all in the empirical testing and observation of good theory. Values no doubt shared by the quote's inspiration.

UPDATE: By the way, I think Kevin Drum should win. It's easily the worst of the lot -- it also made me laugh out loud.

Saturday, May 31, 2003
THE SCHOLAR-BLOGGER REPORT: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on scholar-bloggers. Yours truly is quoted, but Daniel Urmann easily has the best line in whole piece.

There's also a good list of academic blogs at the end.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy has some additional thoughts, including a good-natured jab at my colleague Jacob Levy.

Two additional points. First, compared to a some of the reporters I've dealt with, I was pleased to see that my words weren't distorted in the Chronicle piece. Thank you, David Glenn.

Second, I think the piece underemphasizes the scholarly reason for blogging. Picking apart the scholarship of a Michael Bellesiles or a John Lott is a rare occurrence. More important is the way blogs can engage an audience outside the small world of students and colleagues. At their best, scholar blogs can function as what Hayek called "second-order intellectuals," applying abstruse theories to real-world problems. They can open a window on the inner workings of ivory tower, debunking stereotypes of academics as detached from the real world.

At their worst, no one reads them and you get denied tenure for engaging in such base pursuits.
DYNAMIST ON FIRE: Virginia Postrel has a passel of new posts up, all of which are good reads. My personal favorite, however, is her takedown of Bill O'Reilly:

Contrary to his image as some kind of conservative ideologue, O'Reilly is just a long-winded cab driver with a TV show and no real interest in policy, ideas, or facts.

Ouch. She even has a link to empirical evidence supporting the long-winded charge.

UPDATE: More trouble for O'Reilly (link via OxBlog)

Friday, May 30, 2003
REGARDING INCOME INEQUALITY: OK, my take on the income inequality situation. [What the hell took you so long?--ed. Sorry, the teaching and research are more time-consuming at the moment.] This will probably be a letdown after talking about it for so long. I have three basic points:

1) Measuring static inequality is in some ways unfair, since the question is whether individuals and families experience upward mobility over time. This Urban Institute report has some valuable background information on the question of mobility vis-a-vis inequality. The money graf:

[S]tudies of relative mobility have produced remarkably consistent results, with regard to both the degree of mobility and the extent of changes in mobility over time. Mobility in the United States is substantial according to this evidence. Large proportions of the population move into a new income quintile, with estimates ranging from about 25 to 40 percent in a single year. As one would expect, the mobility rate is even higher over longer periods—about 45 percent over a 5-year period and about 60 percent over both 9-year and 17-year periods. (emphasis added).

Furthermore, this lengthier Urban Institute report contains an interesting tidbit from a 1992 Treasury Department study on mobility during the 1980s, which was a decade in which by static measures the rich got richer and the poor got poorer:

The Treasury study uses income tax return data between 1979 and 1988, tracking the adjusted gross income of a group of households that paid income taxes in all ten years examined. The study finds that 86 percent of individuals who were in the bottom quintile in 1979 had moved up by 1988. An individual in the bottom quintile in 1979, in fact, was more likely in 1988 to be found in the top quintile than in the bottom one. (emphasis added)

Does this vitiate Kevin's argument? No, not really. If you read the report, it turns out that income mobility in the U.S. is not appreciably different than it is in, say, Scandanavia. Furthermore, mobility has not changed as income inequality has increased -- if anything, mobility has shrunk for those without a college education. Still, an implicit implication of those who fret about rising inequality is that such a rise will lead to greater class stratification -- and that's not happening.

2) So, if we stipulate that income inequality is rising, is this squeezing out the middle class and the poor? The answer is no. If you care only about income, the poorest percentage of the population made great strides during the late nineties, completely erasing any losses from the previous twenty years. Business Week pointed this out in an April 2002 story. Some key grafs:

Real wage gains for private-sector workers averaged 1.3% a year, from the beginning of the expansion in March, 1991, to the apparent end of the recession in December, 2001. That's far better than the 0.2% annual wage gain in the 1980s business cycle, from November, 1982, to March, 1991. The gains were also better distributed than in the previous decade. Falling unemployment put many more people to work and swelled salaries across the board: Everyone from top managers to factory workers to hairdressers benefited. Indeed, the past few years have been "the best period of wage growth at the bottom in the last 30 years," says Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University....

What's more, workers with a wide range of skills and occupations thrived over the past decade. In the '80s business cycle, real wages of blue-collar and service workers fell substantially. Blue-collar wages, for example, declined by 3.5% from 1982 to 1991. But in the '90s, real wages for these less-skilled jobs rose by 12%. Full-time cashiers saw their median weekly earnings jump by 11% (adjusted for inflation), while auto mechanics' pay went up by 14%, after falling sharply in the 1980s. Hairdressers got an almost 18% boost. That's despite Clinton-era welfare reform and a huge influx of immigrants, both of which were expected to hold down wages at the bottom. [Not to mention claims that economic globalization would cause a race to the bottom in wages]....

It's important to step back and quantify how the productivity gains of the 1990s were distributed. Consider nonfinancial corporations, where annual productivity growth accelerated from less than 1.8% in the 1980s to 2.2% in the 1990s. Over the course of the 1990s business cycle, this increase in added productivity translated into $812 billion in additional output, measured in 2001 dollars. Out of that sum, an astounding $806 billion--or 99%--went to workers in the form of more jobs and higher compensation, including exercised stock options. In effect, not only did the economy speed up in the 1990s but the workers got a bigger share of the pie.

So, the rich may be getting richer, but this is not at the expense of the poor. It's also worth pointing out that even though income inequality is rising, but as Mickey Kaus loves to point out, poverty has fallen over the past 20 years -- though not in a linear fashion. The decline in poverty was more pronounced among African-Americans than the rest of the population, by the way.

3) OK, so rising inequality is not causing an absolute drop in poor families. Still as Kevin argues in an e-mail, increasing inequality means that, "people who successfully move into the middle class are moving into a class that's not as good as it was for their parents, relatively speaking."

Actually, I'd argue the reverse -- more people are enjoying a middle class that's, on the whole, better off that prior generations. Consider two basic staples of a "middle class" lifestyle -- a college education and home ownership. This table shows that between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of all Americans aged 18-24 enrolled in a college or university increased by 40%. A greater fraction of Americans are receiving the college education so necessary for achieving a higher income. Furthermore, this fraction is considerably higher than any other OECD nation except for Canada (click here for some basic cross-national comparisons on education).

What about home ownership? This web site points out that home ownership rates have been steadily rising over the past decade. In 2001, 67.8% of American households owned their home -- the highest rate of home ownership since the Census Bureau began reporting these statistics in 1965.

But what about other quality-of-life issues, like crime, health, safety, and the environment? Gregg Easterbrook wrote a great New Republic piece in January 1999 demonstrating that on every social indicator imaginable, things were improving across the board for ordinary Americans over the past twenty years.

Calpundit's original point was that the distribution of benefits from economic growth over the past 20 years was skewed too much towards the rich. However, the fact remains that the rest of the population has received substantial benefits during the same period.

Furthermore, Americans don't begrudge the rich getting richer. Part of this has to do with the aforementioned mobility -- part of it is probably due to a greater discomfort in the U.S. to income redistribution than in other OECD countries. David Brooks makes this point repatedly (click here and here). His main point:

Income resentment is not a strong emotion in much of America.

If you earn $125,000 a year and live in Manhattan, certainly, you are surrounded by things you cannot afford. You have to walk by those buildings on Central Park West with the 2,500-square-foot apartments that are empty three-quarters of the year because their evil owners are mostly living at their other houses in L.A.

But if you are a middle-class person in most of America, you are not brought into incessant contact with things you can't afford. There aren't Lexus dealerships on every corner. There are no snooty restaurants with water sommeliers to help you sort though the bottled eau selections. You can afford most of the things at Wal-Mart or Kohl's and the occasional meal at the Macaroni Grill. Moreover, it would be socially unacceptable for you to pull up to church in a Jaguar or to hire a caterer for your dinner party anyway. So you are not plagued by a nagging feeling of doing without.

Brooks, by the way, is hardly the first person to make this point about Americans.

Economic growth over the past 20 years was a Pareto-optimizing move. It's not clear to me that the income from the richest 5% could have been redirected towards the poorest 20% without some deadweight loss in income. And given that the lower and middle classes have substantially benefited from the 1980-2000 economic boom, and their lack of resentment towards those who are perceived to have benefited disproportionately, it seems pointless to argue ex post that there should have been a greater focus on redistribution.

UPDATE: A comment on Arnold Kling's blog points out -- correctly -- the criticisms of the Treasury study that I cite above. I still cited it because the study does address the question of class stratification -- i.e., whether, over time, individuals and households do see natural rises in income due to increased work experience.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
TUNE IN TOMORROW: I really meant to get to the question of rising income inequality in the United States today, but I'm just swamped. In the meantime, more contributions on the debate from Stephen Karlson, John Quiggin, Yankee Blog, and Kevin Drum redux.
THE MERITS OF AMERICAN DIPLOMACY: Critics of U.S. foreign policy tend to focus on the statements/actions of policy principals (i.e., cabinet secretaries) and their immediate deputies. However, a signal virtue of U.S. diplomacy is the ingrained habit of trusting subordinates to innovate and adapt to local circumstances, and then copying those innovations when they work. This is true even in the most centralized and hierarchical foreign policy organization -- the U.S. military.

Two examples. The first should make the guys at OxBlog happy. According to the Chicago Tribune, in Afghanistan the U.S. military has modified its position on how to deal with incidents that lead to civilian causalties:

One night last month, an American bomb killed all of Mawiz Khan's children.....

The U.S. military says it is not liable for death and damage suffered by civilians in combat. Publicly, it says it does not compensate families for the deaths of relatives, even in cases like the one in Shkin, when the bombing was a result of American mistakes.

Yet here, U.S. military officers did something they have rarely, if ever, done in Afghanistan. They went to Mawiz Khan's house, apologized and promised to rebuild it, relatives and Afghan officials say.

"They came and visited, about 40 people including the Americans, and they said, `Please forgive us,'" Khan said. "I said, `What can I do? I am not a powerful man. I forgive you. That's all I can do. It's already happened. It's over. It's finished.'"

The apology represents a subtle shift in the way American forces are dealing with civilian casualties here, 19 months after the U.S.-led coalition began bombing Afghanistan. No longer are the dead labeled collateral damage. Quietly, the U.S. government is searching for ways to win back those who have suffered--by rebuilding their homes and villages, giving them money and gifts or simply expressing condolences.

"It is a big change," said Mohammad Ali Paktiawal, governor of Paktika province, where the Shkin bombing occurred.

Another example is the extent to which local commanders in Iraq are fostering the beginning tendrils of democratic institutions. First it was Mosul -- now it's Kirkuk:

Voting in an election that U.S. officials are calling an early but significant step in the democratization of Iraq, a council of community leaders selected Abdulrahman Mustafa, a mild-mannered lawyer, as the interim leader of Kirkuk, a vital oil town plagued by conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

The landmark poll took place even as U.S. intelligence reports indicate that high-level fugitives from Hussein's crumbled regime--including figures on Washington's list of 55 most wanted Iraqis--may be hiding out on boats southwest of the city, on an isolated tributary of the Tigris River.

"I believe this is a true historic moment for Kirkuk," Army Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, told an auditorium filled with delegates after the often-raucous election. "For the first time in nearly 30 years, you have the new freedom to determine your future."

The 4th Infantry Division organized the vote as part of a U.S. program to return a degree of political control to the Iraqi people as a means of preparing the country for national elections and as an escape valve for anti-U.S. sentiments.

Such makeshift experiments in democracy have been carried out in Mosul, Basra and a handful of other major Iraqi cities, with mixed success.

Both of these examples are small steps. They'll probably have a mixed record of success. However, actions like these by local foreign policy operators are a key way in which the wellspring of successful American foreign policy is constantly replenished.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
A ROILING DEBATE ON INEQUALITY IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: David Adesnik, Kieran Healy, and Kevin Drum are having an intellectual smackdown on the growth in income inequality in the United States over the past two decades and what to make of it. To recap:

Kevin Drum is arguing that the poor are not getting their fair share of the increasing economic pie:

It's one thing to say that the rich have most of the money — after all, that's the whole point of being rich. But it's quite another to say that as our country grows ever more prosperous, the rich should actually grow richer at a faster rate than anyone else.

David Adesnik responds to Drum's post by pointing out the following:

one can make a strong case that an unequal distribution is (a) the natural outcome of market interactions and (b) especially likely given the United States' recent transition from an industrial to a service-based economy.

Kieran Healy responds to Adesnik. His key point:

Look at the comparative cases —- other advanced capitalist democracies don’t have nearly as much wealth inequality as the U.S., and the U.S. itself for most of its history didn’t have such severe inequities either. So it’s hard to argue that the changes we’ve seen over the past 25 years are simply a matter of the Iron Laws of the Market.

David Adesnik responds here and here.

I'll be posting my thoughts on this debate tomorrow. In the meantime, read all of their posts.

UPDATE: More posts to read on the subject, from Dan Simon, Robert Tagorda, and -- a bit tangentially -- Matthew Yglesias.

DOES MEXICO CITY MAKE SENSE?: My Chicago School companion Jacob Levy argues that the Bush administration's Mexico City of prohibiting "U.S. government funding of any organization that performs abortions or advocates for the liberalization of abortion laws in other countries" is incoherent.

He's got a good argument. Go check it out.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
BLOGGERS ON THE WARPATH: Josh Marshall is all over Tom DeLay's role in the Texas redistricting case; Mickey Kaus is all over the New York Times' latest embarrassment involving Rick Bragg and the reliance by Times reporters on stringers.

I don't have much to add to Marshall's reporting, except this link to a Chicago Tribune piece on a similar anomalous redistricting taking place on Colorado.

As for the Times imbroglio, Glenn Reynolds, Charles Murtaugh, and Jonah Goldberg all observe that one fallout from the Bragg affair is that prominent columnists are starting to acknowledge the work of their minions -- I mean, research assistants.

If this trend takes hold, there's going to be a veeeerrrrryyyy interesting revolution in today's op-ed pages. It is common knowledge that op-eds and essays attributed to prominent people are usually not written by them, but rather by their minions/flunkies/research assistants (go to the chapter on intellectual life in David Brooks' inestimable BoBos in Paradise for the best description of this part of the knowledge economy). It will be interesting to see if more of these kinds of essays are now explicitly rather than implicitly co-authored.

If so, good for the broad spectrum of twentysomethings with Georgetown BAs and Masters from SAIS who finally earn some recognition. However, Richard Posner makes a provocative point -- that plagiarism in its myriad forms is a venial and not a mortal sin:

copying with variations is an important form of creativity, and this should make us prudent and measured in our condemnations of plagiarism.

Especially when the term is extended from literal copying to the copying of ideas. Another phrase for copying an idea, as distinct from the form in which it is expressed, is dissemination of ideas. If one needs a license to repeat another person's idea, or if one risks ostracism by one's professional community for failing to credit an idea to its originator, who may be forgotten or unknown, the dissemination of ideas is impeded....

The concept of plagiarism has expanded, and the sanctions for it, though they remain informal rather than legal, have become more severe, in tandem with the rise of individualism. Journal articles are no longer published anonymously, and ghostwriters demand that their contributions be acknowledged.

Individualism and a cult of originality go hand in hand. Each of us supposes that our contribution to society is unique rather than fungible and so deserves public recognition, which plagiarism clouds.

This is a modern view. We should be aware that the high value placed on originality is a specific cultural, and even field-specific, phenomenon, rather than an aspect of the universal moral law.

I'm still not convinced that Posner is correct -- but I am convinced that the blogosphere will strongly resist Posner's assertion. We traffic in the very ideas that Posner discusses. To us, any theft of our ideas is a theft of our intellectual progeny. To the general public, however, it matters not a whit.

Monday, May 26, 2003
POSTWAR PRESSURE ON ISRAEL, REDUX: Great article in Ha'aretz describing the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among Israel's ultra-conservatives after the Israeli cabinet's decision to accept the "steps" of the road map -- which means accepting the concept of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The key grafs:

Less than a month ago, analytical Israeli hawks, buoyed by President George W. Bush's Six Week War victory in Iraq, his sympathy for Israel's battle against terrorism, his neoconservative advisers, his pro-Israel power bases among fundamentalist Christians and Jews in key states, as well as the pressures of a coming election year, began to take confidence in the possibilty that the road map could be delayed into oblivion.

Nonetheless, for some on the right, the interminable process of putting off the road map seemed flawed, the idea that it would simply go away like its modest predecessors the Tenet and Mitchell plans, too good to be true.

This week, the boom fell.

Going farther than any previous government in formally endorsing the concept of Palestinian statehood , the cabinet Sunday gave a qualified but high-profile endorsement to the road map, which provides for an independent Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by 2005.

Shellshocked hawks were at a loss to explain how Israel's most rightwing government had taken the most left-leaning bedrock policy decision in the history of the Jewish state.

Analysts said the vote, in which Sharon, the progenitor of the system of settlements and for decades Israel's best-known hawk, bordered on a revolution in Israel.

At the same time, "for the settlers and their supporters, the cabinet's acceptance of the road map is an earthquake," says Haaretz commentator Nadav Shragai. "When Yesha Council members say 'the road map is worse than Oslo,' they mean every word, without exaggeration."

This really should not have been a surprise -- it's a replay of Gulf War I. After the 1991 war, the Bush administration recognized the need to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and forced a Likud government into accepting the Madrid conference, which helped paved the way to Oslo.

One disturbing difference is the relative power of the settlers in the occupied territories -- they are simply a larger constituency now than before. Here's more from Ha'aretz:

Longtime Yesha Council official and former MK Elyakim Haetzni, a Hebron resident, blasted the cabinet vote an act of "national treason" and a "national catastrophe." It was a historic day "in the same sense that the Destruction of the Temple was historic," Haetzni said....

Asked about apparent majority backing for the road map, Haetzni shocked Israelis by telling state-owned radio:

"Yes, of course. And the Jews also willingly boarded those trains [to the Nazi concentration camps], believing everything that the Germans told them. The Jews are a people which is very dangerous to itself. It is a people that has brought Holocausts down on itself throughout the course of its history.

Haetzni, it developed, was only warming up. "It is a people that has extraordinary powers of construction, and extraordinary powers of destruction. It builds and destroys, and this is an intrinsic part of Sharon's personality - Sharon is the greatest builder that we have had, and the greatest destroyer. Today he is in a destruction phase."....

For some Israelis, Haetzni's strident anti-government tone, echoed by a range of far-right demonstrators and groups, posed dangers not only of a volatile, ugly split on the Israeli right, but of dangers to the society at large.

Friday, May 23, 2003
CUE "THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA" MUSIC: This is just so cool (link via Drudge)
AFGHANISTAN UPDATE: Last month I was very pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan.

This month, Steve Verdon argues that U.S. efforts to create a semblance of an infrastructure in Afghanistan are being overlooked by the media. He's got a point. This Baltimore Sun story, for example, has the headline, "IN KANDAHAR, SLOW PROGRESS," while containing the following graf:

Since the Taliban's fall in 2001, Afghan exiles and refugees have been slowly returning, giving the city a new vibrancy. New shops and restaurants are open, and women walk the streets alone, unescorted by male relatives as required by the Taliban. Once-forbidden music blares from alleys, and movie DVDs are on sale.

If you read the story, it's clear that most of the city's problems date back decades. Efforts to create a national police force, rebuild roads, help malnourished children, and voter registration are proceeding apace. India and Afghanistan just signed a preferential trading agreement.

However, the key political problem remains the lack of central authority and persistence of low-level violence. On this front, one can point to limited progress. This week, for example, local governors pledged to transfer more tax and customs revenue to the central government of Hamid Karzai. And the Washington Post reports that Karzai has relieved Aburrashid Dostum, one of the most opportunistic warlords in Afghanistan, from his regional post.

However, several grains of salt are in order. As the Economist notes:

[T]he governors had little to lose. Mr Karzai has no power to enforce the agreement, let alone to collect back taxes, or even to work out how much is actually being raked in at remote border posts by often corrupt officials. Mr Karzai said that the customs money would help boost central-government revenues from a pathetic $80m last year (excluding foreign aid) to $600m next year. Not likely, say observers close to the finance ministry. Several of the governors, notably Ismail Khan in the west and Abdul Rashid Dostum in the north, will still have the power to skim off what they see fit, albeit a bit less than before. After all, they need the money, not least in order to pay for their extensive private armies. Mr Khan's alone is tens of thousands strong, far outnumbering on its own the national army that Mr Karzai is trying to build.

And the Post story notes the following on Dostum:

Attah Mohammad [an ethnic Tajik militia leader whose forces frequently clash with Dostum's] had asked Karzai to relocate Dostum to Kabul rather than let him return to the north. But Dostum will be allowed to stay in the north, where he maintains a militia force numbering in the thousands, and advise Karzai on military and security affairs from afar

There are also reports that Al Qaeda is reconstituting itself in Afghanistan.

To sum up: progress slow, security still a problem.


Thursday, May 22, 2003
IDIOT OF THE WEEK: That award goes to Tarrytown Village Justice William Crosbie. From the Associated Press (link via OxBlog)

An Arab-American woman who was in court to fight a parking ticket fainted when the judge asked her if she was a terrorist.

Anissa Khoder, 46, has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct over the May 15 incident before Tarrytown Village Justice William Crosbie.

Crosbie, 79, confirmed this week that he made the remark but said he was "probably kidding with her." He denied her claim that he also accused her of financially supporting terrorists....

Anissa Khoder told The Journal News that when her name was called, the judge asked if she was a terrorist. She said she was offended but kept that to herself.

She claimed that after giving the judge her explanation for why the tickets should be dismissed, "He said something like, 'You have money to support the terrorists, but you don't want to pay the ticket.' I could not believe I was hearing that."

Now, let's go to the Journal News story -- which has much more detail and explains the absence of corroboration -- and get Crosbie's side of the story:

Crosbie yesterday confirmed that he made the initial comment, asking Khoder if she were a terrorist, and acknowledged that it "may have been inappropriate." But he denied saying anything further regarding terrorism....

Interviewed at his home yesterday, Crosbie said he could not recall the exact sequence of his exchange with Khoder. He said he thought he asked her if she were a terrorist when she moved toward his desk and seemed to wave her hands after giving her explanation about the tickets. He said that he did not find the movement threatening in any way and, when pressed about why he would bring up terrorism at that moment, said he wasn't sure.

"I was probably kidding with her in the beginning," Crosbie said. "Sometimes, you just pose that question to people. I don't know what I based it on."

Sigh. It could be worse, I guess -- he could be working for the Office of Homeland Security.

For more stories on the episode, click here for Reuters and here for Channel 12 news.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
THESE DEMOCRATS GET IT: Remember that Democrats for National Security web site that I mentioned last week? It's creator, Timothy Bergreen, has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal with Donna Brazile. The key grafs:

Mr. Clinton's victory in 1992 convinced many Democrats that the Republican advantage on national security was no longer consequential. But the 1992 campaign was an exception--Mr. Clinton's election took place in the context of post-Cold War euphoria over the "end of history," with politicians salivating over the prospects of a "peace dividend."

Democrats have yet to fully comprehend the new reality of the post-Sept. 11 world. While most Americans viewed the war in Iraq through the prism of the Twin Towers attacks, many prominent Democrats still seem not to grasp the profound sense of insecurity that so many people feel in our country. This unease is especially pronounced among women, who have been a cornerstone of our party's strength and without whom we cannot hope to win back the White House or Congress.

What I find particularly interesting here is the transformation of Donna Brazile. In past campaigns, Brazile was a partisan's partisan, making some extremely inflammatory comments towards Colin Powell and George Bush Sr. Now, she's on the board of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and bashing Dukakis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Drezner's Assignment to Beltway bloggers: Explain Brazile's turnaround -- is it a change of heart or a change of tactics?

UPDATE: Greg Whyte thinks it's tactics -- Josh Marshall thinks its genuine.

Robert Tagorda thinks it's a combination of the two. He's got a ton of links on Brazile as well.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003: I'm in mourning today, as my favorite television series ever went off the air last night.

I could try to explain why I loved the show so much, but I suspect it would come off as flat. I can link like crazy, however.

For reviews of the final episode, Salon raves while Slate pans.

CNN provides a wealth of back story for the uninitiated. Connie Ogle has an excellent essay of why Buffy was so good. Jonathan Last has a great overview of his top-ten favorite episodes. Joyce Millman has an exhaustive archive of odes to Buffy in Salon. The best ones are here and here. And don't miss Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies, including this exhaustive academic bibliography of scholarship devoted to the Buffyverse. [Isn't that all a bit pretentious?--ed. Go read this Stephanie Zacharek article on the phenomenon from a non-academic perspective. And then read this Rita Kempley piece on why Buffy is so appealing to theologians]

The Parents Television Council labeled Buffy the least family-friendly show of 2001-2 -- and I must admit, their description of the show is pretty dead-on in terms of its potentially objectionable material. However, it's telling that Christianity Today praised the show's use of such material:

[S]ometimes it isn't enough merely to list the contents in a show or a book to determine its merit. How a taboo topic is dealt with can be just as important. In Buffy, the "how" is intriguing because of the show's honest portrayal of consequences....

What saves the show is its realistic grounding. Sure, it's about a skinny girl who throws demons around, but the writing honestly depicts how individuals struggle in their lives. Characters make mistakes and sin but pay consequences and change over time. In this way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has consistently confronted human suffering and addressed compelling themes.

When a television show earns cultural praise from Christianity Today,The American Prospect, National Review Online (though they hated the finale), FHM Magazine, Reason (according to Virginia Postrel) and the New York Times editorial page, you know you're talking about something that cannot be reduced to a whiff of transient pop culture -- you're talking about a pathbreaking work of art.

I'll close with two quotes. The first is from an Onion interview with the show's creator, Joss Whedon:

I designed the show to create that strong reaction. I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can't be loved. Because it's about adolescence, which is the most important thing people go through in their development, becoming an adult. And it mythologizes it in such a way, such a romantic way—it basically says, "Everybody who made it through adolescence is a hero." And I think that's very personal, that people get something from that that's very real. And I don't think I could be more pompous. But I mean every word of it. I wanted her to be a cultural phenomenon. I wanted there to be dolls, Barbie with kung-fu grip. I wanted people to embrace it in a way that exists beyond, "Oh, that was a wonderful show about lawyers, let's have dinner." I wanted people to internalize it, and make up fantasies where they were in the story, to take it home with them, for it to exist beyond the TV show.

The second is from Zacharek again, capturing how I'm feeling today:

[T]here have been many days when, after a particularly potent "Buffy" episode, I've found myself feeling vaguely off my game, my mind clouded with a gauzy, muted sense of dread. When a show jostles your equilibrium to the point of haunting your days or robbing you of sleep, when it finds a place in your imagination that also rubs, hard, at the core of who you think you really are, it starts to look like something more than what we simply call TV.

Mission accomplished, Joss.

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