Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A Critique Of Administration Excesses

: Last month I linked to a defense of the administration's homeland security policies in response to criticism from civil libertarians. Now, lots of links to examples of administration overreaching in the name of homeland or national security.

Virginia Postrel provides lots of links. Chief among them is Jacob Sullum's dissection of the executive branch's power grab with regard to the designation of "enemy combatants. The "good parts" version:
The requirement that the executive branch detain people only as authorized by Congress is grounded in the Constitution as well as in statute. The separation of powers means the president is supposed to enforce the law, not write it.

The Constitution specifically gives Congress, not the president, the authority to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which allows citizens to challenge their detention. Even Congress may suspend that privilege only when public safety requires it because of rebellion or invasion....

It might seem that the president's power grab, while alarming in principle, has not had much impact in practice, since so far only two citizens (that we know of) have been detained as enemy combatants. Yet the possibility of receiving that designation may already have made it impossible for anyone accused of terrorism to get a fair trial.

The government says the "Lackawanna Six," a group of young men arrested in upstate New York last fall, constituted an Al Qaeda "sleeper cell." But the details reported in the press suggest they were half-hearted wannabes rather than committed jihadists. Although they went through training in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, they never hurt anyone and apparently did not plan to do so.

That does not make them innocent, but it suggests they did not deserve the sentences they received, which ranged from six-and-a-half to nine years. They decided that pleading guilty was preferable to risking indefinite confinement as enemy combatants. As one attorney told The Washington Post, "The defendants believed that if they didn't plead guilty, they'd end up in a black hole forever."

That sort of threat, which has no legal or constitutional basis, makes a mockery of justice.
Check out this Postrel post as well.

Then, there's the administration's penchant for excessive secrecy on all national security matters. This was on display last week with the President Bush's refusal to declassify portions of a Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks. Glenn Reynolds, however, points to an even more obvious example of this kind of behavior, as reported in the New York Times:
he Treasury Department said yesterday that it would decline to provide the Senate with a list of Saudi individuals and organizations the federal government has investigated for possibly financing Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The action was the second in two weeks to set the White House and Congress at odds about the Saudis and federal intelligence-gathering related to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Moreover, the move contradicted an assertion made on Thursday by a senior Treasury official, Richard Newcomb, who told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in a hearing on Saudi sponsorship of terrorism that the list was not classified and that his agency would turn it over to the Senate within 24 hours.

Yesterday evening, with senators still awaiting the list, the Treasury Department advised the committee that it would soon send a letter declaring the information classified and thus unavailable to the public.

"The information requested relates to ongoing U.S. government efforts to disrupt terrorist financing," Taylor Griffin, a department spokesman, said yesterday. "Public disclosure at this time would frustrate those efforts."
To be fair, the administration line on this is that Newcomb -- head of the Office of Foreign Assets Control -- was wrong about what was classified and what was not.

To be equally fair, Newcomb is a smart, plain-spoken career guy at Treasury -- not someone who would ordinarily misspeak. One wonders if the administration spin on this is related to other political developments at Treasury.
Monday, August 04, 2003

How Left Is The Academy

In reaction to this post and this post on the rarity of conservative academics, I've received a few e-mails rebutting the point. Here's a good example:

Apparently, public policy schools, law schools, economics departments, medical schools, and political science departments are no longer in academia. My recollection is that there are respectable numbers of Republicans in these precincts.

There are other departments, too, where Republicans (or those to their right!) still find their place in academia. Try the classics, or departments of European literature -- you'll almost certainly find folks who think in teems of blood and soil there. One such man I knew at Yale tended to play opera and mutter under his breath about the failure of the modern world to appreciate the achievements of Franco's Spain.

All of which is to say: enough self-pity, please! The Republican party currently controls the White House, both houses of Congress, seven of nine Supreme Court appointments, and a majority of the governors' offices.... Seems like an odd time for him [Brooks] to complain about being marginalized.

Two small points and one larger point in response.

Small point #1: Trust me when I say that there are not a lot of Republicans in political science departments.

Small point #2: With the exception of economics departments, I'd wager that this observation probably holds true for most departments within an arts and sciences faculty.

Large point: The e-mail is still correct. Point taken.

The Trouble With Animus

Josh Marshall bats .500 in this post on Democratic animus towards the Bush administration. The key section:

There are more and more articles being written about the intense animus toward president Bush among Democratic partisans....

Here's what's weird about this, though: no one seems to mention how deeply this parallels the situation which prevailed through most of the 1990s between core Republicans and President Clinton. It wasn't simply that hardcore partisans then and now despised the president. But there was perhaps a third of the electorate that believed deeply in the president's illegitimacy (then Clinton, now Bush) and were driven further into that belief by the fact that they could not manage to get the rest of the electorate (say 60% or so) to see the man in the way they did. The difficulty of unmasking him became a sign of his political sins.

This was certainly the case with Bill Clinton. And there are at least hints of that now with Bush. If anything the depth of the enmity against Clinton was far more in-grown and aggrieved. But the parallel is so strong, the dynamics so similar, that the fact that it's gone so little mentioned really points to a blindspot among the folks who think up these ideas in the Washington press corps and commentariat.

Marshall is absolutely correct on the animus parallels. However, he whiffs in failing to mention the logical conclusion of this parallel -- that if the Democrats keep this up, they'll be out of power for the next five years.

Clinton-hating did not serve the Republicans well. Yes, the GOP took both houses of Congress in 1994, but that more to do with the combination of low voter turnout, the Contract with America, and the Clinton administration's early missteps than efforts to make Clinton look illegitimate. In 1996 and 1998, the Republican encouragement of the anti-Clinton hysteria achieved less than zero in terms of electoral results.

Say what you will about Bush's policies -- most of the public has a favorable view of him. A campaign dominated by over-the-top attacks on an incumbent president will likely alienate far more voters than it will attract.

Marshall is correct to point out that the Dems are not the first party to get bent out of shape about the sitting president. He should also have pointed out that Republican critics are neverthelesds correct in saying that this is not a good thing for the Dems' electoral chances.

UPDATE: A lot more on this throughout the blogosphere. Megan McArdle, James Joyner and Pejman Yousefzadeh agree with me. Kevin Drum laughs in my face.

Reforming Iraqi Higher Education

For those who believe in media conspiracies, it's interesting to note that over the weekend both the Washington Post (link via InstaPundit) and the New York Times had long articles on efforts to reform Iraq's universities.

Both stories go over the myriad difficulties in this process -- primarily physical insecurity and infrastructure damage.

The Post story does a nice job of suggesting that the phrase "multicultural Iraq" will not necessarily be an oxymoron. The key quote:

On campus, though, the new atmosphere of debate and tolerance is already transforming Baghdad University into an oasis. Last week, students from various ethnic and religious groups -- once pitted against each other by Hussein -- chatted easily between exams. Some engaged in vigorous political arguments that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.

During one exam break, a group of political science students volunteered opinions that ranged from passionately pro-Hussein and anti-American to the extreme opposite. Shiite students shared once-banned CDs of religious sermons. Kurdish students, whose minority group was severely repressed by Hussein, said they felt safe and comfortable on campus for the first time.

"There is a huge difference now, like between the earth and the sky," said Yaser Abdul Majid, 20, a chemistry student, as his classmates issued a chorus of complaints about the U.S. occupation, the crime problem and the dire lack of water and power in the capital. "The difference is that now, none of us will be killed for expressing our opinion."

Meanwhile, the Times story has more detail on curricular reform, suggesting that U.S. authorities are making the right decision by delegating a healthy share of responsibility to the Iraqis:

The next stage of reconstruction will be perhaps the trickier of tasks: depoliticizing the curriculum and reintroducing Iraqi students, scholars and scientists to the broader intellectual community through fellowships, exchanges and conferences. Professors were not able to leave Iraq without signed permission from the minister of higher education. So few did. And they have viewed education as a one-way street in which information is passed onto students, rather than encouraging critical, independent thought and analysis.

The presidents of all the universities, including from Kurdistan in the north, have been meeting weekly. A committee of representatives from each institution has been set up to prepare a plan on addressing the curriculum. Dr. Erdmann hopes to recruit consultants from American organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, though curriculum decisions will be up to the Iraqis. Experts say that's smart policy.

''Everyone agrees on de-Baathification of the curriculum, but if the U.S. intervenes in how Iraqis view America and globalization and Iran, you're going to see a lot of rebelling,'' says Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, who recently returned from Iraq. ''The whole Arab world is afraid the Americans are focusing on education and want to rewrite curriculums in all the Arab states. It's a threat to their culture and their identity, and they see it as heavy-handed and imperialistic. If we just leave the Iraqis to do it themselves, you'll see that anti-American sentiment won't be primary.''

Frankly, the progress described in both articles is extraordinary. As someone who spent a year in Civic Education Project working to rebuild Ukraine's university system after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it sounds like the Iraqis have a much firmer commitment to reform.

Full disclosure: I know Andrew Erdmann, the American administrator featured in both stories, from when we were fellows together at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. I take no responsiblility for Erdmann's decision to grow a moustache.

Twenty Questions

I answer them over at Crescat Sententia. Topics range from blogging to North Korea to Buffy to my mother. Go check it out.
Friday, August 01, 2003
THE ULTIMATE INSULT: While guest-blogging, I came across this devastating criticism of two blogosphere heavyweights:

Am I the only person who occasionally wanders over to Crooked Timber or the Volokh Conspiracy and feels like he just cracked open Derrida's latest book?

Honestly, when I understand what these folks are talking about (which happens a majority of the time at both places, although more at Conspiracy than Timber), I really enjoy both sites, but occasionally, well, it feels like I'm not in the blogosphere anymore.

Ouch. Of course, what will frost members of both group blogs is not the accusation that their posts are too abstruse -- it's being accused of postmodernism.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: From David Brooks' essay on the tendency to self-segregate in the latest Atlantic Monthly (not yet online):

What we are looking at here is human nature. People want to be around others who are roughly like themselves. That's called community. It probably would be psychologically difficult for most Brown professors to share an office with someone who was pro-life, a member of the National Rifle Association, or an evangelical Christian. It's likely that hiring committees would subtly -- even unconsciously -- screen out any such people they encountered. Republicans and evangelical Christians have sensed that they are not welcome at places like Brown, so they don't even consider working there. In fact, any registered Republican who contemplates a career in academia these days is both a hero and a fool. (emphasis added)

I'm guessing that David will be telecommuting a lot at his new job.

Friday, July 25, 2003
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS?: I'll be posting my thoughts on the Marshall-Den Beste debate later today on the Volokh Conspiracy -- I'll be guest-blogging there for the next week.

UPDATE: Click here for the post.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
MY GIFT: Today is my brother's birthday -- sort of. It's the 25th, but as he's living in Sydney, Australia, and it's sixteen hours ahead there, it is essentially today.

When I asked him what he wanted for his B-day, among the (tongue-in-cheek) options he gave me was:

1) Buy him a small island; or -- and let me quote him here:

2) "create a web site dedicated to extolling my virtues to the world at large, declaring, in no uncertain terms, my unrecognized genius.... Given your recent fame on the web, I think this would be a fairly easy task for you to complete."

He's right -- it was pretty easy.

Happy birthday, JBD!!

DEBATING THE CAUSES OF WAR: Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste probably don't agree on much in life -- but they do agree on the underlying reasons for the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Marshall first:

[O]ver time after 9/11 one overriding theory of the war [with Iraq] did take shape: it was to get America irrevocably on the ground in the center of the Middle East (thus fundamentally reordering the strategic balance in the region), bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism.

That is why we are in Iraq today. That is the theory of this war. I have little doubt that many in the administration and in certain think-tanks in DC who really don't like much of what they've been reading on this website recently will have little to disagree with in that description.

Den Beste agrees. His take is almost identical on this issue:

In fact, the real reason we went into Iraq was precisely to "nation build": to create a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society in a core Arab nation. To create a place where Arabs were free and safe and unafraid and happy and successful and not ruled by corrupt monarchs or brutal dictators. This would demonstrate to the other people in the Arab and Muslim worlds that they can succeed, but only if they abandon those political, cultural and religious chains that are holding them back.

Marshall and Den Beste also agree that this motivation was not mentioned all that frequently by Bush or Blair -- instead, the rhetorical emphasis was on the WMD question and whether Hussein's regime was in league with Al Qaeda.

The disagreement is over the ethical and practical implications of these tactics. Marshall takes a dim view:

But an insight or even a broad strategy is not a plan -- a fact which we're now seeing played out before our eyes. The fact that the administration never leveled with the public -- or in some ways even itself -- about this shielded it from the kind of scrutiny which would have revealed just how little the administration had thought through the sheer complexity of what it was trying to accomplish. This created the need to goose up secondary issues like WMD to gain a public rationale for the war. If you're wondering why so little planning seems to have gone into what on earth we were going to do once we took the place over it's because so little of the debate leading up to the war had anything to do with these questions or for that matter what we were actually trying to achieve by invading the country....

If you don't level with the public that you're getting into a very long-term, extremely costly enterprise you may find that your tough talk about having the staying power to finish the job isn't matched by public sentiment, or that you face a backlash over getting the country into far more than you led voters to believe. You may find that the public really isn't on board for what you're trying to accomplish. And that's a big problem if the public doesn't have the staying power and you have to leave the task half-finished, because this is one of those things that is better not to have tried at all than leave half-done....

[Q]uite apart from partisan considerations on either side, we're never going to figure out what we're doing in Iraq, do it well, or accomplish anything good for the future security of the United States unless and until we start talking straight about why we're there, what we need to accomplish, and how we're going to do it.

Den Beste's position is pretty much the polar opposite of Marshall:

Honesty and plain speaking are not virtues for politicians and diplomats. If either Mr. Bush or Mr. Blair had said what I did, it would have hit the fan big-time. Making clear a year ago that this was our true agenda would have virtually guaranteed that it would fail. Among other things, it would have caused all of the brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs in the region to unite with Saddam against us, and would have made the invasion impossible. But now the die is cast, and said brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs no longer have the ability to stop the future....

Americans have gained a reputation elsewhere for being flighty, mercurial; there's some truth to that, but it's also true that we can stick with things for decades if we think it's worthwhile. We stuck with the occupations of Germany and Japan for 50 years. I feel confident we'll stick with this, too....

Once we actually began the invasion, certain political issues became faits accomplis. The question of engagement in the Arab sphere is no longer debatable; we're going to be engaged. That was still in doubt, right up until the first tanks rolled over the border from Kuwait into Iraq. Now it isn't.

No, we're not going to give up on this. The degree of our commitment may change up or down; there will be debate and argument. But one way or another, we're going to stick with this. Ultimately, we have no choice.

Den Beste is even blunter about the virtues of rhetorical misdirection in this post.

Who's right? You'll be hearing my thoughts on this tomorrow [But I want to be enlightened now!!--ed. Patience, my Simpsons-obsessed friend]. For now, however, read both arguments, because they set up a veeeeerrrrryyyyy interesting debate.


AFGHANISTAN ROUNDUP: A few months ago I expressed pessimism about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. However, in scanning my recent posts about the country -- here, here, and here, I've noticed an encouraging trend of positive developments. An upbeat report from Glenn Reynolds' Kabul correspondent suggests statebuilding efforts are working. The key graf:

Last summer renegade police at the ubiquitous Kabul traffic circles might stop and board my cab uninvited, gleefully tease an automatic weapon and just as suddenly disembark a without explanation a few miles down the road. It was doubtful that many were legitimate police with any official status, nevertheless the judicious travelers never asked for credentials or complained when their vehicles were searched and belongings confiscated. This summer is completely different. Petty harassment has ended. Civil order has been restored to a remarkable degree on the highways by a professional police force that efficiently—if not always quietly-- patrols the highways in slick new trucks donated by the German government and trained in the latest law enforcement techniques by the American military. Great credit for this transformation must also be shared with the new Interior Minister, Jalali, who’s been able to bring more of an ethnically balanced and representative police presence into the agency. Kabul law enforcement now moves heavily armed but astonishingly restrained crews along the teeming streets, in a manner as unobtrusive as the ISAF patrols of last year. Consequently, one sees far fewer of the once omnipresent international peacekeepers on the highways.

Is this part of a more encouraging trend in that war-torn country?

The answer is still mixed. The good news is that the central government is getting its act together. Hamid Karzai's efforts to increase revenue flows from the provinces to the central government is a partial success. The central government is conducting the first census in 24 years. That sounds mundane, but these kind of statistics are vital for ensuring stable economic and political development. The new Afghan National Army is also conducting its first military operations, deploying 1,000 troops in a joint exercise with U.S. forces against Taliban remnants in the southern mountains.

The improvements in state institutions are matched by an increase in democratic activism and national pride. Consider a few grafs from this report:

Afghans in the capital Kabul have again been exercising their right to protest. Chanting pro-democracy slogans, around a hundred people marched through the city on Tuesday morning. The demonstrators called for the implementation of the Bonn agreement - a road map for Afghanistan's peaceful development - and urged the Afghan government not to bow to extremists.

"We don’t want fundamentalism," one participant told IRIN. Others said they wanted a constitution based on democracy and the rule of law.

The crowd also called for equal rights for men and women. "For survival and restoration of women’s rights the international community and Afghan government defeated the Taliban regime, but unfortunately women are still deprived of their participation in government, and political development is limited," Freba Charkhi, a member of the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, told IRIN....

According to Charkhi, the demonstration was organised by the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, a new moderate political party, made up of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, students from Kabul University and Afghan journalists.

Democracy and the right to peaceful assembly appear to be taking root in parts of Afghanistan following decades of conflict and totalitarian rule.

Quite a different take than Amnesty International's more downbeat assessment.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar -- the Taliban's old stronghold -- a thousand people filled the largest mosque to protest Pakistani incursions into Afghan territory. A top Taliban leader was arrested there earlier in the month.

The reduction of instability -- combined with an adjustment in tactics -- has permitted the United Nations to restart its de-mining operationsin the southern provinces.

Beyond the state, things are looking up as well. This year the country will experience its biggest wheat crop in two decades -- not a difficult achievement, but still important. A consortium of telecommunications firms are setting up the country's second cellular phone network. Movies are being shown in the provinces.

So has a tipping point been reached where stability will be the norm rather than instability? Not yet. In the short-term, attacks on coalition forces increased over the past month. Some of the provinces are still beset with Taliban activity and a paucity of reconstruction aid. Other provinces are still experiencing factional fighting. And the Afghan defense minister still seems to believe that confiscating opposition newspapers is a viable policy option. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are badly strained. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this year also produced a bumper opium crop in addition to a good wheat harvest. More disturbing is the link between opium and the Taliban resistance:

Some of the regions hardest hit by regrouping Taliban forces are well known areas for opium cultivation, including Nangarhar in the east, and Uruzgan, Helmand, and Nimroz in the south. The latter two provinces serve as a smuggling route into Pakistan and Iran.

Drug money may be providing the funds needed to keep the Taliban insurgency alive. Sources in the Afghan government's antinarcotics department suggest that Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan collect money from the local drug smugglers for their attacks against US forces.

Such attacks have already scared off international aid workers and hampered US-aligned forces that could otherwise interfere with drug trafficking and create viable alternatives to farmers....

The Afghan government also claims that Al Qaeda operatives are helping the drug cartels to traffic heroin to the West.

"It is an unholy alliance," says Mr.Rasoolzai, head of Eastern Afghanistan's antinarcotics department. "Al Qaeda is using drugs as a weapon against America and other Western countries. The weapon of drugs does not make a noise. The victim does not bleed and leaves no trace of the killer."

Is there a pattern? Sort of. It's clear that conditions are improving in areas where the central government holds some sway. However, that remains a very small portion of the country. As state institutions improve, one hopes that it will expand.

Developing.... in an uncertain way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
A DEFENSE OF ASHCROFT: The elite consensus is that the Bush administration homeland security measures -- and the Ashcroft Justice Department -- have been an unmitigated disaster for civil liberties. The war on terror has caused a slow but steady erosion in our essential freedoms.

As a libertarian, I tend to sympathize with this logic without digging too deeply into the facts. Over time, this makes me uncomfortable -- how do I know the consensus is correct?

In that spirit, I decided to read Heather MacDonald's essay in the latest issue of City Journal, defending the homeland security measures installed since 9/11. Her precis:

The backlash against the Bush administration’s War on Terror began on 9/11 and has not let up since. Left- and right-wing advocacy groups have likened the Bush administration to fascists, murderers, apartheid ideologues, and usurpers of basic liberties. Over 120 cities and towns have declared themselves “civil liberties safe zones”; and the press has amplified at top volume a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general denouncing the government’s handling of suspects after 9/11. Even the nation’s librarians are shredding documents to safeguard their patrons’ privacy and foil government investigations.

The advocates’ rhetoric is both false and dangerous. Lost in the blizzard of propaganda is any consciousness that 9/11 was an act of war against the U.S. by foreign enemies concealed within the nation’s borders. If the media and political elites keep telling the public that the campaign against those terrorist enemies is just a racist power grab, the most essential weapon against terror cells—intelligence from ordinary civilians—will be jeopardized. A drumbeat of ACLU propaganda could discourage a tip that might be vital in exposing an al-Qaida plot.

It is crucial, therefore, to demolish the extravagant lies about the anti-terror initiatives. Close scrutiny of the charges and the reality that they misrepresent shows that civil liberties are fully intact. The majority of legal changes after September 11 simply brought the law into the twenty-first century. In those cases where the government has expanded its powers—as is inevitable during a war—important judicial and statutory safeguards protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. And in the one hard case where a citizen’s rights appear to have been curtailed—the detention of a suspected American al-Qaida operative [Jose Padilla] without access to an attorney—that detention is fully justified under the laws of war.

I'm not completely persuaded with regard to her reasoning on the Padilla case. But it's worth a look.

IRAQ ROUNDUP: In the wake of the Hussein boys' demise, it's worth stepping back and appraising the current situation in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over whether this is just an ephemeral victory for U.S. forces or part of a more positive trend that will reduce the guerilla attacks against U.S. forces. Juan Cole, David Adesnik, and Matthew Yglesias say no [UPDATE: David was only joking]; Andrew Sullivan, Josh Chafetz, and the Christian Science Monitor say yes. The Economist, the Guardian, -- and most importantly, the U.S. Army -- are hedging their bets.

My answer is yes, not because of the attack itself but rather the shift in intelligence-gathering that preceded it. The Washington Post has an excellent story on how this shift in tactics may be creating a tipping-point phenomenon among the Iraqi populace:

After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials.

That shift produced a flood of new information about the location of the Iraqi fugitives, which came just before today's attack in which Hussein's two sons were killed by U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul, the officials said....

"You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he continued, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

"The people are now coming to us with information," Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, told Abizaid in a briefing this week at Odierno's headquarters in Tikrit, Hussein's home town. "Every time we do an operation, more people come in."

The 4th Infantry, operating in a region dominated by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which was a major base of Hussein's support, conducted an average of 18 raids a day in recent weeks, he added.

The number and breadth of those follow-up raids also encouraged Iraqis who had been fearful of Baathist retaliation to speak up, officials here said.

Sullivan also links to this Free Republic letter from a U.S. soldier in Iraq suggesting that a similar phenomenon is taking place at the street level:

The only reason the GIs are pissed (not demoralized) is that they cannot touch, must less waste, those taunting bags of gas that scream in their faces and riot on cue when they spot a camera man from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN or NBC. If they did, then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us.

Some do. But the vast majority don't and more and more see that the GIs don't start anything, are by-and-large friendly, and very compassionate, especially to kids and old people. I saw a bunch of 19 year-olds from the 82nd Airborne not return fire coming from a mosque until they got a group of elderly civilians out of harm's way. So did the Iraqis.

A bunch of bad guys used a group of women and children as human shields.The GIs surrounded them and negotiated their surrender fifteen hours later and when they discovered a three year-old girl had been injured by the big tough guys throwing her down a flight of stairs, the GIs called in a MedVac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The Iraqis watched it all, and there hasn't been a problem inthat neighborhood since. How many such stories, and there are hundreds of them, never get reported in the fair and balanced press? You know, nada.

The civilians who have figured it out faster than anyone are the local teenagers.

They watch the GIs and try to talk to them and ask questions about America and Now wear wrap-around sunglasses, GAP T- shirts, Dockers (or even better Levis with the red tags) and Nikes (or Egyptian knock-offs, but with the "swoosh") and love to listen to AFN when the GIs play it on their radios.

They participate less and less in the demonstrations and help keep us informed when a wannabe bad-ass shows up in the neighborhood.

It should also be stressed that outside the Sunni zone of instability, conditions are improving. A few days ago the Los Angeles Times reported two stories indicating that things are quite stable in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, as well as Basra (both links via this Kevin Drum post). As for the Shi'a, this RFE/RL report provides some excellent background of the current state of play among the various Shi'a groups. What's becoming increasing clear is that the Shi'a leaders posing the greatest problems for the occupation are those linked to the Iranian government.

Meanwhile, mobile phones are now working in Baghdad, and DHL is expanding its service to Iraq.

The United Nations is still downbeat about the current situation. However, there is reason to hope that the occupation authorities will be able to take the crucial steps towards stability that the Iraq Reconstruction Assessment Mission says is vital for the success of the U.S. mission.

Developing.... in a good way, I hope.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich has some additional thoughts on the subject, and links to a story suggesting that Kurdish leaders are adopting a wait-and-see posture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
THE LATEST FALLOUT FROM NORTH KOREA: I've been remiss in posting about recent developments in North Korea. However, as I argued back in January, one part of the U.S. strategy has to be convincing Russia and China that it is in their best interests to have a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula. One way in which this would happen would be for the countries in the region to see that a nuclear North Korea would lead to a nuclear Japan, which would trigger an unwelcome arms race across the region.

This leads to yesterday's New York Times report that Japan's nuclear taboo is slowly eroding. The key grafs:

For the first time in three generations a shift in public opinion has rendered ordinary the discussion of a more assertive Japan and left defenders of the "peace Constitution" on the defensive.

While China's expanding power is a growing concern, the most immediate spur for this change has been a year of starkly increased tensions with North Korea, which already possesses ballistic missiles and is pursuing nuclear weapons.

In March, Mr. Koizumi's defense minister, Shigeru Ishiba, told a parliamentary committee that if North Korea started fueling its missiles, "then it is time to strike."

But even if Japanese are more comfortable with such assertiveness, their neighbors may not be. Many continue to harbor suspicion of a country that they feel has yet fully to acknowledge the damage done by its militarization last century, or to atone for its colonial past. Relations with China have been strained for two years by Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial shrine to Japan's war veterans, including 14 people judged as Class A war criminals.

When Mr. Koizumi reasserted last month that he would continue his visits, in what has become a summer ritual, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, warned, "Without a correct view on history, there is no guarantee to healthy and stable ties between China and Japan."

During the same time, there have been no visits between leaders of the countries, and China has watched the move toward a more muscular Japan with concern.

This slow change in Japanese public opinion might be part of the backstory for China's renewed pressure to get North Korea back to the bargaining table.

This pressure on North Korea appears to have permitted the U.S. to take the initiative, according to the Washington Post's front-pager from today.

Bush administration officials are considering granting North Korea formal guarantees it will not come under U.S. attack as part of a verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in what would be part of a diplomatic gambit by the Bush administration aimed at resolving a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Administration officials said that at this broader multilateral meeting, they would formally unveil a U.S. plan for ending the crisis, which has prompted intense discussion within senior levels of the administration about the form of the proposal and how it would be presented.

U.S. officials have indicated to Asian allies they would open with discussion of how the administration could reassure North Korea it does not face a U.S. invasion and then move toward what one official called a "whole gamut" of issues between North Korea and United States, such as providing energy and food aid if the North Korean government meets a series of tough conditions, including progress on human rights....

Since North Korea admitted in October the existence of a secret program to create the fuel for nuclear weapons, the administration has insisted it would not reward the government in Pyongyang for nuclear blackmail. But some officials said they believe they have succeeded in diplomatically isolating North Korea enough -- including enlisting the support of China, North Korea's main patron -- that they can begin to delicately and formally dangle the incentives available to North Korea if it ends its nuclear programs.

Developing....

[Ahem, an entire post on North Korea and no mention of the Sunday New York Times story about the North Korean's having a second, secret reprocessing plans?--ed. The Post and LA Times stories from today suggest this has been more overblown than Nigerien yellowcake.]

INTERNET RESEARCH ADDENDUM: Henry Farrell responds at length to last week's post about Google and academic research. Worth checking out -- if you're in the social science biz.

On a related note, Chris Lawrence is trying to fill the perceived gap in poli sci news by creating the Political Science Bazaar. Here's his mission statement.
Monday, July 21, 2003
THE POLITICIZATION OF INTELLIGENCE: Josh Marshall has gone into great detail about the extent to which the hawks within the Bush administration fought a bureaucratic battle with intelligence professionals over questions of interpretation and presentation. Marshall links to this Jim Hoagland essay from October 2002 that puts the issue in stark terms:

As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that.

That development has triggered a fierce internal agency struggle pitting officials whose careers and reputations were built on the old analysis of the Iraqis as a feckless, inert and inward-looking bunch of thugs against those willing to take a fresh, untilted look at all the evidence.

To which Marshall points out:

[Y]ou can't separate our failure to find a lot of what we thought we'd find in Iraq from the "war" the administration has been fighting with the intelligence community for the last two years. If the administration spent the previous two years "at war" with the CIA, pushing them harder and harder into a set of assumptions (and in many cases conclusions) that turned out to be wildly off-the-mark, shouldn't there be some political accountability for what turned out to be at best a very poor call?

Marshall makes a serious point here -- the management of the intelligence process matters.

However, there are two points worth considering in response. The first is that this is hardly the first administration to take an active interest in the shaping of intelligence. As Chris Sullentrop obseved last week in his assessment of CIA director George Tenet:

Before critics such as New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Nicholas D. Kristof lambasted the Bush administration for politicizing the CIA's intelligence analyses, spooks blasted Tenet's agency for doing the same thing during the Clinton administration. An anonymous CIA official told the National Review in October 2002 that he was badgered "for writing analyses that did not jibe with Clinton foreign policy," and another former CIA analyst wrote in 1999 on the Washington Post op-ed page, "Politicization of intelligence estimates continues to flourish under Tenet's leadership."

Now the natural counterargument to this is that "everyone else does it" is a poor defense. However, as Marshall himself acknowledges, "sometimes bureaucracies really do need to be taken on, to be shaken up." Eliot Cohen points out in Supreme Commandthat civilian leaders should intervene in the planning and management of military operations. A parallel case can be made for intelligence -- over time, intel experts become locked into their preconceptions of the raw data, and need to be exposed to rival interpretations. Skillful intervention in the intelligence process can introduce intellectual debate, which in turn can generate sharper analysis.

Of course, there's a difference between skillful intervention, mismanaged intervention, and willful ignorance of brute facts. The outcome of the debate that's currently taking place will rests on which interpretation of events will become the consensus.

RESPONDING TO MY CRITICS: Catching up from a weekend spent off the net, I found Kieran Healy taking issue with my not taking issue with the WMD/intelligence imbroglio:

Before the invasion, many anti-war protestors used the slogan “Not In My Name” or something similar. That line was derided by pro-war commentators as epitomising the supposedly self-indulgent or solipsistic attitiude of the anti-war movement....

Dan can be relied on to have made as well-argued and well-supported case for war as possible, but at this point I really don’t care what it was, for the same reasons the hawks had no time for the “Not In My Name” line. The substance of the President’s case for war is what matters, and it had everything to do with “the WMD issue.” If that case was built on a series of lies — immediate threat, 45-minutes to deployment, uranium from Niger and all the rest of it — then that is something to get exercised about.

Other bloggers have chimed in with a chorus of "hear, hear."

So I'm getting all worked up to deliver a multipronged response along the lines of:

1) Restating my point that I did not think the questions being raised about the process of intelligence -gathering and dissemination were either trivial or partisan;

2) Explaining that although it is an issue, the extent to which the run-up to the Iraq war has been reframed to make it appear that the Bush administration's only stated rationale for going to war was that Iraq had acquired uranium from Niger is just wrong;

3) Suggesting that I did not critique the anti-war movement for being self-indulgent or solipsistic -- although I certainly critiqued the myriad elements of that movement.

I was looking at a bit of work here.

I realize, however, that James Joyner , John Cole and Will Baude have actually made these points for me.

So, I'm taking the afternoon off.

I will, however, make one additional suggestion. The power of the critique against Bush would be strengthened if it could be shown that a significant fraction of the American public -- as well as the legislative branch -- supported action against Iraq only because of the claim that Hussein's regime had an active nuclear weapons program.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire links to polls suggesting that the WMD question was salient in the run-up to the war. However, WMD includes chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons. Kevin Drum responds here -- and be sure to read the comments page. My personal favorite ends with: "Who is Dan Drezner, and why anyone should give his opinion a second thought? I mean, really. Anyone can set up a web log."

OXBLOG VS. THE NEW YORK TIMES: David Adesnik's recent posts challenge the NYT's attempt -- intended or not -- to paint Iraq as a domestic and foreign policy fisco.

OxBlog. This post critiques the Times piece on the WMD debate at home; this post attacks the quagmire thesis (UPDATE: the last link is acting dodgy -- just go to their front page and scroll down to Sunday's posts). Go check them out.
Friday, July 18, 2003
PROSE ENVY: Tyler Cowen is correct to praise Michael Lewis' Moneyball as "one of the best books about management I have read." Actually, this is his third excellent business book that Lewis has penned. The first two were Liar's Poker -- which perfectly encapsulates millieu of the Wall Street boom of the late 1980's-- and The New New Thing -- which perfectly encapsulates the dot-com explosion in Silicon Valley in the late 1990's.

It is worth noting, however, that this week marks the one-year anniversary of what will probably be the bravest essay Lewis ever writes. Give it a read and be amazed at the the guts it must have taken to publish it.
THE OFFICIAL ATTACK ON PALESTINIAN INTELLECTUALS: The mob assault on Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki's center (see also here) has prompted some follow-up coverage on ways in which Palestinian intellectuals are threatened when they deviate from the Palestinian Authority's party line. The San Francisco Chronicle points out that Shikali is not the only Palestinian academic to feel the effects of the state-organized mob:

Years ago, [Al- Quds University president Sari] Nusseibeh was beaten up at Bir Zeit University for promoting dialogue with Israelis. Last year, he was dismissed as the PLO's representative in Jerusalem after he publicly questioned whether demanding the right of return was either logical or feasible.

The leaflet distributed in Ramallah on Sunday recalled how Nusseibeh was denied entry to the campus of Al-Najah University in Nablus two months ago and prevented from discussing a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

"We warn anyone who considers harming the national rights that their fate will be similar to that of Shikaki and Nusseibeh," said a statement by the group that organized the egg-throwing, the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugees' Rights.

"They will be ostracized and put on popular trial," the statement continued.

"The committee salutes the masses who care about their rights and who do not allow mercenary academics to spread their poison among our people.

"The committee calls on the Palestinian prime minister not to be lenient on such people and to take a clear position opposing their activities and to put them on trial for high treason."

Read the whole piece to see the links between the Palestinian Authority and mob attacks. The article also points out that beyond the intellectual class, independent journalists are feeling the heat:

"People are often very cautious about expressing their political views, especially with regard to the government and sensitive issues," said Khaled Abu Toameh, an ex-PLO employee who is now an independent reporter and analyst. "Some writers and journalists have been punished by the Palestinian Authority for simply expressing their views. In one case, a group of intellectuals was imprisoned or beaten up by Palestinian Authority thugs for signing a petition calling for reforms."

Abu Toameh added: "There has been a slight improvement in recent years with more people speaking out openly in favor of reforms and against corruption, but you always have the feeling that you're being watched.

"It's not as bad as Syria or Saddam's Iraq, but it can be frightening. Palestinian journalists know that you don't mess around with sacred cows."

It is this kind of thuggery that makes Shikali's work so dangerous -- a fact that he and Arafat understand clearly. Shikali's follow-up interview in today's Chicago Tribune spells this out:

At his center this week, Shikaki shrugged off the incident.

"I'm just going to continue, and it's not going to disturb me at all," he said. "No one succeeded in silencing me in the past and they're not going to silence me now."

The source of the uproar, he said, was that his poll, conducted among 4,500 refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon, for the first time "tapped into private opinion, not public opinion--what people are saying to themselves and not saying to their neighbors. A lot of people want it to remain private, not public."

It should also be pointed out that Nusseibeh is not backing down either. He is currently spearheading an extraordinary petition drive with prominent Israelis to promote an alternative path to peace. In the span of six weeks, this effort has already garnered 30,000 signatures in Israel and the occupied territories.

Israelis have criticized Palestinian intellectuals for not speaking truth to power. However, a small slice of Palestinian civil society has spoken truth to power, espousing nonviolence and negotiation as the proper tools of resistance, despite the overwhelming pressure these individuals must face to toe the party line.

Shikali and Nusseibeh demonstrate that there are Palestinian intellectuals who are willing to challenge official doctrine. One can only hope that in the future, such challenges do not require the ample amounts of bravery these men clearly possess.

UPDATE: Judith Weiss posts on the emerging opposition to the Arafat's disastrous economic policies. Go check it out.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
STEPHEN JOHNSON IS NOT AN ACADEMIC: In a Slate essay pointing out systemic flaws in Google's search technology, Johnson -- who also blogs-- makes the following argument:

Google is beginning to have a subtle, but noticeable effect on research. More and more scholarly publications are putting up their issues in PDF format, which Google indexes as though they were traditional Web pages. But almost no one is publishing entire books online in PDF form. So, when you're doing research online, Google is implicitly pushing you toward information stored in articles and away from information stored in books. Assuming this practice continues, and assuming that Google continues to grow in influence, we may find ourselves in a world where, if you want to get an idea into circulation, you're better off publishing a PDF file on the Web than landing a book deal.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize that this process predates Google -- or the Internet, for that matter.

Johnson sets this up as an either/or question -- online papers or books. In point of fact, for most academics this is a progression. First you circulate your ideas in draft form, then as a conference paper, then as an article, and then -- maybe -- publish a book. The book stage depends on the discipline -- for example, they matter far less in economics than in political science. However, this was true long before Google. The only thing the Internet and its search engines has changed is widening the access to papers at the preliminary stages of development. [But what about writers not affiliated with universities?--ed. I'd argue that the process is similar. Good writers/researchers often publish the germ of an idea in a magazine before deciding that it has enough legs to merit writing a book. Often, the author will publish excerpts from the book in magazines or journals. For example, Michael Lewis published an excerpt of Moneyball in the New York Times Magazine this March. This applies to fiction-writers as well.]

Furthermore, there are good reasons for the process to work this way. Getting an idea/argument out in draft form has two advantages to just writing a book without posting or publishing bits of it online. First, for the author, making the ideas available in draft form permits greater feedback, which in turn helps to improve the ideas. Second, for the community of people interested in the topic, finding such ideas as early as possible lets them stay on the cutting edge of the latest work on the subject (it certainly helps with bibliography-hunting).

Is Johnson correct that with Google, fewer people prefer to read a researcher's book-length treatment of the topic over the Internet-accessible, condensed version of the argument? I doubt it. Busy people look for shortcuts, and a big shortcut for scholars is to read an author's article instead of his/her book (unless the topic or argument really hits home). This was true long before the Internet or Google ever existed.

UPDATE: For another critique, click here and here. Johnson responds ably on his blog. He's all-too-correct in observing:

It's a sign of the times I suppose that a piece about search engine algorithms comes across as an incendiary, hot-button assault...



ANOTHER UPDATE: Larry Solum over at Legal Theory Blog has an extended discussion of the Internet's effect on legal research.

WORTH READING: David Adesnik's critique of the Washington Post's reporting on its own polls, and Colby Cosh's detailed dissection of Russia's role in making or breaking the Kyoto Protocol. Both links via InstaPundit.
LET THEM EAT SUBSIDIES: That's the title of my latest Tech Central Station piece. It's a report on how the EU's inability to seriously reform its Common Agricultural Policy is derailing world trade talks and impoverishing lots of poor farmers. Go check it out.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
LET THEM EAT YELLOWCAKE: I understand why Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and others are so exercised about the "sixteen little words" meme. The uranium question -- and the blame game that has erupted along with it -- manages to undercut two pillars of strength for the Bush team. The first was the 2000 pledge to be straight-shooters, avoiding the waffling and legalese of the Clinton administration. The second was the notion that the wealth of gravitas in the foreign policy team would produce a well-oiled, professional foreign policy. Many people have hit the first pillar hard, which surprises me, because there are valid defenses to it. I'm waiting for the second one to come under attack.

My take on this, however, is akin to Tom Friedman's in today's NYT:

[I]t is a disturbing thought that the Bush team could get itself so tied up defending its phony reasons for going to war — the notion that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that were undeterrable and could threaten us, or that he had links with Al Qaeda — that it could get distracted from fulfilling the real and valid reason for the war: to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq that would be the best answer and antidote to both Saddam and Osama....

Eyes on the prize, please. If we find W.M.D. in Iraq, but lose Iraq, Mr. Bush will not only go down as a failed president, but one who made the world even more dangerous for Americans. If we find no W.M.D., but build a better Iraq — one that proves that a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state can rule itself in a decent way — Mr. Bush will survive his hyping of the W.M.D. issue, and the world will be a more hospitable and safer place for all Americans.

Look, Frank Gaffney overreaches when he says this is pure partisanship. It's perfectly valid to question the policy process that led to the SOTU screw-up, and part of me is grateful that it's happening.

I can't get exercised about it, however. My reasons for supporting an attack on Iraq had little to do with the WMD issue. The uranium question was part of one rationale among many the administration gave for pushing forward in Iraq. I'm not saying this should be swept under the rug, but the level of righteous indignation that's building up on the left is reaching blowback proportions.

COURAGE: ESPN's ESPY awards show -- which airs this evening -- is an exercise to fill airtime during one of the slowest sports days of the year, the day after Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. On the whole, it's a pretty silly event -- the only memory I have of it was Bill Murray doing a hysterical bit in the late 1990's about how Michael Jordan's career was complete now that he'd won an ESPY.

However, the event does has one authentic creation -- the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (click here to see the past winners). Last year's winners were the rugby players who battled the terrorists on United flight 93.

This year's winners will be Pat and Kevin Tillman. Here's why:

Since joining the Army following the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, the Tillmans have refused all media interviews -- a policy they still enforce. They will, however, be recognized in absentia on ESPN's 2003 ESPY Awards on July 19, when they will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Their younger brother, Richard, will accept on their behalf, according to their father.

"To tell you the truth, the boys are not too pleased about the ESPY thing," said the elder Tillman. "But I am. I'm very happy about it. I'm proud."...

Pat Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Kevin gave up a minor league baseball career to join Pat.

Click here for more information on the Tillmans.

Not everyone, by the way, is pleased about this. Kevin Blackistone writes in the Dallas Morning News:

Arthur Ashe stood up for a lot of people and ideas in his lifetime. The oppressed. The afflicted. Human rights. Human dignity. But he never stood up for war. Bet he wouldn't be too thrilled about having the ESPY's Arthur Ashe Courage Award given to Pat Tillman for sacrificing his NFL career to join the U.S.'s offensive war in Iraq. That's not a part of Ashe's legacy.

I would never presume to speak for Ashe, but I suspect he would acknowledge that the oppressed and afflicted in Iraq have a better chance of seeing their human rights conditions improve with the toppling of the Baasthist regime.

DREZNER GETS RESULTS FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE!!: Two days ago I blogged about the attack on Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki. Today, the Chicago Tribune has an editorial about it. The key section:

[T]he mob Sunday was not interested in polling techniques but in stifling an opinion--possibly a fact--that they didn't want to hear.

Shikaki's conclusions are not implausible. Israel was founded more than 50 years ago, and as practical a matter most Palestinians could well regard their return--to live in a Jewish state--it is no longer a realistic or appealing alternative. At this point, they may prefer financial compensation or relocation in a newly created Palestinian state or elsewhere.

If Shikaki's findings are confirmed by other researchers, they also may allay well-founded Israeli fears of the demographic cataclysm that would accompany millions of Palestinians returning to Israel.

In other words, there may be room for compromise as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. For Palestinians, the poll suggests, the "right of return" by now may be more of a symbol than a reality.

Certainly one poll doesn't defuse the issue, which has stymied negotiations in the past. If the current negotiations are to succeed, the "right of return" will be on the table at some point. How the Palestinian people feel about that issue could be crucial. Researchers like Shikaki should be encouraged, not intimidated by a gang of thugs.

Indeed.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Courtesy of Tyler Cowen, a semi-recent addition to the Volokh Conspiracy. In this post, he writes:

The bottom line is that I am probably as happy as Bill Gates, we are both married, I have my voodoo flags, my Mexican cooking, and now my blog. He has a world empire, so what?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
THE JOSE BOVE FOLLIES: Back in November, I blogged about idiotarian José Bové being arrested for trying to destroy some genetically modified crop fields in France. Here's an update:

After being tried and convicted, Bové resisted government efforts to negotiate an appropriate sentencing -- such as community service. So, in late June, French police officers forcible entered Bové's home in what the BBC calls "a dawn commando-style operation" to serve a ten-month jail sentence.

Naturally this prompted protests in France -- calling for French President Jacques Chirac to commute his sentence on Bastille Day. Chirac did shorten Bové's sentence by four months -- but this failed to mollify Bové's supporters in the Confederation Paysanne, the militant union Bové heads.

So, they decided to sabotage the Tour de France, according to Reuters :

Demonstrators supporting jailed farmers' union leader Jose Bove stopped Tour de France leader Lance Armstrong in his tracks during the 136.4-mile 10th stage to Marseille on Tuesday.

The small group of protestors sat down in the middle of the road as the peloton approached, some 43 miles from the finish in Marseille.

Police moved in quickly to drag them out of the way and the bunch continued after a delay of two minutes.

An escape group of nine lowly placed riders had already built up a lead of around 20 minutes.

The BBC observes that this could trigger a backlash:

[C]orrespondents say the Tour de France protest may lose him public support because of the cost of precious time and points to riders in France's premier sporting event.

There's nothing left to say, except that:

a) This confirms my hunch that French farmers may be the world's exemplar iditotarians; and
b) Peloton is just a really cool word.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds links to a delicious irony unearthed by Merde in France -- MacDonald's nonprofit arm contributed to the renovations of the prison where Bové is currently incarcerated.

DEBATING THE REGULATION OF ANNOYANCE: I'm quite certain that the sentence "Spammers and telemarketers comprise the lowest form of existence on the planet." would generate huzzahs across the developed world. Christopher Caldwell certainly feels that way about spam e-mail, and he's not alone. It's not too hard to find similar comments about telemarketing. These complaints are usually accompanied by the tagline "something must be done!"

In the case of telemarketing, something is being done. Congress passed and President Bush signed the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act -- which empowers the FCC to create a national "do not call registry" that would make it illegal for telemarketers to call your phone number -- with some exceptions. It would not be surprising to see a similar legislative effort to deal with spam.

In the interest of being completely contrarian, let me kindly suggest that legislative/regulatory efforts might not be the best way to deal with the problem. It's not that I like these activities -- it's that there are compelling arguments for relying on private measures to deal with these kinds of private interference. Mass annoyances generates demand for products to deal with them for minimal cost. This is one reason I'm enjoying my newly-installed Google toolbar so much -- 187 pop-up ads blocked and counting!! Arnold Kling points to multiple methods to filter out spam.

[But surely telemarketing merits regulation?--ed. Farhad Manjoo argues that the looming regulation carries significant costs, although her reliance on industry data suggests those cost estimates are exaggerated. Plus, even with telemarketers, services such as caller ID can bemore precise than the do-not-call registry. So this means you won't be using the do-not-call registry?--ed. Ummm... I didn't say that. Hypocrite--ed. No, just a mortal human demonstrating why the urge to regulate is strong, even if it's not the first-best solution to the problem]
MEET THE IMF'S NEW ECONOMIST: Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund announced that Raghuram Rajan -- the Joseph L. Gidwitz Professor of Finance at the U of C's business school -- will be replacing Kenneth Rogoff as the IMF's chief economist.

The BBC -- in typical fashion -- is painting this as a blow to the United States:

Raghuram Rajan is best known for a book he helped to write entitled: "Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists".

In this he argued that the world's business elite want to rig so-called free markets in their favour to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Such views will be warmly supported by developing countries who are the main recipients of IMF money and advice.

But they are unlikely to go down well with the United States government which is the most powerful voice on the executive board at the IMF.

Leave it to the BBC to eliminate any trace of nuance or background in their coverage. A closer look shows that Rajan probably agrees a lot more with American policymakers than BBC paleolibs when it comes to IMF policy. [What about other policies?--ed. Rajan opposes both the hike in steel tariffs and the removal of the estate tax. This makes him a friend to the BBC because that means opposing the Bush administration on high-profile issues.]

Click here, here, and here for some excellent recent interviews with Rajan. Some highlights that suggest the BBC is off its rocker:

Q: The recent protests the world over against the IMF, World Bank and the WTO have often accused these organisations, amongst many things, of a lack of transparency, and therefore being undemocratic. Do you think that is true?

A: See, here is the issue. The protestors against globalization are sometimes misguided because they are not quite clear on what they are protesting against. Some people, for example, are protesting against the fact that workers in India or China work for 10 to 13 hours a day. They are saying 'What terrible working conditions!' But you know what? Workers in India and China can compete with workers in the West who have far more capital and far more education only by working longer hours at lower pay.

If these workers were to ask for the same working conditions as workers here they would be out of a job very quickly. So until they can produce more or become more productive through a better education and better health care system, which will happen over time, they will have to compete by accepting lower wages.

So the issue of 'Oh, this globalization is forcing those workers to work in terrible conditions.' No, this is not globalization. If you force them to have the same pay, it's a form of protectionism. You are essentially shutting them out of the world market. These workers in India and China, who are able to compete in the world market, are able to thereby achieve a much better standard of living.

This argument is not just made of workers. It is made of software workers, right? 'Oh, these Indian software workers coming and working 60, 70 hours at half the wage that we earn. It is unfair, they should be kept out', etc. This is plain and pure protectionism.

Similarly, there are arguments made about multinationals destroying countries and so on. There's always a grain of truth in these arguments. But if you play them all out -- what they are suggesting is often complete nonsense.

Q: There has also been criticism of the structural adjustment policy that the IMF has traditionally pursued. Where do you stand on that?

A: I don't want to get into that argument because I don't know what exactly was behind it. I do know that the IMF in some documents has admitted that it was probably overly aggressive in asking for expenditure cuts. Soon when they saw this was having a very adverse effect they retreated and had more reasonable targets.

I am not saying -- and I don't want to say -- that these organizations are beyond criticism. There are valid criticisms of their actions in the past. What is important going around is: Are the organizations prepared to adapt and change? Are they trying to do things in the best interests of the people of the member countries or they basically trying to infuse a quasi-imperial diktat from the past? The evidence and my impression is certainly of the former than the latter. (emphasis added).

Go to the links above to read more on Rajan's views, as well as this precis of his latest book (co-authored Luigi Zingales).

Brink Lindsey, by the way, provides this review of : "Wide-ranging, idea-crammed case for free financial markets and analysis of why they seldom exist."

Fierce opposition to protectionism of any kind, combined with the conviction that globally integrated financial markets are the best way to help both poor countries and poor individuals, make Rajan an excellent selection to replace Ken Rogoff. The BBC's coverage of this replacement suggests just how one-dimensional their reporting has become.

Monday, July 14, 2003
TWO TAKES ON BLOGS: Kathleen Parker takes to the Blogosphere:

I'm not an expert on blogging, but I am a fan. As a regular visitor to a dozen or so news and opinion blogs, I'm riveted by the implications for my profession. Bloggers are making life interesting for reluctant mainstreamers like myself and for the public, whose access to information until now has been relatively controlled by traditional media.

I say "reluctant mainstreamer" because what I once loved about journalism went missing some time ago and seems to have resurfaced as the driving force of the blogosphere: a high-spirited, irreverent, swashbuckling, lances-to-the-ready assault on the status quo. While mainstream journalists are tucked inside their newsroom cubicles deciphering management's latest "tidy desk" memo, bloggers are building bonfires and handing out virtual leaflets along America's Information Highway....

The best bloggers, who are generous in linking to one another -- alien behavior to journalists accustomed to careerist, shark-tank newsrooms -- are like smart, hip gunslingers come to make trouble for the local good ol' boys. The heat they pack includes an arsenal of intellectual artillery, crisp prose, sharp insights and a gimlet eye for mainstream media's flaws.



Fareed Zakaria's perspective is similar, if the language is less laudatory. From p. 254 of The Future of Freedom:

In the world of journalism, the personal Web site ("blog") was hailed as the killer of the traditional media. In fact it has become something quite different. Far from replacing newspapers and magazines, the best blogs -- and the best are very clever -- have become guides to them, pointing to unusual sources and commenting on familiar ones. They have become the new mediators for the informed public. Although the creators of blogs think of themselves as radical democrats, they are in fact a new Tocquevillean elite.

This strikes me as essentially correct. Most blogs, most of the time, do not generate news -- and it's not always a good thing when they claim to have new info. What most blogs excel at is the sifting, sorting, and framing of information that's already in the public domain.

The best blogs do this with rigor, wit, and alacrity. The rest of us just use long quotes as a substitute.

NEW YORK TIMES UPDATE: Bill Keller has been named the new executive editor of the New York Times. I saw Keller for the first time last month at a Council on Foreign Relations event, and I'll say this -- if the executive editor gig doesn't work out, Keller has a bright future replacing Bill Maher on HBOs schedule. Keller is both funnier and smarter than Maher [Not that impressive a compliment--ed. I meant well].

Meanwhile, Howell Raines has apparently decided on a Shermanesque approach in departing from the Times -- burning every bridge possible. For more on this, go to the Times story linked above, as well as Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and Mnoosweek.
THE GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS ABOUT PALESTINIAN POLITICAL SCIENCE: The good news is that -- in contrast to many of its neighbors -- there exist Palestinian political scientists independent of the state and contributing to the stock of useful knowledge about the region. For an example, click here.

The bad news is, good political science is vulnerable to the rule of the mob, as this New York Times story makes clear:

A mob attacked an eminent Palestinian political scientist today as he prepared to announce a striking finding from a regionwide survey of Palestinian refugees: Only a small minority of them exercise a "right of return" to Israel as part of a peace agreement.

The political scientist, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research here, had intended today to discuss for the Arabic-language press the tensions and complexities of Palestinian society. Instead, struck, shoved and pelted with eggs but not seriously injured, he wound up starkly illustrating them....

The rioters marched from Dr. Shikaki's office to Mr. Arafat's compound a few blocks away, where he received them, Palestinians here said. It was not clear if Mr. Arafat knew what they had done. (emphasis added)

Click here for the Voice of America report, which makes it clear that the idiotarians who ransacked the center don't seem to realize that the poll results suggest that the right of return issue is tractable rather than intractable.

Well, so long as this kind of behavior is not condoned by the public authorities, then -- oh, wait.

UGANDA, BOTSWANA AND AIDS, REDUX: This Financial Times article reinforces what I said last week about Uganda and Botswana being exemplars for the rest of Africa. The key grafs:

Only two African countries have over the past three years taken up an offer by a German pharmaceuticals company to make free donations of an important Aids prevention drug to poor countries.

Boehringer Ingelheim said that only Uganda and Botswana had taken delivery of supplies of nevirapine, the drug it offers free for use in preventing mothers from infecting their babies with HIV/Aids....

The company said that 44 countries were now taking part in the initiative and that it was working with a number of non-governmental organisations in Africa, but only two national governments in the region were involved. Four South African provinces had also applied for donations.

"We are not at all satisfied with how it is running," said Rolf Krebs, chairman of the private German company. "It is very frustrating."

Heavy customs charges, poor logistics and lack of the necessary healthcare infrastructure were some of the reasons why many African countries had not taken part in the programme, he said....

Nevirapine was the subject of a bitter political battle in South Africa where the constitutional court last year ordered the government to make it available to HIV-positive pregnant women following legal action taken by Aids activists.

That last graf is just devastating.

The FT article jibes with what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist emphasized as necessary for fighting AIDS in Africa in a speech he gave last month at the Council on Foreign Relations:

The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003 will provide $15 billion over five years to combat these global diseases. Equally important, it links for the first time the concepts of prevention, care, and treatment into a single comprehensive policy.

Remember ... this little virus was unknown in this country just 22 years ago when I was a surgical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then it has killed 23 million people.

Through this simple effort, 7 million new infections will be prevented. 2 million people will be treated. And 10 million HIV-infected individuals and AIDS orphans will be cared for.

But just as essential as the money, this law will build a new, robust infrastructure -- to better communicate with health workers, to educate, and to establish delivery systems.

And this infrastructure will serve as the foundation upon which a whole host of other medical and public health issues will be addressed for decades to come.

It's all about the infrastructure.

AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!: The blog just topped the 300,000-hit mark. Thanks to one and all for reading!
Friday, July 11, 2003
PAT ROBERTSON ACTING LIKE A FOREIGN POLICY DUMBASS -- AGAIN: Michael Totten and David Adesnik have already commented on this, but it's worth going into more detail.

Televangelist Pat Robertson's most notable contribution to the foreign policy debate since 9/11 was to say that Muslims were worse than Nazis, so we shouldn't expect much of use to come from his lips.

However, he's hit a new low -- defending Liberia's Charles Taylor. Here's a sample of what he's said on the subject (click here for more):

July 7: We have given money to a Muslim country, Guinea, and the rebels who are coming against Taylor are Muslims, and the fighting in Africa that's taking place right now is an example of the Muslims trying to overrun the Christian countries, and they're being funded out of Saudi Arabia. A huge amount of money is now going into what's now called the Democratic Republic of Congo to overturn and undermine. Same thing is happening in Ivory Coast.

It's country after country, but the State Department doesn't wake up, they don't understand what the game is, and consequently they make bad decisions. So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country.

July 9: Ladies and gentlemen, I would remind the senators that we sent our troops to Kosovo to back up a Muslim group over there, to help them against the Christian Serbs. In this case, we're looking at Muslim rebels trying to overthrow a Christian nation.

Charles Taylor may be a Baptist, but he's also an indicted war criminal whose primary hobbies over the past decade were exporting war to the rest of West Africa and cooperating with Al Qaeda (link via Radley Balko). As Ryan Lizza observes in The New Republic:

Name the following despot: In 1991, he invaded a neighboring country, where his men committed wholesale looting and massive atrocities. In 1998, he personally met with a senior Al Qaeda operative now listed as one of the FBI's 25 "Most Wanted" terrorists. He is the single greatest threat to the stability of one of the most important oil-producing regions in the world. Saddam Hussein? No, Charles Taylor of Liberia.

What makes Robertson's advocacy for Taylor even more galling is his financial dealings with Taylor. According to Christianity Today:

In 1998, Robertson formed a $15 million company, Freedom Gold Limited, to look for gold in Liberia. In 1999, the company signed an agreement with the government of Liberia to begin gold-mining operations....

In a letter to the editor [in the Washington Post], Robertson denied that the Liberian government owned part of the company....

[Freedom Gold's manager James] Mathews acknowledged that the Liberian government will receive 10 percent of Freedom Gold's stock when the company goes public.

Mother Jones has the story as well.

The one potential upside to all of this is that Robertson has become so toxic that the evangelical community has started to distance themselves from him [UPDATE: some social conservatives have already distanced themselves from Robertson]. According to today's Post:

Other Baptist and evangelical Christian leaders said they do not share either Robertson's support for Taylor or his criticism of President Bush's call for the Liberian leader to go into exile. "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one," said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm.

Allen Hertzke, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and the author of a forthcoming book on evangelicals and human rights, said many religious conservatives "will be horrified" by Robertson's stance. "His comments really feed into the media critique of Christian conservatives, that they are not sophisticated, they don't care about others, all they care about are Christians around the world -- when in fact that is a caricature of the faith-based human rights movement," Hertzke said.

In his broadcasts, Robertson has portrayed the Liberian civil war as primarily a fight between Christians and Muslims. Serge Duss, director of public policy for the international Christian relief group World Vision, called that a gross oversimplification.

World Vision and other Christian organizations lobbied successfully this year for legislation banning the importation into the United States of diamonds from war-torn African countries. Taylor has been indicted by a United Nations-established tribunal for allegedly backing militias -- funded largely by the sale of diamonds -- that raped and maimed civilians during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Is the country finally at the point when Pat Robertson can just be ignored?