Yankee Blog

Saturday, November 29, 2003

One good thing does not make a career...

The big political story of the Thanksgiving holiday has been Bush's trip to Iraq. I think that it is time to give some credit on this one, Drez and the Oxblog agree with me on this one, while Yglesias and many others on the left are just pissed off whenever Bush does something right (my advice: relax he will mess up countless other things, you can allow him to get one thing right every once in a while).

I wish I could say it is surprising that Bush visiting Iraq is being turned into a partisan issue, but I am not. I want to see Bush beaten by a Democrat next year, but it also seems that one should be able to look past that on some occasions.

The number one priority in Iraq is not seeing enough things go wrong that Bush looks bad, but seeing enough things go right that the region, America, and the entire World are safer in the future. With hindsight it seems that we might have been safer with the former status quo, but that is gone so we have to look forward.

The surest way that we will fail from this point forward in Iraq is if our troops give up on Iraq. There are lots of stories out there about morale being low, and this is one specific thing that Bush can do a lot to address. His trip was about the troops. And he did a good job making those troops feel good about their mission (it might only last a few weeks, but given that he had a free day it was a great thing to do).

Sure it might have been better if he spent an entire day in Iraq talking with Iraqis and formulating a new strategy, but that was not the purpose of the trip. Everyone can still get on Bush for not having an effective plan of what to do with Iraq.

The thought that Bush would have been better bringing along a Democrat on his trip is a good one. I would not ask him to bring a Party leader like Pelosi or Daschle, or Presidential candidate, but I am sure that Bush could have found some Democrat who has a similar foreign policy agenda as Lieberman to bring along. I think that this would have made the trip even more of a political masterstroke and made many partisans even more frustrated at his trip.

So let's just lay-off Bush for this trip, and get back to being critical of his other actions (i.e. limiting free trade, running huge deficits, alienating allies, etc.)

Well, we're back in Kabul, safe and sound, although the flight from Herat was predictably awful -- we flew in some Tupolev propeller death trap from the 1960s. I think the worst part was when I casually looked out the right side of the plane and noticed that the craggy peak of a Hindu Kush snowcap was about 2000 feet to the side and maybe 500 feet beneath us. Mountains are pretty impressive when you fly that close, but I hope that never happens to me again.

We had a bunch of ex-pats over for Thanksgiving dinner, feasting on the toughest turkey I've ever seen (as one of the guests mentioned, Afghan turkeys spend most of their lives running from wild dogs, making for an athletic bird, but a chewy dinner).

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

A few quick links...

This is an exciting morning, and not just because tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have been published today for the first time since my college paper. I have a piece on going to Foxwoods in a local Boston Weekly sports paper called Barstool Sports. They have a web site and you can check out the entire paper in PDF format there. The paper is just getting off the ground, and probably does not have huge circulation figures, but I think it is pretty good and that there is a place for the paper in the Boston market. Anyway, click over and check it out.

The big sports news this morning is that Steve Waugh, the Australian test cricket team captain announced his retirement. It is very difficult to convey just how big a deal this is. So I recommend reading these articles (BBC, The Age) if you want to get some sense.

And then other stuff happenend, but I don't really have time to comment on everything...perhaps later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

How I started my day...

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to do my daily blogging before going to work. Sometimes it is kind of hard to start thinking in the morning. This morning is one of those (might have something to do with staying out to see the Knicks-Celtics game, and then deciding that a few beers at a bar was the right way to watch the football game). Anyway, my head is empty, so let me give a few links and if anything comes to me I'll jump right in.

Krugman provides us an interesting take on the partisan war going on around Washington. His take is that civility should take a back seat to saying what you believe.

Drezner has an astute post regarding Medicare. Basically he says that all these under-40 bloggers just can't marshall up the attention to care about this issue. I have to agree. Health care is really, really complicated and all I know is that I don't want to go bankrupt if a car hits me on my way to work.

His post does raise a related question in my head, one that I can't come up with an answer to. Is there any chance that conservatives will revolt against the Bush Administrations willingness to support any spending program they can take credit for. The "starve the beast" mentality might be alive and well in think-tanks but Rove and Bush have shown no willingness to make tough decisions (did you know that Congress approved over $2 BN for Nanotech research?). If I was a hard-core conservative I would be really concerned that today's tax cuts are not setting the stage for a future of smaller government, but are rather setting the stage for a future of higher taxes to pay for today's deficits. I am not a conservative, but I am still not too thrilled about my parent's generation passing the buck for paying for their programs today and their retirement tomorrow to me. Maybe I should ask for really nice gifts this holiday season as payback?

Note: I tried to find a conservative leaning blog where I could post a comment and see the reaction, but most of the ones I know didn't have comments sections. Anyone have a pointer?

We've picked up a couple of lessons during our trip to Herat:

  • When traveling in Afghanistan, make sure you have the return ticket in hand before getting on the plane.
  • When your fiancee's NGO's drug-addled travel coordinator says "No problem," he means, "Very big problem."
  • Aside from mosques, the country shuts down during Eid, so don't be surprised if your return flight is canceled.
  • Herat is a nice city, but five days is a long time to spend in a place where nothing is open and you only brought clothes for two days.

Luckily, we were able to get on an Ariana flight tomorrow morning. Unluckily, Ariana is the same airline I swore never to fly again after my harrowing arrival to Kabul several months ago.

No problem.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Quite a predicament...

This weekend saw the first Republican advertisements of the 2004 campaign. Predictably they dealt with Bush's response to terrorism and tried to emphasize his leadership while attacking his opponents. For some reason this became a big deal to Senator Daischle, and thus the rest of the media, but I am not clear about what is unique or surprising.

In the past week, including this op-ed by William Safire today, there is renewed effort to link Al-Queda to Saddam Hussein. I thought this died when Bush basically told Cheney he was wrong and he should stop trying to link the two. However it is living to see another day, and as usual I am confused what is true, what is made up, and what is typical intelligence noice. I will just continue to believe the source I trust the most, and currently that is not anyone associated with the Bush administration. (see the Slate for more confusing evidence)

I was struck this weekend by Mary Matlin's articulation of the President's terrorism strategy. She basically said that previously terrorism was a law enforcement issue now it is a national security issue, and that the law enforcement approach failed. I can't disagree with any part of this statement, but it does strike me as ridiculously simplistic. This entire area is so much more complicated than a two sentence answer to a question.

Then I started putting together these three items. First, terrorism and national security is going to be a cornerstone of Bush's re-election. However Bush has only been able to articulate compelling positions on simple issues. If it can be a one-liner, Bush will win the issue. If Bush can't find a one-line position he loses the issue. The terrorism thing could be a great one-liner, except for that little problem of Iraq. If we had found WMD, it is a simple one-liner, if Iraq was associated with 9/11 it is a one-liner. But in the absence of both of those the explanation for why Iraq becomes quite long and complicated (there still might be a case to be made, and a good one, but it is not simple). I think what we are seeing now is going to be a real problem with the Bush campaign. He needs the terrorism story to explain Iraq, and right now it not coming together for his team.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Is this wrong...

There is a line in the Oxblog today that raised my eyebrows (you know, in that "does that say what I think it says" way). This weekend England won the Rugby World Cup by beating Australia. Apparently the team song for England this year has become "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". When the Oxblog makes us aware of this they refer to the song as "the old Negro spiritual." I am not sure just what is considered correct today, but I know that I don't refer to people as Negro. It is a term that has mostly disappeared from the language, and I don't hear a lot of people trying to bring it back. So I am wondering if this is some kind of technical term that he is using? Is the term itself meant to convey the time of the song? I would be surprised by either case, but I don't want to unfairly judge, and I might learn something from the explanation.

If the Oxblog is basically using a slur as if it is just another word, well they should be called on it. Bloggers everywhere love to jump on the press and public figures for all kinds of mis-steps, and probably should be able to deal with being called on something. The fact that this has not been called to my attention by anything else leads me to wonder just how lily-white the blogoverse is, especially the foreign affairs/politics part of the blog-world.

I was wrong...

Earlier this week I wrote that I thought that the protests against Bush in England would be a big deal. Well, they were covered, they were a story, but they were not a big deal. I did not account for the bombing of a British consulate in Turkey when considering the tone of the protests and the coverage. The time was not right in Britain for real public outrage, and I think Bush was spared. (note: I am not implying at all that he is directly responsible for the bombings, or that they are justified in any way)

Some place-based thinking...

The City Comforts blog is my number one source for thinking about cities and place-related issues in general. This week the following post went up regarding NIMBYism:

Or a bad thing? Or just is? Merely reflecting people expressing their self-interest?

My take is of course the last one. People are free to, and in a healthy democratic society I believe should be clear about what it is and to work towards it. After all, who else will? Expressing one's totally self-serving self-interest is a good and legitimate part of the democratic political process. I think it in fact strengthens political action when people come out of their own experience and don't try to gussy-up their political positions with "it's good for you." For example, when I argue for pedestrian-oriented streetscapes, I do so out of total self-interest: that's the kind of world I want to live in. I happen to think that there are indeed a host of overall social benefits to organizing the built world so that it is easy and pleasant to walk. But my own particular motivation starts from my own perception of my own self-interest.

The only problem is when such self-interest is often seen to hold the high moral ground of "community interest." After all, what is "community interest" --- and please understand that I am thinking of these matters in the context in which I have observed them in action for thirty years: land use --- except the collection of a host of individual self-interests into some large entity. But does it change when such individual interests become associated in name with "the community"? Well the term "The Community" does have a stirring and portentous sound to it; it impresses politicians; it has a sort of moral fervor to it: "Dost thou dare to flout The Community Interest which transforms a host of individual self-interests into something much grander.

That's my only problem with NIMBYISM. It can be just as narrow and self-ish as any other "faction" yet because it often coalesces into and is manifest by "community groups" it can seem to easily and fluidly become the same thing. Everyone wants the high moral ground and speaking for "the community" rather than "for me and three neighbors" makes such a claim more verbally plausible.

Yes, of course there is such a thing as "community interest." And I value it highly. But I don't always assume that the people who claim to stand for it actually do.

So NIMBYISM is a fine thing, so long as we acknoweldge it for what it is: a bunch of individuals trying to get the best deal possible for themselves.

And I continue the discussion:
The word "community" is one that is rife with issues, as Brian's comment above hints at. Community is a group. The group includes some, but just as significantly excludes others. Communities are valuable parts of society, but they are parts, not the whole. There are many times that a community working together can make a group or place better. But often times the community interests are pursued at the expense of the whole.

The point made in the post linking NIMBYism with "commmunity interests" leads in some very interesting directions. If we look at the term NIMBY the area is defined as "backyard." Now that is not a specific definitional term, but I think one can say with confidence that backyards are generally small and a narrow view of community. When people define community in a more narrow way it is more likely that their community interests will be pursued at the expense of the excluded, the whole.

While a neighborhood might be better off without a mental health facility, society is better off with mental health facilities. The facility has to be somewhere. So when one "community" makes a convincing case that the facility should be elsewhere, it is jut going to be somewhere else. That somewhere else is a place, or commmunity, that does not have the resources the first place possess. Because resources are often the same as money, NIMBYism often starts looking like classism.

I hope that this is not simplifying the issue though because the negotiation between communities is how things get done. It is how we decide how society is constructed. It is often about conflict, but from that conflict is how we find the solutions to the challenges in building a society.

The namzad and I are off to Herat for a few days, so no more blogging about security crises (although three rockets landed in Kabul last night and several people were either killed or wounded -- not sure which -- during a protest outside the Ministry of Defense today).

Happy Eid to everyone.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Again with the economic change...

A few weeks ago I wrote a couple of posts (one and two) about the nature of current changes in our economy. A lot is being said about the decline of manufacturing, and while not new, it seems to have been taken to the next level in the last couple of years. So I had some wild speculations about where we are headed, is the future going to be one of robots doing all the work while humans are able to focus on being creative? And is our economic system ready for the challenge of readjusting to this new reality.

Well, apparently this kind of thinking tends to resonate with people, because it generated a huge flood of reader mail (well, it was two notes). Anyway one reader recommended two books that deal with the kind of future I was thinking about. It kind of scares me, that they are both science fiction because I hold lots of negative stereotypes of science fiction, but I think they might be interesting books. Anyway the first recommended book is Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut and the second is The Diamond Age by Neil
If I ever get around to reading them I will be sure to post some book reviews.

The other note I received was interesting as well. Unfortunately I deleted the email so I cannot comment on it. Which is a real shame because it had a link to something he had written about the future of teaching in relation to the increasing use of technology and was very, very complicated. Sorry about that.

A lot of people are getting worried about the security situation here in Kabul. This is notable, because there haven't been many recent attacks within the city (and those that did happen were pretty, well, incompetent).

There was a whole slew of security warnings in September (the month that boasts the anniversaries of both 9/11 and -- more relevant to Afghanistan -- Massoud's death), so it's not like we haven't seen this before, but something is different now. I don't know if it's due to the situation in Iraq or the bombs in Istanbul or what, but aid workers in Kabul are definitely getting nervous.

And then a news report like this comes out:

interview with the Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat" on 19 November, a
man who identified himself as a commander in the "Taliban Movement's
Army of Muslims" said his group is planning to bring its battle to
Kabul in the same way that resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq
is returning to Baghdad. When asked why the neo-Taliban are attacking
relief workers in Afghanistan, Akbar Agha claimed that foreign
organizations are "proselytizing" Afghan students. Afghan
Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai recently said he
expects the enemies of stability in Afghanistan to increase their
attacks in an attempt to derail the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which
is set to begin on 10 December.

Not good.

Hopefully this will all blow over, like it has in the recent past, but it sure would be nice for the US and NATO to get around to expanding their security forces to the rest of the country.

Friday, November 21, 2003

A morning thought...

While drinking my morning coffee and reading some Internet (I have decided the word should be able to be used that way) I came across a Drezner post that quoted this from the Economist:

The key to the recovery is the persistence of America's extraordinary dynamism. Labour and capital are quickly recycled and recombined with ever-improving materials, energy and information technologies to advance growth. Politicians, the press and America's corporate footsoldiers naturally tend to celebrate only the expansionary, risk-taking part of the business cycle. And even America's battered bosses seem to find the restructuring phase miserable work. But the real genius of American capitalism may not be its celebrated appetite for risk, but the brutal and uncompromising way in which it deals with the inevitable failures that follow. Despite the obvious signs of an economic upswing, much of American business is still concerned with cleaning up yesterday's mess. Yet with the clean-up well under way, some firms are already dusting down growth strategies once again, and at least a few businessmen are daring to show signs of spontaneous optimism.

For some reason his simple endorsement of what is a fairly straightforward statement opened the door for some attacks in his comments section. Some thought attack Bush's regulatory policies was the way to go, while others thought the European social system was the right target. I think that everyone should just get along, and I explain why:

While I don't disagree with the attacks on Bush's attention (or lack thereof) to regulation, I think that this entire issue is largely separate from the political arena. Our economy is very vibrant, and that has little to do with a marginal difference in the tax rates or who is making speeches behind the Presidential seal. It has a lot more to do with the fundamental structure of our economy and our outlook to the role of the market in society.

Now regarding the difference between Europe and the US, could it be that they are just different models, without one being better than the other? I think it is foolish for us to mock the European social model. Europeans support it and don't want to change. Sure there is a comprimise in terms of unemployment levels and the ability of the economy to generate new jobs, but there are certain pluses to the European model. If I was in Europe I wouldn't have to be worrying about getting myself health insurance and I wouldn't have to think about how I was going to pay for school.

I am not advocating that we adopting the European model either. I think that within the broad spectrum of what we label capitalism there is room for if not a thousand flowers to bloom, at least several different ways of structuring the state and society's relationship to the market.

Finally, let me just get back to this issue of regulation. I think that a lack of regulation could seriously harm our financial system. And while I think the SEC could have done a better job the fact that Spitzer has had such an impact shows that there is enough redundency in the system that it is not on the verge of collapsing. And anyone who thinks there is not a place for regulation in a financial system can just put their head back in the sand because you clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Close, but not quite...

Thomas Friedman treats us this morning to an op-ed about Bush's stature in Europe. He divides the anti-Bush legions into the unwinnable and the winnable. The unwinnable will be against the US no matter what, and the winnable can be brought over to our side, "But it will require a policy lobotomy by the Bush team".

The thing is that even a policy lobotomy (which is just not going to happen) is not going to win Europe over because they are so skeptical of everything Bush has done. Friedman runs down the long list of actions that have not endeared him to Europeans. On many of these issues he is not the only bad guy, but the cumulative effect, along with his cavalier attitude in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq has permanently soured Europe on him.

The real problem is that these people in Europe were screaming at us that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do. They had a variety of reasons for saying that, but in the end, they felt that it would not work out well for the world (I don't think they ever really even claimed to have the best interests of Iraqi in mind). They were concerned about precendents, and just how against everything they beleived to invade another nation. And you know what, so far they have been right. I don't think that anyone is claiming that invading Iraq has made the world a safer place, and at the end of the day that is what it is all about.

No matter how much Bush talks about Democracy in the Middle East, Europe knows that Democracy can't come at the barrell of a gun. Are we really in a better position to talk about democracy in the Middle East when our troops are dying on a daily basis in Iraq?

At this point I think it is time to just cut bait with Bush. Don't wait for him to win over Europe because it is not going to happen. Just make clear the distinction between Bush and the United States. And then hope, work and pray for a new President in 2004 who will perform that policy lobotomy, come in with a clean slate, and try to convince Europeans that we are not all as crazy as Bush makes us look.

I hesitate to use litmus tests when it comes to politics, because many issues occupy a resolutely gray area, and it's hard to find someone who agrees with you on everything, but the Energy Bill now before Congress may well be my litmus test.

The bill has provoked opposition on both the right and left, and has been memorably described by John McCain as "The No Lobbyist Left Behind Bill" and an "enormous turkey" (I love that guy). Given that pretty much everyone agrees that it is the antithesis of good governance, it seems that the only reason to support it is if you have particular concern for the industries that benefit (read: you currently reside in their proverbial pocket).

I hope never to live in South Dakota, so he's probably not too concerned, but Senator Daschle: you have just made an enemy for life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm an idiot...

I just tried to post a comment on Brad DeLong's blog and I did that idiotic double post thing. I would apologize there, but didn't want to add just another thing for people to wish wasn't there. So I will just clutter up this space that my comment links to.

A good old free trade debate...

When ever Drezner gets involved on Free Trade interesting things seem to happen in the comments section. Drez laid into an idiotic argument made by Andrew Sullivan (doesn't deserve a link) that the EU is going to choose their steel tariff retaliation targets out of hatred for Bush. Well, Drez quite rightly notes that it is not about Bush, it is just the way the game is played. I made a quite straight-forward comment that Dan is spot-on. Surprisingly someone decided that disagreeing was the right move, (that is who I am quoting). Brad DeLong (economics prof. at Berkeley with his own quite excellent blog) weighed in that "Bush started playing a negative-sum game". I felt like writing something so I responded:

"Why not? It seems entirely sensible to me."

The "why not" is the reason that Dan mentions. Specifically the fact that this is just the way the game has been played even before Europe decided that Bush was someone they didn't like. We retaliate with tariffs on Parma ham, they retaliate with tariffs on citrus products.

Let me add that just because something is sensible, is not a substitute for evidence. A bunch of former oil men invading Iraq for reasons of oil seemed sensible to lots of people. Of course if you looked at all the risks and reasons for invading Iraq it is pretty clear that doing it for oil is just not realistic. So if you want to engage in the same kind of spurious arguments that I am sure you attribute to "naive" Liberals that is fine, just be aware that it won't come off as a persuasive to a critical audience.

Finally, about Bush doing the exact opposite of, "started playing a negative-sum game with the EU." If Prof. DeLong claimed that Bush started the game, then perhaps (emphasis on perhaps...I don't know enough to evaluate the statement) you could say that is baloney. But Bush is playing a negative sum game with Europe. Ergo, he must have started playing the game. Europe is playing the game too, and I am sure both side is convinced the other started the game, but unfortunately neither took the moral high ground and both are playing.

Perhaps if Europe was really saavy they would have let Bush just keep playing the game on his own. They could allow Bush to raise steel tariffs, drive metalworking and other manufacturing overseas, lose American jobs, and lose an election. But they believe that none of the Democratic candidates seem strong enough to take on unions and make a real free trade argument, so Americans and Europeans are left suffering the consequences of this game, hoping that each move will be the last.

Some sport...

I have been losing track of posting about some of the less followed sports, so I thought I would give a quick run-down. Last week QPR beat Plymouth and climbed to the top of the Divsion 2 ladder. Good stuff. Also last weekend in football was the first leg of the Euro 2004 qualifying. Two British teams, Scotland and Wales, were in action and had good results. Unfortunately for them both failed in the second leg and will not be going to Portugal next year. The Dutch put a beatdown to Scotland and Wales fell to Russia. Not really upsets, but Latvia beating Turkey was an upset.

In Cricket yesterday India was in good shape to beat Australia in the final of the one-day series in India. But they failed...Australia won again, and all in the Cricket world was good.

There is also a big Rugby tournament going on. Something called the World Cup. In the semi-finals Australia upset New Zealand no doubt crushing the hopes and dreams of that tiny nation on the edge of the world. England managed to beat France in the other semi-final setting up a classic match-up. All of recent sporting history between those two nations points to an Aussie victory, but something tells me England is the better team and will take the Cup home.

In other Soccer news the MLS season is winding to a close. I have nothing interesting to say about it since I know nothing about the MLS. But the close of the season is leading to lots of rumors of what's next for Clint Mathis. He is apparently trying to get a gig in Europe. It would be great for American soccer if he is able to get a regular gig in the Premiership, but the little I have seen of him tells me that he doesn't quite have the quality to stick. I have been wrong before about these things, and I hope that I am wrong again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The UN has decided to pull out of several provinces in southern Afghanistan, following the shooting of Bettina Goislard in Ghazni two days ago.

The international community in Afghanistan is relatively small, and one of my colleagues knew Bettina, describing her as passionate about her work and particularly well-liked and respected by those who knew her. According to my colleague, shortly before the shooting, Bettina radioed the UNHCR security office to request permission to travel to a remote part of Ghazni. The security officer responded that it was too dangerous to go there; that life was more important than work. An hour later, while driving through a bazaar in Ghazni city, she was shot and killed.

From the article:

Goislard apparently was aware of the danger she faced, but she did not run from it. She left a will, UN officials said Tuesday as they prepared for her funeral. In it, she asked to be buried in Afghanistan.

With one of the weakest efforts I've seen in a while, David Brooks has officially joined my Do Not Read list. I mean, I wanted to give the guy a chance, but this is just some awful pap. He joins the often unreadable Maureen Dowd and Instanitwit, who finally got a little too shrill for my taste.

Here's the latest security warning from ANSO (Afghanistan NGO Security Office):

Yesterday at approximately 17h00 four armed men entered Ghanzi town and
kidnapped national staff from Meca - a demining group. They took them 20-30
kilometers out of town and beat and questioned them. The armed men are
looking for "someone important" to kidnap and hold as leverage to bargain
for the release of the two men who were captured following the shooting of
the UN worker in Ghazni town on Sunday.

All international staff currently in Ghazni would fall into the category of
"important people" the armed men are lloking to kidnap and are considered at
high risk. It is advisable that international staff get out of Ghazni.

UNSECORD is sending a mission to Ghazni today and can assist NGO's if they
need to evacuate staff. If you require such assistance, please contact ANSO
at either this email address or at 070-283-320.

I stand by my statement that Kabul remains relatively safe and peaceful, but the increasing number of attacks on aid workers in the southern part of Afghanistan is troubling, to say the least.

I can't stress enough how crucial it is for ISAF to be expanded to other parts of the country (and not just a few hundred soldiers to Kunduz, although that's good, too).

I spoke with an NGO worker just back from Kandahar last night. He said that the international community in the city is a little spooked after the bombing there, but that the security situation isn't the worst it's ever been.

He also made the interesting assertion that "more than 2/3" of the attacks and other actions aimed at creating instability in the region are not being perpetrated by the Taliban, but rather by local warlords and drug trafficers. Their goal, he says, is to scuttle the elections tentatively planned for next June, since a legitimate local government would compete for power.

I have no idea how accurate that judgment is, but it's something to keep in mind, considering that the United States has to date employed a strategy of buying off and empowering militia leaders who may not be too interested in seeing a strong central government.

Monday, November 17, 2003

My forecast...

There have been news stories about the protests against Bush's state visit to London this week (BBC, New York Times, Yahoo). However I still think that America is going to be shocked by the level of protests that will be seen in London. I have a few thoughs on why.

First, is that most of the protesters will be kind of crazy, most people will agree with them, but the people on the streets will be kooky. I am not sure if this is going to come across to Americans.

Second is that I am hopeful they will focus their vitrol on Bush and not America. I was very displeased with the tone of many protests against the war last winter, mostly because of the anti-American, anti-Israel tone they took. I think that the protesters this time have a better grasp on the divided situation in America.

Third thing is that there are going to tons of stories about these protesters. The protests might not puncture Bush's bubble, but the US media is going to notice. And there are going to be lots of people who speak English that they can interview very easily. This is going to make the story a lot bigger than if it was happening in any other country.

Fourth is not really a thought, just to let you know that the LSE Students Union, and probably every other SU is passing resolutions against Bush (but not America this time).

Fifth is that I wish I was there to be able to participate in a protest that I believe in. I missed the anti-war protests because I basically beleived the lies I was being told by Bush and Co. and thought that America did have a right to protect itself. Boy was I a sucker! Thank you George W. Bush.

Why do they keep up the charade...

Via Josh Marshall and the Talking Points Memo I found this link to a Wesley Clark interview on Fox News. Clark does well for a while, kind of loses his cool for a while, and then gets it back together again. It is kind of understandably how he reacts since the entire tone of the interview is accusatory and negative. It sounds like he went on Fox to clarify some statements made on Meet the Press about Iraq being a side-show, however the interview starts with Fox making the implication that he is running for President at the command of the Clintons. Then they get into his Iraq statement and imply that it is disrespectful to the troops over there to critisize the President. Seriously, I thought that we were far past this thing about not being able to critisize the President.

Anyway, my question is why in the world do any Democrats go on Fox News? We all know they are not fair and balanced, but rather tilted very far to the right. Sure you can go on Fox and scream and shout about that, but I think it would be better to just ignore it. There are two other all-news cable channels. I think that the large majority of potential Democratic primary voters, if not potential general election voters are watching those channels rather than Fox. So, please, all Democrats, just ignore Fox the way the 700 Club is ignored. Not only will you be able to avoid appearing on a program where you are certain to be attacked, but you will also go a long way to marginalizing extreme opinion in the US.

Postscript: If you are interested in the blogoverse reaction to this clip, you will be relieved to learn there is a full-on love-fest for Clark going on in the Calpundit comments section

Today my employer held a security meeting to discuss the recent uptick in violence in the country, especially this bombing in Kabul last week and this bombing in Kandahar last week and this shooting yesterday in Ghazni.

There wasn't too much of interest (curfew blah blah blah, avoid restaurants and meetings blah blah blah), but they did mention that the UN is considering the invoking of "contingency measures," which essentially means sending all non-essential personnel home. Many NGOs follow the lead of the UN, so if this were to happen, it would cripple the reconstruction process.

I have a hard time believing that they would actually do this, given that Kabul is relatively safe and tranquil right now (in my opinion, the bombing of Save the Children showed just how incompetent the terrorists in Kabul are -- I think that if they were capable of pulling off the sort of attacks seen in Iraq, they would have done so already).

But it is a concern, and I hope the US or NATO sees fit to send some more troops our way.

Take a look at this transcript of General Clark on Meet the Press this morning (the same appearance mentioned below). I think it's a good preview of the rest of the campaign, as Russert throws all the mud he can find at Clark. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how well the General came through.

I do think the Democratic nomination is eventually going to come down to Dean and Clark. Dean is in the driver's seat right now, but that could change in a hurry if two of Kerry, Lieberman and Edwards pull out soon, shifting support and attention to Clark. I don't think Gephardt has any realistic shot, except maybe at a brokered convention.

Either way, it should make for an interesting race.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Toning it down...

Matt Ygelsias identifies something smart in a David Brooks column. I have to agree with what he has to say, and add a few thoughts myself.

Although I am one who likes deriding Brooks' columns I think that he was getting at something in that one. One of the reasons that Dean as a Democratic nominee scares me is how angry he comes off. This plays great to hard-core Dems, but I am not buying the argument that the 2004 election will be won by the candidate who does the most to mobilize his base. Although Bush widely engages in partisan politics and attacks I feel that the popular perception of Bush has not caught up with this reality.

Dean has shown that he is generally unwilling to take a step back from his attacks and rhetoric. In a general election he will be torn apart on a daily basis by the Bush spin machine for these mis-steps. It will be ugly and it scares me what kind of "mandate" Bush will claim when he torches a not-ready for prime time candidate.

On Meet the Press today it seemed that Clark made a step towards being the candidate Brooks wants to see. He acknowledged that he would give Bush credit when deserved, it is just that the policies and actions from the last two years of the Bush Administration deserve no credit.

Doing the same...

Like the CalPundit I spent the morning watching TV. I also saw Wesley Clark on Meet the Press and had the same reaction as Kevin Drum. It was not a home run, but it did nothing to shake my belief that Clark is the best person to take Bush out of office.

Picking on mental midgets...

Nice of Pedro to seek out some idiot and tear her words apart. I have to check to see what the Oxblog could have been thinking defending this person. I would have expected them to be running from any guilt by association as fast as possible.

Um... riiiiiight. In a particularly tortured bit of logic, Josh Chafetz of OxBlog defends Roberta Combs, President of the Christian Coalition of America, who recently said this in an interview:

Would you like to see American products like television shows flourish in Baghdad as well?

Oh, no. I hope they don't show ''The Osbournes'' over there.
The Osbournes are definitely not a typical American family. Their language is so offensive. Shows like that wouldn't exist if mothers stayed home with their kids and supervised what they watched.

But you yourself are a working mother. Do you think you could have been happy as a full-time housewife?

Probably not. Probably it would not have been enough for me. I always had a desire to make a difference. That is why I love the legislative process, where you can make a difference. One voice and one vote can make all the difference in the world.

Here's what Chafetz argues:
But isn't it possible that Combs is right? I mean, it is perfectly conceivable that both (a) having a parent stay home with the kids would be better for the kids than not having this, and (b) many parents find it more fulfilling to work than to stay home. Combs is probably being hypocritical, because it seems reasonable to assume that she also at least claims to hold the position (c) parents -- or, more specifically, mothers -- should always put their children's welfare above their own.

But presumably, you could (and most people, in practice if not in preaching, do) hold (a), (b), and (d) that the interests of the child and those of the parents need to be balanced somehow. Two working parents may -- and I emphasize the may, because I don't know the social science literature on this -- be bad for the child, good for the parents, and that may be okay -- it would depend on how bad and how good. Parents should care for their children, but they shouldn't be slaves to them.

The problem with Chafetz's argument is that Combs isn't just talking about what's good for a particular child, she's talking about what's good for society -- and making it clear in her tone what she thinks of parents who let their kids watch The Osbournes. Presumably she wouldn't be too satisfied with a mother choosing to enter the workforce if the result were that the former's children watched MTV all afternoon, thereby helping to cement its sinful place in American society.

What it comes down to is this: Combs resents certain other mothers for doing what she celebrates about herself. That is hypocritical, and if I were a CCA booster, I'd want a different person leading the organization. Since I'm not a CCA booster, I'm pleased to see her undercut her own arguments.

More troubling is this excerpt from the same interview:

Do you think that the differences between Judeo-Christians and Muslims are reconcilable?

I have a real problem with that because of my love for Christians and Jews. Can we ever all get along when there are terrorists out there? It is doubtful.

At a bare minimum, she is blaming all Muslims for Islamic terrorism. A less charitable reading would be that she is equating Muslims and terrorists. I'm glad that she's a personal friend of President Bush's, because this is exactly the sort of philosophical underpinning our foreign policy needs.

Speaking of foreign policy:
What do you think American foreign policy should aim for in Iraq?

In the new country, under the new democracy, why should the official religion be Muslim? I think as Iraq becomes a democracy, there are going to be a lot of churches springing up.

I'm sure that someone as knowledgeable about religion as she knows the difference between Islam and Muslim, so that's probably just an honest mistake. And who cares about rebuilding the country? Let's just make sure that Islam's not the official religion -- export a few churches and they'll be all set!

Why do people like this have so much power and influence in America?

Saturday, November 15, 2003

The truth has been revealed...

In the NYT magazine two weeks ago there was an article about the deteriorating situation in Iraq. I did not read it at the time, but saved it because I wanted to see what they had to say. This was when Bush et. al. were insisting that the rising tide of attacks was a sign of our success in Iraq. The party line was that reporters were not telling the truth of the situation in Iraq, but were only focusing on the few bits of bad news in a sea of good news.

Well, we know now that the reporters were more right than our leaders. The leaders have faced this reality (without admitting it) and are changing their approach to the Iraqi resistance. You can bet that we would all be better off if that change was made sooner rather than later, but it was made and that is a good thing. Anyway, the money line from the NYT Magazine article was:
In Iraq today, there is a steadily increasing disconnect between what the architects of the occupation think they are accomplishing and how Iraqis on the street evaluate postwar progress. And as the security situation fails to improve, these perceptions continue to darken. The Bush administration fiercely denies that this ''alarmist'' view accurately reflects Iraqi reality. It insists that the positive account it has been putting forward is the real truth and that the largely downbeat account in much of the press is both inaccurate and unduly despairing. The corner has been turned, administration officials repeat.

I am so bothered by our leadership thinking they could make Iraq a stable democracy by engaging in a PR offensive in the US. I can't say how disappointed I am in our leader who claimed he would bring integrity to the White House that this passes for policy. I am angry about being misled to invade a country. I am angry that ideology has somehow replaced policy in Iraq. I am angry that the White House will endanger national security for political gain while accusing its rivals of being partisan. I am angry that I have to listen to lies everyday from them without them being called out for their mistakes. I hope that the Democrats in this nation can get their heads out of their asses, get over this Dean facination and get on with the business of nominating someone who will kick these lying, incompent bums out of the White House.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A few items of interest...

The Yankee Blog has readership figures up for the week, and with that has come some viewer mail. I thank people who sent me their thoughts. I feel that they all deserve thoughtful responses, and that is going to have to wait for the weekend. But in the meantime there are a few things that have come across my radar screen which I really wanted to link to.

First is this story that showed up on Yahoo today. The headline says it all...U.S. Expats in UK Hit by Wave of 'Anti-Bushism. I certainly felt this last year while I was in England. I was overseas during 9/11. I felt the love of Australia towards America. And I watched that be squandered by the actions of Bush. It gets me mad just thinking about it. That horrible attack brought about an amazing moment in the world when everyone was with America. We could have done so much with that, but our Cowboy President blew it. That is all the reason I need to know it is time to try someone new.

Next story is just plain scary. I get an email column from the New York Times called Circuits. It is sometimes worthless yet occasionally mildly interesting. Usually he deals with such hard hitting issues like how to fast forward the right amount on TiVo. But today he turns his techy mind towards something more important...electronic voting. What he has to say is just plain scary. What is going to happen in one, four, or ten years when someone hacks this system on election day and crashes the system? It is going to happen if we don't find a system that leaves a paper record so let's either get a system designed by non-polictical entities or (since there is no such thing as a non-political entity) lets figure out what we are going to do when things do go south.

The third story of the day is a city related story. I am on an email list called Planetzien that send out a list of interesting place related stories about three times a week. The stories are almost always pretty interesting. Today the story that really caught my eye was a Washington Post two parter dealing with the winners and losers in the battle for the brains in the US economy. The gist of it that a few cities are taking all the talented people, while many cities are losing. And I have to say that I am not surprised in the least. For decades many places have been creating an environment that is just not that appealing to many people. They have neglected their downtowns, put all new residencies in suburbs, zoned for low densities, and generally created places that don't work. A few places were able to avoid this, more by luck than by design. There is a huge variety of what people want from where they live. Some people love living in a single family house, on a quarter acre, and driving to the "corner" store. But what the Clevelands of the world are realizing is that the people who make a place exciting, and tip the environment from dull to interesting don't want to live that way and unless you can offer them something different then they are just going to choose to live somewhere else.

Child labor...

Pedro raises the topic of child labor. While appalling to see (I don't envy him looking out the window at the child with the shovel), it is not our place to tell other countries what to do. America developed with kids in the factories while parents stayed on the farm. For us to tell other nations at a similar stage of development to not do the same is just closing the door to prosperity.

Of course if we don't want to buy goods produced with child labor that is another matter. Oh my head hurts just thinking about this... Why are so many things in the world so complicated?

Is it a mess yet...

After months of insisting that growing attacks on American troops was a sign of success in Iraq it appears that the consensus in the Bush administration is starting to realize that they might have a problem on their hands. Two days ago I went to sleep having just read that Bremer was summoned to Washington for emergency meetings. I woke up yesterday wondering how quickly all the bloggers out there who had been toeing the adminstration line would start to actually rethink their positions and do an about-face.

It did not take long. Yesterday there were two posts by Oxbloggers saying that things in Iraq might be getting a bit out of control and that a change in strategy might be in order (appallingly I will have no links on this page due to technical difficulties). If I had time I would do a scan of other sites, but I am not really inclined at this early hour to take that task on, but I am pretty confident that Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds and others are all trying to stay ahead of the curve on the administrations announced strategy changes.

My first response to any change is that it is good that the Bush is not being stubborn (or is no longer being stubborn) about how to rebuild Iraq. Just because one way seemed right at the start, based on very limited planning, does not make it right today. I also have no expectation that anyone will ever admit that any mistakes were made at any point in time. It is sad, but I know they are going to say something idiotic like it is just time for a new phase in reconstruction (you know the phase of renewed aerial bombing that was fully planned to occur six months after we declared the end of major combat operations).

My next response is to think just how sad it is that we passed up an effort in the UN to internationalize the peacekeeping and reconstruction because the timetables for turning Iraq over to Iraqis were too quick. Now, with little progress made in the last three months we are going to do the exact thing that was proposed, yet without international support. And have you noticed that no one even talks about international support in Iraq. After the daily attacks on Americans, the bombings of Italians, the Red Cross, and the UN is there any chance that we would be able to convince anyone to help us out?

I wonder what the next strategy shift will be? After we are attacked by terrorists from Syria is Iraq not going to be that important anyway and is invading Syria going to be more important? When the election comes around is our committment to stable democracy in Iraq going to fall by the wayside? When the budget cuts in Washington start to cause some serious bleeding in our nations school districts, health system, and infrastructure are we going to realize that Iraq is less important than tax cuts for the rich? I applaud the adminstration's willingness to change course, and I think this change is needed, but I wonder just what change will come next and what foolish reasons will require that change.

Finally, I just find it sad that some people end up following the adminstration's line on this. If you are going to write a blog, write what you think is right. I can understand if your thoughts change, but to just follow a party line is pretty lame. If I wanted to read a party line I would read press conferences and news stories. I want to read what people think and why. That is why I continue to say that Drezner and Marshall are the two best out there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

In the courtyard outside my office, a couple of workers are shoveling gravel and loading large rocks into a big truck. The elder of the two is clearly the father of the younger worker, who looks to be about 8 or 9 years old.

Child labor -- particularly involving hard manual work -- is an awful thing, but what alternative is there for poor families? I rather doubt the father would have gotten the job if he'd been by himself.

There was a Drezner post recently where he charged that as bad as President Bush's record is on free trade, all the Democratic candidates would be worse.

As I mentioned in the comments, I don't think that's a fair characterization. Lieberman is clearly a free trader, and Dean, Kerry and Clark all profess to support NAFTA, although they each want to impose labor and environmental conditions on free trade agreements (but since none have detailed their plans, it's impossible to say how they'll compare to Bush).

Which brings me to imposing labor standards on trading partners: it sounds great, but how good an idea is it really? Forced child labor is abhorrent, but what about that which is borne out of necessity? Do we want the families to starve?

That's a tough question, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the United States imposing the answer on other countries -- especially if the mechanism results in higher trade barriers because the poor countries can't afford to abide by rich-world standards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

This is apropos to nothing, really, but one of the things that surprised me about Kabul -- I'm not sure if this applies to the entire country, although it probably does to a large extent -- is that people just aren't that fired up about Israel/Palestine. There are no public demonstrations, no signs or graffiti -- you don't even hear it come up in casual conversation.

I think a big reason for this is that, in general, Afghans don't have a high regard for Arabs. Bin Laden's Arab foot soldiers were widely despised; during the rout of the Taliban, there were some reprisals against the fleeing Pashtun talibs, but most of the vengeance was directed at the Arabs. So while they share a common religion with the Palestinians, I think Afghans are removed enough that they feel they don't really have a dog in that fight, so to speak.

Afghanistan may be exceptional -- perhaps it is simply an apolitical country -- but I think this strongly suggests that the Muslim world as a whole is much less unified than are the Arabs. And this is an important point -- the more diversity of thought that exists under Islam, the less likely it is that Western and Islamic civilizations are irretrievably headed for General Boykin's religious war.

And such a clash of civilizations, after all, is what the Islamic fundamentalists want. So why are we playing into their hands by pursuing policies that alienate even moderate Muslims?

I believe that the best strategy to defeat Al Qaeda in the long-term is to dry up their support in Muslim countries -- and the way to do that is to address the needs of Muslims throughout the world and work in collaboration with the international community to improve their lives.

In other words, we need to promote democracy, not impose it.

Yes, but...

I almost agree with all of what Pedro had to say below, and also think that if you are going to spend one more minute reading what I have to say in place of his post you should think again.

But, I do want to raise one issue. And that is Arafat. This man is a barrier to all that might be accomplished in the Middle East. There are more choices than working with Arafat vs. the status quo. The US should be more vocal in critisizing some Israeli policies (which, of course, requires that we change some of ours so that we are not just being hypocrits). Israel should stop building settlements and they should stop defending the settlements that have been built. As soon as there is a real halt to the Palestinian suicide bombings they should give freedom of movement back to Palestinians.

However, trying to work with Arafat is a dead-end. This man has no vision, no image of a peaceful world. He got the best offer ever, the best offer that will ever be given and he responded by starting a terrorist war that continues today. There was an article in the New Yorker a couple of years ago about the how close peace was and what Arafat did to reject it (over the objections of Saudi Arabia).

Much as Osama is followed only because he opposes the greater "evil" of the US, so Arafat is followed only because he opposes Israel. Both Arafat and Osama are not working towards a vision of the future that most people they purport to represent hold.

I really, really hope that this article is an accurate depiction of general opinion in Saudi Arabia:

The bombing of a housing compound whose residents were almost entirely Arab and Muslim late on Saturday has appalled Saudis far more than other terrorist attacks, evaporating expressions of support for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network that were vaguely whispered or occasionally even shouted over the last two years.

"They lost their support on the street," said Ehab al-Khiary, 27, a computer security specialist, standing on a broad avenue packed with cars during the typical 10 P.M. to midnight rush hour of Ramadan. "They are killing people with no cause."

If this is true, it is a damning indictment of the way the Bush Administration is pursuing its war on terror.

Here is what it comes down to: Al Qaeda and like-minded groups are truly religious fanatics whose agenda goes far beyond poking their finger in the United States' eye. (For an accessible survey of the strain of Islamic thought from which Al Qaeda emerged, I recommend the second chapter of The Age of Sacred Terror, which is a very good book in spite of the authors' overzealous defense of the policies of the Clinton Administration.)

Al Qaeda is well outside the mainstream of public opinion in the Islamic world -- and if you look at how they want to reshape their native lands, it becomes clear that most Muslims are actually closer in ideology to the United States than they are to Osama, and so they should be natural allies in this conflict.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has alienated most Muslims with its nearly unconditional support of Israel, its unilateral decision to invade Iraq and its long-standing support for oppressive and corrupt Arab regimes. In doing so, it has converted natural allies into aggressive enemies who don't hesitate to financially and emotionally support Al Qaeda.

This article is further evidence that there is no need for a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. Such a conflict might happen, if we push the Arab street into the welcoming arms of the Islamic fundamentalists, but it is by no means inevitable -- or even likely. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that Bush has painted himself into a corner and won't ever be able to win over Muslim public opinion -- this is perhaps the biggest reason that we should all hope that he does not win re-election.

It will be hard for anyone to fully rehabilitate America's image in the Middle East, but a good start would be to:
  • Cut out the overheated neo-con rhetoric -- even if the United States means to impose democracy and capitalism on the Middle East, it isn't wise to say this publicly. What ever happened to the principle of self-determination?
  • Make the concessions necessary to bring the international community into Iraq, if for no other reason than that it's a public relations necessity.
  • Commit the resources necessary to rebuild both Iraq and Afghanistan (I am appalled by the Democrats who voted against the $87 billion spending measure -- it broadcasts to the world exactly the wrong message about American intentions).
  • Let the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have their day in court. I'm sure that many of them are pretty despicable characters and that some of these will probably go free, but that's a small price to pay for living in a real democracy which emphasizes human rights.
  • Put actual pressure on Israel to end settlement construction and take steps to accomodate the Palestinians (since Arafat doesn't seem to be going anywhere -- as long as Israel doesn't assassinate him -- we really don't have any choice but to engage him and try to convince him that the peace process is the only means by which the state of Palestine will be established. It might work, it might not -- but almost anything is better than the status quo).
  • Engage Iran and Syria. The religious hardliners in Iran are unpopular with much of the country, and it's quite likely that the Axis of Evil line of diplomacy only strengthens their grip on power. While Syria supports Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, they have done little to threaten America's national security. Bashar Assad's repeated efforts to establish a back-channel with the Bush Administration imply that he's willing to find common ground with the United States -- we should at least listen to what he has to say.
  • Put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop exporting its Wahabi fundamentalism to other countries. Encourage both the Saudis and Egypt to adopt democratic reforms, at the threat of reduced aid.

Nothing's certain, of course, but it's clear that the current tack isn't working.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Not a real post...

I don't have the energy for a real post right now. But if you really want to read something interesting I would recommend this new blog. I found it from the comments section on Drezner's blog, which is the home for some of the best discussion on the web. Read this post on why General Clark. I wrote a similar statement (different reasoning) a while ago. You can compare them if you really want.

Some of you may have heard of Vida Samadzai, who recently became the first Afghan to compete in a beauty pageant in 30 years. (I should note that while she was born in Afghanistan, she moved to the United States 7 years ago.)

I haven't heard much talk around Kabul about this, so I'm uncertain whether many Afghans know of the story, but it is clear from the international press that the government is aware of it, and that's where things get interesting.

From the CNN article:

A senior Afghan justice official said Samadzai had betrayed Afghanistan's Muslim culture and could have even broken the law.

"I hope that this lady regrets her actions," Manawi told The Associated Press, adding that Samadzai may be investigated but declining to say what charges or penalties she could face.

I'm pretty sure that the Manawi mentioned here is Fazel Manawi, the Deputy Chief Justice of Afghanistan's Supreme Court. The Court is dominated by religious conservatives and has issued rulings in the last year banning cable television and sentencing two reporters to death for blaspheming Islam. In both cases, President Karzai quietly and indirectly overturned the rulings.

No one really takes the Supreme Court seriously here (I hope I'm not given a death sentence for writing that), and there's been a bit of speculation in the papers that the new Constitution will give many of its current powers to a different court. Either way, under the draft Constitution, the President will have the power to appoint the Supreme Court justices (it's not clear how the current justices got there, but they certainly weren't appointed by Karzai).

So, in short, all the alarmist articles in the Western press are kind of missing the point. Yes, the Supreme Court is threatening Samadzai with prosecution, but it really doesn't mean much.

What is more interesting is that some sane members of the government -- particularly the Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Surabi -- have condemned Samadzai. Consider:

"Appearing naked before a camera or television is not women's freedom but in my opinion is to entertain men," minister Habiba Surabi.

"We condemn Vida Samadzai, she is not representing Afghanistan's women, and this is not women's freedom."

Surabi said according to Afghan culture women should not demonstrate their worth using their "beauty or bodies" but by their skills and knowledge.

"In the name of women's freedom, what this Afghan girl has done is not freedom but is lascivious," the minister said.

Maybe I'm projecting, but I'd be willing to bet that Surabi doesn't particularly care one way or the other about the beauty pageant, but that she's concerned that religious conservatives will seize upon the story as an example of Western influences corrupting Afghan society -- and that women's rights in Afghanistan will ultimately suffer as a result.

I think this is probably true, and that it'd probably be better for Afghan women if Samadzai would take her foot off the pedal of her self-promotion machine.

The subjugation of women has been the most eye-opening aspect of Afghanistan for me (moreso even than the extreme poverty), and I'm very much in support of any steps that seek to empower Afghan women. I'm just not sold on the idea that an emigre cavorting around in a bathing suit in the Philippines represents a step forward.

As someone who finds internet search engines fascinating, I'm always curious to see what searches bring people to this blog (with the exception of the person looking for "Tom Matthews Ultimate Frisbee," I'm sorry to report that few googlers seem to have landed at an appropriate place).

At any rate, it turns out that Yankeeblog is the third site returned by MSN when you search for I want Pakistani sexy clips. Either there's some part of this blog that I don't know about, or someone recently came in for a big disappointment.

What I'd love to see is a site where you could enter a URL and have it return search queries that produce the former. While it would be practically impossible to do a comprehensive reverse search engine, Google could pretty easily put together one based on the searches it conducts every day -- anyone know of anything like this?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

More economic change...

See the post below before reading this one. OK? Got it. Now one of the responses to my comment was If you had a thousand dollars more to spend, how would you spend it? Five thousand? The answers to those questions may be a good start to answering your initial question [where will the jobs come from?].

I think this is a good way to approach the question, so I gave it some thought, and surprising end up concluding that our current adminstration is pursuing foolish policies. Check out how that works:

I think this a great question to ask about where money might flow in the economy. And I don't think that it says good things about most of the economy.

First thing on my list is TiVo, just because it is really cool. Lets take this to be generically "cool high-tech device manufactured in China". This will provide some great jobs for a few Americans and a decreasing number of OK jobs in China.

Next thing is some nice furniture. Not Pottery Barn stuff, but stuff made by some local people that I know. Creative economy stuff, artisans, more people doing crafts. This is where I thought we might be heading.

And the rest goes to a nicer place to live. This is where I get a bit concerned. Extra money in this case is going to make those who own property already wealthier, and those without property poorer (apparently, not actually). Basically I think this is one part of a major trend that there are going to be greater and greater returns to capital.

For the US as a whole this is great. Americans own huge amounts of capital in the US and abroad. We have a great system for allocating capital efficiently. However, the distribution of capital is not even. As capital becomes more significant to our national economy we need to be finding ways to distribut the benefits from that capital more equitably. The trick here is that we need to acheive that without messing up the system that we have for efficient allocation of capital.

This is why some of the tax cuts have been passed bother me. I think that we are moving in the opposite direction. I think we are adopting policy that further favor those who own capital at a time when some of the fundamental changes in the economy are also favoring capital. This won't sink our economy today, or even in the future, but it might harm our society. And if society is harmed the economy will suffer as well.

Economic change...

One of the topics not discussed enough in this world is the nature of economic change and the impact that has on correct policy. Dan Drezner's blog deals with issues like this often enough and the relationship with international trade policy. Earlier this week he had a good post on the topic in reference to an article written by Robert Reich. The essential statement of the article was that manufacturing jobs are being lost around the world due to higher productivity.

The thinking here is that manufacturing is heading the way of farming in that a small portion of the population is going to be able to meet the expanding and more sophisticated needs of more and more people. Basically, the goods will get cheaper and better while the jobs will go away. This led to a quite interesting string of comments, which I participated in. My comment led to a few other comments that led me to think I might be on to something. My comment was:

I am going to walk some of the trends that we are seeing (or are being seeing by some) out to an extreme and think about what the implications are for government policy.

In agriculture we have seen employment decline dramatically while production has risen. This was made possible through the use of chemicals, tractors, and automation of many processes. Some are saying that we are seeing the same thing in manufacturing. Processes that were done by people are being automated to a greater degree. We are heading towards a world where we will see more manufacturing production employing less people.

Eventually we will see the same thing in the service sector. Jobs that are done by people today from flipping burgers to keeping track of accounts are going to be increasingly automated in the future. The reason for this is that it is just cheaper to do it that way.

So where will the jobs be left? Well one direction we are seeing many local economic planners look is towards the cultural industries. As production gets higher there are greater resources freed up for things that might have been considered "extra" in earlier days.

Previous economic transitions have been able to produce jobs to replace the lost jobs. The character of the jobs changed, but it kept money flowing through the economy and allowed consumption to increase (thus the drive for increasing production).

Anyway, I am wondering where the jobs are going to come from in the future. The so-called Cultural industries might be a start, and not all service and management related jobs will go away. We might even see personal service jobs increase as more labor is freed up from other activities. But I wonder if we are moving towards some version of the Science fiction future where people are freed from work.

But what does that economy look like. How are we going to distribute wealth across the economy to make sure that the engine of consumption keeps running. The control of capital will still be a huge advantage for some, but I doubt that control will get distributed any more widely than it is today. What economic policies would make sense for this future. Will jobs continue to be produced, or will there need to be some kind of control exerted over the economy to make sure that jobs are available?

I don't have the answers to these questions, and I don't even know if answers are needed, I don't know if this is where we are headed, but I do think that data like that presented by studies like this does lead to one asking such questions.

I didn't think a lot about the answers to these questions I raised, but I am going to try to in future posts on this blog. I have been over some of this territory before, argueing that the Bush tax cut plans work against several of the long-term goals of our nation, specifically our need to stay innovative and maintain some semblance of cohesion in our society. (You can find a sample of these posts here, here, and here)

A coherent strategy...

Something that has been bugging me lately is the shortage of political ideas to get inspired about. This came to me when I just saw in the corner of my eye a proposal by General Clark to rethink the Atlantic Alliance in order to reinforce it for a new set of challenges in the world. You can read his full set of foreign policy proposals here. There is nothing exceptional here, but the fact that it did catch my eye is telling.

I have not been paying attention to the Democratic primary race with laser-like focus, but I certainly pay attention to the highlights. Most of the items that I end up reading about are attacks on Bush and attacks on other candidates. Many of these attacks are not even terribly substantive, things like "Mission Accomplished" banners, and insipid comments about confederate flags.

I am not sure if the problem here is what the media is deciding to turn into news or what the candidates themselves are doing. But my problem is that it comes off that all of the candidates lack a real vision for the future of America that includes interesting new ideas that we can really get excited about. In fact over the last 20 years I would have to say that the Republican party, and especially the conservatives in the Republican party, have been much more innovative with respect to policy. Now many of these innovations have not been good, but as a group their party seems much more amenable to considering new ideas.

This is sad because the general mission of the Democratic party should be more aligned with interesting new ideas. I think that one problem here is that the Democratic party is still a group of special interests held together by some high-level principals. Even though the Republicans are a party of special interests, they seem to have special interests with specific agendas that don't conflict with each other too much. Meanwhile the Democratic special interests each seem to want to have a say on every topic. For instance the Sierra Club can see anything as either helping or hurting the environment while Exxon really doesn't care if abortion is legal or not, they just care about energy and environmental issues.

I think that what I am seeing will be partially addressed when the field is narrowed to one. Then the Democratic party will have a leader who can set an agenda for the party. But that job will be difficult if all the groups in the Democratic party continue to want to have their say on every issue. If not the only chance the Democrats will have is if the Republican's innovations continue to be just plain stupid, but I have to say that waiting for your opponent to fail is hardly an inspiring strategy.

New contact email...

For those of you keeping track at home I have put a new blog contact address. The londonyankee2002@yahoo.co.uk was getting busy with spam, getting out of date, and was just plain long. So the simpler yankeeblog.at.yahoo.dot.com is the new address (cleverly written to avoid the spam problem).

This might be just the beginning of a series of changes to get this blog to be a bit more professional looking. We will see how the traffic goes.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

This just in from the American Embassy, here in Kabul:

Warden Message
November 07, 2003

The United States Embassy in Kabul has received credible information that Taliban forces are actively searching for American journalists to take hostage for use as leverage for the release of Taliban currently under United States control. American journalists in Afghanistan are urged to take immediate steps to increase their security posture in light of these threats.

This is chilling (largely because there's no way that the US will release any of the Taliban prisoners, meaning that abducted journalists will almost certainly be tortured and killed.)

Large parts of Afghanistan are being closed off to aid workers (and now to any journalists who value their lives) -- the US needs to find a way to expand security now, before they lose what remaining support they have in the South. Too bad the army's bogged down in Iraq...

It took a couple of days, but Andy Sullivan finally posts a response to Josh Marshall's study of the language used by the Bush Administration to sell the war in Iraq.

It's not pretty.

He dodges the charge that Bush & Co. presented Saddam's WMD danger as imminent by pointing out that they rarely used the actual word "imminent" (that's like saying it's impossible to say that a film is excellent without actually using the word "excellent" -- which I think everyone can agree is an absurd notion). And then he argues that it doesn't matter anyway, because 9/11 changed the world and rendered obsolete the concept of imminent threats -- that we can no longer afford to wait until a threat is imminent before taking action.

While there's a sexy logic to that argument, it really just amounts to a justification for any action the US might want to take. Syria supports Hezbollah? Let's take them out before they attack us. Iran and North Korea are pursuing nuclear weapons? Let's go in and change their regimes. France and Germany aren't cracking down on terror cells that might one day threaten the US? Let's install some leaders who will. Mexico won't work to secure the border, endangering national security? Send in the Special Forces.

The point is, under this argument, the magnitude of a threat is no longer given much consideration -- since intelligence is not perfect, we always have to assume the worst out of a sense of self-preservation. This paves the way for frequent interventions in the affairs of other countries, which will ultimately leave us friendless and isolated.

I don't think the United States' power is sustainable without the support of its allies -- but more to the point, as an American citizen, I don't want to live in a world where my country is hated and feared by all.

Terrorism of the sort practiced by Al Qaeda is a serious threat to the United States and much of the world. It will sometimes require military interventions -- such as the toppling of the Taliban -- but it will more often call for multi-national diplomacy and the promotion of economic development and democratic values. And as we've seen over the last couple of years, it's hard to work with other countries when you brand them as "evil."

Some greatest hits...

I sent out an email that included a blog plug. Instead of leaving my new readers with weeks of idiotic posts to wade through (the last while has been busy for me) I thought I would direct you all towards some of my better posts from the last six months.

My most popular post by far was a two-parter that tracked the first President Bush's decline in the polls and said that similar things could happen to our current beloved President. You can find that post here and here.

I think my best post was the story about my trip to Ukraine in July.

I have written a lot about sports, most of it just rundowns of the latest Cricket and English Football news, but there are a few other things that I kind of like. One is my thoughts about how much cooler American sports would be if they would send the worst teams to the minor leagues. Another was about the self-organization of Ultimate Frisbee and the drivers of that (Honestly I am not sure how good this one is...I don't think I reread or anyone read it).

For a while I was putting together book reviews. The best book that I read in that period was Everything is Illuminated. I read two books on Cricket, Playing Hard Ball and Beyond a Boundary. I think those reviews are worth reading in place of the book (at least for Americans).

Last topic I tend to write on is urbanism. It is hard for me to pick out real winners in this crowd. For lack of a better choice I am going to highlight this post about my coursework at the LSE that I wrote on the morning of my final exam. It is also worth checking out the posts about my trip to France that immediately followed finishing my exams.

Friday, November 07, 2003

In an effort to tackle the most pressing issue currently facing the Senate, Republicans are scheduling a marathon 30-hour debate on judicial candidates as a ploy to get Democrats to drop their filibusters.

If you think this is a winning issue for the Republicans, consider this graf buried deep in the article about the recent filibuster of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada:

Republican pollsters, trying to determine whether the Estrada standoff was hurting Democrats with Hispanic voters, found that many respondents thought the questions concerned the "CHiPs" actor Erik Estrada.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Here's an interesting factoid about Afghanistan: it ranks 145th out of 147 countries in percentage of land protected by the government, just edging out Barbados and Yemen (neither of which protect any land).

To put it in perspective, if the continental US protected the same proportion of land as Afghanistan, all the national and state parks and monuments, etc, would take up approximately half of Rhode Island.


If you could buy endangered species stock, I would be selling the snow leopard waaaay short.

Bad blogger...

The inevitable occured this week. I started a job again and found that blogging was a whole lot harder when someone is paying you to do other stuff. Now if only I had no social life I could get this blogging thing going, but wouldn't you know it, there are people I want to see and hang out with in Boston. Oh well, enough with the personal stuff...here is the real stuff (in a very abbreviated version).

First thing that struck me this week is an article in the NYT about the views of a Bush pollster (sorry the story is off the web site). Basically the tone of the article was the pollster saying that Bush's current situation in the polls is very typical of this point in a term. In addition the pollster said that he expected that Bush would fall further in the late winter and the early spring while positive news coverage would be focusing on the Democratic nominee. However, there is nothing to worry about because this is very normal.

Now I understand the "sun is always shining" tone of the administration on Iraq, but on something that really matters to the President (like getting re-elected) I would thing that you would at least want one incredibly paranoid, "the sky is falling" person. The statements of the pollster could just be a fake-out, or a lowering of expectations (seriously, has there ever been someone who has gotten more out of low expectations than GWB). If they are real I hope that all of the political advice the President gets is this stupid. If he falls in the polls, no matter what the reason, that is a problem, and I hope that he ignores all warnings and just assumes that victory is his entitlement.

While on the topic of how far GWB can put his head in the sand, there was another NYT article that caught my attention today. It was about how the President is dealing (politically) with rising number of casualties in Iraq. I am no expert on the standard procedure in these circumstance, but based on watching TV I just assumed the President called the family of those killed in action. I was wrong. Apparently a letter is all that families get from Bush. Taking a cue from Josh Marshall I am curious if any reporter wants to go out and find out if there is a form letter the White House is sending out. This entire business raises a lot of questions in my mind about just how Bush makes these decisions, I trust that if his humanity is involved he does listen to it, but I wonder if too many decisions in this White House are being made by systems that are not fully controlled and not capturing the importance of these decisions on people's lives.

Which all leads into another story that is just up, and which I really wonder if it is the straw that is going to break the Camel's back. Apparently just before the "coalition" invaded Iraq Sadaam finally took the threat seriously and thought it would be a good idea to come clean on those missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now it seems that these overtures to come clean were aggresively spurned by at least representatives of the Bush adminstration (what was it that I was saying about decisions being made by systems?). I am not entirely convinced that any overture by Sadaam should have been trusted, but it does seem quite stupid in retrospect to not have considered Sadaam's overtures and to then go ahead and take over a country that was a huge mess and is now a huge mess that we have to clean up.

Seriously, what do these people have to do to get impeached? And I stand by my earlier statements that there is a growing chance that Bush will go down in history as the worst President ever.

The Shamal came sweeping in from the north yesterday, kicking up dust storms and turning the skies dark in the early afternoon. It was one of those days where you taste the air and decide to go back inside.

Well, today we got the big payoff: Kabul awoke this morning to perfectly clear skies affording a beautiful view of the mountains to the north of the city, which were a brilliant white from freshly fallen snow. It's quite a sight under any circumstances, but after months and months of life in a polluted city where everything is the color of mud, the mountains seemed a revelation.

Of course, a polluted haze has since settled over the city, and it's now hard to make out the mountains. Stupid pollution.