Monday, January 31, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

A New Capitalism?

So I was staffing an event at an open building one Saturday, and it happened to be the same Saturday as a World Bank protest (and in the same neighborhood as the World Bank).  This guy wanders in to the registration table with a large binder in his hands.  He wanted to tell us about this new kind of capitalism he had created.  The rich would make the poor rich and the poor would make the rich less rich.  He had a visual of sorts with two triangles overlapping to create a 6-point star.  Leading economists and business leaders had sent him letters telling him how brilliant it was, proving once and for all his ex-wife was wrong to think he was crazy.  I didn’t pay much attention to his ideas as they seemed on the surface a bit contradictory and from a source whose uninvited evangelism only increased my skepticism.  He eventually left and I didn’t think much of it until today.

I was forwarded a google reader item discussing Alex Bogusky, a brand management/advertising guru who had quit his namesake firm to become a consumer advocate.  No one was sure what that meant until last week when he launched COMMON, a brand that is set to spark a “new capitalism.”  I was again skeptical, but I watched the launch video.  Yes, I watched all 64 minutes worth.  

The idea behind COMMON, to my understanding, is to create a social network of entrepreneurs, thinkers, designers, investors and others to rally behind ideas (eventually leading to prototypes, eventually leading to products, ideally) that generate a social good and a business opportunity.  The COMMON part is to give all these ideas (products) a common banner to launch under.  It’s not the same logo, but a brand that has its own equity lending legitimacy to diffuse enterprises.  It’s an interesting idea, but I couldn’t help but feeling I’d heard it before.  I couldn’t help feeling like the only value-add was the brand name and a snazzy new website.

Mr. Borgusky says very early in the presentation “We aren’t communists,” and while I think that’s fair, there is some trust in the commune or collective to help vet and develop these ideas.  I just wonder how well it will work, who will decide what’s ready for investment, and, if money is made, who gets the profits.  I’ve been reading The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov and my readings there, coupled with one too many meetings on the utility of social media has me very skeptical.  I think the concept is admirable and the idea more than half-baked, but I don’t know if you can create a business from a community like this.  I don’t know if there truly is this pent-up energy that needs only social networking to unleash it.  I encourage you to take a look at the video and draw your own conclusions (you can skip the first 20 minutes of set-up, I think), but consider me skeptical.

What Happened to Tunisia?

Excitement in the media over the turmoil in Egypt has preempted any and all coverage of Tunisia, which, just two weeks ago, captured the attention of the world. Though former President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali has been ousted and fled the country, matters in the small North African country are far from resolved. In fact, out of the world’s eye, the still inchoate revolution in Tunisia may be just beginning.

A curfew remains in place. Many schools and universities remain closed. Looting persists, as do clashes between protesters and police. And, Sunday, Rachid Ghannouchi, the exiled leader of the yet banned Tunisian Islamist party, Ennahda, returned to Tunisia, where thousands of supporters greeted him at the airport in Tunis.

Ghannouchi, in apparent recognition of the similarities between his return and the 1979 return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran, immediately sought to dispel such comparisons in his first interview following his return. However, in contrast to Khomeini’s return to Iran, Ghannouchi and his Ennahda party have reportedly little popular support within Tunisia. Moreover, Ghannouchi has sounded moderate tones in the two weeks since Ben Ali’s ouster. He has called for respect for democracy, women’s rights, and the development of Tunisia.

Yet, it is appropriate for Western observers to approach Ghannouchi’s return with caution. Revolutions are chaotic and unpredictable. Even the Iranian revolution existed in a state of flux from 1978 through 1982. After the Shah’s ouster and Khomeini’s return the first several governments—those established under Bakhtiar and Bazargan—were secular and moderate. Before Khomeini could consolidate power in a quasi-theocracy, he was forced to develop administrative and security functionality (the IRGC) in parallel to those which belonged to the secular state.

The longer uncertainty and insecurity persist, the greater the opportunity for individuals like Ghannouchi to consolidate power. It would be better for the people of Tunisia and for Western interest to have quick elections that would likely advantage the few currently functioning organizations in Tunisia like trade unions. These are more likely to return a moderate, Western-oriented government.

The Short List

  • In Egypt, the police have joined the army in the streets, as protesters call for a "march of millions" on Tuesday.  It appears the Egyptian government is lashing out at Al Jazeera, who's coverage of the protests has transfixed the region, by detaining six AJ journalists.  The journalists have since been released.

  • The Washington Post reports that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal exceeds 100.

  • Indonesia has jailed pop star Ariel over a sex tape scandal.

  • India has imprisoned a rights-activist on specious charges.

  • Tunisia has fallen off the radar screen.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Haiti Photobook - Hope for Haiti

Good friend of DCExile, Skyler Badenoch, recently published a photo book titled Haiti: Ti Moun Se Riches (Haiti: Our Children are Treasures) of his time in Haiti before, during, and after the earthquake that ravaged an already poor country.  You can buy the book here and all of the profits will go to Hope for Haiti.  Skyler is an amazing photographer and all his photos speak to a common humanity that unite us.

I had the opportunity to talk to Skyler about his experience in the country after the earthquake and the events he recounted are some of the most amazing I think I will ever hear in my life, for the tragedy of the quake, the selflessness and poise of those on the ground immediately afterward, and the enduring resilience of the Haitian people that continues to today.  I really encourage you to buy the book, not only because it supports a good cause, but because the photos will connect you to people thousands of miles away in a way that no written word can.

The Short List

  • Protests continue again in Egypt following Friday prayers, though internet and cellphone connections have been disrupted.  NYT examines Al Jazeera and its place in the recent protests.  Also, the long regarded Muslim youth are growing up.

  • China will allow the implementation of property taxes in select cities to curb speculation.

  • The Senate Tea Party Caucus needs a membership drive.

  • The Washington Post dives deeper into the firing of Juan Williams from NPR.

  • The Economist considers expanding cellphone service in poor countries and what it can mean to the citizens of these countries.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Liberals and Libertarians

For those that monitor the blogosphere, and specifically's Democracy in America blog, you've no doubt followed the back and forth between Matt Steinglass and Will Wilkinson on any host of issues.  Mr. Steinglass representing broadly the liberal view of things and Mr. Wilkinson the libertarian view of things.  Without a doubt, it's some of the most intelligent debate between these two paradigms ("ideologies" seemed too rigid and not befitting the rationality they bring to the debate).  I, perhaps narcissistic-ly, like to think the exchanges (typically in the comments section) between Ben, Colin (our foil at To Get Rich Is Glorious), and I are like a minor league version of the Steinglass/Wilkinson debates.

Course they still do it best, and when Mr. Wilkinson lays out some tenets of libertarianism including the belief that "Taxation is coercive but imprisoning the guy who nicked your lawn gnome isn't," you can expect that Mr. Steinglass would respond and so he did.  There's a lot of good stuff in there, but specifically on the issue of "taxation being coercive" he notes that: "liberals think of taxation as paying one's fair share for the collective goods that make society feasible. Every society needs collective goods to function, including transportation and infrastructure, education, the justice system itself, and so on... Payment for those goods cannot be left voluntary, as ultimately everyone would welch."

This completely captures why I think taxation is legitimate.  Of course, one could say, and Colin as suggested, that you must have  pessimistic view of people if you believe they won't voluntarily contribute what is needed for the general welfare.  I think that makes me a realist and a liberal.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

The Short List

  • Egypt's stock market takes a hit as protests are called for Friday.  Meanwhile, anti-government protests have also broken out in Yemen.

  • Proposed budget cuts for the Department of Defense have Republicans divided.
  • DHS is phasing out the color-coded threat level scale later this year.

  • A group of rabbis have bought an ad in The Wall Street Journal, asking Rupert Murdoch to censure Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck over the profligacy of Nazi imagery and allusions.

  • S&P downgrades Japan.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

SOTU Reaction - TAPs

Jamelle Bouie, writing at The American Prospect, criticizes President Obama for not talking about joblessness or poverty in his State of the Union address last night.  While one can't argue with their absence, one could argue with Bouie's assertion that, "it's abundantly clear that the White House -- along with the Democratic Party -- has all but given up on reducing unemployment."

Slow down a second there.  We are constantly reminded that the impoverished have the least political capital of anyone in this country, and so by Bouie's own framework where the speech is intended for "the lawmakers, interest groups, and party elites that ultimately craft and pass policy," the President shouldn't be speaking to poor, he should be speaking to the folks that make the policy.  When I listened to the speech, I didn't hear the terms "joblessness" or "poverty."  I can't argue that those elements weren't explicitly stated, but when I heard the president giving a full-throated defense of infrastructure spending, education, and the role of government in our lives, I felt like he was talking about helping the poor.  It wasn't direct.  It wasn't specific or explicit, but I thought it was there, sitting just behind his words.

We live in a time when the opposition seeks to redefine the role of government.  It is an opposition that sees almost no role at all for government.  It would have been great to isolate joblessness and poverty.  It would have been amazing to lay out programs to address these issues, but there is a more fundamental challenge the president faces.  A good portion of this country thinks the government doesn't have a role.   That's a bigger issue then verbiage, and I think the president tackled that issue with aplomb.

The Short List

  • President Obama gave his State of the Union address last night.  NYT gives its take, as does WaPo and DCExile.

  • Egpyt's government has banned further protests after thousands took the the streets on Tuesday.  NYT considers how events in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt have scrambled U.S. foreign policy.

  • Russia's upper house passed the New START Treaty be convincing margins.

  • A lawsuit against Blackwater (now Xe Services) has been dropped.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU - Initial Response

So before the post-mortem, some thoughts on the three, yes three speeches tonight.  If I get a moment, there might be a fuller analysis tomorrow.  At that point, though, the whole thing will be sullied by the pundit class.

President Obama's State of the Union
Liked it.  I thought he did a great job of reminding people of the role of government in our nation, it's ability to provide investment in roads, but also science and technology.  I thought he struck the right tone that says, "Listen we gotta make some changes and a lot of those changes are going to come from Republicans."  It wasn't transformative and I constantly feel like the rhetorical expectations of Obama are always sky-high.  He can never live up to the expectations, but I remember a time that if Bush spoke in complete sentences, he was a conquering hero.  I would have liked more specifics, but I understand why he wasn't.  Most importantly he has staked out the ground of responsible middle, which could help him get some things done over the next two years, but I wonder, if you make enemies on both sides what does that due to your re-election bid?

Representative Paul Ryan's Republican Response
Vastly better then the responses in recent years and I think Rep. Ryan did a good job staking out the Republican position.  It's a position I greatly disagree with, but it was concise, seemed legitimate, and was focused on spending which is an easy sell.  I thought he provided a great counter-point to the President, though I found wrapping themselves in the patronage of the founding fathers to be unseemly.

Representative Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Response
First, this isn't an actual party.  It's a second Republican response and I question CNN's decision to air it.  That said, I watched it.  There were charts, horribly misleading charts that ignored a fiscal crisis.  Also, who was she speaking to?  Reminds me of a Mitch Hedburg joke where everyone is looking slightly to the left.  On the whole, atrocious.  Scattered, trite, disingenuous, and backward-looking.  Quite honestly, it made Rep. Ryan and Republicans look like adults, while the Tea Party remains people stuck in a middle school civics class.

Again, the pundit class will breakdown every syllable before I wake tomorrow, but there are some initial thoughts.

DCExile's 2011 State of the Union Drinking Game

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union
It’s that time of year again, the annual State of the Union address. And, therefore, time for the annual State of the Union Drinking Game. Your rules for 2011 are:
  • If you’re at home, sit in an unusual spot--your Congressmen are, you can too--drink half a beer
  • During the pre-speech commentary, take one shot of whiskey (if you’re a Democrat) or one shot of tequila (if you’re a Republican) each time “shellacking” is used in the context of the mid-term elections.
  • Also during the pre-speech commentary, take a drink from an illicit flask each time the commentators mention “date night” or otherwise make the State of the Union sound like your high school prom.
  • Waterfall beginning with the youngest person in the room each time Daniel Hernandez’s 21st birthday is mentioned. (In all seriousness, thank you Mr. Hernandez for saving Rep. Gifford’s life.)
  • “The State of Our Union is Strong” = shotgun a beer.
  • Every time John Boehner cries, drink one shot of 151. If he’s crying, you should be crying, too. If you’re a woman, hide your tears because only men may cry at the drop of a hat without being too weak to lead. If you’re Nancy Pelosi, leave the room and scream expletives into a pillow.
  • Every time Joe Biden looks to be talking out of turn or cussing take a sip of Jameson neat. Slainte, Joe Biden.
  • Every time bipartisanship is mentioned, take a shot of tequila with a friend with whom you disagree politically. Optional: Anytime you hear “cross the aisle” conduct a Chinese fire drill.
  • Every time someone mentions the State of the Union being a new opportunity for Pres. Obama to connect with the American people, drink a Something on the Side or a Hot Flash Sparkler.
  • Every time Main Street is mentioned, take two sips of a Rolling Rock and remember fondly when it was made at Old Latrobe, before it was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev.
  • Every time Wall Street is mentioned, take two sips of a Budweiser and remember fondly when it was owned by an American company.
  • Every time Job Creation is mentioned, drink a Coors Light.  It will be ironic, trust us.
  • When healthcare is mentioned, if you are a Democrat, sit very quietly in the corner, chug a beer, and pray that the law survives until 2014. If you’re a Republican, chug a beer, tear up your insurance card and run repeatedly into a wall until you are concussed. Then go to an ER and wait.
  • While the President describes a partial freeze in government spending mix and chill a vodka martini. Drink the entire thing before he finishes describing the plan. Optional: eat a bag of pork rinds.
  • During any description of clean energy, take one shot of Hendricks Gin for each minute the description goes on. It’s cucumber infused and will provide you with a sense of clean energy. That is, until you pass out from it and wake up hungover. Much like what happens when you buy into a clean energy plan.
  • Anytime Samuel Alito is shown talking back to the President during his speech, drink two shots of bourbon: one for the death of decorum, one for the realization he will be a justice on the Supreme Court longer than you will be alive.
  • If you live to the GOP rebuttal, mix together all the liquor you can find in your home. Chug it. If it tastes as vile as what Paul Ryan is spewing, you’ve mixed it correctly.
  • If you live to the Tea Party rebuttal to the rebuttal, turn off the television. Go to bed.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Charter Cities Considered

The Council on Foreign Relations held an event yesterday where Dr. Paul Romer laid out his idea for charter cities as places for those in the bottom billion to go to find employment and opportunity(audio/video, 60mins).  He lays out these tenets or starting points for charter cities:

- First, they would be founded and organized ideally by people outside of the country where the city will go.  The idea is to bring in new conceptions of law and social norms or rules that would under gird this new city.

- Second, people would be allowed to voluntarily enter and leave the charter city, though there may be requirements for entry and there may be subsidy to get a family moved.

- Third, the charter city would likely be run, not by someone elected by the residents, but by someone selected by this initial steering committee of people from outside the country.

Romer asks the question: What would we make a city into if we started from scratch?  The idea is analogous to a charter school.  The benefit, according to Romer, is being able to redefine the rules and relationships between the residents of the city, the governors of the city, and the companies that would invest in the city.  He cites Hong Kong in the 1950s, Singapore, and a new project in Honduras as examples.

I give credit for a big idea, but there are a number of things about this that I'm uncomfortable with.  First, it seems like cultural colonialism.  There is a hubris in thinking, well Western Europeans have some of this down, why don't they go take the model, unfettered, to poor people.  Second, there is an inherent lack of democracy in such a system.  Yes, people can vote with their feet and leave, but we're talking about the bottom billion here.  What will they leave to?  

This leads to number three: this has the potentially to be a highly exploitative endeavor as companies are given incentives to invest, the cities governors aren't elected by the people, and the target populace are some of the poorest, least advantaged people who might accept a job in this city regardless of work conditions or compensation.  And my final point, this is all so fanciful to me.  It's the big dodge.  If you could start from scratch, would you change things?  I think most people would say resoundingly yes, but is that realistic?  Is their the capital to do something like this and even if there is, how do you deal with all the pitfalls?

I took a class in college called "What is Good?" and part of the class explored planned utopias.  The one thing I remember was that none of them worked out as planned.  I don't think Romer expects these charter cities to be utopias, but I think he's wearing rose-tinted glasses if he thinks external agents can enter a country, design a semi-autonomous city-state, secure business investment, entice a populace to relocate, and then have the whole enterprise grow positively in both economic and social concerns.

Maybe we're at a point where we need to try something radical and new to try and deal with global poverty, but charter cities strike me as an idea full of good intentions, but you know what they say about the road to hell.

The Short List

  • Questions of security emerge in the aftermath of the Moscow bombing.  The Washington Post has a graphic of the attack location, in an area of nearly every international airport is lightly policed.

  • Lebanon has elected Najib Miqati, a member of Hezbolah a member of the Harakat Majd and the March 8 Alliance, to lead the government.  Some protests have broken out.

  • President Obama gives his State of the Union Address tonight.  It's widely perceived as the most important policy speech of his presidency so far.

  • The British economy contracted .5% in the final quarter of 2010.

  • The Economist briefly considers the rising tide of pain states will experience in the face of budget crises.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Discomfort, Individualism, and Nero

Courtney Martin has a post up over at The American Prospect about demagoguery and discomfort.  I think it's a smart, hopeful post.  She says:

I don't think American citizens deserve certainty. I know it makes us comfortable--both in our political sphere and in our personal lives -- but it's dangerous and delusional. It leads us to elect people who don't acknowledge the full complexity of the times we are facing and fail to take responsibility for their own errors in judgment (case in point: Sarah Palin's "blood libel" pity party rather than a genuine acknowledgement of her misguided and violent rhetoric and symbology). It tempts us into believing we aren't complicit in our contemporary challenges -- that the BP oil spill or the War in Iraq has nothing to do with our gas-guzzling SUVs, that the genocide in the Congo is not connected to our conflict-mineral enhanced cell phones and laptops, that the economic meltdown is uncoupled with our complacency or consumption.

That's a strange passage to find hopeful and if I think you read the whole thing the whole "hope" thing comes through a bit better.  I think on the whole she's urging Americans to get beyond rabid individualism and consider a wider humanity that is inter-connected.  Or maybe, the better lesson is to accept responsibility as an individual for our part in the world's challenges.

Maybe that's the biggest challenge America faces.  We, as a nation and as individuals, have an aversion to accepting responsibility for our own failings, instead it's more gratifying and expeditious to blame someone else.  If that be the case, we risk being Nero with the lyre.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Rahm Emanuel has been disqualified from the Chicago Mayoral ballot. He will appeal.
  •  Jared Loughner pleads not guilty.
  • A candidate backed by Hezbollah is poised to become the next Prime Minister of Lebanon, replacing the Westward looking Saad Hariri. Notably, Najib Mikati was briefly PM after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005. He is also a Sunni Muslim, which will not upset the traditional confessional distribution of authority in Lebanon.
  • A suspected suicide bombing of major Moscow airport killed 30.
  • Thousands of documents leaked to Al Jazeera--and provided by Al Jazeera to the Guardian--indicate both a great deal of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Authority security services and huge concessions on the part of the Palestinian Authority to advance the goal of peace and statehood. The revelations are likely to discredit Mahmoud Abbas at home and Israel abroad.

The Iran End Goal

As we mentioned in The Short List last week, new talks are underway between Iran, the US, and a handful of other nations.  According to Matthew Fuhrmann, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, it's time for a diplomatic offensive.  The concept of a diplomatic offensive is maybe just slightly more ethereal then the concept of diplomacy itself, but I think Mr. Fuhrmann hits on the right tone, though I disagree with some of his points.

Mr. Fuhrmann's argument is largely predicated on the idea that Iran is "reaching a critical juncture about its willingness to build nuclear weapons."  From there, Mr. Fuhrmann considers how far Iran is willing to go for a nuclear weapon and at what price.  Correctly, he says that Iran is not North Korea, and it unwilling to starve its populace to achieve nuclear weapons technology.  The rest of the argument hinges on the notion that Iran can be convinced to abandon its nuclear program.

He believes setbacks that Iran has faced, both those designed by sanctions and those precipitated by a recent economic decline in Iran gives the world more time and a chance to later the tone.  "[H]arsh rhetoric, gradually tighter sanctions, and covert actions will not solve the problem," according to Mr. Fuhrmann, "it will only buy time."  Given the goal of having Iran abandon its nuclear program, and given this moment when Iran might be more amenable to negotiations, Fuhrmann advocates for some minor economic concessions to Iran.  Give them a little more carrot then stick, so to speak.  He believes giving Iran some concessions could help the US and our allies regain some trust with Iran, provided, of course, we followed through on the concessions.  From there more good will could be established and diplomacy could take its course as we, limitedly, welcome Iran back to the international fold and Iran abandons its nuclear program.

I agree with Mr. Fuhrmann that the tone is off, that concessions need to be on the table, and that sanctions serve to only delay Iran.  However, where I disagree is the idea that Iran will give up its nuclear program.  Given the current government, the current governing bodies, and the current toxic levels of enmity between the US and Iran, I can see no reason to believe abandonment of the program is on the minds of Iran's decision makers.  I tend to think that the acquisition of nuclear weapon technology is as much a matter of national pride as it is self defense for Iran.  Given that i don't think Iran will abandon its nuclear program anytime soon, I fall short in offering legitimate ways forward.  Suffice to say, concessions aren't a bad thing and they have to be part of the discussion, but clearly the whole strategy has to be tethered to what our end goal is.

The Short List

  • The Tunisian interim government briefly shut down the most popular private television station.  Many believe this violates pledges to allow freedom of expression.

  • The World Economic Forum gets underway in Davos, Switzerland today, but the conference faces some soul searching and anemic expectations.

  • Pakistani spy, Sultan Amir Tarar, died while under militant captivity 10 months after being kidnapped in northwest Pakistan.  Tarar was an important gunrunner for the CIA during the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan, and became a Pakistan's point man with the Taliban.

  • Ireland's Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, has been forced to call elections within a month as the Green Party withdraws from the coalition government.  The prior timeline had elections scheduled for March.

  • For China, central planning in the coal markets has become tricky.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Horse Racing without Horses or Riders

Apparently tired of the slow start to the 2012 Republican nomination battle, the Washington Post has determined to inject some excitement by, well, inventing it: "Who can win the 2012 GOP nomination?"

RE: What To Do With Pakistan

I take issue with the pros that Jason believes will fall out of disengagement with Pakistan. It is not clear to me that our current engagement in Pakistan in anyway constrains U.S. or NATO freedom of action in Afghanistan. What constraints the U.S. faces have more to do with the role the Afghan government plays in coordinating or approving operations or, in cases like Marjah, the Afghan government’s inability to find Afghan civilians to fill key governmental positions. As far as I can tell, the United States concerns itself little if at all with Pakistan when operating on the Afghan side of the border. Indeed, there is a least some evidence that the United States concerns itself little with Pakistan when operating on the Pakistani side of the border!

That brings me to my next point of departure with Jason’s assessment: concern for Pakistani public opinion. I do not see much evidence that the United States has been concerned a great deal with Pakistani public opinion. The United States drone operations in Pakistan are unsurprisingly very unpopular among the Pakistani public. Despite this, drone strikes are increasingly common. There were 118 drone strikes in 2010, more than double the 2009 tally and triple the 2008 tally.

Finally, I do not see how disengaging will afford greater mission clarity, which is not to say that there is presently any mission clarity.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Healthcare - File under "Captain Obvious"

Matt Ygelsias called my attention to this story out of Vermont, where Harvard healthcare economist William Hsiao was hired by the Vermont legislature to find new designs for Vermont's healthcare system.  Hsiao has offered a single-payer system.  Hsiao outlined in the report that, "getting one entity to process claims, reforming medical malpractice and taking other steps would save $2.1 billion in health spending by 2025."  My initial thought was "Well, duh."  I then rolled my eyes and tossed my hair back dismissively.

The Short List

  • Karzai looks to Russia to help revive some projects in Afghanistan that were originally started during the Soviet occupation.

  • Iran, the U.S., and other have gone into another round of talks regarding Iran's nuclear program, but expectations are low.

  • Google shakes up its management team in an effort to get back to that start-up mentality, despite being worth $200 billion and having over 24,000 employees.

  • The Republican Study Committee is proposing $100 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.  This would reduce most federal agency budgets by 30%.  The plan also calls for the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Amtrak, and USAID.

  • The Economist considers income inequality.

What to do with Pakistan: Part Two

I haven’t forgotten you Pakistan, but China stopped by and the whole day job got in the way.  Now where were we.  Last time I was commenting on T.X. Hammes and more generally about the messy history between Pakistan and the U.S.  This post is about just a few of the pros and cons of disengagement with Pakistan.

So what happens if the U.S. disengages from Pakistan?  First the pros:

  • Greater autonomy to operate on the Afghan side of the AfPak border
  • Be less concerned about the Pakistan public reaction to U.S. actions
  • Have greater mission clarity and direction from unilateral action plans

And now, the cons:

  • Loss of access to superior human intelligence network.
  • Loss of international legitimacy for the mission since it would likely be unilateral.
  • Loss of input/leverage over Pakistan’s nuclear program.

This is not even close to an exhaustive list, but I think it illustrates the point.  It’s easy to knock the current policy, but it’s very hard to come up with an alternative.  There are benefits from disengaging from Pakistan, however Pakistan, if not the best of allies, is an important power in a region that we can’t afford to have a blind spot.  I have a feeling the frustrations that T.X. Hammes outlines are some of the same frustrations voiced in meeting rooms at the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department (or at least I hope they are) but sometimes there isn’t a good alternative and all you’re left with is the least bad alternative.  Obviously as a super power it sounds neither super nor powerful to pursue a least bad policy, but I don’t see a clear alternative.  Do you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thousands are Sailing

A story in the Wall Street Journal reports that as many 100,000 Irishmen and women are expected to leave Ireland due to its economic woes between April 2010 and April 2012. Unlike previous waves of Irish emigration, the primary destinations for Irish immigrants are in Europe: the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, and Germany. And, while 23,000 have moved to Australia and New Zealand, only 2,800 have moved to the United States in search of economic opportunities. These figures stand in marked contrast to previous waves of Irish immigration, in which the United States was a prime destination for Irishmen and women seeking better lives.

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

The Short List

  • Tunisia's interim government attempts to hold on, even as demonstrators continue to clamor for the full purge of Ben Ali and his political party.

  • Jared Loughner, the gunman accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six, has been indicted on three charges (with more possible) including two counts of murder.  Rep. Giffords is able to stand and will soon be heading to rehab.

  • Wal-Mart has pledged to make thousands of its food lower in sodium and trans-fats.  They have also pledged to lower the price of fresh fruit an vegetables.

  • President Hu broke, uncharacteristically, from past Chinese rhetoric admitting, "a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights."

  • The Economist considers the assasination of Salman Taseer and what it indicates about the shifting proclivities of sects of Muslims in Pakistan.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Sargent Shriver passed away yesterday

  • The New York Times considers the etiquette of inviting a former president who is married to a current Secretary of State to a State dinner. Seriously.

  • The Supreme Court denied certiorari in the al-Adahi case, essentially affirming the D.C. Circuit's revision of evidentiary as well as review standards. Wittes provides a summary but misses that important point.

  • Insurgents struck Iraqi security forces for the second time in two days. These attacks follow a spate of U.S. soldiers killed there recently, along with other indicators of an insurgency not yet extinguished.

  • The U.N. is sending additional peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire, which sounds a bit ominous to me.

The Beginning of History

Francis Fukuyama has a very concise summation(behind a registration wall) of the interplay between China and the U.S., both the places they hold in the world, the parts to envy about each system, and a warning of adjustments both need to make  Matthew Steinglass remarks that Dr. Fukuyama’s op-ed “puts it all together in a fashion that's close to perfect.”  Certainly it’s a fantastic summation, but it does raise some questions.

Without a doubt, the Chinese model is hard to classify but it allows Chinato make large, complex decisions quickly, and to make them relatively well, at least in economic policy.”  Fukuyama contrasts this with India, where all manner of interests can derail a project, particularly infrastructure projects.  But the big question, one we don’t really have the answer to yet and one that Fukuyama foreshadows is how this system responds in an economic downturn.  

This authoritarian system, which has co-opted the business elite and essentially created a middle class, has been able to use sustained and extraordinary economic growth to dis-incentivize the desire for a more democratic government.  However, there is still a large portion of the population that has not seen any success from this economic expansion.  Perhaps given the sheer size of the country and the control the regime has institutionalized, they have been able to ignore this group.  It should also be noted the government has responded to many of the concerns of all their constituencies, but I have doubts about how long they can stay ahead of the eight ball.  The true test will come when GDP growth comes down to earth, which is not to say I hope it happens, only that it will happen.  (Yes, I understand the irony of saying this will happen like so many people said China would be more democratic as its economy grew.  Sometimes you gotta go out on a limb and think economic principles will hold.)

Fukuyama also takes aim at the American system and points out some of its weaknesses.  He writes, “Americans pride themselves on constitutional checks and balances, based on a political culture that distrusts centralised government. This system has ensured individual liberty and a vibrant private sector, but it has now become polarised and ideologically rigid.”  Quite right.  Balancing our democratic traditions with the demands of a globally inter-connected economy where countries, more so then companies, remain the dominant players presents a tough needle to thread.  I think we find ourselves at a crossroads in America with essentially two competing visions: we can move to weaken the federal government, lower taxes, continue to deregulate, and move back to something akin to the U.S. in the late 1700s or we will have to empower the federal government to make ever bigger decisions about the priorities and direction of the country, which could necessitate higher taxes and will necessitate greater bureaucratic autonomy (and maybe control). The former vision would likely guarantee an inability to compete with China, while the latter vision would compromise aspects of the American psyche that places a heavy premium on individual liberty.

Let me say clearly, I’m not a big fan of either scenario.  While I see the social value of a stronger federal government, I remain suspicious of empowering that government to have even half the power the Chinese government now wields over its populace.  This of course, presents a quandary since the middling-road hasn’t done much for us in the past 20 years or so to address our long-term fiscal challenges or allow our foreign policy to capitalize on that brief moment at the end of the Cold War to reinforce the benevolent hegemony of the United States.  To bring it back to Steinglass, he ends his laudatory post on Fukuyama’s op-ed by noting, “It's not clear where we're heading, and we should keep our wits about us and adapt; we can be left behind, just as others were before us.”  Alternatively, we’re not at the end of history, instead we are at the beginning of a new chapter in our history where the conventions of the last chapter will be challenged in new way.  How the U.S. responds today might tell us in the future if we are watching the sun set on American global dominance

The Short List

  • Protests continue in Tunisia, but great uncertainty remains about who will step into the vacuum left by Ben Ali's flight.  The Council on Foreign Relations surveys the likelihood that Tunisia revolution could catch on in other North African countries.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls Chinese President Hu Jintao a dictator last night, while Secretary Clinton took to the morning shows to emphasize the need for a stronger bi-lateral relationship.

  • Afghanistan's special election court, widely considered unconstitutional by international observers, has called for a month delay for Parliament's inauguration.

  • The tone of the debate of healthcare repeal has been notably more civil.

  • considers industrial towns and how Tata has created a community around a steel mill.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Not So Divided - Revisited

The original post prompted quite a few comments between Colin and myself, so I thought it would be interesting to post this entry from Will Wilkinson writing in Democracy in America on  Mr. Wilkinson says:

Although Americans left and right have remarkably consistent "ideologically conservative but programmatically progressive" preferences when it comes to redistributive social policy, it benefits political parties and party politicians to greatly exaggerate their differences. Partisan brand identity and distinction is achieved largely through a commitment to a certain stock of rhetorical tropes and symbolic gestures that float almost entirely free of the party's substantive commitments. People are suckers for rhetoric, which is why merely rhetorical differentiation works at both the grocery store and the polling station. It is also why we are prone to believing crazy things about what the other "side" believes. And this leads to a rhetorical atmosphere corrosive to the trust necessary to facilitate compromises over policy that would be agreeable to most everyone. Our problem, and Mr Krugman's, is that we believe our own BS.

Basically, Mr. Wilkinson and I agree that the rhetoric is far more divided then the policy preference.

The Short List

  • As Tunisia starts to deal with a the successful overthrow of President Ben Ali, here is a survey of headlines from newspapers in the region.  Meanwhile, Steven A. Cook considers what happens next.

  • Hu Jintao, China's President, arrives in the U.S. today for a state visit.  The Economist consider the choreography and the climate that will serve as the backdrop to this visit.  Friend of DCExile, Nick Consonery, was on FoxNews last night talking about currency discussions between the U.S. and China.

  • By failing to invade North Waziristan, Pakistan may be making U.S. drone strikes more effective.

  • The UN has submitted a sealed indictment in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, causing tensions in the city to elevate.

DC Exile Relaunch

To the dozen of you that have taken the time to read our little blog over the years, thank you.  We’ve been talking and decided we need to revitalize and relaunch the blog.  We want it to be more relevant, more substantive, and more interactive for you, our readers (Hi Mom!).  We would also like to attract more readers, but it’s hard to claim a share of a saturated market.  So, in our effort to give you more and be more professional we are going to do the following:

New Look
That part has to be pretty obvious at this point.  We’re working on a logo, which is to say, we’d like to have a logo but lack the visual arts savvy to get it done. Suggestions/Help is welcomed.

Mission Statement
Yes, seriously, a mission statement.  What are we doing this for (aside from our own egos) if we don’t have a statement to refer to before we post anything?  We may, from time to time, indulge our intellects (and egos) with off topic posts, but generally speaking:

DC Exile is a blog that focuses on international and domestic politics and economics (with a progressive slant), emphasizing the issues and not the process.

Basically, we want to add to the discourse, not observe and report the horse race.  Additionally, we want to avoid being part of the echo chamber of the blogosphere.  We get tired of reading what Ezra has to say about what Ygelsias had to say about what Steinglass had to say about whatever topic.  Also, ain’t like those guys are going to be referring to us anytime soon, especially if we’re just referring to them.

The Short List - Like Ezra Klein’s “Reconciliation” post or Matthew Yglesias’s “Endgame” post, only to start the day.  It will be a quick round up of headlines from the past twenty four hours.  We’re looking to always post some links you’re less likely to have seen, though if you’re on your game some will be retreads.

Weekly Poll - Posted every Monday morning, we will ask our readership for their thoughts on a topic likely to be in the news in the week ahead.

What Kind of Day Has It Been? - A (mostly) daily closing post about something that happened that day, maybe someone’s good day or someone’s bad day.  Embarrassing video/audio clips would be golden.

We will have two longer-form (500+ word) posts up each week going more in depth with a topic.  They will be well researched and sourced without the vitriol that can cloud a hasty post.  These posts will add to the substantive discussion of the topic being considered.

Hey, this is a blog after all.  We will still periodically post the hasty (often steeply slanted) post in reaction to some juicy bit to come across the ticker on a given day.  This has been what we (or at least Jason) has been about recently and while it’s good for content generation, it doesn’t add much to the debate.

We hope all (14) of you are good with that.  We truly believe this is a relaunch and not a redefinition of what we’re about at DC Exile.  We also believe this will make the blog more valuable to those of you with limited interest in some of the topics we cover. Again, thanks for reading.

Ben & Jason