Gabby Giffords has an op-ed in the New York Times today, excoriating the Senate's failure to pass legislation expanding background checks on gun purchases. Once it went live, Ezra Klein tweeted something quite provocative:
Op-eds almost never change American politics. This one, from Gabby Giffords, might prove an exception: nytimes.com/2013/04/18/opi…— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) April 18, 2013
Now this led to a rollicking Twitter debate about whether any op-ed has ever changed American politics. The consensus among the Twitterati seemed to be "no" -- but that might be an unfair bar. Often, op-eds are condensed versions of longer essays that might have an effect on public policy. After all, earlier in the week there was a whole kerfuffle about some mistakes in a Carmen Reinhart-Kenneth Rogoff paper and whether the Reinhart-Rogoff argument contributed to the wave of austerity policies that swept the developed world starting around 2009.
Narrowing the focus to international relations and U.S. foreign policy, I started to think if one could point to essays that really did affect the contours of world politics. The effect couldn't just be because of who the author was -- say, for example, Hillary Clinton describing the rebalancing strategy, which mattered because she was the U.S. secretary of state -- but rather the content of the ideas. Here's my somewhat obvious short list:
1) George Kennan, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct,"Foreign Affairs, July 1947. Now let's be clear - the animating ideas behind Kennan's essay were already affecting U.S. foreign policy before the "X" article. That's because they originally appeared in Kennan's Long Telegram, and because Kennan, was in a government position to affect policy. That said, everyone in the foreign policy community read and imbibed Kennan's arguments. Even if they disagreed with how to execute the "containment" strategy, they had to use Kennan's language. So yeah, this essay mattered.
2) Jeane Kirkpatrick, "Dictatorship and Double Standards,"Commentary, November 1979. Kirkpatrick's basic argument was that, in trying to affect change on human rights, engagement with communist dictatorships was futile, while engagement with anti-communist dictatorships had at least some chance of succeeding. When Ronald Reagan was elected, he appointed Kirkpatrick to be his ambassador to the United Nations. As I've argued here, Kirkpatrick's ideas really did shape Reagan's human rights agenda during his administration.
3) Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?"The National Interest, Summer 1989. Talk about timing. Fukuyama's essay was published just as the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies saw their communist regimes disappear. How did this abstruse essay about Hegelian dialectics matter? Because it provided a narrative for what was happening during the end of the Cold War. Perhaps more importantly, it offered a narrative that suggested the United States did not need to act aggressively in response to the Soviet collapse.
4) Samuel Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs,Summer 1993. The doppelgänger to Fukuyama. Huntington's essay had some influence in the 1990s when foreign policy analysts were trying to understand the Bosnia conflict. I'd argue that Huntington's argument, however, carried even greater weight in the post-9/11 world, when a clash of civilizations seemed, for a moment, to be a semi-plausible explanation for the terrorist attacks.
5) Zheng Bijian, "China's 'Peaceful Rise' to Great Power Status,"Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005. Ironically, China's government scuttled the "peaceful rise" rhetoric pretty damn quickly because the word "rise" seemed to freak out everyone. By then it was too late, however. I suspect this mattered less for the content of the ideas and more for the fact that it was the first time a lot of the U.S. foreign policy community read something about China's worldview written by a Chinese national. Still, much like Kennan's "containment" language, it was impossible to talk about China during the last decade without "peaceful rise" being part of the conversation.
OK, readers, which essays did I leave out? Make your case in the comments. And bonus points if you can come up with a peer-reviewed paper that did so (I can think of one or two that might have made the list, but I think the effect was indirect and not direct).
Your humble blogger has returned from vacation
with a sunburn to a rude awakening from the New York Times:
The New York Times Company said on Monday that it was planning to rename The International Herald Tribune, its 125-year-old newspaper based in Paris, and would also unveil a new Web site for international audiences.
Starting this fall, under the plan, the paper will be rechristened The International New York Times, reflecting the company’s intention to focus on its core New York Times newspaper and to build its international presence.
Mark Thompson, president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, said in a statement that the company recently explored its prospects with international audiences, and noted there was “significant potential to grow the number of New York Times subscribers outside of the United States.”...
The announcement is part of the company’s larger plan to focus on its core brand and build its international presence, the spokeswoman said. On Feb. 20, the Times Company said it was exploring offers to sell The Boston Globe and its other New England media properties. Last year, the company sold its stake in Indeed.com, a jobs search engine, and the About Group, the online resource company.
As a business strategy, I get that the Times is sacrificing a minor brand to boost its primary brand. But if I could be nostalgic here for a second, I will mourn the passing of the minor brand.
For me, the International Herald-Tribune was always a small luxury to buy when I was a very budget-conscious undergraduate/graduate student/postdoc/assistant professor travelling outside the United States. It's not that it was a great paper or anything -- truthfully, it was always overpriced and relatively thin in content (except for the wonderful weekend edition, which had the Sunday NYT crossword). It was, however, a very American newspaper in places that were decidedly not the United States. In the pre-Internet days of travel, it was the only place to get two-day old baseball scores. Furthermore, before the Times pushed out the Post, it was also an effective combination of two great broadsheets of American journalism.
It was also a great name -- certainly better than
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim The International New York Times, which is ungainly in the extreme.
I suspect the Times will do well in propagating its core brand overseas. But for my generation of travellers, hearing this news evokes a lost memory of grabbing an IHT and a baguette and sitting in a park somewhere digesting a simple lunch and news from home.
It's nostalgia, pure and simple -- but that doesn't mean I won't miss it.
futile determined effort to expand his public intellectual brand, your humble blogger was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC for about an hour this AM. It was a veeeeery interesting experience. Now, I know that some readers of this blog aspire to poison me and take my place on the FP masthead punditry themselves. So, as a public service, this is what happens when you go on a Sunday morning talk show: imagine the Law & Order chunk-CHUNK! going after each paragraph:
WEDNESDAY: I receive a polite email from one of Melissa's segment/booking producers, who we'll call "M", asking if I want to be on the show this Sunday. Having never done this kind of punditry before, and having my previous obligation for the weekend cancelled, I accept.
Immediately after accepting, I experience two contradictory emotions. First, the fear builds that they will email back the same day and say, "uh, we just re-checked our Rolodex, and.. [laughs] we have no idea who thought you merited being on television." At the same time, I realize I'm going to have to watch the rest of the prime-time Republican National Convention speeches. At which point I let loose a strong of profanities [What if had been the DNC instead?--ed. The same number of profanities would have been released.]
THURSDAY: I talk with M again, who runs down the planned topics with me -- the RNC, the DNC, the state of the election, and gun violence. Immediately I have a slight quandry -- my expertise is in international relations, not electoral politics. Do I dare to think I can play in the sandbox for a Sunday morning talk show? At which point my inner media whore screams, Gollum-like, "YES!! WE WANTS TO BE ON THE TV!!! IT'S OUR PRECIOUS!!"
This is, as near as I can determine, the First Commandment of Televsion Punditry -- you have to be secure enough in your abilities to chat with authority about issues outside your intellectual wheelhouse.
FRIDAY: To make my inner media whore proud, I start reading up on gun violence statistics. I also read as much commentary as I can about the Republican National Convention. Whatever intelligence I gain from the former I lose by reading the latter.
SATURDAY: Full disclosure: Melissa and I were political science colleagues at the University of Chicago back in the day, so I'm familiar with her style and her politics. That said, I haven't been a regular watcher of her MSNBC show, so I tune for the first half-hour in to get a sense of the roundtable. Clearly MHP leans juuuuust a little to the left. This raises an identity issue -- am I supposed to be wearing the hat of "defender of conservatism"? It's not a role I've been comfortable with as of late. Or am I gonna wear the "dispassionate, snarky observer of the political scene"? I feel much more comfortable with that hat on. In all likelihood, it's going to be a little from column A and a little from column B.
LATER ON SATURDAY: If you're going to be on roundtable for radio/television, there's a 98% chance you will need to do a "pre-interview" with a producer so they have a sense of what you're going to say during the conversation. So I have that conversation with M, during which I learn that the topics have been jiggled around a bit and all those
minutes hours of sketchy detailed online research into gun violence stats won't be worth much. Instead, we'll be talking gay marriage. Which is fine, I will rally with yet more Wikipedia-surfing intense study of primary texts. And, of course, that segment will be moved as well. So, the Second Commandment of Television Punditry is that the schedule will always change.
EVEN LATER ON SATURDAY: The MHP show is classy -- they took care of all the flight/hotel/car service logistics. So by Saturday night I found myself in a comfortable midtown hotel with a lovely view of Central Park. Surfing the web furiously to research for Sunday AM, I see that some fireworks broke out on MHP's Saturday show after I switched off to pack. Melissa was responding to the panel's most conservative participant making a point. Ruh-roh.
To prep, I take notes on each of the "blocks" or segments that I'm supposed to weigh in on. I'm a professor and an academic, and therefore alwasys feel better with notes.
SUNDAY MORNING PRE-SHOW: I get to 30 Rock on time, which means I'm the first panelist there.... or so I think. In actuality, the two female panelists -- NYU's Cristina Beltran and the Center for American Progress' Aisha Moodie-Mills -- are in makeup. As they enter the green rom, I quickly comprehend that I am in deep trouble, because I am not nearly as pretty. As the clock ticks towards 10 AM, and no one comes to get me, I am petrified that I have been typecast as the splotchy-faced redneck surrounded by urbane alluring panelists. Before this scenario can play out in even weirder directions inside my head, however, M sends me to makeup. They apply as enough powder to my face to fuel at least two Dunkin' Donuts franchies -- but it works . My family later informs me that I looked good, so many, many thanks to those professionals at MSNBC.
SUNDAY MORNING, 10 AM-11 AM: OK, having done my first hour of Sunday morning chat -- which you can watch here, here, here and here -- I have learned the following effects on one's senses when three cameras and numerous klieg lights are pointed in your general direction:
A) Time speeds up. Seriously, that hour flew by. Every time I was feeling like we were getting to a good part of the conversation, we hit a commercial break.
B) Almost all prep work is useless. I knew exactly what I wanted to say in response to the first question asked, and I did that competently. After that, whatever good punchy things were in my notes might as well have been left back at home for all the use they were to me. Part of the issue is visual -- you don't want to be looking down at your notes. Another part of the issue, which I've blogged about before, is the academic weakness of trying to directly answer the question.
C) Really, cameras can make you stupid. If you mangle your words during an ordinary conversation, or even when giving a speech, you can take a moment and regroup. If you mangle your words during a panel show, you become acutely aware that you're screwing up, which compounds the problem. Another panelist will be happy to enter the breach. On at least two occasioons, I had written down a better answer than the one that came out of my mouth during the program.
SUNDAY MORNING, 11 AM: I need to get to the airport to come home, but I find two pieces of critical feedback from the experience worthwhile. The first was the thumbs-up that Moodie-Mills and her partner give me as I exit the green room. The second is an anonymous email I soon find in my inbox:
Drezner........Why are you such an idiot? Your appearance on MSLSD was laughable and embarrassing. It's really sad and embarrassing how you liberal bedwetters continue to be brainwashed by your worthless president. Why can't you clowns form a coherent thought on your own? Exactly, because you buffoons are mindless robots programmed by your worthless president. Barnum and Bailey have nothing on you clowns. What do you call a basement full of liberals? A whine cellar. Keep up the good work loser................
Why, it's... it's a troll!! I've made it!! I'M A REAL PUNDIT NOW!!!!!
Dear Mr. Hiatt (and Mr. Pexton),
Sorry to be writing to you in such a public format. I'm also sorry to bring up the rather touchy subject of your attempts to find a competent and authentically conservative blogger for the Post. But can we talk about Jennifer Rubin for a second?
As I blogged yesterday, Rubin demonstrated incompetence, laziness and/or mendacity in her "hackstabbing" of Robert Zoellick. In particular, she seemed unable to understand the meaning of the "responsible stakeholder" language that Zoellick started using in 2005, and her weblink to that language wasn't even close to accurate.
Today I wake up to see that she has offered a follow-up post on Zoellick and an update to the controversial post from yesterday. Let me just reprint that update in full.
UPDATE: To clarify, Zoellick in 2005 delivered a speech in which he encouraged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs. From 2005 to the present in speeches, articles and interviews (asked in 2009 in Financial Times interview about China’s “scorecard” on acting as a responsible stakeholder he said “I think China has come a long way”), Zoellick repeatedly praised China’s conduct, despite ample signs China was anything but “responsible” and widespread criticism of the policy Zoellick had championed. Given Mitt Romney’s “take China to the WTO” stance and his unsparing criticism of China’s human rights abuses Romney could not be more different in his view of China.
Now this is a bit of an improvement. Rubin has accurately described what Zoellick was saying in 2005 (as opposed to how it still appears in her original post). She also suggests that that Zoellick rubs some neoconservatives/China hardliners the wrong way on positions like human rights abuses. That's a genuine policy disagreement.
Still, there are some issues. One problem is that even in the update, she's still screwing up her evidence. Her quote from the FT interview of Zoellick is a somewhat out of context -- it seems more like Zoellick was talking about China's economic development in that particular phrase:
Zoellick: I think China has come a very long long way. I have a special perspective because I was living in Hong Kong in 1980. I went to Guangdong province right after Deng Xiaoping started the reform process. All you have to do is compare the China of that era and the China of today. It’s so startling.
As for her embedded links: Rubin's URLs for the "widespread criticism" portion go to two different articles. The first one is accurate, but, alas, Rubin only bats .500. The "criticism" link goes to a paper by Jonathan Czin entitled "Dragon Slayer or Panda Hugger? Chinese Perspectives on 'Responsible Stakeholder' Diplomacy." Here's Czin's conclusion:
Zoellick attempted to move U.S. thinking beyond the wholly inadequate dichotomous roles of friend and enemy to define the grey conceptual space that China occupies. To say that China is neither a friend nor an enemy of the United States is not only a truism; it has also become a cliché. Neither China nor the United States wants to see China become part of a “hub and spokes” alliance system in East Asia. Yet the claim put forth by strategic thinkers such as John Mearsheimer that the changing material balance of power will inexorably and inevitably lead to Sino-American conflict is over-deterministic and threatens to engender a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, it runs counter to the premise of U.S. China policy since Kissinger. Strategically, Zoellick’s “Third Way” offers the most reasonable and palatable option.
I do not think they anyone would characterize this as "criticism" of Zoellick's policy formulation. I read through the whole article, and couldn't really find any criticism of the policy. Between you, me and the lamppost, I suspect Rubin saw the "panda-hugger" headline and just put it in. But I concede that's pure speculation on my part.
Look, this is tedious stuff, and I don't like descending into the weeds all that much. Still, if Rubin can't correct her earlier screw-up without making yet another screw-up, doesn't that suggest that something is seriously wrong here? And don't you, as her publishers, bear just a wee bit of responsibility for this kind of mendacity and laziness?
Daniel W. Drezner
TO: My Foreign Policy bosses
FROM: Daniel W. Drezner
RE: How Foreign Policy Can Conquer the World
Comrades August Members of the Foreign Policy Community:
Since Foreign Policy revamped its web presence in early 2009, everything has gone according to the Master Plan. You have ensured that this site is one every foreign policy cognoscenti's "must click" list. You have won National Magazine Award after National Magazine Award. With the Sex Issue, you came out with an issue that generated enough buzz to light up Tina Brown's jealousy furnace for years to come.
But where can you go from here? After reading Edith Zimmerman's bemusing description of Cosmopolitan's global empire in the New York Times Magazine, I'm wondering if there's a way to leverage their model. From Zimmerman's story:
Cosmo has a cheerful, girlfriendy tone (“When Your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”) and a much racier reputation than its newsstand competitors (“Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor”). Its covers rarely fail to feature at least one bold, all-caps rendering of the word “sex.” The August issue, for instance, offered “52 Sex Tips” and “When Your Vagina Acts Weird After Sex.” A sampling of 2012 headlines includes “50 Sex Tips,” “50 Kinky Sex Moves,” “99 Sex Questions” and “His Best Sex Ever.”
The repetition can be a little numbing, but it may help explain how Cosmo, which is the best-selling monthly magazine in the United States, has morphed into such a global juggernaut. (“If all the Cosmo readers from around the world came together,” read a recent piece in Cosmo South Africa, “this group would form the 16th-largest country in the world.”) Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country, actually) in more than 100 nations — including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo. And plenty of others where reading a glossy magazine still carries cachet. (“Many girls consider a hard copy of Cosmo to be an important accessory,” says Maya Akisheva, the editor of Cosmo Kazakhstan.) As the brand proudly points out, in 2011 alone, these readers spent $1.4 billion on shoes, $400 million on cars, $2.5 billion on beauty products and $1.5 billion on fragrance and bought 24 million pairs of jeans.
Now, sure, this formula is ripe for satire... but the recipe for successful globalization is undeniable!! Sure, FP did its Sex Issue, but that also generated a fair amount of critical feedback. I think the better tactic is to copy Cosmo's style without its... er... substance. Let's face it, what grabs the attention of readers are Cosmo's headlines. And what grabs the attention of foteign policy cognoscenti is... war. Never mind that war and other forms of violence are on the wane -- war is happening, war is now, war is hot, war is what people want to talk about even if they're not doing much of it.
Scanning Cosmo's website, here are ten headlines that with juuuuuust a bit of tweaking clearly beg for Foreign Policy articles:
75 Ways to Fight an A-maz-ing War
Make it a War Your People Will Never Forget
David Petraeus is Our New Cover Boy!!
30 Things to Do to a Prostrate Adversary
"That's Our Land" and Other LOL Lines that can Start a Hot War
How to Make Your Citizens Beg for More War
When is it Time to Break
Upwith Your Current Military Strategy?
Diplomacy? Ewww!!! Would You Try this War Prevention Method?
How to Wow Your Enemy Every Single Time
Could Your Ally Be Cheating On You? Take the FP QUIZ!!
Now, like Cosmopolitan, Foreign Policy would likely have to tailor its content by country and/or region. I mean, "Nine MREs that Will Make Your Soldiers Go 'Mmmmm!'" would obviously need to be custom-edited to take into account dietary customs in other countries. And this strategy might be hard to market in places like Switzerland, Costa Rica, and so forth. Still, where Cosmopolitan has blazed the trail... Foreign Policy can and should napalm it all to hell... before The Atlantic gets to it first.
Call me, and I can get David Petraeus' makeup artist on speed-dial in no time.
Over the weekend WikiLeaks pulled a pretty silly prank. Through a combination of some savvy Web design and hacking, the organization managed to convince some people that former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller had written an op-ed column. In the fake column, fake Keller claimed the Times was under threat of a financial blockade for publishing the Wikileaks cables -- a blockade that Wikileaks itself is experiencing (hence the motivation).
The prank managed to fool some of the people for a short time, including the New York Times' chief technology reporter. Just as quickly, however, the fact that the column was a hoax also spread. For Glenn Greenwald, this is evidence that the Internet is actually a superior fact-checking entity than the traditional mainstream media used to be:
[E]rrors and frauds have a very short life-span on the Internet. The power to tap into collective knowledge and research is so much more potent than being confined to a single journalistic outlet. The ability to have one’s work take the form of a mass dialogue, rather than a stagnant monologue, is incredibly valuable. It is true that the Internet can be used to disseminate falsehoods quickly, but it just as quickly roots them out and exposes them in a way that the traditional model of journalism and its closed, insular, one-way form of communication could never do....
For anyone who still believes that traditional journalism is inherently more reliable than the Internet, just follow the excellent suggestion this morning from Alexa O’Brien: just compare the duration and seriousness of the frauds and fakes enabled by the model of traditional journalism. Long before the Internet — in 1938 — a dramatized radio broadcast by Orson Wells (“The War of the Worlds”) of Martians landing on Earth spawned mass panic. More recently, consider the fraud of Iraqi WMDs and the Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance propagated by the nation’s leading traditional media outlets, or the fraudulent story they perpetrated of how grateful Iraqis spontaneously pulled down the Saddam statue,, or the fraudulent tales they told of Jessica Lynch engaging in a heroic firefight with menacing Iraqis and Pat Tillman standing up to Al Qaeda fighters before they gunned him down. And that’s to say nothing of the Jayson-Blair-type of rogue, outright fabrications.
Those frauds were vastly more harmful than anything the Internet has produced. And they took far longer to expose. That’s because they were disseminated by stagnant, impenetrable media outlets which believe only in talking to themselves and trusting only government sources. Nobody can get away with that on the Internet. The voices are far more diversified, the scrutiny is far more rigorous, the feedback is much more rapid, and the process is much more democratized. Yes, the Internet enabled a fake Bill Keller column to fool some people for a few hours, but — through the work of journalists, experts, and anonymous, uncredentialed users alike — it also immediately exposed the hoax, documented how it happened, and drew rapid lessons from it. The prime lesson is not that Internet journalism is more prone to errors; it’s that it is far more adept and agile at detecting and banishing them.
I've made arguments like this one in the past on the blog, so I'm pretty sympthetic to Greenwald's thesis that the Internet snuffs out "errors and frauds" just as quickly as they are created. I'd also agree than in a pre-web era, the negative ramifications of mainstream media errors were far greater.
There is another category to consider, however, which is "myths" -- and here the Internet has juuuust a bit of a problem. Despite copious amounts of evidence, for example, a disturbingly large number of people believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States -- and the web is a friendly place for their beliefs. The same could be said with arguments about whether global warming is a hoax or vaccines cause autism. Furthermore, simple rebuttals aren't always so simple. Consider this Conservapedia entry on Barack Obama:
Obama claims to have been born in Hawaii to Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. - who had married just six months prior - on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Some contend that this story is a complete fabrication. After many leading conservatives including the leadership of this site and Donald Trump called for Obama to release his birth certificate he did on April 27. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona conducted an investigation of the Obama's eligibility and alleged that the "birth certificate" was a fake; however, no charges have been filed. Obama was reportedly assigned a social security number whose area code was assigned to applications coming from zip codes in Connecticut.
Barack Obama Sr. was not a citizen of the United States. At the time of Obama's birth, Kenya was a British colony, meaning that Obama Sr not only held British citizenship, but passed it on to his son. When Kenya gained independence, Obama and his father both lost British citizenship and gained Kenyan citizenship. Barack Obama was a dual citizen of the United States and Kenya until his Kenyan citizenship automatically expired in 1984, as he had failed to renounce US nationality and swear loyalty to Kenya. Despite having been born with US citizenship through his mother, it has been argued that as he was born with dual nationality, he is not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and thus constitutionally ineligible to become President.
Now, to my knowledge, there is nothing factually incorrect with those two paragraphs. Rather, it's factually incomplete -- there is little discussion of facts in evidence that prove Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen. It's simply written in such a way to allow those individuals predisposed to believe Obama is not an American to draw that conclusion. This is consistent with Cass Sunstein's argument that the Internet allows people to selectively filter the information they acquire such that their ideologies do not face a rigorous challenge.
This kind of information problem existed before the internet, as anyone familiar with Ron Paul's newsletters could tell you. What the Internet permits is an amplification of conspiracy theories that can attract pockets of people that otherwise would never bother to organize. In a traditional mainstream media environment, it was possible to shoot down any zany conspiracy theory that bubbled up to the surface through more authoritative reporting. Some people were likely to persist in believing the myth -- but they were less likely to articulate those beliefs to a wide audience.
I suspect -- and let me stress that this is nothing more than an untested hypothesis -- that speed of transmission is the key variablesthat determines whether the Internet acts as a myth buster or a myth booster. For "facts" that spread like wildfire, the Internet should work well as a fact-checking engine. In these moments when there is a great demand for verification, the information ecosystem responds to the "fire alarm" by taking the data point and examining it to within an inch of its life. The more pervasive the "fact" appears on the web, the greater the supply of people who can likely fact-check it.
The problem comes with slower-moving facts -- those arguments or statements that are so "out there" that no significant online media would bother to check out until and unless it attracts a large number of devotees. Myths and conspiracies that spread unchecked for a significant period of time are likely harder to root out. If myths are given time to grow, then devotees to those myths can also develop defense mechanisms to rebut attempts at fact-checking. Paradoxically, this kind of myth is more likely to take root if it spreads slowly, requiring a "police patrol" of the Internet to find it. By the time it is doused with "the truth," there are people who have bought into the myth with sufficient psychological investment that they can tolerate a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.
So , to repeat myself, I agree with Greenwald that the Internet snuffs out "errors and frauds" just as quickly as they are created. The problem isn't with the fast-moving memes, however -- it's with the slow-moving ones.
What do you think?
Last Wednesday Thomas Friedman wrote a very silly column in which he called for Michael Bloomberg to enter the presidential race because
he had an annoying experience at Union Station he thinks the United States needs a real leader:
[W]ith Europe in peril, China and America wobbling, the Arab world in turmoil, energy prices spiraling and the climate changing, we are facing some real storms ahead. We need to weatherproof our American house — and fast — in order to ensure that America remains a rock of stability for the world. To do that, we’ll have to make some big, hard decisions soon — and to do that successfully will require presidential leadership in the next four years of the highest caliber.
This election has to be about those hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices — how we set our economy on a clear-cut path of near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform. The next president has to have a mandate to do all of this.
But, today, neither party is generating that mandate — talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode.
The Twitterati and blogosphere reaction to Friedman's argument tended towards the scathing, and now we're beginning to see the responses elaborated to op-ed length. This smart essay, for example, makes the very trenchant point that in a political structure with so many veto points , so much political polarization and so many entrenched interests, the ability of any one leader to reform the system on the scale that Friedman proposes is next to impossible:
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
We can’t be great as long as we remain a vetocracy rather than a democracy. Our deformed political system — with a Congress that’s become a forum for legalized bribery — is now truly holding us back.
Congratulations to present Thomas Friedman -- for effectively refuting past Tom Friedman.
I think it's safe to say that the
vampire squid Goldman Sachs brand has taken a few hits in recent years. To add to the calumny, Greg Smith, an executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is leaving Goldman today after publishing an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why he's leaving. It's not pretty:
Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
Man, that best-of-luck office party is going to be awkward.
The fact that this op-ed has already spawned its own satire suggests that it's not going to have much of an effect on the larger debate on Goldman Sachs. Which is a shame, because such a debate would be pretty useful when thinking about Big Finance (though see Gabriel Sherman's excellent New York essay on this topic from a few weeks back). Indeed, this is a teachable moment for how to compose a memo, or a mission statement, or an op-ed that will provoke a deep debate over corporate culture. Let's see where Smith went wrong:
1) He made it all about himself. The ostensible point of this exercise is to shine a light on a shady corporate culture that values sins over virtues. In these instances, the following paragraph should never appear:
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
See how that was ostensibly about Goldman Sachs but was really about the author? Not a good sign.
2) His job apparently required him to burrow out and reside in a large soundproof hole in the ground. Let's take a look at what Smith said about the halcyon, early days of his Goldman Sachs tenure -- i.e., when he started in 2000:
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients....
How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
Excuse me for a sec, I need to do this for a spell.
Look, Smith should know the Goldman Sachs culture better than I do, but as an outsider, I am fairly certain of two things: A) Before Smith's op-ed, the terms "humility" and "Goldman Sachs" never appeared in the same sentence.... ever; and B) Making money was always how people got promoted at Goldman Sachs.
There's been enough written about Goldman Sachs to know that by 2006, the firm had recognized that it was badly overexposed in the subprime market and decided to dump their holdings onto their clients. We know that in 2007, the firm went so far out of bounds that the SEC actually brought a civil suit against them, securing a $550 million settlement more than 18 months ago. And now Smith notices something is amiss??!! While the Wall Street Journal suggests Smith's role at Goldman wasn't pivotal, this kind of naivite requires a special kind of willful blindness.
If you're going to be a whistle-blower, you need to acknowledge upfront your complicity in any malfeasance, be it legal or ethical. Smith's op-ed doesn't come close to doing this.
I suspect public and/or media relations is one of those jobs that's way more glamorous in fiction than in fact. In film, being a master of public relations seems like one of those cool jobs a young hotshot possesses right before meeting Mila Kunis and having the epiphany that Love and Truth and Beauty are the only things worth a damn. In reality, however, there's the drudgery of sending endless e-mails, faxes, and voicemail messages to market one's clients. Rarely do the twain meet.
I bring this up because every once in a while, even a PR flack can scale the heights of greatness. Today's New York Times story by Julie Creswell, Louise Story and Edward Wyatt -- ostensibly an attempt to find out about the inner workings of Standard & Poor's sovereign debt committee contains one such moment:
When asked whether the company’s raters were hiding behind the secretive committee, Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for S.& P., said, “We do this to maintain our analytical independence in much the same way that the editorial board of The New York Times does not discuss its deliberations.” Ms. Mathis was a spokeswoman for The Times until two years ago.
To which I must say:
I mean this seriously and not facetiously. By implicitly linking S&P's practices to those of the New York Times, Mathis sells the elite credentials of her institution. It's a brilliant gambit because it leaves the Times' reporters with unpalatable options. Either they try to detail the precise differences between the Gray Lady and S&P, which would have seemed like total hair-splitting -- or they just move on to the rest of the story.
If Mathis was the S&P person handling the Times reporters, she earned her money's worth with this article. Despite myriad qualms with S&P's methodology, and despite that whole $2 trillion math error, the story has nary a critical or investigative word to say of Standard & Poor's.
Instead, first half of the story story consists of anodyne biographic material of the ratings committee leadership. The second half of the story focuses solely on an IMF report that provides a partial endorsement of S&P's sovereign debt ratings -- including this nugget:
One chapter of the report said that all nations that had defaulted on their sovereign debt since 1975 had been placed in a noninvestment-grade category at least one year before the default.
So, in other words, S&P hasn't missed a single basket case in the past 35 years. Is it just me, or is that setting the bar pretty low?
Regardless of how one feels about Standard & Poor's
contribution to the decline and fall of western civilization decisions, however, one must step back and respect the yoeman efforts of an outstanding public relations team. The hard-working staff here at ForeignPolicy.com therefore toasts Catherine Mathis and her team for some quality PR work. One can only hope that, in the near future, Ms. Mathis stumbles across Justin Timberlake at a New York bar and finds the True Meaning of Life.
[Note to readers: Because Dan was upgraded to business class on his trip to Beijing, he was exposed to a serious viral infection in the food called metaphoricus overloadus, known more commonly as Friedman's Disease. Rest assured, it is far from fatal -- it usually passes after 24 hours of no travel. As near as we can determine, all the facts in the blog post below are accurate. While suffering from Friedman's Disease, however, side effects do include rapid-fire, over-the-top metaphors. Remember: You've been warned!! --ed.]
To truly understand the phenomenon that is China, you need to fly into Beijing's airport and then try to get into the city. That's it; that's all you need. Just that adventure alone will tell you all you need to know about the contradictions of the Middle Kingdom.
First you enter a glittering, modern airport, with helpful signs in Mandarin and English. It's sheer scale and modernity telegraphs the ways in which China has already entered modernity. The monorail from my terminal to baggage claim was a pointed reminder of how much the United States lags behind in infrastructure investment in recent years.
And yet, there's the traffic. Summer in Beijing is a confusing miasma of traffic and smog and traffic. As my compatriot and I clambered into our taxi at Beijing's immaculately clean and modern airport, we knew that the ride to the hotel could take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the traffic. Just as we Americans don't know when exactly China will catch up, the Chinese are not sure how long it will take to get there.
We might like to think that driving in a New York City taxi is as exciting as a carnival ride, but that's nothing compared with a taxi ride on a Beijing superhighway. In New York, there's always that sense that, in the end, the taxi driver won't risk an actual collision. On the road to Beijing, however, I witnessed at least two last-minute swerves and road rage that would have made Los Angelenos blush. Using an accent that an old-style New York cabbie would have admired in its sheer swarthiness, my cabbie kept honking for at least two minutes after a car viciously cut him off.
It's a fantastical engineering problem, getting so many cars and motorcycles and trucks and buses to merge and move in the same direction. And that's when it hit me like a thunderbolt -- China itself is like this superhighway. It's massive in size, 10 lanes easy. It's filled with an array of vehicles determined to get ahead. The problem is that when you combine all the vehicles together, the real possibility of a two-week-long traffic jam in which everyone wants to go somewhere but nobody gets anywhere is clearly a possibility. Predicting China's future is like predicting the traffic: You know there will be some stop-and-go, but you just don't know how much of it there will be.
When we got to the hotel, I paid my cabbie and he signaled that I owed him four more yuan. I was suffering from ATM disease, so I took out a single U.S. dollar bill and a 100-yuan note, looked at him, and said, "You choose." He paused, and then took the yuan note and made the necessary change. Clearly, all of us participating in this hyperaccelerated, globalized economy are going to have to make the necessary change soon enough.
Last night a fellow International Studies Association 9isa0 attendee sent me the following request:
Hey, aren't you supposed to be providing pithy commentary on events of the last week for the rest of us ISA survivors? Get on that!
Sigh... it's back to the blogging salt mines. [Welcome back.... now get to work!!!--ed.]
Let's start off with an easy meta-point. So far, 2011 has been one of those years when it seems like a lot has been going on in international affairs -- but is that reality or just perception?
Hey, turns out it's reality:
Propelled by revolution in the Middle East and radiation in Japan, television news coverage of foreign events this year is at the highest level since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago, news executives in the United States say....
The busy season for foreign news started in January in Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, where networks and newspapers deployed hundreds of journalists. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which conducts a weekly accounting of news coverage by national outlets, foreign news added up to 45 percent of all coverage from mid-January through mid-March. In the four years that the accounting has been done, foreign news has averaged about 20 percent of coverage....
But despite extensive coverage of Libya and Japan, the television networks have had major blind spots. Last week, none of the broadcast networks had correspondents in Bahrain, where the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, when security forces crushed the protest movement there, nor in Yemen when forces there killed dozens of protesters. The dearth of coverage of Yemen is largely because of its government’s refusal to grant visas to journalists....
So, cui bono? Here we get to a veeeerry interesting detail:
If there is any media beneficiary, it is CNN, a unit of Time Warner, which has the most robust international staff levels of any network based in the United States. CNN has paired its domestic and international channels for hours on end, and last week it scored several rare — though probably fleeting — ratings victories against Fox News.
“This is the time when the judicious investments we’ve made in a proper international infrastructure are paying off,” Mr. Maddox said.
Say, isn't it convenient that CNN had all these assets in place and now gets to use them? Can anyone out there prove that network hasn't played an instigating role in some of these crises?
I didn't think so. I'm gonna start paying very close attention to Anderson Cooper for the rest of 2011. [Yeah, that doesn't sound weird at all!--ed.]
In Sayf-Al-Islam's rambling speech last night on Libyan State television, he blamed the current unpleasantness in his country on, as near as I can determine, crazed African LSD addicts.
This isn't going down as well as Sayf had intended, and Libya seems less stable than 24 hours earlier. Indeed, Sayf's off-the-cuff remarks managed to make Hosni Mubarak's three speeches seem like a model of professionalism, which I would not have thought was possible a week ago.
Indeed, it is striking how utterly incompetent leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been at managing their media message. Speeches are announced, then never delivered on time, and then delivered with production values that woulds embarrass a public access channel in the U.S. It's like political leaders in the region have discovered blogs just as the young people has moved on to Twitter or something. [Er, no, that's the United States--ed.] Oh, right.
Having just finished a week of intense media whoring, methinks that one problem is that most of these leaders have simply fallen out of practice (if they were ever in practice) at personally using the media to assuage discontent. I've been on enough shows on enough different media platforms to appreciate that there is an art, or at least a tradecraft, to presenting a convincing message in the mediasphere. Authoritarian leaders in the Middle East are quite adept at playing internal factions off one another. That's a different skill set than trying to craft a coherent and compelling media message to calm street protestors no longer intimidated by internal security forces.
Indeed, as I argued in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, bureaucratic first responses to novel situations are almost uniformly bad. Sayf pretty much admitted this last night, as he acknowledged that the Libyan armed forces were not trained to deal with street protestors. I suspect the same is true with the state media outlets -- they excel at producing tame, regime-friendly pablum during quiescent periods, but now they're operating in unknown territory.
I also argued that bureaucracies should be able to adapt their organizational routines over time, if a regime's domestic support does not evaporate. Readers are encouraged to predict which regimes under threat in the Middle East are the most likely to be able to adapt. My money is on Iran -- not because that regime is more popular, but simply because Iran's leaders have had eighteen months to adapt and they are therefore further down the learning curve.
Over at Shadow Government, Mary Habeck argues that al Qaeda's capabilities are on the rise, as evidenced by the recent effort to launch a trans-European Mumbai-style bombing. This is akin to a CNN headline I just saw: "Europe plot reveals al Qaeda adapting."
I would have assumed that these analyses argue that recent events demonstrate al Qaeda's abilities to find ways to overcome current counter-terrorism tactics.
But then I read the actual CNN story:
With al Qaeda struggling to replicate attacks on the scale of the devastation witnessed on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, security experts believe the Mumbai attack, which gained worldwide publicity, may provide the template for its future operations.
"This new plot is perhaps an indication that al Qaeda is trying to change its strategy," said CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. "The high-profile attacks that it has always liked using explosives are clearly getting harder and harder to perpetrate.
"The cells are being spotted and it's harder to keep undercover when you're making bombs. Even buying the material to make bombs is getting harder, so many analysts believe al Qaeda would be unable to mount a 9/11-style attack in the current climate.
"Therefore Mumbai would have been viewed as successful by the al Qaeda leadership as it killed a large number of people. This type of attack is just as deadly but harder to stop."
In the last year, a number of plots targeting the West have been foiled, including the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner; the failed car bomb attempt in New York City's Times Square and an alleged plan to attack shopping malls in Manchester, England over one holiday weekend in 2009.
This strikes me as defining adaptation down. Technically, events suggest that al Qaeda is adapting, which is a bad thing from the perspective of everyone preferring, you know, civilization. But the nut of this analysis is that al Qaeda's preferred tactics are being thwarted, and that they therefore have no choice but to switch tactics. This switch might lead to a greater likelihood of actual attacks, but their lethality seems lower. [But the CNN story suggests that this kind of attack is "just as deadly" as a 9/11-type attack?!- -ed. Yeah, that's wrong. The Mumbai attacks led to 173 deaths and 308 wounded. These are appalling numbers, but they are not as appalling as the loss of life on 9/11].
There are many peculiar rites of passage for each incoming U.S. administration: the first scandal, the first resignation, the first broken campaign promise, and the first botched use of force.
Add to this list the first Bob Woodward book of an administration. Like a debutante's coming-out party, there are highly formalized rituals -- the press leaks about the good stuff in the book, the Sunday morning talk show commentators obsessing over the more controversial bits and pieces, the inevitable meta-essays on Woodward himself. As a young foreign policy wonk, I remember looking forward to the latest Woodward tome the way others looked forward to the latest Stephen King novel.
That was then, however -- with Obama's Wars, has Bob Woodward demonstrated that he's about as irrelevant as the debutante circuit?
Woodward is operating in a very different media environment now. What used to be his bread and butter -- the political and bureaucratic machinations of presidential administrations -- is no longer his exclusive province. Beyond the Washington Post and New York Times, media outlets as varied as Politico, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, and the New Yorker now generate
monthly weekly hourly revelations that Woodward used to be able to hoard for his books. As my old dissertation advisor used to say, "is there anything new here?"
Let's see what Steve Luxenberg's preview in the Washington Post has to say:
President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward....
Among the book's other disclosures:
-- Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn't think about the Afghan war in the "classic" terms of the United States winning or losing. "I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?" he said.
-- The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.
-- Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA's worldwide covert operations.
-- A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators. "They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally," then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.
-- A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles. Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here "a potential game changer." He said: "When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one where you can't afford any mistakes."
-- Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports. "He's on his meds, he's off his meds," Woodward quotes U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry as saying.
Hmmm.... there is some interesting stuff, but it's more in the details (Karzai's depression, the CIA's paramilitaries) than in the overarching narrative. Obama feuded with the military on Afghanistan? There was bureaucratic dissension on Afghanistan? Well, blow me down!!
This ain't how it used to be. In The Commanders, for example, Woodward showed that JCS Chairman Colin Powell was much more reluctant to attack Iraq than previously known.
Now it's possible that this is simply a function of me being
more cynical older than I used to be. But the fact is, I just don't look forward to a new Bob Woodward book anymore.
Question to readers: has Woodward jumped the shark?
My dear Mr. Schweizer,
Of course it’s legitimate to ask questions about supporting evidence for stories we post on Big Peace. But to call Big Peace ”unadulterated horses***t”? Is that your habit when you believe an opponent lacks evidence? Why not simply ask some questions?....
I do find it curious that you argue since Soros is “at best ambivalent and at worst disappointed” with Obama that means he doesn’t have much influence. Surely you are politically sophisticated enough to know that there is a difference between the two. You may be too young to recall (I’m not saying this as a slight) but conservatives were disappointed with Reagan early on in his first term because they felt he didn’t go far enough. Does that mean conservatives lacked influence on Reagan? Ditto for the administration of George W. Bush. Read Kissinger’s memoirs and you will find plenty of examples of his disappointment with Richard Nixon.
You might not be persuaded–that’s fine. But why condemn an entire website?....
I can’t help but peek at your letter to Mr. Moriarty and note your suggestion that you would welcome a whole new set of critical readers to your blog. Do you actually mean it? Or is this wordplay?
To answer your queries:
1) To be honest, if someone writes a post long on accusations and conspiracies but short on supporting evidence, yeah, I'm pretty much gonna call it unadulterated horses**t. In neither Moriarty's initial post, nor in his follow-up letter does he provide a scintilla of evidence to back up his factual claims. If you go by Harry Frankfurt's definition of bulls**t, Moriarty's post appears to fit the bill. According to Frankfurt, if someone simply doesn't care whether what they are saying is true or false, then they're generating bulls**t. Based on Moriarty's output to date, it qualifies as bulls**t. I could debate the fine distinctions between horses**t and bulls**t fr hours, but for these purposes, the two terms are one and the same.
2) Am I condemning the entire Big Peace website? No. if you re-read my original post, I said the entire site would deserve this appellation if Moriarty's writings were characteristic of the rest of Big Peace's output. Consider this a warning shot across the bow - if your job is to edit Big Peace's output, then I think you erred in not using a firmer editorial hand towards Mr. Moriarty.
3) With regard to influence, perhaps we have a problem with terminology. I think you're confusing "influence" with the Svengali-like properties that Moriarty seems to ascribe to Soros. He repeatedly used the Kissinger/Nixon parallel, and that simply doesn't hold up. Kissinger had daily access to Nixon - I hope you'll agree that Soros has had nowhere near that much communication with Obama. Has Soros influenced Obama? Probably, but one could argue that conservatives have influenced policy outcomes more. Without implacable GOP opposition, for example, I'm quite confident that the February 2009 stimulus package would have topped $1 trillion. The difference is that Moriarty characterized Soros as Obama's political sherpa - and, again, to repeat, there is zero evidence that this is the case.
4) On whether I "would welcome a whole new set of critical readers" -- please, scan through my comments on a garden-variety post. I have plenty of readers who disagree with me -- in fact, I take great pride in having the most contrarian group of readers in the foreign policy blogosphere. So yes, criticism is always welcomed.
I'll be sure to check Big Peace on the site from time to time to see if something link-worthy comes up. Until then, welcome to the foreign policy blogosphere:
Daniel W. Drezner
Dear Peter Schweizer,
First off, thanks for writing. Believe it or not, this is precisely this kind of exchange I was hoping for when I called Big Peace "unadulterated horses**t" in my last post. I respect and admire writers who are not put off by a healthy use of Anglo-Saxon terms, as opposed to Latin, academic-y obfuscation.
You raise some issues with my post, so let me respond in kind.
First, you note that, "Drezner seems to have made a habit of coming to Mr. Soros’ defense," linking to a blog post from a few years back. I wonder, however, if you read the entire blog post. Here's how I closed it:
I have very mixed feelings on Soros. The man is and was a first-rate philanthropist. That, said, having read The Bubble of American Diplomacy, I've concluded that Soros is a political loon of the first order. It is ridiculously easy to attack George Soros without ever discussing his religion.
....while Blankely was, to repeat, clearly way out of bounds, the Republican decision to go on the offensive against Soros is perfectly legit. He's dedicated large sums of money to attacking the Bush administration. According to the Post story, "Soros has said in interviews that he has concluded that ousting Bush is the most important thing he can do with his life." The trigger for the Hannity & Colmes discussion was Soros' statement comparing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to the 9/11 attacks. In Bubble of American Diplomacy, Soros admits that he's become "quite rabid" in his political views. He's entered the political arena -- which means he's opened himself to political attacks.
Trust me when I say that this post didn't win me many friends on the left. If this amounts to me "sucking up to a billionaire philanthropist," as you put it, well then, gee, I really stink at it. If you think this still amounts to "sucking up," then I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree. To reiterate -- going after Soros' ideas is just fine. I'm sure you'll agree, however, that going after him for being a Jew is both inflammatory and extraneous.
You then go on to argue that Soros has influenced Obama, and provide links to stories in the Wall Street Journal and Time to back up this point. Hey, this is great! You have linked citations to back up your argument!! That's what I like to see when an online article makes a non-obvious factual assertion. Now go back and re-read Moriarty's column -- did he have any hyperlinks backing up any of his assertions linking Soros to Obama? No? Wouldn't some links on that point have been useful? Indeed, dare I suggest that pointing out the need for evidence is kind of an editor's job?
As for your cites, I'm afraid thay're not convincing at all. Both of them are from November 2008, when there was speculation over who would influence then-President-elect Obama. I haven't seen much since then about Soros' direct influence over Obama. Soros is at best ambivalent and at worst disappointed with Obama's performance. On the issue in which Soros has been the most outspoken -- financial regulation -- Obama willfully ignored Soros' recommendations. So I'm not seeing a lot of influence here. I'm seeing nothing that even approximates the overt and tight relationship that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon shared during the latter's administration (which is what Moriarity stated in his essay).
I could be persuaded otherwise on this point -- Obama and Soros probably do have some kind of relationship. But I need to see the evidence, the unvarnished truth, if you will. If you have any, please provide it and link to it.
Finally, you sarcastically note my impending zombie book, concluding, "Wow. Serious stuff. Scholarly material. Certainly not horses***t."
Well played, sir!! Yes, I am indeed writing a semi-serious book on zombies and world politics. I'm not sure I follow your line of argumentation, however. Are you suggesting that writing on something frivolous (but pedagogically useful) like zombies somehow diminishes my ability to analyze politics and international relations? If that's your argument, then you're impeaching an awful lot of writers and analysts who dabble in hobbies like fiction-writing on the side. It's a good thing you haven't done anything so frivolous as write fiction. Oh, wait....
If you want to directly critique my writings on international relations, please feel free -- there's a lot of them. Implying that the two months I spent writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies disqualifies me from more serious musings is... wait for it.... unadulterated horses**t.
Daniel W. Drezner
Dear Michael Moriarty.
First off, again, thanks for writing. Second, let me just say that you're a highly underrated actor. Courage Under Fire is one of my favorite post-Cold War films, and I thought you were terrific in it -- an understated performance that deserved Academy Award recognition.
Now, to the matter at hand. You write in your response:
You say, “Seriously, I see no evidence of Soros’ alleged influence over Obama, nor do I see any evidence of Soros’ desire to bring down the United States.”
Dragging the United States, kicking and screaming, into the economic quick sands of not only Far Left false promises but, for example, handing the American Gulf oil market over to Brazil’s own predominantly offshore drilling is not a recent headline … of sorts?
Isn’t Mr. Soros a close friend of Brazil’s leadership and an actual investor in Brazil’s oil explorations?
Forgive my hyperbole, but isn’t a moratorium on offshore oil drilling, imposed by an American, Presidential friend of George Soros going to help Brazil … and therefore George Soros … EXPONENTIALLY?
But then again, you can’t even see a shred of “influence” from Soros to Obama (emphases in original).
Now I assume you are referring to this allegation with respect to Soros' investments in Petrobas and the links between Petrobas and the Obama administration. I'm not sure, however, since once again, you failed to provide any links to back up your arguments. On this matter, I suggest you peruse this FactCheck.org post about the issue, as well as this Bloomberg story about Soros' dealings with Petrobras.
There's a phrase that I like a lot: correlation does not equal causation. It is probably true that a moratorium on offshore drilling would help Petrobas, which would in turn help Soros. I seriously doubt, however, that this is what led to the moratorium in the first place, just as I find most conspiracy theories implausible. The moratorium does not appear to reflect Obama's long-term preferences on the issue, given that he indicated he was open to drilling during the 2008 campaign and then announced an expansion of such drilling just a few months before the BP imbroglio. Finally, a six-month delay is not really going to enrich Petrobas all that much.
So no, the word "exponentially" doesn't hold up here. Neither does the comparison you made between Nixon/Kissinger and Obama/Soros in your initial post -- those two pairings are apples and oranges, and there's nothing from your original post nor your follow-up letter that is persuasive on that point.
You also write, "The rumor I’ve received about your publication, Foreign Policy, is that it is not just Left but Far Left." Hey, why listen to received rumor? Why not go for the unvarnished truth? Check out Foreign Policy for yourself!! I'm sure there will be plenty of content that you and your Big Peace readers will find to be on the left. On the other hand, distinguished conservative writers ranging from Robert Kagan to Walter Russell Mead to Dov Zakheim have published here. Even some less distinguished conservatives, like Peter Schweizer's business partner Marc A. Thiessen, have found their way onto Foreign Policy. Read the whole thing!!
One final, friendly suggestion from one writer to another: bolded and italicized fonts have their place in making a point. But bolded and italicized text, in and of itself, does not constitute evidence.
Do keep checking out my blog -- I, for one, would welcome a whole new set of critical readers.
Daniel W. Drezner
Earlier this month media mogul Andrew Breitbart (yes, that Andrew Breitbart) launched Big Peace as his latest website. Big Peace's editor, Peter Schweizer, explained the founding principles of the enterprise in his introductory post:
The word “peace” has been hijacked by those who don’t believe in peace, but rather believe in appeasement. We intend to take it back. Peace comes from strength. Peace comes from freedom. More people were killed in the 20th century by their own governments than due to any war. Peace is a word devoid of meaning unless it includes liberty....
We firmly believe in interactive journalism. National security issues are too important to kept to the “professional” journalists. (Notice the quotes.)
The commitment of the Big Peace Team is to give you the unvarnished truth (emphasis added)
Excellent, I thought. More interest in international relations, regardless of partisanship, promotes a more vigorous marketplace of ideas. With a commitment to the unvarnished truth, I was hopeful that Big Peace would shine a light on some unexplored areas of the foreign policy establishment.
After reading Michael Moriarty's (yes, that Michael Moriarty) explication of the real power behind the Obama administration, however, I have some doubts as to whether Schweizer and I think that "the unvarnished truth" mean the same thing. Here are some snippets of Moriarty's essay, "The Soros/Obama Puppet Show":
From Dr. Henry Kissinger of Harvard to the honorary degree which President Barack Obama, also of Harvard, received from, of all things, a Catholic university, Notre Dame, the fruit off of the tree of such enlightened despotism, the harvest from their lofty efforts has one common denominator: thuggery.
The Kissinger/Nixon Presidency bullied its way to eventual defeat in the eyes of the American people.
Soros/Obama is repeating the same formula but from another, much Redder and very Islamic corner of the very Bipartisan, Kissingerized and Progressive New World Order....
The Soros’ obvious and undeniable objective, after having “broken the Bank of England,” is to teach Barack Obama how to destroy the United States of America as we have known it. He’s off to a very good start with his disciple and philosophic doppelganger.
There is, of course, a bizarre psychological syndrome in a Jewish Godfather and his blatant exploitation of a decidedly pro-Islamic politician with the name of Barack Hussein Obama.
Karl Marx and his Communist philosophy explains it all. Marx was Jewish as well … and perversely anti-Semitic....
To short or bet against the prosperity of your fellow man is precisely the mentality of all three major madmen of the 20th Century: Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
Life is not a horse race … but you can’t tell George Soros that.
Because Hitler was destroyed in World War II but both Stalin and Mao thrived, George Soros and, unfortunately, the likes of Henry Kissinger and many in the conservative corner of America, see a Marxist New World Order as “scientifically inevitable”.
“There is nothing Man can do to stop it!” “We will bury you!” as the Soviet Nikita Khrushchev prophesied.
Apparently Soros and Obama are here to throw the last few shovels filled with dirt into the graves envisioned by Khrushchev that will hold American bodies....
Why don’t all the citizens of America have blood shooting out of their eyes in rage?!
We are actually 1930’s Europe....
Now the new Kissinger is George Soros.
Soros puppeteers Obama in the same way “Dr. K” ultimately led Nixon to his utter humiliation.
Let’s hope to see the same outcome for the Soros/Obama Puppet Show that befell Kissinger/Nixon.
There's stuff I cut out about Marx and an odd Brazilian side note, but you get the gist. Or maybe you don't, because I'm not completely sure I understand what the man is saying. As near as I can figure, Moriarty is asserting the following:
1. George Soros is Obama's Henry Kissinger;
2. George Soros is a Jewish, Marxist, radical lefty who, because he shorts assets, wants to bring down the United States.
If Moriarty could make those charges stick, well, pass me the popcorn, because that would be some interesting news. However, Moriarty provides zero, repeat, zero facts to back up these claims. Seriously, I see no evidence of Soros' alleged influence over Obama, nor do I see any evidence of Soros' desire to bring down the United States. In the end, this is an incoherent screed by a former famous person in which a lot of false comparisons are made and no truth is provided.
Perhaps Moriarty's essay is uncharacteristic of the output on Big Peace. If not, I must come to the conclusion that Big Peace has gone Vizzini on the phrase "unvarnished truth." I think of that term to mean "the speaking of unpleasant, inconvenient, but nevertheless iron-clad truths." Big Peace appears to interpret that term to mean "unadulterated innuendo and horses**t."
Your humble blogger is back in the USA, and will be posting with gusto later today about everything he learned while in Europe.
However, I can't resist commenting quickly on Goldman Sachs' settlement with the SEC. Some financial bloggers are already describing it as a huge win for Goldman. Ordinarily, I don't like this kind of frame: settlements should be win-win, because both sides avoid litigation costs. That said, this paragraph from Sewell Chan and Louise Story's New York Times write-up did catch me short:
Though Goldman did not formally admit to the S.E.C.’s allegations, it agreed to a judicial order barring it from committing intentional fraud in the future under federal securities laws.
Really? Really?! REALLY?!
Goldman Sachs requires a judicial order to not commit intentional fraud? If that judicial order wasn't drawn up, fraud is part and parcel of Goldman Sachs' standard operating procedure? Does this mean that, prior to this settlement, defrauding customers was part of its overall corporate strategy?
I can just picture Goldman Sachs' prospectus to investors:
Goldman Sachs has become the world's most profitable institutional investor through an integrated three-part strategy:
1. Maximizing the profit opportunities from financial globalization;
2. Optimizing the core research strengths of Goldman Sachs' legendary research arm;
3. Scamming the living s**t out of investors stupid enough to think that we have ethics.
Seriously, what the f**king f**k? If this counts as a Goldman Sachs "concession," then they just pulled off the best piece of financial statecraft I've ever seen. It's almost as bad as the old Number Six.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Ah, this comment by A.S. does provide some useful context for this provision. Still, writing it up as a Goldman Sachs concession seems like poor reportage.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
My latest bloggingheads diavlog is with The Atlantic's newly-betrothed Megan McArdle. The topics covered include Weigelgate, the Rolling Stone story on McChrystal, the Russian spy ring story, whether austerity or deficit spending is the thing to do right now, and the geekiest things we brought on our honeymoons.
How does your humble blogger engage in debate when he's still coasting on his vacation tan? Now's the opprtunity to view this natural experiment in the latest bloggingheads diavlog. Henry Farrell and I debate the foreign policy effects of health care, the U.S.-Israel relationship, the Frumble in the Jungle, the abuse scandals in the Catholic church, and what the hell is happening in the European Union.
[Um... what does Mel Brooks have to do with this?--ed. Henry said something when we were talking about the Catholic church scandals that reminded me of this.]
Last month, both on this blog and on my Twitter feed, I defended the notion that political scientists would be uber-interested in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. I was generally sympathetic to Jack Shafer's defense of their sourcing methods in Slate. And, in that spirit, I ordered Game Change, ready to dig deep into campaign gossip and the flawed nature of politicians.
Well, I've finished the book -- as well as the 20-minute shower I needed to take after reading the book. And I hereby retract any and all enthusiasm for Game Change-- because I don't know which parts of it are true and which parts are not.
[Um... does anyone care anymore?--ed. This is the
#10 #15 book on Amazon's bestseller list, so I'm going to say yes.]
My problem is not, exactly, with the sourcing -- it's with the gullibility of Heilemann and Halperin when dealing with their sources. So, just to be clear, the political scientist in me doesn't loathe this book because of the narrative structure -- it's because I don't trust Heilemann and Halperin's BS detector.
It was on page 89 that I began to wonder just how much Game Change's authors double-checked their sources. This section of the book recounts entertainment mogul David Geffen's "break" with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign -- most publicly, in this Maureen Dowd column.
And so, we get to this paragraph in Game Change:
The reaction to the column stunned Geffen. Beseiged by interview requests, he put out a statement saying Dowd had quoted him accurately. Some of Geffen's friends in Hollywood expressed disbelief. Warren Beatty told him, She's going to be president of the United States--you must be nuts to have done this. But many more congratulated Geffen for having the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but was too afraid to put on the record. They said he'd made them feel safer openly supporting or donating to Obama. Soon after, when Geffen visited New York, people in cars on Madison Avenue beeped their horns and gave him the thumbs-up as he walked down the street (emphasis added).
I'm calling bulls**t on the bolded sentence. David Geffen is a powerful mogul, but he's not a photogenic celebrity in his own right. I'm pretty confident in asserting that no one driving down Madison Avenue would recognize Geffen walking down the street. I have complete confidence that no more than one person did this.
Furthermore, even if there was a small chance that someone did recognize Geffen on the street, how would a honking horn indicate sympathy with Geffen's political inclinations as opposed to, say, a sentiment more like, "Yo, David, will you listen to my demo?!"
So, who is the "deep background" source of this little anecdote for Game Change? It has to be Geffen -- he is, after all, so vain. And so we arrive at the first key question: what does it say about the veracity of Game Change that Geffen related a completely implausible, ego-boosting story about himself to Heilemann and Halperin and it gets printed in the book?
This leads to the second key question: what other "telling anecdotes" of dubious provenance got put into this book? The Geffen anecdote is has zero impact on the juicy stories told in the rest of the book -- but how can I be certain that Heilemann and Halperin vetted those sources with greater scrutiny?
I don't doubt that most of Game Change is accurate -- and I couldn't put the book down as I was reading it. I just don't trust what I read.
Steve Walt effectively vivisects Adam Lawther's op-ed yesterday on the alleged positive externalities that an Iranian nuclear bomb would have on the Middle East and American foreign policy. Rather than dogpile on, I'm going to go meta again.
I'm intrigued by what op-ed editor David Shipley is trying to do on the Iran debate. Lawther's op-ed is hardly the first strange op-ed on Iran to appear in the past few months. We've also had Alan Kuperman's analysis for why bombing Iran is such a good idea, and the Leverett's pay-no-attention-to-the-protestors-behind-the-curtain argument for enhanced engagement with the current Iranian leadership.
As the links above suggest, I'm not a fan of any of these arguments. That said, I am a fan of having these arguments inserted into the public discussion over Iran. Ever since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a common lament has been that was no public debate about the wisdom of different policy options. Both foreign policy mooseheads and scholars have highlighted this pre-invasion consensus. These analyses might be somewhat exaggerated, but I think it would be difficult to deny that in the opinion pages of the major newspapers, the deck was somewhat stacked in favor of military action.
My hunch is that Shipley is thinking: "Won't Get Fooled Again" He wants as heterogeneous an array of views as possible as the Iran situation develops.
There is something laudable about this if it's true -- it's exactly what the Times op-ed page should be doing as a foreign policy crisis unfolds. My only concern is the caliber of reasoning in these op-eds. They are, as Walt put it, "silly arguments." On the other hand, if these ideas are vetted and then shot down, maybe the foreign policy community actually knows what it's talking about this time around.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
The New York Times' Robert Worth and Nazila Fathli take a bold step for inference in their story on Iran's demonstrations:
Unlike the other protesters reported killed on Sunday, Ali Moussavi appears to have been assassinated in a political gesture aimed at his uncle, according to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an opposition figure based in Paris with close ties to the Moussavi family.
Mr. Moussavi was first run over by a sport utility vehicle outside his home, Mr. Makhmalbaf wrote on his Web site. Five men then emerged from the car, and one of them shot him. Government officials took the body late Sunday and warned the family not to hold a funeral, Mr. Makhmalbaf wrote.
Whoa there, big fella. Talk about jumping to conclusions! Sure, this looks suspicious, but I can think of several other plausible reasons for why this could have happened:
See, these are all plausible alternative storylines, and should be investigated thoroughly before calling this a "political assassination."
We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of Jon Stewart's verbal skewering of Crossfire in particular and the whole genre of left-right cable gabfests in general. Stewart said these kind of shows were "hurting America" because of their general blather and failure to ask politicians good, sharp questions.
Stewart's appearance on Crossfire generated quite the navel-gazing among the commentariat, and played no small role in the eventual disappearance of Crossfire, The Capitol Gang, Hannity & Colmes, and shows of that ilk.
So, five years later, I have a half-assed blog question to ask -- did Jon Stewart hurt America by driving these shows off the air?
If you're expecting a lengthy defense of the Crossfire format right now, well, you're going to be disappointed. My point rather, is to question what replaced these kinds of shows on the cable newsverse. Instead of Hannity & Colmes, you now have.... Hannity. Is this really an improvement?
As inane as the crosstalk shows might have been, one of their strengths was that they had people with different ideological and political perspectives talking to (and sometimes past) each other. You could argue that the level of discourse was pretty simplistic and crude -- but at least it was an attempt at cross-ideological debate. People from different ideological stripes watched the same show and heard the same arguments. Nowadays, if you're looking for that kind of exchange, you either have to fast all week until the Sunday morning talk shows, or go visit bloggingheads.
Instead of Crossfire-style shows on cable news, you now have content like Hannity, Glenn Beck, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, etc. These programs have no cross-ideological debate. Instead, you have hosts on both the left and the right outbidding each other to see who can be the most
batsh**t insane ideologically pure. These shows attract audiences sympathetic to the host's political beliefs, and the content of these shows help viewers to fortify their own ideological bunkers to the point where no amount of truth is going to penetrate their worldviews. Which allows these hosts to say any crazy thing that pops into their head and hear nothing but "Ditto!" after they say it.
Again, you have to discount this as a half-assed blog observation, but it seems to me that shows like Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann are now sucking up the available oxygen in the cable newsverse that programs like Capitol Gang use to breathe. Is that really a good thing?
So, five years later, I'd like to ask Mr. Stewart a question -- was your rant good for America?
UPDATE: Two quick responses. First, this commenter argues that the Glenn Becks of the world are far worse than the Keith Olbermanns of the world, and that this post has a "plague on both houses" quality to it.
OK, let's stipulate that the bulk of the output that I'm decrying in this post comes from the right rather than the left. I'll even further stipulate that Rachel Maddow represent the best of this kind of format. So stipulated.
Feel better now? Does that stipulation in any way affect the argument I made above? No, I didn't think so.
Contra-Tucker Carlson, I actually believe shows like Stewart’s “Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” do a better job of illuminating issues than the screamfests did. But that’s a rather low bar.
Well...... maybe. When Stewart is on his game, he is quite the interrogator. But Carlson was correct about one point -- politicians had a clear incentive to duck the screamfests in favor of "soft news" formats like the morning network shows, late-night talk shows, "fake news" shows like Stewart's or SNL, or even Oprah. How many politicians now choose to duck Stewart's show entirely for even softer news outlets. And, to repeat -- what replaced the left-right screamfests? Ideologically pure screamfests.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Events in Iran have led to a lot of talk about how this is a Twitter revolution, and that Twitter has been the go-to source on real-time developments in Iran. Stepping onto FP's Evgeny Morozov's turf, however, I have to wonder we're exaggerating its effect juuuuust a wee bit here.
Twitter is serving two different purposes in Iran right now. Its first role is as a coordination device for Iranian supporters of Mousavi -- much like events in Moldova from a couple of months ago. On this dimension, to be sure, it would seem that Twitter has facilitated coordination.
Well, except for one thing -- the absence of Twitter does the same thing. According to the press accounts I read, Mousavi wanted to cancel yesterday (Monday's) demonstration because the Iranian authorities had refused to grant permission and warned of bloodshed. The thing is, since Twitter and other methods of quick communication were down, there was no way to communicate the cancellation messaage to supporters. In other words, had Iranian authorities not interruped mobile services and the like when they had, Monday's demonstration might have fizzled out. One wonders if the same dynamic will play out today.
Twitter's second role is as a source of information for outside observers -- indeed, if Dan Nexon's post is correct, that seems to be the more important function. It's not the only or even the primary source, however. Kevin Drum gets at this point:
I followed the events of the weekend via three basic sources. The first was cable news, and as everyone in the world has pointed out, it sucked. Most TV news outlets have no foreign bureaus anymore; they didn't know what was going on; and they were too busy producing their usual weekend inanity to care. Grade: F.
The second was Twitter, mostly as aggregated by various blogs. This had the opposite problem: there was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren't there. It was better than cable news, but not exactly the future of news gathering. Grade: B-.
The third was the small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise. The New York Times. The BBC. Al Jazeera. A few others. The twitterers were a part of the story that they reported, but they also added real background, real reporting, and real context to everything. Grade: B+. Given the extremely difficult reporting circumstances, maybe more like an A-.
This matches my assessment as well.
Which, again, is not to diss Twitter. It's merely to suggest that life is a bit more complex than simple memes of "this new information technology is supplanting all prior forms of information technology!"
I've blogged before about the awesome and misplaced power of headline editors. They can erroneously move markets and
piss off bloggers who don't read through to the end of an article -- confuse readers.
Well, USA Today let me down. Google News sent me to this USA Today story (really a blog post) with the headline, "Obama says nation needs more nerds."
And I thought to myself, "Yes!!! Finally, we can expand our power from out current base of Hollywood comic book movie franchises and start to dominate the real corridors of power."
Alas, there's nothing in the actual story to suggest that Obama said those words. Indeed, there's nothing in the fact sheet on the Cyberspace Policy Review report where Obama says that either.
Now I must go back to my regularly scheduled work, while adding another headline editor to my list.
Oh, yes, there's a list.
Since I'm apparently picking on the New York Times op-ed page today, it's worth linking and quoting from George Packer's one-paragraph evisceration of how the Times' columnists have weathered the financial crisis:
These days, it’s striking that the Times’s columnists seem unable to contend with the earthquake rolling under our feet. With the whole world undergoing a once-in-a-lifetime upheaval, the stars of the Op-Ed page have almost without exception fallen back on the comfort of well-worn stances and personality tics, which are the habitual danger of publishing one’s thoughts every week for years. Friedman, who knows a lot about economics but has too much faith in elites, calls for a summit of “the country’s 20 leading bankers, 20 leading industrialists, 20 top market economists and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate,” as if these very individuals are not the main agents of the catastrophe. Dowd publishes a column of inadvertent self-parody whose subject is Michelle Obama’s arms, and whose sum total of reporting is a conversation in a Washington taxi with her fellow columnist David Brooks. Kristof continues to call necessary attention to chronic, less-noticed disasters, but he does it more and more by making himself the hero of a moral drama and, in a recent series of columns from Darfur, insulting his readers with the suggestion that they’re too shallow to read on unless he bribes them with celebrity gossip. Rich never challenges his own side, and the result is a weekly display of rhetorical bravura and cheap shots. Bob Herbert has one tone of voice, and as often as outrage is called for, it’s also tiresome. Only Brooks and Krugman seem to be registering the earthquake in a meaningful way, asking themselves difficult questions on a regular basis and struggling out in the open with the answers, which is why the page is at its best on Friday.
I'm 50% convinced that Paul Krugman's op-ed today is correct, and the moderates wound up damaging the stimulus more than they improved it.
The thing is, I'm also 50% convinced that Krugman is to Keynesians as Richard Perle is to neoconservatives. When an embittered ideologue derides his political leader for demonstrating a willingness to compromise and "negotiating with yourself," well, one does get the sense of deja vu.
The rhetorical parallels between neocons and Keynesians are increasingly disturbing. Martin Wolf argued late last week that "shock and awe" is required to stimulate the global economy -- a point seconded by Krugman. Critics of the Keynesian approach are summarily dismissed as wingnuts.
I'm in the Ken Rogoff camp on the economy -- I'm somewhat dubious about the ability of any stimulus package to really jumpstart the economy, and very wary about the long-term costs of this strategy (for one thing, Bretton Woods II still needs to be unwound). But I also don't have a better idea and "the situation is so dangerous it has to be tried."
But I also know that when I hear anyone using rhetorical tropes that remind me of Richard Perle, I run like hell in the opposite direction. And Krugman is increasingly sounding like Perle.
Shorter Paul Krugman: "We're headed for deflation and depression, we need a really big stimulus, and if Barack Obama keeps trying to placate Republicans in the name of post-partisanship, we're all gonna be living in grass huts."
Shorter David Brooks: "There's a new coalition of moderates asking sensible questions about waste in the stimulus package, and if Barack Obama keeps trying to placate liberal interest groups and Congressman, we're all gonna continue to live in the era of extreme partisanship."
Intriguingly enough, there is one point on which both Brooks and Krugman agree -- Barack Obama has been surprisingly passive during the drafting of the stimulus bills.
I think there's a way to thread the needle. If all the moderates want is to trim the package a little, then Obama could likely get yes votes from GOP moderates. That would (just) be enough for him to claim bipartisan support, and then a package is passed. I don't think it would be large enough for Krugman's tastes, but on the other hand I'm hard-pressed to believe that ust another $100 billion in stimulus is the difference between recovery and grass huts.
This, by the way, is the most pernicious effect of the entire financial meltdown on fiscal policy. When $100 billion no longer seems like a significant sum of money, it's time for a good stiff drink.
Your humble blogger has long been interested in the intersection between celebrity and politics.
I therefore feel compelled to report the following anecdote concerning Jessica Alba and Bill O'Reilly:
Jessica Alba is setting the record straight: Sweden was neutral during World War II.
Alba and Fox TV show host Bill O’Reilly traded punches last week after the presidential inauguration. After Alba told a Fox reporter that O’Reilly was “kind of an a-hole;” he retaliated by calling her a “pinhead” for telling a reporter to “be Sweden about it,” assuming she meant Switzerland.
“I want to clear some things up that have been bothering me lately,” Alba blogged on MySpace Celebrity. “Last week, Mr. Bill O'Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e.TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people... it's so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland.”
For the record, Alba wins this fact fight. This is the second time in the past year that a right-wing political figure has been brought low by a celebrity.
This is surprising. It's pretty easy to poke fun at celebs like Paris Hilton or Jessica Alba (the latter's inauguration video is unintentionally very funny). Right-wing politicos and pundits should be used to debate.
So why are celebrities schooling them? Has the quality of conservative leadership really fallen so far? What happens when the true A-listers, like, say, Salma Hayek, start focusing their fire on Mitch McConnell or Rush Limbaugh?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.