Way back in the Early Stone Age of the Internet -- i.e., the mid-1990s -- a group of developed countries started negotiating a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Negotiated in semi-secret, the MAI soon triggered a backlash among elements of global civil society. In response, they initiated mass protests, petitioned governments, and -- most subversively -- posted MAI treaty drafts on the web. According to them -- (and, to be fair, some scholars) they played a
crucial role in the stalling out of the MAI in December 1998.
The thing is, there is minimal evidence that global civil society was really the cause of the MAI's downfall. As the draft documents suggested at the time, the member states were far from reaching an agreement - the last draft version of the treaty had contained almost 50 pages of country-specific exemptions. The United States and European Union were also deadlocked over the issues of extraterritorial sanctions, application of the most-favored nation principle, and cultural protectionism. In his book Fighting the Wrong Enemy, Edward M.Graham concluded: "the negotiations were indeed in very deep difficulty before the metaphorical torpedo was fired by the NGOs... this torpedo thus was more a coup de grâce than a fatal blow in its own right." The precise role of global civil society in scuttling the MAI remains a topic for debate.
I bring up this ancient IPE history because it appears that Wikileaks is about to provide a great natural experiment on the power of these kind of networked actors to influence the global political economy:
Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states....
The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China....
The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013....
The longest section of the [Intellectual Property] Chapter – ’Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.
The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.
Now, Wikileaks actually has a decent point to make on the intellectual property front. It also makes many absurd points about how a) the TPP is "the largest-ever economic treaty" (when it really isn't); b) the TPP and TTIP are intertwined (when they really aren't); and c) it's so unfair that some countries are negotiating an agreement that doesn't include other countries (why, you'd never see China or Russia doing that kind of thing!!).
Truthfully, however, the substance of the TPP is not the point of this post -- it's the political economy. Compared to the MAI, it's safe to say that the TPP negotiations are much further down the path to completion. Furthermore, from a geopolitical perspective, the Obama administration has a lot more invested in TPP than the Clinton administration did in the MAI. If, by publishing the draft texts, Wikileaks manages to derail the agreement, then that's a data point in favor of the power of networked global civil society. If, on the other hand, TPP proceeds relatively unscathed, then it suggests that perhaps the power of these non-state actors has been exaggerated, even in a Web 2.0 world.
There's a pretty strong consensus among economists that any difficulties created by not raising the debt ceiling would be, to use the technical term, "really bad." That's the same consensus that foreign leaders have when looking at the United States. Financial markets are starting to freak out as well. At the same time, there's a raft of recent articles about the large number of GOP congressmen who don't think that going past the October 17th drop-dead date would be such a bad thing. See the Financial Times, New York Times, Politico, New York Times again, and Washington Post, just for starters.
What's particularly surprising about this is that one would have expected some learning from the last time the "debt kamikazes" emerged during the 2011 debt ceiling showdown. Even though there was a deal., the brinksmanship alone cost the U.S. government close to $19 billion. And yet, this time around, the debt denialist caucus seems to have grown even louder.
This raises an interesting and disturbing question for social scientists: why is there such resistance to the expertise offered by economists? Why does an ever larger group of Republican politicians pooh-pooh expert warnings?
I'd offer the following mélange of reasons:
1) The overall expertise of economists has been devalued. As Christopher Hayes pointed out in Twilight of the Elites, this hasn't been a good decade for those in traditional positions of authority. That applies to traditional experts as well. The same profession that seemed mostly copacetic with financial deregulation a decade ago and mostly sanguine about the implications of the subprime mortgage crisis before Lehman Brothers collapsed has lost a fair amount of its luster. So it doesn't matter what they're saying now.
2) GOP politicians are listening to their own experts. Someone from Brookings or the Peterson Institute for Inteernational Economics or a lesser Ivy League school won't get much rhythm from Republicans. They have their own experts ensconced in think tanks across DC. Mike Konczal conducted a little experiment and contacted conservative think tanks to get their experts' opinion of what will happen if the debt ceiling is breached. His finding:
The Heritage Foundation immediately responded with a quote from this post, stating, “Congress still has some time and options. Even if the debt limit is not raised by mid-October, Boccia writes, ‘the Treasury would not necessarily default on debt obligations,’ as it can ‘reasonably be expected to prioritize principal and interest payments on the national debt, protecting the full faith and credit of the United States above all other spending.’”
They added, “In other words, risk of a default is practically nil—unless the President and Treasury choose to default, an unprecedented and almost inconceivable course of action.”....
The Cato Institute put me in touch with their senior fellow Dan Mitchell, who said, “I think the likelihood of an actual default is zero, or as close to zero as you can possibly get, for the simple reason that the Treasury Department has plenty of competent people who would somehow figure out how to prioritize payments.”
3) Wolf has been cried too often. Economists warned about bad macroeconomic effects when the sequester kicked in... and GDP growth accelerated. Economists warned about the bad macroeconomic effects of a government shutdown... and the most prominent news story became the fact that some World War II veterans got blocked from visiting a monument. So they've heavily discounted warnings about a failure on the debt ceiling -- and since it's never happened before, even the economic experts can't say for sure that the apocalypse will happen.
4) It's why they ran for office. For the record, I think U.S. representative Ted Yoho (R, FL) is an ignorant jackass when it comes to what will happen if there's no debt ceiling increase. But he's not wrong when he says, "I ran on not raising the debt ceiling." And Politico's Ben White and Seung Min Kim ain't wrong when they point out that, "Other members say they based entire campaigns on not boosting the borrowing limit." They're acting like Millian representatives. Crazy as it sounds, it's democratic.
5) Barack Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling. And whatever Obama wants must, by definition, be bad. I'll just close with this quote from Tim Huelskamp in the Financial Times:
Mr Huelskamp is not nervous that a default is on the horizon, and he says neither are his constituents back in Kansas. “They don’t trust this administration. This is the same administration that on one hand tells them what’s going to happen on October 17 and on the other hand they’re saying Obamacare is a wonderful thing for businesses. They have no credibility,” he says.
The bitter irony of all of this is that if the debt ceiling is breached, the only way for economists to regain their credibility is if something really calamitous happens.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger has been interested in the phenomenon of the "Idea Industry" for quite some time now. And in the past week or so two, articles have come out that touch on this phenomenon that demonstrate just how wide-ranging this industry has become.
The first is Henry Farrell's "The Tech Intellectuals" in the fall issue of Democracy magazine. He focuses on those intellectuals who wish to engage the wider public sphere and the ways in which the political economy of attention shape the contours of the debate:
[Tech intellectuals] aren't trying to get review-essays published in Dissent or Commentary. Instead, they want to give TED talks that go viral. They argue with one another on a circuit of business conferences, academic meetings, ideas festivals, and public entertainment. They write books, some excellent, others incoherent.…
They are more ideologically constrained than either their predecessors or the general population. There are few radical left-wingers, and fewer conservatives. Very many of them sit somewhere on the spectrum between hard libertarianism and moderate liberalism. These new intellectuals disagree on issues such as privacy and security, but agree on more, including basic values of toleration and willingness to let people live their lives as they will. At their best, they offer an open and friendly pragmatism; at their worst, a vision of the future that glosses over real politics, and dissolves the spikiness, argumentativeness, and contrariness of actual human beings into a flavorless celebration of superficial diversity.
This world of conversation and debate doesn't float unsupported in the air. It has an underlying political economy, which is intuitively understood by many of its participants.…
The possibilities today reflect a different set of material conditions again, which don't determine individual choices so much as they pull on them, gently but insistently. They influence what is discussed and what isn't, who wins and who loses. And much goes undiscussed. The working consensus among technology intellectuals depicts a world of possibilities that seems starkly at odds with the American reality of skyrocketing political and economic inequality. It glosses over the deep conflicts and divisions that exist in society and are plausibly growing worse. And the critics of this consensus fare no better. They work within the same system as their targets, in ways that compromise their rejoinders, and stunt the development of more useful lines of argument.
What's interesting is the ways in which this kind of intellectual branding blurs the lines between intellectual life, philanthropy, and business. For an example of this, we go to Alec MacGillis's mini-biography of Doug Band in the New Republic. Band started out as the last of Bill Clinton's body men in the White House and stuck with him during the darker, less popular days of his immediate ex-presidency. What's fascinating is the ways in which Band uses his ties with Clinton to develop the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) … and to forge his own brand:
As conceived by Band, CGI was the perfect vehicle for Clinton. It allowed him to train his intellect on wonky dilemmas—improving China’s power grid, bolstering Mali’s market for locally produced rice. And it placed him at the center of a matrix of the ultra-wealthy and the ultra-powerful, the kinds of people Clinton has always taken a special pleasure in surrounding himself with.
CGI operates like an economy in which celebrity is the main currency. For Clinton, there is the appeal of tackling existential challenges by striking a deal, one on one, with the right influential person. He could help expand access to health care for millions, thanks to the whim of a billionaire like Saudi Arabia’s Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi; or get $30 million in loan guarantees to finance clean water utilities in India, via Dow Chemical; or $100 million for small-business development in Africa, courtesy of Shell. Clinton “has this abiding faith that, if you get the right people in the room together, magical things will happen,” says Priscilla Phelps, who was the housing expert for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which Clinton co-chaired. In some cases, such as securing agreements for carbon-emissions reductions, the solving-by-convening model has produced impressive results. In others, such as the Haiti commission, which held only seven meetings to little effect, it has not.…
As for Band, he was right where he’d always wanted to be. He solicited pledges from wealthy donors and doled out access to Clinton. He determined who got to be on stage with him and for how long, who got into the photo line, who rode on the plane. “If you look at CGI, it was an idea, and now it’s a huge business,” says the Clinton friend. “[Band] started realizing he had all this talent on the business side.” More than that, Band came to see entrepreneurial opportunities embedded within CGI itself. “When they were raising money for the foundation, Doug was the one who kept the tabs and the lists and cut the deals,” says the former White House colleague. “And Doug is very transactional.”
You'll have to read the whole thing to see where the transactions go from there. Needless to say, any industry that includes both Doug Band and Evgeny Morozov is one worth investigating further.
Sure, I could blog about the substance of Obama's Syria speech last night, but John Dickerson captured the problem with its political optics and Joe Weisenthal has captured the market reaction and Andrew Sullivan has the pro-Obama spin and Shibley Telhami or Micah Zenko has the anti-Obama spin.
So, instead... I'm going to risk the wrath of XKCD and talk about the role of social media:
What I found really interesting was what happened after the speech on Twitter. Namely, Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, took to Twitter in response to two influential foreign policy pundits, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof. For example:
@NickKristof CW is in distinct category. Banned by international law - threat to civilians, global security, and international order— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 11, 2013
@JeffreyGoldberg Increased support for Syrian opposition. Regime cut off from global economy. Geneva process to transition to new government— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 11, 2013
I've never seen this kind of spin room dynamic play out on Twitter on foreign policy substance. Campaign stuff, sure, but not foreign policy substance.
Dylan Byers noted it too, and reports that Rhodes was part of a larger White House communications push:
While Rhodes worked on Goldberg and Kristof, White House press secretary Jay Carney tweeted quotes from Obama’s speech — “Getting the word out by all available means!,” he tweeted at one Time Magazine reporter — and Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s assistant and senior advisor, tried to counter journalists who argued that Obama’s speech was “old news.”
“[W]e don’t assume the public follows the news as closely as leading political columnists,” Pfeiffer wrote to The Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston. And to Goldberg, he tweeted, “[P]residents don’t ask for time to address columnists who follow every minute of the news, it’s for the public that doesn’t.”
So, on the one hand, this is a New Thing -- which means that, like foreign cyber-espionage, there's a new way to measure status in the foreign policy community: If you're in power, are you important enough to be authorized to tweet in response to a Big Foreign Policy Event? If you're a pundit, are you important enough to have Ben Rhodes tweet at you? I mean, is he at least following you? Somewhere, Mark Leibovich is rubbing his hands together with glee as he starts his sequel, This Foreign Policy Town.
On the other hand.... if you read to the end of Byers' story, it doesn't seem like the spin had much effect:
Leading minds on foreign policy were unforgiving, and panned the speech as contradictory and inconsequential.
“He should have postponed,” Goldberg told POLITICO. “Basically he said — our military is ready; John Kerry is going to Geneva, and poison gas is very bad.”
In an email to POLITICO, Rothkopf called the speech “a string of his recent arguments culminating in a punt.”
“It seems clear he wishes this would all go away and that he is very uncomfortable with the spot he finds himself,” Rothkopf wrote. “The thing he feels strongest about is his own ambivalence.”
Ceding a little ground, though not much, Phillip Gourevitch, the New Yorker staff writer, tweeted: “That it’s pure rhetoric w/no substance may be understandable w/confused state of play but it clarifies nothing.” He added: “Obama did make strong case for likely ineffectiveness of action in Syria, while declaring its necessity.”
So, to sum up: XKCD is right about social media.
Am I missing anything?
I see that earlier this week there was a small kerfuffle on the effect of the internet on journalism/punditry. See Robert Samuelson grumping his way through this column, followed by Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman responding.
You've heard a lot over the past 10 to 15 years about the crisis of American journalism, but it's actually been a crisis for American journalists. A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people have had to work harder, or work in ways they find less pleasant. Journalism has become more competitive and in some ways less prestigious. It's simultaneously more ideological and more commercial than it used to be. There are a lot of reasons journalists gripe. But the journalism is fine. Not just fine, it's fantastic. More people have easier and cheaper access to more great coverage than ever before. You can delve much deeper into issues than ever before, hear from a much wider range of people, and learn about news faster. There really has been an amazing explosion of journalistic productivity, and voracious readers are way better off than they've ever been. The fact that journalists may not like it is neither here nor there. If an explosion of higher education productivity occurs, the people who currently teach in colleges and universities will find it discomfiting and that should not be the relevant consideration.
I bring this all up because, while the debate about MOOCs focuses on the teaching side of the academy, my experience finishing up my book manuscript speaks to the research side. Simply put, the accessibility of data over the internet has improved dramatically just in the time between writing All Politics Is Global and The System Worked. Back in 2006 I don't remember being able to download usable spreadsheets on IMF or UNCTAD or WEF or Transparency International data while I was writing All Politics Is Global. I was able to do all of that inside of twenty minutes last month, and it was wonderful. I was able to collect information in two weeks that likely would have taken me a year to do back in the 1990s. Furthermore, the internet is now generating its own data that can be useful to scholars.
That's a significant increase in research productivity, and it is truly glorious. So I'd like to thank the Internet for all its help during the writing of this latest book. Yes, this technology is going to complicate my profession for quite some time. But, to paraphrase Yglesias: there are a lot of reasons that academic researchers gripe, but the academic research is fine.
Your humble blogger has been hearing about MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- for the past few years now. Among the foreign-policy community, Walter Russell Mead has been banging on about these things for quite some time: See here and here and here and here and here and … you get the idea. Your humble blogger has been, well, let's say MOOC-curious, but not completely persuaded.
Dotcom mania was slow in coming to higher education, but now it has the venerable industry firmly in its grip. Since the launch early last year of Udacity and Coursera, two Silicon Valley start-ups offering free education through MOOCs, massive open online courses, the ivory towers of academia have been shaken to their foundations. University brands built in some cases over centuries have been forced to contemplate the possibility that information technology will rapidly make their existing business model obsolete. Meanwhile, the MOOCs have multiplied in number, resources and student recruitment—without yet having figured out a business model of their own.
Besides providing online courses to their own (generally fee-paying) students, universities have felt obliged to join the MOOC revolution to avoid being guillotined by it. Coursera has formed partnerships with 83 universities and colleges around the world, including many of America’s top-tier institutions.…
On July 10th Coursera said it had raised another $43m in venture capital, on top of the $22m it banked last year. Although its enrolments have soared, and now exceed 4m students, this is a huge leap of faith by investors that the firm can develop a viable business model. The new money should allow Coursera to build on any advantage it has from being a first mover among a rapidly growing number of MOOC providers. “It is somewhat entertaining to watch the number of people jumping on board,” says Daphne Koller, a Stanford professor and co-founder of Coursera. She expects it to become one of a “very small number of dominant players”.
The industry has similar network economics to Amazon, eBay and Google, says Ms Koller, in that “content producers go to where most consumers are, and consumers go to where the most content is.” Simon Nelson, the chief executive of FutureLearn, disagrees. “Anyone who thinks the rules of engagement have already been written by the existing players is massively underestimating the potential of the technology,” he says.
Sounds game-changing … or it sounds like the mania that gripped dotcom world circa 1999-2000. Mead and the Economist clearly think it's the former. Are they right?
I'm not so sure. One can point to individual MOOC flame-outs or surveys of MOOC profs and conclude that it's not a game-changer, not really -- but I'm not sure those individual data points rise to the level of falsification.
This Inside Higher Ed piece by Ry Rivard, however, is a bit more telling.
As scores of colleges rush to offer free online classes, the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down. Even top proponents of MOOCs are acknowledging critical questions remain unanswered, and are urging further study.
Dan Greenstein, the head of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now wonders aloud if MOOCs are a “viable thing or are just a passing fad.” Gates has agreed to spend $3 million for wide-reaching MOOC-related grants. But Greenstein said higher ed is suffering from “innovation exhaustion,” and MOOCs are part of the problem.
“It seems to me, at least with respect to MOOCs, that we have skipped an important step,” he wrote in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed last week. “We’ve jumped right into the ‘chase’ without much of a discussion about what problems they could help us to solve. We have skipped the big picture of where higher ed is going and where we want to be in 10 or 20 years.”....
If anything, MOOCs are going through what the technology consulting firm Gartner has identified as the “hype cycle.” The firm says any much-hyped product goes from a “peak of inflated expectations” to a “trough of disillusionment” before institutions figure out how to really use and benefit from a new technology.…
The new rhetoric in discussion of MOOCs may also be showing up from MOOC providers themselves. Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Udacity, predicted last year that within a half-century there would only be 10 institutions of higher education left in the world.
Now, Thrun is a bit more modest. "Upfront, I believe that online education will not replace face to face education, and neither is it supposed to," he wrote in a blog post last month. "Just as film never replaced theater plays and many of us prefer to watch sports live in big stadiums, online will not abolish face to face interaction." He also said ed tech innovators should be "willing to learn from our failures and to forge on."
OK, give me a second, I'm just going to take a moment and savor the irony of Gartner's discovery of the "hype cycle," given that a decade ago they pretty much claimed offshore outsourcing was the second coming of the Industrial Revolution and then … it turned to be juuuuust a little overhyped.
That said, I suspect that Gartner is likely correct this time. Evangelists like Mead or the Economist are way overselling the immediacy of any change in higher education because of MOOCs. Pro tip: If the biggest evidence that something is a game-changer is a firm can raise capital, then there ain't any there there just yet. It's promise and nothing more, as the owners of Pets.com will tell you.
That said, I do suspect that over time, some departments and some courses in some schools will make this kind of adaptation. If I had to predict, however, I'd say that there would be two trends. The first is that more state schools will be forced to embrace this option by budget-conscious state legislators. This doesn't mean that state students will get a better education. Indeed, I'd predict the opposite. My hunch is that sitting in a classroom with other students listening to a pretty good in-person lecturer provides far more educational value-added than a student watching the best MOOC instructor alone in their room. But even if it won't be a better education, it should be a cheaper one.
The second, and more important, trend is that global students should be the biggest beneficiaries, simply by expanding the supply of available educational options. And MOOCs might solve that pesky question of how to handle setting up satellite campuses in countries with questionable regimes.
What do you think?
As Uri Friedman has chronicled elsewhere at FP, yesterday Dennis Rodman took to Twitter to engage in some outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with respect to an American "tried" for espionage in the Hermit Kingdom:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Now I can only assume that "Kim," will react to such a moving plea by releasing Bae immediately.
This got your humble blogger to thinking: If only Twitter had been invented earlier, think of the humanitarian catastrophes that celebrities might have helped avert. Had Twitter arrived with, say, the end of the Cold War, this alternative history would likely have produced the following example of preventative celebrity tweets:
1) "Yo yo yo Saddam, don't bake in the Kuwaiti dessert when you could be chillin' with me in Cabo!! Peace out!!" -- Vanilla Ice (@VanillaIce), January 3, 1991
2) "The Big Aristotle knows that Hutus and Tutsis can get along. So I'm asking them to stop the madness. And go see Kazaam two years from now!!" -- Shaquille Oneal (@SHAQ), April 23, 1994.
3) "The Muscles from Brussels is asking my old drinking buddy "Slobo" to pay up on his bar bet and negotiate a peace deal for Bosnia." -- Jean-Claude Van Damme (@JCVD), November 1, 1995.
4) "WHASSSSSSSSSSSUP???!!! Hopefully no more anthrax attacks. Seriously, whoever's doing that should stop, man." -- Jonathan Taylor Thomas (@JTTtruth), September 30, 2001.
5) "I'm really happy for you, imma let you finish, GWB, but Putin is one of the best strongmen of all time, and he should stop cracking down." -- Kanye West (@kanyewest), May 3, 2005.
Readers are welcome to suggest other lost tweets out there in the comments.
With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
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.
One of the tests of any theoretical paradigm is whether it works on a new explanatory domain. The introduction of "cyber" as a new possible zone of conflict would seem to be an ideal testing ground for international relations theory, for example. Will cybersecurity emerge within a strong body of law-governed international regimes, a norm-infused sphere of do's and don'ts, a game-theoretic equilibrium in which no actor has an incentive to deviate frrom status-quo policies, an arena where nuclear analogies are applied to a new and not-so-similar security theater, or a realpolitik zone of anarchy in which there are no rules or norms, just exercises of power and capabilities?
Based on recent reporting, the answer appears to be a realpolitik one. After bolstering the Department of Defense's Cyber Command even during a time of austerity, the New York Times' David Sanger and Thom Shanker report on a new legal review of presidential authority in this area:
A secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad, according to officials involved in the review.
That decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.
The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held....
Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. The Pentagon has created a new Cyber Command, and computer network warfare is one of the few parts of the military budget that is expected to grow. Officials said that the new cyberpolicies had been guided by a decade of evolution in counterterrorism policy, particularly on the division of authority between the military and the intelligence agencies in deploying cyberweapons. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record....
As the process of defining the rules of engagement began more than a year ago, one senior administration official emphasized that the United States had restrained its use of cyberweapons. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said....
While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. Even more complex, nonstate actors, like terrorists or criminal groups, can mount attacks, and it is often difficult to tell who is responsible. Some critics have said the cyberthreat is being exaggerated by contractors and consultants who see billions in potential earnings.
One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.
A possible exception would be in cases of narrowly targeted tactical strikes by the military, like turning off an air defense system during a conventional strike against an adversary.
“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official said. That means the administration has ruled out the use of “automatic” retaliation if a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure is detected, even if the virus is traveling at network speeds....
Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the F.B.I.
There's a lot going on in this story, but distilled to its elements, it does seem as though the U.S. is ramping up its offensive capabilities a hell of a lot more than preparing for defensive resiliency. So, offensive realism for the win, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe this is just some odd organizational politics going on. I confess to finding this utterly puzzling, because the latter is clearly kinda important. In an arena populated by non-state actors and quasi-non-state actors, defense would seem to me to be a far more important concern.
The language and analogies being used by officials in the story are also a confusing mix. On the one hand, a lot of the quotes in the story suggest that they think of cyber as like nuclear deterrence, in that escalation could be a very, very, very bad thing. On the other hand, keeping the decision rules classified seems to cut against any kind of deterrence logic.
The New Republic's Thomas Rid is equally bumfuzzled:
Barack Obama is probably America’s most web-savvy president ever. But when it comes to actually crafting policy for the nation's cyber security, his administration has been consistent in only one aspect: bluster. Obama's major legacy on cyber security, it increasingly seems, will be an infrastructure for waging a non-existent “cyber war” that's incapable of defending the country from the types of cyber attacks that are actually coming....
[T]he rhetoric of war doesn't accurately describe much of what happened [in recent cyberattacks]. There was no attack that damaged anything beyond data, and even that was the exception; the Obama administration's rhetoric notwithstanding, there was nothing that bore any resemblance to World War II in the Pacific. Indeed, the Obama administration has been so intent on responding to the cyber threat with martial aggression that it hasn't paused to consider the true nature of the threat. And that has lead to two crucial mistakes: first, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that offensive capabilities in cyber security don’t translate easily into defensive capabilities. And second, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that it is far more urgent for the United States to concentrate on developing the latter, rather than the former.
In many ways, what's happening with cyber appears to mirror a more general conceptual uncertainty about whether resources and doctrine that apply to other states in the international system can be applied to non-state actors as well. In cyber, it seems that the latter is the more immediate and constant threat, while the former is the more serious but latent threat. On the other hand, when pondering an actor like China, perhaps that dichotomy breaks down.
I'm far from a cyber expert, but I do know a litle bit about international relations theory. What's disturbing about these stories about cyber is not that they reflect aspects of offensive realism -- it's that they reflect a more inchoate cluster of contradictory impulses.
What do you think?
Roger Cohen has a column modestly titled "Diplomacy Is Dead." Let's see what he's talking about:
Diplomacy is dead.
Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.
This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke’s realpolitik was not for the squeamish.
There are other reasons for diplomacy’s demise. The United States has lost its dominant position without any other nation rising to take its place. The result is nobody’s world. It is a place where America acts as a cautious boss, alternately encouraging others to take the lead and worrying about loss of authority. Syria has been an unedifying lesson in the course of crisis when diplomacy is dead. Algeria shows how the dead pile up when talking is dismissed as a waste of time....
Indeed the very word “diplomacy” has become unfashionable on Capitol Hill, where its wimpy associations — trade-offs, compromise, pliancy, concessions and the like — are shunned by representatives who these days prefer beating the post-9/11 drums of confrontation, toughness and inflexibility: All of which may sound good but often get you nowhere (or into long, intractable wars) at great cost.
Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, wrote in an e-mail that, “When domestic politics devolve into polarization and paralysis the impact on diplomatic possibility becomes inordinately constraining.” He cited Cuba and Iran as examples of this; I would add Israel-Palestine. These critical foreign policy issues are viewed less as diplomatic challenges than potential sources of domestic political capital....
Obama has not had a big breakthrough. America’s diplomatic doldrums are approaching their 20th year.
Narrow-minded domestic politics.... check... Web 2.0 short-termism... check... yes, this is indeed the exemplar of the Grumpy Old Diplomatic Hand column. So as a Grumpy Middle-Aged Academic, I'd like to grouse a bit on these alleged truisms.
Now on the one hand, Cohen has a point that the optics of patient diplomacy can be more politically challenging than military statecraft. The use of force tends to arouse domestic suipport; diplomacy can be painted as an act of weakness or appeasement. And one can certainly think of Cuba, Iran or even Israel/Palestine as places where diplomacy has not achieved liftoff capacity. And, yes, Web 2.0 technologies do make things like "backchannel diplomacy" that much more difficult to keep under wraps.
All that said.... give me a f**king break.
First of all, there's a logical tension hidden within Cohen's narrative. He laments the disappearance of patient diplomacy in one breath and then observes the relative decline in U.S. power in the next. Maybe it's not that U.S. patience has withered, but that a hegemon with less weight to throw around requires even greater levels of patience to achieve the same tasks. In the case of Syria, for example, it's kinda hard to see how more realpolitik would have gotten states with fundamentally divergent national interests to agree on a manageable solution. Indeed, one could argue that the tropuble with America's Syria diplomacy has been too much realpolitik, not too little.
Second of all, Cohen is glossing over some examples of patient diplomatic successes. Even in Syria, there have been examples of successful "concert" diplomacy. The U.S. opening to Myanmar would be another example [UPDATE: Cohen tweets in response that he did in fact mention Myanmar. He's right, and I apologize for not noting that fact.]. This is a case where the Burmese themselves have done a lot of the heavy lifting, but it's to the Obama administration's credit that it nimbly seized on the opportunity. Indeed, this has been part of an overall Asia/Pacific strategy that would appear to epitomize the kind of hard-headed diplomacy that Cohen does. Even the Sino-American handling of the Chen Guangcheng case represents an example of deft diplomacy in response to Web 2.0 technology.
Third -- and most important -- diplomacy is a two-player game. There have been cases where the Obama administration has reached out to leaders with a different worldview in an effort to normalize relations -- think about the "reset" with Russia. It would be safe to describe that effort as "fraught with complications." Most of the friction in the Russia reset has nothing to do with the domestic American causess Cohen highlights, however, and everything to do with Russian policymakers
feeling their relative power wane being extremely wary of the outreach effort. Similarly, Iran's domestic politics during the Obama years have been... complicated. It's not clear whether the most generous U.S. offer would actually be accepted by Iran's current political establishment.
One could argue that Cohen's logic, extended globally, does have some heft. It's not just the rise of domestic impediments in the United States -- it's the increased importance of domestic politics in diplomacy in other countries that makes realpolitik statecraft so hard to execute in the 21st century. But let's be clear -- this phenomenon has little to do with the Internet age, the decline in American power, or even the rise of single-issue interest groups. Ironically, it has more to do with the effect a successful American grand strategy -- the promotion of open polyarchic politics in the rest of the world. Even authoritarian countries like China, or quasi-authoritarian countries like Russia have domestic interests and bases to sate. The domestic politics in these countries is far more open than it was during the heyday of realpolitik diplomacy.
As International Relations 101 will say, adding domestic constraints narrows the possibility of any international agreement. I agree with Cohen that this is happening. I disagree with Cohen as to the reasons why. It has very little to do with the United States, and an awful lot to do with the rest of the world.
So, to sum up: diplomacy's death has been greatly exaggerated, and a lot of what ails it has very little to do with the United States.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger has been following the raging debate about online education for a number of reasons. First, like offshore outsourcing last decade, it's a phenomenon that has finally spread to a profession that is pretty traditional -- in no small part because higher education has not thought of itself as a tradeable good. Second, it's a fascinating development without any consensus about the end point. And third, as a prof, I have some skin in this game.
Now I have a little more... er... skin in this game. Over the past year I have been working with The Teaching Company to prepare one of their Great Courses, and it's now available for order. The course is modestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Prosperity." Here's a brief description:
Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.
A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.
But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.
Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres....
Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.
Buy the whole thing and
help me pay for my children's college education learn about the political economy of prosperity.
Now, this is not a course for credit, or a MOOC, or anything that's bandied about as the future of higher education. After spending the past year designing and making this course, however, let me say that those who believe that it will be easy to "scale up" existing lecture courses into the online world are kidding themselves. Teaching to a classroom audience requires a very different pedagogy than teaching to a captive online audience. The former can provide instantaneous feedback, which is crucial for a professor. They can ask for a concept to be repeated, or ask a follow-up question, or query about how the abstract concept under discussion connects to a headline of the day. None of these things are easy to pull off for an online audience.
I will also add that the amount of effort I put into the Foundations of Economic Prosperity easily exceeded anything I've had to do for my traditional lectures or seminars. This is not because I slack off with my Fletcher students -- rather, it's because teaching those courses is a collaborative exercise between me and the students. With a strictly online course, the professor has to do a lot more work to keep it engaging.
This month Merriam-Webster highlighted their most looked-up words of 2012, with the rather boring conclusion that "capitalism" and "socialism" were the words of the year. To spice things up a bit for those philologists in the crowd, I would like to suggest that every years, some words get temporarily "retired." Not permanently, just for a yar or so. Think of it as a word vacation.
I don't make this suggestion lightly -- no writer wants to constrain their options as they craft their arguments. Some words, however, find themselves abused to the point where, no matter how scintillating they might have been in the past, they need some time in rehab. Think Ryan Lochte after the post-Olympics publicity tour or Lindsay Lohan after making a Lifetime movie.
So the worst word of 2012, the word that desperately needs a break is... bubble.
Since 2008, analysts, commentators, pundits et al have been on the lookout for the next bubble. To provide one example of how this search for the next bubble abuses the term, let's look at the brouhaha surrouding the "higher ed bubble." It was brewing in 2011, but this year, with the rise of online education, it's been just lousy in the blogosphere: Megan McArdle, Glenn Reynolds, and Walter Russell Mead have been hammering away at this concept.
It is Mead's latest post on the subject that has me thoroughly annoyed. He links to the lead essay in The American Interest by Nathan Harden that opens as follows:
In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
We’ve all heard plenty about the “college bubble” in recent years. Student loan debt is at an all-time high—an average of more than $23,000 per graduate by some counts—and tuition costs continue to rise at a rate far outpacing inflation, as they have for decades. Credential inflation is devaluing the college degree, making graduate degrees, and the greater debt required to pay for them, increasingly necessary for many people to maintain the standard of living they experienced growing up in their parents’ homes. Students are defaulting on their loans at an unprecedented rate, too, partly a function of an economy short on entry-level professional positions. Yet, as with all bubbles, there’s a persistent public belief in the value of something, and that faith in the college degree has kept demand high.
The figures are alarming, the anecdotes downright depressing. But the real story of the American higher-education bubble has little to do with individual students and their debts or employment problems. The most important part of the college bubble story—the one we will soon be hearing much more about—concerns the impending financial collapse of numerous private colleges and universities and the likely shrinkage of many public ones. And when that bubble bursts, it will end a system of higher education that, for all of its history, has been steeped in a culture of exclusivity. Then we’ll see the birth of something entirely new as we accept one central and unavoidable fact: The college classroom is about to go virtual.
Now, let's stipulate that higher education may well be on the cusp of some interesting changes. Let's also stipulate that some colleges appear to have gone on a borrowing binge (though the linked story fails to note that these debt loads have been declining for the past few years). Let's further stipulate that Harden's prediction might well be correct -- though even he acknowledges later in the essay that traditional classroom instruction is a necessary component to a good higher education.
Here's the thing, and it's worth repeating: This. Is. Not. A. Bubble.
When the prices of securities or other assets rise so sharply and at such a sustained rate that they exceed valuations justified by fundamentals, making a sudden collapse likely - at which point the bubble "bursts".
I think it's possible that the first part of this definition might be happening in higher education -- though I'd wager that what's actually happening is that universities are engaging in greater price discrimination and trying to capture some of the wage premium effects from higher education that have built up over the past three decades.
It's the second part of that definition where things don't match up. Unless and until there is a sudden and dramatic shift in the valuation of a college degree, this is simply not like a bubble. From a knowledge perspective, there are far too many professions in the economy where degrees are still considered a necessary condition. From a sociological perspective, there are also far too many people who got to where they are in their careers because of the social capital built up at universities.
I think it's possible that the American system of higher education might be facing what happened to American manufacturing over the past fifty years, in which structural and technological forces caused a slow, steady reduction in the workforce and dramatic improvements in productivity and output. That's something important -- but it's not a bubble.
[Don't you have some skin in this game? Aren't you just defending your interest group?--ed. I teach at a graduate school in which demand for my courses has spiked rather than slowed over the past decade. I'm also a full professor at an elite school. I would personally benefit from the changes that Mead et al are describing. So if I was arguing my own self-interest, I'd be nodding vigorously at what the higher ed bubble gurus are selling.]
Please, let's give "bubble" a break before the term loses all meaning.
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?
Your humble blogger has spent the last 48 hours trying to follow up on his last Chen Guangcheng post. Unfortunately, a recurrent cycle emerged that has caused some serious delays:
STEP 1: Development in Chen case
STEP 2: Me cogitating on development
STEP 3: Brilliant insights that will transform the Sino-American relationship emerge from blog brain.
STEP 4: Start writing blog post
STEP 5: Check Twitter feed five minutes later
STEP 6: New development in Chen case that renders prior insights totally overtaken by events.
STEP 7: Trash draft of blog post... go back to Step 1.
Seriously, I think I get web 2.0 stuff pretty well, and I have never dealt with an ongoing policy issue that mutated faster than I could blog about it.
I think the latest developments have stabilized matters a bit, so I promise a follow-up blog post in the next hour. We apologize for the inconvenience.
When we last left off with Bo Xilai, he and his family were in a spot of trouble for myriad crimes and misdemeanors in Chongqing, including the possible poisoning of a British national. According to this New York Times story by Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, however, that's just the beginning of Bo's crimes:
When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped — by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.
The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai, in a political cataclysm that has yet to reach a conclusion.
Until now, the downfall of Mr. Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute. But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr. Bo.
This is both interesting and unsurprising. The leadership in Beijing has every incentive to tar and feather Bo to ensure that his residual popularity in Chongqing does not lead to a revival in his power. It's now gotten to the point where Bo's son had to issue a statement to the Harvard Crimson in an attempt to shed the image of being a spoiled princeling driving around in a red Ferrari. I don't doubt the wiretapping story, but let's face it, Beijing's ruling cliques are going to have an incentive to... let's say embellish Bo's perfidy.
And we here at Foreign Policy want to help!!
At this point, the accusations being hurled at Bo Xilai, his wife, and his son are flying so fast and furious that the hashtag #BoXilaicrimes is now rising on Twitter. Look at the list yourself -- here are my faves so far:
RT @_dpress Tore Jeremy Lin's meniscus
I like to think of myself as a pretty good teacher. I've been doing this for more than 15 years, and while I've dabbled in the fancier technologies, I've concluded that the meat and potatoes of podium, lectern, chalk, and blackboard have worked the best.
At last week's International Studies Association meetings, however, I participated in a panel on "Transnational Politics and Information Technology," in which Charli Carpenter delivered the following presentation:
Now, I'm clearly pretty comfortable with Web 2.0 technologies, and some of the themes Carpenter touches on in this presentation echoes points I've made on this blog and... co-authoring with Carpenter. To be blunt, however, if this is the standard to which future international relations teaching pedagogy will be held... then the future is going to kick my ass.
Seriously, watch the whole thing.
UPDATE: Over at Duck of Minerva, Carpenter discusses her video at greater length. One key point:
It's true that short video mash-ups can make good teaching tools (especially if you can't be present but you want students to absorb the material anyway). But the amount of prep-time to do presentations like this well on a day by day basis would be prohibitive and unnecessary, even counter-productive. Classrooms work best when profs throw out provocative material and allow students to react, then facilitate discussion.
Here's a fun little exercise. Let's say that the vice-president of a political consulting firm went on MSNBC or Fox News with the argument that no matter what the U.S. government said, Osama bin Laden wasn't actually buried at sea. No, this wouldn't be a claim that Osama had returned as a zombie. The VP would simply argue that based on past standard operating procedures and the desire of some agencies in the USG to gather forensic evidence, it would seem likely that they would want the body. In all likelihood the cable anchor would then ask if there was any direct evidence to back up this assertion. The VP would either say no, dodge the question, or imply some third-hand knowledge, and that would be that.
Here's my question: would this cable news hit generate anything in the way of news headlines?
I ask this because the Drudge Report has headlined: "WIKILEAKED: BIN LADEN BODY NOT BURIED AT SEA" This sounds pretty definitive. But if you look at the actual Stratfor emails that Wikileaks provides on the matter, you get little but speculations and assertions from Stratfor CEO George Friedman and VP Fred Burton. From Friedman:
Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman (sic). No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i doubt happened.
And from Burton:
We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.
His body is a crime scene and I don't see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen....
Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.
That's it. No sourcing, nothing else. Friedman is speculating, while Burton makes a somewhat stronger assertion without much empirical foundation. The only reason this is on the front page of Drudge -- and the only reason reporters are running with it -- is that the Stratfor e-mails were private and not intended for public consumption. And if it's private, then it must be pretty good!
Or not. Look, reporters and analysts should pore over these email contents and see if there is anything of value. But they also need to follow up with outside experts in their reporting to distinguish between what's said in the emails and what's actually true. Because, to repeat a point I made a few years ago: "just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so." Indeed, it is precisely this sort of BS pseudo-analysis that makes me distrust the quality of Stratfor's analysis in the first place.
WikiLeaks had been kind of quiet as of late, but yesterday they enigmatically tweeted that there would be "extraordinary news sometime in the next 96 hours." Soon after, they released the following announcement:
WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods....
Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Izzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz............... huh? Oh, I'm sorry I must have dozed off there for a second. Man, I sure can't wait for that extraordinary news to be relea-- wait, that's it?
OK, seriously? Wikileaks thinks this is a big reveal? Seriously? I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I'm personally quite excited. The market for political consulting kinda fascinates me, and this kind of e-mail treasure trove should be a gold mine for research into how Stratfor does what it does -- provided one can separate the fake e-mails from the real thing. Furthermore, IR students the world over who are in desperate need of a thesis idea should be on these emails like fake ash on Ryan Seacrest.
On the whole, however, this ain't that big of a deal. I might be biased here because I've looked into the brain of Stratfor founder George Friedman and come away unimpressed. It could be that a lot of WikiLeaks rhetoric on this issue smacks of massive hypocrisy. It's more than a bit rich, for example, that someone like Julian Assange complains that "the private intelligence industry lacks control placed on government organizations." I hate to break it to Assange, but based on his own actions it seems like the nonprofit intelligence sector is just as unregulated.
This kind of docu-dump says more about Wikileaks and Anonymous than it does about anything else. Wikileaks thinks it's groundbreaking that Stratfor CEO George Friedman had contact with Bush administration power-broker Karl Rove in the fall of 2011. I read the e-mail exchange, and if you think that's groundbreaking, you need to read more interesting things on the interwebs.
Seriously, am I missing anything? Is there anything being revealed that's anything close to revelatory?
One could argue that the job of ambassador has been made obsolete by macrotrends in technology and politics. Oh, sure, maybe traditional envoys from great powers still play an important role in smaller countries that don't normally capture much attention in major capitals. Among the great powers, however, one could posit that ambassadors are superfluous. In a world in which heads of government and foreign ministers have multiple direct means of communication, in which you can't go a week without some big global summit, and in which leaders are wary of confiding with ambassadors because
they'll quit and then run for head of government that's just another press leak waiting to happen, what can ambassadors really do? Will we see the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, or even Anatoly Dobrynin ever again?
Probably not, but even in the 21st century, great power ambassadors to other great powers still serve a purpose. In the case of American ambassadors to Russia and China, they can excel at getting under the skin of their host country governments. Gary Locke seems to be doing that pretty well in China, in no small part by being an ethnic Chinese politician that doesn't seem to be behaving like Chinese politicians.
In the case of Russia, there's the new ambassador Michael McFaul, who before this was in Obama's National Security Council and one of the architects o the "reset" policy, and before that was a professor of political science at Stanford (full disclosure: Mike's first year at Stanford as a professor was my last there as a grad student, and he's been a friend to me ever since).
In the annals of American diplomacy, few honeymoons have been shorter than the one granted to Michael A. McFaul, who arrived in Russia on Jan. 14 as the new American ambassador.
Toward the end of the ambassador’s second full day at work, a commentator on state-controlled Channel 1 suggested during a prime-time newscast that Mr. McFaul was sent to Moscow to foment revolution. A columnist for the newspaper Izvestia chimed in the next day, saying his appointment signaled a return to the 18th century, when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business.”....
Mr. McFaul, 48, has arrived in a city churning with conjecture and paranoia. The public attack illustrates how edgy the Kremlin is about the protest movement that has taken shape, turning Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election campaign into a nerve-racking test for the government. It also reveals how fragile relations are between Washington and Mr. Putin’s government, which has repeatedly accused the State Department of orchestrating the demonstrations.
If the blast of venom that greeted Mr. McFaul was intended as a warning to maintain a low profile in his new role, he seems unlikely to comply. At the end of his first week, he was exuberant, saying his goal was to “destroy cold war stereotypes,” especially misstatements about the United States’ intentions in Russia.
“I know I’m just going to go in full force, I’ve got nothing to hide, and we feel very confident in our policy and in selling our policy,” said Mr. McFaul, a native of Bozeman, Mont., who spent much of his career in academia. He does not need to fret over his next diplomatic posting, he added, because there will not be one.
“I ain’t going nowhere else,” he said, with a big smile. “This is it. I am not a career diplomat. And so I am here to do that in a very, very aggressive way.”
As someone who spent a short stint in DC, I recognize the sentiment McFaul expressed in that last paragraph. The exit option is one of the greatest assets an academic has if they enter the foreign policymaking world. Of course, that option can also encourage policymakers to stray way outside the reservation, so it kind of depends upon which academic has been appointed. In the case of McFaul, I'm very confident he will use this power for the forces of good.
The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested "replacing the 'Two Wars' strategy with a 'Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?' strategy" on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call: suggest the YouTube clip that "best encapsulates American grand strategy."
Yeah, that should bring you up to speed.
Below you will find the
ten eleven suggested clips that resonated the most for me, with some further elaboration by your humble blogger. WARNING: some profanity. Then again, if the profane is offensive to you, it's best that you not think too hard about American foreign policy.
A penetrating critique of the orrery of errors that have befallen American foreign policy as of late. Clearly, the United States is trying to conduct its international affairs in a sea of darkness, lacking crucial information to light the way. Despite the best efforts to get all the components of American power into alignment, it's hard to pull off.
Steve Saideman linked to this scene from Crocodile Dundee:
The new or not so new defense strategy of having enough of a military to fight one war while deterring or spoiling an adversary's plans requires a "bigger knife" not to use but to dissuade challengers.
Such a grand strategy also plays to the U.S.'s current strength -- dominating conventional war through bigger and better weapons. In the video, Croc Dundee is confronted not by one mugger but several (and one can read race into this if one wants, since the mugger was African-American, and most threats to the U.S. are by non-white folks). His big knife spoils the plans of each of them. Sounds like a good use of resources.
I think it works as an example of soft power and American exceptionalism. Via her affirmations Jessica demonstrates that Americans think America is awesome -- and therefore, why the rest of the world will/should want the same things Americans want.
FP's Michael Cohen proffers this climactic speech from Animal House:
Not bad, actually. Note that Bluto's inspiring speech has no appreciable effect on the apathetic Deltas at first. Only when other elites -- like Otter -- indicate their support, does the rest of the country -- I mean, fraternity -- rally around the flag. A subtle exegesis of how elite consensus can drive the mass public into stupid, futile gestures.
An utterly brilliant exposition of the ways in which the best strategy in the world will be subverted by the cowboy who shoots first and asks questons later. Indeed, this clip works on two levels. On the one hand, you can think of it as the struggles that go on within the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy to make sure everyone is on the same page -- and the ways in which hawkish actors can unilaterally set the agenda. Or, look at it as an exegesis of how the United States, through its willingness to take immediate aggressive action, can exacerbate tensions among its less powerful allies. This exuberance can breed resentment among America's partners, but often, Washington doesn't care, because, well, at least we ain't chicken.
Hmmm ... I'm intrigued. This appears to be a subtle indictment of the idealpolitik that occasionally governs American foreign policy. After all, Ray is trying to "think of the most harmless thing ... something that could never destroy us." Naturally, this leads to the creation of an entity that causes his paranormal colleagues to be "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought." Think of this as a potential metaphor of both liberal and neoconservative enthusiasm for democracy promotion. Sure, it sounds good in your head, but then you see who winds up doing well in the post-Arab Spring political environment, it's easy to lose the capacity for rational choice.
Ha, I bet you think you've been rickrolled. Think again! Rick Astley smartly presaged one of the central dilemmas of America's post-Cold War foreign policy: how do you get nervous allies to believe that the United States will honor its overseas obligations? You have to
have attractive bleach-blonde back-up singers reassure them that "a full commitment's what I'm thinking of" and that "you'll never get this from any other guy." You have to pledge, repeatedly, that America is "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down." Furthermore, the United States is "never gonna run around and desert you." This kind of reassurance mechanism, done with the proper tone and in harmony with other voices, can make even the wariest of allies vault over political barriers and do backflips in celebration of their alliances with the United States.
Steven suggests that, at a minimum, this explains public discourse on grand strategy, and he has a point. On the one hand, you have an angry public that appears to be willing to fabricate evidence to justify taking aggressive action. On the other hand, you have elites that reject the absence of any logic to justify action. Instrad, they rely on their own galactically stupid set of axioms to guide their thinking.
Sure, the song is an obvious choice, but as he notes, it was no accident that he chose this version. The joyful version makes light of America's exuberance for all things American. That's not the point of this clip -- it suggests the dark side of American exceptionalism, the burden that the United States faces as it tries to preserve global order in a world gone amok by odd, tacit alliances between terrorists and rogue states.
In less than three seconds, this clip hints at a myriad number of rich textual interpretations. Does the dog represent what happens when force is used, dragging the rest of the country along? Or, perhaps the canine symbolizes the big influence of small allies. Actors that the United States thinks it has under its thumb are actually driving foreign policy more than you would think. Without question, however, critics of the Obama administration would conclude that this clip is the definitive explication of the perils that come with "leading from behind."
Like most of these seemingly short clips, Wueger's submission works on two levels. On the one hand, it demonstrates the ways in which hegemonic power allows some actors to be able to pursue policies that small actors simply cannot. In this comparison, this clip reminds the viewer of the many global public goods that a hegemonic actor might feel obligated to provide. Compare Bus 62 with the U.S. Navy after the 2004 tsunami, for example. On the other hand, hegemonic power can also have unanticipated negative externalities. Sure, Bus 62 simply plows through the barrier. However, it does so without helping the other people stuck in traffic, and, like a boss, nearly plows over the person in the way. A cautionary tale about the uses and possible abuses of power.
OK, readers, what are your suggestions?
Yesterday Foreign Policy published the graphics-friendly results of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP), as conducted by William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. Some of the results -- there's a plurality of constructivists in the field -- have already provoked some interesting blog discussion. There's also the more juicy debates over the best Ph.D. programs, best M.A. programs, and most influential people in our small, small universe.
Your humble blogger must confess to having a different interest in the results. The good folks running the survey were kind enough to add some questions about how scholars think Web 2.0 technologies -- blogs, wikis, tweets, podcasts, etc. -- fit into our discipline. This is a natural follow-on to some research that Charli Carpenter and I published recently. Since this is the first time these sorts of questions have been asked, this is strictly a "snapshot" of where the field was in 2011, not the trend over time. Still, given the anecdotal evidence of prior hostility to these technologies, it's an interesting snapshot.
Looking at the topline survey results, here are the most interesting tidbits I found:
1) More than 28% of respondents cited a blog post in their scholarship, and more than 56% used blogs as a teaching tool. The positive responses for newer Web 2.0 technologies -- Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube -- were much smaller on the research side. On the other hand, a stunning 90% of respondents said they used YouTube in their teaching.
2) 28% of respondents had, at a minimum, contributed to a blog. 7% of respondents "regularly contrribute" to a blog.
3) I tweeted some wrath last month about grading a paper that footnoted a Wikipedia page (for the record, I don't mind students using Wikipedia as a first-stop for research, but I do mind students who don't follow the hyperlinks). I see I would be joined in that assessment by about 85% of my IR colleagues.
4) No respondent thinks that contributing or maintaining a blog is important for advancing their academic career. Intriguingly, however, there is certainly more appreciation about the role of blogs in the discipline than is commonly understood. To be specific:
a) 25% of respondents do think blogs devoted to international relations should count in evaluating a professor's research output. I guarantee you that number would have been much lower even a few ywars ago;
b) More than 66% of respondents thought such an activity should count in evaluating a professor's service to the profession.
c) 90% of respondents believed that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on foreign policy formulation;
d) More than 51% of respondents thought that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on the discipline of international relations.
There's a lot more data to discuss, but I would say that this veeeeery interesting snapshot should be enough to generate some discussion for now. For example, do readers think that these numbers will plateau, grow or recede over time?
Ben Smith's story in Politico today focuses on the emergence of a more critical stance on Israel from Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. Or, as neoconservatve Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin interprets it, Smith "blows the cover off the anti-Israel left and the Democrats’ favorite think tank, the Center for American Progress, which harbors many of its shrillest voices."
What's interesting about Smith's story is his evidence for this tonal shift at CAP and Media Matters -- namely, tweets and blog posts.
The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs....
CAP officials have told angry allies that the bloggers don’t speak for the organization, and senior fellow Brian Katulis – whose work is more standard Clinton-Democrat fare – stressed that in an email.
“I think there are different voices on the Think Progress blog and some individual analysts - and some of that work, especially the blog, is I think aimed at reporting on and reflecting one aspect of the diversity of the views among the broad progressive community,” he said. “But what one blogger or analyst may write isn’t necessarily indicative of what our policy recommendations are for the administration or Congress when I’m doing meetings with our friends in government.”
The director of CAP’s national security program, Ken Gude, also drew a distinction between the blog, which is CAP’s loudest megaphone, and its less confrontational policy work.
“There’s a distinction here that we have between the policy work that we do and the blogging work that we do,” he said. Middle East Progress “is clearly a progressive blog and it does respond to arguments that are made most forcefully by conservatives and it responds in that way.”....
But the fact remains that the Center’s most audible voices on the Middle East aren’t the former Clinton staffers who populate much of the organization, and they come from different foreign policy traditions. Duss, a confrontational presence on Twitter but typically a more careful blogger, places himself in what’s sometimes called the “realist” stream of American foreign policy (emphasis added).
So, to sum up Smith's observations, what's driving this story is that when it comes to Israel, some of CAP and Media Matters analysts are really harsh on Twitter and pretty harsh on the blogs -- but the more substantive, traditional policy work doesn't look like that at all, so it's being overblown.
Rubin is having none of that:
[T]he scandal here is that CAP houses and provides a blog for such sentiments....
CAP is promoting this and is responsible for the venomous output on its blogs.
The excuse that these voices don’t represent CAP’s views and aren’t attributable to CAP is ludicrous....
Imagine if the bloggers were writing about the inferiority of a racial group. They’d be gone in a nanosecond. In fact, those who fancy themselves as respectable think tankers and loyal Democrats are enablers of the scourge of anti-Semitic filth that flows through the hard left. CAP has a choice: Clean out the sewer or be prepared to take the approbation that goes with the association with Israel haters and those who peddle in anti-Semitic tripe.
I don't agree with Rubin's characterizations of the content -- the material in question is not anti-Semitic (though it's problematic and borderline offensive) and CAP ain't "hard left." That said, she raises an interesting and valid point about what, exactly, is the output of a think tank. Is it the more traditional policy analysis? The blogs? The individual Twitter feeds of its denizens? In a Web 2.0 world, I have to wonder if the latter matters at least as much as the former (of course, the significance of tweets, etc., would have to apply to Rubin as well. Her own ombudsman, for example, blasted her for re-tweeing a link to "reprehensible" blog post containing "incendiary rhetoric").
There's a lot to consider here -- how a think tank brands itself, whether policy analysts can freely express themselves without being associated with their day job, and exactly how policy analysis is crafted. If, for example, someone develops a policy position in a path-dependent manner from instant tweet to somewhat-less-instant blog post to a memo/testimony that reifies those original statements, then Web 2.0 really matters. If, however, time leads one to modify or recalibrate the initial response -- as the statement of Duss suggests -- then Web 2.0 still matters, but in a different way. It matters only insomuch as the foreign policy community thinks that tweets and blog posts capture more attention and bandwidth than more conventional forms of policy analysis.
What do you think?
Bill Keller has moved on from the esteemed position of New York Times executive editor to the very vulnerable position of New York Times Op-ed Columnist Ripe for Mockery.
Alas, it's hard to mock Keller's column today for two reasons. First, Keller bothered to do some actual reporting, traveling to India to interview supporters of Anna Hazere to get their opinion on Occupy Wall Street. Since the Times itself has suggested that overseas protest movements might inspire similar action in the advanced industrialized economies, this seems appropriate. It certainly seems more appropriate than comparing the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring.
The second reason is what Keller got from his interview with Anna Hazare associate Kiran Bedi:
“When we started the movement, it was like Occupy,” Bedi told me. “But we went beyond Occupy.”
For starters, while Occupy Wall Street is consensus-oriented and resolutely leaderless, Hazare is very much the center of attention. There was an anticorruption movement before Hazare, but it was fractious and weak until he supplied a core of moral authority. When he announces his intention to starve himself, he parks himself on an elevated platform in a public place, thousands gather, scores of others announce solidarity hunger strikes, and TV cameras congregate, hanging on his every word. Hazare and his entourage can seem self-important and high-handed, but he is a reminder that leadership matters.
Second, the Occupiers are a composite of idealistic causes, many of them vague. “End the Fed,” some placards demand. “End War.” “Get the money out of politics.” Much of the Occupy movement resides at the dreamy level of John Lennon lyrics. “Imagine no possessions. ...”
Hazare, in contrast, is always very explicit about his objectives: fire this corrupt minister, repeal that law bought by a special interest, open public access to official records.
His current mission is the creation of a kind of national anticorruption czar, a powerful independent ombudsman. The measure is advancing, and Team Anna hovers over the Parliament at every step, paying close attention to detail, to make sure nobody pulls the teeth out of it. Instead of a placard, Bedi has a PowerPoint presentation.
Occupy Wall Street is scornful of both parties and generally disdainful of electoral politics. Team Anna (yes, they call themselves that) likewise avoids aligning itself with any party or candidate, but it uses Indian democracy shrewdly, to target obstructionists. Recently Hazare turned a special election for a vacant parliamentary seat into a referendum, urging followers to vote against any party that refused to endorse his anticorruption bill. Hazare has also called for an amendment to the election laws to require that voters always be offered the option of “None of the Above.” When it prevails, parties would have to come up with better candidates.
“What really changes them,” Bedi said of recalcitrant politicians, “is the threat of losing an election.”....
“Occupy has been, to my mind, an engaging movement, and it’s driving home the message, to the banks, to the Wall Street circles,” Bedi said. “That’s exactly the way Anna did it. But we had a destination. I’m not aware these people — what is their destination? It’s occupy for what?” (enmphasis added)
Damn, that sounds familiar.
There's one other big difference that's buried in Keller's column, however. He notes that, "One poll found 87 percent public support for Hazare’s 12-day August fast." While the Occupy movement is certainly more popular than the Tea Party movement, I haven't seen a single U.S. poll demonstrating that breadth of public support.
Am I missing anything?
You humble blogger has been skeptical but not dismissive of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. My general assessment was that it did reflect ongoing frustrations about trendlines in the American and global economy, but that in all likelihood the decisions of a few banking bureaucrats would have more of an effect than these protests.
As I've noted before, the big problem with networked movements of this kind is what happens over time:
What happens when the coalition of like-minded individuals stop being of like mind? These sorts of protests can be very powerful on single-issue questions where a single policy change is desired. Maintaining this level of activism to affect the ongoing quotidian grubbiness of politics, however, is a far more difficult undertaking. Even if people can be mobilized behind the concept of "Policy X is Stupid!" getting the same consensus on "Policy Y is the Answer!" is harder. Over time, these kind of mass movements have an excellent chance of withering away or fracturing from within. See, for example, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt.
Another thing, and this is important: unless the people in these movements actually vote in elections, then their agenda will be thwarted in the long run. Even if these kinds of networked movements are new, the political imperative to get elected and re-elected is not. If they don't vote, then officials have a pretty powerful incentive to curry favor with the people who do vote, don't take to the streets and
don't like these young whippersnappers with their interwebshave different policy preferences.
I bring this up because n+1 relays some of the internal deliberations among the Occupy Wall Streeters.* Let's take a peek, shall we?
Friends, mediation with the drummers has been called off. It has gone on for more than 2 weeks and it has reached a dead end. The drummers formed a working group called Pulse and agreed to 2 hrs/day at times during the mediation, and more recently that changed to 4 hrs/day. It’s my feeling that we may have a fighting chance with the community board if we could indeed limit drumming and loud instrumentation to 12-2 PM and 4-6 PM, however that isn’t what’s happening.
Last night the drumming was near continuous until 10:30 PM at night. Today it began again at 11 AM. The drummers are fighting among themselves, there is no cohesive group. There is one assemblage called Pulse that organized most of the drummers into a group and went to GA for formal recognition and with a proposal.
Unfortunately there is one individual who is NOT a drummer but who claims to speak for the drummers who has been a deeply disruptive force, attacking the drumming rep during the GA and derailing his proposal, and disrupting the community board meeting, as well as the OWS community relations meeting. She has also created strife and divisions within the POC caucus, calling many members who are not ‘on her side’ “Uncle Tom”, “the 1%”, “Barbie” “not Palestinian enough” “Wall Street politicians” “not black enough” “sell-outs”, etc. People have been documenting her disruptions, and her campaign of misinformation, and instigations. She also has a documented history online of defamatory, divisive and disruptive behavior within the LGBT (esp. transgender) communities. Her disruptions have made it hard to have constructive conversations and productive resolutions to conflicts in a variety of forums in the past several days.
At this point we have lost the support of allies in the Community Board and the state senator and city electeds who have been fighting the city to stave off our eviction, get us toilets, etc. On Tuesday there is a Community Board vote, which will be packed with media cameras and community members with real grievances. We have sadly demonstrated to them that we are unable to collectively 1) keep our space and surrounding areas clean and sanitary, 2) keep the park safe, 3) deal with internal conflict and enforce the Good Neighbor Policy that was passed by the General Assembly.
This description sounded faintly familiar, and then I remembered -- it was a replay of every dorm meeting I attended when I was a first-year in college.
Don't worry, OWS sympathizers -- a few hours after this was posted, there was the following update:
Crisis averted: tonight at the General Assembly, the working group of drummers, Pulse, in a spirit of conciliation and generosity, brought forward a proposal to limit their drumming from 12 to 2 and 4 to 6 PM only. The proposal had been worked out through weeks of mediation with the direct action working group. It was considered a first step toward showing the community board that the community in Zuccotti Park can regulate itself. The proposal was approved by consensus by the General Assembly, with applause and rejoicing on all sides.
Good on OWS for resolving some conflict, but this little window into their internal deliberations suggest the hard limits on their movement. If the transaction costs of regulating drumming are this massive, I'm extremely dubious about their ability to agree on concrete policy proposals and articulate them effectively to anyone outside their band of sympathizers -- especially since I'm not sure that all of their views will resonate within the mainstream of American public opinion.
Am I missing anything?
*I confess that part of me is still wondering if this is satire.
Mary Carmichael has a fascinating story in the Boston Globe on how many American universities, which were so keen to create ocerseas satellite campuses, are now retrenching. The disturbing part of the story is the "monkey see, monkey do" nature of the international expansions of the past decade:
Over the last decade, universities spurred by dreams of global cachet - and, sometimes, by foreign governments eager to underwrite them - built or rented whole campuses and offered Western-style education abroad. But now some schools are running out of cash as they struggle to attract enough students and develop a viable business model....
From 2006 to 2009, the roster of international branch campuses grew by 43 percent, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a British research firm. Qatar drew an all-star list, including Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon. By 2009, the United Arab Emirates had 40 international branches.
Middle-ranking colleges felt pressure to compete, even though some could not get foreign governments to pay their bills. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, went to Singapore. City University of Seattle went to Switzerland. Troy, a public university in Alabama, founded 14 global branches.
“Some American campuses went into it wanting to make money,’’ said Phillip Altbach, director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education. “But many of them got into it for prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things.’’
Not everyone shared that vision. Harvard, for instance, has not founded any international branch campuses recently. Neither did MIT nor Tufts University.
“Every time I looked at one of these deals I said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ ’’ said Lawrence Bacow, who has been a high-ranking administrator at all three schools. “Philosophically, I think there’s an important role for higher ed to play in the developing world, but it’s not to create knockoffs of what we do here.’’
1) Go, Jumbos!! In your face, rest of higher education outside of the Boston area!!!
2) The logic of expanding overseas because of "prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things" is a depressing data point about the ways in which the academy can be slaves to
intellectual and business trends.
3) To be fair, I'm not sure this story tells the whole, er, story. There's no mention of the how the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession might have affected the viability of these expansion plans. There's also nothing on the spread of distance learning. Fletcher's Global Masters of Arts Program, for example, combines a few intensive weeks of on-location education with a lot of online interaction. So although the tenor of this story is about the retrenchment of American universities, there are compensating trends that are still pushing American universities into the global marketplace.
4) Carmichael notes that one reason for retrenchment has been the difficulty of maintaining the quality of academic standards abroad. This is encouraging yet still modestly surprising. Why hasn't an American university gone the "f**k it, let's become a diploma mill" route as a way of making money? Why hasn't any university done this?
I suspect this might be one powerful virtue of the university degree functioning as a credential, but I'm curious to hear thoughts about this in the comments.
5) I'm thinking that Suffolk University's PR people can't be pleased with this kicker to the story:
At the end of last semester, Suffolk finally abandoned Dakar. It did not, however, abandon its students. Almost all have transferred to Boston under a special deal that charges them $10,000 in tuition, the same they paid when attending the Dakar branch and about one-third what their classmates pay. Suffolk foots the rest.
The students are adapting, though it is not easy. They dread winter and think the city’s buildings all look the same: impersonal. Some of their classmates have asked well-meaning but ignorant questions. Did they grow up living in trees? Isn’t Africa a great country? (emphasis added)
I thought I'd said my
peace piece about Occupy Wall Street earlier this week -- interesting, but in all likelihood not going to amount to much unless it resonated culturally with broad swaths of American society.
I think it's safe to say that these protests don't resonate with OTB's Doug Mataconis. So this would seem to be a data point to support my argument. In his rant against the We Are the 99% crowd, however, Mataconis says something that triggered my history alarm:
The first thought I had when I looked through the Tumblr account is that these people can’t be doing all that bad if they’ve got access to the internet and a computer with a webcam necessary to create the posting that they put up at Tumblr. In any event, though, what strikes me more than anything else is that alot of these people are frustrated 20-somethings who have gotten out of college and found that the road to the good life isn’t quite as smooth as they thought it would be. Of course, things are more difficult today than they were ten years ago but that doesn’t mean they were easy back then. Establishing yourself in life is always a challenge, especially if you run up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt without really thinking about how you’re going to pay it off.
What comes across to me the most, though, is a sense of entitlement from some people and they idea that the situation they’re in clearly can’t be their fault so it must be the blame of someone else. There’s an attitude about the protests that there is something morally wrong about the fact that not everyone is suffering equally in the current economy as well. So when they look up and see that some people have managed to succeed during these rough economic times, that sense of entitlement becomes intermingled with a sense of envy and the belief that the only way these other people could have succeeded is by cheating....
There’s something pretty immature about blaming other people for your situation in life.
Now this strikes me as a bit harsh in judgment, but that's neither here nor there. What I can't help wondering, however, is whether Mataconis has also described the necessary conditions for a movement like Occupy Wall Street to sustain itself. Young people with a lot of time on their hands and prior entitlements possess both the will and the assets necessary to sit in for a looooooooooooong time.
There's something else: Mataconis' description of entitled young people used to peace and prosperity and demanding more of it sounds like... like... the people that decided to protest the Vietnam War after they began to realize that they might get drafted once they graduated college.
If the job prospects for twentysomethings are that bleak, then it really doesn't matter whether the protestors are responsible for their student loans or not. If they feel like the system has screwed them over, then they'll take to the streets and stay there. And in a society where the overwhelming majority of people haven't seen their wages or net wealth trending in the positive direction, I can't say they they'll necessarily trigger that much resentment.
Are you an easily befuddled academic? Have you heard about Twitter but are afraid of new-fangled Web 2.0 technologies? Would you like to know more?
If so, the London School of Economics is ready to help you out! They have produced this useful Twitter guide for academics to help even the most technophobic of professors master this technnology, in just a few easy steps. Go check it out!
My only criticism of the guide is that LSE's three categories of tweets -- "substantive", "conversational" and "middle-ground" -- leaves out the bulk of academic tweets I tend to read and write, which would best be categorized as "snarky."
[This blog post feels... strange and old-fashioned--ed.] This is the biggest effect of Twitter on blogging -- this kind of post is now practically obsolete. An entire category of "linking" posts that I used to write with decent frequency have been supplanted by tweets containing a url and a one-sentence descriptor/critique. The only reason I'm blogging this one is that a tweet wouldn't reach the desired audience of Academics Who Are Scared of Twitter.
I was fortunate enough to give a talk at my alma mater over the weekend and chat informally with some of the political science undergraduates
over some food from an Indian restaurant that didn't exist when I was in school and I can't believe how much greater their range of ethnic food choices are than when I was in school and their life is great and college life was much tougher back in my day while we broke bread. Inevitably, the question of Occupy Wall Street came up and whether it would go anywhere.
Now, in many ways, this phenomenon has many of the features of networked movements that have been at the center of The Slaughter-Drezner Debates (although in this case Slaughter seems a bit more disdainful of the movement's potential). If you read here or here or here, you'll see all the advantages of a networked structure outlined in painstaking detail. This ragtag group of rebels has managed to get coverage on The Daily Show, generate associated online movements like the "We Are the 99%" Tumblr, generate headlines through mass arrests over the weekend, and inspire similar movements in other cities.
So … what did I say to these impressionable young adults?
I said two things. First, I said the moment was ripe for this kind of movement. You have an ample supply of network technologies to start a movement, and rising economic inequality to create the necessary social purpose for such a movement. Indeed, the surprising thing about Occupy Wall Street isn't that it's happening -- it's that it took three years for it to happen.
The other thing I said was that for this group to generate more than a thousand people or so out in the streets, however, their message has to resonate culturally with people who would otherwise not want to go out onto the streets. And here's where I start to be a bit more skeptical. I'm not sure the latest manifesto is really cogent enough -- beyond a rejection of corporations as we know them -- to generate much sympathy with broad swaths of the American people. And, as I've said before, unless you attract people who vote, this kind of thing will generate news coverage and not much else.
Could they attract a larger crowd? After reading Time's Nate Rawlings, I'm skeptical:
While "Occupy Wall Street" has become more organized, its demands haven't coalesced into a coherent message. The only thing its various constituent groups appear to have in common is a deep-seated anger at inequality in this country. For them Wall Street symbolizes that unfairness, but the groups have other concerns as well. Many want to redistribute wealth; others want to enlarge government social programs. Some are protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Daniel Levine, a journalism student from upstate New York, said he was taking a stand against the controversial method of natural gas extraction known as hydrofracking in his hometown – but also noted that the practice can bring jobs to economically disadvantaged regions.
Just as it lacks a single message, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has been defined by the absence of a clear leader. Participants say that is by design, and point to the committees that have sprung up to tend to the daily needs of those camped in Zuccotti Park. It isn't clear that they want a single leader, and many think the movement is better of[f] without one. “It's kind of cool how it's growing organically,” one said. “People just need to give it time and it'll come together.”
Maybe, over time, that will happen. There's a political paradox, however, that Occupy Wall Street faces. Without clear and coherent demands, there will be little to inspire ordinary citizens to take to the streets. Articulating clear and coherent demands, however, will destroy the very gestalt that the people currently on the streets seem to like some much.
Still, unions have started to come out in support of this movement. The U.S. economy is in a bad way, and the festering eurocrisis could make it really bad. So maybe external conditions will eliminate this paradox for the protesters.
So that's what I think. What do you think?
Nicholas Kulish has a New York Times front-pager on the rise of networked protest movements in consolidated democracies like India, Israel, and Greece. I hereby officially accuse Anne-Marie Slaughter of hacking into the NYT website and writing these paragraphs:
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”
Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.
As a social scientist, I must acknowledge that this is a powerful prima facie data point in favor of Slaughter.
And yet, it's worth pushing the NYT thesis a bit. What happens when the coalition of like-minded individuals stop being of like mind? These sorts of protests can be very powerful on single-issue questions where a single policy change is desired. Maintaining this level of activism to affect the ongoing quotidian grubbiness of politics, however, is a far more difficult undertaking. Even if people can be mobilized behind the concept of "Policy X is Stupid!" getting the same consensus on "Policy Y is the Answer!" is harder. Over time, these kind of mass movements have an excellent chance of withering away or fracturing from within. See, for example, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt.
Another thing, and this is important: unless the people in these movements actually vote in elections, then their agenda will be thwarted in the long run. Even if these kinds of networked movements are new, the political imperative to get elected and re-elected is not. If they don't vote, then officials have a pretty powerful incentive to curry favor with the people who do vote, don't take to the streets and
don't like these young whippersnappers with their interwebs have different policy preferences.
This gets to a point that I have been
fumbling trying to make in the Great and All Powerful Slaughter-Drezner Debate: that at times we might be debating past each other because we have different time horizons. Anne-Marie can point to networked social movements that have an immediate impact on conventional politics. For foreign policymakers, the here and now is what matters. What I want to see is whether these movements can sustain themselves over time. For international relations theorists, the persistence of trends matters too.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.