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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Edwards: Corporate Responsibility

I haven't yet decided to back any of the 2008 presidential candidates, but John Edwards seems to be advocating a number of interesting ideas that merit serious consideration in the campaign.

In late October, for example, Edwards put forward a plan for corporate responsibility that seems to include a lot of good ideas. The AP story highlighting key plan elements, written by Amy Lorentzen, is still available on the Fox News website:
Require corporations to disclose lobbying activities, political contributions, environmental impacts and government contracts and subsidies.

Give shareholders new rights regarding corporate governance, allowing them more say in decisions such as executive compensation.

Modernize labor laws to help workers join unions and bargain for better pay and benefits.

Create universal retirement accounts that would require employers to offer savings plans for workers who can't access pensions. Edwards said the first $500 workers save would be matched dollar-for-dollar with a tax credit that would be paid for by capital gains taxes.
Those retirement accounts would be mobile, allowing workers to change jobs without losing their pension plans. Paired with a universal health care plan, these mobile new entitlements would provide a real increase in financial security and employment flexibility for American workers.

The intent of the transparency requirement is consistent with my own arguments about public accountability in international institutions: "sunshine will be a powerful disinfectant for corporate malfeasance."


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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Question of Torture

Monday evening, I attended a fascinating and somewhat depressing lecture about torture delivered by University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy. The local UN Association was marking International Human Rights Day a bit early (it is December 10).

McCoy focused on a psychological torture, which his research indicates is a distinctly American contribution to the practice of interrogation. Under the auspices of the CIA, the US has developed a method based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain that serves to break individuals.

McCoy's latest book is A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. From the publisher comments on Powell's website:
McCoy traces the spread of these practices across the globe, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, and argues that after 9/11, psychological torture became the weapon of choice in the CIA’s global prisons, reinforced by “rendition” of detainees to “torture-friendly” countries. Finally, McCoy shows that information extracted by coercion is worthless, making a strong case for the FBI’s legal methods of interrogation.
McCoy discussed all these concerns -- and more.

He noted, for instance, that the Bush administration has essentially operated outside both domestic and international law and that both Congress and the new Attorney General performed a farce when the former appeared to believe the latter's claim that he didn't know anything about waterboarding.



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Saturday, November 24, 2007

BC$ football

Top-ranked LSU lost its football game yesterday, meaning that the winner of today's matchup between #2 Kansas and #3 Missouri will likely be the #1 ranked team in the polls on Monday morning. The computer-weighted BCS may have a different one loss team on top -- West Virginia, maybe, or even Ohio State -- should Missouri beat Kansas.

As a fair-weather KU football fan, this is unbelievable -- and pretty clearly unfair.

In football, teams are not required to play an equal number of home and road games. Outside of their conference, teams can play all home games if they can arrange enough visiting opponents. This season, Kansas played 4 home games before the Big 12 season began.

Moreover, there's very little effort at scheduling parity. Indeed, outside of conference games, program athletic directors (likely in consultation with the head football coach) make their own schedules.

Presumably, these administrators try to maximize wins and revenues, which must be correlated. After all, Kansas-Missouri will be played at 8 pm on ABC-TV tonight. My guess is that broadcasting this particular game on national prime-time TV was not planned back in August.

Non-conference high profile program matchups like USC-Nebraska only make sense because of the revenues they generate. Otherwise, good teams have an incentive to play weaker opposition and rack up wins. The BCS computer is supposed to compensate for this by awarding teams for beating quality foes, but it still gives great weight to the voters in the polls and the 2007 Kansas record proves that, ultimately, wins are better than losses under any circumstance.

This year, Kansas played and crushed Central Michigan (7-5, first in MAC West), Southeastern Louisiana (3-8), Toledo (5-7), and Florida International (0-10).

Effectively, this schedule created few risks for Kansas (though KU did lose to Toledo last season). The team only had 8 regular season games against major conference schools -- all within the context of their regular Big 12 schedule. Due to the luck of the draw, they played Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State in their three games versus the Big 12 South.

Note that the list includes neither Texas nor Oklahoma. Luck of the draw in 2007!

Of course, to be fair, note that Texas lost to A&M and Kansas will play OU for the Big 12 championship if both teams win this weekend.

In any event, college football is obviously a big business and the idea that athletic directors of major programs can engineer their own schedules so as to maximize winning (and thus profit) is anti-competitive.

Incidentally, this same critique applies to college basketball. Through the first week of January, the local University of Louisville Cardinals will play 9 home games, one true road game, and three games on neutral courts (two in a tournament and one just up the road in Indy's John Wooden Tradition).

Through the end of December, Kansas plays 10 basketball games in Lawrence, another in KC, and two on the road. Anyone wanna bet that KU will be ranked in the top five in hoops entering the first week in January?


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Friday, November 23, 2007

Oil: the third rail of the Iraq debate

Only the "loony left" thinks the invasion of Iraq was about oil, right? Recall what press secretary Ari Fleischer said in February 2003:
if this had anything to do with oil, the position of the United States would be to lift the sanctions so the oil could flow. This is not about that.
Then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said something very similar at the time:
"We don't take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil. That's just not what the United States does," he said. "We never have, and we never will.
November 2002, Rumsfeld told CBS News that the confrontation with Iraq: "has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."***

However, in the November 2007 American Prospect, journalist John Judis admits that the neocons and other Bush officials were privately talking about oil interests back in fall 2002. Those discussions were off-the-record, however, so the norms of journalism apparently prevented him from revealing their motives when it might have prevented war.
In the buildup to the war, and during the invasion and occupation, Bush officials, who were eager to advertise Iraq's nuclear threat, were reluctant to talk about oil, but in off-the-record interviews I conducted in December 2002, neo-conservatives waxed poetic about using Iraq's oil wealth to undermine OPEC.
Judis also notes that some former high ranking Republicans have now publicly acknowledged that oil was a driving factor for Iraq policy even before 9/11:
After he left office, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recounted National Security Council discussions about Iraqi oil. And in his recently published memoir, Alan Greenspan wrote, "I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows -- the Iraq war is largely about oil."
President Bush, October 25, 2006, put his own spin on the oil angle:
If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves...And I know it's incumbent upon our government and others who enjoy the blessings of liberty to help those moderates succeed because, otherwise, we're looking at the potential of this kind of world: a world in which radical forms of Islam compete for power; a world in which moderate governments get toppled by people willing to murder the innocent; a world in which oil reserves are controlled by radicals in order to extract blackmail from the West...
Even prior to the war, however, it should have been obvious that much of the Arab world would see the situation as "war for oil."

Indeed, realist academic war critics like John Mearsheimer argued before the war began that the U.S. would be perceived as establishing a "giant gas station" in Iraq.
The second point I would make about occupation is we have a massive public relations problem in the Arab and Muslim world. People there really hate us. The idea that we're going to come in, conquer that place, bring in a pro council (sic) ... right? ... turn it into a giant gas station, and that's not going to further enrage people in the Arab and Muslim world against us, escapes me. I just don't see how that's going to happen. So I think it's going to make our terrorism problem worse, not better.
In a debate sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in February 2003, Mearsheimer's frequent coauthor (and debate colleague) Steve Walt of Harvard elaborated:
the point was not about whether or not we were going to war for that reason, it's how our occupation will be perceived in the region, and what its regional consequences will be. And it is I think very, very likely that after we occupy Iraq and after we are there for five or ten years, we will be seen as a quasi colonial power. We will be pumping oil out of it ... not immediately, but after a number of years ... and this will be seen as exploitation, perhaps illegitimately.
It is frequently argued -- even by President Bush -- that the violence in Iraq will not end without a political resolution that includes some kind of plan to divide Iraq's oil wealth. In the latest twist, the Iraqi central government says it is going to punish oil companies that have signed separate deals with the Kurds.

The stakes are very high.

Since 2002, oil-producing Arab countries have seen their revenues triple -- "the number you usually hear is $700 billion of profit."

Somewhat perversely, these revenues provide Iraq's neighbors with very little incentive to push for peace. After all, peace and stability might bring reduced oil prices...




*** In this same interview, Rumsfeld was asked about the potential length of the Iaq war: ""Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sustainability Report Card

In the College Sustainability Report Card, produced by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the University of Louisville received a C+.

U of L did fairly well (B) on transportation, partly because of the free bus and shuttle service for students. Campus vehicles also use some alternative fuels.

The university did very poorly (D) for the "Green Buildings" category and for the lack of shareholder engagement in university endowment investments.

For Climate Change & Energy, the grade was C:
The university has gone to great lengths to improve energy efficiency across campus. New chillers and air handlers in the central plant save $150,000 per year. In addition, several boilers and HVAC systems have been replaced or upgraded. Energy audits have also been performed. However, there has been no formal commitment to reduce emissions or to purchase energy from renewable sources.
Under the rubric of the Partnership for a Green City, I'm a new member of multiple committees that will try to improve this score in the future.


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

At the Duck

Lately, at the Duck of Minerva, I have blogged the following:

November 20, "The decline in Iraqi violence" which explains why "the surge" may not explain the recent decline in violence in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 13: I blogged "Breathe easier, DC and NYC," which is about the (un)reality of so-called "suitcase nukes."

Saturday, November 10: "Is neoconservatism still vibrant?" The title speaks for itself.

Thanks for reading.


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Friday, November 16, 2007

Culture update: November 2007

Thanks to the writer's strike, there are no new episodes of "The Daily Show."

Baseball is long gone now, and the hot-stove news is depressing.

What to do?

I watched "LA Doublure" ("The Valet") this week and I would recommend it to anyone who occasionally enjoys French farce.

Also, checking this website is quite entertaining to me -- at least this week.

Rock chalk.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

College for Everyone

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards advocates a plan that would make the freshman year of college free to everyone -- so long as they agree to work a nominal amount and "play by the rules" (as President Bill Clinton used to say). This is from his May 11 press release:
Senator John Edwards today announced his plan to make college more affordable for millions of students. Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda includes a national "College for Everyone" initiative, which would pay for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble...

The initiative is based on the College for Everyone pilot program in Greene County, North Carolina, that helps pay for the first year of college for young people who agree to work at least 10 hours a week...The projected college-going rate for Greene Central seniors has increased from 54 percent before the program started to 74 percent today.
Edwards says that about 200,000 college-qualified graduates fail to attend college each year, primarily because of cost.

As a college professor, I'm excited by this idea. However, I think it is a good idea primarily because it should make it possible for current students to limit their work hours. Students need to study and excessive work schedules reduce study time.

Over the years, I have taught too many bright students who find a way to attend class, but do not find a way to read their assignments in advance of class or search out knowledge independently. Their work commitments apparently make that impossible.

Obviously, when Edwards says that students will work a "minimum of 10 hours," I hope he also proposes a low maximum.

More details about the plan are available on the candidate's website.


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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Iran resources

The Project on Defense Alternatives puts together useful "Security Policy Libraries" on a variety of interesting topics. These link to more than 10,000 full-text documents.

Their latest, which was updated on October 22, is "Confronting Iran."

The subtitle provides PDA's perspective: "Critical perspectives on the current crisis, its origins, and implications."

Check it out.


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Duck

Over at the Duck, today, I posted "Where'd you hide the body?" about the decline in civilian death rates in Iraq. About 2 million people have fled their homes this year -- 1.2 million of those are reportedly from Baghdad -- so, where's the good news, exactly? While it is true that those who fled are not dead, it is NOT necessarily true that they were saved by the success of the surge.

Also noteworthy: a former student sent me a link to an interesting photoblog called Life Goes on in Tehran. The photographer is someone who used to live in California, but now lives in Tehran. Check out the great images -- and envy the ready availability of pomegranates.


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Quacks

As previously announced, I have been posting international relations material at the Duck of Minerva group blog:

Tonight, I posted "Iran, the IAEA and the US."

Thursday, November 1, I posted "Forced assignments." It discusses the Iraq-related revolt of the diplomats at the Department of State.

Friday, October 26, I posted a "Link roundup." it discusses some interesting reading from around the web. Go there and you'll find links to noteworthy posts or articles about Iran, Iraq, Syria and baseball.

On Tuesday, October 23, I posted "O Captain! my Captain!" The post is about a recent newspaper article written by 12 former US Army Captains who are unhappy about the war in Iraq.

October 21, a Sunday, I posted "Escalation: Turkey enters the war?" Yes, it is about Iraqi Kurdistan and its relations with neighboring Turkey.


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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Football? Football!

I am not a football fan. It has been at least 20 years since I followed any team very closely or with much enthusiasm.

That said, the current Kansas squad is starting to attract my attention. I've actually watched significant parts of several of their games this season. Today, at the office, I kept checking the score of their game against Nebraska, even though the result seemed to be determined by halftime.

From the 1969 season until 2005, Kansas lost 26 straight games against Nebraska. For the four years I was on campus, KU lost four games by a combined score of 179-15. They scored all 15 points in one game, so that includes three lopsided shutouts.

Today, Kansas beat Nebraska 76-39. In fact, the AP reports that the Jayhawks "scored touchdowns on 10 straight possessions and rolled up the most points ever scored against Nebraska in its 117-year football history."

I guess the team let out a lot of pent up frustration today.

Entering today's game, Kansas was 8-0 and ranked #8 in the country in most polls -- and even in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Their remaining games: at Oklahoma State, at home versus Iowa State, and versus 9th ranked Missouri in Kansas City. Dare I even think about the Big 12 championship game -- a place no Kansas team has been before? So far as I can tell, no KU football team has ever exceeded 10 victories. Most recently, the 1995 team was 10-2, 1905 was 10-1, and 1899 was 10-0.

Only two other KU squads reached 9 victories: the famed 1968 team (featuring John Riggins and Bobby Douglass) was 9-2 and 1908 was 9-0.

Hmmm. Maybe the hoops season will start later this year...

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Photo blogging: glory days



I finally got around to looking at some of the CD of photos that alums were given at the KU Debate Reunion a couple of weeks ago. This photo was taken at a party in Lawrence in spring 1983. Then-Head Jayhawk Dr. Donn W. Parson is on my right.


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