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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Climate blog updates

Opening Plenary (22) Today, at Climate Politics: IR and the Environment, please find my article "Scaling down climate action." The post examines the new conventional wisdom "that smaller groups than the UNFCCC are needed for serious climate" action. I discuss actions of the World Bank, the C40 collection of world mega-cities (currently chaired by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg), the Clinton Climate Initiative, and a group of 16 former Republican public officials, including 4 former EPA Administrators.

On May 6, I posted "Protestant Doubt about Climate Change." As the title suggests, the post discusses some survey research linking a pastor's religious affiliation to climate skepticism. Perhaps more importantly, the survey shows a relationship between pastor party identification and climate skepticism. Republican pastors do not "believe" the science.


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Carlos

119

I've now watched the first two parts of "Carlos," a three-part French-produced television miniseries that was broadcast on Sundance this past month. Édgar Ramírez is terrific in the title (star-making) role, though his character is hardly sympathetic. The notorious terrorist is portrayed as an unusual killer -- part playboy, part-diplomat, and part-frustrated middle-manager. Carlos is shown meeting with prominent international leaders and is called a celebrity by his fellow terrorists after the 1975 kidnappings at the Vienna OPEC convention. That event takes up a good portion of part 2.

Part 1 of the film opens with a statement warning that it is a fictionalized account and that only certain specific crimes were factually confirmed at trial. Thus, I was not sure of what to make of an alleged meeting in Baghdad involving Yuri Andropov (then-head of the KGB), Carlos and other desperadoes (one actor looked like Tariq Aziz). Allegedly, Andropov put a price on Anwar Sadat's head at this meeting.

Indeed, one important element of "Carlos" is the relatively clear state sponsorship the terrorist and his various organizations enjoy throughout most of his career. Support from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, East Germany and the Soviet Union all figure into the terror incidents portrayed on screen. It is no wonder that the Bush administration, circa 2001, believed that state sponsorship was the key element of its anti-terror campaign (despite facts suggesting a completely different kind of threat). This was not a matter of IR theory privileging states.

As a movie, the Golden-Globe winning production is quite unusual:
The film’s scope, range and ambition are incredible; it’s set in at least 16 countries over a 21-year period, and at all times features the characters speaking the languages they would have spoken in the relevant situations—Carlos himself shifts effortlessly among Spanish, English, French, German, Russian and Arabic. An untold number of supporting and bit players pop vividly to life for however many moments they’re onscreen, and the film maintains an exceptional balance between a relentless forward movement and a certain artistic stability...

...the film is so convincing that it persuades you this is essentially the way it was. There are few so completely transporting historical movies, in that it drops the viewer down in another world and time without evident artifice, doctoring, nostalgia, revisionist thinking or overt political agenda. Those with a continuing stake in the causes involved or their own memories of the times can be counted upon to dispute this or that, but as a time machine “Carlos” functions brilliantly.
I can't wait to watch part 3 -- the decline and fall of Carlos, apparently.


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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Palin vs. Perry

Rick Perry(R) and Sarah Palin(L),Sarah Palin accepting a plaque from Rick Perry making her an honorary Texan.

There are already a number of Republican candidates for President, but it is difficult to take most of them very seriously. For example, Newt Gingrich's staff quit en masse this past week, basically because of his comment that Paul Ryan's Medicare plan amounted to "right wing social engineering." Then, Steven Colbert destroyed Herman Cain's idea that Congress should only pass bills limited to 3 pages in length.

Many Republicans are likely hoping that more promising candidates will declare their intentions to pursue the presidency, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin or Texas Governor Rick Perry.

This weekend, I read two interesting pieces about these politicians and came away somewhat surprised about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Joshua Green has a fairly sympathetic story about Sarah Palin in the June 2011 Atlantic Monthly. As Green notes, Palin genuinely did face down special interests during her truncated term as Alaska governor. Specifically, she confronted oil companies by proposing and getting both a new gas pipeline ("bid out" without oil company cooperation under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act) and a new oil resource tax -- dubbed Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES). The latter has meant billions of dollars for the Alaskan Treasury, though Sean Parnell, the Republican Governor that followed Palin, is working to gut it. Palin seemed to support the oil tax because of a populist urge -- the oil belonged to Alaskans, but they were not getting their fair share.

Green points out that Republican legislators in Alaska were opposed to Palin's ACES plan, so she had to turn to Democrats to get a bill passed. And thanks to that effort, the resulting law was more progressive than the one she originally proposed (and Republicans already opposed). It generates more revenues because of a higher base rate and accelerates that rate more quickly when oil prices surge.

That actually sounds like the achievement of a bipartisan maverick.

By contrast, Bob Moser has a devastating story about Perry in the May 30, 2011, issue of The Nation. While Texas has significant oil resources, Texas under Perry's leadership has taken the standard Republican line these days -- business deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy (and for business), and a conservative social agenda. This has meant huge deficits followed by gutting public services -- $23 billion cut in this case, which is about a quarter of the state's spending.

Worse, in comparison to Palin, Perry's "tax swap" reform plan led directly to $5 billion in structural deficits. Moser even quotes some Republicans in Texas who think the state has gone too far. Critics have not been kind at all, referencing some very disturbing data:
It makes little sense that for all of Texas’ abundant wealth and corporate bling, the state would rank thirty-eighth in per student spending, forty-fifth in SAT scores, third in teen pregnancies and dead last in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas. “Texas is setting a new standard by setting new lows,” says East Texas blogger Susan DuQuesnay Bankston....

“If you wanted to destroy an enemy,” says former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, a Democrat, “you would do exactly what the Republicans are doing to the State of Texas.”
Moser points to a Business Insider piece by Joe Wiesenthal and Gus Lubin that refers to Texas as "America's Ireland." It originally looked like neoliberal economics was going to create an impressive economic leader, but then the state's wealth collapsed.

One shouldn't read too much into this comparison of Palin and Perry. It is certainly possible that a President Perry could govern as a "uniter, not a divider." Moreover, Green's piece is called "The Tragedy of Sarah Palin" because the Fox News talking head has basically rejected all that she achieved in Alaska in order to build on the image she developed in the 2008 campaign -- as a hard-right Republican ideologue. She may occasionally refer to herself as a maverick, but she does not trump her record raising taxes or working with Democrats. Also, many other observers have noted her problems with the truth.


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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Godfather Doctrine

I sometimes teach "Global Politics Thru Film" and was hopeful that The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable (Princeton University Press, 2009) by John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell might make a useful companion to that class. After all, The Godfather is a terrific film and my class already considers (and reads about) mafia "protection rackets" as a metaphor for basic state practices.

However, as the title suggests, this little book is very much an exercise in the application of some basic plot elements of The Godfather films to American foreign policy rather than IR theory. One of the three foreign policy "schools" discussed in the very short book is neoconservatism, which is not ordinarily viewed as an international relations theory per se. It has been influential on policy, of course.

Moreover, the authors' view of liberal institutionalism is very narrow, stressing the potential ability of negotiations and carrots to achieve American goals. It does not really address the potential of international institutions to solve global problems jointly or to achieve broader cosmopolitan ends. Cooperative institutions can be an important means for assuring legitimacy in global politics.

In the conclusion, the authors embrace a view of realism that does not much match standard academic conceptions of the theory. They describe the "carrot of capitalism" (p. 79) as a realist incentive for managing rising powers. Likewise, Hulsman and Mitchell refer to "the stick of commonly dealing with an al-Qaeda that rejects all states as well as the current system" as a "good place to start to look for broader agreements" (pp. 79-80). Those arguments may well have merit, but most IR theorists would likely regard them as neoliberal, not realist.


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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits ISAF Joint Command Weary of war in Afghanistan? If so, you are not alone. Osama bin Laden has been dead for five weeks, but the US soldiers attempting to link that fact to America's ongoing presence in Afghanistan found no sympathy when they recently questioned visiting Defense Secretary Bob Gates. As reported in the LA Times June 7:
Over and over again, soldiers and Marines on the punishing front lines across Afghanistan had the same question for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: Does Osama bin Laden's death mean the U.S. can finally wind down a nearly decade-long war?

Not yet, Gates replied.
Why not?

For years, the Bush administration's "theory of the case" about terrorism, so to speak, was that terrorists were a big problem if they had state sponsors -- especially if those sponsors could provide them with weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan had been a safe haven for terrorism, OBL was experimenting with some chemicals and talking to nuclear scientists, so the US had to be in Afghanistan. And, of course, this was the primary justification for the Iraq war.

Does anyone really still believe the US is in Afghanistan because of those original fears? Last August, Steven Metz of the Army War College explained very succinctly the flawed assumptions of US strategy in Afghanistan.

And for many years, analysts like Peter Bergen have pointed out the obvious -- terrorists don't really need a state sponsor:
consider the most spectacular acts of terrorism of the past decade: the first Trade Center attack ha 1993; the satin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995; the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1996; the two simultaneous bombings on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998; the USS Cole attack in 2000; 9/11 itself; the 2002 assault in Bail that killed 202; and the commuter train bombings ha Madrid this year that killed 191. All were carried out by groups or individuals that did not have state sponsorship.
I expect more and more security analysts to call for prompt US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bob Gates is leaving -- why listen to him?


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Monday, June 06, 2011

Republicans and taxes

Yesterday, The Washington Post had a terrific article by Lori Montgomery about the Republican Party's anti-"tax orthodoxy." Virtually all Republicans in both the House and Senate have signed Grover Norquist's "no new taxes" pledge, an idea he apparently came up with when he was 14 years old.

The article points out that after decades of cutting taxes, debt has soared and revenues have cratered during recent economic hardship. Norquist would disagree, but there's not much fat to cut in the federal budget either -- unless politicians want to go after defense spending, middle class subsidies (mortgage interest deduction) or big government subsidies (in energy, agriculture, mining, etc.). Those benefits are favored by many of their donors and voters -- as are tax cuts on the affluent.

Alan Greenspan

Nonetheless, the article includes several quotes from Republicans calling for tax increases, including former Fed chair Alan Greenspan:
Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan joined the chorus Friday, dropping his support for the 2001 George W. Bush tax cuts. Greenspan told CNBC he’s so “scared” by the debt that he now favors a return to the higher rates of the Clinton administration.
Greenspan was part of Ayn Rand's posse, though I doubt that will influence Rand Paul's thinking much.




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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Run scoring: NL edition 2011

Yesterday, the graphic I posted to highlight the decline in run scoring in 2011 major league baseball was based only on American League data. This is the chart from the National League -- and the results are very similar:


Run scoring in the 2011 NL is about the same as the league's run scoring in 1990. NL offense never reached the same heights as it did in the AL, but runs per game are down almost a full run from 1999-2000. This is the lowest scoring NL season since 1992.


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Friday, June 03, 2011

Baseball 2011: Runs are Scarce

The baseball season is roughly one-third completed and a number of observers are calling this "the year of the pitcher." Of course, many analysts used the same phrase last season primarily because an unusually large number of pitchers threw no-hitters in 2010.

This year, the phrase is being tossed around because teams are scoring many fewer runs. Indeed, baseball 2011 looks a lot like baseball 1988-1992. Look at the runs scored per game in this chart, which I created at the invaluable baseball-reference.com.

Long-time fans might remember that 1987 was an unusual summer -- rookie Mark McGwire hit 49 homers (he was on my very first fantasy baseball team that year), Andre Dawson of the Cubs also hit 49, and Toronto's George Bell hit 47. More importantly, a lot of guys unexpectedly hit for power -- the kind of power fans started to take for granted from the mid-1990s through the next decade. My first fantasy team featured Milwaukee's Dale Sveum at SS. He hit 25 homers in 1987 -- after hitting 7 in 1986. He would hit 9 in 1988. In a dozen major league seasons, he hit over one-third of his home runs in 1987.

These unusual homer numbers from 1987 signaled a new era for power, though that era (primed by performance enhancing drugs) didn't really arrive for a few seasons. And the influence of PEDs was hard to pinpoint given that most major league teams built new stadiums, announcers provided a lot of talk about rabbit baseballs (and corked bats), and the summers were very hot (which is conducive to home run hitting). Whatever the cause, between 1994 and 2000, teams often scored a full run more per game than they are now. That may seem small, but the difference is 160 runs over a full season.

Baseball implemented its first PED testing regime in 2001, for minor leaguers only. The major league program began in 2003 and was toughened in 2005. Presumably, the stigma associated with links to steroids has had a deterrent effect on some potential users.

I'm beginning to wonder if the latest data truly signal the end of the PED era? While there are a couple of individuals who are raising some eyebrows, the scoring numbers reveal that major league baseball is changing at a steady pace -- reverting to a game fans have seen not-so-long ago.


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