NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

I blow hot and cold about making them — and I blow mostly cold in terms of keeping them. However, these should be pretty easy to keep:

1) Don’t let the house/office get this messy (link via Jacob Levy).

2) Refrain from making stupid Nazi anologies.

3) Feel less schadenfreude about John Kerry for photos like this (link via Pejman Yousefzadeh)

4) Be more courteous on airplane trips than this person.

And finally:

5) Avoid this level of blog addiction. Link via Jeff Jarvis (posted by Daniel Drezner).

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MORE ON ILLICIT ARMS

Part two of the L.A. Times investigative report on sanctions-busting arms transfer to Iraq is now online. This part focuses mainly on the Polish connection.

A complaint — at one point the story says:

In Poland, the arms merchants ended up focusing on a new member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and one of the relatively few European countries to support the Bush administration’s war plan. (emphasis added)

The LAT’s memory is faulty — in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the number of European governments that supported U.S. policy in Iraq was much larger than the conventional wisdom remembers.

This isn’t the main point of the story — but casual asides like this affect political short-term memories (posted by Daniel Drezner).

101ST AIRBORNE UPDATE

The New York Times runs a great piece suggesting that the 101st Airborne, based in Northern Iraq, has successfully adapted to the role of nation-building. My favorite paragraph:

First Lt. Joe Florczak, 23, of Chicago, pushed his Kevlar helmet back a bit when asked what jobs he had had since his tank-killing Humvees pushed north into Iraq from Kuwait in March. “I’ve been a rifle platoon leader, a police officer, a police trainer and a labor negotiator,” he said, describing his dealings with Iraqi security forces and civic leaders.

The story also has this devastating quote:

“The N.G.O.’s have been a disappointment,” said Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the 101st Division, speaking of nongovernmental organizations. “Don’t get me wrong, the truck bomb at the U.N. headquarters was horrific. But they seemed as if they were very, very quick to bail out of here, compared to the risks they have run in a variety of other missions.”

I’ve been a big fan of Petraeus for some time, so it’s good to see his storied unit get the credit it richly deserves.

David Adesnik has more (posted by Daniel Drezner)

LOOKING BACK ON THE 2003 ECONOMY…

Irwin Stelzer breaks how the U.S. economy performed over the past year. The “good parts” version:

Big-company share prices rose by more than 20 percent, and the high-tech and small-business sectors soared at twice that rate. Productivity is scaling new heights, profits are up, incomes are rising, inflation is nonexistent, and the dollar is in a so-far agreeable decline, shrinking the trade deficit. The unemployment rate has fallen to the level it averaged in the 1990s, which decade included both boom and bust. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ survey of households shows that over 2 million more Americans are working at year end than were employed at the start of 2003….

It is fashionable to dismiss these indicators of material prosperity on two grounds. The first is that inequality is rampant and rising; the second is that money can’t produce happiness.

There is no question that statistical measures show a rise in inequality. The main reason: America welcomes more immigrants–legal and illegal–than all the other countries of the world combined. These newcomers typically start at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Exclude them from the statistics, calculates [Gregg] Easterbrook [in his new book The Progress Paradox], and the increase in inequality disappears. Indeed, for the 9 out of 10 Americans that are native born, inequality is declining.* And here is the reason that will surprise America’s critics: The decline in inequality is due in good part to the rising affluence of African Americans.

Which leaves happiness, a commodity many argue cannot be bought with money.

Many, but not everyone — go check out Robert H. Frank‘s argument that money does buy a measure of happiness in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Link via Virginia Postrel, who has a lot of interesting posts up at her blog.

*UPDATE: Virginia fact-checks the Easterbrook assertion cited by Stelzer and finds some problems with it (posted by Daniel Drezner).

… AND LOOKING FORWARD TO 2004: Projections for next year also look promising. The Conference Board predicts the highest rate of growth in twenty years, while this Michigan forecast predicts the creation of 5 million jobs over the next two years.

Two caveats to this — the first is that like political foreacsts, economic predictions are often wrong.

The second is that the structural macroeconomic problem is getting worse — as Julian Sanchez explains (posted by Daniel Drezner).

THE SYRIAN CONDUIT

The Los Angeles Times has a thorough investigative report on how Iraq violated UN sanctions to acquire conventional military hardware — with the significant help of Syrian company linked to the ruling family. Go check it out.

It’s not shocking that Russian companies participated in the sanctions-busting — look at this quote:

“Russia’s foreign minister called the grounds for imposing the sanctions farfetched back then,” said Leonid B. Roshal, deputy director of KBP Tula, in an interview in Moscow. “I was never taught these diplomatic niceties, so I was much more straightforward and said, ‘The dog may bark, but the caravan will proceed.’ “

What is mildly shocking — from someone who knows a thing or two about economic sanctions — is that companies from stalwart U.S. allies (Poland and South Korea) were also complicit in the sanctions-busting.

Read the whole thing — yes, even if you need to register (posted by Daniel Drezner).

SMART ADVICE TO POLITICAL BOOKIES

The Los Angeles Times, in trying to predict the 2004 election, rolls out this fact: “In every election since 1960, the party in the White House lost when the unemployment rate deteriorated during the first half of the year. If the rate improved, the party in the White House won.” Matthew Yglesias takes this prediction apart:

The generic proposition “rising unemployment is bad for incumbents” is so plausible, that one’s inclined to give this claim a pass on first reading, but the specific claim that the causal factor here is the unemployment rate in the first six months of the year before the election smacks of specification-searching.

All too true — predictive models of elections are far from perfect. It’s worth remembering that every election model worth its salt predicted Al Gore clearing 53% in the popular vote in 2000. The one thing everyone could agree on after the 2000 election was that these models obviously needed some rejiggering.

To be fair, it’s the intersection of these models and journalists looking for hooks that produce junk predictions like the one above. The relationship between electoral victory and the six-month unemployment trend in the LAT story sounds good, but it’s the political equivalent of an ESPN commentator saying, “The Patriots have never lost a home playoff game the week after winning on the road by more than two touchdowns.” It’s largely meaningless.

Clearly, unemployment will be a factor in the 2004 election — but it won’t be the only factor (posted by Daniel Drezner).

BRINGING OUT THE DEMOCRATIC DAGGERS

The New York Times reports that Howard Dean is acting huffy:

Dean… implied that many of his supporters, particularly young people, might stay home in November if another Democrat’s name ends up on the ballot.

“I don’t know where they’re going to go, but they’re certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician,” he said.

Though Dr. Dean has repeatedly said he would back whichever Democrat wins the nomination, he said Sunday that support was “not transferable anymore” and that endorsements, including his own, “don’t guarantee anything.”

Josh Marshall takes Dean to task:

The price of admission to the Democratic primary race is a pledge of committed support to whomever wins the nomination, period. (The sense of entitlement to other Democrats’ support comes after you win the nomination, not before.) If Dean can’t sign on that dotted-line, he has no business asking for the party’s nomination.

Marshall has a valid point — the attacks that John McCain took in 2000 were far worse than anything Dean’s experienced to date. Despite this, McCain was on the podium at the Republican convention with a full-throated (well… at least three-quarters-throated) endorsement of George W. Bush — even though he’d had minor surgery earlier that week and had to wear a bandage on his face. If Dean is acting petulant now, imagine how he’ll act as the Democratic standard-bearer.

Meanwhile Wesley Clark tries to woo the Clinton wing of the party (posted by Daniel Drezner).