Posts Tagged ‘Marc Lynch’

Must-Reads of the Week: Google/China, Liberal American Exceptionalism, The Failed War on Drugs, Defending the Individual Mandate, Counter Counter-Insurgency, Idiocrats, and Men Did It!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

1. Google v. China. I’ve refrained from posting on the Google v. China battle going on until now. So much of the praise for Google’s decision seemed overblown and I wasn’t sure what insight I had to offer, even as I read everything on the matter I could. But now, the wave of criticism of the company is pissing me off. I get the source of the criticism – that Google is so quickly criticizing other companies for staying in China after it left, and that Google’s partial exit may have made business as well as moral sense.  But motives are new pure – we’re human. Those who the critics accuse the company of merely using as a pretext for a business decision see the matter in other terms – according to Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese twitterverse is alight with words like ‘justice’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘milestone’ “ and condolence flowers and cups being sent to Google’s offices in China.

What the Google/China conflict highlights though is the strategic incompatibility of a tech company like Google and an authoritarian state like China. One of James Fallows’ readers explains why Google and China could never get along:

Internet search and analytics companies today have more access to high quality, real-time information about people, places and events, and more ability to filter, aggregate, and analyze it than any government agency, anywhere ever.  Maybe the NSA can encrypt it better and process it faster but it lacks ability to collect the high value data – the stuff that satellites can’t see.  The things people think but don’t say.  The things people do but don’t say.  All documented in excruciating detail, each event tagged with location, precise time.  Every word you type, every click you make (how many sites do you visit have google ads, or analytics?), Google is watching you – and learning.  It’s their business to.  This fact has yet to sink in on the general public in the US, but it has not gone un-noticed by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government wants unfettered access to all of that information.  Google, defending its long-term brand equity, cannot give its data to the Chinese government.  Baidu, on the other hand, would and does…

The reader goes on to explain how China would slow down and otherwise disrupt Google services in China enough to ensure that Baidu would keep it’s dominant position. This, he explains is:

…just another example of the PRC’s brilliant take on authoritarian government: you don’t need total control, you just need effective control. [my emphasis]

Which is why it is so important that a country like China have constant access to search engine data. In a passage deleted at some point in the editing process from a New York Times story (which an internal Times search reveals to be this one), it was reported that:

One Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that China now speaks of Internet freedom in the context of one of its “core interests” — issues of sovereignty on which Beijing will brook no intervention. The most commonly cited core issues are Taiwan and Tibet. The addition of Internet freedom is an indication that the issue has taken on nationalistic overtones.

2. Liberal American Exceptionalism. Damon Linker of The New Republic responds to critics:

[T]he most distinctive and admirable of all [America's] qualities is our liberalism. Now let me be clear: unlike Lowry and Ponnuru, who identify American exceptionalism with the laissez-faire capitalism favored by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I do not mean to equate the ideology that dominates one of our country’s political parties with the nation’s exemplary essence. On the contrary, the liberalism I have singled out is embraced by nearly every member of both of our political parties—and indeed by nearly every American citizen. Liberalism in this sense is a form of government—one in which political rule is mediated by a series of institutions that seek to limit the powers of the state and maximize individual freedom: constitutional government, an independent judiciary, multiparty elections, universal suffrage, a free press, civilian control of the military and police, a large middle class, a developed consumer economy, and rights to free assembly and worship. To be a liberal in this primary sense is to favor a political order with these institutions and to abide by the political rules they establish.

3. The War on Drugs Is Doomed. Mary Anastacia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal echoes me saying: The War on Drugs is Doomed. (My previous posts on this topic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

4. Defending the Individual Mandate. Ezra Klein explains why the individual mandate is actually a really good deal for American citizens:

The irony of the mandate is that it’s been presented as a terribly onerous tax on decent, hardworking people who don’t want to purchase insurance. In reality, it’s the best deal in the bill: A cynical consumer would be smart to pay the modest penalty rather than pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance. In the current system, that’s a bad idea because insurers won’t let them buy insurance if they get sick later. In the reformed system, there’s no consequence for that behavior. You could pay the penalty for five years and then buy insurance the day you felt a lump.

Klein also had this near-perfect post on our unhinged debate on health care reform and added his take to the projections of Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen on how health care law will evolve in the aftermath of this legislation.

5. Counter-Counter-Insurgency. Marc Lynch describes a document he recently unearthed which he calls AQ-Iraq’s Counter Counter-insurgency plan. Lynch describes the document as “pragmatic and analytical rather than bombastic, surprisingly frank about what went wrong, and alarmingly creative about the Iraqi jihad’s way forward.”

6. Idiocrats Won’t Change. Brendan Nyhan counters a point I (along with many other supporters of the health care bill) have been making (here and here for example) – that once the bill passes, the misperceptions about it will be corrected by reality. I fear he may be right, but I believe it will change opinions on the margins soon and more so over time.

7. Theories of the Financial Crisis: Men Did It. Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at one theory of the financial crisis some experts have been pushing: testosterone and men.

Another study Dreber has in the works will look at the effects of the hormones in the birth-control pill on women, because women having their periods have been shown to act more like men in terms of risk-taking behavior. “When I present that in seminars, I say men are like women menstruating,” she says, laughing…

Positioning himself as a sort of endocrine whisperer of the financial system, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, “I don’t think you’d see the volatile swings that we’re seeing.” Bubbles, he believes, may be “a male phenomenon.”

His colleague, neuroscientist Joe Herbert, agrees. “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way,” he says. “Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

A very interesting thesis. And one that strikes me as broadly true. I previously explored other theories of what caused the financial crisis:

[Image by me.]

The Virtue in Muddling Through in Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Andrew Sullivan’s most recent column was quite good – and it suggests his position on Afghanistan was moved by this Marc Lynch blog post:

[W]hat’s so terrible with muddling through for a while, giving the new tactics a chance to work at the local level while preventing the worst-case scenarios from happening? Why choose between escalation or withdrawal at exactly the time when the political picture is at its least clear? Why not maintain a lousy Afghan government which doesn’t quite fall, keep the Taliban on the ropes without defeating it, cut deals where we can, and try to figture out a strategy to deal with the Pakistan part which all the smart set agrees is the real issue these days? Why not focus on applying the improved COIN tactics with available resources right now instead of focusing on more troops?

…Why is this not the right time to muddle through, avoiding the worst outcomes and changing strategy at the local level where possible, while waiting for the political situation in Afghanistan to clarify? [my emphasis]

This plan makes sense – but I’m not sure it’s the Obama administration’s plan. National Security Advisor Jones said on Sunday that Obama would make a decision about overall Afghanistan policy “in a matter of weeks.” I doubt that’s sufficient time to sort all of these issues out, though certainly it might give time to see what direction each of this issues is heading.

Meanwhile, Peter W. Galbraith has a quality op-ed in the Washington Post based on his first-hand experience in the recent Afghanistan elections which he had a role in attempting to supervise – and in which he alleges that there was massive fraud. He states that he was fired by the United Nations because he refused to go along with their attempts to ignore this fraud. Galbraith’s takeaway point:

President Obama needs a legitimate Afghan partner to make any new strategy for the country work. However, the extensive fraud that took place on Aug. 20 virtually guarantees that a government emerging from the tainted vote will not be credible with many Afghans.

Obama has repeatedly stressed the “consent of the governed” as being essential to the legitimacy of a state, specifically linking the issue to non-fraudulent elections in the case of Iran. To be consistent with his general foreign policy approach of avoiding charges of rank hypocrisy, he must figure out how to respond to what increasingly seems like a fraudulent election in Afghanistan. This is perhaps the main reason behind Lynch’s point that this might not be the time to make a stark choice:

Why choose between escalation or withdrawal at exactly the time when the political picture is at its least clear?

A final note on Afghanistan: It’s irresponsible for Senators to call the Commander-in-Chief an “armchair general” as Senator Jon Kyl did a few days ago.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Sympathizing with AIG, Peace with Islamists, Senator Al Franken, Jay-Z, the Newest Lost Generation, and the Future of Journalism

Friday, July 17th, 2009

1. Sympathizing with AIG. Michael Lewis has another piece plumbing the depths of the financial crisis. Except this time he is somewhat strangely sympathetic to AIG. His piece is a useful counter to Matt Taibbi’s angry screed on the same subject – but the lack of outrage in Lewis’s piece is discomfiting – like a writer who begins to sympathize with his serial killer subject. Still – worth reading – as Lewis concludes:

And yet the A.I.G. F.P. traders left behind, much as they despise him personally, refuse to believe Cassano was engaged in any kind of fraud. The problem is that they knew him. And they believe that his crime was not mere legal fraudulence but the deeper kind: a need for subservience in others and an unwillingness to acknowledge his own weaknesses. “When he said that he could not envision losses, that we wouldn’t lose a dime, I am positive that he believed that,” says one of the traders. The problem with Joe Cassano wasn’t that he knew he was wrong. It was that it was too important to him that he be right. More than anything, Joe Cassano wanted to be one of Wall Street’s big shots. He wound up being its perfect customer.

2. Peace With the Islamists. Amr Hamzawy and Jeffrey Christiansen have a thought-provoking, and somewhat discomfiting piece, in Foreign Policy suggesting that America make peace with non-violent Islamist groups – pointing out that many of them actually rely on America’s support for democracy for their success in a region of the world dependent on America and filled with dictatorships, and pointing out the signs that many of these groups are open to such a peace offer.

3. Senator Al Franken. John Colapinto profiles Al Franken in a typically humorous and in-depth New Yorker piece. More important than the piece is that this man is a Senator. Congratulations Senator Franken.

4. Jay-Z, Hegemon. Marc Lynch has written a few pieces this week applying principles of hegemony in international relations to Jay-Z and how he maintains power in the hip hop world – including specifically how he is responding to The Game’s recent attacks on him.

5. Europe’s Newest Lost Generation. Annie Lowrey discusses the problems that are facing Europe’s youth.

6. Shirsky on the Future of Journalism. Clay Shirsky has an excellent post over at Cato Unbound discussing without really predicting the future of journalism. As always with Shirky, thought-provoking and worth the read. He makes a point that I have been ruminating about in a number of posts recently (here and here) – that:

[J]ournalism is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness.

In my posts, I labeled this “shared awareness” the “conventional wisdom.”

[Image by me.]