Beauty of Gray

Friday, November 07, 2003

Zell Miller, your life is calling…

Sen. Zell Miller seems to be on a roll. First, he blasted all of the democratic presidential nominees’ foreign policy ideas, despite the fact that his charges bore little resemblance to anything they’ve actually proposed. He’s said he will endorse Bush in 2004. Then, he goes on record calling the Democratic party borderline traitors for wanting to use an investigation into Bush’s pre-war use of intelligence for political gain. And he blasted Gen. Clark’s qualifications.

So what gives? One possibility is obviously that he believes what he’s been saying. But given the tenuous connection of his charges with reality, and their rather harshly partisan nature (against what supposedly is his own party), that seems unlikely. He’s basically regurgitating Republican party talking points. While he’s always been a centrist, his recent comments haven’t been centrist—they’ve been downright right-wing. Has Republican mind control technology advanced that far? Has Miller been kidnapped and replaced by an RNC robot? It just doesn’t seem to make sense.

However, one angle that might be worth watching is whether Miller is trying to position himself for his post-Senate career. He’s said he’s not going to be seeking re-election in 2004, which means he’s ready to enter the private sector and cash in, like many ex-politicians. However, with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, they’ve rather infamously been leaning on lobbying groups to not hire democrats. Which puts Miller in a bit of a bind, if he wants to slide over to one of those very cushy, very lucrative positions. Or, perhaps, he had his eye on some other job in which it would behoove him to curry favor with the governing Republican party.

I don’t know if this is the real explanation, but it will be interesting to see where Miller ends up once he leaves the Senate.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:43 PM

Wednesday, November 05, 2003
On second thought…

In an earlier post, I wrote that there had been a real change in the world at some point along the line, to where it was no longer possible to wage true wars of conquest. Subject peoples now have enough self-identity and awareness that they will rise up and rebel against anyone attempting to conquer them.

After reading some more, specifically about the Provinces of the Roman Empire, I’ve decided my earlier post was, at least on this point, simply wrong. I was fooled by the telescope of history which combines decades worth of events down into a few pages, making conquests look neat and easy and smooth. But even in the ancient world, they weren’t, and it took the Romans decades and, in most cases, putting down multiple serious uprisings in their various provinces before the true Pax Romana took hold.

It seems to me now that the real difference is not in the resistance of the local population, but in the determination and the measures which would-be empires were willing to adopt. The Romans werew willing to fight repeated major wars to solidify their control, and were also willing to re-settle subject tribes, and both de-and re-populate regions when it suited their purposes. Modern communications has increased the effectiveness, solidarity, and the international visibility of resistance movements. But really, it isn’t that much different than it’s ever been.

On a similar note, I’m in the middle of an interesting book about Victorian England, and the author pointed out that the price of Empire was near constant warfare. Although it doesn’t get much attention anymore, not a year went by, almost, from 1860-1890, in which there wasn’t some significant military expedition that the British had to undertake to quell a local uprising somewhere in the Empire. I knew about a few of them, like the Zulu War, but the sheer number of these brush-ups astounded me. Continual warfare was the price of empire for the British.

This is one of the problems with trying to draw lessons from history. It’s easy to get misled by the high-level prospect that most histories provide, and very hard to dig down in and really see and understand what everyday life, with all its attendant noise and daily fluctuations, was truly like. And without that understanding, it’s hard to see the congruities with our own experiences to try and pull relevant lessons from the historical record.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:27 PM

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Halliburton, Iraq, the CPI, and Daniel Drezner

Daniel Drezner correctly notes, in a post here and a Slate article here, that the recent report released by the Center for Public Integrity did not, despite some hand waving and attempts to gin up damning statistics, prove anything about the level of corruption in the awarding of post war contract in Iraq. (Or the lack of the same.)

Drezner points out that they use means to hide the fact that many of the winners of big reconstruction projects were not big campaign donors, relatively speaking. However, I think his analysis also doesn’t prove as much as he thinks. He looks at the 70 companies that have won reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and looks for a correlation between the size of the contracts they won and the amount they donated. He finds that this correlation is very weak.

However, this doesn’t prove that campaign donations had no influence on contracts, because all the various companies weren’t competing for all the various contracts. Each was competing for some specific subset of the contracts available. For example, among the big donors list, Dell was presumably not competing for contracts to rebuild the Iraqi power grid or get the oil fields up and running. Yet, by Drezner’s analysis, the fact that Dell didn’t win some of these giant contracts (or some other giant contract) is evidence that campaign contributions didn’t affect the awarding of contracts.

To me, both Drezner and the CPI fail by improperly lumping statistics together. Perhaps the information isn’t available, but if you really wanted to examine this issue, what you would need to do is look at the various bidders for each contract, and then see if the winner of a given contract was more likely to be the biggest (or one of the biggest) donors among the competing firms. It’s possible that some of the big contracts were awarded in fields where none of the major companies are big donors. Or, as mentioned above, that some big donors only competed for relatively small contracts.

It would be relatively easy to design a scenario in which each contract was awarded to the largest donor among the various bidding companies, but which would also pass Drezner’s correlation test. Conversely, almost any scenario which involved a few big donors could be spun as indicating corruption using the IPA approach Drezner rightly critiqued.

So, at the end of the day, neither the original report nor the rebuttal really leaves us any the wiser about the role that campaign donations did or didn’t play in the awarding of contracts in postwar Iraq.

Update: After writing this piece, I noticed that Dan has written several other pieces on his blog about this. Upon a quick perusal, it didn't seem like any of his comments really addressed my point, but I'd urge anyone interested to go over and check out his addition items.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:47 PM

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