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• Dec. 31, 2003 | 12:35 PM ETOutsourcing: Not so bad?
For a sunnier view of outsourcing than I've presented below, you might want to read this column by economist Bruce Bartlett.  Bartlett says that:The truth is that outsourcing is far less of a threat to American workers than they imagine, and there are significant benefits for the U.S. economy. For starters, there is not a one-for-one relationship between jobs lost here and those gained elsewhere from outsourcing. Boston University researcher Nitin Joglekar has found that outsourcing of IT services typically leads to domestic job losses of less than 20 percent. In other words, for every 100 jobs outsourced to India, only 20 are lost here. Well, that's something of a relief, I suppose.  Bartlett also argues that outsourcing is in fact the unintended consequence of efforts to keep American companies from hiring foreign programmers:Ironically, much of the move toward offshoring is the result of ill-considered efforts to keep software jobs in the United States. Previously, companies had brought Indian programmers to this country to do their work under a program established in 1990. It provided these foreign workers with H-1B visas that allowed them to work here temporarily. But under pressure to save such jobs for the native-born, the number of visas allowed under this program was reduced from 195,000 to 65,000 in October.
So now, instead of having Indian workers come here, where they spent much of their earnings, companies are contracting with them to work in India, which is where they now spend their earnings. Rather than admit that they were wrong in the first place, the same people who demanded restrictions on foreign workers are trying to get new limits placed on outsourcing, as well.I have to say that this doesn't surprise me.  I do see outsourcing as a genuine issue, not just a political one.  But experience demonstrates that political responses to trade difficulties often do more harm than good.Year-end lists
I don't do them.  But the excellent BlogCritics site has a whole bunch of best-of lists collected in one place.  And Melissa Schwartz offers best of music and best (and worst) of television lists, for your enjoyment.  And, via Space.Com, here's a list of the ten best astronomical images from 2003.  Or, for something completely different, you can read Radley Balko's libertarian heroes of 2003 -- though I have to say it's a rather short list.See you in 2004!
• Dec. 30, 2003 | 2:46 PM ETMore on outsourcing
I've been predicting for a while, both here and elsewhere that the outsourcing of jobs to offshore companies would be a big election issue (and read this on the related impact of automation, too).Now the New York Times' Bob Herbert has picked up the topic.  Herbert notes:I.B.M. has crafted plans to send thousands of upscale jobs from the U.S. to lower-paid workers in China, India and elsewhere. Anyone who doesn't believe this is the wave of the future should listen to comments made last spring by an I.B.M. executive named Harry Newman:
"I think probably the biggest impact to employee relations and to the H.R. field is this concept of globalization. It is rapidly accelerating, and it means shifting a lot of jobs, opening a lot of locations in places we had never dreamt of before, going where there's low-cost labor, low-cost competition, shifting jobs offshore."
An executive at Microsoft, the ultimate American success story, told his department heads last year to "Think India," and to "pick something to move offshore today."Herbert wonders why this isn't a bigger deal, politically.  One reason is that unemployment remains low by the standards of the past 20 years.  Another, I think, is that voters are naturally suspicious of politicians' promises to protect their jobs from foreign competition, because the history of such efforts hasn't been very impressive.  Another is that it seems, somehow, illiberal to complain that $120,000 a year programmers are taking pay cuts because guys in India are getting jobs.  The computer guys weren't exactly jumping up to stand alongside the workers at Ford and GM in workerly solidarity back in the boom years -- they were standing in line for Porsches and BMWs, not walking the picket lines, or even buying Lincoln Town Cars to show their support for domestic manufactures.  And, finally, most of the people pushing the issue are with unions, who Americans these days tend to see as more interested in their own members' welfare than in the welfare of workers generally.The Scobleizer Weblog notes that this is nothing new:Silicon Valley has been shipping jobs overseas for decades. Hey, when I grew up there used to be Apricot and Cherry farmers here. Guess what, they aren't here anymore. Then, this place used to manufacture stuff. You know, processors. Apple computers. Hewlett Packard calculators. Guess what, the Valley doesn't do that anymore . . . .
Our jobs are constantly getting turned into commodities. Sent overseas.Will this be a political issue?  I think it will, though probably not until the primary season is over.  I think that a Democratic candidate will want to use it as an issue to draw high-paid (or, er, formerly high-paid) professionals away from the Republicans.  Will that work?  That depends on the Democratic candidate, and on whether that candidate's other attributes are sufficiently appealing, or at least inoffensive, to those professionals to let this issue be the deciding factor.• Dec. 29, 2003 | 6:37 PM ETIt takes a mullah
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing.  For that, you need a mullah.And right now, it looks as if the mullahs in Saddam's hometown think that the wind is blowing our way.  How else to explain this development:Influential spiritual leaders from Saddam Hussein's hometown — a bastion of anti-American sentiment — are joining forces to persuade Iraqis to abandon the violent insurgency, one of the leaders said Monday.The effort marks a new, open willingness to cooperate with U.S. forces — a shift in the thinking of at least some key members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which lost political dominance with the fall of Saddam and has largely formed the most outspoken and violent opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.One suspects that these leaders wouldn't be doing that if they expected anti-U.S. efforts to succeed.  Instead, they seem to want to get on the winning side while they still have something to bring to the table.It's hard to tell just how things are going in Iraq, especially in light of the often-unreliable media coverage.  But this development suggests to me that people much closer to the action, and with a lot at stake, expect the Saddamite holdouts to lose, and the United States to win.• Dec. 24, 2003 | 12:49 PM ET
As we celebrate Christmas, let's take a moment to remember the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  Here's a collection of ways you can help the troops, compiled by the folks at Winds of Change.David Letterman is certainly doing his part:BAGHDAD, Iraq - With shouts of "Dave, Dave!" U.S. soldiers greeted the American late night TV show host David Letterman as he visited troops in central Baghdad on Christmas Eve.
Letterman, the host of CBS' "Late Show," chatted with wounded and sick soldiers in the military's main combat hospital and met soldiers at one of Saddam Hussein's ransacked palaces that now serves as part of the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters. . . .
Snapping a picture, 1st Lt. Michael Gerstmyer, 24, from Baltimore, Maryland, said he was surprised at how relaxed the TV star appeared in a battle zone.
"He acts like he's been here for years," Gerstmyer said.
Last Christmas, Letterman visited troops in Afghanistan.
Bravo to Dave, even if he is with another network. . . .And, finally, don't miss Tim Blair's collection of quotes over the past year.  It's both highly entertaining, and highly instructive.  • Dec. 23, 2003 | 9:54 AM ET
A good year for bloggers
The New York Times has actually gone so far as to admit that Bush was right with regard to Libya.  But the Times has not admitted the failures of its coverage in Iraq, which among other things missed a major anti-terrorism protest in Baghdad.  As media blogger Jeff Jarvis observes, the Times "screwed up." But that's okay, as the slack was taken up by Iraqi bloggers and others, and -- as I mentioned below -- other media organizations picked up on the story.  The Pentagon is now planning to get its story out by creating its own satellite channel carrying news out of Baghdad that other media organizations aren't carrying.  That's yet another difference between this war and Vietnam -- this time, it's the media who want to control the news flow!I hope that the Pentagon will make these video feeds available on the Web, as well as via satellite.  Bloggers and others will find them useful, and they'll help us compare what the big guys are reporting with what we know on our own.  In the meantime, here's a round-up of recent posts from Iraqi bloggers.  Check 'em out -- you never know what you'll hear from them that won't make it to the evening news.• Dec. 22, 2003 | 10:25 AM ET
A good year for BushSo, Saddam has been captured, and now Libya has announced that it will be shutting down its WMD program.  As Colby Cosh observes:  "Saddam is dragged out of a living grave and told that the president sends his regards, and within a week, Gadhafi, one of the most comparable figures in the World Atlas of Thuggery, is voluntarily installing red carpet for a weapons inspectorate. Talk about a wacky coincidence, eh?"  Yeah, go figure. Before the 9/11 attacks, Osama and his followers joked that the most America would do would be to file a lawsuit.  This turns out not to be the case -- and Arab leaders, recognizing that attacks on U.S. interests are no longer accepted with impunity, are changing their behavior.  Some Bush critics have tried to minimize the significance of this change by noting that negotiations with Libya began back in April  But Charles Paul Freund points to this story from The Telegraph dated April 9, in which we learn:A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi said the prime minister had been telephoned recently by Col Gaddafi of Libya, who said: "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."In the words of Yoda:  "You should be."  And it's a good thing when thuggish leaders are afraid, because fear does for them what a conscience ought to do.A bad year for Bush's critics
Meanwhile, it's been a bad year for Bush's critics, who are left with little more to do than to sputter (false) claims that when Bush visited Baghdad he posed with a plastic turkey.  That follows up pre-war claims of hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, food shortages, and epidemics in Iraq -- along with the usual claims that the "Arab street" would rise up in defense of Saddam.  But it didn't work out that way.  Indeed, as Michael Young reports, some Arabs were enjoying Saddam's humiliation:On that day, the Syrian didn't care about punishing George W. Bush, even though the US president had just signed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. He was just enjoying the disgrace of an Arab despot.
he reaction was interesting, because it contrasted with a purportedly more general Arab feeling of humiliation that Saddam had not gone down in a hail of gunfire. . . .
In its often-simplistic belief in core democratic values in the Middle East, the Bush administration may be closer to the truth than its critics give it credit for. Many Arabs will have seen in Saddam's downfall something personally liberating, even if the subtleties of Middle East academia prepare one for more than the unrefined deduction that Arabs, like most other people, don't appreciate regime goons staring over their shoulders, raping their wives, shooting their husbands, brainwashing their children or razing their villages.Yeah, go figure:  lots of Arabs like the idea of freedom and democracy.  Bush's views may be simplistic, but the views of his critics, who often hold that Arabs are, somehow, inherently suited for tyranny rather than freedom, seem, well, more than a little bit racist.  As Young observes:In many a conversation at the start of this year, Arab and Western opponents of an Iraq war insisted that transformations in the Middle East must be homegrown, and that what the US was planning was unacceptable. What they couldn't answer was why Saddam had for so long been deemed acceptable, but also how domestic reform was possible under a near genocidal regime. In their zeal to censure America, the critics were reduced to peddling an absurdity.And that's the story of the past year, right up to the "plastic turkey" claims.

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