Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Will Iran and the United States talk?

The New York Times' David Sanger provides some background to President Bush's thinking on Iran:

President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice. [Hey, bloggers could have told him that!!--DD.]

During the past month, according to European officials and some current and former members of the Bush administration, it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions — or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites — unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran's leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option.

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium. Administration officials characterized their offer as a test of whether the Iranians want engagement with the West more than they want the option to build a nuclear bomb some day.

And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

This appears to be Kevin Drum's fear as well:
The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely....

Here's hoping it works. It might, especially if it's true that Iran is having troubles with its uranium enrichment program and wouldn't really lose anything by halting it for a while. Still, this is straight out of the Diplomacy 101 playbook as a way of responding to pressure to look reasonable without actually running the risk of reaching a peaceful agreement.

Kevin's overstating things a bit. Despite Iran's desire for talks, their rhetoric has been unyielding since Ahmadinejad came to power. Furthermore, as this Glenn Kessler analysis demonstrates, the Bush administration has actually shifted its Iran policy a fair amount since 2004.

Iran's response, however, does suggest to me that there's room to negotiate:

Iran this morning issued a wary but apparently less than final reply to the Bush administration's offer. "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, in remarks quoted by Iranian state television. "We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns."....

A senior administration official said there is substantial agreement from Russia and China -- two nations that have resisted sanctions against Iran -- on an escalating series of U.N. penalties that would be imposed if Iran does not comply. He said negotiators are expected to finalize a package that includes potential sanctions for noncompliance, as well as benefits if Iran accepts a deal being crafted by several nations during a meeting in Vienna today. Rice left for the meeting shortly after her announcement....

The Iranian statement reflected the two strains that have guided Iran's nuclear diplomacy in recent weeks: A firm assertion that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the country has a right to develop peaceful nuclear power. But also an appetite to speak directly with Washington, after 27 years of hostile official silence, in hopes of avoiding punishment by the UN Security Council and perhaps eventually restore diplomatic relations.

In remarks to reporters this morning at a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki gave the impression of dismissing Wednesday's offer from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as "no new words."

But it was unclear whether the remarks, quoted by the state news agency IRNA, were a framed response or the reflexive reaction of a hardline conservative. Mottaki's state television statement, for instance, appeared to represent an effort to keep the overture alive. One diplomat said the reference to "just conditions" could be read as a softening of Iran's official line, which has always demanded that any negotiations begin with no conditions at all.

"It sounds like an opening," said the European diplomat resident in Tehran. "Before they've always said 'no conditions,' so this might mean something."

In any event, few observers of Iran's government took Mottaki's remarks as the final word. Under Iran's theocratic system, the cabinet of the elected president counts for less than state organs under the direct control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Supreme Leader of the Revolution holds ultimate power. Observers awaited word from Ali Larijani, a Khamenei favorite who as chair of the National Security Council has led Iran's negotiating team. A response may also come through by appointed clerics at Friday Prayers; the language of the sermons is routinely dictated by Khamenei's office.

In extending the offer to join Britain, Germany and France in direct negotiations with Tehran, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday said Washington would proceed only if Iran resumed a suspension of its nuclear program, calling that necessary to answer concerns that the program may be a front for developing nuclear weapons.

But Rice's statement also offered an assurance that Iranian officials have made their central demand. "The Iranian people believe they have a right to civil nuclear energy," she said. "We acknowledge that right."

Based on what Rice and the Iranians are saying, there is definitely a zone of agreement to start talks. Tee U.S. acknowledges that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, which could obviously include enrichment. However, the Iranians, if they're serious about talks, can acknowledge that recognition without actually engaging in enrichment activities while talks proceed.

What happens next will be a very interesting test of both American and Iranian intentions.


UPDATE: If nothing else, this strategic shift appears to have created a united front at the Security Council, if this AP report is accurate.

Eugene Gholz is more pessimistic about resolving the situation. He makes a strong case. I'm more optimistic than Gholz for the reason he offers -- that by taking this route, the U.S. has augmented the likelihood of multilateral action if Iran refuses to back down. In the end, I think China and Russia will prefer UN action over a nuclear-armed Iran.

posted by Dan at 09:32 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Your memorable phrase for today
[N]obody wants to see a forty year old woman licking salt off a guy's neck and coughing up big phlegm balls from the smokes.
You'll have to click over to Laura McKenna to see it in context.
posted by Dan at 09:59 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

When Congress monopolizes the use of hot air....

Michael Hawthorne has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune about how Congress is serious about ending America's addition to oil.... unless vacation homes are threatened:

The federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms planned across the Midwest, saying research is needed on whether the giant turbines could interfere with military radar.

But backers of wind power say the action has little to do with national security. The real issue, they say, is a group of wealthy vacationers who think a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts would spoil the view at their summer homes.

Opponents of the Cape Wind project include several influential members of Congress. Critics say their latest attempt to thwart the planting of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound has led to a moratorium on new wind farms hundreds of miles away in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Federal officials declined to reveal how many stop-work orders have been sent out. But developers said that at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down by the Federal Aviation Administration since the start of the year....

Harnessing the wind is a clean and relatively inexpensive way to generate electricity without the troublesome byproducts of coal or nuclear power. But the vast collections of turbines--some of which are 40 stories tall--are derided by opponents as unreliable and unsightly.

Of the scores of projects proposed around the country, perhaps the most controversial has been Cape Wind. If approved, it will be the first offshore wind farm in the United States.

Most of the opposition focuses on the proposed location in a channel between Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, the bucolic Massachusetts vacation areas frequented by many high-profile celebrities, business executives and politicians.

Critics of Cape Wind include members of the Kennedy family, whose summer compound is on Cape Cod. Both U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have said the turbines would spoil the ocean views, threaten the local tourist economy and endanger migratory birds.

The younger Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist who has supported wind power in other parts of the country, said putting a wind farm in Nantucket Sound would be akin to placing one in the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park.

"This isn't the right location, for a number of reasons," Kennedy said.

Another opponent is U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who has tried several times to block the Cape Wind project. In a 2002 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Warner included a handwritten note saying he often visits Cape Cod, which he called a "national treasure."

But the project continued to move forward until late last year, when Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slipped an amendment into a military spending bill. The one-sentence congressional order directs the Defense Department to study whether wind towers could mask the radar signals of small aircraft.

Since then, at the Defense Department's behest, the FAA has been blocking any new wind turbines within the scope of radar systems used by the military.

Warner's amendment also appears to have reversed the government's position on the Cape Wind proposal. Both the FAA and the Air Force had previously signed off on the project, which would be located within miles of a missile defense radar system.

"This has nothing to do with wind," said Michael Polsky, president and chief executive officer of Invenergy, a Chicago company with projects in Illinois and Wisconsin that have been blocked by the government. "It has everything to do with politics."

Warner's office did not return telephone calls seeking comment. A spokesman previously released a statement saying the Defense Department study "ensures that Congress will possess as much information as possible on wind farms' impact on military operations."

posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Will the new Treasury Secretary make a difference?

The John Snow Death Watch is over:

President George W. Bush on Tuesday named Hank Paulson as his new treasury secretary, pending approval from the Senate.

Mr Paulson has been the chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group since 1999, having joined the firm in 1974. He replaces John Snow, who held the job for three years and was long been rumoured to be stepping down.

The choice of the CEO came as a surprise and the dollar was mixed early Tuesday in New York on the news. [In contrast NPR reported that the markets were responding pretty well--DD.]

Mr Bush praised his choice as having “a lifetime of business experience’’ and “an intimate knowledge of securities markets.”

Greg Mankiw takes the opportunity to have some fun at Daniel Gross' expense. Gross, in a classy move, acknowledges that, "contrary to the argument I made in April, Bush has been able to find a Class A Wall Street type willing to take the job."

Question to readers: will Paulson hae a seat at the policymaking table, or is he merely going to be a much better salesman than Snow?

posted by Dan at 10:14 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Will Bono please be quiet, please?

This is probably a sign that I'm watching too much ESPN, but the channel's ads for the World Cup are driving me nuts. Adweek's Kathleen Sampey describes the ads:

Music from U2 is also used in the campaign from Wieden + Kennedy, which carries the theme, "One game changes everything."

The first spot is voiced by lead singer Bono, and broke last week on ESPN properties. This execution and the other spots will also be in rotation off-channel.

"It's a simple thing. Just a ball and a goal," Bono says in the spot as U2's “City of Blinding Lights” plays throughout. "That simple thing ... closes the schools, closes the shops, closes a city and stops a war."....

ESPN's senior vp of marketing Katie Lacey said in a statement, "Our goal with this campaign is to make World Cup soccer meaningful and relevant to American sports fans. We show the passion that fans around the world have through compelling stories that are set to the music of U2 and narrated by the band members themselves." (emphasis added)

These ads have induced excitement in some quarters, but at the risk of besmirching Bono's reputaion for saintliness, the claim that soccer stops war is just a bit much for me.

The conflict-reducing powers of the World Cup is based in what happened when the Ivory Coast quaified for this year's cup. As Bono explains in another ad:

After three years of civil war, feuding factions talked for the first time in years, and the president called a truce. Because the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time. Because, as everyone knows, a country united makes for better cheerleaders than a country divided.
This sounds great, and indeed, there are tentative signs that the Ivory Coast is trending in a positive direction.

However, in National Geographic, Paul Laity explains the precarious role of soccer in that country's political process:

Over the past six years, the Ivory Coast's southern-based regime has fomented hatred of immigrants and Muslims, yet many of the country's best soccer players are from Muslim and immigrant families, so the national team has become an irresistible symbol of unity. At the end of the Abidjan victory parade [for qualifying], the head of the Ivory Coast Football Federation addressed a plea to President Laurent Gbagbo: "The players have asked me to tell you that what they most want now is for our divided country to become one again. They want this victory to act as a catalyst for peace in Ivory Coast, to put an end to the conflict and to reunite its people. This success must bring us together." The party on the streets lasted another whole day....

Everybody—on both sides of the war—is willing the team to do well in Germany. But the mix of soccer and politics can get ugly. When the Ivoirians lost for the second time to Cameroon in the qualifiers, and it was believed their chance had gone, [striker Didier] Drogba—who had played brilliantly in the match and scored two goals—received threats and menacing messages from fans, and was worried enough to consider not playing for the national team. In 2000 Gen. Robert Guei, who had just engineered the country's first military coup, held the national team in detention for two days as punishment for being knocked out of the African Nations Cup in the first round. He stripped the players of their passports and cell phones, publicly denounced them, and suggested they should learn some barracks discipline. "You should have spared us the shame," he said.

With qualification for the World Cup secured, there is, for the time being, no shame. By itself, soccer will never bring about national reconciliation. (emphasis added)

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch just issued a rather pessimistic report on the country:
Government forces in Côte d’Ivoire, their allied militias and New Forces rebels alike are committing serious abuses against civilians with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. These abuses and the impunity that fuels them raise serious concerns about the potential for violence in the run-up to the October elections....

Human Rights Watch found that members of the government security forces continue to prey on civilians by extorting, robbing and, at times, beating those they are entrusted to protect. These abuses typically take place under the guise of routine security checks during which police and gendarmes inspect the identity papers of individuals they stop at road blocks, in markets or other public places. Nationals of neighboring states and Ivorians from the north of the country are particularly signaled out for abuse, on the basis of suspicions that they support the northern rebels. Individuals from these groups are targeted and frequently subjected to arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture and sometimes murder, particularly during episodes of heightened political tension.

In the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire, Human Rights Watch found that New Forces rebels routinely extort money from civilians through threats, intimidation or outright force. In the zone administered by the New Forces, citizens accused of common crimes are sometimes subject to arbitrary arrest by rebel-administered police officers, and the imposition of custodial “sentences” of questionable legal authority continue to occur with no independent judicial or executive checks.

The report notes how neither the Ivorian authorities, the leadership of the rebel New Forces, nor the international community has taken meaningful steps to bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Côte d’Ivoire. Unless measures are taken now to combat impunity, a repeat of the violence experienced during the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections could occur. In 2000, political, ethnic and religious violence in the run-up to the elections resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people and injuries to hundreds more.

HRW's history of the conflict says nothing about the World Cup qualifying as a trigger for peace.

[Isn't this a bit curmudgeonly?--ed.] Well, part of it is that ESPN's ads don't mention the other times that soccer affected international conflict:

Tensions [between Honduras and El Salvador] continued to mount during June 1969. The soccer teams of the two nations were engaged that month in a three-game elimination match as a preliminary to the World Cup. Disturbances broke out during the first game in Tegucigalpa, but the situation got considerably worse during the second match in San Salvador. Honduran fans were roughed up, the Honduran flag and national anthem were insulted, and the emotions of both nations became considerably agitated. Actions against Salvadoran residents in Honduras, including several vice consuls, became increasingly violent. An unknown number of Salvadorans were killed or brutalized, and tens of thousands began fleeing the country. The press of both nations contributed to a growing climate of near- hysteria, and on June 27, 1969, Honduras broke diplomatic relations with El Salvador.

Early on the morning of July 14, 1969, concerted military action began in what came to be known as the Soccer War.

There's also the role that soccer played in igniting the Balkan wars of the nineties:
For many Croats, the war began not in June 1991 but on the soccer field on 13 March 1990. That day Red Star Belgrade met Dinamo Zagreb at the Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb to settle a long standing disputed league title. The Red Star Delije were led by Arkan, the notorious warlord and Serbian ultranationalist.

Ozren Podnar reports that the Delije held up signs in the north stands saying "Zagreb is Serbian", and "We'll kill Tudjman" . A reference to Franjo Tudjman, the pro-independence Croatian leader. Even before the match, the Delije were tearing the plastic seats of the Maksimir Satdium and hurling them. They then attacked Dinamo fans with knives, tearing down a fence that separated them from the field and the North stands. The Yugoslavian riot police, who were mostly Serbs stood by and took no action. Incensed by the Delije aggression and the police inaction, thousands of DInamo fans, the Bad Blue Boys took to the field en masse. It was the biggest invasion of football fans in history. They quickly tore down the North stand which buckled under their weight and made after the Red Star fans....

"The game that was never played will be remembered, at least by the soccer fans, as the beginning of the Patriotic War, and almost all of the contemporaries will declare it the key in understanding the Croatian cause," wrote Zagreb daily Vecernji list marking the 15th anniversary of the event. It must be, the historians claim, that the Croats saw in the fans' actions and Boban's intervention a symbol of the resistance against the 70-year long Serbian domination.

If FIFA, ESPN, and U2 want to claim that soccer -- and yes, I know, it's called football everywhere else -- was the cause of peace in the Ivory Coast, then they should also acknowledge it's less savory contributions to world politics.

UPDATE: Some of the reactions to this post presume that I don't like either soccer or the World Cup. Not true -- I, for one, am hoping that Team USA can build on its excellent 2002 performance, when it advanced to the quarterfinals and then lost to Germany despite outplaying them for 80 of the 90 minutes of the game [not that he's bitter about it or anything!!--ed.]. I simply request that the game not be assigned magical properties that it does not possess.

posted by Dan at 08:07 PM | Comments (44) | Trackbacks (1)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why limit the free trade rule to economists?

I signed onto Alex Tabarrok's open letter on immigration earlier this month.

In Tapped, Matthew Yglesias expressed skepticism about one element of the letter:

I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists demanding that we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc. Obviously, there are many foreign born professors in the United States, but there could be many more, wages for academics could be lower, and college tuitions could be significantly lower. If there's really no difference between "us" and "them" economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy.
To which Brad DeLong replies:
I'll pick up the gauntlet:

I hereby call on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors. All universities and other institutions of higher education should be allowed to hire whoever they want to reside, teach, and do research at their universities, without let or hindrance by any government whatsoever.

Greg Mankiw is on board as well.

Yglesias wanted only economists to respond, but both Alex's letter and Brad's rule applied to other academics as well. So I'm in too. Bring it on!!

UPDATE: Comments on this thread and others devoted to this topic suggest that tenure needs to be abolished for this to work properly. There is an intuitive logic to this, since this is all about increasing flexibility in labor markets. That said, I find this connection intriguing, since a) tenure is not a government-imposed restriction on the academic marketplace; and b) the commenters seem to assume that if tenure were abolished as a norm it would disappear from the face of the earth.

In actuality, ceteris paribus, the elimination of tenure could just as easily raise faculty salaries as lower them. Furthermore, I suspect that the institution of tenure would be replaced by an..... institution that looks an awful lot like tenure. Universities will still compete after top talent, and one of the ways to keep such talent would be to lock them in with long-term contracts. This institution would probably have a more limited domain than what exists now, but it would exist.

posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Pen and paper rule!

Maplesoft -- "the leading provider of high-performance software tools for engineering, science and mathematics" -- commissioned a survey of "scientists, engineers, and researchers" to find out how they do their calculations. I think they found the results disturbing:

[A]ccording to an international survey, mathematical calculations in engineering and academia are still most often performed with pencil and paper. On a daily basis, respondents turn to scratchpads and calculators more frequently than any other tool for mathematical tasks. The same survey also revealed this community largely considers its field of work and study to be “fully modern” and “taking full advantage of modern tools and technology.”

These results are drawn from an extensive, international survey of scientists, engineers and researchers across a variety of markets, including aerospace, automotive, electronics, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, life sciences, finance and education. With more than 2000 participants, the survey offers unprecedented insight into the daily practices, experiences and perceptions of the technical user community.

When questioned about how frequently they used a range of tools and resources for design and analysis:

  • 52% indicated that they use “hand calculations (calculators) and paper” daily, with an additional 21% citing it as a weekly practice;

  • 47% of respondents indicated that the next most common resources used daily are “electronic references and tables (e.g. CD-ROM, Web),”)” with another 26% using them weekly;

  • 35% indicated that they use “print reference books and tables” daily, with another 31% using them weekly; and

  • 39% indicated daily use of spreadsheets, which remain the most common software tool used in analysis and design. Another 31% of users employ them weekly.
  • “It is startling to see such hard data revealing the continued reliance on tools and practices that require so much manual effort and leave so much room for error,” said Jim Cooper, CEO of Maplesoft. “This is a user base that is charged with driving innovation, exploring the cutting edge and bringing the best new products and services to market and yet, to a large extent, they are holding onto outdated and outmoded practices. So much of their important work will remain locked in their notebooks and lost to the layers of their spreadsheets rather than captured and carried forward with all of their logic and thinking documented.”

    Count me among the pen-and-paper crowd, sort of. There's no way in hell I'd start any theoretical modeling by typing it into a computer program. On the other hand, there's no way in hell I'd do any kind of statistical analysis or straight number-crunching by hand. Looking at the survey itself, it seems that engineers think of design in the same way that I think about theoretical modeling -- which makes intuitive sense to me.

    My question to readers: Is my use of pen-and-paper is simply an artifact of my age, and as people who have used computers since they were in diapers enter the scientific workforce, they will discard these ancient tools? Or is there something about the act of scribbling down initial thoughts about models or designs on paper that makes it work better than electronic entry?

    [You meant pencil and paper, right?--ed. I'm left-handed, and therefore stopped using pencils at the earliest moment possible.]

    posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

    All the cool petrostates are doing it!!

    Expropriation was a hot topic of study in international politcal economy in the seventies, when it seemed like the phenomenon was going to be a permanent feature. In the eighties, the diffusion of free-market ideas and the collapse of communism rendered that topic pretty much inert.

    I suspect we're going to start seeing a few dissertations on the topic sprouting up soon, however. Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela... this is definitely a trend.

    And then there's Russia. Here are the first few paragraphs of Arkady Ostrovsky's "Russian ministry seeks review of oil deals" in the Financial Times:

    Russia’s natural resources ministry called on Thursday for a review of the two largest foreign oil projects in the country, even as senior Russian officials sought to assure EU leaders that Russia was a reliable energy partner.

    The ministry said the legal agreements underpinning oil and gas developments on Sakhalin island, on Russia’s eastern flank, were ineffective and should be reviewed.

    It said it planned to ask the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, to review production-sharing agreements signed in the 1990s, saying they were damaging Russia’s national interests.

    Any review of PSAs would threaten the two largest foreign investments in Russia: the Sakhalin-1 project, on which ExxonMobil and its partners have already spent nearly $5bn; and the Sakhalin-2 project, in which Royal Dutch Shell and its partners are investing $20bn.

    However, two Russian ministers insisted separately that all Moscow’s agreements with foreign energy companies would be honoured, suggesting a rift had opened within the government.

    Of course, such a thing couldn't happen in the United States. Oh, wait.....

    posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, May 25, 2006

    Are American CEOs lazy?

    In U.S. News and World Report, Rick Newman writes about some survey results suggesting that Asian CEOs don't whine as much as American CEOs:

    Development Dimensions International, the human-resources firm, recently did a survey of business leaders in the United States and in China. Some provocative findings:
  • In China, 23 percent of business leaders complain about the amount of work they do. In the States the figure is more than twice as high: 49 percent.

  • Chinese businesspeople are more satisfied; 80 percent feel they have work-life balance. Only 69 percent of American businesspeople feel the same way.

  • Business leaders in China are gluttons for punishment, too—93 percent say they'd be willing to sacrifice more free time to get ahead in business. Only 66 percent of Americans say that.
  • Americans aren't lazy. We all know people who work a full day and bring work home for evenings and weekends. And many parents do that while juggling kids. But Americans have developed expectations that border on unreasonable: prosperity, leisure, and fulfillment, all at once, plus we have a mentality that leads us to believe we're entitled to these things....

    In Asia, the lifestyle issues that have formed their own industry in the West still barely register.

    "In China, India, and Singapore, they're not talking about work-life-balance issues," argues David Heenan, author of Flight Capital. "They're working like crazy and taking no prisoners." Much of that has to do with recent—and ancient—history. America has been one of the world's most prosperous nations for decades. China, like India, is just beginning to taste prosperity. We're satiated. They're still lean and hungry. Like Americans 100 or 150 years ago, the new Asian capitalists are willing to sacrifice their personal lives for the once rare opportunity to improve their lives and maybe even get rich.

    The rewards of leisure and family time, of course, are among the things that motivate people to get rich. Who doesn't want to retire at 50, wealthy enough to do little more than play golf, socialize, volunteer, and cultivate a covey of grandchildren? Well, not the Chinese, evidently. Not yet, anyway. Puzzle this one out: While 45 percent of American business leaders find their personal life more fulfilling than their work life, only 3 percent of Chinese business leaders feel that way.

    I don't find this to be much of a puzzle at all -- American CEOs have greater leisure opportunities than Asian bosses. Neither do I suspect it's quite the dilemma that Newman suggests -- my strong suspicion is that American bosses can devote greater hours to work and personal life than Asian bosses -- because U.S. hours devoted to non-renumerative work have likely declined faster than in Asia.

    There's no puzzle for an obvious reason (which Newman recognizes) -- Americans are much better situated to maximize their utili

    posted by Dan at 02:34 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    Guy lit summarized
    Here, then, is a summary of guy-lit novels:

    I may be 30, but I act 15. I am adrift in New York. I'm too clever by half for my own good. I live on puns and snide, sarcastic asides. I don't look too deeply into myself or anyone else — everyone else is boring or a phony anyway. I may be a New Yorker, but I am not in therapy. I have a boring job, for which I am overeducated and underqualified, but I lack the ambition to commit to a serious career. (Usually I have family money.) I hang out with my equally disconnected friends in many of the city's bars. I drink a lot, take recreational drugs, don't care about much except being clever. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and while I am eager to have sex, which I do often given the zillions of available women in New York, the sex is not especially fulfilling, and emotions rarely enter the picture. I am deeply shallow. And I know it.

    Oh, and then something happens. I go on a journey, get inside the media machinery, sort-of fall for a new girl. Or 9/11 happens, but that doesn't really affect me much either. And though I might now mouth some bland platitudes about change, anyone can see that I'm still the same guy I was before. Only different. But not really.

    From Michael Kimmel's scathing review of the genre in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    posted by Dan at 11:57 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    So you want your child to go to college....

    I wasn't too fond of doing my homework when I was in middle school and high school, a fact that exasperated my mother to no end. Seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, she would remind me that, "college is coming sooner than you think!!" At the time, I thought this was a bit of melodrama, but as I've gotten older I do recignize a glimmer of wisdom in her point.

    Since modern science has yet to devise a way to clone my mother, and modern ethicists have yet to come to grips with the awesome metaphysical implications of having multiple copies of my mother running around in the world, how can the young people get a grip on the importance of college? This is where Quest For College comes in:

    Quest For College is an educational board game designed to provide 8th and 9th graders with some early awareness of the opportunities afforded by higher education. The game was created by Gina Coleman, an Associate Director of Admission at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Coleman created this game in 1999 as a reaction to the inequalities she observed between public and private schooled children in terms of preparedness in the college search and application process.
    Great idea, but there should be a companion game for the helicopter parents that will undoubtedly buy this board game: "Letting Go of Your Children."

    Full disclosure: Coleman was a college classmate of mine.

    posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Someone explain the hawks' plans to me

    As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue nor indirect dialogue is worth it.

    On the direct dialogue, it appears that the administration is ignoring Iran's repeated entreaties for direct negotiations -- at least, that's what I gather from Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer's front-pager in the Washington Post:

    Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

    The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said....

    [Saeed] Laylaz and several diplomats said senior Iranian officials have asked a multitude of intermediaries to pass word to Washington making clear their appetite for direct talks. He said Ali Larijani, chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, passed that message to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Washington Tuesday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

    Iranian officials made similar requests through Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Laylaz said. American intelligence analysts also say Larijani's urgent requests for meetings with senior officials in France and Germany appear to be part of a bid for dialogue with Washington.

    "They've been desperate to do it," said a European diplomat in Tehran.

    U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed the letter as a major overture, an appraisal shared by analysts and foreign diplomats resident in Iran. Bush administration officials, however, have dismissed the offered opening as a tactical move.

    The administration repeatedly has rejected talks, saying Iran must negotiate with the three European powers that have led nuclear diplomacy since the Iranian nuclear program emerged from the shadows in 2002. Within hours of receiving Ahmadinejad's letter, Rice dismissed it as containing nothing new.

    But U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said government experts have exerted mounting pressure on the Bush administration to reply to the letter, seconding public urgings from commentators and former officials. "The content was wacky and, from an American point of view, offensive. But why should we cede the high moral ground, and why shouldn't we at least respond to the Iranian people?" said an official who has been pushing for a public response.

    On the indirect dialogue, Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey report in the Financial Times that U.S. hawks don't like the EU3 offering anything to Iran:
    Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together an agreed package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.

    London is hosting on Wednesday political directors of the “EU3” of France, Germany and the UK, together with China, Russia and the US to look at the twin tools of incentives and sanctions.

    Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, was said by one diplomat to have “gone out on a limb” in an attempt to back the EU3’s package of incentives but was facing resistance from Mr Cheney who is playing a more visible role in US foreign policy. Another diplomat said US internal divisions were holding up an agreement with the Europeans....

    Mr Cheney is said to oppose the notion of “rewarding bad behaviour” following Iran’s alleged breaches of its nuclear safeguards commitments. The hawks – who include John Bolton, the US envoy to the UN, and Bob Joseph, a senior arms control official – fear a repeat of a similar agreement reached with North Korea in 1994 which did not stop the communist regime from pursuing a secret weapons programme.

    The last point is a valid one -- the 1994 agreement with North Korea merely kicked the can down the road.

    Here's my question, though -- even if this skepticism is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?

    If not, then why not negotiate?

    UPDATE: Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.

    This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things? I don't think either economic or military coercion will work, unless there's Security Council backing. I don't think a unilateral invasion is publicly or militarily viable. Am I missing something? Why can we offer a peace treaty to North Korea but not talk to Iran?

    I've said it before and I'll say it again -- If the regime in Iran is willing to trade off its WMD program in return for the U.S. abstaining from an active policy of regime change, that's a deal worth making.

    posted by Dan at 12:24 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    The White House goes Vizzini on Treasury

    The staff here at defines "going Vizzini" when a person or institution repeatedly uses a word or concept differently that everyone else defines it.

    The White House seems to view the Treasury Secretary as a salesman's job, as opposed to a position where that requires any requisite policy knowledge, expertise, or anything of that nature. At least, that's what I divined from this Financial Times story by Demetri Sevastopulo, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Caroline Daniel:

    Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, is preparing to leave the Bush administration and has held talks with Wall Street investment banks on job options, according to people close to the administration.

    Mr Zoellick, who also served as trade representative during George W. Bush’s first term as president, had hoped to replace John Snow, the Treasury secretary, whose departure has been the subject of constant speculation in Washington.

    A business lobbyist with ties to the White House said Mr Zoellick was leaving the administration. A friend of Mr Zoellick said he told the White House in February of his intention to leave but that his departure was delayed because of his involvement in the Darfur peace negotiations....

    The White House has been seeking to replace Mr Snow with someone who would command more respect on Wall Street, in international financial markets, on Capitol Hill and among the public.

    One influential Republican with close ties to the White House said Mr Zoellick was leaving “soon” because he was not getting the Treasury job. The Republican added that the White House wanted someone who would be a better salesman. Mr Zoellick is more widely admired for his policy knowledge. (emphasis added)

    The truly scary thing about that last paragraph is the White House's belief that one can find a Treasury Secretary who would be a salesman while still commanding respect in the markets. To my knowledge, the only value-added John Snow has brought to the Treasury position has been his willingness to be the Bush administration's salesman -- and I'm pretty sure the markets don't respect him all that much.

    posted by Dan at 11:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    My question about the stolen veterans' data

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around one aspect of this story regarding the apparent theft of 26.5 million military veterans' personal data (names, social security numbers, and birthdates). According to the New York Times, "[The data] was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday."

    Let's assume there was authorization -- what possible reason would a DVA employee have to take home that kind of data?

    This sort of episode does raise some intriguing questions about supporters of national ID cards or other central registries -- to what extent does the possibility of data piracy negate whatever security gains would be generated by such ideas?

    UPDATE: The VA didn't alert the FBI about the stolen data for two friggin' weeks??!!! What did they think -- it would just show up after looking under the couch cushions?

    posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    What's the best mass-market paperback novel of the past 25 years?

    So the New York Times polled the literary best and brightest to determine the greatest novel of the past 25 years (It's Beloved, for those who don't want to click through). They've also got an interpretive essay by A.O. Scott, and an online discussion forum with novelists Jane Smiley and Michael Cunningham, critic Stephen Metcalf, a critic, and professor of English Morris Dickstein.

    I must make the following confession upon reading the top five on the list: I haven't read any of them. Jonathan Demme ruined Beloved for me with his execrable film version of it, though if Stephen Metcalf's assessment in Slate is accurate, I'm not sure how much I'd like it anyway:

    What Beloved does feel grounded in, and firmly, is a repudiation of everything that exerts a soft but nonetheless unpleasant authority in a young person's life. In place of the need to master hard knowledge or brute facts, there is folk wisdom; in place of science, animism; in place of the strict father, the self-sufficient matriarchy, first of Baby Suggs', and later Sethe's, house; and finally, in place of a man's world, the hallowed sorority of women, especially women of color—though on this last, Morrison does not insist too heavily.
    Why don't my tastes overlap with the New York Times Book Review? There are a couple of possibilities.

    First, when I flash back to the books that really grabbed me over that span of time, I find I think first of non-American novels -- Salman Rushdie' The Moor's Last Sigh, Milan Kundera's THe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog, or Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In.

    Second, the American books that come to mind -- Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods -- don't have the sweep of Beloved or Rabbit Angstrom. Meghan O'Rourke -- my latest intellectual crush -- makes this point in her Slate essay on the topic:

    The notion that "small" novels are unworthy of high critical esteem has been especially pervasive of late. Somewhere along the way, the critique of the small novel got bound up with a critique of the well-crafted novel that proliferated with the rise of MFA programs. Even as Gatsby, Lolita, and Rabbit Run (all short novels) entered our canon, the "small" novel became inextricably linked in critic's minds with domestic and generally female novels of the sort that Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, indicted in a 2003 interview, when she lamented the dire state of American fiction. "There are a great number of contemporary fiction writers who go for the myopic sensitive-heart rending personal blah, blah, blah, blah, blah small novel," she complained, announcing her love of "big brilliant novels" and praising the panoramic skills of Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon. In 2004, after the National Book Award nominees were announced—in an act of apparent rebelliousness, the judges had chosen five short, lyrical books by women, leaving off Philip Roth's Plot Against America—Caryn James wrote in the New York Times that the real problem with the finalists was not that they were unknown, but that they did not write "big, sprawling novels."

    What's been lost in the conflation of "small" and "small-minded" is the recognition that small books can be powerful vehicles for big ideas—to say nothing of powerful examples of aesthetic rigor. In his otherwise astute essay accompanying the Times' list, A.O. Scott succumbed to a form of category confusion when he explained the absence of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in the top five by noting that they are "small" books that do not "generalize" but "document"—a peculiar misreading of both novels, which hardly shy away from probing large themes, and do so with metaphoric richness. In fact, plenty of big novels do far more documenting than these two masterpieces....

    Big novels may indeed contain more of the flotsam and jetsam of social reality than shorter novels do. But concision, lyrical intensity (not the same thing as "well-crafted prose"), and metaphorical depth are in principle as aesthetically valuable as expository generalization, sweep, and narrative complexity. Taut perfection may not be the only hallmark of a good novel (the novel has always been an expansive form), but it is surely one of them. It's time that the books we call "small" get a closer look, which would reveal some of them to be as intellectually and artistically ambitious as their fatter counterparts.... When it comes to celebrating the American novel, thinking big is only a form of being small-minded.

    There is a final, possible reason: I like potboilers more than I like highbrow fiction. If I was strapped to a polygraph and had to confess which novel moved me the most in the past 25 years, I'd have to cop to Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs.

    So..... the hardworking staff here at encourages it's readers to submit their choice for the greatest mass-market novel of the past 25 years!! [How is that defined?--ed. Any novel that was popular enough to eventually be released in a mass-market paperback.] My choice is Silence of the Lambs -- let me know yours.

    UPDATE: Ah, this post is perfectly timed to coincide with pulp fiction week at Slate!!

    posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    The Saudis have some 'splaining to do

    Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11:

    A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government's statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").

    This indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to "spread the faith."

    Freedom House knows this because Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident who runs the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs , gave us a dozen of the current, purportedly cleaned-up Saudi Ministry of Education religion textbooks. The copies he obtained were not provided by the government, but by teachers, administrators and families with children in Saudi schools, who slipped them out one by one.

    Some of our sources are Shiites and Sunnis from non-Wahhabi traditions -- people condemned as "polytheistic" or "deviant" or "bad" in these texts -- others are simply frustrated that these books do so little to prepare young students for the modern world.

    We then had the texts translated separately by two independent, fluent Arabic speakers.

    What follows is a sample of some of the translated phrases:

    " Every religion other than Islam is false."

    "Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________."


    "Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives."

    "It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

    "A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion."


    "As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."


    "Jihad in the path of God -- which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it -- is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."

    I have no doubt that this is going to inspire a lot of "The Saudis are not our friends" rhetoric, and I can't say I'm inclined to completely disagree. There is a small part of me, however, that wonders two things:
    1) How much cherry-picking is going on with the quotations?

    2) If one were to go to religious schools in other countries, including the United States, how much rhetoric would one find that would smack of this kind of chauvinism?

    I don't know the answer to either question, but I would be curious.

    posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, May 20, 2006

    Hugo Chavez, unwitting friend to America

    Juan Forero has a story in the New York Times about how Latin American countries are starting to rebel against a loudmouthed bully -- and we're not talking about the United States here:

    As Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, insinuates himself deeper in the politics of his region, something of a backlash is building among his neighbors.

    Mr. Chávez — stridently anti-American, leftist and never short on words — has cast himself as spokesman for a united Latin America free of Washington's influence. He has backed Bolivia's recent gas nationalization, set up his own Socialist trade bloc and jumped into the middle of disputes between his neighbors, even when no one has asked.

    Some nations are beginning to take umbrage. The mere association with Mr. Chávez has helped reverse the leads of presidential candidates in Mexico and Peru. Officials from Mexico to Nicaragua, Peru and Brazil have expressed rising impatience at what they see as Mr. Chávez's meddling and grandstanding, often at their expense.

    Read the whole thing. The Economist has more on Chavez's meddling in Peru:
    According to the pollsters most Peruvians dislike Mr Chávez and his meddling. One poll, by Apoyo, found that only 17% had a positive view of him, and 75% disapproved of his comments. Only 23% approved of Mr Morales, and 61% objected to his calling Peru's outgoing president, Alejandro Toledo, a “traitor” for signing a free-trade agreement with the United States.
    Both articles suggest that Mr. Chávez shows no sign of stopping his self-defeating behavior.

    As a citizen of the United States, I, for one, would like to thank Mr. Chavez for his antics -- keep it up, Hugo!!

    posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, May 19, 2006

    Immigration round-up

    Matthew Yglesias has some interesting posts and links up on the immigration question. This post takes down Robert Samuelson's recent Newsweek essay on whether Mexican immigrates will assimilate into the United States -- it echoes some of what I wrote about Samuel Huntington's argument from a few years ago.

    He also links to this fascinating piece of polling analsis from Bryan Caplan:

    I naturally assumed that states with a lot of immigrants would be anti-immigrant. After all, whenever I visit L.A., the complaints about immigration never stop. But it looks like I'm smack in the middle of a biased sample of elderly Angelenos. On average, high-immigration states like California are unusually PRO-immigrant....

    The simplest interpretation of this result is that people who rarely see an immigrant can easily scapegoat them for everything wrong in the world. Personal experience doesn't get in the way of fantasy. But people who actually see immigrants have trouble escaping the fact that immigrants do hard, dirty jobs that few Americans want - at a realistic wage, anyway.

    But there's an obvious objection: Maybe what drives the results is the trivial fact that immigrants are pro-immigration. To address this possibility, I re-calculated the Immigration Optimism Score for non-immigrants, making the extreme assumptions that (a) 100% of all immigrants are pro-immigration (I personally know some counter-examples), and (b) immigrants were as likely to be surveyed as natives. The result: In states with lots of immigrants, even native-born Americans are more pro-immigration. An extra percentage-point of immigrants increases natives' Immigration Optimism Score by .8 points....

    Are there other interpretations? Sure. Maybe more native-born Americans in states with lots of immigrants hide their true opinions. But I doubt that effect is very large. The simplest interpretation of the data is also the best: Direct observation of immigrants leads to more reasonable beliefs about the effects of immigration.

    Finally, I've signed Alex Tabarrok's open letter on immigration, which is reprinted below the fold.

    Dear President George W. Bush and All Members of Congress:

    People from around the world are drawn to America for its promise of freedom and opportunity. That promise has been fulfilled for the tens of millions of immigrants who came here in the twentieth century.

    Throughout our history as an immigrant nation, those who are already here worry about the impact of newcomers. Yet, over time, immigrants have become part of a richer America, richer both economically and culturally. The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary.

    Overall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.

    Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.

    Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

    While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

    Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system that enables Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.

    We must not forget that the gains to immigrants from coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid..

    America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon.

    References and further information can be accessed by clicking here.

    Other social scientists who wish to sign can do so by clicking here.

    posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    My quasi-inside (and, apparently, incorrect) dirt on the Plame Game

    Steve Clemons also attended the Princeton conference on liberal internationalism. Today he reports as follows:

    [O]ne other who was there was former National Security Agency Director Bobby Ray Inman.

    Here is where it gets complicated. Inman told many of us a number of interesting things which I am going to treat off the record.

    However, he said one very provocative thing about the CIA Valerie Plame outing investigation that I have confirmed that he has stated at other venues, publicly. I don't feel that Admiral Inman was guarded about his comments -- nor did he ask anyone he was speaking to to treat his comments with discretion.

    So, I am only reporting this because he said it elsewhere....

    What Inman shared with some of us -- and this was a repeated assertion from comments that I have confirmed that he made in Austin -- is that the person in Patrick Fitzgerald's bull's eye is [former Deputy Secretary of State] Richard Armitage.

    I have written about Armitage many times in the past and hope that this rumor is incorrect.

    But I do believe that Armitage was possibly a key source for Dana Priest and Mike Allen early in the Plame outing story and wrote such in November 2005. I don't have more information on whether Armitage was Novak's source or not -- and what legal consequences there might be, if any, if that was the case. I always assumed that Armitage was cooperating closely with Fitzgerald and would not be in any legal jeopardy.

    After all, Armitage was recently knighted and a new oil firm board member.

    But Inman stating this matters.

    For those who attended the Princeton meetings who will no doubt read this and who may be surprised by my reporting Inman's comments -- do understand that I have been able to confirm that Admiral Inman made the same comments in other venues.

    Inman stating that Richard Armitage is the target of indictment is news and could have some veracity because of who Inman is.

    Tom Maguire, the dean of Plame Studies in the blogosphere, has several questions:
    (1) Why would Inman know this? OK, as "simply one of the smartest people ever to come out of Washington or anywhere", he may know this as part of knowing everything. But maybe there is more.

    (2) Do Inman and Armitage have bad blood? For example, some quick googling hints at an Armitage/Perot/Inman ruckus on missing Vietnam POWs, but who knows?

    (3) What did Inman actually say? I have a pretty good opinion of Steve Clemons, who makes clear that he is delivering this news as testimony against interest. However, Dan Drezner and Peter Beinart were among the illuminati cited as being at the Princeton conference where this news nugget was delivered - did they pick up on this?

    In response to Clemons and Maguire, here's what I can say:
    1) I can confirm Inman's statements as Clemons reports them. I can confirm them because Inman made these assertions (and others that, like Steve, I will treat as off the record) to me and the others at my lunch table on the second day of the conference.

    2) I would describe Inman's knowledge of this as coming from sources who would be/would have been in a position to know the fact chain on these events. It's not simply that a former NSA head still has automatic inside info privileges.

    3) There was more that Inman said, and I'm tempted to spill all the beans -- but I'm not going to do it. It would be unfair to Inman, who has probably never heard of and would not necessarily have known he was talking to a blogger with any kind of audience. I know this stinks to the reader, but that's what my ethics tell me to do here. UPDATE: There is one other reason -- because this was a group lunch, and not me on a phone talking to a source, I didn't and couldn't press Inman on the complete provenance of his knowledge, Armitage's possible motivations, the relationship between what Armitage did and what Rove/Libby/Cheney did, etc.

    4) Related to (3), it is my understanding that what has been blogged here is pretty much common knowledge inside the Beltway. I am genuinely surprised that it hasn't appeared anywhere else in the blogoshere.

    For those in the blogosohere wondering about motive, Tom Maguire mused about Armitage's possible motives back in November 2005.

    UPDATE: Steve Clemons' latest post offers up yet another reason why I don't like posting on DC gossip -- because it's often wrong:

    Bobby Ray Inman's claims are "BS", claimed one very prominent Washington insider after reading TWN's report on Inman's claim that Richard Armitage would be indicted in the Valerie Plame Wilson outing probe.

    Another well-placed insider who has interacted directly with many of the key personalities involved in the investigation wrote this to me:

    I'm sure Inman is wrong on Armitage. But I am also sure we'll hear more about Armitage's direct involvement. I am additionally sure we will hear about Armitage as a witness against Rove if he is indicted.
    Another person whom I can't identify but has direct knowledge of the direction of Fitzgerald's investigation as it pertains to Armitage and Rove stated that what Inman claims "is not the case". This source offered further that one "would be on 100 percent solid ground" with the claim that Armitage would NOT be indicted.

    I can't disclose this source, but I completely trust the veracity of this comment.

    That said, I have learned from several other sources that Richard Armitage was neck deep in the Valerie Plame story. According to several insiders, as soon as Armitage realized mistakes he had made, he marched into Colin Powell and laid out "everything" in full detail.

    As others have written and reported, Richard Armitage is a major part of the story and engaged in indiscreet discussions regarding Valerie Plame Wilson and her alleged role in the Joe Wilson trip to Niger.

    However, unlike what Admiral Inman asserted, Richard Armitage is in no legal jeopardy -- none.

    Two sources have reported that Richard Armitage has testified three times before the grand jury and has completely cooperated and has been, as one source reported, "a complete straight-shooter" and "honest about his role and mistakes".

    Another person with deep knowledge about this investigation called to say that Fitzgerald seems to have abandoned any interest in securing indictments regarding the "outing" of Plame and has invested his efforts in challenging the "white collar cover-ups" involved. According to this source, the information provided by Richard Armitage is -- more than any other information -- what has put Karl Rove at major risk of indictment.

    I felt that these other insider perspectives are important as they are so uniformly consistent that Inman's claims are wrong, that Armitage made mistakes and immediately owned up to them, that Armitage has been completely forthcoming in the investigation, and that Karl Rove remains a prime indictment target for Patrick Fitzgerald.

    posted by Dan at 04:18 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

    Open Thinthread thread

    Sorry for the post title -- couldn't resist.

    Siobhan Gorman has a story in the Baltimore Sun that suggests that, in the late 1990s, the NSA ditched one kind of data collection program (Thinthread) in favor of another. A lot of NSA types apparently preferred Thinthread:

    The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

    The agency opted instead to adopt only one component of the program, which produced a far less capable and rigorous program. It remains the backbone of the NSA's warrantless surveillance efforts, tracking domestic and overseas communications from a vast databank of information, and monitoring selected calls.

    Four intelligence officials knowledgeable about the program agreed to discuss it with The Sun only if granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

    The program the NSA rejected, called ThinThread, was developed to handle greater volumes of information, partly in expectation of threats surrounding the millennium celebrations. Sources say it bundled together four cutting-edge surveillance tools. ThinThread would have:

    * Used more sophisticated methods of sorting through massive phone and e-mail data to identify suspect communications.

    * Identified U.S. phone numbers and other communications data and encrypted them to ensure caller privacy.

    * Employed an automated auditing system to monitor how analysts handled the information, in order to prevent misuse and improve efficiency.

    * Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

    An agency spokesman declined to discuss NSA operations....

    In what intelligence experts describe as rigorous testing of ThinThread in 1998, the project succeeded at each task with high marks. For example, its ability to sort through massive amounts of data to find threat-related communications far surpassed the existing system, sources said. It also was able to rapidly separate and encrypt U.S.-related communications to ensure privacy.

    But the NSA, then headed by Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, opted against both of those tools, as well as the feature that monitored potential abuse of the records. Only the data analysis facet of the program survived and became the basis for the warrantless surveillance program.

    The decision, which one official attributed to "turf protection and empire building," has undermined the agency's ability to zero in on potential threats, sources say. In the wake of revelations about the agency's wide gathering of U.S. phone records, they add, ThinThread could have provided a simple solution to privacy concerns.

    My take is similar to Kevin Drum's -- I'm not sure if this is an example of dumb policymaking or an example of the losers of a policy decision leaking to the press at an opportune time.

    I am sure that readers wil have their own opinions.

    posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    What is liberal internationalism?

    Blogging will be light tomorrow, as I'm attending a Princeton conference on The Future of Liberal Internationalism, which is a follow-up to this conference from last fall.

    One question that came up at today's sessions was pretty basic but rather important: how, exactly, would one define liberal internationalism? It's one of those terms that foreign policy wonks like to throw around, but often means very different things to different people.

    [So what's your definition, smart guy?--ed. A marriage between the pursuit of liberal purposes (security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion, etc.) and the use of institutionalist means to pursue them (multilateral institutions of various stripes -- not only the UN, but NATO or the G-7 as well).]

    Why should foreign policy wonks be the only ones to debate this question? Readers, have at it.

    posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, May 15, 2006

    Clash of the regulatory titans

    In the Financial Times, George Parker and Tobias Buck make an argument about EU regulation that sounds very, very familiar:

    Seen from some European capitals, the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 or 2008 is a worrying sign of overstretch, fuelling fears that the EU is becoming too cumbersome and too diverse to have real clout in the globalised world.

    In Washington there is another view. Senior officials see the latest step in the creation of a behemoth that will use its economic weight to impose European values on the rest of the world, often through excessive regulation.

    According to Rockwell Schnabel, the former US ambassador to Brussels, Europe is "increasingly seeking to act as the world's economic regulator".

    Little surprise then that Mr Schnabel's successor, Boyden Gray, is not a career diplomat but a top regulatory lawyer, whose mission is to minimise transatlantic friction between the world's two biggest trading partners.

    On Thursday Mr Gray set out plans to improve regulatory co-operation between Europe and the US but added: "We're not interested in convergence if it would mean raising the regulatory burden in the domestic US market.

    "From a US perspective, the main problem is less that our regulations differ than a general sense that Europe is overregulated and that this overregulation is stifling growth," he told the European Policy Centre think-tank...

    "It is a huge advantage if you are the one setting the standards, because it is always better to make the policies rather than to follow them. That is also hugely important for our industry," says the spokesman for Günter Verheugen, the EU industry commissioner.

    Hat tip to Sungjoon Cho at the criminally underrated International Economic Law and Policy blog.

    posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

    Open Bush/immigration thread

    I'm busy packing for yet another conference, but readers should feel free to comment away on Bush's immigration speech tonight.

    FYI, Karl Rove said this afternoon that the Bush administration is "doing a heck of a lot better job" in controlling the U.S.-Mexican border than most Americans realize. On the other hand, that, "We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that." To be fair, these two points are not necessarily contradictory, but I wouldn't exactly call it consistent spin, either.

    posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, May 13, 2006

    More good news about avian flu

    The New York Times' Donald McNeil Jr reports on an encouraging trend in the place where avian flu started:

    Even as it crops up in the far corners of Europe and Africa, the virulent bird flu that raised fears of a human pandemic has been largely snuffed out in the parts of Southeast Asia where it claimed its first and most numerous victims.

    Health officials are pleased and excited. "In Thailand and Vietnam, we've had the most fabulous success stories," said Dr. David Nabarro, chief pandemic flu coordinator for the United Nations.

    Vietnam, which has had almost half of the human cases of A(H5N1) flu in the world, has not seen a single case in humans or a single outbreak in poultry this year. Thailand, the second-hardest-hit nation until Indonesia recently passed it, has not had a human case in nearly a year or one in poultry in six months.

    Encouraging signs have also come from China, though they are harder to interpret.

    These are the second positive signals that officials have seen recently in their struggle to prevent avian flu from igniting a human pandemic. Confounding expectations, birds making the spring migration north from Africa have not carried the virus into Europe.

    Dr. Nabarro and other officials warn that it would be highly premature to declare any sort of victory. The virus has moved rapidly across continents and is still rampaging in Myanmar, Indonesia and other countries nearby. It could still hitchhike back in the illegal trade in chicks, fighting cocks or tropical pets, or in migrating birds.

    But this sudden success in the former epicenter of the epidemic is proof that aggressive measures like killing infected chickens, inoculating healthy ones, protecting domestic flocks and educating farmers can work, even in very poor countries.

    If we are very, very lucky, the fear of an avian flu pandemic will be akin to fears about the imact of the Y2K bug -- serious and real, but successfully contained through the necessary policy responses.

    posted by Dan at 05:43 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    How low can Bush go?

    I don't like kicking a man when he's down, but the latest poll numbers have the hard-working staff here at debating among themselves: how low can Bush's poll numbers go?

    Consider the latest Harris/WSJ Online poll numbers:

    Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April.

    Meanwhile, approval ratings for Congress are also sliding, as 18% of Americans say Congress is doing an "excellent or pretty good job," compared with 80% who say Congress is doing an "only fair or poor" job. In February, 25% of Americans gave Congress a positive rating and 71% gave a negative rating.

    Elsewhere, roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults say "things in the country are going in the right direction," while 69% say "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track." This trend has declined every month since January, when 33% said the nation was heading in the right direction.

    Then there's this bit from CNN's poll:
    In a new poll comparing President Bush's job performance with that of his predecessor, a strong majority of respondents said President Clinton outperformed Bush on a host of issues.

    The poll of 1,021 adult Americans was conducted May 5-7 by Opinion Research Corp. for CNN. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    Respondents favored Clinton by greater than 2-to-1 margins when asked who did a better job at handling the economy (63 percent Clinton, 26 percent Bush) and solving the problems of ordinary Americans (62 percent Clinton, 25 percent Bush)....

    When asked which man was more honest as president, poll respondents were more evenly divided, with the numbers -- 46 percent Clinton to 41 percent Bush -- falling within the poll's margin of error.

    The fact that Clinton is even in the ballpark on this last question has got to depress the White House staff.

    So, question to readers: how low can Bush's poll numbers go? Previous predictions of bottoming out have not turned out well, so proceed with caution.

    UPDATE: Mystery Pollster points out that the recent NSA revelations will probably provide a slight boost to Bush's numbers:

    MP makes no predictions, but Bush can only stand to gain if the public's attention shifts from his handling of gas prices, the economy, immigration and Iraq to his administration's efforts to "investigate terrorism." The Post-ABC poll found that 51% approve (and 47% disapprove) of "the way Bush is handling Protecting Americans' privacy rights as the government investigates terrorism." That is "hardly a robust rating," as the ABC release puts it, "but one that's far better than his overall job approval, in the low 30s in recent polls."
    LAST UPDATE: Well, here's another poll where Clinton outperforms Bush -- but I think Bush would be happy with that.

    posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

    How to write back to Mahmoud?

    In Slate, Fred Kaplan has a pretty good idea for how to respond to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter:

    President Bush should publicly respond to the letter—at length and in detail. Daffy as the letter is, it does contain one clue that Ahmadinejad might really be seeking a dialogue. More to the point, many people and governments in the world, especially (but by no means exclusively) in the Muslim world, are taking the letter seriously and believe that it deserves a reply.

    In short, it provides a perfect opportunity for Bush to do what he should have been doing for the last few years—to lay out what America stands for, what we have in common with Muslim nations, and how our differences can be tolerated or settled without conflict.

    If such a reply leads nowhere—if it turns out that Ahmadinejad's letter is as empty as it seems on the surface—no harm will have been done. Bush can continue to step up pressure on Iran's nuclear activities. In fact, civil correspondence with the Iranian president could be touted as a sign of Bush's good intentions and his desire for diplomacy.

    Kaplan is correct about Ahmadinejad's letter being a PR boost in the Muslim world -- which is truly depressing, for the letter is a rambling, inchoate, milleniarian text.

    Readers are invited to outline what should be contained in the best possible response letter.

    The only downside to responding would seem to be that a response somehow confers legitimacy upon Ahmadinejad -- which Bush is anathema to do.

    A final note: Kaplan also goes onto confirm that I'm not crazy in being ticked off at the administration for whiffing on an opportunity to negotiate a grand bargain with Iran back in 2003. Kaplan links to the obvious source for the original FT story on this -- former NSC senior director Flynt Everett. Check out his January 2006 New York Times op-ed here and his Q&A with interviewer extraordinaire Bernard Gwertzman here.

    UPDATE: Historian par excellance Mary Sarotte recounts the history of letters as a tool of diplomacy in the Washington Post. Her conclusions are consistent with Kaplan's:

    If there is a lesson from this checkered history of correspondence in crisis, it is this: Content doesn't count. The historical record shows a clear mismatch between what was written in a letter and its consequences. Zimmermann meant to threaten the United States in secret; instead, his leaked telegram shored up its public resolve. Bismarck used a boring missive to mount a war; Kennedy ignored public demands of the Soviets to maintain peace.

    Now, Ahmadinejad's letter is a highly suspect olive branch and an obvious public relations ploy. But it represents a rare opportunity in this particular contest of wills. Surely, there is a foreign policy official in Washington today who can figure out something better to do with Ahmadinejad's letter than ignore it.

    posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Open CIA thread

    I've been remiss in posting about the debates over who should head the CIA and what it should do, so here's an open thread.

    Readers are encouraged, before posting, to read John Crewdson's dissection in the Chicago Tribune of the bureaucratic conflicts at work behind Porter Goss' resignation and the Hayden nomination:

    [A] senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of events says Goss was dismissed as CIA director after the White House became convinced that strong disagreements with his immediate boss, John Negroponte, were beyond resolution. Those disputes involved changes that Goss feared would limit the agency's scope and influence, undercutting its role in analyzing intelligence.

    The disagreements, the official said, had been "ongoing for a couple of months" before Goss' departure. In an ironic twist, it was Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, whom President Bush has nominated to fill Goss' position, who began the critical assault on Goss by complaining of his performance to a CIA civilian oversight body.

    It should be noted that Crewdson's chief source was a Goss loyalist.

    I tend to agree with Matt Yglesias and Fred Kaplan that Hayden's military status is a nonissue -- though, on the other hand, Amy Zegart does seem exercised about it, and that it reason enough for concern here at

    Fire away!!

    UPDATE: This could definitely be a problem for Hayden's confirmation. See Orin Kerr on this point as well.

    posted by Dan at 10:41 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006

    Am I a liberal in bloggers' clothing?

    It's no secret that I've been disenchanted with President Bush for some time. It's also no secret that I'm not alone in this sentiment -- indeed, conservatives appear to be the latest deserters.

    However, the hardworking staff here at has begun to ask me whether, given my lack of faith in either the Republican administration or the Republican Congress, I'm really a Republican. Now I'm a libertarian, so I've never fit perfectly within much of the Republican canon. But has my opposition to Bush caused me to unconsciously morph into left-libertarianism?

    Fortunately, the Atrios Litmus Test for Liberals (usefully edited by Kevin Drum) has recently made available for one and all to dissect. Let's take it and see how I do!!

    The liberal party planks that I'm supposed to support are below. My answers are underlined:

    1) Repeal the estate tax repeal: Hmmm... I confess to being pretty agnostic about this one on philosophical terms, but in the spirit of fiscal rectitude I'll back it.

    2) Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI. This proposal does make me nostalgic for the good old days of wage-price spirals. No.

    3) Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one). Do free ponies come with this one? Hacker and Pierson tell me that details matter a lot when one party is in power, so no, I'll pass.

    4) Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation. Whenever someone says anything akin to "some other... regulation," I get hives. No. [But what about gas prices?--ed. Sorry, not worked up yet -- besides, high gas prices should have a much greater effect on fuel economy than CAFE standards.]

    5) Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise. This is a bit fuzzy to me. I certainly oppose government restrictions on access to contraception, etc., but the language makes it sound like the government should be funding these choices. I'll be charitable and say yes, though.

    6) Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code. Completely agreed on the simplification -- which is why I vehemently oppose the increased progressivity.

    7) Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination. Opposed to the first part, OK with the second.

    8) Reduce corporate giveaways. Phrased that way, sure. Just curious, though -- would universal health insurance be considered a corporate giveaway?

    9) Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan. Hell, no. Just kill the motherf#$er.

    10) Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions. Wow, that would do wonders for private investment in general and the stock market in particular. No.

    11) Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too. Sounds good -- yes.

    12) Paper ballots. Oh, please. With the obvious caveat about protections against fraud, this one falls under "leave the states alone" for me.

    13) Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter. Again, only with the free ponies!! Details make me itchy. No.

    14) Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes. If it would fund the transition funds to an actual private pension system, yes. But I suspect that this is not what Atrios is thinking, so no.

    15) Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens. Yes on the first point, but part of the problem with current immigration policy is that the legal system is already stacks the deck in favor of spouses and other relatives, so no on the second.

    So, that adds up to five and a half points of agreement, which equals only 36.6% agreement. So no, I'm not a liberal. I'm a bit more sympatico with the DLC crowd, but that's not terribly surprising.

    Readers are encouraged to see if they are liberals too. However, my gut tells me that readers of are wonks more than anything else, so reading statements like "details matter" or "some more regulation" will make them a bit itchy as well.

    UPDATE: Whoops, I missed the question on the bankruptcy bill -- I'm afraid I have to plead uninformed on it. Megan McArdle -- who pays more attention to domestic policy than yours truly -- performs the valuable public service of also taking the test. She gives more detailed answers, and reminds me that on the progressivity point, I certainly support the premise behind the EITC/negative income tax.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge takes the test too.

    posted by Dan at 09:26 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (0)

    Drezner dares you to explain HUD!

    Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of "random variation" -- in layman's terms, "we have no idea what's going on."

    Which brings me to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Dallas Business Journal's Christine Perez describes the close of a speech he gave in late April to minority contractors:

    After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.

    "He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

    "I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

    "He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

    Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said canceling a government contract due to political views "is not a door you want to open."

    "Whether or not it's legal, it certainly draws your judgment and the judgment of your office into question," Jillson said. "It's just not the tone you want to set."

    This prompted a lot of blogosphere reaction -- as well as some coverage in the Washington Post.

    Today, the story gets even stranger, as Frank James of The Chicago Tribune's DC blog The Swamp reports:

    I called HUD and talked with Jackson's spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, about the incident. After talking with Jackson, she returned with information that made the matter even more extraordinary.

    She essentially said that Jackson made the whole story up. He told a room full of people something happened which didn't.

    "What the secretary was talking about (in his speech) was all of our accomplishments with minority contracts. At at the very end of his statement, the secretary offered an anecdote to explain politics in Washington D.C. He was speaking to a group of business leaders in Dallas and there were lots of Dallas Cowboys in the room.

    "So he was offering an anecdote to say, this is how politics works in DC. In DC people won't just stab you in the back, they'll stab you in the front. And so the secretary's point was a hypothetical, what he said was an anecdote. It did not happen."....

    But with partisanship in Washington so nasty in reality, why would Jackson feel he had to resort to inventing a scene like the one he described in Dallas?

    Let's pick up with Tucker's explanation. "It did not happen. The secretary is not part of the contracting process here at HUD. That is handled by a senior official in our procurement office. He was offering it as an anecdote to say this is what happens. People in D.C. will come up to you, trash you, say terrible things about you, trash your boss, and then they'll turn around and ask you for money.

    "So the secretary was offering it as an anecdote," she said. "He definitely said this in front of the (Dallas) meeting. But this meeting did not occur. The meeting with this official (in his office.) It was a hypothetical. He was offering it anecdotally.

    "You know when you tell a joke you put yourself in first person, for delivery," she said. "You say I was on this train and so and so did this even if you know it wasn't a train. The secretary was putting himself in that first person to make the story more effective...

    "The secretary was taking situations that have happened to him in the past. As you know, people come up to political figures all the time and say 'I don't like you, I don't like your politics, I don't like the president... He was blending together things that happened to him in the past."

    This was all so "complicated, confusing and to be honest, a bit weird," I told Tucker.

    "I can understand that," she said....

    Clearly, Jackson very much would prefer to have evaporate the notion that he's torpedoeing contracts of administration critics, so much so that he'd rather push the idea that he says untruths in his speeches. Either way, it's all very strange.

    I, for one, would like to thank Secretary Jackson for his odd behavior -- until now, the only thing about HUD that I had found funny since Eddie Murphy's TV series The PJs put a sign outside a government building saying, "HUD: Keeping you in the projects since the 1960's."

    Readers are invited to try to divine what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.

    posted by Dan at 01:07 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006

    Who's the least trusted of them all?

    BBC and Reuters commissioned a poll of 10 countries to find out how much media sources are trusted. One finding that was consistent across countries stood out:

    National TV was the most trusted news source overall (trusted by 82%, with 16% not trusting it) - followed by national/regional newspapers (75% vs 19%), local newspapers (69% vs 23%), public radio (67% vs 18%), and international satellite TV (56% vs 19%). Internet blogs were the least trusted source (25% vs 23%) – with one in two unable to say whether they trusted them.

    posted by Dan at 12:23 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, May 8, 2006

    Dear George: Hi, it's Mahmoud.....

    Both the New York Times and the Financial Times report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush about the current tensions between the two countries. The NYT story by Christine Hauser is more thorough:

    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush with suggestions on how to resolve current international tensions, Iranian officials said today, but there was no immediate information about whether he was proposing a solution to differences over Iran's nuclear program.

    Officials in Iran would not disclose the contents of the letter, which was being forwarded to Washington through the Swiss embassy, which represents American interests in Iran. White House aides said it had not arrived by early afternoon....

    "Ahmadinejad, in his letter, spoke of the current tense situation in the world and suggested ways of solving problems and of easing tensions," said an Iranian government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, at a news briefing today that was carried by the Iranian news agency Irna. He also said that the Iranian president had sent letters to other leaders of "certain countries."

    An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that the text of Mr. Ahmadinejad's letter would be made public after the United States received it.

    Readers are warmly encouraged to imagine what such a letter would have to say in order to ratchet down tensions between Tehran and Washington.

    UPDATE: Here's a link to the actual letter, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations. I found this part intriguing:

    Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.

    We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point – that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: “Do you not want to join them?”

    Mr President,

    Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.

    You know the world is a cockeyed place when George W. Bush is considered to be the secular alternative.

    posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, May 7, 2006

    Do tax cuts starve or stoke the government beast?

    Kevin Drum links to a Jonathan Rauch column in the Atlantic Monthly (non-subscribers can click here to read the whole thing), which summarizes William Niskanen's finding that starving the government of tax revenue doesn't starve the beast of government spending -- if anything, the trend is the exact opposite. From Rauch's story:

    Even during the Reagan years, Niskanen was suspicious of Starve the Beast. He thought it more likely that tax cuts, when unmatched with spending cuts, would reduce the apparent cost of government, thus stimulating rather than stunting Washington’s growth. “You make government look cheaper than it would otherwise be,” he said recently.

    Suppose the federal budget is balanced at $1 trillion. Now suppose Congress reduces taxes by $200 billion without reducing spending. One result is a $200 billion deficit. Another result is that voters pay for only 80 percent of what government actually costs. Think of this as a 20 percent discount on government. As everyone knows, when you put something on sale, people buy more of it. Logically, then, tax cuts might increase the demand for government instead of reducing the supply of it. Or they might do some of each.

    Which is it? To the naked eye, Starve the Beast looks suspiciously counterproductive. After all, spending (as a share of the gross domestic product, the standard way to measure it) went up, not down, after Reagan cut taxes in the early 1980s; it went down, not up, after the first President Bush and President Clinton raised taxes in the early 1990s; and it went up, not down, following the Bush tax cuts early in this decade.

    Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found his hunch strongly confirmed. When he performed a statistical regression that controlled for unemployment (which independently influences spending and taxes), he found, he says, “no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending.” To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.

    Again looking at 1981 to 2005, Niskanen then asked at what level taxes neither increase nor decrease spending. The answer: about 19 percent of the GDP. In other words, taxation above that level shrinks government, and taxation below it makes government grow....

    [C]onservatives who are serious about halting or reversing the dizzying Bush-era expansion of government—if there are any such conservatives, something of an open question these days—should stop defending Bush’s tax cuts. Instead, they should be talking about raising taxes to at least 19 percent of the GDP. Voters will not shrink Big Government until they feel the pinch of its true cost.

    Without necessarily endorsing the "starve the beast" theory of political economy, my first reaction is to ask about lagged effects. As I've understood it, the starve the beast idea does not say that government spending will immediatekly go down as deficits rise; it argues that eventually the increase in deficits creates market and political pressure to cut government spending. My guess is that if you lagged taxes by five years you might get a different result.

    I see that this paper made the blog rounds a few years ago -- but it does not appear to have been published. Furthermore, the link to the original conference paper is not not working.

    Still, the argument is provocative enough for readers to chew on.

    UPDATE: Sebastian Mallaby sure seems convinced.

    posted by Dan at 09:37 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, May 5, 2006

    When going to Brussels is a crime

    I had the good fortune to attend the first-ever Brussels Forum last weekend. It turns out that at least one invitee was not so lucky, according to this e-mail from the Forum's conveners:

    One of our invited guests to the Brussels Forum, Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, never made it to the event as he was detained by the Iranian authorities on the way to the airport to fly to Brussels. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a well-known Iranian intellectual and human rights advocate who currently heads the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran. Over the weekend we decided not to make his arrest public in the hope that he would shortly be released by the authorities. This has since proven not to be the case.

    Ramin Jahanbegloo is a Sorbonne-educated expert on German philosophy. He has also been a post-doc in Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University and a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a valued member of our intellectual community and a symbol of the universality of democratic and human rights. He is a frequent contributor to the many debates about human rights and democratic freedom in both Europe and the Middle East. Among his many books are Conversations with Isaiah Berlin and (as editor) Iran: Between Tradition and Modernity. At the time of his arrest, he was working on a study of Ghandi and peaceful resistance. He holds a Canadian as well as an Iranian passport.
    It would be safe to say that the Human Rights Watch release on the arrest provides little comfort:
    “The arbitrary arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo shows the perilous state of academic freedom and free speech in Iran today,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This prominent scholar should be celebrated for his academic achievements, not interrogated in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons.”

    The authorities detained Jahanbegloo at Tehran Airport on or around Thursday, April 27. Officials refused to acknowledge his detention until Wednesday, May 3, when Tehran’s deputy prosecutor general, Mahmoud Salarkia, confirmed Jahanbegloo’s detention in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency.

    Also on Wednesday, the Fars News Agency quoted the chief of prisons in Tehran Province, Sohrab Soleimani, as saying that Jahanbegloo is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. Neither official gave any reason for Jahanbegloo’s arrest. An unnamed Judiciary official told the daily Etemad-e Melli that charges against Jahanbegloo “will be announced after the interrogations.”

    “Iran’s Judiciary is notorious for coercing confessions by means of torture and ill-treatment,” Stork said. “We hold the Iranian government entirely responsible for Jahanbegloo’s well-being.”
    Multiple press reports have Iranian authorities accusing Jahanbegloo of espionage. This makes perfect sense to me -- if I were the Iranian regime, the last thing I'd want is to have a scholar in my midst with deep knowledge of Isaiah Berlin and Mohandas Gandhi.

    Needless to say, the Iranian blogosphere has been abuzz about the arrest, the first of a prominent intellectual since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election. This post by Shahram Kholdi provides the a sense of the Farsi blogosphere:

    [T]hrough this post, I inform the readers of Free Thoughts on Iran that Dr. Jahanbegloo's arrest is a cause of concern and his release should become the goal of all who are concerned with the promotion of civil society, open public space for free political debate, and last but not least a space safe enough to conduct such debates in a non-violent manner. Dr. Jahanbegloo has taught, lived, and acted in a non-violent manner, and those who would like to rally for his release should remember one fact: He did all this without Media-Mongering and without recourse to Sensationalism.

    Here, I join all those who are already active to do something to secure the immediate release of Dr. Jahanbegloo, and invite those who have not joined the rest of us yet, to join us. Also, I would like to ask all those who are willing to join the cause and care for Dr. Jahanbegloo not just as a scholar, intellectual, teacher, and a friend, but as a person who deserves due process, just representation, and freedom from arbitrary confinement, to join the cause in a non-sensationalist manner.

    Kholdi provides more info here.

    I am uncertain what useful non-governmental actions can be done with regard to Jahanbegloo's case -- but e-mailing Iran's Permanent Mission to the United Nations might be a useful starting point. They even have a "human rights" category in their subject menu.

    posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, May 4, 2006

    May's Books of the Month

    What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia.

    Sooooo....... this month's international relations book is Rachel Bronson's Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bonson documents the bilateral relationship from the start of Saudi rule to the present day. Her basic argument is that the bilateral relationship is built on more than oil for security. During the Cold War, the extent to which both the U.S. government and the house of Saud viewed Wahabbist religion as a powerful, positive bulwark against communism is striking. Bronson also ably documents how the Saudi regime with Wahabiism has waxed and waned over the years.

    The book is an excellent piece of scholarship -- I particularly liked this rave at

    I don't want to repeat what was already said about this remarkable overview of the U.S - Saudi relationship, so let me just steer readers to the footnotes. They are amazing! I rarely read footnotes, but these are so revealing and easy to access that I spent almost as much time with the footnotes as I did with the text. Hats off to the author here! I cannot fathom how she got so many juicy quotes and so much factual material from such a diverse array of people in the know, people who were actually at the meetings she describes. I felt like I was the fly on the wall as policy was debated and decisions made that affected most of the major political issues of the last sixty years. Wow!
    In contrast to much that has been written of late about U.S. policy in the Middle East, this is first-rate, well-researched scholarship -- from someone who has deftly knocked down conspiracy theories in the past.

    The general interest book is Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The book has been excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, among other places, and represents Appiah's efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin.

    I'm not sure how much I buy Appiah's argument yet -- all I know is that Appiah sold me on the book when he provided the following characterization of the term "globalization":

    a term that once referred to a marketing strategy, and then came to designate a macroeconomic thesis, and now can seem to encompass everything and nothing.
    Now that's the kind of writing that is worth reading.

    Go check them out.

    posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    New bipartisan foreign policy blog

    I'm very, very, very close to finishing some time-consuming copyediting, so posting will be light in the next 24 hours.

    In the meantime, go check out the Partnership for a Secure America's new foreign policy blog, Across the Aisle. I don't know all of the contributors, but I know enough of them to have confidence in the quality of output.

    I particularly like this post by Chip Andreae that carefully delimits the kind of bipartisanship the Partnership is talking about:

    [I]n spite of the growing need for true and uniting leadership to emerge from Capitol Hill, we must be conscious enough of why we demand bipartisan efforts to reject the recent political phenomenon that occurred during the DP World deal: bipartisanship for its own sake.

    The events surrounding the attempt of Dubai Ports World to obtain ownership of several major US ports need no review. From a political perspective, the only point I want to raise is how quickly and seamlessly Democrats and Republicans banned together to strike down an otherwise legitimate business deal. Contrary to what some believe, this movement did nothing to indicate that Washington is still capable of interjecting a thoughtful, factual debate on foreign policy or any other issue. Rather, it only served to reflect the very worst in bipartisan consensus in that it lowered the threshold of leadership to the point that both parties sought merely to respond to a base protectionist view.

    Back, now, to the why. With bipartisanship – I mean true bipartisanship – our country has an unlimited, unfiltered source of ideas from which to choose the best and brightest. But if we get too caught up in party lines, the number of ideas and opinions starts to diminish until we’re back down to two: Dems vs Reps. The problem with bipartisanship for its own sake is that it results in a scenario much closer to the latter than the former. In the paradigm of Dubai ports, the party lines were less visible, but not to facilitate meaningful debate (excepting the efforts of the Administration and a few senators) and diverse opinions. Rather, so many of the politicos used bipartisan efforts as a bandwagon to carry them as far from the President as possible. In other words, they only wanted to be bipartisan because that looked better to the American public than what was really happening. This preempted much of the discussion on important related issues like Dubai’s potential role in the War on Terror, or the US’s military presence in the Middle East (including countries other than Iraq).

    Washington politicians now find themselves with something they may never see again…a second chance. A UAE company named Dubai International Capital is in the process of purchasing a British Defense group with US security connections. Sound familiar? It should. The deal went through a 45-day review by CFIUS, after which President Bush signed off on it. Thus far, there has been little outcry from either side of the aisle. My hope is that this reflects the true bipartisan spirit – one that sets a stage for Democrats and Republicans to discuss the important issues of foreign investment in the US, and the inevitable repercussions manifested in US investment abroad.

    posted by Dan at 02:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 3, 2006

    I say 51% idealism, you say 49%

    Foreign Policy's Passport blog is quickly acquiring must-read status among the hard-working staff here at Even if you disagree with the content, it's certainly thought-provoking.

    Which brings me to James Forsyth's post about the Democrats and foreign policy. The hook is the release of Madeleine Albright’s new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs:

    Albright is the wise woman of the Democratic Party on national security. Her prestigious Georgetown salon operates as a crash course in international relations for Dems with presidential ambitions. So, her work on the role of religion in foreign policy is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what a Democratic administration would do differently. After finishing it, the conclusion I came to was: surprisingly little. Yes, Albright bashes the Bush administration for Iraq, Guantanamo, and its religiously tinged language. But when she starts talking about the future rather than the past, she sounds none too different from her father’s most famous -- and favorite -- pupil, Condoleezza Rice. Albright’s call to “blend realism with idealism,” by promoting democracy at a gradual pace, wouldn’t sound out of place in any of Rice’s speeches about the administration’s goals in the Middle East. All of which suggests that, the democratizing baby won’t be thrown out with the Bush bath water and supports Jai's argument that Middle Eastern tyrants hoping to wait out Bush are wasting their time.
    This does raise an interesting question: are people who reject Bush's current foreign policy are promoting something that looks awfully similar on a lot of dimensions? Is Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" so different from plain vanilla neoconservatism? Is George Clooney clamoring for intervention in Darfur any different from the humanitarian impulse (yes, there were others) that led neocons to clamor for intervention in Iraq (a point some on the left recognize)? Is the only difference between Republicans and Democrats a slight variant in the realism-idealism mix?

    Actually, yes, I think there is a difference -- but it's about process and not preferences. The primary difference between liberal interventionists and neocons is that the former group thinks intervention is more successful if it takes place through the multilateral route. Multilateralism acts as a "pleasing illusion" to simultaneously obscure and enhance American power.

    Which is great, when it works -- except that neocons raise a valid point when they highlight how difficult it is to get mulilateralism to work. On Darfur, for example, the past four years have been a giant game of hot potato between the United States, the UN, NATO, the EU, and the African Union about who will shoulder the burden. Daniel Davies is correct to point out that negotiations to date have the precise cast of liberal internationalism. There are times when unilateral action has the appeal of slicing the Gordian knot of multilateral diplomacy.

    Liberal internationalists are correct to point out the negative fallout of unilateral military action. But liberal like Allbright are guilty of sidestepping questions of what to do when all the diplomacy in the world won't muster the necessary international consensus.

    This is one reason why Fukuyama's "multi-multilateralism" concept intrigues me. In a world of multiple, overlapping international institutions, forum-shopping becomes a possibility. This allows realpolitik tactics within an institutionalist rubric. That said, Darfur shows the limitations of this gambit when there is a lack of consensus.

    [Get to the grand conclusion--ed. I don't have one -- this is an age-old policy conundrum. But I'm sure my readers can cut through this Gordian knot.]

    posted by Dan at 03:12 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

    Oil as a dictatorship dividend

    Max Boot's column in the Los Angeles Times hits at something that's been nagging at me but I had not been able to fully articulate:

    Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway. Two others have recently made a transition to democracy — Mexico and Nigeria. Iraq is trying to follow in their footsteps. That's it. Every other major oil exporter is a dictatorship — and the run-up in oil prices has been a tremendous boon to them.

    My associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ian Cornwall, calculates that if oil averages $71 a barrel this year, 10 autocracies stand to make about $500 billion more than in 2003, when oil was at $27. This windfall helps to squelch liberal forces and entrench noxious dictators in such oil producers as Russia (which stands to make $115 billion more this year than in 2003) and Venezuela ($36 billion). Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez can buy off their publics with generous subsidies and ignore Western pressure while sabotaging democratic developments from Central America to Central Asia.

    The "dictatorship dividend" also subsidizes Sudan's ethnic cleansing (it stands to earn $4.7 billion more this year than in 2003), Iran's development of nuclear weapons ($45 billion) and Saudi Arabia's proselytization for Wahhabi fundamentalism ($149 billion). Even in such close American allies as Kuwait ($35 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($36 billion), odds are that some of the extra lucre will find its way into the pockets of terrorists.

    In short, although high oil prices may not be a cause for economic panic, they do represent a big strategic headache — and one that requires a serious governmental response. But what? Most of the "solutions" being debated in Washington, such as sending taxpayers a $100 rebate or imposing a windfall profits tax on oil companies, would do nothing to address the crux of the problem: How do we defund the dictators?

    Read the rest of Boot's column to see his suggestions. I'll take others from readers.

    posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 2, 2006

    Pay no attention to those men with the guns!

    Edna Fernandes provides my laugh for today after reading her coverage of Evo Morales' latest move as President of Bolivia in the Times of London:

    President Evo Morales of Bolivia has ordered the military to seize 56 foreign-owned oil and gas fields in a nationalisation move that hit shares of companies operating in the Latin American country today.

    Senor Morales called on the military to occupy the fields and gave warning he would throw out foreign companies who refused to recognise the nationalisation of the country’s oil and gas fields, which are the second largest reserves in the region after Venezuela.

    The leftwing President, who came to power on a platform of re-nationalisation, warned of similar action in other sectors. "We are beginning by nationalising oil and gas. Tomorrow we will add mining, forestry and all natural resources – what our ancestors fought for," he said in a May Day speech at the San Alberto gas field in southern Bolivia.

    Foreign investors were unable to assess the full impact of the decision, as details of the nationalisation policy were not readily available. The President has given the companies 180 days to renegotiate contracts.

    The nationalisation policy would effectively downgrade the role of foreign companies from owners of the assets to simply operators. The Spanish Government swiftly declared its "profound worry" about the nationalisation, as shares in the Spanish energy group Repsol YPF took a hit.

    The Bolivian Embassy in London told Times Online the President would issue a further statement on the details of the nationalisation policy in the coming week and denied the move would undermine foreign investment in the country, as investors take fright.

    "In the end, the companies will understand these new rules help Bolivia and make it more stable. They should not be scared," said Pablo Ossio, the Charge d’Affairs at the embassy.

    Asked whether the Bolivian Government would compensate foreign companies who lose their assets, he said there would be an audit of foreign energy assets over the coming six months. "But I don’t think they’ll be compensated," he said.

    UPDATE: The Financial Times reports on the international fallout. The Bolivian move has the greatest impact on... the socialst governments of Spain and Brazil:
    Spain on Tuesday warned Bolivia that nationalisation of its energy sector would have “consequences [for] the bilateral relationship”, a threat that could lead to the ending of debt relief.

    The Spanish government said it was “deeply concerned” by the nationalisation law introduced by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s leftwing president, and complained about the “way the changes were promulgated”.

    Repsol YPF, the Spanish energy group, has invested more than $1bn in Bolivian gas production, which accounts for 18 per cent of the company’s total energy reserves and 11 per cent of production. Brazil’s Petrobras is another big investor, and other international companies could be forced to write off their Bolivian gas reserves, analysts said....

    Reacting angrily to Mr Morales’ decision to seize control of gas fields using army troops and annul existing contracts, Antonio Brufau, Repsol’s chairman, told Argentine radio: “We were told there would be time for negotiations, but obviously this was not the case.”

    In Brazil, which receives half of its natural gas from Bolivia, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called an emergency meeting of his cabinet and Petrobras executives, amid fears that any supply interruptions could trigger an energy crisis in South America’s largest economy. Mr da Silva intended to consult other South American leaders about how to respond to the “unfriendly” move, his spokesman said.

    Mr Brufau said Repsol the new decree “sidestepped all industrial logic that ought to govern the relations between governments and companies”.

    posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (0)