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)