Friday, July 7, 2006

Just how disaffected are European Muslims?

Going by news stories -- the London bombings, the French riots, the Danish cartoons -- 2005 was not a terribly good year for Muslim immigrants living in Europe.

So it's interesting to see that according to the Pew Global Attitudes project, the situation might not be as bleak as previously thought:

Muslims in Europe worry about their future, but their concern is more economic than religious or cultural. And while there are some signs of tension between Europe's majority populations and its Muslim minorities, Muslims there do not generally believe that most Europeans are hostile toward people of their faith. Still, over a third of Muslims in France and one-in-four in Spain say they have had a bad experience as a result of their religion or ethnicity.

However, there is little evidence of a widespread backlash against Muslim immigrants among the general publics in Great Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. Majorities continue to express concerns about rising Islamic identity and extremism, but those worries have not intensified in most of the countries surveyed over the past 12 months; a turbulent period that included the London subway bombings, the French riots, and the Danish cartoon controversy....

Most notably, France shows no signs of a backlash in response to last year's riots. In fact, a counter trend seems to have emerged with slightly more French people saying that immigration from the Middle East and North Africa is a good thing than did so a year ago. The French public is also more inclined this year to say that Muslims living in France want to adopt French customs - a view held by an overwhelming majority of Muslims in France. Nor do German and British publics express any increase in negative views of immigrants - although, unlike the French, they are not more positive toward immigrants this year. Meanwhile, the Spanish public's view toward immigrants has grown slightly more negative over the last year.

The poll finds that Muslims themselves are generally positive about conditions in their host nation. In fact, they are more positive than the general publics in all four European countries about the way things are going in their countries. However, many Muslims, especially in Britain, worry about the future of Muslims in their country.

This part is particularly interesting:
Religion is central to the identity of European Muslims. With the exception of Muslims in France, they tend to identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as British, Spanish, or German. In France, Muslims are split almost evenly on this question. The level of Muslim identification in Britain, Spain, and Germany is similar to that in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan, and even higher than levels in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia. By contrast the general populations in Western Europe are far more secular in outlook. Roughly six-in-ten in Spain, Germany, and Britain identify primarily with their country rather than their religion, as do more than eight-in-ten in France.

Americans, however, split about evenly on this question: 42% say they first think of themselves as Christians versus 48% who think of themselves primarily as Americans - a divide close to that found among French Muslims.

Click here to read the whole report.

posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

I wish I had written this paper
Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials' corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.
Here's a link to the paper. Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who proposes a pithier abstract:
During a period of diplomatic parking immunity, the average Kuwaiti diplomat to the United Nations racked up 246 parking violations. No Swedish diplomat had any parking violations. This paper explores how that might possibly be the case.
There's another finding that I thought interesting:
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, there is a sharp though temporary drop in diplomatic parking violations, by roughly 80%. We find that countries with greater Muslim populations experience particularly sharp declines. We can only speculate about the exact causes of this change in behavior, but the fear of police harassment or negative media attention for the home country during that politically charged period is a possibility.
posted by Dan at 09:19 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

The pipe dream of energy independence

The Wall Street Journal's John Fialka does an excellent job of bulls**t detection by probing the feasibility of "energy independence":

The U.S. may be addicted to oil, but many of its politicians are addicted to "energy independence" -- which may be among the least realistic political slogans in American history....

"Energy independence is an emotionally compelling concept," says Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan, nonprofit group financed by private foundations, "but it's a vestige of a world that no longer exists."

Indeed, the U.S. is moving rapidly away from energy independence: Oil imports made up 35% of the nation's petroleum supplies in 1973 and 59% in the first four months of 2006, according to the Department of Energy. Moreover, 66% of the oil consumed in the U.S. is used in the transportation sector, where Americans, with their penchant for hefty cars with big engines, are by far the planet's biggest consumers of oil.

The allure of energy independence is easy to see. It reinforces the belief that Americans can control their own economic destiny and appeals to a "deep-seated cultural feeling that we are Fortress America and we will not be vulnerable to unstable regimes," says David Jhirad, a former Clinton administration energy official who is vice president at World Resources Institute, an environmental-research group.

In fact, experts say, America's energy fortunes are inextricably linked to those of other countries. Global oil markets are interconnected, with oil prices set internationally. That means supply disruptions anywhere in the world will continue to have an almost instantaneous effect on the pump price of gasoline in the U.S.

"The real metric on this is not imported oil, but how much oil we use, period," says Jerry Taylor, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute who dismisses calls for energy independence as "rhetorical nonsense that transcends party affiliation."

Mr. Grumet's energy commission is trying to get experts to agree that the term "energy independence" should be dropped. He wants policy makers to focus on curbing oil consumption -- specifically the amount to produce each $1,000 of gross domestic product. The nation already is making some headway on that goal, he says, and the idea, while it may not fit on a bumper sticker, is beginning to resonate.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

What's the bigger threat to national security?

When the New York Times published stories about the Bush administration's efforts to track terrorist financing via the SWIFT consortium, a lot of the conservative blogosphere got on the NYT's case about publishing national secrets on the front page of the paper of record. And, for the record, I suspect that the publication probably disrupted the program because of the backlash it created in Europe, where SWIFT is headquartered.

And yet, I'd take the Bush administration's umbrage about the publication of classified information more seriously if the government demonstrated anything close to competence when to comes to protecting the computerized data currently in its possession.

The Energy Department and the Department of Veteran Affairs have already had problems with lost data.

Now Eric Weiss reports in the Washington Post that the FBI has had a little bit of a problem in this area:

A government consultant, using computer programs easily found on the Internet, managed to crack the FBI's classified computer system and gain the passwords of 38,000 employees, including that of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

The break-ins, which occurred four times in 2004, gave the consultant access to records in the Witness Protection Program and details on counterespionage activity, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. As a direct result, the bureau said it was forced to temporarily shut down its network and commit thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to ensure no sensitive information was lost or misused.

The government does not allege that the consultant, Joseph Thomas Colon, intended to harm national security. But prosecutors said Colon's "curiosity hacks" nonetheless exposed sensitive information.

Colon, 28, an employee of BAE Systems who was assigned to the FBI field office in Springfield, Ill., said in court filings that he used the passwords and other information to bypass bureaucratic obstacles and better help the FBI install its new computer system. And he said agents in the Springfield office approved his actions.

The incident is only the latest in a long string of foul-ups, delays and embarrassments that have plagued the FBI as it tries to update its computer systems to better share tips and information. Its computer technology is frequently identified as one of the key obstacles to the bureau's attempt to sharpen its focus on intelligence and terrorism....

What Colon did was hardly cutting edge, said Joe Stewart, a senior researcher with Chicago-based security company LURHQ Corp. "It was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff five years ago," Stewart said.

Asked if he was surprised that a secure FBI system could be entered so easily, Stewart said, "I'd like to say 'Sure,' but I'm not really. They are dealing with the same types of problems that corporations are dealing with."

To be fair to the Bush administration, a lot of this stuff might have happened regardless of who was running the White House.

That said, the administration seems to be obsessed with protecting data from journalists. I'd much prefer it if they were obsessed with protecting their data from hackers.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the FBI has done an excellent job protecting Coca Cola's secret formula!!

posted by Dan at 10:22 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Should you panic about North Korea or not?

North Korea apparently test-fired several missiles today.

There are stories by both the New York Times staff and Dana Piest of the Washington Post. Whether North Korea's actions are panic-worthy depend upon which story you read.

The Times suggests panic:

North Korea shocked western and Japanese analysts in 1998 by firing a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean, revealing more advanced missile capabilities than the country was previously thought to possess.

The Taepodong-2 missile is thought to be potentially capable of reaching United States territory in Alaska, if North Korea perfects the technology. But that ability has never been demonstrated in a test. In late June, North Korea disavowed its self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile tests....

North Korea is believed to possess enough plutonium to build several nuclear warheads. The country has claimed since 2005 to have built nuclear weapons.

The Post offers a different perspective:
A senior State Department official said the test was "an affront to everybody, not just us" and that it would likely have a big effect on South Korean public opinion, which is already impatient with one-way flow of humanitarian assistance meant to induce the isolated North Korean leader to join the world community.

The failure of diplomacy is also likely to embarrass China, which has sought a heightened role in calming tensions between North Korea and other countries. "The Chinese will be furious," the diplomat said....

The Taepodong-2 is a multi-stage missile with a possible range of 3,500 to 4,300 km, meaning it could hit parts of Alaska. Most analysts agree North Korea is years away from building a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile. Its medium and long-range missiles have displayed chronic problems with accuracy.

Put me between the Post and Times perspectives. I suspect that the South Koreans -- who have been in denial about North Korea for some time -- will find a way to rationalize the DPRK's behavior, and that the Chinese won't be that perturbed. The fact that financial markets are reacting to the test by selling off yen suggests that they are ratcheting up the probability of something bad happening. As Dan Nexon points out: "The US and Japan have made all sorts of dark threats about punitive action if North Korea went ahead with the launch. Now we have to step up to the plate or risk having had our bluff called."

At the same time, Priest is correct about the North Koreans being a ways away from being able to put a nuke on an ICBM. Plus, if you look at this map, you see that the United States is hardly the only country affected by North Korea's actions.


UPDATE: David Sanger has an excellent backgrounder in the New York Times about why all of the policy options available to the Bush administration are pretty God-awful. At the same time, Sanger's story moves the Times towards the not-panicking position:

The North has long had an array of weapons that could destroy Seoul or hit Japan, including American forces based there. The only new element in the dramatic barrage into the Sea of Japan on Tuesday was the launching of its intercontinental-range Taepodong- 2, the missile that, depending on whose numbers one believes, could eventually hit the United States.

So far it has tested the Taepodong twice - the last time was in 1998 - and as Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies put it bluntly on Wednesday, "both failed dismally."
The experts quoted by Tom Ricks and Faiola in the Washington Post make a similar point:
The major fallout from North Korea's series of missile launches and the malfunction of its long-range rocket is that its missile program now looks somewhat inept, weapons experts said yesterday.

"The Taepodong-2 was not ready for prime time," said David Kay, a veteran weapons inspector, referring to Pyongyang's controversial attempt to launch a long-range missile. "The ridicule for the failure is entirely on" the North Korean government....

It was not clear whether the missile crashed or was aborted by its controllers, but U.S. and Japanese officials said that intelligence and monitoring of the Taepodong-2 test launch indicated that it failed.

The result of the attempt is that, to some specialists, North Korea looks less dangerous than it did just a few days ago.

"Seems to me their ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] capability has gone no better than sideways the past eight years, if not down," said retired Adm. Dennis Blair, a former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command.

"Less threatening, because less capable," agreed Rep. Mark S. Kirk (R-Ill.), who tracks North Korea.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. wants the UN Security Council to sanction North Korea. I'm shocked to report that Russia and China oppose such a move.

posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of Independence Day....

I'll encourage my readers to engage Matthew Yglesias and/or Tyler Cowen in the ultimate contrarian argument -- was American independence a good idea?

Yglesias has his doubts at the global level:

File this one under "why do liberals hate America?" but this time of year I'm always intrigued by the view that American independence was more-or-less a giant mistake.... The issues at stake were eminently compromisable, had wiser leadership been available, and the examples of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and (to some extent) South Africa indicate that having lost the USA the British government was able to come up with a perfectly workable alternative system of imperial management. And wouldn't it have been better if the USA-British relationship had evolved along the Canadian model?

Consider that Canada and the other dominions entered the world wars at the same time as Britain rather than on the USA's leisurely pace. If we'd gotten into World War II in 1939 rather than 1941 the war, presumably, have been considerably shorter and many lives could have been saved. Even better would be if American entry into World War I in 1914 rather than 1917 could have brought about German defeat fast enough to prevent the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. If that had turned out differently, the world would have turned out to be a much, much, much better place.

For Cowen, the question comes at the individual level;
[T]hink about it, wasn't it more than a wee bit whacky? "Let's cut free of the British Empire, the most successful society the world had seen to date, and go it alone against the French, the Spanish, and the Indians." [TC: they all seemed more formidable at the time than subsequently]

Taxes weren't that high, especially by modern standards. The British got rid of slavery before we did. Might I have concluded the revolution was a bunch of rent-seekers trying to capture the governmental surplus for themselves?

Go ahead, exercise that right to free speech and respond to the question at hand

I'd respond myself, but.... er.... I'm deep into the pursuit of happiness right now.

I do know how Jefferson would have responded:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States....

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

posted by Dan at 01:00 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Time is running out before the panic button is pushed and we all go over the brink, fall off a cliff, and cross the Rubicon into the red part of the red zone

Alas, it looks like the Doha round has come to a standstill.

Actually, that's not fair -- the round has been at a standstill since the December 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial.

This has made writing and blogging about the round somewhat difficult -- kinda like trying to describe the same traffic jam for nine months. However, props to AP writer Bradley Klapper for coming up with a novel angle (link via Megan McArdle):

The WTO is surely one of the most cliche-riddled bodies in the world as diplomats compete in a game of words to describe sometimes impenetrably complex trade issues. Even if the metaphors only sometimes add substance, catchy phrases usually mean more to people outside the rarified air of global commerce.

The WTO has been saying for months that "time is running out."

The organization's former director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi cried crisis over a year ago, warning his finger was hovering over "the panic button," even if he had yet to press it.

Since then, the Geneva-based body has approached "the point of no return," reached "the edge of the cliff," "crossed the Rubicon" and faced its share of "do-or-die" deadlines.

The WTO's current chief Pascal Lamy has alternately described himself as the organization's shepherd, nurse, midwife and conductor. He is also fond of referring to the round as a marathon or a jet plane, and the organization as a football team. Does that suggest that he is the pacesetter, pilot or coach?

Lamy's biggest test in metaphor mechanics came after the WTO's trade summit last year in Hong Kong, more noteworthy in the end for its large protests and political finger-pointing than any market-opening deals.

Citing the gathering's minor achievements, he declared the round back on track, even though the tough decisions were pushed back until this summer.

"We now have enough fuel in the tank to cruise at the right negotiating altitude now," he said.

With the year's first deadline in April fast approaching, top trading officials jumped on the bandwagon, adding new turns of phrase if little substance.

India's Trade and Industry Minister Kamal Nath _ who was the first to downplay hopes ahead of Hong Kong, or "recalibrate the level of ambition" _ warned of the EU and U.S. creating a "suicide round."

Former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman called April 30 the "drop dead date" for negotiations and six top trading powers met in London in March to break the logjam. After apparently little progress was made, all were eager to cite progress.

"We made progress on narrowing the concepts of numbers," Portman told reporters afterward. He didn't explain further.

Not to be outdone, Nath esoterically added that the meeting was useful for defining "elasticities;" Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim cited the lack of "a click" necessary to reach a deal.

After Lamy cancelled the "drop dead" session, he called this week's gathering _ dubbed in WTO jargon the "full modalities meeting" _ in its place.

In recent weeks, Lamy has sounded the warning anew.

The marathon runner has warned of "hitting the wall," a runner's term for the point of near exhaustion toward the end of the race.

In May he switched to security alert levels, saying that "we are now in the red zone" due to a lack of movement.

However, he suggested there was still room to recover because countries had yet to reach "the red part of this red zone."

Despite my flippancy about the rhetoric, the collapse of the Doha round would be a very, very, very bad thing. To understand why, consider Greg Mankiw's point: [S]uccess in the Doha round of international trade talks would give the world more every year than what [Warren] Buffett can give once after a lifetime of being the world's most successful investor.

posted by Dan at 10:06 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)