Friday, June 29, 2012


From here.

Roberts, Muslim

One surprising thing I learned yesterday is that Chief Justice John Roberts is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Big Relief - ACA Stands

It looks like Chief Justice John Roberts took to heart the comparisons with Roger Taney, of Dred Scott fame, and went with the law instead of Justice Antonin Scalia ideology.

Apparently the entire law stands except for some limitations on Medicaid.

So the United States begins to join the civilized world in affirming that its citizens should be healthy.

CNN initially reported that the ACA was struck down. Twitter is having lots of fun with this new example of the liberal media trying to get President Obama elected again stupid reporting. It looks like Fox also reported something similar, and CBS focused on the Medicaid limitation.

Update on CNN coverage: "Fucking humiliating." 
Jeffrey Toobin makes excuses.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One More Way Wall Street Has Been Bleeding The Country

Matt Taibbi:

How did the government manage to make a case against so many Wall Street scam artists? Hubris. As was the case in Jefferson County, Alabama, where Chase executives blabbed criminal conspiracies on the telephone even though they knew they were being recorded by their own company, the trio of defendants in Carollo wantonly fixed bond auctions despite the fact that their own firm was taping the conversations. Defense counsel even made an issue of this at trial, implying to the jury that nobody would be dumb enough to commit a crime by phone when "there was a big sticker on the phones that said all calls are being recorded," as Grimm's counsel, Mark Racanelli, put it. In fact, Racanelli argued, the conversations on the tapes hardly suggested a secret conspiracy, because "no one was whispering."

But the reason no one was whispering isn't that their actions weren't illegal – it's because the bid rigging was so incredibly common the defendants simply forgot to be ashamed of it. "The tapes illustrate the cavalier attitude which the financial community brought toward this behavior," says Michael Hausfeld, a renowned class-action attorney whose firm is leading a major civil suit against Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and others for this same bid-rigging scam. "It became the predominant mode of transacting business."

 (emphasis mine) and

The men and women who run these corrupt banks and brokerages genuinely believe that their relentless lying and cheating, and even their anti-competitive cartel­style scheming, are all legitimate market processes that lead to legitimate price discovery. In this lunatic worldview, the bid­rigging scheme was a system that created fair returns for everyone. If a bunch of Pennsylvanians got a 5.00 percent return on their money instead of 5.04 percent, and GE and CDR just happened to split the extra .04 percent, that was a fair outcome, because that's what the parties negotiated. True, the Pennsylvanians had no idea about the extra .04 percent, and true, they had hired CDR precisely to make sure they got that extra 0.4 percent. But hey, it's not like they were complaining: Until someone told them they were being brazenly cheated, they were happy with their bond service. And besides, it's not like ordinary people understand this stuff anyway. So how is it the place of some busybody federal prosecutor to waltz in here and say what's a fair price?

"These corrupt banks" are all the major US banks and a number from overseas.

There are some who think that the government is limited in how many corruption cases it can bring against Wall Street, because juries can't understand the complexity of the financial schemes involved. But in USA v. Carollo, that turned out not to be true. "This verdict is proof of that," says Hausfeld, the antitrust attorney. "Juries can and do understand this material."

Looking forward to more. Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kenneth Waltz: Stuck in the Cold War

This post will appear on Nuclear Diner when the site is fully operational again. We have a version of the site from last February now up and are working on what we think will be a full recovery.

Kenneth Waltz argues that an Iranian nuclear weapon is likely to stabilize the Middle East as a counterbalance to Israeli nuclear power. His Foreign Affairs article is behind a paywall, but USA Today published a summary.

Waltz sees the world in terms of power balances. In the Middle East, Israel has long had the lion’s share of military power – both conventional and nuclear. Iranian nuclear weapons, Waltz argues, would balance Israel’s power and stabilize the Middle East. This is part of his more general argument that possession of nuclear weapons usually is a stabilizing factor.

Waltz’s views are a product of the Cold War. He believes that we have had no great-power wars since the end of World War II because of nuclear weapons.
So if you can only fight nuclear wars, and if it is very difficult to keep wars limited, because they tend to escalate, the question becomes: why fight wars at all? And, again, countries with nuclear weapons would behave according to that thought. If you do not have nuclear weapons, you can fight wars just as in the old days. But once a country has nuclear weapons, these weapons strongly deter other states. In fact, one cannot make “never-statements” when thinking historically, but one can with nuclear weapons. Never, in 65-plus years, have countries having nuclear weapons or enjoying their protection, fought each other. That is an astonishing statement, and it is true. So in sum, my work, in a way, has been an attempt to theoretically deal with the implications of the invention and application of nuclear weapons. (source)
 He ignores the building of the European Union and the network of treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), that have contributed to the peace. The only factor he considers is the existence of nuclear weapons. In the 1981 paper in which he first laid out his views on the stabilizing influence of the spread of nuclear weapons, the NPT is mentioned only in connection with India’s unwillingness to sign it, and it is not mentioned at all in the Foreign Affairs article.

In that paper Waltz states, “States coexist in a condition of anarchy.” The network of treaties and agreements undermines this contention. Anarchy allows states to act purely in their self-interest; treaties and agreements bind them to actions of mutual interest, which may deviate from a pure self-interest. The deviation must not be large, of course, or states will repudiate treaties. But pure self-interest is muted unless pure anarchy prevails.

He also partly attributes the post-WWII stability to the presence of two, and only two, superpowers, the United States and Russia. He recognizes that a multipolar world will be messier.
…in a multipolar world there are too many powers to permit any of them to draw clear and fixed lines between allies and adversaries and too few to keep the effects of defection low. With three or more powers, flexibility of alliances keeps relations of friendship and enmity fluid and makes everyone's estimate of the present and future relation of forces uncertain….in the great-power politics of a multipolar world, who is a danger to whom, and who can be expected to deal with threats and problems, are matters of uncertainty. Dangers are diffused, responsibilities blurred, and definitions of vital interest easily obscured. Because who is a danger to whom is often unclear, the incentive to regard all dis­equilibrating changes with concern and res­pond to them with whatever effort may be required is weakened. To respond rapidly to fine changes is at once more difficult, because of blurred responsibilities, and more important, because states live on narrow margins.
A reworking of that essay appears in the 2003 book, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed,” by Scott D. Sagan and Waltz. The statement on anarchy and the discussion of the stability conferred by an international duopoly have been removed, although in a 2011 interview he confirms his earlier viewpoint: “I certainly believe that, as long as the world continues to be anarchic, the theory that I developed will maintain its direct relevance. One cannot expect the world to change unless the structure of the world changes.” In that interview, he views the world as unipolar, the United States being that single pole.

Waltz considers nations two at a time, perhaps a continuation of the Cold War model. So an Iranian nuclear arsenal would balance the Israeli nuclear arsenal and “restore stability to the Middle East.” India and Pakistan have their nuclear standoff.

The Middle East is indeed unstable, but is Israel’s heavily unbalanced power the only reason? The meddling of great powers, the persistence of autocratic rule, the social systems that exclude women and other groups from power all would seem to contribute. How would an Iranian nuclear capability stabilize those factors?

Additionally, regimes and alliances change. Saudi Arabia, not previously an ally of Israel, has made it known that it would not object to Israeli overflights to bomb Iran to prevent its getting nuclear weapons. Iran’s 1979 coup turned its alliances on their heads. Egypt’s recent changes have brought its treaty with Israel into question.

Could a Shia Iran with nuclear weapons ally with Israel against the Sunni Arabs? That would unbalance the power structure of the Middle East once again, by Waltz’s argument making nuclear weapons likely for, say, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Is this a multipolar or unipolar situation? Certainly the United States has limited power over the actions of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries of the Middle East, as is vividly illustrated by large numbers of daily news reports.
Waltz argues that the consequences of nuclear war are so horrific that they force governments away from using them in fear of self-destruction and that no mistakes will ever be made relative to their use. This seems to require the assumption that states are rational actors and able to preserve their integrity so as to retain control of their nuclear forces. Although herejects the rational actor assumption, he uses a significant fraction of the ForeignAffairs article to argue that the rationality of Iran’s rulers precludes their first use of a nuclear weapon.

He also argues that the probability of proliferation would be small upon Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
When Israel acquired the bomb in the 1960s, it was at war with many of its neighbors. Its nuclear arms were a much bigger threat to the Arab world than Iran's program is today. If an atomic Israel did not trigger an arms race then, there is no reason a nuclear Iran should now.
But Iraq and the United Arab Republic (now Egypt and Syria) did indeed want nuclear weapons to balance Israel’s and took some steps in that direction. What stopped the UAE was that the it was a client of the Soviet Union, which did not want the UAR to become nuclear. Thus did the duopoly of the Cold War limiting other nations’ options. Iraq went further toward nuclear weapons and might have succeeded, had not the 1991 Gulf War ended Saddam Hussein’s reign.

There are more holes in Waltz’s argument that I won’t go into in detail in this post. If there’s interest, I’ll write more on them.

For one set of examples, in the Foreign Affairs article, he recognizes that a treaty between India and Pakistan on nuclear targeting may be useful, while otherwise ignoring the post-WWII treaty structure. The India-Pakistan relationship provides many questions about Waltz’s theory. He predicts no arms race between proliferant states, but new reactor construction in Pakistan suggests otherwise. Pakistan’s instability also seems to contradict some of his statements about strong governments in nuclear weapons states.

I’ve seen others wondering when Scott Sagan, Waltz’s customary interlocutor, will weigh in. He did, in 2007. In this video, Waltz says nothing significantly different than what is in the Foreign Affairs article, and Sagan responds. Obviously, I can't speak for Sagan, but his responses in the video seem reasonable and consistent with other things he's written.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Any Day Now

The five great blue heron chicks in the televised nest at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology should be fledging. The nest is about fifty feet above the water in a dead oak tree. The parents are bringing less food to motivate the chicks. Check it out.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Excuses, Excuses!

Jonah Lehrer just got a new job, and that caused a bit more scrutiny than usual to be focused on his writings, which turned out to be seriously repetitive. He recycled large chunks of his writing from one article to another, to his books. It's possible he even recycled other people's writing, which is called plagiarism. A summary here of the affair so far, with many links.

It's quite amazing how many people are willing to give the guy a break - he's an idea man and didn't recogize it; still has his shiny new job, says his editor. I think that Felix Salmon and Michelle Dean are right about parts of what went wrong, but let me work through this a little differently, in the light of what I said earlier about Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article on why women can't have it all.

Salmon understands what blogging is about: sharing your own take on a situation or article and giving plenty of credit to others via links. I think few reporters and editors, particularly at the larger newspapers and magazines, understand this. There are many reasons why not: they are stuck in thinking of journalism as "we write, you read;" their publications' policies are to keep people on their website, which means dumb links that take you to a list of other articles on the subject of the word you just clicked on, rather than informing you about other opinions and facts; and they are enmeshed in a culture that values certain things agreed to in that culture, which is mainly male. All of this does not prevent them from having on their sites sections they call "blogs."
"This was wrong and foolish," Remnick said, "and I think he thought that it was OK to do this in the blogging context — and he is obviously wrong to think so." (New York Magazine)
Because the blogging context is, you see, a lesser form of journalism. But not at the New Yorker! And since Lehrer has 'fessed up that what he did was wrong and foolish, he can stay.

It takes a certain blindness, of course, to have avoided learning what blogging is, but the MSM seems to have that in full measure.

Dean identifies that blindness as arising in a male culture of arrogance and overconfidence:
Even were it not the case – and it is the case – that critics have found inaccuracies in Lehrer’s work, it’s a bit disturbing that he hasn’t even revisited these issues enough, over the years, to tinker with the wording he uses.

That’s the confidence that gets rewarded — confidence which masks a lazy arrogance. “Vanity,” Salon’s Laura Miller recently wrote about John D’Agata, another guy pretty sure of his understanding of the world, “has the effect of blinding an artist to the very truths [he] intends to pursue.” Perhaps a little bubble-bursting is the right order, if the point is to publish excellent work. After all, so confident were Lehrer’s editors in his talents they apparently didn’t read his old work close enough to notice it was being handed right back to them. Perhaps a little less confidence and some more self-questioning would have done them some good, too.
I'd add another thing that is wrong here: Lehrer's laziness and unoriginality holds down a place in major magazines and publishing houses that could better be filled by someone who really has something to say.

And that's where Anne-Marie Slaughter's admonitions that breaking through the old male assumptions about what matters could help us all.
If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal.

Slaughter Takes The Next Feminist Step

Anne-Marie Slaughter has an important article in the new Atlantic. And kudos to The Atlantic for making it available online.

This summarizes it:

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal.

It's been clear to some of us for a very long time that male behavior and society's evaluation of it have to change. That was a theme early on in the Women's Movement of the sixties. Then it got lost in the struggles just to get women accepted in jobs, men to help at home, get the Equal Rights Amendment passed (it didn't), and the general confusion of social goals and missteps toward them in the sixties and seventies. The Vietnam war was a distraction, too.

But we've struggled on, and, as Slaughter points out, we did make the progress that allows us to reconsider that issue. Slaughter uses her own experience in the way we used it in our consciousness-raising groups, but her national platform allows her to share it with many more people.

So thanks, Anne-Marie! This can make a difference!

Update: Just what Slaughter is saying: US Olympics officials diss knitters, who must be women, right? Thanks to jrf for the link!

And another update (6/22/12):  Brian Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) asked this morning on Twitter "I'm sure this was vigorously debated yesterday, but how is everything in there not also applicable to men?" James Joyner replied that it is. I'm not sure exactly what they meant. Brian and James are good guys, and I suspect they meant more or less what I said above. An alternative interpretation of those not-enough 140 characters is the one that's been offered up by far too many men, far too many times: men are equally mistreated and we must give priority to dealing with that. Apparently The Atlantic will be publishing some responses, including one from James, sometime next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bits and Pieces - June 19, 2012

Nuclear Diner's email is again working, the first step toward recovering from the hack.

On the confusion of economics with morality.

Now that the US is pumping lots of natural gas and petroleum, is energy independence within reach? No.

Why the Scientist Stereotype Is Bad for Everyone, Especially Kids.

Lots of links about radiation. I haven't checked them all out, but they look pretty good and this link came from a reliable source.

Want to buy a silver mine?

Foreign Policy magazine published yet another of its listicles, this time the "Twitterati 100." (I am not a fan of listicles.) It seems - ho hum, big surprise - that most of FP's Twitterati are, you guessed it, men. James Joyner points this out in a post, along with links to women writing on the subject, and, in the comments, Katrin Verclas presents a list of women Twitterati and says that FP has asked her to pare it to 100, and they will publish it.

What look to me like the best summary and analysis of the Iran negotiations. It's early days yet; there will be more.

The IAEA and the P5+1 Negotiations

This is a fairly wonky post. I would ordinarily publish it at Nuclear Diner, but Nuclear Diner is recovering from a hack attack, and the post is timely.

Two publications from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are useful in understanding the role of the IAEA in the Iranian nuclear issue.

 They are long and fairly complex, however, so let me attempt to pull out their main points.

As Susan noted (Nuclear Diner link), there are two negotiation tracks with Iran: one with the IAEA and the other with the P5+1. The two are separate, but not unrelated. Hibbs and his co-authors discuss how they might interact, and Goldschmidt suggests negotiating strategies that would involve IAEA interactions with Iran. Quotes are from the Hibbs paper.

As a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The purpose of this agreement is to verify that Iran’s nuclear activities are confined to peaceful use. Because Iran did not declare the Natanz facility to the IAEA, as it was required to under the agreement, the IAEA increased its scrutiny of Iran in 2003. Iran signed an Additional Protocol for safeguards, which gives the IAEA additional access beyond the original agreement.  And 

Iran also agreed—as had many other NPT states before—to a 1991 safeguards provision called “Code 3.1” which required states to inform the IAEA about new nuclear facilities as soon as it was decided to build them. But in 2006 and 2007, respectively, Iran suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol (which it never ratified) and Code 3.1. Meanwhile, the IAEA was probing Iran’s nuclear history, and finding evidence it deemed credible that Iran had engaged in secret military research related to nuclear weapons since the late 1980s.

The IAEA was also instructed by its board of governors to investigate this history.

Under the IAEA statute, these findings may serve as the basis for decisionmaking by the board of governors and, thereafter, the UN Security Council. Beginning in 2006, on the basis of the secretariat’s reports to the board and followed by IAEA board referrals, the Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran and enlarged the IAEA’s role in Iran to monitor its compliance with Security Council resolutions.

That is where the IAEA and the Security Council, sponsor of the current talks, have come together in the past. The P5 are the permanent members of the Security Council; Germany is the +1.

In 2007, the IAEA agreed to a “work plan” sought by Iran to eventually conclude the IAEA’s investigation. Since 2008, Iran has claimed it has fulfilled the work plan and, therefore, that Security Council sanctions are groundless and that the IAEA’s role should be limited to routine safeguards on activities that Iran has formally declared to the agency. Since 2011 Iran has promised the IAEA it would increase cooperation if the IAEA declares the 2007 work plan fulfilled. So far, [IAEA Director General Yukiya] Amano has not been willing to do this, especially because Iran has not cleared up allegations that it has worked on development of nuclear explosives.

The backward-looking role of the IAEA would be to investigate and provide a history of Iran’s nuclear activities. This would allow the P5+1 to understand the likely state of Iran’s nuclear program with respect to the development of a nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s making this information available would help to mend the credibility it has lost by its evasions and unwillingness to work with the IAEA on this subject.

The forward-looking IAEA role would be to negotiate agreements with Iran that provide assurance that Iran is not violating its obligations. This would require a new agreement, which has been in negotiation between Iran and the IAEA. Iran has proposed

to address outstanding issues one by one until remaining boxes are checked and without imposing a deadline for Iran to respond to IAEA requests for access to locations, individuals, and documents.

Clearly, this would not provide the assurance needed. An agreement that would allow the IAEA to investigate and resolve questions about its nuclear program would be a basis for a P5+1 agreement with Iran on such issues as limiting 20% enrichment.

The United Nations Security Council, on the basis of IAEA board of governors recommendations, has passed resolutions asking Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and sanctioning Iran. The P5+1 negotiations address Iran’s enrichment and the sanctions.

The papers recommend specific negotiating points:

For the IAEA reconstruction of Iran’s nuclear program,
The six powers negotiating with Iran could support the IAEA by giving Iran immunity from sanctions for any previous undeclared nuclear activity which Iran discloses to the agency.

The six states negotiating with Iran should spell out that a comprehensive settlement must include ratification of the Additional Protocol and the acknowledgement that it is already legally committed to implement the new Code 3.1.
Additional authority should be given to the IAEA to investigate, beyond the Additional Protocol.

They recognize that insisting on Iran’s giving up all enrichment activities will not be accepted by Iran.

The paper by Goldschmidt alone also suggests:
Freeze (not dismantle) activities at the Fordow enrichment facility with verification by the IAEA;
Cease enriching beyond 5% U-235, with provision from the P5+1 of fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)
Send abroad its low-enriched uranium (LEU) every six months for fuel fabrication for Bushehr and other reactors.

The P5+1 commit to impose no additional UNSC sanctions. This is a significant concession because continuing to enrich uranium below 5% U-235 contravenes five UNSC resolutions.

The U.S. and the EU commit to impose no unilateral or multilateral sanctions beyond those already decided and to suspend those which will take effect this summer as soon and as long as Iran implements its IAEA agreements.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Cruellest Egotism

That's what Roberto Unger, who taught President Obama two courses at Harvard Law School, is indulging in here. I'm not going to try to embed the video. Frankly, his self-righteous manner makes me ill. But do click the link, because it is to an article by Garry Wills explaining why Dr. Unger is mistaken. Or check out what Richard Barry has to say at The Reaction.

We will have two choices in November, no more. There may be one or two cranky and obscure additions to some ballots in the Presidential slot, but there will be only two serious choices. One will be for more action towards a society that adds still more money to the 1%, still more risk for everyone else, subtracts teachers and other public servants (who needs libraries? Let's privatize the fire department!), multiplies wars and bad feeling toward the United States across the world, and divides the country in its drive to rule. That vote will also be for a country in which women, Hispanics and other minorities, gays, and anyone who isn't a wealthy white male will be harassed and and kept from the rights citizens might expect - decent health care, voting, protection from crime.

The other will be for trying to make government work despite violent opposition, the continuation of the gains that have been made since 2008 and perhaps their expansion (health care, Lily Ledbetter Act, ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, fairer rules on immigration, and more), movement away from the wars we've been fighting for too long, and a whole series of imperfect policies that can be pulled out, one by one, to illustrate the puller's virtue.

Enough! We've just started to pull out of the hole that thirty year's belief in rampant free-marketism and the hate politics that have taken over the Republican Party have dumped us into.

So take your choice in November. You want something else? I'd counsel you to take the choice that is closer to that direction. There will be no revolution if Mitt Romney is elected; the Republicans are doing everything they can to tilt the playing field - Citizens United and voter disqualifications - so it will be harder in 2016. It's not a matter of defeating Obama. It's a matter of electing either Obama and all that goes with him or Romney and all that goes with him.

Bits and Pieces - Moscow Negotiations Edition

It looks like the negotiators in Moscow are being close-mouthed, a good sign that they are seriously negotiating rather than posturing. The bad news is that the standard media talking points will continue.

However, there are several articles this morning that are actually worth reading!

Dennis Ross fleshes out what a "going big" proposal from the P5+1 might look like. The headline should be ignored; Ross probably didn't write it, and it doesn't represent what he is saying. Get a grip, guy - whoever wrote that!

Andrew Parasilti also offers some ideas on "going big." The Al Monitor headline writer obviously leans in the opposite direction from the TNR headline writer but comes a little closer to the content.

Reza Marashi suggests that the Iranians agree to talk to their American counterparts, in particular Saeed Jalili to Wendy Sherman. Jalili is scheduled to have dinner with his Russian counterpart tonight, which may be a first step in that direction. I'll admit my bias is that the Iranians are being dumb not to engage, as has been the situation through the Baghdad meeting. I recognize that it's possible to argue whose "fault" is is back to perhaps the beginning of the American republic, but I don't think that's useful.

Kenneth Waltz tends to believe that more nukes are good nukes, or at least that meeting nukes with nukes makes sense. So he thinks that Iranian nukes will balance Israeli nukes and stabilize the Middle East. He says nothing about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, however.

Here's an analysis of just what weapons Iran can field in case of attack.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In My Inbox

Not sure how it got there, but here it is:

From: MSM Editor
To: Reporting Staff

It’s within a week of the next negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, so we need some commentary from important people on what is likely to or should happen at the talks. If you can’t get someone important, here are some ideas that you can combine with odd facts about Iran’s nuclear program or the 1979 coup or whatever.
  • The negotiations will be hard. 
  • Choose one; our publication has its preferences, so keep it consistent. A contrarian viewpoint can be fresh and new: The Iranians have been making too many too harsh too arrogant comments out of school. // Various members of the P5+1, usually identified as anonymous diplomats, have been making too many too harsh too arrogant comments out of school.
  •  None of this would have happened if the US/Iran/Israel had been nicer at some time in the past. 
  • Another choose one pair: If Iran would concede everything that the P5+1 plus Israel wants up front, the talks would proceed nicely. // If the P5+1 would concede everything Iran wants up front, the talks would proceed nicely.
  • If the US and Iran would just sit down over a warm cup of cocoa and talk nicely to each other, we could arrive at a solution.
  • If there isn’t a full solution by June 20, there will be a world war, probably nuclear. 

Adding the last to any of the earlier ones provides urgency.

“It’s all [fill in the name]’s fault” has been used a lot and needs more on the bones. You may want to do some research (hey, Google!) to give historical depth.

You may want to leaven it with some “both sides do it.” The first of the “choose one” pairs and placing fault are particularly suited to this.

And keep this memo confidential, please! Last month’s must have got out; someone said that the blogs scooped us on these stories! Not good!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Israel Not Invited To Counterterrorism Forum

I've suspected that when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the US earlier in the spring, President Barack Obama laid down some lines on Israel's behavior. This small bit of news isn't enough to support that idea, but I'd like to note it for future reference.

Last week, the Global Counterterrorism Forum held its first meeting. Without Israel. Turkey is the co-convenor of the Forum, with the United States, and the rumor circulated that Turkey had insisted on excluding Israel. The official US statement on that subject was noncommittal.

Later news reports from Israel are more mixed, but some sense of exclusion remains.

State Department page on the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
CFR seems to have found an updated fact sheet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bits and Pieces - June 12, 2012

It looks like nuclear trade between the US and India won't pick up any time soon.

More about that californium flux multiplier at Kodak that isn't a nuclear reactor.

Can shopping for health insurance be easy?

Michael Eisen provides FAQ answers on GMO food. Two posts so far, more to come.

Crooked Timber has been having a symposium on the book Soviet Plenty. Read the book, and the CT posts as well. Here are two from the author, Francis Spufford.

If you want a reason to vote for Obama rather than Romney in November, here it is. Romney has had many good words to say for the great statesman John Bolton.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Is Iran's Negotiating Strategy?

I am trying to figure out Iran’s strategy in the current round of negotiations. The P5+1 presented a proposal in Baghdad last month. Iran has not responded to that proposal, nor presented a proposal of its own, although a number of Iranian government officials have made a variety of statements, some of them contradicting each other.

The preferred end states for Iran and the P5+1 emphasize different aspects of what might be a settlement. Neither side has made its preferred end state explicit, which is fair enough in negotiations. A public statement makes it harder to compromise. However, it is possible to infer something about the end states from the two sides' public statements and actions.

The P5+1 would like an Iranian nuclear program that is clearly of peaceful intent, which would require extensive IAEA investigation and monitoring. Israel has insisted on no nuclear program at all for Iran; Israel is not a part of the P5+1 but is rather a noisy onlooker. I want to focus on actions and statements in this post, rather than motives, so I will not speculate as to Israel’s influence on the P5+1.

The Iranians would like to continue building a full fuel cycle. They would like for the world to accept this as, say, Japan’s fuel cycle is accepted. They would like for sanctions to be lifted. They would like to be assured that the West is not determined to bring about regime change. Again, I will leave aside the possible motive of being able to build nuclear weapons.

Neither side seems to want war, and, in fact, all indications are that war would be disastrous for all who might be involved. It would seem that a settlement would be possible in which Iran would continue its nuclear program under intensive IAEA supervision, and sanctions would be lifted. Both sides have things they can give up: on Iran’s side, 20% enrichment and its continuing intransigence with the IAEA; on the other side, sanctions and the demand for Iran to open all its books on nuclear weapons work more than, say, a decade old.

Each side lacks confidence that the other will carry out its promises. Additionally, there may be differences in negotiating styles like what Steve Hynd wrote in 2006. However, the negotiation framework is a conventional one, the kind that diplomats of many nations have become accustomed to.

A customary approach to confidence-building is for each side to agree to a small action and then carry it through. The agreement put forth by the P5+1 at Baghdad has not been made fully public, but its main features seem to be:
Iran stops enriching uranium to 19.75% and eventually closes down the enrichment plant at Fordow.

The P5+1 supply fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), along with medical isotopes and safety upgrades. Additionally, plans will be made to replace the TRR with a reactor that runs on low-enriched (3.5%) fuel.

Safety assistance will be made available for the Bushehr reactor.

Trade in replacement parts for civilian airliners will resume.
The offer is still on the table, and Iran has not made a counteroffer through the negotiating channels.

Since Iran now has enough 20% enriched uranium to fuel the TRR for almost a decade, shutting down that enrichment line would be consistent with reactor fuel as Tehran’s goal. Replacement parts for civilian airliners have been part of the sanctions, so that offer is a small step in the direction of removing sanctions. A counteroffer from Iran might, for one example, argue that Fordow operations should be a suspended rather than completely shut down, and that the sanctions scheduled for July be suspended for a year. There are an enormous number of possibilities for an Iranian response or counterproposal.

Iran’s response over the past week has been largely public, with contradictory statements from several officials saying that the offer is not enough; that 20% enrichment can be considered, or, conversely, never given up; and complaints that P5+1 followup has been inadequate.

Such a response lies outside the normal diplomatic process. That, in itself, undercuts confidence in Iran as a negotiating partner. It is now beginning to appear that, once again, Iran’s internal disagreements have been surfacing in the last week’s statements. But that is a factor in whether Iran can be trusted to carry out its commitments.

There are also reasons for Iran not to trust the P5+1. David Sanger’s recent report that the US and Israel are responsible for Duqu and Stuxnet, the New York Times report on US use of drones, the Spiegel report of Germany’s long relationship with Israel and sales of submarines, and reports of the Flame computer virus may well be seen by the Iranians as a combination of bragging and threats against them. Bad timing for these reports to come out. Or necessary to keep Israel from attacking now? The P5+1 has its disagreements too.

Last week’s failure of talks with the IAEA undercuts confidence in Iran. Something happened three weeks ago that convinced Director-General Yukiya Amano that his presence in Iran could help to facilitate an agreement on access to Parchin. But Iran comes back to its insistence on a “structured approach,” process rather than substance. Amano demonstrated goodwill by his rapid response to Iran’s overture and obtained nothing in return.

Some months back, Russia proposed a step-by-step process for the negotiations, not made public. It was reported to be based on small steps, and Iran seemed to like it. If the P5+1’s Baghdad offer was based on the Russian proposal, and if Iran continues to ignore the P5+1 proposal, one more reason not to trust Iran.

Another problem in the negotiations is that the two sides appear to value concessions differently. This may be a matter of statements designed to influence the negotiation or it may be a genuine divergence in thinking. The only way to find out will be to continue the negotiations.

A great many possibilities have been suggested for tradeoffs between the two. Iran values its nuclear program highly and seems to see any modifications to it as a large concession. A large concession for the P5+1 involves delaying or lifting sanctions.

More generally, from an anonymous Western official:
"Our basic position is versatile concessions for versatile concessions, and irreversible concessions for irreversible concessions," he said about the administration's thinking. "We would view an irreversible concession as the lifting of sanctions. And in return they would have to take an irreversible step."
Reza Marashi:
Europe [could] offer a delay of its impending embargo of Iranian oil for six months. In return, Iran would freeze its enrichment of uranium at the twenty-percent level for the same duration.
A more detailed example of this tactical mismatch is provided by Gareth Porter’s conclusion that the activities of apparent cleanup at the Parchin military base are intended as bargaining chips to motivate the IAEA (and P5+1?) to give up more in the negotiations. If this is indeed the purpose of the activities at Parchin, it is a misreading of the IAEA’s and P5+1’s goals or an inflexibility in understanding the negotiations.

If the desired endgame on the part of the IAEA and P5+1 is a verifiably peaceful and transparent Iranian nuclear program, then what they want is not simply access to Parchin. They are looking for cooperation by the Iranians on disclosing their previous weapons activities that access to Parchin would represent. However, by their activities at Parchin, which seem to indicate a cleanup campaign, the Iranians have made it impossible for sampling to confirm that nuclear-weapons-related activities did not take place or did not at Parchin. Although an Iranian objective with the IAEA is to close questions on the nuclear weapons program, this sort of activity provides the IAEA with a reason to keep those questions open.

If an Iranian nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, as many believe, and if the Iranians have no plans to develop nuclear weapons in the future, they should be able to open their books on the matter to the IAEA. They would not be the first nation to do this. There would be more questions beyond Parchin, but if the program is ended, they should be able to answer them satisfactorily. Even more so if some of the questions are, as the Iranians claim, based on fabrications.

However, it appears that the IAEA issues will not directly impact the talks in Moscow. Russia does not want the talks to collapse on their soil, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is headed for Tehran. China has also been urging the Iranians to negotiate.

Laura Rozen has reported that the United States is considering “going big” in a proposal in Moscow. It’s not clear what this would entail. It seems unlikely from the cautious negotiating strategies both sides have employed, but surprises are always possible. If a radically different P5+1 proposal were put forth and Iran responded they way it has for the past month, the argument that negotiations are fruitless would gain strength.

This morning it almost looked like the talks would be called off. As the day has gone on, somewhat more optimistic reports are surfacing, particularly on Laura Rozen’s blog, one example here. Tomorrow could be yet another story, and it’s a week until the talks are scheduled to start. Look for more ups and downs.

Update: I didn't say much about the IAEA's role, which is just as well, because Mark Hibbs, Ariel Levite, and Pierre Goldschmidt say it all here.

6/13/12: I'm having some problems connecting with that article. Here's another version.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bits and Pieces - June 9, 2012

Wisconsin, don't despair. It's not you, it's them.

Case Closed: The 401(k) is a Failure.

Japanese dock washes up in Oregon. More links here. And there will be more flotsam from last year's tsunami. And, Knight Science Journalism, you might just want to get your geography right. Newport, Oregon, is not on the Olympic Peninsula!

Bloggers do a better job than the MSM on a science story.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Coming World of Absolute Transparency

Duqu, the spy software that paved the way for Stuxnet, the centrifuge-destroying software, and now Flame are designed to gather information; Duqu on centrifuge operations and Flame apparently on much more. They seem to have been designed for the same national entities, Israel and the United States, according to an earlier Times article.

We are constantly warned to protect our own computers and now smartphones, and some of us do. Some don't, perhaps more than do. And people will stick thumb drives into their computers - just too tempting to see what's on them!

So these three are propagating around the world, rather slowly it seems. But others have developed similar malware and use it for their own purposes. That's why we're supposed to protect our computers.

There is an industry that has developed around identifying and protecting against malware. They find it and then take it apart. The nature of malware, that it needs to spread, and the surveillance by these companies, insures that this will happen.

The malware is designed to make information available to the parties that develop it. But other parties have an interest in making the malware known. As more malware is developed and discovered, it becomes easier for more malware developers to develop more malware. Along with making the malware known, some of the information the malware mines becomes available, for more transparency.

Is it possible to control information in that world, which is now our own?

Ralph Langner, one of the uncoverers of Stuxnet, thinks so. But as long as fallible human beings who don't want to be bothered any more than is necessary are running the computers, there will be break-ins and more information will be opened up.

It's not going to happen all at once, but the ultimate end of this seems to be absolute transparency. Information may be sequestered for a time, or a person may be of little enough interest that their information isn't attacked, but all will be pretty much open to all. And that would include government information.

Photos from the Transit of Venus

The Washington Post has a picture gallery. The photos I like are 1, 8, 14, 25, and 26. Most of these photos require the big telescopes, one of which was not even on the earth.

I'm glad that this event brought so many people out to learn something about science. There's not enough of that today, and its lack compounds itself when, for example, science textbooks privilege a religious myth above the best we can do with science.

Video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (speeded up):

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bits and Pieces - June 5, 2012

I love it that birds are the descendents of dinosaurs. Some are more so than others, in various ways. Chickens' stolid stance. Jays' aggressiveness. Roadrunners' fleet run. And, of course, the birds that are not like dinosaurs at all: hummingbirds. From apatosaurus (once known as brontosaurus) to those tiny flying machines. Very cool. This article on birds' and dinosaurs' skulls brings up another issue: does evolution tend to favor neoteny, the preservation of youthful characteristics into adulthood? Humans have some neotenous characteristics of apes. And birds have a neotenous skull relative to dinosaurs. Or if this isn't generally true, what makes it favorable to survival?

Another question. Paul Kerr notes a comment on the Iranian Supreme Leader's fatwa against nuclear weapons from this article. The fatwa has been repeated numerous times. So can we believe it? Let's leave the business about religiously-sanctioned lies aside. National leaders have been known to lie in the defense of their country or for lesser reasons. Is a religiously-oriented leader of a supposedly religious country any different? Why or why not? Does he have the last word? I don't know the answers to any of these questions.

Germany is supplying submarines to Israel that can support nuclear missiles. I'm not sure this is a total surprise; the procurement of these submarines has been known for some time, and it's been at least speculated that they can support nuclear missiles. The history going back to the 1950s seems to me to be something that hasn't been available. I don't recall it from Avner Cohen's Israel and the Bomb, the sourcebook on such things.

How euro coins from different countries diffuse across France.

Oregon's Josephine County takes the Republicans' political economy to its logical end. Some of the people there seem distressed. I wonder if they voted to have enough taxes to run the county properly.

Don't bother to pass on that Facebook privacy notice.

Why I'm Not Watching the Transit of Venus

Today is the transit of Venus across the Sun. A couple of weeks back, we had an annular eclipse of the moon. I'm not sure what people get out of seeing one circle move across another until they are mutually centered, or a very small circle moving across a big circle. I do get total solar eclipses, because you can see the magnetic flares in a way you usually can't. Although I've spent a fair amount of time looking at the moon rising, or the moon eclipsing a star. It could be that these "big" events are the only way most people actually can observe astronomical movements. Anyhow, I didn't bother to set up my telescope for the eclipse. I was looking for something that might disrupt the ordinary. A relative in California hit the jackpot:

It's a shadow of a tree on a wall. The spaces between the leaves formed pinhole cameras to make the multiple images of the partially eclipsed sun. Very cool.

So I'm not setting up my telescope for the transit of Venus either. The big telescopes will be able to pick up information about Venus's atmosphere, and probably some things about the Sun, too. But all I would see is a little dark circle passing over a big bright one.

Monday, June 04, 2012