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Immigration Reality Check

Immigration seems to be the topic of the moment. Jon Henke continues his usual habit of bursting bubbles on the right and left by pointing out the incentive problems of the US-Mexico immigration situation that are simply not going to go away: Read more »

Strange Omissions

Crooked Timber is hosting a seminar on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War On Science. In the course of a guest post, D2 asks whether there could be a Democrat war on science as well. Read more »

Privileged By Birthright?

. . .suppose you could give American high school dropouts an 8% raise by deporting every man, woman, and child from Latin America back to their home countries. Would that be the right thing to do?
Read more »

Prolegomena to Any Future Policy Discussion

In the course of a TCS column on methodological individualism, Don Boudreaux makes use of this quote from Parker T. Moon's Imperialism and World Politics: Read more »

Whizzing Into the Persian Wind, Part III

A senior Iranian official close to Ayatollah Khamenei, who insisted on anonymity, says Iran's ultimate goal in this complicated game of chess is to win security guarantees from the United States at a time when American troops are in several countries on Iran's borders. "How can the world expect us to sit back and not defend ourselves?" he asks. The mullahs see this fight as one to ensure the survival of their regime—with American assurances.

-- "Iran's Rogue Rage," Newsweek

In Part I, objections were lodged against the apparent screwyness of US policy toward Iran. In Part II, some basic assumptions were laid out and argued for, in preparation for forming an alternative policy. So finally, what do you do with Iran? Like any complicated diplomatic affair, this will be a melange of threats, assurances, and quid-pro-quos. There are also a couple of potential jokers in the deck.

Soft Power

"We've had two plane crashes in the past month caused by American economic sanctions against Iran. Those accidents are forcing Iran to take a more aggressive stance towards the sanctions. The regime wants to start real negotiations with the US, because it doesn't think the Europeans are authorised to negotiate properly. This move is aimed at breaking the circle and getting America's attention."

-- Saeed Leylaz, Iranian political analyst

Iran's economy is stagnant. Thanks in a large part to poor economic policy and externally imposed sanctions, its only three major exports are energy, pistachios, and rugs, and its infrastructure is in lousy shape. Iranians are fed up with this backwardness and even the government acknowledges the problem and wants to do something about it. But much like the current ruling class in China, they're caught between desire for economic connectivity and the fear of the dangerous content that inevitably comes with it. Read more »

Whizzing Into the Persian Wind, Part II

In Part I, I gave a broad overview of the United States strategic situation vis-a-vis Iran. Next, let's clear some decks with a few basic reality checks. The following are what I think are baseline expectations that need to be borne in mind for any successful Iran policy.

1) Iran is not going to give up the quest for nukes voluntarily.

The Iranian public overwhelmingly supports the nuclear program, and it's the one thing the entire regime is united on. They want it for regional prestige, influence, and security. Nonproliferation is a chimera and not even necessarily desirable -- think of every practical objection ever made to gun control, consider its poor track record, and ask yourself why anyone thinks it'll work at the scale of nations. The problem in either case is not weapons, it's the aggressive use of weapons. The solution is to make it so that nobody sees using the weapons as being in their own interest.

2) Democratic revolution is not going to happen.

As this Strategy Page entry points out, you need two conditions for a successful democratic revolution: a majority that really wants democracy, and security forces that are willing to stand down in the face of mass demonstrations. The existence of the former is questionable, but even taking it as a given the existence of the latter is very, very unlikely.

Furthermore, activists within Iran have made it abundantly clear that any overt attempt at supporting a democratic movement within Iran will likely do more harm than good: "This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers. ... This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society." If you read the whole article, it becomes easy to see how overtly assisting dissidents within Iran can actually inadvertantly weaken them rather than strengthen them.

It's not something that can be definitively ruled out, but we have to file an internal revolution under "I'd like a pony" -- would be nice, but hope is not a plan. Read more »

Whizzing Into the Persian Wind, Part I

Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.

-- Apocalypse Now

When I pick up on the chatter in some quarters about a supposedly imminent military confrontation with Iran, the above snippet of dialogue flies through my mind. Policy toward Iran has been incoherent and frankly incomprehensible from the day Iran got put on the "axis of evil" list.

Consider: the United States military takes down two governments to the East and West of Iran, both of whom the Iranians had longstanding feuds with, leaving Iran the only regional power left standing. Rather than working with Iran from the get-go on both of these operations, which would have been the natural Machiavellian thing to do, the Bush administration chooses instead to antagonize them and continues to do so even now. The Iranians shrug and play right along, allowing al Qaeda members to stay in their "custody" and meddling in Iraq, since there's nothing in it for them to do otherwise -- and every reason for them to keep the US bogged down and busy, since Bush has already telegraphed a big fat "YOU'RE NEXT" message to them.

If you're the Iranian Supreme Leader, what do you do in this situation? Pretty much what they're doing now: jerk everyone around and eat the clock, all the while reaching for the Bomb as an anti-invasion insurance policy as fast as you can get it. All you have to do is get one functioning nuclear missile and you're set, and the odds of anyone being both able and willing to stop you are slim. The Iranians are not stupid; they know full well that there's currently no political will in the US for yet another war, and that starting one would be political death for the already beleaguered Republicans. Read more »

Simple Rules -> Complex Worlds

"I'm interested in the process and strategies for design. The architect Christopher Alexander, in his book Pattern Language formalized a lot of spatial relationships into a grammar for design. I'd really like to work toward a grammar for complex systems and present someone with tools for designing complex things."
-- Will Wright, 1994 Wired interview

I don't know just how much of an inkling Wright had back then of just how far he was going to push that idea, but twelve years later he's done exactly what he said he would. For those unfamiliar, Wright is the mastermind behind Sim City and the entire Sim[Noun] series of games. I've always been lukewarm to those games, but earlier today I watched the half-hour demo for his new game, Spore, and had what I can only describe as a "HOLY SHIT" moment. Said moment was defined by Rands as a moment "where the unlimited potential of a 'thing' just spills out of it":

I have two litmus tests for this type of realization. It's either when I start calling random friends who haven't heard from me in months just to tell them, "HAVE YOU SEEN NAPSTER? DO YOU REALIZE THAT THE WORLD JUST CHANGED?" The other test is when I try to explain the HOLY SHIT to someone I know will never get it. "NO SEE, YOU CAN BUY ANYTHING ON EBAY. ANYTHING. NO I DON'T KNOW WHAT EBAY STANDS FOR GRRRRRRRRRRRR".

Such was my reaction upon watching the video demo of Spore, whereupon I immediately started bombarding two of my ex-girlfriends with manic exclamations trying to get across how clever it was. I'm still trying to get my thoughts in order, but my tentative in-a-nutshell description is this: Spore is to video games what Wikipedia is to encyclopedias. The genius of both is that the architects of the system only lay out the process and largely leave the users to generate the content, and the emergent result is more complex than anything a single mind (or small group of minds) could have accomplished. Read more »

Punishing the Poor

On a related note to Randall's post below on development, I'd note that not all of the problems of developing countries are indigenous. I'd like to draw some attention to the moral travesty that is U.S. tariff policy. As it stands, taxes on imports in OECD countries seem practically calculated to make it difficult for developing countries to get a leg up. In the case of the US, effective tariff rates against the least developed countries are, on average, about four and a half times higher than for the world as a whole. Below the fold I've reproduced a couple of tables from a report by Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute. Read more »

Opposite Day: Immigration

It may seem a bit of a strange way to begin here at Catallarchy, but in the spirit of the growing Opposite Day fad, I'm going to turn my first post over to my curmudgeonly twin brother (dizygotic, of course), Matthias. Read more »

Matt\'s Bio

The runt of the Catallarchy litter, Matt McIntosh was born on the chilly morning of December 10th, 1985. He has resided in Canada for nearly all of his life and has spent more time in the UK than in the US (hence his tendency to spell words like "colour" with a U), but also has US citizenship which enables him to call himself an American whenever it's convenient. Ultimately he is a cosmopolitan who would rather be loyal to ideas than any nation. Read more »