Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bildt to Last?

Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister and the man now coordinating Europe's foreign policy -- insofar as it has one -- has everything going for him. He's telegenic, charming, experienced, and ambitious. Savvy when it comes to the media, he has a cunning, deft touch for geopolitics. One month into Sweden's six-month presidency of the EU, Bildt has already provided a pleasant contrast to the equivocating, dissembling politicians that usually serve as Europe's public face. To put it kindly, he's a rare commodity among his colleagues in Brussels these days.

That, however, is precisely the problem: Bildt is too damn good. Qualified, robust, and charismatic, Bildt is an odd fit for an EU paralyzed by the need for consensus among its member states. Before he ever came to Brussels, the assertive Swede had already upset some of the EU's heavyweights. The trouble began in Germany, which doesn't care for Bildt's career-long tough tone on Russia. France wasn't keen on Bildt's vigor for EU expansion into the Balkans and Turkey. He's ruffled feathers in Spain for marshalling Sweden's recognition of Kosovar independence. And Cyprus didn't take kindly to Bildt's suggestion that it may have provoked the Turkish military invasion that continues to territorially divide the island nation.

So while Europe watchers are enjoying the Carl Bildt show in Brussels, it's no surprise that his colleagues in the EU bureaucracy are already angling to ensure he's denied any opportunity to stick around past his current six-month stint. The EU will likely be in the market for a robust foreign minister next year, if the Lisbon Treaty is passed as expected. And although European policymakers unanimously acknowledge that Bildt is qualified for the post, everyone knows that he won't be tapped. He would never survive the horse-trading negotiations that member states partake in to divvy up EU portfolios.

The probable brevity of Bildt's time in Brussels speaks to the quiet aspirations of today's EU -- and its aversion to anyone who tries to upset the status quo. Bildt has run afoul of the upside-down value system currently framing Europe foreign policy. His preference for a unified EU, acting as a confident strategic actor on the international stage, crosses a de facto red line for states loathe to see the EU chart a bold course. The 60 year-old Bildt, who came of age as a thinker at a time when politicians and intellectuals sought refuge from war in the power of international organizations, embraces the EU as a means to oversee the continent's wars, peace and security. It's an ideal he's lived out, partnering with Richard Holbrooke in Dayton to bring an end to the Bosnian war in 1995 and later serving in Sarajevo as an envoy, first for Europe and then the United Nations.

Back then, Bildt was not so out of place. The late 1990s were heady times for the EU. European countries had successfully fought together in Kosovo - a big test for the Union. And in 1999, when Joschka Fischer, then Germany's foreign minister, gave a speech at Berlin's Humboldt University outlining his vision of a deeply integrated, "federalized" Europe, policymakers seriously considered moving in that direction. Indeed, earlier that same year, the EU had agreed to appoint a "high representative" to coordinate the union's common security policies. The momentum was toward greater cooperation at home and more dynamic action abroad.

But as elsewhere, the September 11 attacks changed everything. Ulrike Guérot, director of the Berlin office of the European Council of Foreign Relations, calls that day the "tipping point" back toward a quiet, decentralized Europe. With the United States demanding quick commitments and signs of support for first "the global war on terror" and later the divisive Iraq campaign, European member states lost confidence that the EU could represent all their interests. Some countries joined the "coalition of the willing," and others began to more nakedly pursue their own national interests in foreign policy. Trust unraveled, and the spirit of compromise was drained from agenda-setting meetings. Countries were more apt to employ their veto rights than before.

Into this circular firing squad steps Bildt, in an EU hierarchy where the first line of any bureaucrat's job description is to avoid offending member countries' national interests. That means any prospective EU foreign minister is going to have to be a blank slate, and needless to say, Bildt doesn't qualify.

For a start, Bildt's rhetorical gifts and media savvy are a problem as far as the big member states are concerned. The new office of high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy will have more autonomy to set the EU's foreign-policy agenda, more money to pump into it, and a newly developed European foreign service to pursue it. France, Germany, and Britain dread the headache of taming an official who might be inclined to independently set foreign-policy goals. Their (un-visionary) vision of a model High Representative more closely resembles the incumbent Javier Solana -- an uninspiring public figure who has always emphasized behind-the-scenes consensus- building among European member states.

Bildt's strong connections to the United States don't help, either. Many of those with a stake in common European foreign policy believe in an independent Europe, one that's generally distrustful of Washington and prepared to distance itself from the United States at a moment's notice. In contrast, Bildt has made the transatlantic relationship a hallmark of his career. In fact, he first made his mark in foreign affairs pleading for closer between the United States and Sweden. In the 1980s, he challenged the Cold War foreign policy consensus in Stockholm, arguing for a firmer stance against the Soviet Union after its submarines allegedly entered into Swedish maritime territory. His image in Sweden has occasionally suffered for his Atlantic aficion -- not least, two years ago, when it came to light that he was a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which lobbied for the assault on Baghdad.

For now, Bildt is trying to make all he can of his six months near the top of the EU hierarchy. His agenda is ambitious. He's promised Iceland expedited entry into the union, and made it a priority to improve ties with countries on the EU's eastern border. Bildt is also working the diplomatic circuit hard to ensure a good showing at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

Few doubt that he will impress. Even pronounced Bildt skeptics, like German diplomats, are glad that someone with his knowledge and experience will be at the helm to manage the tricky negotiations that will follow the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty -- or to lead crisis negotiations should it fail to pass. The same crowd, of course, is also happy that Bildt will be packing his things and returning to Stockholm at year's end.

In truth, it's fitting that he won't be sticking around Brussels. Bildt might represent the public figure that today's Europe needs, but he's far better than what it deserves.

Make Them Wait

No one said diplomacy with Iran would be easy. And now, before it even started, the Iranian election crisis has left Tehran politically paralyzed and Washington without a clear diplomatic path ahead. Iranian centrifuges keep spinning, leading some to think that September should be the deadline for Iran to accept the U.S. offer of talks. Although diplomacy must remain the policy, the momentous upheaval in Iran has completely changed the political landscape. Opening talks with Iran's current government at this decisive moment could backfire severely. Indeed, now is the time for a tactical pause with Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama has stated that the United States is in a wait-and-see mode until Iran's post-election crisis comes to a conclusion. Clearly, that has not happened yet. The Iranian opposition is alive and kicking. Two weeks ago, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani cast doubt on the election results during the Tehran Friday prayers, an important venue for political speeches. A day later, former President Mohammad Khatami upped the ante and called for a referendum on the elections and the government. And presidential hopeful Mir Hossein Mousavi continues to defy Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accusing him of insulting the Iranian nation by claiming that the protesters are acting on behalf of foreigners. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the official election winner, is entangled in a battle with conservatives over his cabinet picks.

The opposition's resilience has clearly taken Ahmadinejad and Khamenei by surprise. At a minimum, the opposition has deprived Ahmadinejad of any sense of normalcy, forcing him to devote several hours a day to address the election dispute instead of advancing his own political agenda. Khamenei is increasingly resorting to warnings and threats rather than calls for unity and reconciliation. "The elite should be watchful, since they have been faced with a big test. Failing the test will cause their collapse," Khamenei said last Monday in a speech that many perceived as verging on desperation. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad now seem to be off balance.

The dispute between the Ahmadinejad government and the opposition is about far more than a disputed election. It goes to the core question of whether there is a peaceful path toward changing Iran's political system from within. For a population that is highly critical of the government, but values stability, the existence of such a path has been important. It enabled Iranians to push for gradual, controllable change without risking another revolution that could end up like the previous one, when one unpopular, repressive political system was replaced with another.

If Ahmadinejad succeeds in silencing his internal critics and opponents, many will conclude that this path has been closed. Iran cannot be changed through the ballot box if people's votes won't be honored. The likely result will be a radicalized population whose opposition to the government will be met with increased repression at home and more adventurism abroad.

The Obama administration should avoid repeating the key mistake of the Bush administration, for which Iran was solely viewed through the prism of its nuclear program. Delaying nuclear talks a few months won't make a dramatic difference to Iran's nuclear program. It could, however, determine which Iran America and the region will be dealing with for the next few decades -- one in which democratic elements strengthen over time, or one where the will of the people grows increasingly irrelevant to Iran's decision-makers.

Moreover, even nuclear talks would have a negligible impact on the election dispute, Iran currently is not in a position to negotiate. Some in Washington believe that the paralysis in Tehran has weakened Iran and made it more prone to compromise. But rather than delivering more, Iran's government currently couldn't deliver anything at all. The infighting has simply incapacitated Iranian decision makers.

Iran's lack of capacity creates a tremendous danger for the White House. Of all scenarios the Obama administration could end up facing -- an Iran that refuses to come to the table, for example, or an Iran that only uses talks to play for time -- the worst scenario is another one: where the parties begin talks according to the set timetable, but fail to reach an agreement due to an inability to deliver. If talks fail, U.S. policymakers will be left with increasingly unpalatable options as a result.

Obama should not be married to any artificial deadlines. Pushing for talks now simply because he decided on a timetable before the elections could undermine the chances for diplomacy to succeed. Paradoxically, the best way to enhance prospects for diplomacy might actually be not to pursue diplomacy for now. Better instead to make a tactical pause, see how things develop, and be ready to engage at the right time.

The List: The World's Biggest Military Boondoggles


Country: Britain

Budget: $10.6 billion for six ships

Status: Delayed

The plan: Advertised as the "world's most advanced warship" by defense contractor BAE Systems, the T45 is the Royal Navy's next-generation air defense platform. The destroyers will be armed with the newly developed Primary Anti-Air Missile System, whose surface-to-air Aster missiles are said to be capable of destroying a fist-sized target traveling at Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, from 19 miles away.

But this destroyer's problems more than match its ballyhooed capabilities. The T45 has been plagued by delays and massive cost overruns -- the project is two years behind schedule and 29 percent more expensive than estimates initially suggested. The HMS Daring, Britain’s first T45, was rushed into service late last year without a missile system -- all but crippling the ship -- and won't be fully operational until as late as 2011. Recent reports suggest the Ministry of Defence wants to put a T45 in the Thames River during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to ward off any attempts at an airborne terrorist attack.


Country: Russia

Budget: $500 million and counting

Status: Stalled

The plan: Russia's minister of defense hopes to have this missile operational by the end of 2009, but even after 10 years of work, it’s still not clear the kinks have been ironed out. A variant of the land-based Topol-M missile, the Bulava is a three-stage projectile with a theoretical range of 8,000 kilometers. Allegedly hardened against electromagnetic, physical, and radioactive interference, and possibly capable of making in-flight evasive maneuvers, the missile is touted by some supporters as unstoppable.

The Bulava can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, each with a 150-kiloton yield. It was created in part to modernize the sea-based arm of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, but mostly to restore the country's pride and self-confidence after the political and economic instability of the 1990s. The missile’s only downside may be that it just doesn't work. Out of the Bulava's 11 flight tests, six -- including the latest one this month -- have failed. Back to the drawing board.

Country: China

Budget: Unknown

Status: In development

The plan: The Chinese are known to have considered a domestic aircraft-carrier program in the past, and have even purchased old Soviet-era carriers to take apart and examine. Beijing made waves in April when it announced ambitious plans to construct its own “large surface-combat ships” and other sophisticated naval weapons systems as part of a massive ongoing modernization campaign. The government claims it will finish two carriers in the next decade: a lighter, 60,000-ton craft ("085 Project") by 2010, which would house between 30 and 40 J-10 fighter jets -- or 10-20 Russian Su-33s -- and the big kahuna ("089 Project"), a world-class, 93,000-ton nuclear-powered super carrier for 2020.

But can China deliver? Critics say the country has neither the technology nor the skills nor the time to achieve its targets. It could conceivably field a small carrier fairly soon -- a military hardware expo on July 4 revealed mock-ups closely resembling a Soviet Kuznetsov-class vessel. That type of carrier, however, doesn’t feature the steam catapults necessary to launch heavier, more sophisticated planes off the deck. China would have to design such a system from scratch or modify its
existing maglev technology to fit. The albatross potential here is considerable.


Country: France

Budget: $4.7 billion and counting

Status: Stalled

The plan: The French Navy is eager to procure a second aircraft carrier to replace two that were scrapped in recent years. The asbestos-infested FNS Clemencau (pictured) was decomissioned in 1997, and the Foch was sold to Brazil in 2000. With a displacement of 75,000 tons, the Porte-Avions 2, known as the PA2 for short, will likely be powered by electric engines and should have room to carry roughly 50 aircraft. The project began as a joint effort between France and Britain, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy withdrew from the agreement last year, saying he wouldn't make a final decision about ordering a new carrier until 2011.

Critics complain that postponing the PA2 project would leave France without a single carrier when the FNS Charles de Gaulle gets a refit starting in 2015. But the delays could actually play to the country's advantage. The PA2 was to use Britain's experimental Queen Elizabeth-class design -- an unpopular architecture that ruled out any possibility of a nuclear-powered engine.

New design studies being conducted this year suggest that France might ultimately reject the British design altogether, start from scratch, and include all the features it wanted the first time around. The bad news? France has allocated only $280 billion to its entire defense procurement budget for the next decade, and 30 percent of that will already have been spent by the time Sarkozy makes up his mind.


Country: Multiple

Budget: $27.7 billion

Status: Endangered

The plan: Under a contract awarded to the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company, the A400M military transport aircraft is being designed for nine countries. The plane boasts four special turboprop engines (allegedly the largest ever made in the West) and can take off and land on short runways. It is built to hold as many as 120 soldiers in full battle gear, up to 66 stretchers for evacuating the wounded, or nine military cargo pallets.

But the versatile plane isn't going anywhere fast. Nearly 200 of them are on order, yet the project is almost four years overdue and $7 billion over budget. At this point, the nine customers could cancel their orders, get a partial refund amounting to $8.5 billion, and reinvest it in much cheaper American C-130Js. But they won't, because while the contract doesn't explicitly contain a "buy European" clause, this is the European Union’s opportunity to prove it has its act together on defense. It may have to wait a while.

Iraq, the unraveling (XX): "Time to declare victory and go home?"

Colonel Timothy Reese's suggestion is appealing, of course. And he is good in listing everything that is going wrong. Reading his lists, you'd almost think the situation in Iraq is unraveling:

1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.
2. The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki
3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.
4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.
5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.
6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.
7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.
8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.
9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US's business.


1. If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. US combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.

2. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the ISF is incapable of change in the current environment.

a) Corruption among officers is widespread

b) Neglect and mistreatment of enlisted men is the norm

c) The unwillingness to accept a role for the NCO corps continues

d) Cronyism and nepotism are rampant in the assignment and promotion system

e) Laziness is endemic

f) Extreme centralization of C2 is the norm

g) Lack of initiative is legion

h) Unwillingness to change, do anything new blocks progress

i) Near total ineffectiveness of the Iraq Army and National Police institutional organizations and systems prevents the ISF from becoming self-sustaining
j) For every positive story about a good ISF junior officer with initiative, or an ISF commander who conducts a rehearsal or an after action review or some individual MOS training event, there are ten examples of the most basic lack of military understanding despite the massive partnership efforts by our combat forces and advisory efforts by MiTT and NPTT teams.

The question the colonel's memo begs is just how bad it gets after we leave, and whether Turkey, Iran and more intervene more than they have already. What are the chances of a regional war? Feeling lucky, punk? Well, are you?

What happens after we leave? How do we mitigate the damage done? I really don't see how hanging a "mission accomplished" banner would work any better for the Obama administration than it did for the Bush administration.

Obama's China street-cred is Nixonian (but not what you think)

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this week's Strategic and Economic Dialogue between top U.S. and Chinese officials is how amicable and sedate it has been. The Washington Post described how Chinese officials heard "soothing words of reassurance" in lieu of the traditional litany of currency and trade complaints. Secretary Clinton acknowledged that there may not have been a lot of concrete achievements, but said the talks laid the groundwork for closer ties. Meanwhile, the Chinese currency remained roughly fixed against the dollar, just as it has been since last summer.

Had this been a Bush Strategic Economic Dialogue, one could have expected howls of outrage: The American worker is being sold out! When will the administration get tough? Don't they know what has happened to manufacturing employment? Let's pass a law and force their hand! I suspect a McCain administration would have been similarly attacked. Indeed, it is a sign of how far Sino-American relations have come that a U.S. leader on the left now enjoys an advantage over his right-wing counterparts in the eyes of most Americans when negotiating economic issues with China.

Just think back almost forty years ago to how Nixon was uniquely positioned to open relations with the People's Republic. The issue then was whether a president who made such an overture would be seen as soft on communism. As an ardent and well-established anti-communist, Nixon was relatively immune to such attacks. In the same way, Obama is now relatively immune to attacks that he is soft on China's currency. He's not lacking in his desire to bring change, and of course, he's not doing any better in delivering it. He's just more credible when he says he can't.

To be sure, there were some grumbles even for the Obama team. Simon Johnson writes:

The US should put on the table the possibility of more assertively taking China to the World Trade Organization over its fundamentally undervalued exchange rate and associated trade policies ... The Treasury apparently thinks it should be deferential and on the defensive vis-a-vis China. This is not only bad economics, this is bad geopolitical strategy.

The economic arguments for a reorientation of the Chinese economy and an appreciation of China's currency are compelling and are qualitatively the same as they have been for several years. China's current economic path is unsustainable. The day of reckoning has only been brought closer by China's recent approach to stimulus through wild bank lending. As Derek Scissors puts it: "China's economic policies have shifted from being unsustainable over the very long term to being unsustainable for any more than one year."

So why not threaten and abuse the Chinese until they push their currency up by 20 percent? That would encourage Chinese consumers to buy up newly-cheap imports and would help reverse China's astonishing surpluses and reserve accumulation.

The answer: because there's no sign it would work. For the Chinese leadership, this is their paramount domestic issue. Their legitimacy rests heavily upon a record of economic success. A wrenching and sudden economic shock, of the sort that would come with a large appreciation, would threaten to flood the streets of southern China with aggrieved, unemployed workers. On the other hand, a gradual appreciation of the currency would threaten to flood China with inflows of hot money as global investors perceive a guaranteed return. None of China's choices look particularly appealing, but it is the central domestic issue they need to fix.

To draw a parallel, imagine that the Chinese delegation had arrived in Washington this week and issued an ultimatum: Obama must set aside plans for expanding health care coverage, and whatever savings or increased revenue he can muster should be used to pare down unsustainable federal budget deficits. The Chinese did no such thing, of course. They are vocally worried about U.S. deficit spending, but they are sensible enough to realize that no external threat would deter Obama on this point; his promise to deliver on healthcare is at the core of his political legitimacy.

With similar good sense, Clinton and Geithner opted to build understanding in this week's S&ED rather than to pick a fight. The rationale is the same as that given in the Bush administration, though, so how does Team Obama avoid getting lambasted as their predecessors did? If anything, recent economic developments make the question more acute: the U.S. labor market is distinctly worse than before, and we are -- for the moment -- less dependent on the Chinese for financing as the U.S. current account deficit has dipped sharply.

Obama has street-cred on China in a way his predecessor did not. Whenever bilateral talks end and an administration is left extolling the virtues of better mutual understanding, it raises the question of whether diplomatic imperatives trumped advocacy. That was clearly the suspicion in the Bush administration; hence the recurrent attempts at legislation demanding more economic advocacy. In Obama's case, there is greater confidence among the critics that he has done all he could.

This week culminated six months of "new" diplomacy toward China, and the results look indistinguishable from the old diplomacy. It's laudable that the two sides are working to better understand each other, but for each, domestic political imperatives still trump the urgings of a foreign partner.

Digo amor y digo libertad..


Digo amor y digo libertad
porque se que es algo más que compartir la soledad;
digo amor y entrego a los demás
los rincones que me sobras y no quieres ocupar.

Amor... mejor vivir provisional que la rutina es una amor mortal...
amor... reposa tu silencio aquí en mi pecho
que me entrego todo entero como soy.
Digo amor y digo libertad
que tu cuerpo es el timón que hace dibujos en el mar;
digo amor y digo en realidad
que el amor como las plantas si se riega crecerá,

Amor... no vuelvas tarde a casa que la noche es más oscura en soledad.
amor... reposa tu silencio aquí en mi pecho
que me entrego todo entero como soy.
Digo amor y digo libertad
y las cosas que me empujan a vivir con los demás:
digo amor y nombro la amistad
canto al hijo y hasta olvido a los que quiero olvidar.

Amor... desnudos somos uno y me sorprendes con tu cuerpo de cristal.
amor... reposa tu silencio aquí en mi pecho
que me entrego todo entero como soy.
Digo amor y digo libertad
que el amor me libera

From humble tool to global icon

In Switzerland, there is a saying that every good Swiss citizen has one in his or her pocket.

It is an object that is recognised all over the world, and it is globally popular.

But the Swiss army knife had humble beginnings, and, at the start, it wasn't even red.

In the late 19th Century, the Swiss army issued its soldiers with a gun which required a special screwdriver to dismantle and clean it.

At the same time, tinned food was becoming common in army rations. Swiss generals decided to issue each soldier with a standard knife.

It was a life-saver for Swiss knife makers, who were, at the time, struggling to compete with cheaper German imports.

"My great-grandfather started a small business in 1884, 125 years ago," explains Carl Elsener, head of the Swiss knife manufacturer Victorinox.

"He was making knives for farmers, for in the kitchen and so on, and then he heard that the Swiss army wanted a knife for every Swiss soldier."

Carl Elsener senior seized that opportunity with both hands, and designed a knife that the army loved.

"It was a very simple thing," explains his great-grandson. "It had a black handle, one big blade, a tin opener and a screwdriver."

Global cult object

Now, to mark the 125th anniversary, that first knife is on display at an exhibition at the Forum for Swiss History, together with hundreds of other Swiss army knives.

"The thing about the army knife is that it really has become a kind of global cult object," says Pia Schubiger, curator of the museum. "Everyone seems to have one, lots of people even have collections of them, and we wanted to explore this phenomenon."

Exhibits include the "Schweizer Offizier Messer", or Swiss Officer's Knife, which came on the market a few years after the soldier's knife.

The original Swiss army knife, with its one blade
The very first knife was designed to dismantle guns and open tinned food

A more elegant design, it included a corkscrew and a pair of scissors.

Interestingly, the officer's knife was never issued to those serving in the army. The Swiss military purchasers considered the corkscrew not "essential for survival", and so officers had to buy this knife individually.

But it was this design, says Carl Elsener, which launched the knife as a global brand.

"After the Second World War, Europe was full of American soldiers," he explains. "And as they could buy the Swiss army knife at PX stores (shops on military bases), they bought huge quantities of them."

"But it seems "Schweizer Offizier Messer" was too difficult for them to say, so they just called it the Swiss army knife, and that is the name it is now known by all over the world."


Today, there seems to be a knife for every kind of activity. There are knives with altimeters for mountaineers and knives for anglers with special tools to get hooks out of the mouths of fish.

But not every prototype proved successful, and some of these are on display as well, including a knife with a pencil sharpener. It made an ugly bulge at one end of the knife, and was eventually rejected.

Then there is the knife with a special blade for cutting cheese in precise slices of exactly the same shape and thickness. It seems that even in Switzerland, there was not enough of a market for this one.

And in pride of place, there is the knife which no-one will ever put in their pocket, but which has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. With 314 blades, it is the world's biggest penknife.

Visitors also have the chance to make their own knives - a basic design, including the ever popular corkscrew, bottle opener, tweezers, toothpick and screwdriver.

Space shuttle

Master knife makers can put one together in less than two minutes, but for amateurs it takes much more time, patience, and a very steady hand. Nevertheless, visitors to the exhibition are queuing up to try.

It is a sign of just how successful the idea has become, despite one or two false starts, like the cheese blade.

The Swiss army knife has even been into space with the crew of the space shuttle.

And an oversized copy is on display in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Its original designer probably never dreamt of such attention.

"I do not expect my great-grandfather ever had the idea that the Swiss army knife would be popular over the whole world, and become a symbol for Swiss quality and reliability," says Carl Elsener.

"I think for him his vision was, in his small workshop, to manufacture a knife for the Swiss army."

Quien puso mas....

Entra los restos del naufragio la memoria,
como un sombra
Despues de casi nueve inviernos el final

Quien puso mas?
Tu y yo nos hechamos en cara
Quien puso mas?
Que incline la balanza
Quien puso mas?
Calor, ternura comprension
Quien puso mas amor?

Sigo poniendo dos cubiertos en la mesa,
y dos copas de vino
No existe noche que no sea un,
Y los dos recuerdos son un gran
rompecabezas y dolor
Son mis nueve otonos contra el dedo acusador
solos tu y yo y la gente alrededor......

Cuando se pierde el miedo ..

Cuando se pierde el miedo es porque antes uno se ha sentido primero comprendido, luego amado, luego ayudado... Cuando se pierde el miedo se habla, se cuenta, no es necesario fingir, no es ya necesario mentir... Ya no es necesario llevar la mascara puesta ante todos.

El amor no proviene de los otros, sino de uno mismo.....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Graft and Oil: How Teapot Dome Became the Greatest Political Scandal of its Tim

In the 1920s, Teapot Dome became synonymous with government corruption and the scandals arising out of the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Since then, it has sometimes been used to symbolize the power and influence of oil companies in American politics. In the days before Watergate, one historian called it “the greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics.”

Teapot Dome is a geological feature in Wyoming, named for nearby Teapot Rock, and the site of an oil field. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson designated that oil deposit as Naval Oil Reserve Number 3—reserves Number 1 and Number 2, in Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills , California, respectively, had been similarly identified by President William Howard Taft in 1912. These reserves were created to guarantee that the Navy would have a sufficient supply of oil in wartime. However, their establishment was controversial—oil interests believed that the reserves were unnecessary and could be developed privately. In addition, private wells surrounded the naval reserve fields, siphoning off their underground deposits.

That was the situation facing Albert Fall, one of President Harding’s poker pals, when Harding appointed him as Secretary of the Interior in 1921. As a lawyer in New Mexico Territory, Fall had represented mining and timber companies, and had invested in mining himself. As US Senator from New Mexico after 1912, he’d shown little interest in the conservation movement, and conservationists, led by Harry Slattery and Gifford Pinchot, viewed him as hostile to their ideas. When Fall tried to open Alaska’s oil, coal, and timber to extensive private development, the conservationists were quick to organize and defeat his plans. Similarly, when Fall tried to move the National Forests and federal Forestry Service under his control at the Department of the Interior, the conservationists blocked him. In their efforts, conservationists could count on help from a number of progressives in Congress, notably Senator Robert La Follette, a leader of the progressive wing of the Republican Party.

Stymied in his efforts to acquire more control over western natural resources and make them more easily available to developers, Fall turned to the naval oil reserves. He persuaded the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby, and President Harding to transfer the naval oil reserves to the Interior Department. He then secretly, and without competitive bidding, leased the Teapot Dome oil rights to Harry Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company and the Elk Hills oil rights to the Pan-American Petroleum Company, owned by Edward Doheny, a longtime friend of Fall’s. When the news became public in April 1922, conservationists and small oil producers in Wyoming, who objected to the secrecy and lack of competitive bidding, raised a storm of protest. La Follette called for a Senate investigation, and the Senate approved the resolution.

Fall argued that his actions were perfectly reasonable and beneficial to the Navy, since the reserves were threatened by privately owned oil wells that were draining the Navy’s oil. Granting a single lease to pump the reserved oil, Fall reasoned, was the most efficient means of saving it. The leases required Sinclair and Doheny to calculate royalties for the oil they pumped from the naval reserves, and use the royalties to construct and fill fuel storage facilities for the Navy in California, Pearl Harbor (Hawai'i), and elsewhere. Sinclair was also to construct a pipeline from Wyoming to Kansas City, which would be available for other oil producers as well. Fall claimed that secrecy, and hence no competitive bidding, was necessary because the storage facilities could be targets in a war.

When the Senate opened its investigation, Fall delivered a truckload of documents to the committee, snarling the investigators in a mass of paper. He then resigned from office in January 1923. The investigation, led by Senator Thomas Walsh, Democrat of Montana, with assistance from Slattery, finally got underway in October of that year. Though nothing seemed objectionable in the materials delivered by Fall, Walsh began to dig into reports of improvements to Fall’s ranch. In January 1924, testifying before the committee, Doheny revealed that he had loaned Fall $100,000, and that his son, Edward Doheny, Jr., together with his son’s close friend, Hugh Plunkett, had delivered the cash to Fall in a satchel. However, Doheny denied that the loan had any connection to the Elk Hills lease. Similarly, Sinclair acknowledged that he’d given Fall some livestock but denied any connection to Teapot Dome. Congress thereupon asked the President to take action to cancel the leases and name special counsel to investigate and prosecute those responsible for any wrongdoing.

Harding’s sudden death in August 1923 released him from mounting an investigation of his scandal-plagued administration. He had appointed friends such as Fall to high positions in the government where many of them took bribes, embezzled government money, and committed fraud. He died before investigators could determine the full extent of his cronies’ corrupt activities.

President Calvin Coolidge, who had become president when Harding died, announced he would appoint two special prosecutors, one Democrat and one Republican, to take over the investigation. Owen J. Roberts, a prominent lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice, was the Republican; Atlee Pomerene, a former US Senator from Ohio, was the Democrat. Under their leadership, the investigation discovered that one of Sinclair’s companies had transferred $233,000 in Liberty Bonds (bonds issued by the federal government during World War I) to Fall’s son-in-law, and that Sinclair had also contributed substantially to the Republican party.

As the Teapot Dome scandal unfolded, Democrats gleefully planned a 1924 presidential campaign against Republican corruption. Teapot Dome was only the most dramatic example of corruption by Harding’s appointees. Other scandals had emerged in the Veterans Bureau and in the office of the Alien Property Custodian (responsible for the property of Germans and other enemy aliens during World War I). One scandal implicated Harding’s Attorney General, Harry Daugherty. Coolidge, however, provided the Republicans with an image of flinty integrity, and his actions in appointing the special prosecutors, in demanding the resignation of Daugherty and Denby, and in naming the highly regarded Harlan Fiske Stone as Daugherty’s successor seemed to demonstrate that he would not tolerate corruption in his administration and that his standards for Cabinet appointments were much higher than Harding’s had been.

The Democrats proved to have oil problems of their own. Doheny was a Democrat, who had contributed to the Democratic Party; through his various business enterprises, he had hired a number of prominent Democrats at various times. During the Senate hearings, a Republican Senator led Doheny to reveal that four previous members of Woodrow Wilson’s Cabinet, all important leaders of the Democratic party, had been on his payroll after leaving public office. Most significantly for the Democrats, Doheny had paid William Gibbs McAdoo $50,000 per year for several years as a legal retainer. McAdoo, the leading Democratic presidential prospect and well known as a progressive, was now tainted by oil money. Though a major problem, Doheny’s money was not the only problem with McAdoo’s campaign, and he failed to secure the nomination. Instead, the Democrats nominated John W. Davis, a conservative lawyer who specialized in representing corporations. As a result, most progressives in both parties supported the third-party candidacy of Robert La Follette. Coolidge won easily. In the end, though both Republicans and Democrats had tried to use Teapot Dome to embarrass their opponents, neither party drew much advantage from the events.

By the time Walsh’s investigation finally wound down, he had found only circumstantial evidence against Fall. Roberts and Pomerene, however, found additional evidence and filed a total of eight cases, two civil and six criminal. In 1929, Fall was convicted on charges of accepting a bribe from Doheny—the only guilty verdict in the Teapot Dome case. Fall, the first Cabinet member convicted of a crime committed while in office, was fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in prison. Doheny, however, was acquitted of offering the same bribe to Fall; both men always insisted that the $100,000 was a loan, and Doheny eventually foreclosed on Fall’s ranch. With Fall now destitute, his fine was excused. After all appeals failed, he arrived at prison in 1931 but was released after nine months due to poor health. In 1929, Doheny’s son was murdered by Plunkett, who then committed suicide; Plunkett may have feared that he’d be sent to prison for helping to deliver the cash to Fall.

Like Doheny, Sinclair was acquitted of bribing Fall, but served several months in prison for contempt of Congress and contempt of court. Doheny and Sinclair remained wealthy and powerful until their deaths. Doheny is memorialized by Doheny State Beach in California, the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary’s College in southern California, the Doheny Library (a memorial to his son) at the University of Southern California, and the Doheny Eye Institute (created by his wife). Sinclair Oil Corporation remains a major supplier of oil and gasoline in twenty-two states.

In 1924, in reaction to the Teapot Dome scandal, President Coolidge set up the Federal Oil Conservation Board to encourage closer coordination in oil production between the federal government and the oil industry. Its activities laid the basis for a loose interstate oil cartel that set crude oil prices until 1973.

Walsh’s work set important legal precedents for the power of Congressional investigating committees. Sinclair had refused to answer some questions before the Senate committee on the grounds that Congress had no jurisdiction over his private affairs. In Sinclair v. United States, in 1929, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Senate to investigate the effect of the laws it passed. Earlier, in a spin-off investigation from Teapot Dome, Attorney General Daugherty’s brother, Mally Daugherty, had been called before a Senate investigating committee, but refused to appear. In McGrain v. Daugherty, decided in 1927, the Supreme Court recognized that Congress had significant power to investigate the lives and activities of private citizens in carrying out its Constitutional duty to legislate, even though the Constitution nowhere specifically grants an investigatory power to Congress. Thus, the Walsh hearings produced a significantly broader understanding of the role of Congress as an investigatory body.

The special prosecutors filed two civil cases to cancel the disputed oil leases. Both cases were appealed to the Supreme Court which voided the disputed oil leases in 1927, on the grounds of corruption and actions without basis in law. Teapot Dome and Elk Hills were then shut down, although Elk Hills was opened during World War II. In 1976, in response to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74, Congress directed that the naval reserves be brought into full production. They were transferred to the Department of Energy in 1977. Production at Elk Hills made it one of the largest producing oil fields in North America. In 1995, President William Clinton proposed selling the Elk Hills reserve as part of his administration’s efforts to reduce the size of government and to privatize some federal functions. In 1996, Congress approved legislation that directed that Elk Hills be sold to the highest bidder. Occidental Petroleum Company took over operations there in 1998 in the largest single divestiture of federal property in the history of the US government. The Buena Vista Hills reserve was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 2005. The Department of Energy retains control of Teapot Dome, which currently produces a small amount of crude oil and natural gas and earns approximately $5 million per year for the federal government.

Playing the Jesus Card ? Why is Netanyahu courting Christian fundamentalists?

Benjamin Netanyahu has a problem. The Obama administration is insisting on a settlements freeze, and the Israeli prime minister, who is resisting such demands, is not getting the support he might have expected from the U.S. pro-Israel community. Usually, when an American President makes any sort of demand on Jerusalem, pro-Israel (primarily Jewish) organizations compel Congress to pressure the president to cease and desist. It usually works. But not this time.

So what's an Israeli leader to do? Netanyahu is resurrecting a tried and true strategy: Call on Christian fundamentalists -- who see maintaining Israel's occupation as paramount -- to galvanize popular pressure against Obama. But just like the last time he played this trick, the tactic is unlikely to work magic for Bibi anytime soon.

For one thing, it's clear that Netanyahu is on shaky ground with the mainstream pro-Israel lobby on settlements. At the president's meeting with Jewish leaders at the White House on July 13, Obama heard virtually no criticism of his policy on settlements. Even the more conservative Jewish groups held their tongues. The only exception came when one participant urged the president not to change his policy but to keep his differences with Israel private, such that there would be "no daylight" visible between Israeli and American positions. Obama responded that past administrations did not have much success with that approach. "For eight years, there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished," he said.

There are numerous reasons why the Jewish community is not rushing to Netanyahu's defense. First, there has never been much support in the United States for West Bank settlements. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, has never taken a stand favoring settlements nor have most of the other mainstream pro-Israel organizations. The up-and-coming pro-Israel, pro-peace organizations like J Street and my employer, the Israel Policy Forum, oppose settlements and fully support the president's position.

On top of that, Netanyahu has never been a popular figure in the American Jewish community. His last tenure as prime minister was a failure; he was turned out of office in near-record time. Yet even in this brief stint, he managed to antagonize the United States. Remember, he came to office less than a year after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and moved quickly to undo the peace process. Not surprisingly, that led to a swift deterioration in relations between Netanyahu and then President Bill Clinton, who had cherished his relationship both with Rabin and the Oslo peace process.

Sensing the frost, and knowing that getting in Clinton's good graces would require endorsing Oslo, Netanyahu turned to the Republicans and to the Christian Zionists for support. There was nothing subtle about Netanyahu's embrace of the right. In fact, during the Monica Lewinsky crisis -- when he clearly believed Clinton was done for -- the media carried reports about Netanyahu joking with House Speaker Newt Gingrich over some of the more salacious details of the affair.

At about the same time that Netanyahu started cozying up to right-wing Republicans, the Israeli government intensified its efforts to court so-called Christian Zionists. These are fundamentalist Christians whose theology dictates unwavering support for the state of Israel.

Unlike most pro-Israel Jews, Christian Zionists emphatically support Israeli settlements and oppose the two-state solution. By no means liberal, they do not raise questions about Israel's treatment of Palestinians. They are, quite simply, Netanyahu's natural constituency -- far more natural than the Jewish community, which tends to be too dovish for Bibi's taste.

So, sure enough, Netanyahu was the man of the hour at this week's Christians United For Israel (CUFI) conference in Washington. The organization's founder, Pastor John Hagee, addressed Netanyahu -- who was in Israel -- by satellite, telling him that 50 million Christians support "Israel's sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit and not yield to the pressure of the United States government."

Netanyahu expressed his gratitude. "Today millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for freedom, millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for truth, millions of Christians stand for Israel because they want to see genuine peace in the Holy Land," he said. The triumvirate of Netanyahu, Hagee, and Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov now plan to cement their alliance by conference call every three months.

It has all the makings of a zero sum game: Netanyahu and other right-wing Israelis hope that the support they gain from the Christian right can help make up for what they have lost among American liberals over the past several years.

It won't. Christian Zionists of the CUFI variety are hardcore Republicans. Their votes are never up for grabs in elections because they are owned by the GOP -- and not because of Israel. Right-wing Christians, including Christian Zionists, support Republicans for the party's stance on abortion, gays, taxes and a host of other conservative issues. Neither the Democrats (who will never get their votes or their campaign contributions) nor the Republicans (who will always get both) have any need to court them. So, loud and organized as they are, this subset of the American right is not a major political player.

On the Israel issue, the only domestic constituency that matters is the Jewish community and, thus far, it is supporting Obama -- not Netanyahu -- on the settlements issue and the peace process. That should be no surprise, given that most Jews are Democrats and 78 percent of them voted for Obama over McCain.

So long as that support holds, Obama has a free hand on Arab-Israeli affairs. And it will hold as long as the president's popularity remains high. If Obama's support declines --whether due to a failure on healthcare or anything else -- some of his Jewish support will erode too. And that would give Netanyahu the opening he wants to enlist the Jewish community in his effort to stop Obama's pressure on Israel.

In any case, it will be the Jews who make the difference, not Netanyahu's irrelevant fundamentalist Christian allies. Like most card tricks, this one is pretty easy to crack.

Why Japan's aging, shrinking population is bad for the United States

Japan's relationship with the United States over the past half-century has been one of remarkable resilience, even through the end of the Cold War and the emergence of new security threats in Northeast Asia. During his February meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, U.S. President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of the alliance by declaring it "the cornerstone of security in East Asia." But a change is occurring in Japan that could rock the foundation of this happy partnership, something far more dangerous for the United States than the prospect of an opposition victory in the upcoming general election: Japan is getting old.

In fact, Japan is the grayest country in the world, with 21.5 percent of its population 65 or over. Not only is the Japanese population aging, it's also shrinking, from 127 million today to a projected 89 million by 2055, the result of a plunging fertility rate. This unfortunate combination is causing the country to lose its edge and dynamism. Older workers are less innovative; older, more "mature" markets attract less investment. Older populations live off savings, rather than generating new capital. And, as the number of working-age citizens diminishes, pension funds will be exhausted and tax revenues and government budgets will be squeezed.

The demographic transformation will in effect become a guillotine, cutting off policy options as Japan tries to deal with the needs of an elderly population. For example, Japan will be more likely to prioritize healthcare than international security. Older societies are typically more risk-averse, and Japanese -- "reluctant realists" at the best of times -- will be increasingly unwilling to put their most precious resource, their young, in harm's way.

This shift poses serious questions for the United States and its increasingly important relationship with Asia. The U.S.-Japan alliance has moved steadily forward over the last decade, with Japan assuming a higher profile when it comes to regional security. But we have probably seen the high-water mark of Japan's international security activities. Even though the region is increasingly tense, Japanese defense budgets have actually declined in recent years (and Japan continues to cap defense spending at 1 percent of GDP) -- a fact that could put U.S. interests in Asia at risk.

Financially, too, considering that Japan's savings has bankrolled much of U.S. spending in recent decades, the country's increasingly elderly population is going to hit the American empire where it hurts. U.S. trade negotiators have long targeted Japan's trade surplus with the United States, but those funds have been recycled back to America to suppress the value of the yen, finance consumption of Japanese-made goods (and support employment), and help the United States cover its steadily expanding government deficits. Until late 2008, Japan was the number one holder of U.S. Treasury bills. (China has overtaken Japan, but as of February 2009, Japan still held $662 billion in T-bills, putting it just behind China.)

An aging Japan will no longer be able to recycle those surpluses. More precisely, an aging Japan won't have those surpluses: Its trade accounts will fall into deficit, and funds that do exist will be badly needed at home. This process is already underway as the country's savings rate declines. According to estimates by the consulting firm McKinsey, the total savings rate in Japan is projected

One clear day in February, when Ali Babacan visited Yemen, his hosts brought him to a centuries-old, mud-brick building outside Sanaa, the Yemeni capi

One clear day in February, when Ali Babacan visited Yemen, his hosts brought him to a centuries-old, mud-brick building outside Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. There, about a dozen tribal leaders were waiting for the Turkish foreign minister with curved daggers drawn. If Babacan was at first startled, he soon realized that he was being greeted in a way once reserved for newly arrived Ottoman governors—complete with drums and a traditional dance that had probably not been performed for a Turkish official in almost a century.

Not so long ago, top Turkish officials didn’t bother to visit Yemen, or for that matter most other countries in the Middle East. In the nearly 90 years since the founding of the modern Turkish Republic, its leaders have tended to equate the East with backwardness, and the West with modernity—and so focused their gaze primarily on Europe. Meanwhile, Arab countries, once ruled by sultans from Istanbul, looked upon Turkey with a mixture of suspicion and defensive resentment.

Today that’s changing. Not only is Turkey sending emissaries throughout the region, but a new vogue for all things Turkish has emerged in neighboring countries. The Turkish soap opera Noor, picked up by the Saudi-owned MBC satellite network and dubbed in Arabic, became a runaway hit, reaching some 85 million viewers across the Middle East. Many of the growing number of tourists from Arab countries visiting Istanbul are making pilgrimages to locations featured in the show. In February, Asharq Alawsat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, took note of changing attitudes in a widely circulated column, “The Return of the Ottoman Empire?”

This new mood started at home. Since it first came to power seven years ago, Turkey’s government, led by the liberal-Islamic Justice and Development Party, has taken a different approach to its role in the region. The mastermind of this turnaround—“neo-Ottomanism,” as some in Turkey and the Middle East are calling it—has been Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign-policy advisor. In his 2001 book, Strategic Depth, he argued that in running away from its historical ties in the region, Turkey was also running away from political and economic opportunity. His strategy has paid off, literally, for Turkey. Trade with the country’s eight nearest neighbors—including Syria, Iran, and Iraq—nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008, going from $7.3 billion to $14.3 billion. And, from being on the verge of war with Syria a decade ago, Ankara is now among Damascus’s closest allies in the region.

The Ottoman past is also in the air in Turkey. At a recent government rally, one enthusiastic supporter unfurled a banner proclaiming the prime minister “the last sultan.” Moviegoers have been flocking to see a new spate of Ottoman-themed films, from The Last Ottoman, an action flick set during World War I, to Ottoman Republic, a comedy imagining daily life in modern Turkey if the sultans were still in charge.

Istanbul’s newest cultural attraction is the municipal-run Panorama 1453 History Museum, a granite-clad building just outside the city’s ancient walls that tells the story of the Ottomans’ conquest of Byzantine Constantinople. In the gift shop, visitors can buy everything from cuff links emblazoned with the sultans’ seal to a 1,000-piece puzzle showing Mehmet the Conqueror entering Constantinople on horseback.

On a recent visit, I met a group of head-scarved women who were taking in the sights and sounds of the museum’s main exhibit: a circular diorama depicting Mehmet the Conqueror’s victorious final assault on Constantinople’s walls. “This is beautiful, most beautiful,” said one 28-year-old schoolteacher with a big smile, as the sound of thunderous cannon fire played in the background. “We must know our history.”

Nationalism is nothing new in Turkey. Yet for much of the last century, it has meant rejecting the country’s Ottoman history. Today it means claiming it.

The Longest Shadow

If you want to say someone is not to be trusted in Fon, a language spoken in coastal Benin and Togo, the best phrase to use translates as “This person will sell you and enjoy it.” The Fon region was, tellingly, one of the historical epicenters of the transatlantic slave trade. That era’s legacy of mistrust endures today.

Economists Nathan Nunn of Harvard University and Leonard Wantchekon of New York University recently compared historical data on the slave trade with contemporary household surveys on community relations. They found that in regions of Africa where the slave trade was most concentrated, people today extend less trust to other individuals: not only to foreigners, but also to relatives and neighbors. Nunn thinks the trauma associated with the slave trade continues to stall economic development in affected regions of Africa. Major shocks, he says, can “change people’s behavior in ways that seem pretty permanent.”

The New Coups

A coup d’état can only mean that a country is going from bad to worse, right? Perhaps it’s time to reexamine what happens on the morning after.

Hein Goemans, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, has compiled an index of the causes and outcomes of 202 unconstitutional seizures of power since 1960. Recently, he teamed up with Nikolay Marinov, a political scientist at Yale University, to hunt for patterns.

Marinov points to a common assumption: “Everyone knew what happened after coups. The people who took power would retain power and rule autocratically.” Indeed, coups have historically led far more often to brutal dictatorships—think Chile’s Pinochet or Indonesia’s Suharto—than democracies.

Yet the researchers think that a new pattern has emerged since the end of the Cold War. Coups occur far less frequently today, according to their work. Between 1960 and 1990, an average of six coups took place annually (1963 was a high-water mark, with a whopping 12 coups). But in the last dozen years, the frequency has dropped to roughly half that.

Perhaps more importantly, the strongmen who’ve ridden recent coups to power have enjoyed less political longevity. Between 1960 and 1990, the majority of these leaders (8 in 10) held onto power autocratically for at least five years. But since 1990, more than two thirds of governments resulting from coups have allowed competitive elections within five years. In most cases, these elections have resulted in governments changing hands.

What’s different today? Goemans and Marinov speculate that one factor is external: Since the end of Cold War rivalry for spheres of influence, Western powers have become less willing to tolerate dictatorships—and more likely to make aid contingent upon holding elections.

As Marinov explains, “What’s changed these days is that once these guys are in power, they now actually have to rule.”

Dangerous Leviathans

The 21st century must be—if we are to survive it—an age that all nations, including Russia, understand as ill-suited to Hobbesian philosophy.

Russia’s gladiatorial posturing worries its neighbors.

An assertive Russia has raised fears of a new Cold War by cracking down at home and flexing its muscles abroad. But to understand those worrisome trends, forget about Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin—certainly most Russians have.

Think back instead to the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who thought that the natural human condition is a “war of all against all”; that the security of a people depends on a strong, even authoritarian, state; and that successful states are those that strike the “posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another.” That sounds a lot like the recipe Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been following for much of the last decade with his slogans about “managed democracy,” “the vertical of power,” and “the dictatorship of law,” as well as his insistence on treating neighboring states as belonging to Russia’s sphere of “privileged interests.”

Now contrast this Russian version of Hobbesianism with the alternative vision of statehood and statecraft associated with Immanuel Kant. That giant of the Enlightenment spent most of his long life (1724-1804) teaching logic and metaphysics at Albertina University in the East Prussian city of Königsberg. Kant is the secular patron saint of today’s Europe. In his political writings, he advocated—and foresaw—a perpetual peace, based on democratic rule at the national level; a “confraternity of trade” among nations (an early version of the Common Market); a federation of like-minded states (much like the European Union); and even an alliance of republics to deter and, if necessary, defeat aggressive empires (a prophecy of NATO).

In our day, the pairing of Hobbes and Kant is often shorthand for the dichotomy between “realists” and “idealists.” But Kant did not come to his vision while dreaming. He was wide awake to the realities of his own time, including the violence and disruption of the Seven Years’ War. For five of those years, East Prussia was gobbled up by the Russian Leviathan. The city fathers of Königsberg had to swear allegiance to Catherine the Great. In the markets and shops that Kant passed every day on his meditative constitutionals, trade was conducted in rubles.

That episode presaged what happened to Kant’s hometown two centuries later. As a result of an agreement between Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill in Potsdam, Königsberg was ceded to the Soviet Union, the city’s Germans were deported, and the ruble again became the local currency. The cosmopolitan port was closed off from the world, in the process acquiring a new name: Kaliningrad.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it has recently been in the news. On Nov. 5 of last year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy ballistic missiles targeted against Poland from Kaliningrad. It is hard to imagine a development that more vividly demonstrates how Russia has reassumed the posture of a gladiator, pointing its weapons and fixing its eyes on imaginary enemies. Although Russia has much to worry about, including the devastating consequences of the global recession, it has nothing to fear from neighboring Europe. The EU has been transformed from a region that had experienced a major war every generation since the 17th century into a zone of democratic peace.

Medvedev made his threat on Barack Obama’s first day as U.S. president-elect. After eight years of George W. Bush’s Euroskepticism, today the United States has a president committed to the transatlantic coordination of strategy toward Russia. The essence of that strategy should be, over time, to convince the Russians that their post-Marxist, post-Soviet, Hobbesian experiment is, in fact, unrealistic: Playing geopolitics as a zero-sum game simply won’t work to Russia’s advantage in an age of interdependence, global challenges, and transnational governance. The 21st century must be, if we are to survive it, an age that all nations, including Russia, understand as ill-suited to gladiators and leviathans—an age that will reward countries that share a commitment to transparency, cooperation, and mutual benefit. The search for common solutions to common problems—including the global economic crisis and climate change—will require a rule-based, consensual international system to which Russia will have to adapt if it is to be a full beneficiary of what that system has to offer.

One piece of Lenin’s otherwise discredited worldview still applies. He liked to say that history and the future both could be reduced to two pronouns: “who—whom.” That is, “Who will prevail over whom?” If Russia’s future is to be better than its past, then Kant will have to prevail over Hobbes.

Calculating the cost of human foibles. Economists have suffered a collapse in credibility since the global financial crisis began. Faith in the effic

Calculating the cost of human foibles.

Economists have suffered a collapse in credibility since the global financial crisis began. Faith in the efficiency of markets and the invisible hand is out; “behavioral economics,” which stresses that humans are fundamentally irrational actors, is in. We are blind to risk; we make decisions on a whim; we prefer consuming now over saving for later. Human fallibility seems to be the perfect explanation for an unfathomable crisis. Here’s how—after years of being considered a quaint subfield—behavioral economics has finally stolen the limelight.

The List: Faulty Towers

Rossiya Tower Moscow, Russia

Ambition: Russian oil and real estate magnate Shalva Chigirinsky and British architect Norman Foster shared a dream of erecting the tallest building in Europe. Intended as the centerpiece of a new business district, the planned 2,008-foot Rossiya Tower would have had 118 floors, featuring luxury apartments, office space, and a five-star hotel.

Reality check: The credit crunch hit Chigirinsky’s portfolio hard, and the project lost most of its financing. The completion date has been pushed back four years to 2016.

Bottom line: Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is especially keen to see the project move forward; he has been urging Chigirinsky to sell his stake to a rival developer. It remains to be seen whether municipal aspirations will trump the personal pride of one of Russia’s most successful capitalists.

Nakheel Tower Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Ambition: Dubai’s vaunted state-run developer Nakheel—famous for creating the emirate’s palm-shaped islands—announced plans three years ago to build a 3,280-foot skyscraper, the highest in the world. The tower, already under construction, was designed as the centerpiece of a massive $38 billion, 5,800-square-mile waterfront development project.

Reality check: Cranes stopped moving in January. With Dubai’s economy in free-fall, Nakheel announced that construction would be suspended for a year as the company adjusts its financing to “better reflect the current market trends.”

Bottom line: The developers’ halted efforts will exist in the shadow, literally, of rival developer Emaar Properties’ nearly completed Burj Dubai tower, currently the world’s tallest building.

The New World Trade Center New York City, United States

Ambition: After years of political bickering following the September 11, 2001, attacks, New York finally agreed on an ambitious plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. The final blueprint includes the 1,400-foot, Daniel Libeskind-designed Freedom Tower, as well as smaller skyscrapers conceived by star architects Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.

Reality check: The slumping New York real estate market has forced developer Larry Silverstein to delay construction on most of the towers indefinitely.

Bottom line: Instead of the Foster and Rogers towers, Silverstein now plans to erect two small buildings for retail space that could one day be converted to “pedestals” for the towers whenever the market recovers.

A Letter to a Former Friend

On the second day of Operation Valfajr 10 (also known as Operation Dawn 10), as fresh fighters came to replace those who had fought for 48 hours straight, the air above the Khormal road was full of smoke, preventing the Sokho fighter planes from attacking us. Our faces either blackened from soot or made so deliberately, but we Basijis could still recognize one another at night. Most of us still teenagers, we were exhausted from days of fighting the Iraqis. Resting beside the road, we waited for the truck to come and pick us up.

I turned to the fighter next to me and asked if he had water. He gave me his gourd to drink from. As I got the water, I noticed his lips, chapped raw from thirst. I asked him: "What about you?" He said he was not thirsty and that I should drink the water. I asked him what his name was. Mojtaba, he replied. He said he was from Tehran.

I didn't see him again until the war was over and we had returned to Tehran. From the war, despite the smoke and darkness, no one forgot a face. Several years later, I recognized the man who had given me his water; he was Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of then president Ali Khamenei, who is now known as the leader! Here's a letter I'd like to send him today.

I turned to the fighter next to me and asked if he had water. He gave me his gourd to drink from. As I got the water, I noticed his lips, chapped raw from thirst. I asked him: "What about you?" He said he was not thirsty and that I should drink the water. I asked him what his name was. Mojtaba, he replied. He said he was from Tehran.

I didn't see him again until the war was over and we had returned to Tehran. From the war, despite the smoke and darkness, no one forgot a face. Several years later, I recognized the man who had given me his water; he was Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of then president Ali Khamenei, who is now known as the leader! Here's a letter I'd like to send him today.

Greetings, Mojtaba! I know you haven't forgotten me. We were close friends. I still recall the trips we made together. You were simple and cordial and it is awfully difficult for me to believe what I hear, that you stand behind Iran's recent massacres and murders. I can't accept that you, a person who would willingly sacrifice his life for his country, are the one behind a coup d'état and sedition that has shed dozens of Iranians' blood on the streets.

Mojtaba! Is this really you? Life takes rather unexpected turns! I accept that these days, we differ greatly from one another, but we can't deny the past. We have a similar history, one that we take pride in. We have defended our country, rifle in hands, and have killed to save our country from deterioration. We took pride in standing against the Baath army when it was supported by the whole world, while our country and nation stood alone. In those days, neither you nor I ever imagined standing against our own people, unlike what seems to be your cup of tea these days.

Perhaps you have heard of the recent killings, seen photos, and watched the video of Neda getting shot. When I saw the photographs of this innocent young woman dying in the street, arms and eyes open, it reminded me of one of our martyred friends from the war, laying lifeless on the ground for their country.

Mojtaba! Your pride should lie in having been a Basiji and a war hero, not in being the son of the leader. Don't you see how the nation is being crushed? Don't you see the blood in the streets? You are the same person who was ready to sacrifice his life for his country. You are that person with the raw, thirsty lips who gave his gourd to me to drink. Why are you silent? I can't believe you may be behind all these crimes against humanity. I don't accuse you, but how can you watch and not speak a word of protest? Could it be that you take pride in your father's regime and follow his lead so that his rule can continue?

I have kept and treasured my uniform, covered with dirt and blood from the war, and maybe you have done the same. If you have, I want to ask you as a former friend, fellow fighter, countryman, and fellow human being to look at it and question where you stand today. Ask yourself where all those martyrs would have been standing today had they been alive. Would you and your supporters be pointing your smoking guns at our friends Hemmat, Broujerdi, Bakeri, and Khanjani?

Mojtaba! It will not be long before every Iranian cries to reclaim his or her rightful place, and the nightly calls of Allaho Akbar (God is Great) on the rooftops are a testimony to that. It will happen whether you or your father want it or not. The future belongs to those who are heirs to the innocents whose blood is being spilled in the streets. You watch all this, but like a sleepwalker pass through without seeing. Shame on the one who is not asleep but pretends to be!

Wake up, Mojtaba...

Your former friend,
Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

The China Bubble's Coming -- But Not the One You Think

Financial commentators are obsessively debating whether the recent rise in the Chinese stock market means there's a bubble -- and if so, when it's going to burst.

My take? Who cares! What happens to the broader Chinese economy is what we should really be watching. It will have a far-reaching impact on the rest of the world -- much more far-reaching than a decline in stocks.

Despite everything, the Chinese economy has shown incredible resilience recently. Although its biggest customers -- the United States and Europe -- are struggling (to say the least) and its exports are down more than 20 percent, China is still spitting out economic growth numbers as if there weren't a worry in the world. The most recent estimate put annual growth at nearly 8 percent.

Is the Chinese economy operating in a different economic reality? Will it continue to grow, no matter what the global economy is doing?

The answer to both questions is no. China's fortunes over the past decade are reminiscent of Lucent Technologies in the 1990s. Lucent sold computer equipment to dot-coms. At first, its growth was natural, the result of selling goods to traditional, cash-generating companies. After opportunities with cash-generating customers dried out, it moved to start-ups -- and its growth became slightly artificial. These dot-coms were able to buy Lucent's equipment only by raising money through private equity and equity markets, since their business models didn't factor in the necessity of cash-flow generation.

Funds to buy Lucent's equipment quickly dried up, and its growth should have decelerated or declined. Instead, Lucent offered its own financing to dot-coms by borrowing and lending money on the cheap to finance the purchase of its own equipment. This worked well enough, until it came time to pay back the loans.

The United States, of course, isn't a dot-com. But a great portion of its growth came from borrowing Chinese money to buy Chinese goods, which means that Chinese growth was dependent on that very same borrowing.

Now the United States and the rest of the world is retrenching, corporations are slashing their spending, and consumers are closing their pocket books. This means that the consumption of Chinese goods is on the decline. And this is where the dot-com analogy breaks down. Unlike Lucent, China has nuclear weapons. It can print money at will and can simply order its banks to lend. It is a communist command economy, after all. Lucent is now a $2 stock. China won't go down that easily.

The Chinese central bank has a significant advantage over the U.S. Federal Reserve. Chairman Ben Bernanke and his cohort may print a lot of money (and they did), but there's almost nothing they can do to speed the velocity of money. They simply cannot force banks to lend without nationalizing them (and only the government-sponsored enterprises have been nationalized). They also cannot force corporations and consumers to spend. Since China isn't a democracy, it doesn't suffer these problems.

China's communist government owns a large part of the money-creation and money-spending apparatus. Money supply therefore shot up 28.5 percent in June. Since it controls the banks, it can force them to lend, which it has also done.

Finally, China can force government-owned corporate entities to borrow and spend, and spend quickly itself. This isn't some slow-moving, touchy-feely democracy. If the Chinese government decides to build a highway, it simply draws a straight line on the map. Any obstacle -- like a hospital, a school, or a Politburo member's house -- can become a casualty of the greater good. (Okay -- maybe not the Politburo member's house).

Although China can't control consumer spending, the consumer is a comparatively small part of its economy. Plus, currency control diminishes the consumer's buying power. All of this makes the United States' TARP plans look like child's play. If China wants to stimulate the economy, it does so -- and fast. That's why the country is producing such robust economic numbers.

Why is China doing this? It doesn't have the kind of social safety net one sees in the developed world, so it needs to keep its economy going at any cost. Millions of people have migrated to its cities, and now they're hungry and unemployed. People without food or work tend to riot. To keep that from happening, the government is more than willing to artificially stimulate the economy, in the hopes of buying time until the global system stabilizes. It's literally forcing banks to lend -- which will create a huge pile of horrible loans on top of the ones they've originated over the last decade.

But don't confuse fast growth with sustainable growth. Much of China's growth over the past decade has come from lending to the United States. The country suffers from real overcapacity. And now growth comes from borrowing -- and hundreds of billion-dollar decisions made on the fly don't inspire a lot of confidence. For example, a nearly completed, 13-story building in Shanghai collapsed in June due to the poor quality of its construction.

This growth will result in a huge pile of bad debt -- as forced lending is bad lending. The list of negative consequences is very long, but the bottom line is simple: There is no miracle in the Chinese miracle growth, and China will pay a price. The only question is when and how much.

Another casualty of what's taking place in China is the U.S. interest rate. China sold goods to the United States and received dollars in exchange. If China were to follow the natural order of things, it would have converted those dollars to renminbi (that is, sell dollars and buy renminbi). The dollar would have declined and renminbi would have risen. But this would have made Chinese goods more expensive in dollars -- making Chinese products less price-competitive. China would have exported less, and its economy would have grown at a much slower rate.

But China chose a different route. Instead of exchanging dollars back into renminbi and thus driving the dollar down and the renminbi up -- the natural order of things -- China parked its money in the dollar by buying Treasurys. It artificially propped up the dollar. And now, China is sitting on 2.2 trillion of them.

Now, China needs to stimulate its economy. It's facing a very delicate situation indeed: It needs the money internally to finance its continued growth. However, if it were to sell dollar-denominated treasuries, several bad things would happen. Its currency would skyrocket -- meaning the loss of its competitive low-cost-producer edge. Or, U.S. interest rates would go up dramatically -- not good for its biggest customer, and therefore not good for China.

This is why China is desperately trying to figure out how to withdraw its funds from the dollar without driving it down -- not an easy feat.

And the U.S. government isn't helping: It's printing money and issuing Treasurys at a fast clip, and needs somebody to keep buying them. If China reduces or halts its buying, the United States may be looking at high interest rates, with or without inflation. (The latter scenario is most worrying.)

All in all, this spells trouble -- a big, big Chinese bubble. Identifying such bubbles is a lot easier than timing their collapse. But as we've recently learned, you can defy the laws of financial gravity for only so long. Put simply, mean reversion is a bitch. And the longer excesses persist, the harder the financial gravity will bring China's economy back to Earth.

The World’s Worst Sons! The troublesome progeny giving headaches to some of the most powerful leaders on the planet.


Dad: The late former ruler of Abu Dhabi and former president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan

Age: Unknown

Bad behavior: Although he has no formal government position, Sheikh Issa, whose brother Khalifa is the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, is one of the emirate’s most prominent real estate developers. He was previously best known for building the Al Hakema tower, a massive complex in honor of his late father. But thanks to one night in the desert and an ill-advised videotape, Sheikh Issa’s name is now synonymous with sadism and abuse of power.

A video obtained by ABC News shows a group of men, including the sheikh, torturing an Afghan grain merchant who he accuses of cheating him. In the video, which was allegedly shot on his desert ranch at night, Issa fires an automatic weapon around the man, stuffs sand in his mouth, sodomizes him with an electric cattle prod, lights him on fire, and pours salt on his bleeding wounds.

The video was given to ABC by one of Issa’s former business associates, who is suing over various business deals. The man claims to have evidence of 25 other cases of torture by Issa. The UAE’s interior minister -- who happens to also be Issa’s brother -- acknowledged that the man on the tape was him. Issa has been put under house arrest pending investigation, which is extremely rare for a member of the royal family. It will take a lot more than a skyscraper to erase this stain from the family’s reputation.


Dad: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

Age: 38

Bad behavior: Growing up can’t be easy when your father is an eccentric, nuclear-armed egomaniac, especially knowing that your actress mother was forced to divorce her husband and marry him after the Dear Leader got a crush. You can’t really blame Kim Jong Nam for wanting to get away for a while, but an ill-advised trip to Disneyland proved to be the prodigal son’s downfall.
In 2001, Nam, along with his wife and son, was arrested at Tokyo’s Narita airport for trying to enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport bearing the name Pang Xiong, which means “Fat Bear” in Chinese. He reportedly told police, "I wanted to go to Disneyland."

The incident was a major humiliation for Nam’s father, who at the time was riding a rare wave of good press after a visit to Europe and a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Nam was reportedly being groomed as a possible successor, but fell out of favor after his failed bid to meet Mickey. Nam’s younger brother Kim Jong Un is reportedly now next in line.

A man believed to be Nam gave an interview to a Japanese TV station while on a gambling vacation in Macau last month and said he is “not interested” in who will become ruler. Nam denied he had been exiled, saying he was just in Macau for fun.


Dad: Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi

Age: 33

Bad behavior: Colonel Qaddafi has changed his tune quite a bit in recent years , leading a diplomatic offensive to remake his country’s image and improve relations with the West. But his biggest obstacle in this quest may be his hard-partying son Hannibal, who has cut a swathe of destruction across Western Europe worthy of his namesake.

Hannibal first popped up on police radar screens in 2004 when he was pulled over by Paris police for driving his Porsche 90 miles per hour on the wrong side of the Champs Élysées while drunk. Hannibal, who was studying business in Copenhagen at the time, was released due to diplomatic immunity. Two months later, police were called to a Paris hotel after Hannibal started beating his girlfriend. The younger Qaddafi pulled out a handgun, which was promptly confiscated by police. After he was released, police were again called when Hannibal started breaking furniture at another hotel. He was later charged with assault.

Not having learned his lesson about luxury hotels and aggravated assault, Hannibal was arrested in Switzerland last year for beating two of his servants at a hotel in Geneva. Muammar responded as any concerned father would -- by lodging a formal diplomatic protest and expelling Swiss diplomats.


Dad: Chinese President Hu Jintao

Age: 38

Bad behavior: Until this year, few outside of China had ever heard of Haifeng. The president of the industrial scanner company Nuctech, he likely used his father’s connections to make his fortune, winning a lucrative contract to supply security scanners to China’s airports. Until this month, he had mostly kept his name out of the papers. Then, in July, Namibia’s government named Nuctech as the target of a major corruption investigation.

Namibian prosecutors have accused Nuctech of bribing officials to win a contract to supply the country’s airports and customs stations with scanners. Although Haifeng has not been named as a suspect, Namibia’s prosecutor general has personally traveled to Bejing to request that he testify in the trial as a witness.

The case capped off a bad month for Hu Jintao, who had been forced to return from home from the G-8 summit in Rome to deal with riots in Xinjiang. Since news of the scandal broke, there’s been a near-complete media blackout on the story in China. The government has reportedly instructed search engines to “show no search results for all the keywords: Hu Haifeng, Namibia, Namibia bribery investigation, Nuctech bribery investigation, southern Africa bribery investigation.” The fact that Haifeng’s brother-in-law is the founder of China’s largest search engine should help.


Mom: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Age: 56

Bad behavior: The Iron Lady’s dilettante son first made headlines in 1982 when he got lost in the Sahara Desert for four days while competing in the Paris-Dakar motor rally. But the accident-prone young man, who failed his accountancy exams three times, later acquired a fortune by parlaying his mother and his heiress wife’s contacts into a number of lucrative ventures in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

In 2004, Sir Mark was arrested in his home in Cape Town, South Africa, for violating the country’s anti-mercenary laws by financing an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. Thatcher denies any knowledge of the coup plot but later admitted chartering a helicopter used by the mercenaries, supposedly without any knowledge of their intentions. He was fined $500,000 and left South Africa.

Thatcher has had trouble finding a new place to settle. He was denied a visa to travel to the United States after admitting his role in the coup, and even Monaco -- famously a “sunny place for shady people” -- denied his application for residency in the midst of a campaign to clean up its image.