Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

❄ Honourable Hostel of Commons?

The Speaker of the House of Commons has announced his intention to step down. He has been berated by members of the House—some would say scapegoated—embarassed by revelations of widespread abuse of expense accounts by members of Parliament.

The Question

How could the House have managed members’ felt need to live in London, as well as in their constituencies?


The approach of the House had been to provide an expense account from which members living outside of London could draw to house themselves in London.

I have a simple design suggestion. Provide every member with a deliberately small apartment, in one of a number of such hostels, within walking distance of the House. And rather than provide for 646 Members, the current number, reduce the number of constituencies by half, or two-thirds. The savings should pay for the accommodation.

Of course, the proposal could be more elaborate. Offer a number of larger apartments, for which those choosing would pay a fee. Offer a flat-rate cash payment to members declining the provided flat. Let your imagination run free!

[Political Design 2009.05.22. Post A20. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

❄ A 2001-2009 Truth Commission?

In a lecture delivered on February 9th, 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Lahey (D-Vt.) characterized disagreement about confronting the possible illegality of actions undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration of 2001-2009:

“As to the best course of action for bringing a reckoning for the actions of the past eight years, there has been heated disagreement.  There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past.  Indeed, some Republican Senators tried to extract a devil’s bargain from the Attorney General nominee in exchange for their votes, a commitment that he would not prosecute for anything that happened on President Bush’s watch.  That is a pledge no prosecutor should give, and Eric Holder did not, but because he did not, it accounts for many of the partisan votes against him. [Text 1]

“There are others who say that, even if it takes all of the next eight years, divides this country, and distracts from the necessary priority of fixing the economy, we must prosecute Bush administration officials to lay down a marker.  Of course, the courts are already considering congressional subpoenas that have been issued and claims of privilege and legal immunities – and they will be for some time.” [Text 1]

The Question

Would ‘truth and reconciliation’, rather than absolution or prosecution, best serve the people of the United States?


As an alternative to the two positions Senator Lahey summarized, he suggests consideration of a middle way:

“One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission.  We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind.  Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth.” [Text 1]

He continues:

“People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts.  If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions in order to get to the whole truth.  Congress has already granted immunity, over my objection, to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and those who conducted cruel interrogations.  It would be far better to use that authority to learn the truth.” [Text 1]

The Political Design Problem

Would the people and future governance be best-served by a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ or by a ‘truth commission’? Then, what should its charter be? Its powers? And its membership? For example, could this be—should it be?—a bipartisan commission like the 9.11 Commission? And who should staff the commission?

Note: Full Disclosure

On 30 July 2007 I posted to my ‘political’ blog a judgment about the US role in Iraq. In the course of that entry I made this comment about assessment of the Bush-Cheney period:

“We must acknowledge that there has been, and remains, an effort to undermine the Constitution, and document what was done so that firm lines can be drawn against future assaults. Later historians, with yet more access to memories and transactions, may alter this account, but we must begin with what we can. And there will be some specialists in politics who should ask, not to punish but to expose, how it was that the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and then as a minority, and many among the Democrats, failed to exercise their obligation to ‘protect and defend’ the Constitution. All of this should be done in the clear light of day.” [Text 2]


[1] Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy, The 2009 Marver Bernstein Lecture, “Restoring Trust in the Justice System: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Agenda In The 111th Congress”, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, United States Senate. Georgetown University, February 9, 2009. As Prepared.
[2] Bruce Larkin’s Blog. 2007.07.30 “Iraq” http://www.learnworld.com/blog/blog.html

[Political Design 2009.02.10. Post A19. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Designing Denuclearization
I’ve written a brief note on the June 2008 publication of Designing Denuclearization: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Transaction Publishers). Designing Denuclearization puts my case that nuclear weapons abolition should be the subject of focused research and policy discussion, a practical aim of governments to be pursued with urgence in the immediate future. The note includes links to other books I’ve written on war and nuclear policy, and to course materials on nuclear nonproliferation and abolition.

Dust Jacket

You can bring up the note at http://www.gcdd.net/DDBlurb.pdf
This is a key moment to place denuclearization on the agenda, for reasons you know well. Please pass this note along to any friends or colleagues to whom it might be of interest.

[Political Design 2008.08.23 Post A18. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Friday, August 24, 2007


The US political scene is in shambles as states compete to go first, or early, in the ‘primaries’ which allocate delegates to party national conventions reflecting presidential candidate preference expressed in the vote. The party conventions then choose a presidential nominee, who chooses a vice-presidential ‘running mate’.

The Question

Why is it done this way? Historical accretion. No federal law dictates how parties choose presidential nominees. In fact, nothing in the Constitution envisions ‘parties’. Regulation is accomplished by state law and party decision, state by state.


In this section I’ll set out a way to choose presidents which [a] junks the present ‘system’, [b] ensures that every voter is on an equal footing with every other, [c] provides an important contribution by parties, but is free of party control, and [d] offers a framework which, with further legislation, could remove the role of money in determining who can be a candidate to be president, and could therefore put all prospective candidates in a position of equality with all others.

This method makes use of two simple voting procedures which are radically different from the outdated and unfair system taken for granted in the United States. By US custom, candidates run against everyone else, and the biggest vote-getter wins, even if he or she has fewer than 50% of votes cast: the threshold for election is achieving a ‘plurality’.

The first simple method is called ‘OK’ and is useful in ranking the attraction of candidates when there can be many, exactly the case of US primaries. The second method is called ‘preferential voting’; each voter ranks the candidates 1, 2, 3, ... If the voter’s preferred candidate is dropped because he or she has the lowest number of votes, that candidate’s votes are distributed among second choices, and so on. So every voter’s vote counts, though in the end (when a single position, such as the Presidency, is at stake) of course the minority loses.

So here are the steps of this approach, which we can call a   “Checkbox then Choice”   system.

[A] an Election Commission, with a narrow, specific mandate, is constituted.

[B] the Election Law would stipulate that candidates for the primary would be nominated to the Election Commission. Governors and present and past Senate members, and former Presidents and Vice-Presidents, could propose themselves; others could be proposed by designated persons or bodies; and parties with some stipulated result (‘substantial parties’) in the last election could nominate directly to the Election Commission.

[C] the Election Commission would determine [a] if nominees wished to be primary candidates, [b] whether they met the formal requirements (age, native born), and [c] whether they accepted a party endorsement or chose to run as an independent..

[D]   Checkbox  the primary ballot would list all candidates, identifying by party or as independents, who might be dozens; by a check or an X the voter would say “ok” to as many of the candidates as he or she wished.

[E] the primary election would take place on the same day throughout the United States, and no ballots would be counted until the last polling station in Alaska or Hawaii had closed.

[F] the NUMBER with the most votes—say, the top six or eight or ten—would be candidates in the general election. [NUMBER is the number of candidates set in the Election Law, plus the added ‘substantial party’ candidates if any.] In addition, the highest-ranked primary candidate of any ‘substantial party’ would go on to the general election list, even if the number of primary votes received was insufficient.

[G] each of the NUMBER would choose a vice-presidential candidate of his or her party, or an independent in the case of independents, from among the candidates in the primary.

[H] note that there might be more than one presidential candidate from major parties, who could, but need not, cross-list among themselves in designating vice-presidential candidates.

[I]   Choice   the general election ballot would list the NUMBER of candidates, their party affiliation, and the corresponding vice-presidential candidate. Voters would then rank them from 1 to NUMBER (though they would not be required to rank any further than they chose).

[J] in counting the ballots, the usual method to count a ‘Hare system’ or ‘preferential ballot’ would be used. The first choices would be tallied; the candidate with least first choices would be dropped; his or her second choices would be allocated to those remaining. This process would yield a new list of (NUMBER - 1) candidates. The one with least would be dropped. Their second or, in the case of those distributed after Round 1, third choice votes would be allocated, completing Round 2. The candidate with least votes would be dropped &c. &c. until one candidate had more than 50%.

Here are two elective features:

[C.1] all ‘electioneering’ in the weeks leading to the primary election would be done throught the Net. The Election Commission would provide access to candidate’s web sites, where candidates could promote themselves. The Election Commission would pay all bills, up to stipulated maxima, for mounting and serving from these sites, so no funds need go into the hands of the candidate. In short, low and controlled campaign costs, removing donors from the political cycle.

[H.1] similarly in the general election, except that the NUMBER would also be free to roam the hustings and hold events open fairly and without prejudice to any prospective voter. But the time between the primary and general election would be reasonably short: say, four weeks.

And here’s a further twist which you might find attractive. One could argue—though I don’t—that the fact many voters don’t go to the polls should not reduce the weight of the vote in that region. On this argument you could, for example, take the number of registered voters, or citizens of voting age, in each Congressional district, and correct the total vote from that district as if the full number had voted in the proportions of those who actually went to the polls. So if the registered voters were 300,000 but only 200,000 voted, then the vote totals would be corrected by a factor of 3/2 before being sent forward for tally. Of course, there is a strong argument that those who don’t vote should be penalized by their vote’s not counting. But this does reward those who do vote.

To summarize, if NUMBER was eight and the ballot might look like this in 2008:

Please rank the following tickets. Rank your most preferred 1, your next 2, and so on. You may rank all, or fewer than all, as you wish.

Al Gore [Green & Democrat]. VP nominee: Barbara Boxer [Democrat].
Barack Obama [Democrat]. VP nominee: Hillary Clinton [Democrat].
Fred Thompson [Republican]. VP nominee: Mitt Romney [Republican].
Hillary Clinton [Democrat]. VP nominee: Barack Obama [Democrat].
John Edwards [Democrat]. VP nominee: Nancy Pelosi [Democrat].
John McCain [Republican]. VP nominee: Joseph Lieberman [Independent].
Oprah Winfrey [Independent]. VP nominee: Martin Sheen [Independent].
Rudy Giuliani [Republican]. VP nominee: Henry M. Paulson, Jr. [Republican].

The Primary Election ballot uses checkboxes to determine the candidates with the widest favor among voters. The General Election ballot is a preferential ballot by which voters express their rank-order choice among the winners of the Primary.

The Political Design Problem

Can you do better?

Then: how would you go about getting approval for this plan or another?


[1] Electoral Reform Society [UK]

[2] Californians for Electoral Reform

[3] Canadians for Electoral Reform

[Political Design 2007.08.24 Post A17. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


It’s clear from the 2000 and 2004 elections that groups determined to deny citizens their right to vote were active and—for example, in Florida in 2000—successful in promoting their favorite from loser to winner. On this subject The New York Times editorialized on 30 May 2006, in part, that

“In a country that spends so much time extolling the glories of democracy, it’s amazing how many elected officials go out of their way to discourage voting. States are adopting rules that make it hard, and financially perilous, for nonpartisan groups to register new voters. They have adopted new rules for maintaining voter rolls that are likely to throw off many eligible voters, and they are imposing unnecessarily tough ID requirements.

“Florida recently reached a new low when it actually bullied the League of Women Voters into stopping its voter registration efforts in the state. The Legislature did this by adopting a law that seems intended to scare away anyone who wants to run a voter registration drive. Since registration drives are particularly important for bringing poor people, minority groups and less educated voters into the process, the law appears to be designed to keep such people from voting.

“It imposes fines of $250 for every voter registration form that a group files more than 10 days after it is collected, and $5,000 for every form that is not submitted -- even if it is because of events beyond anyone’s control, like a hurricane. The Florida League of Women Voters, which is suing to block the new rules, has decided it cannot afford to keep registering new voters in the state as it has done for 67 years. If a volunteer lost just 16 forms in a flood, or handed in a stack of forms a day late, the group's entire annual budget could be put at risk.

“In Washington, a new law prevents people from voting if the secretary of state fails to match the information on their registration form with government databases. . . . Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, introduced an amendment to require all voters to present a federally mandated photo ID. Even people who have been voting for years would need to get a new ID to vote in 2008. . . .

“These three techniques—discouraging registration drives, purging eligible voters and imposing unreasonable ID requirements—keep showing up. Colorado recently imposed criminal penalties on volunteers who slip up in registration drives. . . .” [1]

The Times returned to the subject in an editorial on 7 June 2006, citing new regulations by the Ohio Secretary of State. [2]

In a letter responding to the Times’ assertion that “the right to vote is fundamental” Representative Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. called attention to the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore that

“The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the president of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.”

Judging that “because it’s not a fundamental constitutional right, Congress doesn’t have the authority to create a unitary national voting system,” Jackson concludes “We need to add a voting rights amendment to the Constitution. That would give Congress the power to create a unitary federal voting system ... ” [3]

The Question

What could be done to ensure that every citizen eighteen or older may exercise the right to vote?


The 14th Amendment specifies that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . .” The 15th Amendment forbids denying a citizen the vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and the 19th Amendment that the vote shall not be denied on account of gender. Similarly the 26th Amendment bars denial of the vote to anyone eighteen or older “on account of age.” [4]

A lay reader would take the 14th Amendment to provide as much protection as any person should require. The problem is that advocates of restriction cloak their aims in ostensibly reasonable purposes, even arguing—for example—that the legislation or practices they prefer are measures to ensure a fair election. Consider, for example, registration. In principle, registration increases the likelihood that there are no ‘ringers’: those voting are resident citizens. But it also requires that citizens have decided to vote and accomplished the registration procedure. There is precedent for Constitutional amendments directed explicitly at a device to prevent citizens from voting: the 24th Amendment bars “failure to pay poll tax or other tax” as a reason to deny or abridge voting in a Federal election. [4]

For a fair election three conditions must be met. The citizen eighteen or older must be identified. The voter must be associated with a location. And he or she must not be able to vote more than once. There are other desiderata: secrecy of the ballot must be assured, the vote must be tallied as cast and aggregated honestly, voters may not casually switch jurisdictions to alter results, and votes should not be for sale. There is growing appreciation that a robust, ineradicable audit trail is an absolute requirement, which any reformed system must incorporate. But we must first be sure we can do three things: identify the voter, associate voter with a jurisdiction, and permit one vote only.

Imagine that when a citizen is born or naturalized he or she is entered on a public list which shows name, date of birth, gender, a complex identifier to reduce erroneous matches, and a unique number. When the person becomes 18, or a person 18 or over is naturalized, his or her name moves automatically to the voter list. At that point every eligible citizen may vote. The citizen declares a place of residence which may, subject to some restrictions, be changed at will. To vote the citizen produces his or her unique voting number.

The Political Design Problem

It’s easy to imagine the problems and requirements which such a system would present. What are they? and how could they be addressed? Once upon a time the Social Security Number could not be used for any other purpose than Social Security identification. Look at what’s happened. How could a voting identifier be kept apart from all use for credit and tracking? And how would the transition from the world we have now to a world of presumed voting eligibility be accomplished? What about arguments concerning prior felony convictions, rules for residence, links to drivers' licenses, party identification?


[1] The New York Times, “Block the Vote.” 30 May 2006. Editorial.

[2] The New York Times, “Block the Vote, Ohio Remix.” 7 June 2006. Editorial.

See also Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, “With new legislation, Ohio Republicans plan holiday burial for American Democracy,” 6 December 2005, critically telling of legislation then before the Ohio state legislature with likely profound effects on forthcoming elections. http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/19/2005/1607ln

[3] Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., letter to the editor of The New York Times, published 5 June 2006.

[4] Amendments 11-27 to the Constitution of the United States. National Archives.

[Political Design 2006.06.06. Expanded 2006.06.07. Post A16. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Sunday, April 30, 2006

❄ IMMIGRATION DESIGN: The Self-Enforcing Immigration System (SEISM)

The United States is now locked in a policy dispute about law to govern immigration into the United States and the status of ‘undocumented’ or ‘illegal’ immigrants already in place.

The Question

What US immigration policy would make the best sense?


A bill promoted by Representative Sensenbrenner in the House defines the problem as one of preventing evasion of entry rules (‘security’) and following the logic of defining aliens whose status is not consistent with law as ‘illegals’ subject to deportation. [1]

A proposal offered in the Senate starts from the assumption that many of those in the United States would agree to pursuing a series of steps toward regularization of their status. It also sets out procedures for workers to come to the United States and work, with the possibility of pursuing permanent status.

The problems are several: [1] there are an estimated 11-12 million ‘undocumented’ aliens already in the United States, and to contemplate mass deportations is absurd; [2] businesses depend on immigrant labor, including that of ‘undocumented’ aliens; [3] some judge that there is a ‘security’ issue in that persons entering the United States who had not been subject to vetting by counter-terrorism procedures could take part in attacks; [4] some do not welcome immigrants; but [5] there are ‘undocumented’ aliens in the United States whose children and spouses, and other relatives, are either US citizens or permanent residents, and maintaining family coherence is an appropriate aim of public policy.

Consider the following approach, which does an end run around several of the barriers to reform.

Call this the Self-enforcing Immigration System (SEISM). Here’s how it would work. Anyone could come to the United States if they met two conditions. First condition: obtaining ‘clearance’ from the United States, an intergovernmental clearance consortium, or a state with which the United States had a clearance agreement, suitably documented. The object is to exclude only those about whom there is reason to believe that their entry would pose a threat to the United States. Using the clearance requirement as a device to limit access to the United States by people with innocent intentions would be an abuse, and safeguards against abuse of the clearance procedure would be necessary. Second condition: that the entrant deposit with the United States a sum—the ‘entry guarantee’— or an equivalent bond (given by the United States, another state, or the intergovernmental clearance consortium) which would earn interest while held and could be returned to the entrant (or the bond provider) upon his or her exit from the United States. [Stipulating that entry guarantee deposits would be returned only to the individual entrant, a state, or the consortium would pose substantial disincentives to exploitation by private lenders.]

What’s interesting about this proposal is that it has no limit on numbers, no limit on length of stay, does not distinguish among purposes for coming (tourism, commercial work, study, intention to remain), and permits any who come to change their intentions while they are in the United States. Intending entrants could seek ‘clearance’ well in advance of intended departure, and there would be straightforward means to update clearances without subjecting travelers to delay. The only distinction, after entry, between citizens and entrants would be those of voting, holding public ofice, and holding sensitive jobs. It would be as if any entrant acquired upon entry the status of a permanent resident—though most would simply leave upon completing their business, study, visit, or tourism. Of course, conviction of committing a sufficiently serious crime could be grounds for deportaton and blocking subsequent entry.

Each entrant would also receive a card upon entering which he or she could use for identification, access to specified public services (such as getting a driver’s license, social security card, library card, or children’s enrolment in public schools) and access to stipulated public goods. What goods? Entrants could earn access to health insurance, unemployment benefits, and welfare benefits in proportion to their length of stay, contributions to social security, and federal tax payments: that is, they would gradually increase their entitlement. Entitlements would be federal charges, reimbursable to the US states. Seniority could be ‘banked’ if entrants chose to leave the United States but returned later.

What would prevent literally millions of people descending on the United States to take up this opportunity? Note the two barriers: clearance and deposit of an entry guarantee. The required entry guarantee would be a substantial sum; there is an expectation that visitors, and many intending immigrants, would be dependent on other sources of their guarantee deposit (their home state, travel agencies, prospective employers). The object, however, would be to modulate the cost so that entering ‘legally’—just getting on a plane and flying in—would be less expensive than meeting the fee of a people smuggler, so driving the smugglers out of business and discouraging people from sneaking across. The United States could also raise the barrier by increasing the size of the required entry guarantee. The effect would not be simply to reward the rich and disadvantage the poor, but to decentralize—for example, to prospective employers and universities competing for able students—decisions to assist entrants in meeting their entry guarantee, shifting choices about the comparative ‘quality’ of prospective entrants to communities, organizations, businesses and universities which would anticipate the closest relationship with the entrant. Note, too, that those who might be smuggled would not have card access to benefits. Of course, no amount of ‘security’ can guarantee that people intending to commit attacks will be unable to find a way to cross the borders; the object is to impose impediments to illegal entry.

I’d speculate that making it easy to come and go would encourage entrants who chose to stay and work to return to their home states. In addition to ‘banking’ seniority there might be good public policy reasons to grant easier access to social security entitlements to those who chose to depart. If the number looking for work more than met need there would be an inbuilt disincentive to come. In short, designers would look for ways to make return attractive, to both empower the individuals and control public costs.

This proposal avoids lots of costs and troubles. There’s no checking to see if employers are hiring ‘illegals’, no police time spent rounding up ‘illegals’, no vetting to determine whether a person‘s stated reasons for coming are true, no incentive for fake marriage, no forced rupture of family. The number seeking work is governed by the market. (There’s little doubt that the Internet will provide people with good information about availability or unavailability of work.) By treating immigration as a national boon, rather than a burden on states supplying education or social services, it relieves the states of uncertain costs.

Would such a sweeping reform be taken seriously? Maybe not. On the other hand, it is comprehensible, simple, and could resolve a number of tough problems. It’s consistent with the best way to resolve ‘the immigration problem’: bringing life prospects in other countries into line with prospects in the United States. There are governmental levers to ‘operate’ the system once it were in place, raising or lowering the required entry guarantee, changing rates of entitlement, altering incentives to leave. There would still be issues for the people’s representatives in Congress to consider, but they would not be about building walls, threatening honest members of our de facto society with deportation, or compelling visa officers to decide whether visa applicants would overstay.

The Political Design Problem

Does SEISM make better sense than present practice? Better sense than proposals on the table? How would it work? What could a serious simulation of SEISM show?


[1] “Sensenbrenner Statement on Immigration Reform Legislation,” 5 December 2005, http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=57638. Key provisions:

“ ... to address some of the problems of our immigration system. Quite clearly, this system is broken and must be fixed. This proposal will focus on preventing illegal immigration by bolstering our border security efforts and beginning a serious interior immigration enforcement effort. This legislation will demand that people follow the law and be held accountable for their actions - whether it's an employer hiring illegal workers, a smuggler trafficking in human beings in a 21st century version of slavery, or a person who ignores the law and enters this country illegally. All will be held accountable.

“While I support establishing a guest worker program, my legislation will not include a guest worker program. I believe it is wise to move cautiously on any guest worker proposal. Currently, we do not have a clear consensus on what a guest worker program should look like. In addition, while significant progress is being made, providing legal immigrants with the timely, efficient, and professional treatment that they deserve remains unfinished business. Serious issues need to be answered, such as how a new guest worker program will impact Citizenship and Immigration Services. ... ”

[Political Design 2006.04.30 Post A15. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Friday, September 30, 2005

❄ North Korea [III]: Agreement?

On 19 September 2005 the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea concluded with a Joint Statement, which is grist for discussing two design problems: what would a conclusive agreement look like? and how could negotiations be designed to reach a conclusion?

There’s no substitute for a close reading of the actual text. Though it’s short, it is rather long for a blog entry. So I suggest you bring it up alongside this note, for which I’ll just pick out some key points.

The Question

What does the Joint Statement suggest for negotiation design?


Each of the two key parties, North Korea and the United States, made key (qualified) commitments. I term these ‘qualified’ because North Korea may require ‘actions’ before IAEA Safeguards begin to operate, and because there is a difference between saying ‘we will not’ and saying ‘we have no [present] intention’. The text:

“The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.

“The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.”

In the July-August sessions of the Fourth Round, North Korea made clear it wanted a light-water reactor program. The United States found that anathema. The Joint Statement finesses this issue by stating

“The DPRK stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss, at an appropriate time, the subject of the provision of light water reactor to the DPRK.”

The parties commit to more talks, and they establish a key principle by which fresh commitments are to be tied to performances [highlight added]:

“  5. The Six Parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the afore-mentioned consensus in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action’.

“  6. The Six Parties agreed to hold the Fifth Round of the Six-Party Talks in Beijing in early November 2005 at a date to be determined through consultations.”

The Political Design Problem

How can the terms of the Joint Statement be used to advance negotiations in the face of deep distrust between the two key parties?


[1] Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks. Beijing,19 September 2005.

[Political Design 2005.09.30 Post A14. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

❄ Imperial Decline

In imperial China it was said that natural disasters meant withdrawal of the ‘mandate of heaven’ from the ruling dynasty.

The more modern explanation is that dynasties, in their later years, failed to give attention to the maintenance of water-control systems, lost capability to collect needed revenue, and spent monies they did collect to maintain the Imperial writ on their borders where it was challenged.

We want to learn from design failures, as well as design projects, and projects brought to completion.

The Question

Did the White House’s withholding flood-prevention funds from New Orleans lead to more serious consequences for that city in Hurricane Katrina—29 August 2005—and its aftermath?


Will Bunch reports that a number of engineering and planning projects were refused funding, or funded at reduced levels. About a US Corps of Engineers propsal he writes:

“In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

“On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: ‘It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.’  ” [1]

The Political Design Problem

Design a study, which respects scientific and engineering judgment, to assess (a) whether, and to what degree, the proposed funding could have mitigated effects of Hurricane Katrina, and (b) why the Administration made the alleged reductions and refusals.


[1] Will Bunch, “Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? Times-Picayune Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues”, Editor and Publisher, 30 August 2005. http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001051313  Bunch reports for the Philadelphia Daily News, and much of his article can be seen on their website at his blog, Attotood.

[Political Design 2005.08.31 Post A13. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Friday, August 26, 2005

❄ Iraq [II]. Gareth Porter on Exit

The Question

Is there a ‘third way’ between abrupt withdrawal and an endless stay?


Dr. Gareth Porter has published a proposal, “The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy,” which is distinguished by its sensitivity to process and consequences.

The Political Design Problem

How can the Americans get out of Iraq?


[1] Dr. Gareth Porter, “The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy,”, Journal of the Middle East Policy Council, v 12, n 3, Fall 2005. http://www.mepc.org/public_asp/journal_vol12/0509_porter.asp; or http://www.mepc.org/public_asp/journal_vol12/porter.pdf as a pdf document.

[2] Cf. Post A07: Getting Out of Iraq. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/2005/08/getting-out-of-iraq.html

[Political Design 2005.08.26 Post A12. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]
[Thanks: Alec Stefansky pointed out Gareth Porter’s article to me.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

❄ North Korea [II]: Light-Water Reactors

Rose Gottemoeller comments on the nuclear negotiations with North Korea that

“Sometimes in a difficult negotiation it makes the most sense to point silently to a principle already established and then move to bolster that principle from an entirely new direction.” [1]

She points to the remnant but extant Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) as the nub from which North Korea’s wish for a light-water reactor program could materialize. Support could come, she suggests, by extending to North Korea an existing US Department of Energy program for cooperation in non-controversial peaceful uses of nuclear materials.

The Question

Are there other principles ‘already established’ which could contribute to an exit from this impasse? Other lateral moves to ‘bolster’ those principles?


North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun told the ministerial meeting of the 12th ASEAN Regional Forum, on 29 July 2005, that “if the nuclear issue finds a satisfactory solution, we will return to the NPT and accept the IAEA inspection.” [2] Is the principle that IAEA inspections can adequately monitor a declared site á propos?

The Political Design Problem

Cf. earlier note on North Korea [A03].


[1] Rose Gottemoeller, “The Process in Place,” The New York Times, 23 August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/opinion/23gottemoeller.html

[2] Xinhua News Agency. “North Korea to Rejoin NPT If Nuclear Issue Resolved Satisfactorily,” 1 August 2005. http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/talks/137089.htm

[Political Design 2005.08.25 Post A11. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [III]

Did the US Army have the names of Mohammed Atta and three of his accomplices, identified as an Al Qaeda cell, in 2000? More on the ‘Able Danger’ controversy, noting especially the deft move of 9.11 Commission chair Thomas H. Kean to put the next step up to the Pentagon.

The Question

How can the members of the 9.11 Commission best pursue whether they were denied crucial information?


The first job is to determine whether assertions of fact are sound, while not taking onto the Commission’s members the task of making that judgment. Commission Chair Thomas H. Kean has

“ . . . called on the Pentagon on Wednesday to move quickly to evaluate the credibility of military officers who have said that a highly classified intelligence program managed to identify the Sept. 11 ringleader more than a year before the 2001 attacks. He said the information was not shared in a reliable form with the panel.

“The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, offered no judgment about the accuracy of the officers&146; accounts. But he said in an interview that if the accounts were true, it suggested that detailed information about the intelligence program, known as Able Danger, was withheld from the commission and that the program and its findings should have been mentioned prominently in the panel’s final report last year.”  [1]

Shifting the move to the other ‘player’ is a standard option in diplomacy, and was treated as a formal ‘move’ by Thomas Schelling in his Strategy of Conflict. [2]

The Political Design Problem

What can we learn about ‘move shifting’ in a negotiation between two parties who are not adversaries, but may have different interests or different views to express?


[1] Philip Shenon, “9/11 Panel’s Leader Requests Quick Assessment of Officers,”
The New York Times
, 18 August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/18/politics/18intel.html

[2] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[Political Design 2005.08.18 Post A10. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

❄ Palestine [I]: Access

Israel claims the right to control the borders of Gaza and the West Bank. This means that Gaza fishermen must remain inside a zone defined by Israel, that movement between Gaza and the West Bank is Israeli-controlled, and that all Palestinian trade must pass through Israeli controls. Moreover, Israel destroyed the Palestinians’ international airport after the onset of the Second Intafada. Israel asserts that these controls are necessary for its security. But the effect of the controls is to deny Palestinians economic security and freedom to come and go.

Disputes about access pose some of the most intriguing problems in political design. In the case of Israel and Palestine, results of the 1967 war are the basis for Israeli claims to sovereignty and border control far beyond its pre-war bounds. A distinction can be made between the pre-war line separating Israel from the West Bank [about which sovereignty would imply no doubt concerning Israel’s right to control entry (subject to the reservation that Palestinian rights to return remain contested)] and the external borders separating Gaza and the West Bank from other states and from non-Israeli waters and airspace.

The Question

Could Israel be brought to accept that it is more in its interest to enable normal Palestinian movement than to insist that the ‘risks’ to its security require enforced controls?


A viable Palestinian economy requires, of course, a stable area not subject to an Israeli claim it may destroy what it chooses. Given Israeli non-intervention, there are four further requirements: free access to the sea to and from Gaza, international air access, freedom to import and export across land borders, and one or more effective connections between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestine, not Israel, would set and administer the rules governing its side of the borders. On the Gaza-West Bank connection, for example, there are proposals to construct a road or rail corridor, elevated, depressed, or on the surface. [1]

Delicate negotiations are taking place with respect to Israeli controls, including controls on movement to and from Israel. Israel’s departure from Gaza, however, does not imply an end to the controls boxing the Gaza rectangle. Nor, at this juncture, is there evidence Israel is prepared to give up,in any respect, its claim of a residual right to govern movement. Instead, Israel retains the ‘unilateral high ground’ by exercising physical control, which no international body is ready to contest by force.

Would it be unjust, for example, to argue that Israel’s freedom to trade with the world should be no greater than that of the Palestinians? Or that Israeli aircraft should have no greater freedom of access to international airports than Israel acknowledges the Palestinians may enjoy?

Should a ‘democracy’ representing ‘the free world’ reward Israel by budgetary subventions while Israel controls Palestinian freedom of movement?

The Political Design Problem

Is there some mix of incentives and disincentives, or guarantees and provisions, or smart constructs, which could shift the balance between ‘interest’ and ‘risk’ to the side of interest?


[1] Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). Gaza-West Bank Passage. http://www.ipcri.org/files/passages.html

[2] US Embassy. London. “Wolfensohn Reviews Gaza Development Plans after Israeli Withdrawal.”  http://www.usembassy.org.uk/midest650.html  26 July 2005

[3] Agence France Presse. “Access to West Bank vital for Gaza economy: Wolfensohn”nbsp; http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20050803/wl_mideast_afp/mideastpullouteconomy_050803184830  3 August 2005

[4] Mustafa Barghouthi, “Make sure ‘Gaza first’ is not ‘Gaza last’ ”. Op-ed. International Herald Tribune, 19 August 2005. http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/08/18/news/edbarghouthi.php

[Political Design 2005.08.17 Post A09. Cite 4: 2005.08.19. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

❄ Iran [II]: Use of Force?

Classic strategy assigns a place to ‘threats’, especially the threat to use force, and ‘deliberate ambiguity’ which leaves the other party unsure whether force will or will not be used. Thomas Schelling further suggested a “strategy that leaves something to chance”, including the risk that restraint will fail. [1]

GW Bush’s stock answer-book has been filled with phrases to use when asked certain questions. When interviewed on 11 August 2005 by Israeli Television Channel 1 he was asked what the United States would do if diplomacy failed to “make sure that Iran does not have a [nuclear] weapon”, Bush’s declared aim. This exchange followed:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, all options are on the table.

Q: Including the use of force?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, as I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any President. You know, we’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country. It’s a difficult -- it’s difficult for the Commander-in-Chief to put kids in harm’s way. Nevertheless, I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure the country and to provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies. [2]

The Question

In designing a strategic approach toward Iran, what place is there for threats of force?


The threat of force—US military force—anchored the UN Security Council’s call in Resolution 1441 for Iraq to admit UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors. Even many who believe GW Bush was reckless to disregard the inspectors and launch war acknowledge that Saddam Hussein accepted inspection on UNSC terms because Washington threatened war if he did not.

On the other hand, the phrases ‘all options’ and its equivalents have been used in the past as a coded reference to mean ‘even nuclear weapons’. Was that GW Bush’s intent?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder responded directly to Bush’s 11 August interview. The Irish Times reported that

“ ‘Take the military option from the table. We know from experience that it’s for the birds, ’ he bellowed to a crowd . . .

“Mr. Schröder said that no one was interested in letting Iran become a nuclear power, but that the ongoing dispute must be resolved by developing a ‘strong negotiating position’ through peaceful means and not through military aggression.

“ ‘For that reason I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would participate in that,&146; said the German leader.” [3]

At the time of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s April 2005 visit to Crawford commentators drew parallels between Iran in 2005 and Iraq in 1981, when on 7 June 1981 Israeli aircraft attacked Iraq’s Osarik nuclear reactor which Israel believed was a key element in a nuclear weapons program. The New York Times wrote of Sharon’s “spreading photographs of Iranian nuclear sites over a lunch table” but said Sharon had given “no indication that Israel was preparing to act alone to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.” The Times noted that Vice-President Cheney had spoken of that possibility publicly in January 2005. [4]

The Political Design Problem

Under what circumstances, if any, given Iran’s ongoing interest in the nuclear fuel cycle, could US threats to use force against Iran be ‘credible’? meet approval of major EU states? of the UN Security Council?


[1] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[2] Israeli Televsion Channel 1, Varon Deckel, Interviewer. Crawford Texas, 11 August 2005. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/08/20050812-2.html.

[3] Derek Scally, “Schröder raps Bush on Iran military threat,” Irish Times, 15 August 2005.

[4] David E. Sanger, “Sharon Asks U.S. to Pressure Iran to Give Up Its Nuclear Program,” The New York Times, 13 April 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/13/international/middleeast/13nuke.html

[Political Design 2005.08.16 Post A08. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Monday, August 15, 2005

❄ Iraq [I]: Getting Out

Prince George the Reckless is complicitous in launching an illegal ‘war of choice’, ignorantly conceived and imprudently managed, and the White House hopelessly compromised when next it may make claims that matter: that is how we imagine this episode will be judged. But now, we are told, the war is over. That’s the theme of Frank Rich’s column in The New York Times of 14 August 2005.

The Question

If “every war must end,” how could the Iraq War [2003 - .. ] be brought to an end?


GW Bush would have us understand withdrawal as “cut and run”, unworthy of a tough brawler in the ranchlands. Instead the United States will stay “as long as it takes.”

Another approach would be simply to bring the troops home. Or, it has been intimated, substantial numbers of US troops might remain “in the region” to provide ‘security’.

The most convincing program for withdrawal begins with accepting three outcomes: Shia dominance in the south and much of the center, ‘government’ negotiations and settlement with Sunni insurgents, and acceptance of Kurdish autonomy in the north (including control of Kirkuk). And none of these is for the United States to do. US withdrawal could procede, all Iraqi interests and factions understanding that they will have to make the deals and work through the consequences . . . and provide their own security.

The Political Design Problem

How would you compose the coda?


[1] Frank Rich, “Someone Tell the President the War is Over,” The New York Times, 14 August 2005.

[2] Fred Charles Iklé, Every War Must End (New York: Columbia University Press, rev. ed. 2005).

[Political Design 2005.08.15 Post A07. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Friday, August 12, 2005

❄ Iran [I]: ‘staging’

A key subject of the March 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal Report was staging: could nuclear prohibition be achieved as a series of steps, with performance of one step contributing the confidence necessary to undertake the next step?

The Question

How can Iran’s wish to exercise its NPT rights be reconciled with concerns that nuclear activities could lead to a weapons program?


Here is one approach. According to the Financial Times Service, South African president Thabo Mbeki

“ . . . met Hassan Rowhani, who was then Iran’s chief negotiator, two weeks ago to discuss a proposal which would involve shipping South African uranium yellowcake to Iran for conversion into uranium hexafluoride gas. This would then be returned to South Africa to be enriched into nuclear fuel.

“The proposal is designed to allay fears that Iran could use its facilities to develop nuclear weapons.

“Iran sees the proposal as an interim confidence-building measure, but says it wants to develop the whole fuel cycle for its own civilian use later.”

The key term, if this proposal proves to have legs, is ‘later’.

The Political Design Problem

Can staging contribute to a solution to the Iran impasse?


[1] Financial Times Service. Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore, “SA offers solution to nuclear restart by Iran,” Irish Times, 11 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.12 Post A06. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Thursday, August 11, 2005

❄ End the Plutocracy?

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

“The United States is not a representative democracy, but a plutocracy.”

Elected officials and aspirants spend much of their time raising money and, in turn, become dependent on those who fund them.

The Question

Can the link between ‘big money’ and elected officials be broken?


Electoral reform. Can the United States stop the corrosive effects of ‘big money’ by setting a maximum size on campaign contributions? What results of McCain-Feingold?

Do the free speech provisions of the First Amendment require that corporations be free to spend for the candidates of their choice?

Public funding. Some propose public funding of electoral campaigns.

I’m drawn to the ‘pull-only’ rule: rather than candidates’ buying vast advertising time, telephone banks, and lapel pins, why not confine them to their web sites and let each citizen decide whether to look at their messages or ignore them? “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

The Political Design Problem

Is there a better way? And how could reform be realized?


[1] Common Cause: Money http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=191979

[Political Design 2005.08.11 Post A05. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [II]

There’s a claim being made that a US Army intelligence unit (named ‘Able Danger’) had identified, in 2000, four of the 9.11 hijackers as the “only” al-Qaeda cell in the United States, putting their names and visa photographs on a chart ... but failed to make their suspicions known to other US agencies at the time. It’s asserted, further, that when something of this unit was briefed to staff of the 9.11 Commission in 2003 there was no mention of the four names, among them that of Mohammed Atta.

This claim originates with a US Congressman, Curt Weldon (Republican: Pennsylvania) and an unnamed former intelligence officer. Weldon said on the floor of the House of Representatives, 27 June 2005, that

“We have to ask the question, why have these issues not been brought forth before this day? I had my Chief of Staff call the 9/11 Commission staff and ask the question: Why did you not mention Able Danger in your report? The Deputy Chief of Staff said, well, we looked at it, but we did not want to go down that direction.

“So the question, Mr. Speaker, is why did they not want to go down that direction? Where will that lead us? Why do we not want to see the answers to the questions I have raised tonight? Who made the decision to tell our military not to pursue Mohamed Atta? Who made the decision that said that we are fearful of the fallout from Waco politically?

“Were those decisions made by lawyers? Were they made by policymakers? Who within the administration in 2000 was responsible for those actions? This body and the American people need to know.”

The Question

Are these claims true? And if true, who was responsible for blocking notification in 2000, and full disclosure to the 9.11 Commission in 2003?


Members of the 9.11 Commission are already on record suggesting that Congressional committees pursue Weldon’s allegations, and that staff go back to the Commission’s records to see just what was briefed to the Commission.

Recall [Post A01] that the Commission is defunct. Today it’s members can only act as private citizens.

The Political Design Problem

Earlier [Post A01] we put the general problem: how can citizens hold government to account for itself? The Weldon claims pose a specific problem: how can facts, perhaps embarrassing facts, about a secret military unit be confirmed or disconfirmed, and their significant implications be brought out so that citizens can judge?


[1] Philip Shenon and Douglas Jehl, “9/11 Panel Members Ask Congress to Learn if Pentagon Withheld Files on Hijackers in 2000”, The New York Times, 10 August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/10/politics/10intel.html?pagewanted=all

[2] Congressional Record. 27 June 2005. Remarks of Representative Curt Weldon. Pages H5243-H5250. [Cited paragraphs are at the end of his remarks, on page H5250.] Via http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/05crpgs.html.

[3] Jacob Goodwin, “Did DoD Lawyers Blow the Chance to Nab Atta?”, Government Security News, August 2005. http://www.gsnmagazine.com/aug_05/dod_lawyers.html

[4] Douglas Jehl, “Four in 9/11 Plot Called Tied to Qaeda in ’00,” The New York Times, 9 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.10 Post A04. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

❄ North Korea [I]

A fourth session of six-nation talks on North Korea began on 25 July 2005 in Beijing, thirteen months after the last session. Participants are North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the United States. [The talks continued for 13 days, and then recessed, with the declared intention to resume in three weeks.] One prime sticking-point was North Korea’s insistence that it not be barred from operating a light-water reactor, and a US demand that no nuclear power program be permitted. The New York Times, 9 August 2005, reported that

“the chief North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said the United States had been unwilling to compromise on North Korea’s desire for a peaceful nuclear program and needed to acknowledge its right as a sovereign nation for such a program. . . ”

US negotiator Christopher Hill

“said that the talks began with great promise and that an agreement began to crystallize after four or five days of meetings. He said this optimism prompted the Chinese to begin assembling draft texts based on comments from each delegation. But as last weekend neared, Mr. Hill said North Korea said it wanted a reference to light-water reactors included in the draft statement.

“ ‘That was something that the other delegations wouldn’t go along with,’ he said. ‘These light-water reactors are simply not on the table.’ ”

The Question

How could the six-party talks be brought to an agreed conclusion?


US fears that a North Korean civil nuclear reactors could be used to create plutonium for a weapons program could be met by putting the program under IAEA safeguards. This is the standard method, called for in the Nonproliferation Treaty. North Korea has said it envisages recommitting to the NPT if an acceptable deal is negotiated. The GW Bush administration scoffed at IAEA inspection in Iraq prior to the 2003-.. Iraq War, but we now know that Hans Blix and the IAEA got it right.

The White House’s penchant for bilateral rather than international assurances suggests something like the ‘portal monitoring’ provisions of the INF Treaty. Soviet families moved to Utah as Soviet specialists kept track of a cruise missile factory, literally standing at the gates to implement an inspection regime; and US personnel did similar duty in the Soviet Union.

Is it necessary that North Korea be open, with visitors, especially South Koreans, coming and going freely, to achieve adequate assurance against a clandestine nuclear program?

The Political Design Problem

Is there a way to achieve ‘adequate security’ while meeting the North Korean wish to maintain a civil nuclear program? Alternatively, is there a way to meet North Korea’s requirement that its sovereignty be respected which does not include its being free to undertake civil nuclear activities?


[1] Jim Yardley, “The U.S. and North Korea Blame Each Other for Stalemate in Talks,” The New York Times, 9 August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/08/international/asia/08korea.html?pagewanted=all

[2] Congressional Research Service. Sharon A. Squassoni. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: How Soon an Arsenal?,” updated May 12, 2005. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS21391.pdf

[3] Congressional Research Service. Larry A. Niksch. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” updated May 6, 2005. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/IB91141.pdf

[Political Design 2005.08.09 Post A03. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Monday, August 08, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [I]: Adventures

The 9.11 Commission—formally the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States—was created by the US Congress and President via Public Law 107-306, 27 November 2002. The commission members deserve to be remembered: Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, Bob Kerrey, Fred F. Fielding, John Lehman, Jamie Gorelick, Timothy Roemer, Slade Gorton and James R. Thompson. With a staff, led by Philip Zelikow, their inquiries led to The 9/11 Commission Report and its recommendations for action.

When the commission’s mandate came to an end in August 2004 the members took an unusual decision: to remain focused on how their recommendations would fare. They created the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, which plans to issue a ‘report card’ in September 2005. To that end they have asked several executive agencies, including the White House and CIA, for information, but only Homeland Security said it planned to respond. From the rest: stonewall.

The Question

What has become of the 9.11 Commission?


Focus first on the smart decision to stay in business , even if as a private group, no longer possessed of subpoena powers. Their decision illustrates design at work. It strives for accountability. Did the bipartisan Commission doubt that Congress would itself be accountable, and hold the Executive to answer?

Second, note the probem which Philip Shenon describes in the New York Times, 7 August. Officials whom the Public Discourse Project has asked to speak with it—including Rumsfeld, Rice, Goss, Mueller, and Card—have simply failed to respond. Most requests for information have been ignored.

This White House cloaks itself in secrecy, and the Republican Congress has done little to prompt disclosure.

The Political Design Problem

So here’s the design problem: how can citizens hold government to account for itself—even on a subject everyone agrees is of paramount importance—when neither Congress nor the Executive judge it in their interest to be subject to rational assessment?


[1] Philip Shenon, “9/11 Group Says White House Has Not Provided Files,” The New York Times, 7 August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/07/politics/07panel.html

[2] 9/11 Public Discourse Project: http://www.9-11pdp.org/

[3] The 9/11 Commission. http://www.9-11commission.gov/

[4] Report of the 9/11 Commission. http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/05aug20041050/www.gpoaccess.gov/911/pdf/fullreport.pdf

[Political Design 2005.08.08. Post 2. http://www.learnworld.com/blog/design.html]

Sunday, August 07, 2005

❄ Tapping the Net

Skype users take note. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that, within 18 months, “providers of certain broadband and interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services must be prepared to accommodate law enforcement wiretaps.” Those who must do so provide “services permitting users to receive calls from, and place calls to, the public switched telephone network”. The FCC announcement offered this explanation:

“The Commission found that these services can essentially replace conventional telecommunications services currently subject to wiretap rules, including circuit-switched voice service and dial-up Internet access. As replacements, the new services are covered by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which requires the Commission to preserve the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct court-ordered wiretaps in the face of technological change.”

As it stands, this rule applies broadly, for the FCC stipulates that

“The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will seek more information about whether certain classes or categories of facilities-based broadband Internet access providers – notably small and rural providers and providers of broadband networks for educational and research institutions – should be exempt from CALEA.”

The FCC rule has at least two significant consequences. It will impose a cost on providers. And it facilitates a further extension of the capacity to ‘wiretap’. Interplay among the Constitutional requirement of judicial warrants to protect against “unreasonable search and seizure”, insistent ‘law enforcement’ initiatives to win statutory approval of relaxed terms and conditions for electronic and other surveillance, and rapidly-changing technologies complicate this subject in ways which can’t be explored in this brief note. But I will turn to other facets of the issue in later posts.

And this weekend articles have appeared in the Washington Post and Le Monde (where it was the lead front-page article) reporting use by Al Qaeda of the Net, computing, and communications to prepare attacks.

The Washington Post article prompted Dave Farber, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and former Chief Technologist of the FCC, to comment (6 August 2005) in his widely-distributed listserv list that

“Next we will hear how the net must be controlled; how cryptology must be forbidden etc. The end is near of the free wheeling net and it’s benefits djf”

The Question

Can polities design practices which conserve the Net free and accessible while providing adequate protection against organized attacks (‘terrorist attacks’)?


Of course the Net is not absolutely free or accessible. And no measures can guarantee against attack. So we must start in the practical world. And there are many motives for control other than preventing attacks and enforcing conventional laws: consider the wide-ranging copyright controversy. Is this proposal really about catching drug smugglers or preventing ‘terrorist attacks’?

The political case for private conversations: that citizens must be able to discuss the State among themselves free from surveillance by the State. The Net is a medium for such exchanges, especially in a far-flung, numerous polity. But when the capacity to tap is in place, it is not possible to prove that it is not being used for political surveillance.

The case for a Net ‘open and free’ turns on the claim that social value can be best sought and found when inventiveness is least restricted. Hence the case for joint authoring of open software, and the argument that peer-to-peer file sharing can have socially useful purposes unrelated to exchange of ‘entertainment’.

And why should one believe that extensions of ‘wiretap’ can be converted to the prevention of actual attacks? Would the same investment in methods unrelated to ‘wiretap’ be sounder? Is there not a burgeoning of means of communications, and of masquing messages, such that any group with evil intent can find a way to communicate which the FBI did not anticipate?

The Political Design Problem

Design methods and practices to hinder or prevent ‘terrorist attacks’ which do not require imposing controls on the Net.


[1] The FCC press release and two accompanying statements, 5 August 2005:

[2] Steve Cohl and Susan B. Glasser, “Jihadists Turn the Web Into Base of Operations,” Washington Post, 7 August 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/05/AR2005080501138_pf.html

[3] Le Monde, 6 August 2005. “La guerre contre Al-Qaida ’intensifie sur Internet”; Eric Leser, “La Toile est devenue une arme essentielle pour les djihadistes. Depuis que les partisans d’Al-Qaida ont été chassés d’Afghanistan, ils se sont réfugiés sur Internet”; Jean-Pierre Stroobants, “Les services de renseignement britanniques sont passés á l’offensive contre les sites Internet islamistes.”

[4] United States Institute of Peace. Special Report #116. Gabriel Weimann, “www.terror.net
How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet.” http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr116.html

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Political Design

So: blogging again. I’ve another blog at http://www.learnworld.com/blog/blog.html which is long on criticism of the GW Bush administration. Reasoned criticism.

Here I intend a regular, near-daily comment, keyed to a current text. Why is this significant? What ‘stories’ does it reflect? What plans does it imply? What’s my interpretive take, given a vantage which focuses on political design?