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Syria at the Crossroads: United States Policy and Recommendations for the Way Forward

March 26, 2013 Comments off

Syria at the Crossroads: United States Policy and Recommendations for the Way Forward (PDF)
Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (Rice University)

From press release (EurekAlert!):

As Syria’s raging civil war approaches the two-year mark, the United States should prepare a more focused strategy that strengthens the moderate political forces in Syria and engages Syria’s regional and international stakeholders, according to a new special report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The report also recommends that U.S. strategy should buttress Syria’s neighbors, address the deepening humanitarian crisis and plans for a post-Assad Syria.

The special report, "Syria at the Crossroads: United States Policy and Recommendations for the Way Forward," was co-authored by Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel, and Andrew Bowen, the Baker Institute’s scholar for the Middle East. It highlights the deepening challenges Syria faces and provides substantive policy recommendations for the U.S. government in securing a multi-ethnic, democratic Syria.

"Given the absence of a negotiated political settlement and the prolonged military stalemate on the ground, the U.S., engaging its partners in the international community, should act to preserve the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional nature of the Syrian state and help the Syrian people transition to a broadly representative government and a country at peace with its neighbors," Djerejian said. "While a renewed U.S. and EU engagement with Russia is needed to help reach a political solution in Syria, immediate steps should be taken to support and to buttress both the moderate forces in Syria and Syria’s neighbors, who are vulnerable to the continued crisis."

The special report recommends that the U.S. should consider supplying military assistance to vetted leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in an effort to support the moderate opposition, protect Syrian civilians and abate extremists. In addition, the U.S., in conjunction with NATO, should form a joint special operations command in Turkey to monitor the distribution of this assistance and provide logistical support, communications and training to vetted commanders. "What is needed is to combine military assistance with a coordinated strategy of capacity building within the opposition, which can then have measurable results and importantly, not lead the U.S. into any overextended commitment," Bowen said.

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The Dynamic Effects of Eliminating or Curtailing the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction

January 18, 2013 Comments off

The Dynamic Effects of Eliminating or Curtailing the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (PDF)

Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy

From press release:

Eliminating or curtailing the mortgage interest deduction (MID) would initially result in declines in housing prices and investment but would have only modest aggregate macroeconomic effects in the long run, according to a new paper from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The MID is the second-largest individual income tax expenditure, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Given the severity of the fiscal problems currently faced by the U.S., many recent tax reform proposals have included measures that would curtail or eliminate the home MID.

“The MID is, of course, an extremely popular and thus highly politically sensitive provision,” said John Diamond, the Edward A. and Hermena Hancock Kelly Fellow in Public Finance at the Baker Institute. “It was one of the few provisions that was deemed to be untouchable during the deliberations preceding enactment of the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986, a highly successful effort at fundamental tax reform that is widely believed to be the most sweeping reform of the income tax since its enactment.” Diamond co-authored the paper with George Zodrow, the university’s Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Economics and a Baker Institute Rice Scholar.

The study uses a computer model developed by Diamond and Zodrow to simulate both the short-run and long-run dynamic aggregate macroeconomic effects of several tax reform plans that propose eliminating or curtailing the MID. The model is a dynamic, overlapping-generations, computable general equilibrium model of the U.S. economy.

The most dramatic reform the authors analyze is complete elimination of the MID. In this case, they find that GDP decreases slightly in the short run, due to the adjustment costs incurred in reallocating the capital stock, and increases slightly by 0.1 percent in the long run. Overall investment increases by less than 1 percent and reflects the expected reform-induced increases in investment in the nonhousing sectors and the rental housing sector, coupled with a decrease in investment in the owner-occupied housing sector, of about 6 percent initially and 3 percent in the long run. Asset values increase in the nonhousing sectors by less than 2 percent and by 3.5 percent in the rental housing sector and are coupled with a decline in the value of owner-occupied housing of roughly 4 percent.

The effects of the other two reforms analyzed — replacing the MID with a 12 percent nonrefundable credit subject to a $25,000 interest cap and limiting the MID to primary residences — are qualitatively similar but significantly smaller. For example, for the capped credit, housing investment in the owner-occupied sector declines by 2.6 percent initially and by 1.5 percent in the long run, and the value of owner-occupied housing declines by roughly 2 percent. By comparison, the effects of the far more modest reform of limiting the MID to principal residences are quite small, with investment in owner-occupied housing falling by 0.7 percent initially and by 0.4 percent in the long run, and the value of owner-occupied housing falling by only 0.5 percent.

Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and Women’s Role in the Arab Uprisings

May 24, 2012 Comments off
Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (Rice University)

This research introduces several of the key figures leading the revolutionary convulsions in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen, and explores how young women used social media and cyberactivism to help shape the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath. The engagement of women with social media has coincided with a shift in the political landscape of the Middle East, and it is unlikely that they will ever retreat from the new arenas they have carved out for themselves. Throughout the region, women have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers, translating digital advocacy and organization into physical mobilization and occupation of public spaces in a dialectic of online and offline activism that is particular to this era. They have used citizen journalism and social networking to counter the state-dominated media in their countries and influence mainstream media around the world. In the process, they are reconfiguring the public sphere in their countries, as well as the expectations of the public about the role women can and should play in the political lives of their countries.

From Tunis to Tunis: Considering the Planks of U.S. International Cyber Policy, 2005-2011

May 23, 2012 Comments off
Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (Rice University)

How have U.S. policies on the governance of the Internet and cyberspace evolved between the 2005 World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia and the massive, cyber-fueled uprisings in the Middle East of 2011? The paper develops a framework of possible actions regarding Internet or cyber governance to produce contexts for the timeline of significant policy statements by U.S. government officials and agencies on the topic. In the resulting narrative, Internet governance policy rises from a relatively marginal issue for the foreign policy establishment to a significant component of U.S. grand strategy. Because it covers a brief time period and focuses on a single actor (the United States), this narrative provides input as to how and how rapidly Internet politics and policies have become integral to international affairs.

A Governance Switchboard: Scalability Issues in International Cyber Policymaking

April 5, 2012 Comments off

A Governance Switchboard: Scalability Issues in International Cyber Policymaking (PDF)
Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (Rice University)

Twenty years ago, only a million computers were connected to the Internet, while today, perhaps as many as 2 billion people on the planet enjoy its use. What was once primarily a tool for scholarly communications has quickly become the key infrastructure for communicating at a distance. At the core of this growth is the remarkable scalability of Internet Protocol (IP). Whether YouTube videos and Twitter microblog posts or telephone calls and sensitive military communications, IP is the technological backbone of digital connectivity on planet Earth.

IP grants a standard for data communication that scales to almost every computing device on the planet. Because of this technology, and some exceptions notwithstanding, the last twenty years have been a period in which a message can be transmitted from one computer to another anywhere, in large part because the set of instructions for delivery have been open, understandable, and relatively easy to implement. The economic transformation ushered in by this connectivity is well underway, but its salient issues regarding politics, and more for the purposes of this paper, international politics, are sitll emerging. This is a newly constructed techno-informational space, often called “cyber” because there is something that clearly goes beyond just the delivery and receipt of data by IP.

Limits of the Jugaad Growth Model — No Workaround to Good Governance for India

March 17, 2012 Comments off

Limits of the Jugaad Growth Model — No Workaround to Good Governance for India (PDF)
Source: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (Rice University)

Indian industry has gained fame in management circles for jugaad, or persevering despite limited resources. This skill has proven particularly important in overcoming inadequate public services. However, the economy appears to have reached the limit of using jugaad in the place of good government, suggesting a lower growth trajectory in the absence of a major improvement in political dynamics.

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