While Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were busy giving rabble-rousing speeches about how the appeaser-in-chief has been touring the globe apologizing for America and hollowing out our military influence, guess what happened?

Europe slapped a boycott on Iranian oil Monday, signaling that the Islamic Republic's second-largest market is likely to dry up as part of a U.S.-led sanctions campaign that has already inflicted serious damage on Iran's economy and sharply increased tensions.

....In the past, Europe often has resisted U.S. efforts to build pressure on Iran. "If you had told me a year or two ago that the Europeans would do something like this, I would have said you were crazy," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research group in Washington that favors strong sanctions.

....The effect will be amplified by a new round of U.S. sanctions, which, if fully implemented, will prevent companies that do business with Iran's central bank from dealing with American companies....China says publicly that it will not yield to pressure to give up Iranian oil, but it has reportedly cut back on purchases for January and February and is pushing for discounts.

How about that? Europe is now fully on our side, Russia and China are officially neutral but not actively undermining us, and Iran is starting to feel serious pressure. Somebody's foreign policy seems to be having an actual effect.

It can't be President Obama, though. Too weak. Here's what's really happening: the EU is desperately getting on the sanctions bandwagon because they're afraid that President Gingrich will bring down the hammer after he wins a landslide 535 electoral votes in November (the big-government leeches in DC stubbornly hold out against the tide, of course). The fear of Newt is forcing them to get serious for the first time ever.

Think I'm joking? Ten bucks says some actual conservative columnist makes this argument. For all I know, someone already has.

Reuters reports on the "voluntary" restructuring of Greece's debt:

Euro zone finance ministers on Monday rejected as insufficient an offer made by private bondholders to help restructure Greece's debts, sending negotiators back to the drawing board and raising the threat of Greek default.

....Banks and other private institutions represented by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) say a 4.0 percent coupon is the least they can accept if they are going to write down the nominal value of the debt they hold by 50 percent.

Greece says it is not prepared to pay a coupon of more than 3.5 percent, and euro zone finance ministers effectively backed the Greek government's position at Monday's meeting, a position that the International Monetary Fund also supports.

I love the smell of voluntary in the morning. Felix Salmon has more.

Mitt Romney has released his two most recent tax returns:

Mitt Romney offered a partial snapshot of his vast personal fortune late Monday, disclosing income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year — virtually all of it profits, dividends or interest from investments.

That's pretty impressive. Not the fact that Romney paid a 13.9% tax rate on this haul — we already pretty much knew that. No, I'm talking about the fact that he made $21 million each year. Most public reports put Romney's wealth in the neighborhood of $250 million, which means he got a return of about 8.4% both years. That's a real return of around 7% during a generally slow-growth period when most people are scrounging around just to find safe investments that pay a point or two more than treasuries. When it comes to managing big pots of money, it looks like Romney hasn't lost his old magic.

At this point, it's not clear to me how useful it is to keep re-litigating the role Larry Summers played in deciding how big the 2009 stimulus package should be. Lots of different participants have given their views, and there's simply a limit to how much we're ever going to know.

Still, a contemporaneous memo is different. If we had a copy of the written advice Summers gave to President-elect Obama in December 2008, that would tell us a lot, wouldn't it? Well, now we do, thanks to Ryan Lizza. And guess what? I'm still not sure it will help produce any consensus on Summers' role. Paul Krugman, for example, comes away from it with this:

The key thing I took away from the memo is that it does not read at all like the current story the administration gives for the inadequate size of the stimulus, which is that they knew it should be larger but had to face political reality. Instead, the memo argues that a bigger stimulus would be counterproductive in economic terms, because of the "market reaction." That is, Summers et al were afraid of the invisible bond vigilantes. And to the extent that there is a political judgment, it's all in the opposite direction: if the stimulus is too big, we'll have trouble scaling it back, but if it's too small, we can always go back to Congress for more. That was deeply naive—and I said so in real time.

But that's not at all what I came away with after reading the memo. It's true that political reality (i.e. Congress) gets only a few brief mentions, but at the same time Summers is pretty clearly not worried about bond vigilantes and doesn't believe that going back to Congress for more money would be easy. Quite the opposite. After spelling out the case for a big stimulus, Summers lists some "considerations on the other side," as any honest advisor would. However, he specifically argues that those other considerations are wrong. The bond market isn't likely to react badly, he says, and "we do not believe this should deter escalation well above $600 billion." And while some may believe that we can always do more later if we need to, Summers argues instead that "this is a key moment to get ahead of the curve in responding to economic distress."

Now, it's clear from the memo that Summers and others underestimated the depth of the coming recession, though perhaps not by as much as everyone thinks. In fact, he's clear that an $850 billion stimulus would close only half the output gap, and then makes his primary argument for not trying to close the whole thing:

But it is important to recognize that we can only generate about $225 billion of actual spending on priority investments over next two years…This total, however, falls well short of what economists believe is needed for the economy, both in total and especially in 2009. As a result, to achieve our macroeconomic objectives—minimally the 2.5 million job goal—will require other sources of stimulus including state fiscal relief, tax cuts for individuals or tax cuts for businesses. All three of these areas, however, raise tradeoffs because they are not as economically effective as stimulus, do not represent a down payment on a campaign promise (with the exception of the Making Work Pay credit), and do not have a lasting impact on the economy beyond protecting against a deep recession.

Emphasis in the original. Summers believed that it was only possible to come up with $225 billion in direct spending that had a high stimulus value. Further money could be targeted at tax cuts and aid to states, but it had a lower stimulus value. So there was a sense of diminishing returns here.

Now, that might have been wrong, but it's a fairly defensible position. And it has nothing to do with bond vigilantes or bad political judgments. So even with a contemporaneous memo available to read, the Rashomon effect is still strong. All of us read the same words and we all come away with different interpretations.

This is hardly the most important thing in the world, but I've heard an awful lot of people lately saying that Newt Gingrich's recent success is due to the fact that no one is better than him at channeling the anger of the Republican base. There's nothing really wrong with that formulation, but for the record, I don't think anger is quite the emotion in play here. Rather, it's fear and contempt. The tea party wing of the Republican Party fears that the America they love is being taken away from them, and they have almost unbounded contempt for President Obama, the taker-away-in-chief.

And who does fear and contempt better than Newt? No one. Those are the emotions he's channeling, not just boring old anger.

Brad Plumer points us to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's newly released Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, and their projections aren't especially heartening. They forecast that the U.S. mix of energy consumption isn't going to change much over the next 25 years, and as a result our carbon emissions aren't likely to decrease either. Brad has more here. The complete EIA report (with bigger charts!) is here.

Glenn Greenwald points out something today that I'm embarrassed to say hadn't occurred to me:

On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news…El-Berjawi’s family vehemently denies that he is involved with Terrorism, but he was never able to appeal the decree against him for this reason:

Berjawi is understood to have sought to appeal against the order, but lawyers representing his family were unable to take instructions from him amid concerns that any telephone contact could precipitate a drone attack.

Obviously, those concerns were valid. So first the U.S. tries to assassinate people, then it causes legal rulings against them to be issued because the individuals, fearing for their life, are unable to defend themselves. Meanwhile, no explanation or evidence is provided for either the adverse government act or the assassination: it is simply secretly decreed and thus shall it be.

I'm already opposed to assassinations of U.S. citizens, and not especially excited about assassinations of non-U.S. nationals either (el-Berjawi was a dual Lebanese British national whose British citizenship was stripped in 2006). So this doesn't really change my mind about anything in a serious way. But it does make the whole thing a lot more Kafka-esque than I had imagined.

Still, in the case of non-U.S. nationals, I think the question of targeted assassinations is more difficult than some critics make it out to be. As always, it gets back to the fundamental question of (a) whether we're at war and (b) what the battlefield is. In a shooting war, obviously you're allowed to go after enemy combatants without a court order, and that's the essential rationale for these killings. But where does the line get drawn? Does this war ever end? Is its scope the entire world? Neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations have ever been willing to say, claiming simply that the AUMF, along with the president's inherent commander-in-chief powers, gave them all the authority they needed to make decisions solely within the executive branch.

And yet…it's not clear what other option there is. Genuine judicial hearings, even if you think that's the right way to go about this, are obviously nonstarters in practical terms. You could have something like the FISA court, authorizing targeted assassinations in secret hearings, which would be an improvement in technical terms but probably not in real life. It's not as if FISA turns down government requests very often, after all. Or we could simply stop killing suspected terrorists overseas unless they're in a declared war zone.

I'm a squish. I don't know the answer. One way or another though, I can't help but think that this is all going to turn out badly eventually.

Most news articles about a company or a person include a rote disclaimer somewhere in the text: "_____ declined to comment on the matter." This is often a pro forma statement, since the writer knew perfectly well she was never going to get a comment in the first place.

Ed Bott is tired of the game. After reading Apple's end-user license for its eBook authoring program with mounting outrage, and then writing a blistering column about it, he ended with this:

Oh, and let’s just stipulate that I could send an e-mail to Apple asking for comment, or I could hand-write my request on a sheet of paper and then put it in a shredder. Both actions would produce the same response from Cupertino. But if anyone from Apple would care to comment, you know where to find me.

Atta boy! I view Apple as much like China: overseers of a huge market that's irresistible, and well aware that they can use their market power in any way they like without having to answer to anyone. In most ways that I can think of, they're really far more of an evil empire than Microsoft ever was. They're just not as big.

(On the merits of this particular case, though, I suspect that Bott is overreacting. The core problem is that Apple insists that if you write a book using its program, you can sell it only through Apple. But I'd be surprised if someone didn't very quickly create a translator that converts Apple's almost-ePub files into genuine, clean ePub files that can be used anywhere. In practical terms, Apple's EULA may not really amount to much.)

Via Ryan Cooper.

Are we doomed to a future in which we are mere vassals to a burgeoning and aggressive Chinese hegemony? If you vote for Barack Obama, yes! In fact, according to Mitt Romney, he's actively working toward such a future.

But seriously. Are we? I don't think so. Sure, China is going to grow and there will inevitably be some shifts in influence as that happens, but if I had to make a 50-year bet on any region of the world, I'd pick the United States. Europe has demographic and growth problems; Russia is doomed once their energy resources run out; Africa will remain a basket case for the foreseeable future; India is starting from a poor base and I'm not convinced they have the governance or institutions to maintain rapid growth over the long term; and China — well, China has its problems, as I've noted multiple times in this space.1 I don't think they're going to collapse or anything like that, but I do think their growth will inevitably slow down long before their per-capita income is anywhere close to ours. It will likely take them at least a century to catch up.

Meanwhile, the United States is really in pretty good shape if we can just get our political affairs in orders.2 Compared to the rest of the world, our economy is pretty solid, our demographics look good, and we have more energy resources than most other rich countries. Dan Drezner has more here. It's worth a read if you want to see the optimistic case for American influence and wealth in the 21st century.

1And what about South America? I'm not sure. That's why I didn't include them in my list.

2Yes, yes, I know.

Let's start off the week with some good news. We now have a ruling in the case of Antoine Jones, who was convicted on drug charges after police attached a GPS tracking device to his car:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects....Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said that the government’s installation of a GPS device, and its use to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search, meaning that a warrant is required.

“By attaching the device to the Jeep” that Jones was using, “officers encroached on a protected area,” Scalia wrote.

....Justice Samuel Alito also wrote a concurring opinion in which he said the court should have gone further and dealt with GPS tracking of wireless devices, like mobile phones. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Count me with Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. If police want to track your cell phone, they should get a warrant. End of story.