Day By Day

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Kennewick Man Update -- Scientific Study to Begin

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:

PORTLAND, Ore. – After nearly a decade of court battles, scientists plan to begin studying the 9,300-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man next week.

A team of scientists plans to examine the bones at the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle beginning July 6, according to their attorney, Alan Schneider.

The researchers plan to do what is called a "taphonomic" examination of the skeleton, taking measurements and making observations about the processes that affect animal and plant remains as they become fossilized. Further study is planned based on the initial findings....

Now for the disturbing part:

Legislation remains under consideration in Congress that would allow federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot prove a link to a current tribe.

Senator McCain is a primary sponsor of this legislation -- he must be stopped.

Read it here.

Intelligence Reform Done the Right Way

AP reports:
WASHINGTON - President Bush, embracing nearly all the recommendations of a White House commission, said Wednesday he was creating a national security service at the FBI to specialize in intelligence as part of a shake-up of the disparate U.S. spy agencies.

Those changes include directing the Justice Department to consolidate its counterterrorism, espionage and intelligence units. Bush also will ask Congress to create an assistant attorney general position to help centralize those operations. Bush wrote in a memo to intelligence agency leaders that "further prompt action is necessary" at the Justice Department and FBI to address security challenges.


_forming a National Counter Proliferation Center to coordinate the U.S. government's collection and analysis of intelligence on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The task is now performed by many national security agencies.

_asking Congress to reform its oversight of intelligence agencies.

_putting CIA Director Porter Goss in charge of all overseas human intelligence, or traditional spy work, done by government operatives.

_proposing legislation that would extend the duration of electronic surveillance in cases involving foreign agents.

_put in place new procedures for dissenting intelligence analysis to be allowed to reach senior officials.

_giving the intelligence director a staff of "mission managers" who will develop strategies for specific intelligence areas. As an example, the commission said the director could have a mission manager focused on a specific country, such as China.

Read it here, also here.

At last, some substantive reforms, proposed and vetted by people who actually know what they're doing -- not something cooked up by that misbegotten political circus they called the 9/11 commission.

In the hysteria that followed 9/11 many ill-considered changes were proposed and adopted willy nilly. We are now in a position to intelligently evaluate proposals and implement those that make sense.

Asian Economic Integration -- India and Singapore Ink Pact

The Statesman reports:
NEW DELHI, June 29. — India and Singapore today signed four treaties, including the landmark Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, (CECA). The pact signed by the the Prime Ministers of the two countries will open up banking sector and boost bilateral trade and investment. The CECA agreement will also liberalise the service sector and ease the visa restrictions for professionals from the two countries.
Singapore today reaffirmed its support to India’s quest for permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. This was conveyed by the visiting Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong during his meeting with external affairs minister Mr K Natwar Singh.
Read it here.

India is attempting to organize an economic and defense bloc to counter Chinese expansion in the region. Singapore is a vital element in any such strategic arrangement. And as a consequence, the integration of Asia's economies progresses.

Well, there goes another left-wing talking point down the tubes

AP reports:

PENTAGON After months of declining enlistment, the Army has more than met its recruitment goals for the month of June.
Read it here.

Lebanon Update -- Not so Revolutionary After All

Publius has a good post on recent parliamentary accommodations in Lebanon. Basically, a deal was cut between Hariri and Hizbullah to keep Berri. The revolution is devolving into hard nosed politics. All in all, a good thing.

Read it here.

Progress on CAFTA

Reuters reports:
WASHINGTON - The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to send the U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.

The panel's voice vote set the stage for the full Senate to possibly take up the pact in coming days. The Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the agreement on Thursday.

The bill will pass the Senate easily, but the House may be a problem. Tomorrow we'll see what happens. Stay tuned....

Read it here.

Mark Steyn Interview at RWN

John Hawkins over at RWN interviews Mark Steyn.

Check it out here.

The Folly of Blair, Brown and Bono -- The Wisdom of Gates and Bush

Jacob Weisberg has a pretty good article in Slate [hat tip Toby, the Bilious Young Fogey] on the folly of the current enthusiasts for African aid who want to simply throw money at the problem. They are, he argues, replicating the errors of LBJ's "War on Poverty" debacle. It's a must-read until the end when he has to insert the obligatory Slate swipe at Bush. He admits that Bush has a much better idea, but argues that the implementation of the plan has been incompetent, which is, I think, something of an overstatement. There indeed have been some administrative problems, but the over-riding difficulty has getting local governments in Africa to implement reforms so that they can meet the standards set out by Bush's administration. Once we loosen standards we're back to the old game of tossing money at kleptocrats.

Note the moral mau-mauing by the MSM.

And, to really piss off the lefties, note his judgment that Bill Gates has been by far the most effective force combatting the major problems afflicting Africa.

Read it here.

For more on Gates' philanthropy go here and here.

Iran Update -- Calls for a Cultural Crackdown

You had to have seen this coming a mile away.
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's ultra-conservative President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday faced calls from hardline supporters to clamp down on social freedoms allowed under the country's outgoing reformist president.

"Islamic and revolutionary culture have been neglected in the past years," the official IRNA news agency quoted hardline lawmaker Mohammad Taqi Rahbar as saying.

"Even if women remove the small handkerchiefs they wear instead of a proper veil, nobody says anything," he said adding that mixing of young men and women in public also contravened the values of an Islamic society.
Read it here.

Of course, Ahmadinejad has not yet spoken out clearly on this issue and if he does take the hard line could face considerable backlash. Still, the hardliners were his principle backers and have to have some influence in his regime. What will he do?

Stay tuned....

Samuelson vs the Enviros (Go Bob!)

Robert Samuelson over at WaPo cuts loose on the posturing of politicians [and activists] pretending to save the environment.
What we have now is a respectable charade. Politicians and advocates make speeches, convene conferences and formulate plans. They pose as warriors against global warming. The media participate in the resulting deception by treating their gestures seriously. One danger is that some of these measures will harm the economy without producing significant environmental benefits. Policies motivated by political gain will inflict public pain. Why should anyone applaud?
Beats me!

Read it here.

It's always been hard to take these people seriously and over time they have become more and more ridiculous. Maybe if some of them took off their clothes in public..., oh yeah, they did.

Orioles Win -- Yankees Lose!

Just thought you might want to know.

Resisting Chinese Expansionism -- A New "Containment Policy?"

As China becomes more aggressively expansionist, the US and other Asian powers have begun to band together to limit its influence. A key element of this policy is fostering close relations with India. AFP reports:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Defense ministers of the United States and India have signed a 10-year agreement paving the way for joint weapons production, cooperation on missile defense and possible lifting of US export controls for sensitive military technologies.

"We are transforming our relationship to reflect our common principles and shared national interests," it said of the so-called "New framework for the US-India defense relationship" signed at the Pentagon.
Washington's move to boost relations between the world's oldest and largest democracies which were on the opposite sides in the Cold War is seen by analysts as part of a strategy to counter the growing influence of China, India's immediate neighbour.
Read the whole thing here.

This network of partnerships with Asian and Pacific powers resembles nothing so much as the old Cold War "containment" alliances aimed at limiting the expansion of Soviet influence. As China seeks to break the resulting "encirclement" and expands its activities in the Middle East, in Africa and in Latin America, we are more and more beginning to see a new bipolar world emerge. Is this the beginning of a new "Cold War?"

Stay tuned....

The Paranoid Style of Left Wing Politics

Also in the CSM -- Brendan O'Neill has a terrific observation on the left's dysfunctional obsessions.
Memo to those who opposed the war in Iraq: Please stop talking about the Downing Street memos! And I say that not as a defender of the war, but as one who was implacably set against it.

The antiwar lobby's obsession with secretive things - whether it's these latest memos, earlier dodgy dossiers, or rumors about who said what to whom in the backrooms of the White House and Whitehall - degrades the debate about war.

Instead of mounting a serious opposition to the invasion of Iraq, antiwar activists have spent the last two years searching endlessly for proof that they and their fellow citizens were lied to. They've seemed more intrigued by the decisionmaking processes that led to the war than outraged by the war itself.

That's nowhere more evident than in the antiwar movement's approach of challenging the war more on the basis of legalistic nitpicking than on the grounds that it was politically and morally the wrong thing to do. Political principles such as national sovereignty have barely been raised.

In the US, activists have speculated ad infinitum that the decision to invade Iraq was taken by Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz or maybe even President Bush at a high-level, top-secret meeting immediately after 9/11.

In Britain, there's been running commentary on whether Tony Blair's legal adviser warned him prior to the war that invading Iraq would be illegal, with various communiqués leaked and salivated over. There have also been two dossier controversies, stoked by antiwar elements, and of course the Hutton Inquiry into the prewar processes, during which 9,000 pages of documents submitted by the authorities to the inquiry - including everyday e-mails and memos from the highest echelons of government - were posted on the inquiry's website. Antiwar journalists had a field day.

The Downing Street Memos are but another chapter in - or perhaps even the climax of - this ongoing saga.

Read it here.

This "paranoid style" is nothing new. It has been a recurrent phenomenon in American politics. And it would be a mistake to see it, as many on the left have been wont to do, as evidence of the profound irrationality of the common man. It is simply a recognition that human agency is involved in the conduct of political affairs, that people to organize to achieve results, and that powerful people and organizations seek to control political institutions. What is irrational, however, is the tendency, quite pronounced on the part of the left, to see one's opponents as mental incompetents or ruthless zealots.

The Benefits of Bush's Freedom Initiative -- Women's Rights

In the rush to condemn Dubya for his intervention in the Middle East democrats, including leading feminists, have failed to note the positive fallout from the Iraq war. Among the most significant of these is a noticible change in the range of opportunities sought and available to women.

John Hughs, writing in the Christian Science Monitor takes note of the breadth and extent of progress.

t may at present be only a whisper. But it could get louder and louder. It is the voice of Islamic women in the Middle East protesting their longtime political and economic second-class status. It is a voice of indignation from women who have long been suppressed in traditionally male- dominated societies.

In recent days it has been heard in Egypt where women were fighting back against harassment from supporters of the ruling party.

It has been heard in Iran where women, despite the election of a hard-line conservative president, demonstrated against sex discrimination under that country's Islamic leadership.

It was heard in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where Arab women responded approvingly as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bluntly condemned the refusal of their rulers to give women the right to vote.

It was heard in Kuwait as women's rights activists lauded - and some conservative men deplored - the appointment of the first-ever woman, political science professor Massouma al-Mubarak, to a cabinet position.

And it was heard in Pakistan where Mukhtar Mai defied the government that sought to silence her for speaking out against a barbaric custom imposed upon her: gang-raping a young woman for an offense committed by her brother, traditionally followed by the suicide of the rape victim.

n a vocal manner that hasn't been evident before, women in the Islamic lands are speaking out. Their case is being given traction by President Bush's emphasis on fostering democracy in lands that lack it - even though they be longtime allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Read the whole thing here.

If it were not for the fact that the institutional women's movement in America has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party these would be widely heralded as an enormous triumph for Bush's Mid-East policy. But we hear little about it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Some Really Strange Stuff -- You Gotta See It to Believe It!

Check it out here [hat tip, Jonah Goldberg].

Government Regulators Target Blogs

One of my correspondents thinks this is a good topic to blog. I agree.

AP reports:
WASHINGTON - Are bloggers going mainstream? Web log founders who built followings with anti-establishment postings are now lobbying the establishment to try to fend off government regulation. Some are even working with a political action committee, lawyers and public-relations consultants to do it.

There's a certain responsibility I have to help protect the medium. I have the platform, the voice to be able to do so," said Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the Web log

Moulitsas testified Tuesday at a hearing on a Federal Election Commission proposal that would extend some campaign finance rules to the Internet, including bloggers. He urged the FEC to take a hands-off approach.

"We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same," Moulitsas told commissioners.

Read it here.

I seldom agree with Moulitsas and have never linked to him before, but this time he's right. Attempts, and there have been many such recently, to limit or regulate political speech are fundamentally inconsistent with democracy. The only justification for previous regulation was the threat that a few sources could monopolize the flow of information. That patently is absurd in today's multicentered media universe.

There are really only two questions of interest here.

1) should politicians be forced to disclose contributions to blogs? I think they should.

2) should bloggers who take strong political positions qualify for the "journalistic exemption" on the content of their sites. Again, I think they should, although this raises an interesting subsidiary question, to wit: If bloggers are given the same exemption as mainstream journalists does that make them journalists?


Parenthetically, I think that the influence of blogs is vastly overblown by both their critics and their advocates.


And while we're on the subject of bloggery....

Judith Miller, the NYT reporter who is about to go to jail for refusing to reveal her sources in the Valerie Plame [remember her?] investigation, has started her own weblog. You can see it here.

Zimbabwe Update -- Now This Will Have Mad Bobby Quaking in His Boots

News 24 reports:

Wellington - New Zealand's foreign minister on Tuesday compared Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's administration to the genocidal regime of Cambodia's Pol Pot.

Phil Goff made the remarks while pushing for his country's cricket team to call off a planned tour of the southern African nation.

Goff, campaigning to stop New Zealand's Black Caps cricket team from touring Zimbabwe in August, said the International Cricket Council should not ignore the "massive human rights abuses" in Zimbabwe.


"You can't simply play a game of cricket and ignore those things happening around you," Goff said on National Radio.

No you can't. I'm sure that this will finally cow the old monster Mugabe and convince him of the error of his ways.

Goff plans to write to the ICC, recommending that obligations on sports teams to tour should be waived in the event of a severe human rights crisis.


He said the ICC is "dominated" by nations that seem unprepared to take a stand on the issue, "whether you're talking South Africa and Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc".

"How can you move ahead when the African countries are prepared to tolerate such outrageous behaviour from one of their own? They need to do a lot of soul searching," he said.

That's right, mate. Soul searching will get it done. At least his heart is in the right place even if his sense of proportion is totally bonkers.

Read it here.

The blame game escalates -- Bacevich takes on Sanchez

I suppose it was only a matter of time.... Andrew Bacevich, writing in the WaPo, argues that the problems we face in Iraq are primarily the fault of military, not civilian leadership.
Critics fault the Bush administration for not having provided U.S. commanders with enough "boots on the ground." This, they say, accounts for the current stalemate. Such an interpretation conforms nicely to the reigning demands of political correctness, absolving the military of any responsibility for its current predicament. But it will not wash. The principal defect of the war effort is not that field commanders have lacked sufficient troops. The real problem is that they -- and [Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez in particular -- have never devised an effective strategy.
Read it here.

Bacevich, I think, is wrong to brand the Iraq operations a failure. They aren't. But he is right on in his scepticism regarding the military command. We see this in every conflict. Things inevitably go wrong and when they do the military blames civilian leaders for the problems. Sources in the Pentagon, and even in field commands, leak to a willing press, political opponents of the incumbent administration trumpet the charges, and as political pressure grows, the pace and critical content of the leaks increases. Other agencies, like the intelligence services, pitch in. The administration counter-leaks. And so it goes, and so it goes....

Is the public adequately informed in the process? Of course not. The fog of leaks distorts and blurs everything.

And don't expect historians to sort it out. The sad truth is that professional scholars are just as partisan as the political operatives themselves. In today's profession advocacy trumps objectivity nearly every time.

Zimbabwe Update -- Deportation becomes an issue

The Belfast Telegraph reports:

Pressure is mounting on ministers to halt the deportation of failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers amid fears of increasing violence by President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Mark Oaten. the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, wrote to the Home Secretary demanding a moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe. He said: "The Mugabe regime is wholly unsafe and plainly has no respect for human rights."

There are 116 Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in detention awaiting possible deportation, the Home Office says. Scores are on hunger strike in protest against the lifting last November of a ban on forced deportation.

Even if the protests succeed it will only affect the fate of a few hundred people at most. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands are suffering terribly in Zimbabwe.

What is to be done?

Read it here.

The Barrenness of Theory

Mark Blauerlein has a terrific piece on the role of "theory" in academic discourse over at Butterflies and Wheels.

A sample:

The more popular Theory became, the less it inspired deep commitments among searching minds. The more Theory became enshrined in anthologies ordered semester after semester, the more it became a token of professional wisdom. The only energy Theory sustained during those years issued from a non-philosophical source: the race/gender/sexuality/anti-imperialism/ anti-bourgeois resentments tapped by various critics giving different objects of oppression theoretical standing.

This raises another discrepancy between Theory’s intellectual content and its institutional standing. Theory in its political versions claimed to be subversive, egalitarian, anti-hegemonic, and ruthlessly self-critical, but in their actual working conditions theorists presided over one of the most hierarchical, prestige-ridden, and complacent professional spaces in our society. Theory promised to bring a fruitful pluralism to the field, yet the proliferation of outlooks created the opposite, a subdivision into sects that didn’t talk to one another. Theory purported to supply intellectual tools to dismantle the contents of humanities education and undo the power structures of institutions, but while the syllabus and curriculum changed, the networking, factionalism, and cronyism only intensified. No doubt the infusion of corporate approaches into the university, along with the growing isolation of humanities professors from American society, played a role in the process, but while Theorists critiqued moneyed interests and bourgeois conventions, they enjoyed the perks of tenured celebrity as much as anyone. One can’t blame them for that, but one can blame them for enlisting Theory in the service of social justice while insulating themselves from genuine social problems.

There's much more -- all of it delicious.

Read it here.

Pennsylvania Politics -- Santorum and puppy love

Rick Santorum is running well behind Bob Casey in the polls, mostly because his base has not forgiven him for supporting Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey last year. Somehow I don't think this endorsement will help heal the rift.

AP reports:
WASHINGTON - Puppies and kittens likely are not the first things that come to mind when many think of Sen. Rick Santorum — the conservative No. 3 Senate Republican known for his tough stance against abortion and gay marriage.

But Santorum, R-Pa., has won high praise from the Humane Society of the United States for pushing legislation aimed at ending breeding facilities known as puppy mills.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also finds him a friend. "He's a man with a heart, and he doesn't think it's any more acceptable to treat animals cruelly than humans," said Mary Beth Sweetland, director of research and investigations for the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA.

Read it here.

A few weeks ago Santorum inserted into an interview a bizarre reference to man on dog sex [here]. Now puppy love..., hmmmm. This is not going to help him with his base.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Zimbabwe Update -- Blair's response to Mugabe's atrocities

As Mad Bobby Mugabe's assault on his nation's poor continues more and more of the afflicted are seeking asylum abroad. Some asylum-seekers have been turned back by British authorities and there have been calls for a moratorium on deportations. Tony Blair responds:

The prime minister, Tony Blair, today ruled out a general moratorium on the deportation of Zimbabwean asylum seekers for fear it would lead to abuses of the system.

As a hunger strike among Zimbabweans seeking refuge in Britain entered its sixth day, Mr Blair said the government was in a "difficult" situation over what to do with people fleeing President Robert Mugabe's regime.

"We abhor what has happened in Zimbabwe," he said at his monthly press briefing. "Everything said about Mugabe has been shown to be true. But over the past few years we have cut asylum numbers down dramatically and for the first time are getting the system under control.

"If we introduce a generalised moratorium in respect of Zimbabwe instead of assessing each case on a case-by-case basis, our real fear is that we will open up our system to the abuse we have been shutting down."

He said all of those deported to Zimbabwe had had their claims thoroughly investigated, often by a court.

"If we then say, even to those whose claims fail, that we are not going to send you back, we will send a signal right across the system that Britain is open for claims ... that are not genuine."

Mr Blair said he "despaired" about the "appalling" regime in Zimbabwe and welcomed the fact that a UN envoy was visiting the country to inspect the latest home clearances, which have left hundreds of thousands homeless.

"I desperately want to do more. But I know that will create opposition from other countries surrounding Zimbabwe and from Zimbabwe itself."

Read it here.

And that's the rub, isn't it. Blair is unable to do anything because he cannot rally the international community, especially African states, to support action. He is unable to extend blanket asylum because the British public won't tolerate unrestricted immigration. This is a story we've seen time and again. The poor suffer while the "civilized" world stands by and "desperately wants" to do something about it, but cannot because that would be acting like a "cowboy" and would involve diplomatic and political risks.

The real tragedy of Iraq is that the intense international and domestic opposition to intervention it engendered would seem to preclude any action at all to respond to other instances of gross barbarism.

And the poor continue to suffer.



Reuters reports:

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain called on Monday for the United Nations Security Council to debate a housing crackdown in Zimbabwe and what it says are wider human rights abuses, after a visiting senior U.N. official reports back.

Right. First the visit, then the report, then interminable talk, and China blocks any meaningful action against Mugabe, and they settle for a strongly worded statement condemning Mugabe's actions, and that will set everything right.


Read it here.

Explaining the Iranian Elections

A standard explanation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's unexpected victory in the Iranian elections is beginning to emerge in the MSM. Essentially it goes like this:

1) Various "reform" regimes in the past have represented the interests of the affluent, westernizing, secular elites, but because of the influence of clerical authorities have been unable to fulfill their promises of meaningful reform.

2) Because of their ineffectiveness, affluent, educated Iranians have lost faith in the reformers and have withdrawn from the political process.

3) Because the reformers have generally ignored the interests of Iran's poor and pious Muslims they are generally disliked by most Iranians.

4) Ahmadinejad won not because he was a religious hardliner, but because he was widely seen as a man of the people and his opponents represented elites.

As the NYT put it:

Mr. Ahmadinejad... emphasized his piety and independence, insisting that he did not represent any political party but was a man of the people. His core supporters, the ultrareligious, spoke of him with reverence, as though he were a religious figure and not a politician. It was his everyman posture, compared to the regal style of Mr. Rafsanjani, that won many people over. On election day, Mr. Ahmadinejad waited with average citizens before casting his vote.

"All through my life I have never seen a presidential candidate standing in a queue like ordinary people," said Seyed Mohammad Shekarabi, 75, who broke into tears when he saw Mr. Ahmadinejad take his place in the line.

It was Mr. Rafsanjani whom voters perceived as the embodiment of a system they have grown to distrust. A former president and cleric, who has become a very wealthy businessman, Mr. Rafsanjani carried himself as royalty during the campaign, never taking to the streets, and never seeming to understand that his history as an elder statesman of the republic was viewed as a liability, not an asset.

Read it here.

Rasfanjani has a different view of the matter. He charges that there was massive interference in the electoral process:

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized ``organized and illegal'' interference in the June 24 presidential election won by his rival, Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's victory in the election gives backers of the Islamic revolution full power over state institutions in Iran, holder of the world's second-largest oil and gas reserves. The U.S. also expressed ``concerns'' about the fairness of the election in a statement yesterday.

Read about it here.

Thus is a disturbing assertion of power by hard-line radical Muslims reshaped in the MSM into a comforting assertion of the need for simple "social justice."The ideology of America's secular elites is impenetrable to evidence.

Amir Taheri, writing in the Australian, points out the implications of Ahmadinejad's election.

Ahmadinejad's victory means that Khamenehi, who has established himself as head of the most radical faction within the Khomeinist establishment, now controls all levers of power for the first time. He will now be able to put his own men in charge of all key government departments. Any idea of Western-style reforms to please the restive middle classes will be abandoned.

The concentration of power in the hands of the radical faction will end more than two decades of divided government that has put many aspects of policy on autopilot as it were. Two years ago when King Abdullah II of Jordan telephoned Khatami to complain about Iran setting up terrorist cells in Amman, the Iranian president was able to claim that he knew nothing of it because he did not control all organs of government.

The Europeans who have been negotiating with Tehran over the nuclear issue have also heard similar claims from Iranian counterparts. With Ahmadinejad in charge, however, such claims will no longer be credible because the camarilla headed by Khamenehi is now in complete control. Rafsanjani had promised the Chinese model - meaning the combination of a despotic political regime with capitalist economic policies. Ahmadinejad promises a North Korean model - that is to say a totalitarian system and a command economy.

Ahmadinejad's election shows that the Khomeinist regime cannot be reformed from within. It also shows that there is still a strong constituency in Iran for the populist message of the ayatollah. True, far fewer people voted than the regime claims. But those who did vote preferred Ahmadinejad's "pure Islam" to Rafsanjani's attempt at perpetuating the myth that Iran today is, in the words of the former US president Bill Clinton, "a progressist democracy".

Ahmadinejad describes himself as a fundamentalist, has no qualms about asserting that there can be no democracy in Islam, rejects free-market economics, and insists on "religious duties" rather than human rights.


Ahmadinejad's victory reveals the true face of the Islamic Republic as a regional power with its own world vision that challenges the so-called "global consensus". It reminds the world that the mini-Cold War that started between the Islamic Republic and the West, notably the US, is far from over.

Read it here.

So much for the liberal consensus on Islamic radicalism. Ahmadinejad does not represent "everyman," nor is he a proponent of social justice as the term is understood in the West. He is a repudiation of everything the NYT stands for. It is long past time for the editors at the Gray Lady to wake up and realize it.

Another Health Care Issue -- the Veterans Administration

Here's an election issue just waiting for a politician to grab it.
This week, the Bush Administration acknowledged that funding for health care of veterans is short $1 billion. The shortfall was apparently just discovered during a midyear budget review.
But how will struggling VA hospital survive with less money when despite budget increases in prior years, cutbacks in services were necessary. "About a year and a half ago, the Secretary decided there were not enough resources to treat every veteran who was coming to the VA looking for us to take care of their health-care needs," explains Wilkinson.
The cutbacks in veterans benefits have been huge. The vast majority of veterans get nothing -- absolutely nothing at all from the VA. We owe the men and women who laid their lives on the line for their country much, much more than that for which they are currently eligible. There is a vast constitutency that can be mobilized on this issue, especially as health care costs skyrocket. Now, which politician will pick up the ball and run with it?

Read it here.

Bono and Henry Hyde on Africa

Bono on Africa:

The Australian reports:

POP superstar Bono has urged leaders at the upcoming G8 summit - especially US President George W. Bush - to offer a generous aid package to bring about a "historic breakthrough" for the world's poor.

"Those of us who have been working on development issues - and Africa in particular - are holding out that this could be a historic breakthrough, a real sea change on issues facing the poorest of the poor," he said.

Read it here.

Bono is particularly hard on Dubya for not supporting this "historic breakthrough" approach to Africa's problems, calling him "the hardest nut to crack." But Bush rightly points out that he has tripled US assistance to Africa over his predecessors. That isn't enough for Bono, though. He is pushing for a massive one-time effort that will transform the continent.

Congressman Henry Hyde points out why Bono's approach is flawed, and explains why the Bush Administration is less than thrilled by Tony Blair's aid to Africa initiative.
[Britain] is pushing for an "International Finance Facility", or IFF, that would use international bond markets to raise $50 billion in development funds for each of the next few years, with donors committing future aid budgets to pay off the bonds in the out-years.

We already have a framework for confronting Africa's ills. In Monterrey, Mexico, in early 2002, the developed nations agreed to a new bargain with the world's underdeveloped nations: donors would increase aid spending and the world's poor nations would carry out economic and political reforms to ensure that development assistance money gets spent effectively and achieves observable outcomes. Simple something-for-nothing handouts would end.

The IFF undermines the spirit of the Monterrey Consensus by focusing on the tin-cupping of financing the enterprise rather than crafting a strategy for achieving the desperately needed outcomes the enterprise is intended to provide. Given the servicing on borrowed funds, paying interest to investors, and the likelihood of decreased funding by donors after the big push, Africa will actually experience a net loss of aid flows in the long term.

Further, the concentration on a blanket call for aid funds creates a distraction from the sometimes painful responsibilities of developing countries to adopt the reforms, transparency, and capacity building necessary to enable a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Why should a country like Uganda, considered one of Africa's development success stories, take steps to trim any of its 70 cabinet ministries or other parts of its bloated public bureaucracy when international donors continue to pay 50 per cent of its national budget?

We must no longer treat Africa as a ward of the developed world. We must no longer espouse the welfarism of patting the continent on the head, muttering "poor Africans" while opening our wallets so we can sleep better at night thinking we've made a difference when we haven't. No nation ever spent its way out of poverty by cashing foreign aid cheques.

Instead, we should focus our partnerships on committed African leaders who are actively implementing the kinds of policies and actions necessary for home-grown economic growth and poverty reduction. African leaders genuinely concerned about the betterment of their country focus on trade, private investment, technology, democratic and economic reform, and other core drivers of lasting economic growth - and how to become less dependent on the whims of Western handouts. Such leaders and their countries deserve increased levels of targeted assistance to support them as they wrestle through their development challenges with their own solutions.

Well said!

Accountability, not Bush, is the tough nut that has to be cracked before efforts to aid Africa can be expected to produce sustained results.

Read the whole thing here.

The philosophical differences between the two approaches are outlined by David Brooks here.

Becker and Posner on Kelo

Gary Becker and Richard Posner comment on the Kelo case here and here.

Check them out.

It occurs to me that with one and possibly two SCOTUS nominations coming up, the liberal wing of the current court could have done nothing that would have pissed more people off than this decision. This strikes right at the heart of the middle class and gives the conservatives a huge, HUGE talking point going into the confirmation battles.

Rumsfeld Speaks and Makes News

Two of Rummy's statements made major news Sunday:

Chinaview reports:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday more violence in Iraq could go on for a number of years.

He said that defeating the insurgency may take as long as 12 years, with Iraqi security forces, not U.S. and foreign troops, taking the lead and finishing the job.

Read it here.

And, WaPo reports:

The U.S. military in Iraq has been holding face-to-face meetings with some Iraqi leaders of the insurgency there, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the U.S. commander in charge of Iraq confirmed yesterday.

Read it here.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

China Rising -- the military threat

Bill Gertz has a disturbing article on China's military expansion in the Washington Times.
China is building its military forces faster than U.S. intelligence and military analysts expected, prompting fears that Beijing will attack Taiwan in the next two years, according to Pentagon officials.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials say all the signs point in one troubling direction: Beijing then will be forced to go to war with the United States, which has vowed to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack.

China's military buildup includes an array of new high-technology weapons, such as warships, submarines, missiles and a maneuverable warhead designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses. Recent intelligence reports also show that China has stepped up military exercises involving amphibious assaults, viewed as another sign that it is preparing for an attack on Taiwan.
That is bad enough, but there is more. Quoting an intelligence official Gertz writes:

...China wants a "blue-water" navy capable of projecting power far beyond the two island chains.
"If you look at the technical capabilities of the weapons platforms that they're fielding, the sea-keeping capabilities, the size, sensors and weapons fit, this capability transcends the baseline that is required to deal with a Taiwan situation militarily," the intelligence official said.

"So they are positioned then, if [Taiwan is] resolved one way or the other, to really become a regional military power as well."
China's expansion, he concludes, is a real threat to both the United States and to Russia which has vast natural resources that China covets.

Intelligence estimates suggest that within two to three years China will have the military capacity to challenge the US over the issue of Taiwan.

Scary stuff....,

Stay tuned.

Read it here.

Zimbabwe Update -- Can Diplomacy Accomplish Anything?

Mad Bobby Mugabe’s reign of terror continues in Zimbabwe and all efforts to stem it have failed. Appeals from the West have been ineffective and so have those from the clergy. The opposition has been completely demoralized and is incapable of mounting effective resistance. Economic sanctions are impossible because so much of Zimbabwe’s population is barely surviving as it is. [For a discussion of the scope of the disaster read here.]

The African Union refuses to condemn Mugabe’s actions and South Africa, the only power in the region capable of possibly influencing him, actually supports his policies.

What is to be done?

Well, there's this:

The Scotsman reports:

BRITISH government diplomats have held secret talks in Zimbabwe aimed at persuading Robert Mugabe to hand over power and return his devastated nation to the Commonwealth, it was claimed last night.

Senior sources in London and Zimbabwe told Scotland on Sunday that the dictator's closest allies have been pressing the British government to relax its stance against Mugabe in advance of an attempted breakthrough in the stalemate at the G8 summit in Scotland this week.

And they claimed that Foreign Office diplomats have already travelled to Zimbabwe to begin clandestine negotiations with representatives of the hated dictator's regime, with a view to returning the nation to the Commonwealth, three years after it was suspended.

But the proposed 'peace plan' for Zimbabwe would require Mugabe to resign from the presidency and withdraw from the public eye - although he could retain an over-arching role as the 'Father of the Nation'.

Read it here.

There is a certain urgency to the proposal. Not only are millions of lives imperiled, but Mugabe’s actions are threatening to disrupt international relations at a number of levels. Already there are tensions between Britain, which condemns the brutality of his policies, and South Africa and Tanzania which support him. The controversy could disrupt this fall’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and could derail Tony Blair’s attempts to build support for his African Aid initiative.

At present there is little likelihood that the diplomatic effort will yield satisfactory results. Contacts with the Zimbabwe government so far have proceeded only at low levels and international disunity, even in the face of these horrors, precludes any effective effort. China, which supports Mugabe, will block any UN initiative. The G-8 cannot act. The African Union refuses to take action. And as a result, millions of Africa’s most vulnerable people will suffer.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Zimbabwe Update -- The Case for Mugabe

AP presents the arguments for those who support Mad Bobby Mugabe's ruralization policy.
Hundreds of homes have been built in Zimbabwe's capital to replace some of the thousands destroyed in a widely criticized official "cleanup" campaign, the government said Saturday ahead of a planned visit by a United Nations envoy.
State radio in Zimbabwe reported Saturday that the first 500 of 5,600 new homes were ready for occupation in the capital, Harare, and 250,000 plots of land had been made available immediately countrywide.

Mugabe also pledged $325 million to provide 1.2 million houses and plots of land by 2008.

He urged Zimbabweans faced by widespread international condemnation of the campaign "to remain focused and disregard the machinations of the West trying to demonize the country," according to ZBC.

The 81-year-old president, who has ruled the southern African country since independence in 1980, said the mass bulldozing of houses and businesses was to curb "lawlessness, illicit foreign currency dealings, black marketeering, rampant thefts, prostitution and other social ills so detrimental to social morality and decency." He claimed that the program had been "well-received by the majority of our people."

Police say the blitz - in which 42,000 people have been arrested, fined, or had their goods confiscated - has resulted in a 20 percent drop in crimes, including murder, house robberies and car theft.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, this is little consolation for the hundreds of thousands who are freezing and starving tonight, and where is the food and money going to come from for these programs? The Zimbabwean economy has collapsed. Maybe these promises will satisfy other African states and UN investigators, but they must be seen objectively as simple attempts to paper over an ongoing disaster.


Another outrage! It seems that Britain's immigration officials are sending Zimbabwean refugees back into Mad Bobby's clutches.

The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius A Ncube, said those deported would be persecuted by the Mugabe regime as "traitors". "People who were asylum seekers in Britain and are returned have been detained by police in Zimbabwe, some being tortured and forced to confess that they were in anti-government activities."

Read it here.

The Collapse of the Frankenreich

Remember a couple of years ago when pundits here and abroad were telling us all that France was in the ascendency, that Europe would revolve around the Franco-German axis, that Bush and Blair's "blunders" were isolating the Anglo-Saxon powers from the rest of the world, for whom France presumably spoke, etc. Of course you do!

Well, the EU constitution is dead, world opinion is beginning to grudgingly realize that Bush and Bair might have been right all alonf, and France is imploding politically, economically, and culturally.

Note the Times' coverage of Tony Blair's recent speech outlining his plans for his presidency of the EU.

Mr Blair may not have stormed the Bastille, but wielding his motto “modernise or die”, he had stormed the temple of European federalism.

Disgruntled pro-Chirac French MEPs skulked at the back of the hall. After his speech setting out his plans for the European presidency and emphasising the need to modernise the EU and to divert its €50 billion (£33 billion) agriculture budget to industries of the future, one Spanish journalist ran out declaring: “I am convinced! He is absolutely right!”


Mr Blair had become the toast of Europe; ...he is being hailed as the natural leader of the continent: the only man who can save Europe from itself.

Italian politicians hailed Tony Blair’s vision of Europe, and declared that a new “Rome-London axis” would provide the driving force of the new EU, replacing the exhausted Franco-German motor. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, said last night: “Europe must reform, as Prime Minister Blair says, and I am in total accord with him.” Piero Fassino, leader of the Democrats of the Left, the main opposition party, said that Mr Blair was charting the way for Europe. Antonio Polito, editor of the left-wing review Reformista, said: “The European Left must understand that it cannot remain attached forever to the Franco-German idea.”

Most worryingly for President Chirac and Herr Schröder is that their own countries’ newspapers fell under Mr Blair’s spell. The left-wing French newspaper Libération declared in its headline: “Blair’s new deal for Europe.” Its veteran Brussels correspondent, Jean Quatremer, said: “For a long time, we have been talking about the French social model, as opposed to the horrible Anglo-Saxon model, but we now see that it is our model that is a horror.” The country’s most influential newspaper, Le Monde, backed Mr Blair’s demand for a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), calling for the partial “renationalisation” of farm aid so that EU countries pay part of the subsidies themselves. The paper declared that the only way to find the funds needed for EU research and technology was to cut spending on agriculture.

Germany’s professionally Europhile journalists have broken the taboo about challenging the Franco-German axis, and no longer risk charges of being unpatriotic if they support Mr Blair. The Berliner Zeitung proclaimed Mr Blair the new strongman of Europe. Die Welt declared: “The British sense of freedom strengthens Europe.”

This week’s revolution in Europe has transformed even the EU capital, Brussels, where analysts and commentators hailed the British conquest.

Read the whole thing here.

So Europe no longer revolves around France and Germany. What about France itself?

The Times also reports:
JACQUES CHIRAC may be engaged in an all-out assault on perfidious Albion, but French business has taken a wholly different approach.

According to a new study, a majority of big French companies has adopted English as the official language.

“Today, someone who does not know how to speak English is like someone who did not know how to read or write 50 years ago,” said the report from the French branch of Educational Testing Service (ETS) Europe, the language group.


Among 26 of France’s most important firms questioned by ETS Europe, 16 gave English as their official working language. Of these, nine have dropped French altogether and seven have placed English and French on a level footing.

“This means that documents must be written in English,” said Bertrand Moneger, head of markets at ETS Europe-France. “And if there is one English speaker present at the meeting, then it must be held in English even if everyone else there is French.”


The report said: “An overwhelming majority of managers, if not all of them, use English daily as their working language and must switch indifferently from one language to another for meetings, e-mails and other workplace exchanges.”

A majority of the firms questioned said that the trend would accelerate. “In five or six years, most personnel managers think all official company documents will be in English.”

The survey also found that an ability to speak English was a basic employment criterion for managerial posts. Without it, applicants stood virtually no chance — whatever other qualifications they possessed. “English is no longer the optional extra . . . It is the minimum.”

Read the whole thing here.

This is huge. Fluency in English is now becoming essential to advancement within French corporations and this need will soon be reflected in school curricula. The next generation of French kids [assuming there is one, given their birthrate problems] will grow up speaking English. So much for French cultural superiority; it is going the way of it's pretentions to political dominance.

Resolving the Darfur Crisis -- An African Proposal

The Boston Globe has a piece by Ketumile Masire, former president of Botswana, arguing that the pressing problems in Africa, most importantly the ongoing genocidal attacks by Arabs against Black Africans in Darfur, must ultimately be solved by Africans themselves, and not by Western intervention.

President Masire points to several interventions by Africans to resolve crises:
In Togo, the Economic Organization of West African States brokered an agreement to avoid bloodshed and encourage a peaceful transition after the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema. In Burundi and Ivory Coast, Africans led by South Africa arranged cease-fires and peace agreements that led to a peaceful shift in governance in Burundi and seem to be smoothing bitter relations between north and south in Ivory Coast. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, too, South Africa helped operationalize an accord that is beginning to bring stability to that massive and conflicted country.
Perhaps he overestimates the progress being made in Congo and and Burundi, and of course he neglects to mention Western intervention in Ivory Coast. Altogether the accomplishments of the African states in this regard are pretty small beer.

African states understandably want to take charge of their own destinies and resent Western interference, but their efforts have often simply provided opportunities for kleptocracies to skim funds or for oppressive rulers to undermine and obstruct needed reforms. The failure of African states to rein in Mugabe's insanity in Zimbabwe stands as a case in point.

The problem of accountability remains, as always, a major obstacle to meaningful action to solve Africa's continuing crises. I fear that African states are not very likely to provide a solution to the one in Sudan.

Read the proposal here.

Iran and the Blogosphere

The outcome of the Iranian elections has been a shock to the blogosphere.

BBC presents an excellent roundup of blogosphere comments and reports:
Iranian bloggers have been reacting to the landslide victory of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with a mixture of shock, anger, despair, cynicism and irony.

Some acknowledge Mr Ahmadinejad's success in reaching out to the country's poor, while others doubt that the vote could have made any difference to the country's future.

Iran's weblogs, which represent one of the largest web communities in the world, are seen as mainly the preserve of the urban middle class and liberal-leaning people both inside and outside the country.

Their voices are not heard by the mainstream conservative media and the blogs have become a popular forum for dissent. It is the first time that the Iranian blogs have had the chance to be involved in a presidential election campaign.

As an outsider, Mr Ahmadinejad had been virtually ignored by bloggers until he came second in the first round of voting a week ago.

Read the whole thing here.

This is one call that the blogosphere missed, and missed big.

The reason is that blogs link us to a small and to some extent alientated segment of Iranian society. Young, relatively well educated, fairly affluent, and receptive to western influences, the bloggers are far from representative of the Iranian electorate.

In previous communications with other bloggers I noted the major disconnect between reports in the MSM and those appearing on the blogs. I suggested that maybe we should be suspicious of bloggy information that contradicted that of the MSM. This result simply reinforces that judgment. Blogs are an important, even a vital, source of information, but we should not assume that they are always the best information.

Enthusiasm for bloggery can sometimes blind us to the fact that the much-maligned MSM is also an important, and sometimes a vastly superior, source of information.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Iran Elections -- Ahmadinejad Wins With an Anti-Globalism Message

MSNBC reports:

Hard-liner on way to winning Iran presidency
Aides to ex-President Rafsanjani concede defeat to Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN, Iran - Hard-line candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was rolling toward a landslide victory in Iran’s presidential election, officials in his opponent’s campaign acknowledged Saturday. The result would be an upset win for a man reformers fear will restrict freedoms won in past years.

Read it here.
Meanwhile AP reports:

Reform-Minded Candidate Leads in Iran

Read it here.


It appears that AP's report was based on wishful thinking. The Times reports:
THE ultra-conservative Mayor of Tehran coasted to a shock victory in Iran’s presidential elections last night, a development that threatens to stifle the social reforms initiated by his predecessor and set his country on a new collision course with the West.

With more than 80 per cent of the votes counted, election officials said that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, held a commanding lead of 61 per cent over his reformist rival, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70.

The Interior Ministry declared Mr Ahmadinejad the winner. “Poor provinces have voted massively for Ahmadinejad,” an unnamed ministry official said.

So that's that. The hardliners won and won big.

What does that mean? The Times article contains some clues.

1) First of all young people did not vote in large numbers. To some extent this was a conscious boycott to protest the narrow range of candidates, but it also was part of a general disaffection of Iranian youth from the political process as a whole. The blogosphere hailed the boycott as an expession of revolutionary potential, but all it accomplished was to draw support away from moderate candidates who might have blocked the hard-liners' triumph.

2) Turnout was low, in part because of youth disaffection.

Although polls were extended by four hours, turnout was lower than last week. Officials said that 22 million, or 47 per cent, had voted, well down on the turnout of 63 per cent in the first round a week ago.

This meant that relatively small, but well organized groups could have a major impact on the outcome of the election.

3) Although Ahmadinejad is routinely described in the MSM as a "hard-line conservative" he is not. He has the strong backing of religious conservatives, but also,

has captured the attention of the Iranian poor with his ascetic message of socialist-style economic reform and cultural discipline.
4) Ahmadinejad's anti-westernism also sold well.

His campaigning has been a stroke of genius. The slick, Western-style campaigns of the other candidates backfired, alienating working-class voters who were not impressed by colourful posters and abstract talk of modernisation.

In contrast, Mr Ahmadinejad played up his humble origins and sold himself as a man of the people.

Campaign leaflets showed him sitting cross-legged on a Persian rug eating a modest meal of bread and cheese promising to solve poverty, unemployment and corruption.

So he's a populist, socialist, religious conservative who addresses the concerns of the nation's poor rather than the pro-western aspirations of the nation's youth. I think that his election signals a reaction, much like what we have seen in Europe recently and in some Democratic Party propaganda in this country, against globalization. In electing Ahmadinejad Iran is turning its back on the west and on the cultural and economic imperatives associated with it.

The Times provides a quote from an Ahmadinejad supporter that sums it up.
“We need a fundamentalist running the country,” said Ali, 28, a university teacher. “We have corruption and many cultural problems here. The US cultural attack in Iran, using the internet and satellite TV has caused many difficulties. We need Ahmadinejad to put us back in place.”

Read the Times piece here.

BBC reinforces the Times conclusions:

Iranians have voted not so much on [Ahmadinejad's] ideological position - some of them have overlooked that in a way.

It was his appeal to the poor that seems to be the secret to Mr Ahmadinejad's success. Despite Iran's huge oil wealth, the country has an unemployment problem and a big gap between rich and poor.

People see a lot of consumerism, very conspicuous spending in Tehran among the elite, but they do not themselves see the results of the country's oil boom.

The vote seems to have been one against the status quo - a sign of deep economic frustration.

Mr Rafsanjani is seen as an establishment figure, a senior cleric who has always been at the top of the revolutionary elite. Instead Iranians have chosen an alternative, younger man who talks in the revolutionary slogans of redistributing the country's oil wealth, re-nationalising the assets.

But for liberals, Mr Ahmadinejad's ascent to power is worrying. It is expected he will want to reverse some of the social freedoms introduced by the reformists and take a harder line on nuclear negotiations with the West.

His victory now puts all the organs of state in the hands of the hardliners.

Very interesting mixture -- populism, radical socialism, and religious reaction. What they all have in common is a rejection of western liberalism, secularism, and bourgeois culture. It's an anti-globalist message. Yup!

Read the BBC piece here.

Zimbabwe Update -- The African Union is "Irritated" at the "Kgokgo"

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, as Mad Bobby Mugabe pursues his insane "cleansing" program, has finally caught the attention of the world. Reports of the atrocities have filtered into the MSM and at the G-8 summit, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, backed by the attendees, issued a call for Mugabe "to abide by the rule of law and respect human rights." [here]

More than 200 human rights organizations and civic groups have labeled Mugabe's campaign, "a grave violation of international human rights law and a disturbing affront to human dignity." [Of course, they ignored his thuggery when it was directed against whites.]

The rights groups urged the African Union, which is meeting in Libya next month, and the United Nations to act against Zimbabwe – but did not specify how.

They also demanded that Zimbabwe compensate the displaced and allow them access to humanitarian workers, who they say are currently being blocked from providing relief.

[here] and [here]

And how did the African states respond to this crisis and calls from the international community?

BBC reports:
The African Union has rejected calls from the UK and the US to put pressure on Zimbabwe to stop its demolition of illegal houses and market stalls.

An AU spokesman told the BBC that it had many more serious problems to consider than Zimbabwe.

The UN says that 275,000 people have been made homeless. At least three children have been crushed to death.

Urging the AU to take action, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described recent events as "tragic".


"If the government that they elected say they are restoring order by their actions, I don't think it would be proper for us to go interfering in their internal legislation," AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako told the BBC's Network Africa program

Read it here.

And what about South Africa, the only nation really positioned to interfere?

The Cape Times reports:
A government spokesman expressed irritation yesterday at a so-called bogeyman approach being used to scare African countries, like children, into conforming with the West. Pretoria: A government spokesman expressed irritation yesterday at a so-called bogeyman approach being used to scare African countries, like children, into conforming with the West. "I am really irritated by this kgokgo approach," presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said when approached for comment on a call by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for African action against Zimbabwe. Kgokgo is a Sotho word meaning something akin to a bogeyman being used to scare children into being obedient. "South Africa refuses to accept the notion that because suddenly we're going to a G8 summit (of the world's developed nations) we must be reminded that we must look good and appease the G8 leaders. We will do things because we believe they are correct and right."
Khumalo said he was "sick and tired of the ghost of the G8 being invoked", and with a view that Africa should please the G8 ahead of its coming summit.
Read it here.

So that's it. The reports of atrocities are only scare stories and doing anything to stop the carnage would be bowing to the demands of white European masters. The anti-colonialist crap continues to flow.


And the problem is worse than is being generally reported. BBC notes

[M]any of those other African governments have overseen similar brutal evictions in their own countries, and yet have suffered very little outside criticism.

The sad truth is that what is going on in Zimbabwe at the moment is not at all unusual.

From one end of Africa to the other, governments have set about slum clearance schemes without any consideration for the people who live there, or any sense of responsibility for what happens to them afterwards.


The victims of the Zimbabwe eviction are lucky that because of the political campaign being run against President Robert Mugabe, both inside and outside the country, there are well-organized and well-funded people calling attention to their plight.

But it seems unlikely that Africa's other leaders will sympathise with the displaced rather than with a fellow president cleaning up his country's city, and will speak out on their behalf.
Read it here.

So what Mugabe is doing is considered business as usual through much of the continent. Mugabe's actions and the response to them should give pause to those who support Tony Blair's aid initiative that would rely on the African Union to guarantee that donor funds would be appropriately spent.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Zimbabwe Update -- The International Community Responds to Mugabe's Atrocities

AFP reports:
[F]oreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) club of wealthy countries Thursday rapped Zimbabwe.

"We discussed the current situation and the ongoing police operations which have reportedly left thousands of the most vulnerable homeless and destitute," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a news conference in London following a one-day meeting with his G8 counterparts.

"And we call on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect human rights," he said.

The G8 is due hold a summit in Scotland in early July to discuss the fate of a multi-billion-dollar rescue plan for Africa which underpins good governance and zero-corruption in the world's poorest continent.

The G8 warning came as London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International led more than 200 non-governmental organisations in urging the United Nations and the African Union to exert pressure on President Robert Mugabe to stop the drive.

"The AU and the relevant bodies of the UN ... cannot fail to act in the face of gross and widespread human rights violations and appalling human misery," Amnesty and the other bodies said in a joint statement released simultaneously in Harare and four other African cities.

Zimbabwean lawyers have meanwhile lined up a series of lawsuits against the clean-up campaign.

Read it here.

Ooooh! Wow! That'll have Mad Bobby Mugabe trembling in his boots. Calls, strongly worded statements, threats of lawsuits, discussions. The International Community really knows how to bring the heat. It's only a matter of time now before Mugabe crumbles and makes full restitution to the victims -- maybe a few centuries.

A Huge Political Issue in the Making

Adam Geller, writing for the AP highlights an immense problem looming for baby boomers. Large companies are backing out of their pension commitments.

NEW YORK – Big employers sharply accelerated freezes and terminations of pension plans last year, steering away from the increasing expense and uncertainty of paying for workers' retirement, a new study says.

About 11 percent of the big companies offering traditional pensions terminated their plans or froze accrual of new benefits to workers, according to a study by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, released Wednesday. That is up from 2003, when 7 percent of the nation's 1,000 largest companies capped pension plans.

That trend, long in the making, has continued into this year, most notably with UAL Corp.'s United Airlines defaulting on its severely underfunded pension plans. Whether it continues could hinge on how lawmakers resolve a number of difficult questions swirling around pensions, experts say.

About half of the companies that froze pension accruals or terminated plans last year are financially troubled businesses, the study found.

But even many healthy companies are rethinking pensions, partly because of the uncertain legal status of some pension plans.

Companies including Sears Holding Co., NCR Corp., Circuit Stores Inc., and others have frozen pension plans for all or some of their employees during the past year.

Read about it here.

As the number of companies forfeiting on their pension obligations increases pressure will build for government intervention. This is building toward a huge political brouhaha. I wonder, is there a politician out there who sees an opportunity? You bet there is.

Stay tuned....

Now This is Cool -- A Bionic Car

Mercedes-Benz has developed a concept car based on bionic design features. Its basic shape mimics that of the boxfish and its exhaust system incorporates an aqueous urea [yes urea] solution that converts nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen.

Read about it here. Hat tip John Hawks.

Posted by Hello

Batman Begins

Well, it happened again. Yesterday I made yet another effort to see “Cinderella Man.” This is the third time in the past few weeks. The first time failed because She Who Shall Not Be Named declared that Russell Crowe was a creep, that she didn’t want to see him, and would much rather go to see the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” OK! [read about it here]

Last week I made a second attempt. SWSNBN was finally willing to put up with Crowe for my sake, but then she invited a friend of ours to join us. The friend immediately announced that she really wanted to see the new Brad Pitt film, and SWSNBN joined in. So, instead of Cinderella Man we went to see a horrible flick in which Angelina Jolie looked sexy, Brad Pitt looked goofy, and lots of things blew up real good. Ugh! It didn’t help much that the friend apologized afterward for dragging us to such a bad movie.

Yesterday I tried again. SWSNBN and I drove down to a Cineplex in the nearest town and approached the ticket counter. “Two for Cinderella Man,” I said confidently. “Sir, I’m sorry,” was the reply, “We’ve just changed our schedule.”


“’Herbie’ was just released and we had to make room for it.”

[silent] “AAARRRGGGH! Herbie?!?!?”

[calmly] “Well dear, in that case, is there anything you would like to see?”

SWHNBN: “How about ‘Batman Begins? Christian Bale is cute.”

Me: “Oh, OK. [unvoiced: “Damn”]

So, once again I failed. At this rate I may never get to see “Cinderella Man.

So, how about “Batman Begins”? Was it worth it? Yeah, sorta, if you’re into that kinda thing.

It’s by far the most realistic of the Batman sagas [allowing of course for the fact that it is, after all, a superhero movie]. This was director Christopher Nolan’s avowed intention and he has succeeded. The special effects are prosaic by today’s standards, but that’s all to the good. Batman and his opponents are not super-powered and their exploits do not exceed the bounds of plausibility to such an extent that we lose sight of their humanity.

In place of spectacular wire work and cgi, Nolan substitutes confusion and sound effects. Time and again the screen is filled with chaotic images and quick camera cuts, the aim of which is to confuse the visual senses while thumps, rustles, and bangs, and the reaction of the on-screen characters tell us that something intensely violent and mysterious is taking place off camera. At times I found the technique annoying, but overall it works pretty well and gives the movie a distinctive feeling.

There is a gritty realism too. The Bat Cave is a filthy hole. Bruce Wayne spends a lot of time covered with muck and mud, being brutally slammed around, and painfully healing from his wounds. That works too. The only real sore point in this regard is the Batmobile, which is terribly incongruous, but I suppose necessary in a Batman movie. It looks like the unnatural offspring of a hummer and a dune buggy.

Some reviewers have commented that the film spends more time on Bruce Wayne than on Batman and rejoiced in that choice. Well, “Duh!” It’s an origins story, guys. It has to spend a lot of time explaining where the superhero comes from, and what he was before he became super. Whatever the reason – it works. Let’s face it, Bruce is a lot more interesting than the Batman.

There was a literary conceit (popular in the middle decades of the past century when the Batman first originated) that psychological quirks made characters interesting and that these defining peculiarities were to be explained through childhood trauma. Well, Dr. Freud has long since passed from the scene and his theories have been generally discounted, but the comments of reviewers seem to show that those standards still thrive in the critical community. And in the case of this movie those hoary old literary devices work because in oh so many ways this film is a throwback to those times. The costuming, the technology on display, the architecture, etc. are all [with the exception of the freaky batmobile] redolent of the mid-twentieth century.

There’s not much to the story. The hero is traumatized at an early age, separated from all that he has known, develops an obsessive fixation on justice, suffers horribly and descends to the depths, from which he is raised by a mentor from whom he is soon separated and has to overcome his inner weaknesses to establish himself…, oh what the Hell! You’ve all read Joseph Campbell; you know how it works – standard hero fare.

What about a theme? Fear! The whole thing is about fear – suffering from it, confronting it, overcoming it, using it. Not a very sophisticated or perceptive treatment, but at least it’s better than Spiderman [“with great power comes great responsibility”] and, in the context of a super-hero story, it serves to humanize the Batman. A superhero who gets scared; not bad for a genre work.

The acting? Adequate! Christian Bale makes an excellent Batman and an even better Bruce Wayne. Bale knows very well how to live a life of luxury and privilege and it shows. He’s the first believable Bruce Wayne. He has buffed up and his Batman exhibits a plausible physicality as he performs strenuous stunts. And, most importantly, he expresses well the pent-up rage that animates his character.

There are a lot of heavyweights in supporting roles. Morgan Freeman walks through his wise mentor paces, and Michael Caine is a wonderful actor miscast as Alfred the Butler. Liam Neeson is adequately menacing as the mentor/antagonist. Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson are both superb. Ken Wantanbe, Rutger Hauer, and Linus Roach are all also quite good in underwritten parts. Cillian Murphy is not bad, but not very scary, as the “Scarecrow.” The only real disappointment is Katie Holmes who just isn’t believable as the girlfriend/district attorney. She’s a jumped-up TV actress and it shows.

In most ways this effort is vastly superior to earlier TV and movie incarnations of the Batman. The only way in which it doesn’t match up is in the villains. In the past we have been treated to some wonderful, if cartoonish, bad guys; Jack Nicholson as the Joker; Jim Carrey as the Riddler; Danny DeVito as the Penguin; Michelle Pfeiffer as the Cat Woman. All had a ball with their over-the-top characters. Here, in the interest of realism, the villains have been toned down to human proportions and aren’t as interesting as the old gang. As a result the movie suffers a bit, but not too much.

And what about the moral/political dimensions of the film. It’s very traditional, something of a throwback, and an explicit repudiation of the statist mentality that has characterized American elite culture for so long. One might almost call it “Reaganesque.” In Gotham government is not the answer, it is the problem. The institutions of society are thoroughly corrupt and as a result the people suffer as the powerful prey upon the poor. Evil exists and is palpable, but because of corruption society cannot protect its members. There is no hint of class warfare. There are good rich guys, like the Waynes, and bad ones, like Rutger Hauer’s character. There are good street people and bad ones, good cops and bad ones. Good and evil permeate all levels of society and the battle between them is fought everywhere from the boardrooms to the streets.

What is to be done? The only real dispute is between anarchists who want to destroy Gotham completely and reformers [like Batman] who want to “mend it not end it” by surgically removing the evildoers. And throughout the emphasis is on individual, not collective or corporate responsibility.

In a sense “Batman Begins” hearkens back to the old self-reliance themes of traditional westerns [which were at the height of their popularity fifty years ago]. Batman is like the archetypal western hero – the ultra-competent man who knows what must be done and has the will to do it. Its villains are corporate chieftans, a secret society of anarchists, a psychiatrist, and a criminal capo. Batman’s allies are ordinary folk – an assistant DA, a police sergeant, a mid-level corporate manager on a dead-end career track, and of course, his loyal butler, Alfred. In all it is a call for the common people to rise up and to take back their country from the political and professional elites who are plundering it.

So, was it worth it? Yeah, if you like this sort of thing. Judging from the reviews it’s gotten the generation that grew up on comic books will greet it with wild enthusiasm, and it has the benefit of being much, much better than its immediate predecessors. It’s not a bad film; it has some interesting elements; and it looks good in comparison with what has gone before in the super-hero genre.

Check it out.