Day By Day

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Merkel Ascendant

She went through a bad patch there, but Angela Merkel has righted herself and now appears to be on course to replace Schroeder as German Chancellor.

The Times reports:
THE Angela Merkel bandwagon looks unstoppable. Polls continue to give her Christian Democrat and Free Democrat coalition a strong lead and, unless the shy East German slips up — it is a real risk, as she is notoriously inept on the stump — the question for Europeans is no longer what are her chances of forming a government but what chance has she in government? Can she shake up a slothful, corpulent Germany and restore it to its position as Europe’s prime motor?
Read it here.

See also the CNN report here.

They call her the "Teutonic Thatcher". Well, if she can be half as effective as Maggie was she'll be a blazing success. The entire EU could stand with a lot of "Iron Ladies" on the Thatcher model.

CNN photo.

Iraq -- It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature

Its been a while since this was published, but in a sense it is timeless. A couple of weeks ago Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer did a piece on Iraq for the WaPo that encapsulates the developing critique of our efforts there and perfectly illustrates the profound and perhaps willful misunderstanding that informs it.

Wrighe and Knickmeyer start with the assumption, voiced by anonymous members of the permanent government, that administration goals in Iraq were "unrealistic."

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Read the whole thing here.

They fault the US for not providing services and security, for not eliminating faction fighting, for not insisting strongly on western-style democratic principles, for not bringing economic prosperity, and a host of other things. They seem to have taken their lead from Larry Diamond, a Stanford academic who wrote Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, and whom they quote favorably.

But this is a sly and dishonest assessment. It is always possible to cherrypick infelicitous quotes and to interview disgruntled bureaucrats who resent direction from the political appointees. That sort of thing has long been a mainstay of WaPo journalism. What is not reported is that from the beginning top administration officials made it clear that the invasion of Iraq was just the first stage in a long and arduous process that they compared to the Cold War -- one that would last long beyond Bush's presidency. Yes, there were some outlandish statements, the most egregious being made by people out of government, but then there always are and Bush himself time after time made it clear that we had started down a long and difficult road that would tax the nation's patience. To accuse Bush and his top people with excessive optimism is to confuse occasional expressions of hope with the realistic assessments that formed the core of the administrations message.

More dangerous and dishonest, though, is the persistent insistence that the US is failing to impose order, prosperity and western-style democracy in Iraq. That assumes that the goal of the administration has always been that of the empire builder -- to crush opposition and to govern the conquered territory efficiently and effectively. This is an imperialist formulation and charges to that effect from the administration's critics reveal their utter incomprehension or deliberate misinterpretation of what is happening in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. This misunderstanding is not the fault of an inarticulate administration that cannot explain what they are up to. Bush has always been up front in his explanations, the problem is that his "sophisticated" opponents in the media and in government just refuse to believe that he is serious.

Bush's role is not that of an imperial ruler, bringing order to the world. It is that of a liberator, who is seeking to empower people to chart their own course in freedom. Our role in Iraq is not to impose order, but to assist the Iraqis in establishing order themselves. We are not trying to create a dependency there, but a free and self-determining polity. Nor are we trying to impose a western-style democracy. Rather, we are insisting that the Iraqi people, through democratic processes, forge their own form of government -- one that reflects their particular historical circumstances, not ours. Nor is it our role to provide prosperity for the Iraqi people. That is something they will have to build for themselves.

An imposed peace is a false peace that can only be sustained through massive and permanent intervention in the region. An imposed government can never represent or serve the aspirations of the Iraqi people. And prosperity through subsidy can never bring about the kinds of reforms and economic activities that will make Iraq a successful self-sustaining state. Bush understands this far better than his small-minded critics in the press and the permanent government.

TransAtlantic Intelligencer

I'm a bit slow in posting this. The Transatlantic Intelligencer, one of the best blogs on international affairs, is now reconstituted as a webzine and has a new site. Check it out here.

I particularly enjoy their translations of stories from the foreign press that are not likely to be noticed by the MSM. For instance, they nail Bill Clinton for an interview he gave to Le Monde in which he claimed that his tour of SE Asia resulted in a dramatic turnaround in regional opinion of the US while not bothering to mention the massive tsunami relief effort that actually caused the change in attitude.

This is going to be one of my daily stops.


In response to a couple of my correspondents -- no I am not blogging Katrina. This is the sort of thing that TV does better than the blogosphere. Besides, Instapundit has all the links anyone could want. Check it out here.

I will note that the usual suspects are trying to tie this catastrophe to global warming. The BBC has been particularly offensive in this regard, implying that it is Bush's fault for not signing onto Kyoto.

The Times-Picayune reports that police and firefighters joined in the looting -- ugh! [here]

Our heart goes out to all those affected by this storm. They are in our prayers.

Nuff sed.

Photos Reuters and AFP

Sunnis Taking the Offensive against Jihadis

The WaPo reports:

BAGHDAD, Aug. 30 -- U.S. warplanes bombed alleged safe houses being used by Abu Musab Zarqawi's insurgent group near the Syrian border Tuesday during what one local leader called an unprecedented push by a Sunni Arab tribe to drive out Zarqawi's foreign-led forces.

The bombings occurred along the Euphrates River in two towns that U.S. officials and Iraqis describe as havens and transit points for insurgents moving weapons, money and recruits into Iraq from Syria....

The clashes between Sunni Arab tribes and insurgents, coupled with growing vows by Iraq's Sunni minority to turn out in force for national voting in the coming months, coincided with U.S. hopes for defusing the two-year-old insurgency. U.S. military leaders have repeatedly expressed optimism that public anger at insurgent violence would deprive insurgents of their base of support.

A tribal leader near the Syrian border, Muhammed Mahallawi, said his Albu Mahal tribe began the latest fighting against Zarqawi's insurgents after they kidnapped and killed 31 members of his tribe to punish them for joining the Iraqi security forces.

"We decided either we force them out of the city or we kill them," with the support of U.S. bombing, Mahallawi said by telephone.

Sunni Arab tribes in the western province of Anbar have clashed sporadically with Zarqawi's organization since at least May, usually in revenge for killings of tribe members accused of collaborating with U.S. forces or the Iraqi government. This month in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, tribes took up arms to block Zarqawi's group from enforcing his ultimatum for all Shiite Muslim families to leave the city. Fighting there killed several fighters on both sides.

Local officials said Tuesday that Mahallawi's tribe and the insurgents had been fighting near the border for at least three days. Rawi, the emergency room director, said at least 61 people had been killed since the fighting began. The majority of the dead Tuesday were in the Western-style clothes and athletic shoes often worn by Zarqawi's fighters, Rawi said.

Read the whole thing here.

Ultimately, this is the key to defeating the jihadis in Iraq -- cooperation with local groups that can provide specific on the ground information. It seems that the jihadis have made themselves so obnoxious in some of the Sunni areas that the populations have turned on them, depriving them of the ability to operate. This is, as a noted criminal would say, "a good thing."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Maryland Politics -- Curiouser and Curiouser

AP is reporting:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist and sister of Fox Television's Greta Van Susteren, plans to announce Thursday that she's seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Two well-known Democrats — former Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Benjamin Cardin — have already entered the race. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is considering running for the seat that will open up with the retirement of Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.

A news release issued Monday said Van Susteren will open her campaign with events in Baltimore and Bethesda....

Note: she only moved into Montgomery County two years ago.

Read it here.

And as if that isn't strange enough, Alan Lichtman, an historian! at AU, is seriously considering a run for Sarbanes seat.
"I see an opening here," said Lichtman, whose side gigs include political commentary for CNN and a weekly column for the Gazette newspapers.
Read it here.

And then there's Joshua Rales,

a philanthropist and owner of a real estate investment firm. Also a Montgomery resident, Rales was a Republican for a decade until last year, but said he became disillusioned with the party's social positions and lack of fiscal discipline.

Read it here.

So what do we have here? Ben Cardin, a legitimate Democratic establishment candidate; Kweisi Mfume, former NAACP head and Congressman who is tainted with scandal; the sister of a FOX News celebrity who was trained by Emily's List [I'm not kidding]; a loopy socialist activist; a wealthy [ex]Republican; and the weirdest of them all, an historian!/pundit. And that's just on the Democrat side.

And who do the Republicans have to oppose this motley crew? Nobody, that's who. Michael Steele still hasn't announced.

David Wissing at the Hedgehog Report wonders if all these white candidates will split Cardin's vote and allow Mfume to coast to victory in the primary on black solidarity alone. He thinks not, but stranger things have happened.

Read it here.

Things are starting to get really interesting.

Stay tuned..., the follies are just getting started here.

Don't Trust Scientific Studies -- They're Probably Wrong

I've been saying this for a long time.

The New Scientist has a devastating piece on the validity of published scientific research, titled "Most Scientific Papers are Probably Wrong."

Most published scientific research papers are wrong, according to a new analysis. Assuming that the new paper is itself correct, problems with experimental and statistical methods mean that there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true.

John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, says that small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well-designed studies are not always right, meaning that scientists and the public have to be wary of reported findings.

"We should accept that most research findings will be refuted. Some will be replicated and validated. The replication process is more important than the first discovery," Ioannidis says....

Solomon Snyder, senior editor at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, US, says most working scientists understand the limitations of published research.

"When I read the literature, I'm not reading it to find proof like a textbook. I'm reading to get ideas.

Read the whole thing here.

But that is not how scientific research is presented to the public. In the current political climate "science says" is considered to trump all other sources of information -- it is considered to be more important than religious or moral or even ethical considerations and definitely more so than mere political ones. For decades social and political activists have produced "studies," many of them irreplicable, "proving" whatever point they want to establish. This naive faith in the superiority of credentialed scientific authority and the efficacy of peer review is a dangerous thing and should be strongly challenged. Remember that the greatest horrors of the past century -- Marxism and Nazi race theory both claimed the mantle of "science."

For earlier posts on the collapse of scientific credibility see here, here, and here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Collapse of Kyoto

The Australian reports:
JOHN Howard claims he has been vindicated over his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol after business groups in New Zealand and Germany demanded their countries quit the agreement as soon as possible and join the Asia-Pacific climate pact.

A coalition of 22,000 New Zealand businesses, under the auspices of the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and Industry, called on both parties in the New Zealand election to start talks on pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol by 2008 - the earliest possible date to do so.
The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, organized last month by the Bush administration brings the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea together in a joint effort to develop and apply new clean air technologies. It represents an alternative to the coercive aspects of the Kyoto accord which neither the US nor Australia has signed and which does not include India and China. If Germany and New Zealand jump on board Kyoto will be doomed.

Read it here.

The Cost of Higher Education

Richard Vedder, writing in the WSJ, has an excellent article explaining why the costs of higher education are rising so quickly. Vedder is an excellent economist and his arguments make sense. He concludes, echoing a point that I have been making over and over,
The cost of higher education cannot rise faster than incomes indefinitely. Change is coming: it is just a question of when, and in what form.
Of course, I would take the argument a step further and say that not only are the costs rising at an exhorbitant rate, but the benefits are declining in many areas. The modern university is an artefact of the Progressive era and reflects the values of that time and place. Those values, which reflected the corporate standards of an emerging industrial culture, are no longer applicable in today's information society.

The handwriting is already on the wall in the form of new approaches to education, Vedder notes:
New forms of competition (e.g., for-profit institutions, online schooling, more use of community colleges, new approaches to certifying skills) are emerging. State legislatures have sharply reduced their share of funding for public universities, forcing some schools to slash costs, reduce bureaucracies, increase teaching loads, get rid of costly underutilized graduate programs and more. Some schools are talking of using buildings more than eight or nine months a year, or are cutting down on the use of expensive tenured faculty. Colorado is shifting funds away from institutions and into student hands in the form of vouchers, reasoning that the student-customer, not the producer, should be sovereign as in nearly every other transaction.
A hard rain is gonna fall, and soon.

Read the whole thing here.

David Brooks on Winning the War in Iraq

David Brooks, writing in the NYT, summarizes the arguments put forth in Andrew Krepinevich's perceptive essay in Foreign Affairs titled "How To Win In Iraq."

Krepenevich's piece contains a great deal of wisdom, but as Brooks notes, there is little new there. The strategy he calls "Oil-spot" is in fact little different from that used in counter-insurgency campaigns for much of the past century and, I might note, is very reminiscent of the "hearts and minds" strategy employed in Vietnam. In fact, as Brooks further notes, it is what military officials say we are already doing in Iraq. So where's the beef?

Krepenevich denies in his article that standard counter-insurgency strategies are currently being applied in Iraq -- in fact, he goes so far as to suggest that there is no coherent strategy. He uses a standard journalistic trick -- quoting the President's statement to the effect that as the Iraqi military stands up we will stand down and then characterizing it as being nothing more than a "withdrawal plan." This ignores the richly detailed strategy that lies behind that statement. Statements are not policies, but pundits often pretend that they are and Krepenevich is doing so here. He is, however, right to note that the President's political critics are offering little more than an accelerated withdrawal plan.

In mischaracterizing the current situation Krepenevich is doing nothing more than following standard rhetorical conventions. Nearly every policy piece starts by declaring that everyone else is wrong, and ignorant to boot, so his sin is minor and can be discounted. The rest of the article does make some good points, especially with regard to the rotation of troops and officers, the metrics that should be used in analyzing progress, etc.

Brooks, however, does the original article a great disservice in his summary, which he twists into an indictment of Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Brooks suggests that current officials are lying when they say they have already implemented most of Krepenevich's recommendations, otherwise, he states Baghdad would already have been pacified. This is a totally unwarranted assumption, but one necessary to his real purpose, which is to trash Rummy, to wit:
The fact is, the U.S. didn't adopt this blindingly obvious strategy because
it violates some of the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military
should operate in the 21st century.

He mischaracterizes Krepenevich's argument to say a successful strategy requires a heavy troop presence, not a light, lean force when in fact it says just the opposite. Krepenevich actually wants to draw down the US presence by 20,000 troops. He further argues that we are not thinking long-term, when in fact the administration has consistently argued right from the beginning that this is a long-term commitment. Recent statements from field commanders regarding draw-downs are quite precisely in accordance with Krepenevich's recommendations. But Brooks isn't interested in the veracity of his arguments, he just wants to slander Rummy.

If Krepenevich's sins are minor and conventional, Brooks' are not. He wilfully mischaracterizes both arguments and facts in an attempt to tarnish the administration's efforts. It is likely that he is just repeating the rumblings of Pentagon dinosaurs who have as their main purpose in life the frustration of reforms Rumsfeld has been pushing.

In a recent TV interview [broadcast on UCTV, podcast here] Thomas P.M. Barnett talked about his experience as an employee of the Pentagon and noted that policy experts fulfill a very specialized function there. Their job, essentially, is to learn everything there is to be known about a specific program or weapons system in order to be able to shoot down alternative plans or proposals. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that he spent his time there trying to destroy the Marine Corps' view of the world. That was his job, just as it is the function of other experts to try to destroy Rumsfeld's view of the world.

This endless ideological warfare is a natural consequence of the relentless bureaucratic struggles that characterize not only the Pentagon, but all of Washington's permanent government. The conflicts generate a lot of fodder for journalists like Mr. Brooks, but an alert reader must always keep in mind when reading their product what are the likely sources on which the writer is drawing, and what are their agendas. Journalists are prisoners of their sources. It is unfortunate that Mr. Brooks in this instance has allowed his to misuse him so badly.

Well, the drafting committee in Iraq finally finished their business and sent a draft on to the full assembly. Sunni members of the committee were not happy and many of them boycotted the ceremony.

The WaPo's account is unrelievedly pessimistic:
And so the battle lines were drawn for the fall referendum: The Shiites and Kurds, who dominated the drafting process, implored the public to vote in favor of it. Minority Sunnis condemned the document for, among other things, allowing the creation of federal regions that they fear could split Iraq and warned that it could inflame the insurgency. The Sunnis vowed to muster enough support to vote it down.

By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 29, 2005; Page A01

Read it here.

The NYT was similarly downbeat:
And so the battle lines were drawn for the fall referendum: The Shiites and Kurds, who dominated the drafting process, implored the public to vote in favor of it. Minority Sunnis condemned the document for, among other things, allowing the creation of federal regions that they fear could split Iraq and warned that it could inflame the insurgency. The Sunnis vowed to muster enough support to vote it down.
Read it here.

Published: August 29, 2005

Notice anything here?

Four authors, two different major papers, identical words.

Wonder how that happened? ESP? One set of writers copied from the other? Both copied from a common source? What happened here? At the least it's lazy, sloppy journalism. At the worst it is blatant plagarism.

Whatever, somebody's busted.


Mickey Kaus informs me that the offending paragraph no longer appears in the NYT story. That's the wonder of the internet; we can rewrite the historical record on the fly. The new-new journalism may be a lot sloppier, and perhaps more mendacious, than it was half a century ago, but it is also a self-correcting mechanism in which our perception of what happened is in a constant state of flux. Remember how shocked Orwell's Winston Smith was to realize that the historical record was malleable? Now it's just the way things are.

Through constant self-correction are we moving toward objective accuracy, or are we just reinforcing a conventional wisdom? I'll leave that to Thomas Kuhn to figure out.

NYT photo

Michael Yon's Blog

Michael Barone directs us to a superb blog out of Iraq. Michael Yon, an independent observer, is reporting from Mosul giving excellent close-up information on military action there. Terrific pictures too.

Combat comes unexpectedly, even in war.

On Monday, while conducting operations in west Mosul, a voice came over the radio saying troops from our brother unit, the 3-21, were fighting with the enemy in east Mosul on the opposite side of the Tigris River. Moments later, SSG Will Shockley relayed word to us that an American soldier was dead. We began searching for the shooters near one of the bridges on our side of the Tigris, but they got away. Jose L. Ruiz was killed in action.
Check it out here.


Slate also has a nice piece on Michael Yon. Read it here.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Constitution Update

Saturday evening and still no movement on the constitution front. Shiites say the document is in final form, Sunnis say there is no agreement and that the proceedings are illegal since the initial deadline is long past. There is an assembly meeting called for tomorrow.

These guys are as bad as US Senators except that they're arguing over really important stuff, not trivia like John Bolton's character.

Iraqi4ever posts pictures of Saddamites protesting the constitution carrying Saddam's picture and chanting "Saddam, commander of peace and victory." [here]

Their argument is an old one -- that democracy equals anarchy and therefore strong, even autocratic leadership is needed. The great danger is that this sentiment should be generalized through the Iraqi population. Earlier I noted one expression of this longing for order at all costs [here]. Just the fact that these men feel comfortable protesting publicly under Saddam's image is another ominous indicator.

If there is no real progress toward a self-sustaining democratic state this authoritarian tendency will only get stronger.

Raed Jarrar, reflecting the Baathist line, declares the constitutional process to be dead. He writes:
The January elections didn’t solve any of Iraq’s problems because it happened in the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances, and it led to more destruction and disasters in Iraq. The current constitution process is happening in the wrong time and under wrong circumstances too.

De-assembling the joke called the Iraqi “government” would be in the best of Iraq and Iraqis, and holding new general elections without occupation forces going around the streets is the best scenario Iraq can reach to for the time being.

The US administration should think seriously of changing their policy in Iraq, and maybe changing their entire shameful Foreign Policy around the world.

Read the whole thing here.

Note he features a picture of anti-war demonstrators in the US [above], thus highlighting the strengthening bond between Middle-East fascists and Western Leftists.

The Spectator [here] notes the formalization of this far left/far right alliance in Britain. The American Thinker expands on the moral emptiness of this collaboration [here]. Or, you could read any of several recent articles by Christopher Hitchens.

IraqPundit [here] has a message for the American anti-war demonstrators.
So to the critics who are certain that democracy for Iraq is not worth pursuing because Bush supports it, go ahead and hang out with the crazies [Baathist apologists]. It may take a while, but I'll send you a post card from a peaceful, prosperous Iraq.
And, unfortunately, it is taking quite a while.

The disappointment, turning to derision, felt by pro-democracy Iraqis is palpable.

Salam Pax writes: [here]

...and the next dedication goes out to the National Assembly and everybody involved in the Constitution writing process, may the power to extend extension endlessly be with you.

Hammorabi urges them to forget further negotiations and just go straight to the popular vote.

Taheri on Constitution Making

Yesterday I complained that Western analysts, by focusing relentlessly on religious/ethnic divisions in Iraqi society, are ignoring other, equally important factors at stake in the constitutional dialogue. I cited the example of alSadr to show that class differences were setting Shiite against Shiite and an appreciation of them is essential to understanding what is going on in Iraq. Now Amir Taheri notes another consideration. He writes:

[T]he draft [constitution] has angered Arab Sunni elites by proposing a federal structure for the new democratic state. But this is in no way related to religious differences, as some Westerners nostalgiac for Saddam Hussein pretend.

The Arab Sunni elites believe that a federal structure makes it harder for them to regain, one day perhaps, the dominance they once enjoyed. A highly centralised state in which power is concentrated in Baghdad would be more vulnerable to a military coup d'etat or a fascist-style putsch through which the Sunni elites could seize power when and if the opportunity arose.

He also notes that the presumption made in the West of Sunni solidarity is not necessarily the case.

[H]ow true is the claim, made in so many articles in the Western press in the past few days, that the Sunnis are enraged at the draft? The truth is that we do not know the answer. Unlike the Shia and Kurdish representatives who were elected members of parliament, the Sunni politicians in the drafting committee were government appointees....

We shall have to wait until the referendum in October to find out whether most Sunnis share the apprehensions of the Sunni politicos in the drafting committee.

He concludes:

The Iraqi draft is not ideal. It will not transform Iraq into the Switzerland of the Middle East overnight. It includes articles that one could not accept without holding one's nose. But the fact remains that this is still the most democratic constitution offered to any Muslim nation so far.

More important, the people of Iraq have the chance to reject it if they feel it does not reflect their wishes. That, too, is a chance that few Muslim nations have enjoyed.

With the new constitution, Iraq is taking a giant leap away from despotism.

Read the whole thing here.

Omar at Iraq the Model has some pertinent observations.

He notes that not all Sunnis are opposed to federalism.

The toughest obstacle delaying getting the Sunni agreement right now is federalism or more accurately it’s generalizing federalism; the Sunni negotiators would agree to granting the Kurds the right to establish a federal state (which already exists) but they don't want that state to include Kirkuk and they don't want other provinces to have the right to form other federal states.

However, that's not what all Sunnis think; there are the tribal chiefs of Al-Anbar who announced yesterday that they have no objection to the idea of generalizing federalism and there is also the governor of Mosul who seems to be in favor of federalism and in a statement he gave a few days ago he expressed his interest in turning Mosul into a federal state without the need to include other provinces in that state since Mosul alone was one of the four (or was that five?) counties from which modern Iraq was established after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
He suggests that the intransigence of the Sunni negotiators is due to the fact that they were non-elected and don't therefore have to answer to constituencies. They have nothing to lose. He also argues that the issues that bulk so large in the arguments of the negotiators rouse little concern in the general Iraqi public. He concludes:

Bottom line, I think that even if the draft gets approved by the National Assembly tonight or tomorrow, we're still going to face more obstacles with this constitution that focused on unnecessary details; these details were introduced to please politicians and serve partisan ambitions while the interests of the people came only in the 2nd place and believe me, till this moment no one can know for sure if Iraqis are going to accept or reject the constitution, maybe the Kurdish people are most likely to vote with "yes" but the Shaet and Sunni people's position is not definite yet and that particularly applies to the Sunni whose current spokesmen do not necessarily represent the mainstream Sunni opinion.
Read the whole thing here.

Headline of the Day

If you're just scanning quickly through the news, that is.

Police Recover Man's Body From Elephant Butte

The dateline?

Truth or Consequences, NM.

So Where Are We Now?

Latest news, 6:00 am EST

BBC is reporting that The Shiia leaders say they have a constitution to send to the Assembly for approval. The Sunni say there is no agreement, they are well past their own deadline, and therefore the Assembly should be dissolved. Last night the Shiia had offered a new compromise, but it was rejected by the Sunni. No mention of the Kurds -- this seems to be a two way struggle.

The BBC is willing to admit that this mess is in fact democracy in action, but hasten to add that even so, Iraq is in "real trouble."

Read the article on which the broadcast was based here.


A commentator [sorry I missed the name], speaking on FOX News, blames the current impasse on Bush for encouraging the Shiites and Kurds to cater to Sunni demands. This merely emboldened the Sunnis and made them more intransigent.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Here We Go Again

FOX News reports that Iraqi authorities are saying that there will be a draft constitution presented today --- definitely.

Yeah, we've heard that one before.

They also say that the draft to be presented will be incomplete and that they will leave certain touchy issues up to the decision of the full assembly.

Well good -- I've been advocating that all along, and if the Assembly can't decide, leave them for the legislative process after the referendum.


Well, it looks as though they're taking my advice [at least it looks that way to me]

AP reports:

Prodded by President Bush, Shiite negotiators Friday offered what they called their final compromise proposal to Sunnis Arabs to try to break the impasse over Iraq's new constitution, a Shiite official said.

Bush telephoned a key Shiite leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on Thursday to urge consensus over the draft, Abbas al-Bayati told The Associated Press.

The Shiites were awaiting a response from the Sunnis, al-Bayati said.

He said the concessions were on the pivotal issues of federalism and efforts to remove former members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from public life, adding: "We cannot offer more than that."

Al-Bayati said the Shiites had proposed that the parliament expected to be elected in December be given the right to issue a law on the mechanism of implementing federalism. He gave no further details.

Read it here. From the sound of it things are getting pretty hectic. But then, that's democracy.

Bolton is Shaking Things Up at the UN

The Independent reports on John Bolton's impact on business as usual at the UN.

Anne Pentketh, the diplomatic editor, fears that Bolton's arrival signals the "end of diplomacy." [here]

David Usborne, their UN correspondent, gives a fuller picture of what Bolton's up to.

Mr Bolton has demanded no fewer than 750 amendments to the blueprint restating the ideals of the international body, which was originally drafted by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.

The amendments are spelt out in a 32-page US version, first reported by the Washington Post and acquired yesterday by The Independent. The document is littered with deletions and exclusions. Most strikingly, the changes eliminate all specific reference to the so-called Millennium Development Goals, accepted by all countries at the last major UN summit in 2000, including the United States.

The Americans are also seeking virtually to remove all references to the Kyoto treaty and the battle against global warming. They are striking out mention of the disputed International Criminal Court and drawing a red line through any suggestion that the nuclear powers should dismantle their arsenals. Instead, the US is seeking to add emphasis to passages on fighting terrorism and spreading democracy.

Very quickly, Mr Bolton has given the answer to anyone still wondering whether his long and difficult journey to New York - President George Bush confirmed him to the post after the US Senate was unable to - would render him coy or cautious. Far from that, he seems intent on taking the UN by the collar and plainly saying to its face what America expects - and does not expect - from it.

Of course, none of the objections Bolton has issued deviate from what the Bush administration has been saying all along. The US is not going to accept the Kyoto framework nor the jurisdiction of the World Criminal Court, nor will it commit to contributing a specific portion of our GNP to international NGO's. And, the Bush administration has always been firm in its insistence that aid be tied to strict standards of accountability. So Bolton isn't acting as a free agent in this -- he's just representing accurately the views of his principals.

The positions of the Bush administration have been well known for a long time. By pushing ahead with a blueprint that specifically contradicts those positions the UN has been setting up a whole series of conflicts. Bush has seen this coming for a long time, and his insistence on Bolton is based on his convicton that this is the man who can best defend American interests in the coming fights -- and rest assured, there will be fights, big ones. And, they will get personal. Bolton will be a lightning rod for international criticism, but he's a big boy with a thick skin. He can take it.

Read the analysis here.

The Significance of al Sadr

AP is running an interesting analysis by Sally Buzbee on al Sadr.

She writes:

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has again proved that he and his followers hold an important card in Iraq's future.

Their clashes with fellow Shiites also made clear one very stark fact: The attempt to forge a new constitution has deepened Iraq's religious and ethnic divisions, not healed them, as Americans had hoped.

Al-Sadr plays an unusual role in the constitution stalemate. He is Shiite, a fiery preacher and the son of a famous cleric believed murdered by former dictator Saddam Hussein. But in the constitution fight and on other issues, he is allied with Sunni Arab hard-liners.

Both al-Sadr and the Sunnis have strong grassroots appeal among ordinary Iraqis disaffected by the political process.

Her second sentence makes little sense given what she says in the rest of the article. Shiite on Shiite violence is not an expression of ethnic or religious antagonism. However, her last sentence in the quote is perceptive. The issue of grassroots appeal hints at class divisions within Iraq's Shiite population that have generally been overlooked by Western observers and commentators. We tend to place far too much emphasis on ethnic and religious divisions and in the process we help to exacerbate them and by focusing our efforts on religious and ethnic spokesmen we help to institutionalize those divisions.

Read the whole article here.

Cutting and Running in Iraq?

Michael Evans, writing in the Times, notes that Britain and America are preparing for an anticipated attempt on the part of al-Zarqawi to flee Iraq.

BRITAIN and the United States are training border guards in the Horn of Africa in the expectation that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, may seek sanctuary there if forced to flee Iraq.


Small US specialist teams, supported by British counterparts, are training border security guards and working with customs and immigration officials in the region, hoping that they will be ready to spot al-Zarqawi and other al-Qaeda leaders.

Now this is interesting! Apparently the military authorities know something the public doesn’t. Maybe stabilization is closer than the conventional wisdom would have it.

Read it here.


This BBC article gives more detail on the thinking behind this effort.

It also adds this fascinating tidbit:

The US recently warned that Africa's Sahel countries, including Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, could become a terrorist haven, and has carried out troop exercises and training efforts in the region.

It seems that the US presence in Africa is a lot greater than has been generally appreciated.

Walking in the Woods Posted by Picasa

The weather has been excellent the past few weeks. Low humidity, not too hot, and once again I've taken to the woods and trails. Yesterday morning I found a new trail, cleverly disguised by a driveway and a thick clump of bushes. I followed it and here's where it took me.

Things Fall Apart

Things are not looking good. The military situation in Iraq has bogged down -- troops have gone into a defensive crouch and local commanders openly talk about troop draw-downs blatantly contradicting their commander-in-chief who vows to "stay the course."

The constitutional process appears to be dead in the water. Repeated postponements and delays have reduced the deliberations to a joke, no longer creditable either in Iraq or America. And as that process fails so does the entire rationale for America's involvement in Iraq.

To make things worse, as talk of withdrawal mounts Iraqis begin to believe that once again the US will revert to its historic pattern of intervention and abandonment, leaving out allies to suffer the horrific consequences of our disengagement. Increasingly they sense that America cannot be relied on.

Constitutional wrangling has another unhappy consequence. The Iraqi population is increasingly disaffected from a leadership that seems to care only about maneuvering for political advantage. Faction fighting has broken out, splintering the Shiite majority and adding to the chaos promoted by the "insurgents." The possibility of civil war looms ever larger as the violence escalates. One asks, just how much of this can the Iraqi people tolerate?

In the US the anti-war movement is gaining steam, backed by a palpable push from the mainstream media. The mood is similar to that of the post-Tet period in the Vietnam conflict when journalistic elites had finally made up their minds that the war had to end and nearly every story reflected that judgment. Prominent members of the President's party are defecting and the left is on the offensive. Yeats' lines come irresistably to mind:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

A dream is dying, and the President, sequestered on his ranch in Crawford, seems insensible to the crisis that is building at home and in Iraq.

Matters are no better on other fronts. The disarmament talks in Korea are going nowhere, nor are the EU negotiations with Iran. One suspects that there is no way that nuclear proliferation can be stopped or even significantly slowed. Despite excellent economic performance in the US the rise of gas prices has produced in the public a sullen anger that is threatening to disrupt the domestic political process with unforseeable results. Both major political parties are fractured, conducting their own internal civil wars -- wars that will only escalate in coming months as factions maneuver for advantage in the coming election cycles.

Creedence has just shuffled up on my I-pod. The song is "Bad Moon Rising."

How appropriate!

It's a black mood I'm in this morning. I need to go for a walk.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Omar at Iraq the Model is Live Blogging the Sadrist Street Fighting

Check it out here.

Salam Pax on the Constitution -- "Me Not Happy"

Salam Pax [a secular Iraqi] writes from Baghdad:
I don’t know what will happen when the deadline approaches but at the moment I feel like if I am not a religious Shia or a Kurd I am supposed to be neither heard nor seen. At least religious Sunnis can say their leaders told them it was against Allah will to play along. But what happens to you if you subscribe to none of those agendas? What happens if you believe that neither religion nor ethnic background is the way you want to be identified? What about just being Iraqi?
What indeed! A consistent failure of both our domestic and foreign policies has been a tendency to focus intently on the parts and to ignore the whole. In doing so we exacerbate and institutionalize differences. That is the great failing of the "broker" mentality. Some would say it's the failure of the sociological imagination.

Read Salam's comments here.

And check out his TV show "Baghdad Blogger" on Link Network.

Mickey Kaus Takes Down Juan Cole

Things aren't going well for Professor Cole in the blogosphere. He has been denounced by Michael Young and the guys at Across the Bay, he tangled with Jonah Goldberg at the National Review, he earned general contempt for his allegation that Iraqis [like Omar and Muhammed of Iraq the Model] who disagreed with his analysis were CIA plants [they weren't, and talk like that can get people killed]. Just a few days ago he was rhetorically dismembered by the widow of a murdered journalist whose memory he had trashed with allegations of sexual misconduct. Now the dean of bloggerdom, Mickey Kaus of Slate, writes that the good professor [and Fred Kaplan who cites him] "are so eager to find fault with the constitution (and, by implication, the war) that they've lost touch with logic." [read it here].

In the case of Cole, despite his distinguished academic credentials, it isn't the first time nor, I suspect, will it be the last.

More Great Moments in Aviation History

EASTMAN, Ga. - A twin-engine plane crash landed on its belly at the Eastman-Dodge airport after the two people on board forgot to put down the landing gear.

The Georgia Aviation Technical College plane slid to a halt after scraping down the runway around 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, Eastman Fire Chief Carl Johnson said.

"They didn't know they had a problem until they touched down," Johnson said.

Now get this -- the pilot was an instructor at an Aviation school. His co-pilot was an intern flight instructor, and neither realized that they had a problem!!!

Read it here.

This comes just a few days after an Irish pilot and his passengers [who were aeronautical engineers] flew a considerable distance and landed a plane without noticing that half a wing had fallen off. [here]

I don't know whether to be encouraged by the fact that both planes functioned well despite major damage, or dismayed at the horrible incompetence of the humans flying them.

It's a Constitution!!! Congratulations! [maybe]

Breaking News!

Sky News is reporting:
A final version of the Iraqi constitution has been completed and is set to be approved, an Iraqi Government spokesman has said.
Read it here.

This has not been confirmed by any of the wire services.

OK! Reuters confirms that Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba has announced that a draft of the constitution is complete and that it will be voted on later in the day.

Read it here.

Bloomberg confirms that there will be a vote on the draft constitution today.

Read it here.

Whoops! FOX News reports that the assembly will not vote until tomorrow at the earliest.

Now renewed fighting has broken out among Shiite militias. It appears that al-Sadr can't control his own guys.

Now the Guardian confirms that there will be no vote on the constitution tonight.

Talk about a fluid situation! There will be a last ditch meeting among party leaders tonight, and the assembly can be called into session if an agreement is reached.

Down to the wire again.

Read the Guardian piece here.

Well, they failed to meet their self-imposed deadline. So is it a constitution or not. Mosaic on Link surveys the Arab media and, not surprisingly there are conflicting reports. Abu Dhabi reports that the presentation of a draft constitution to the assembly has been put off indefinitely. Jordan TV repeats comments by Kubba to the effect that the draft will be presented today and that it is a pure formality because [and here he's getting ridiculous] the constitution was actually approved on Monday. No it wasn't.

Meanwhile the Sadrists have withdrawn from the interim government and al Sadr is urging his followers to vote "no" on the constitution. At least the fighting among Shiite factions has ceased.

And, to make things worse, the "insurgents" have stepped up their atrocities, carrying out not only bombings but mass ritualistic executions [just like Saddam did] in the south.

I fear that everything is starting to come apart under pressure from the "insurgents." If it does there will be civil war -- brutal beyond all imagining. So far the Iraqi people have shown a heroic determination to make democracy work. It is their leadership, both religious and secular, that is letting them down.

The Latest Fall Fashions from Gaza

A few days ago I noted the new fashions in Saudi beachwear [here]. Now the Jerusalem Post publishes these pictures of Palestinian women dressed for Jihad. Fashionable and functional and just in time for the fall bombing season.

What I want to know is why they are carrying M-4 rifles? Shouldn't they be AK-47's?

Check out the article here.

Al Sadr's at It Again

Things are getting complicated in Iraq.

AP reports:

Clashes erupted between rival Shiite groups across the Shiite-dominated south Wednesday, threatening Iraq with yet another crisis at a time when politicians are struggling to end a constitutional stalemate with Sunni Arabs.

The confrontation in at least five southern cities - involving a radical Shiite leader who led two uprisings against U.S. forces last year - followed the boldest assault by Sunni insurgents in weeks in the capital. Fighting between Shiite factions continued Thursday.

Trouble in the south began when supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to reopen his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was closed after the end of fighting there last year.

When Shiites opposed to al-Sadr tried to block the move, fights broke out. Four people were killed, 20 were injured and al-Sadr's office was set on fire, police said.

Read the whole thing here.


Even as I am writing this MSNBC is reporting that things are quieting down between al Sadr and the Shiite leadership.

Meanwhile the "insurgents" are stepping up their attacks.

The Shiite on Shiite conflict reminds us that the simple Shiite, Sunni, Kurd tricotomy that dominates public discourse in this country over Iraq is woefully inadequate to describe the real situation there. There is, for instance, almost no discussion of class issues which are vital to understanding al Sadr's appeal and initiatives.


FOX News reports that al Sadr, has called on his supporters to end their clashes with Shiite rivals so that stalled talks on a new constitution can proceed. [here] He also blamed the US for the clashes saying that they were intended to divide Muslims and rejected the principle of federalism saying that Muslims had to show unity in a time of crisis and to join together to foil US schemes.

Progressive Futility Redux

Earlier I noted the attempt by wealthy liberals to fund left-wing "think-tanks" to compete with those of a conservative persuasion and suggested that this was a waste of money. [here]

My argument was that, unlike conservatives, liberals were unwilling to jettison a stifling accumulation of policies, programs and perspectives and to start anew, and this would doom their efforts to reinvent or reinvigorate liberalism. It would simply be a case of old wine in new bottles.

James Piereson, writing in the New Criterion, makes the same point and notes that the organizers of the project are well aware of the problem. He writes:
Liberal groups..., are organized mainly to protect an agenda that was enacted by Democratic majorities stretching back to the 1930s. They... are [also] organized also around a few important Supreme Court decisions, primarily dealing with abortion and affirmative action. In any case, such a posture has made them reactive and reactionary rather than forward looking. As a consequence, they have not adjusted to new political and economic circumstances.
He continues:
This [analysis] is..., correct as far as it goes, except that it does not go very far in diagnosing what ails the liberals. [We] should remember ...that liberals had an opportunity to enact their agenda in the 1960s and 1970s, and almost wrecked the nation in the process. It was conservatives and Republicans who rescued the economy, won the Cold War, and saved the cities from crime, stagnation, and welfarism. The liberals, because they controlled the television networks and the news media in general, along with the universities, concluded that they were in a position to dictate terms to their fellow citizens, and did not need to persuade anyone with facts, evidence, and argument. Thus the typical liberal approach to any situation was to issue demands or to file a lawsuit -- approaches that dispensed with the need to persuade anyone that their ideas were best for the nation. The rise of alternative television networks and newspapers has now rendered these tactics hopelessly ineffective. Now no one (except unfortunate college students) is required to pay any attention at all to the liberals. And most do not.
This is perhaps a bit stronger than I would put it but he is correct to note that control of educational and communications institutions not only isolated liberals, but instilled in them a false confidence in their power to affect the course of events, one that continues today, witness the current enthusiasm for "framing" their message rather than examining its likely effect if implemented.

He concludes:
New thinking may be required, but there is precious little evidence in this article that such thinking is in fact underway. [Those who have conceived this project] have outlined a thoughtful strategy, but have not said what they seek to accomplish. They have presented a road map but have not identified any destination. Nor have they identified any dead ends that they will now abandon. They will find out soon enough that their main difficulty is not so much the absence of new ideas but the real presence of powerful constituent groups that refuse to adjust their goals or allow new groups to take their place.
Exactly. Those of us who hope for a real and substantive debate over national policy will have to wait a bit longer -- this initiative offers little hope for a genuine Democrat revival. I fear that the Democrats are going to have to suffer a genuinely catastrophic loss before they wake up and begin to cast off the shackles of their past failures.

Another EU Failure -- Iran Will Not be Moved

Those oh-so-sophisticated Europeans, masters of diplomacy that they are, have blown it once again. Deutsche Welle reports:
Iran on Wednesday stuck by its decision to resume sensitive nuclear fuel cycle work, accusing the European Union of damaging diplomatic efforts to resolve a crisis over its nuclear program.

The comments came the day after Britain, France and Germany -- who have been trying to convince Iran to limit its nuclear drive -- announced they had cancelled talks scheduled for next week.
"The Europeans are to blame for unilaterally interpreting and violating the Paris Agreement," [foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza] Asefi said, repeating Iran's contention that it has the right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce its own nuclear fuel."The Europeans ignored Iran's rights."

But, confident of their sophisticated powers of persuasion, the European diplomats [did I mention that they were "sophisticated"?] are not giving up.

Despite calling off the negotiating meeting, the European powers are still keen to talk to Iran about its sensitive nuclear program, according to French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

Douste-Blazy said the EU-3, acting on behalf of the European Union, were not ending the discussions.

"We are suspending the negotiations," he told France Inter radio. "But at the same time, we think it is still possible to talk to them ... There is no reason to close the door on Iran."

I suppose that it would be crass and "American" of me to point out that they have little choice at this point. Their failure to achieve any progress with Iran leaves them with no options other than to go to the UN Security Council, and we all know just how effective that will be with Russia and China both promising to protect Iran from UN sanctions.

Maybe there is some other option and I'm just too "unsophisticated" to see it. I sure hope so.

Read the article here.


Reuters reports:

VIENNA - France, Britain and Germany are preparing to call an emergency meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s governing board to send Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, diplomats said on Thursday.

The so-called EU3 were consulting with others on the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency board in preparation for calling an early meeting after IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei issues a report on Iran due on Sept. 3, IAEA diplomats said.

But there are difficulties:

Some states, however, were opposed to an early meeting and could block it, diplomats said. These included the Non-Aligned Movement, which holds a third of the seats on the board.

“The Chinese and the Russians are lobbying against it,” the EU3 diplomat said, adding: “The NAM are also opposed.”

And so they are having meetings on having meetings which will result in a decision to have another set of meetings, and so it goes in the "community of nations."

Read it here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Future of Hollywood

Sharon Waxman, writing in the NY Times, charts the recent decline of the movie industry.
With the last of the summer blockbusters fading from the multiplex, Hollywood's box office slump has hardened into a reality that is setting the movie industry on edge. The drop in ticket sales from last summer to this summer, the most important moviegoing season, is projected to be 9 percent by Labor Day, and the drop in attendance is expected to be even deeper, 11.5 percent, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.
Statistics like that tend to concentrate the minds of movie executives.
Multiple theories for the decline abound: a failure of studio marketing, the rising price of gas, the lure of alternate entertainment, even the prevalence of commercials and pesky cellphones inside once-sacrosanct theaters. But many movie executives and industry experts are beginning to conclude that something more fundamental is at work: Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough.[Emphasis mine]

You don't say! But, of course, that has been true for a long time. What accounts for the recent decline?

The answer is..., tada! Home theatres.

There is a dirty little secret in all of this. The studios are doing fine. Sales of DVD's have been booming for several years, though they seem to have stabilized recently -- it is the theatre chains that are hurting, and they have been separate from the studios since 1948.

Studios and theatre chains have very differenc sets of interests, a fact that is highlighted by a recent suggestion by Robert Iger, incoming head of Disney Studios, that DVD versions of movies be released simultaneously with their theatrical release. This, theatre owners, constitutes nothing less than a "death threat" from the studios.

But Iger is right -- that seems to be what consumers want. Why? The technology of home entertainment has at last reached a point where people can produce in their own livingrooms something that approximates the theatrical experience.
Warren Lieberfarb, a former Warner Brothers executive who was a main advocate of the DVD in the early 90's, warned that going to the movies had become too expensive over all, given the excellent quality of home theater. "It's not just the DVD. It's not just the DVD window," he said. "It's the flat-panel television and the sound system, with the DVD option, that has radically changed the quality of the in-home experience. The home theater has arrived." As a result, he said, "you have to change the business model of the movie business."
Until that happens, movie executives are responding to the crisis by promising to make better movies. I sure hope they do, but haven't we heard this before..., several times. I'll believe it when I see it.

In the meantime it's interesting to speculate on how theatre chains will adjust to the changing market conditions. Many won't survive, but I suspect that those that do will begin be those that go back to the roots of the movie industry.

In the early decades of the movie industry films were shown either in easily accessible, affordable formats [nickelodeons] or as part of a broader, more varied entertainment mix [in vaudeville shows or as part of an evening's entertainment that included singing, cartoons, door prize drawings, live acts and announcers, etc. in movie "palaces"] Eventually the latter practice prevailed.

This practice of providing a varied slate of entertainment continued right up to the 1940's and beyond. Perhaps it is time to revive it now. Just showing a feature film along with some commercials just doesn't cut it any more. Some theatre chains and revival houses are beginning to move in that direction. The key will be to offer people something that they would find too troublesome or expensive to replicate in their own homes.

Now the question is -- what form will it take? Who can know at this point. But..., whatever the outcome, the next couple of decades promise to be an immensely exciting period of experimenation and innovation in the field of public entertainment. I look forward to it eagerly.

Read the article here.

NGO's are Beginning to Reform Their Practices

The Bush administration's dogged insistence that international aid be held to strict standards of accountability is beginning to have an effect, not just at the World Bank, where Paul Wolfowitz not presides, or at the UN which has been plagued by corruption scandals, but throughout the interlocking networks of NGO's. SwissInfo reports that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria [Geneva based, but heavily funded by the US] has
halted millions of dollars in AIDS funding for Uganda, a nation usually praised for its fight against HIV, saying it had found evidence of mismanagement in distributing the money.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said its auditors had serious concerns about the operations of the special agency set up by the Ugandan government to handle cash disbursed by the organisation.

Although there was no clear indication of corruption or fraud, there was evidence of "inappropriate expenditure and improper accounting"....
The move to block cash for Uganda is the second time in a week that the fund, which has made financial transparency a key selling point for donors, has suspended help to a state.

On August 19 it stopped funding for Myanmar because of travel and other restrictions imposed by the military junta there.
For decades aid efforts in Africa and much of the developing world have been stymied by gross negligence and corruption in the recipient societies. Now, finally, the NGO's, prodded by the US administration, are beginning to demand that recipients of their largess begin to actually apply it to the problems the agencies are attempting to address. That is, to quote a prominent criminal, a "good thing."

Read the article here.

The Globalization of Higher Education

Niall Ferguson, writing in the LA Times, surveys the global expansion of institutions of higher education and speculates on its effect. He writes:
It was the British novelist Kingsley Amis who prophesied that expanding universities would lower standards. At a time of year when many students are getting ready for college, it's appropriate to ask if he was right.

The opening up of higher education is a global phenomenon. Forty-five years ago, when Amis made his prediction, just 5% of British students entered higher education. Today it's closer to 45%. And college entry rates are even higher in the United States. In 1960, 45% of high school graduates enrolled in college. Now it's 65%.

Similar expansion has been going on all over the developed world and, at breakneck speed, in Asia. All told, the world has something in the region of 100 million students. So if Amis was right, and more does mean worse, then the deterioration of higher education should be occurring on a global scale.

Of course, it isn't. Instead, what is occurring is an intensification of the competition among the world's universities.
In this competition Ferguson finds that the US does very, very well in areas where money buys quality, such as top-end research. But that it does less well in other, less cost-intensive activities. The US university system, for instance, no longer functions to generate social mobility as well as it once did. The main reason for this decline, though, would seem to lie more with the public school system which no longer prepares poor students adequately for higher education than with the universities themselves.

Finally, Ferguson notes that the US is beginning to lose out to institutions in other countries in the competition for top students. In part this is due to the prohibitive cost of US university educations, but it also reflects new discriminatory policies instituted by the INS and, I might add, by America's top universities themelves.

It's an interesting piece. Read it here.

Ralph Luker over at Cliopatria notes that Ferguson's LA Times article is essentially the same article he published [and was paid for] by the Telegraph the previous day [not that there's anything wrong with that]. It must be nice to get two paychecks for one article. Luker also notes that Ferguson has been able to wangle multiple and simultaneous academic appointments.
Niall Ferguson informs us that his starship is "the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. He is a resident faculty member of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. He is also a Senior Reseach Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University." He has an additional affiliation with the Harvard Business School. We're told that he'll be on sabbatical leave for the fall of 2005. I assume that means that he'll be on leave from all five institutions.
He even has a store where you can buy Ferguson knicknacks.

Talk about academic entreprenurship!

Nice catch, Ralph!

Read the whole article here.

The Churchill Scandal Grinds On, and On, and On...

The Rocky Mountain News reports:
In what can only be described as good news for the University of Colorado, a subcommittee on research misconduct has reportedly concluded that all but two allegations against Professor Ward Churchill deserve further investigation....

According to Churchill's attorney, David Lane, the subcommittee kept all of the the major allegations of plagiarism and historical invention in play. But what is arguably the most notorious allegation of all, that Churchill made up his Indian ancestry, was dropped.
The article describes what it calls the ludicrously protracted process of investigation.

[T]he review process is preposterously complex and is still far from over. Even this first phase has dragged on longer than CU's rules envision. Now the allegations move to the full standing committee, which could derail the process or refer the charges to a smaller investigative panel. That panel would then have 30 days to gear up and 120 more in which to do its work. And even that timetable is not hard and fast. The committee can take yet more time if its members think they need it.

And then recommendations will be made and university officials can then begin to consider what actions, if any, might be taken and so on, and so on, to the end of time.

The decision to drop charges that Churchill invented his ethnicity is disappointing, because an investigation of those charges and the way they may have influenced hiring and promotion decisions in the university would have illuminated one of the major sources of corruption in contemporary academia.

Read the article here.

Luai Luai, Ooooh Baby

Der Spiegel reports on the arrest and interrogation of Luai Sakra, whose story, if true, is of enormous import for understanding the nature of the terrorist threat.
Two weeks ago, Turkish police arrested an Islamist with ties to many upper tier al-Qaida members. The man not only tried to get asylum in Germany, but claims to have known about the London bombings beforehand and to have helped the 9/11 pilots.

What Sakra told officials during his interrogation suggests a deep jihadist career... According to his own testimony, he knew about the London bombings before they happened, and supported the pilots on 9/11.

"I was one of the people who knew the 9/11 perpetrators," Sakra reportedly said in passing during the interrogation, "and I knew the plans and times beforehand." He claims to have provided the pilots with passports and money.
Sakra's accounts of his activities and contacts are given credibility by intelligence services because some of them can be independently confirmed. He was, by his own account, a major recruiter for and organizer of Islamic radical organizations throughout Europe and the Middle East and a close associate of both Bin Laden and Zarqawi. But there are also questions as to his mental stability and this leads some to discount his testimony. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

Read the whole thing here.

Kaplan on the Iraqi Constitution

Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, is unimpressed with the Iraqi draft constitution. He writes:

[I]t's hard to see how Iraq's constitution could serve either as a document that unifies the new Iraqi nation or as a clear guide to governance.

The charter is vague to the point of vacuousness in its most basic proclamations....

After listing the numerous ambiguities and contradictions in the document he concludes:
[I]t is not at all clear—with or without this constitution—what kind of government, what kind of nation, this war and this process have wrought.
Exactly! The debate on the Iraqi constitution is just beginning, just as ours was in 1787. It is the national debate and legislative action, not the product of a committee's deliberation that will give form and meaning to the Iraqi constitution. A little patience is in order.

Read the article here.

Sun Dumps Witcover - Mistah Kurtz Reports

Howie Kurtz has a piece in the WaPo describing how one of the grand old men of political journalism, Jules Witcover, was treated shabbily by the Baltimore Sun. I know that the Sun is having financial problems, but this display of corporate insensitivity is appalling.

Read it here.

Another Myth Exploded -- The Army is Exceeding Recruitment Goals

Yeah, that's right -- exceeding!

The NY Post reports:

Every one of the Army's 10 divisions — its key combat organizations — has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the year to date. Those with the most intense experience in Iraq have the best rates. The 1st Cavalry Division is at 136 percent of its target, the 3rd Infantry Division at 117 percent.

Among separate combat brigades, the figures are even more startling, with the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division at 178 percent of its goal and the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Mech right behind at 174 percent of its re-enlistment target.

This is unprecedented in wartime. Even in World War II, we needed the draft. Where are the headlines?

* What about first-time enlistment rates, since that was the issue last spring? The Army is running at 108 percent of its needs....

* The Army Reserve is a tougher sell, given that it takes men and women away from their families and careers on short notice. Well, Reserve recruitment stands at 102 percent of requirements.

* And then there's the Army National Guard. We've been told for two years that the Guard was in free-fall. Really? Guard recruitment and retention comes out to 106 percent of its requirements as of June 30.

Of course the real problem is with special forces where it takes years to train an individual and, once trained it is hard to keep him/her because they can command excellent salaries outside the military. Nevertheless the overall figures are encouraging and quite different from what numerous stories in the MSM would lead you to expect.

Read it here.

The Iraqi Marshlands are Being Restored

Gateway Pundit reports on an amazing restoration effort going on in Southern Iraq. The cradle of civilization is being reborn.

Read about it here.

Civilization was born [many say] in the marshlands of Southern Iraq. There elements of the local culture trace back nearly six millenia. Saddam tried to destroy the inhabitants of this region and the environment that sustained them. That effort came to an end with the American invasion and now restoration of both the culture and the environment is well under way. It is an amazing success story that should be recognized and applauded everywhere, and, notably, the local inhabitants are doing much of the restoration themselves. Resilient people, these.

The BBC report on marshland restoration is here. The attached UNEP photos show the extent of reclamation since 2003. The dark areas are reflooded.