March 31, 2007
SUCCESS IS NICE, BUT WE MISS CHARLIE:
A mystery he isn't better known: John Harvey has long been the crime writers' crime writer. Now his new hero is also giving him the public recognition he deserves. (Marcel Berlins, 3/27/07, Times of London)
YOU'VE MADE IT AS A CRIME writer when the jackets of your novels proclaim your name in huge colourful capitals, while the titles of the books lurk modestly below. John Harvey has now reached that status, but there remains a mystery. Why has it taken so long? I know of no other crime writer who writes so well, has attracted such unanimously positive reviews, and been so respected by his fellow writers - yet failed to become the household name and bestselling author that he deserved to be.
Harvey has now further proof of the esteem in which he's held. The Crime Writers' Association has given him its most coveted award, the Cartier Diamond Dagger, for "sustained excellence" in the genre. He is chuffed. "The really nice thing about it is that it isn't based on one particular work," he says. "It's people who are aware of your work over a period of time. And when those people are other writers, it means a lot."
The Charlie Resnick series, which he stopped writing a couple years ago, is outstanding.
IT DOESN'T GET ODDER:
You're So Vain is a highlight, relatively speaking.
HE OUGHTTA TRY GOING TO A CPAC CONVENTION...:
Cameron is winning and only the Tory boobies have not noticed (Charles Moore, 31/03/2007, Daily Telegraph)
There is a well-known story of a man in the audience of Othello. As he watched the Moor persistently refusing to believe that Desdemona is honest, the man became beside himself. Eventually, he yelled out: "You great black booby! Can't you see it's all right?" That is rather the sort of thing I feel like shouting at the Tory critics of David Cameron.
The British Right hates Cameron as the American Right hates Bush as the American Left hated Clinton as the British Left hates Blair. Only voters like the Third Way leaders.
THE RIGHT TO 15 MINUTES:
The Celebrity of Celebrity (PAUL HOLLANDER, January 17, 2007, NY Sun)
Why is such ogling, mingling, or rubbing of shoulders with celebrities in person such a source of pleasure and self-fulfillment?
Those who rejoice in rubbing shoulders harbor a hope that temporarily sharing the same physical space will elevate their own social standing. As the St. Moritz article put it, "You can attend their events, eat in their restaurants, walk among them, wear their clothes, sleep on the same luscious sheets."
The real problem is the decline of community and the rise of social isolation. This leads to fantasies of having something in common with the rich and famous. Live celebrity watching expresses and exemplifies false consciousness. It is an attempt to find meaning and fulfillment in the life and the attributes of others far removed from one's own circumstances.
Daniel Boorstin grasped the essentials of the celebrity cult half a century ago: "Our age has produced a new kind of eminence. ... He is the human pseudo-event ... a substitute for the hero who is the celebrity and whose main characteristic is well-knownness ... anyone can become a celebrity if only he can get into the news and stay there. ... The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark."
Many highly talented people, such as scientists, are not widely known and are not celebrities. They don't provide entertainment, their skills and accomplishments are hard to emulate, and they are not uniformly good looking. If you are a scientist, but your daughter follows rock stars, you have not succeeded in conveying to her the importance of your work.
The celebrity cult is a form of vicarious gratification, an attempt at identification with those who possess attributes missing from the life of ordinary human beings: fame, wealth, vast amounts of attention, and, quite often, adulation. In today's populist, socially mobile society, though, a growing number of individuals feel that they are entitled to the same privileges celebrities possess. They believe that each individual has limitless potential and that there are no exclusive elites. Like many of us, they want to transcend anonymity.
Becoming a celebrity is also an obvious avenue for enriching personal wealth. This is a motivation we can readily grasp - even if we dissent from the cult. If you are famous enough, sooner or later you will become rich, because fame sells.
THEY'RE ALL CIRCUMSCRIBED:
Afraid of Freedom?: Backtracking on warrantless surveillance, president still scorns privacy rights (Nat Hentoff, January 26th, 2007, Village Voice)
[T]he president in no way acknowledges that he broke the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the NSA's warrantless filling of FBI and CIA databases in its secret spying. As New York Times legal analyst Adam Liptak noted on January 19: "The administration continues to maintain it is free to operate without court approval." The president has not embraced the Fourth Amendment and judicial review of his "inherent" powers, despite his backtracking on the warrantless spying."
Furthermore, in a little-noticed declaration on January 17, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said in a speech at Washington's American Enterprise Institute that federal judges are not "equipped to make decisions" about actions taken by the commander-in-chief regarding national security. "A judge," said Gonzales, "will never be in the position to know what is in the national security interest of the country." So judges should back off. [...]
In the landmark free-press 1971 "Pentagon Papers" case (New York Times Co. v. United States) -- in which the Nixon administration demanded severe punishment for the New York Times's having published highly classified information on government conduct (and lies) in the course of the Vietnam War -- Justice Hugo Black, writing in the majority, warned of government brandishing "national security" to silence the press in time of war. "The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic," Black wrote. "The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged."
But among the dissenters, Justice Harry Blackmun warned: "The First Amendment . . . is only one part of an entire Constitution. Article II of the great document vests in the Executive Branch primary power over the conduct of foreign affairs and places in that branch the responsibility for the Nation's safety . . . I cannot subscribe to a doctrine of unlimited absolutism for the First Amendment . . ."
Funny how folks are only absolutist about Amendments when it suits their partisan ends.
March 30, 2007
THE EYES OF A dEMOCRAT:
Putin 'against having third term' (BBC, 3/30/07)
A senior Russian lawmaker has proposed changing the constitution, in a move that might allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power longer.
But a Kremlin spokesman responded by saying Mr Putin was opposed to any such change to the constitution.
A TIMESIAN SENSE OF IRONY:
Riot boosts Le Pen's poll ratings (Angela Charlton, 31 March 2007, AP)
Rioting French youths who hurled insults about presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy may, ironically, help him win.
Polls yesterday suggested that the outburst of violence at a Paris train station this week boosted support for the conservative who cultivated a law-and-order image as interior minister - and for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
When that which he's warned of happens it helps his campaign--go figure....
Meanwhile, on the Left...School strikes stoke election fever in France (Katrin Bennhold, March 30, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
Many primary schools in Paris were on strike Friday and hundreds of teachers and parents took to the streets to protest the temporary detention of a principal who had tried to prevent the arrest of an illegal immigrant picking up his grandchild after school.
MAGOO WAS A JERSEYAN TOO:
Waiting for Magoo: Is Rudy Giuliani the next Steve Forbes? (Bruce Reed, Mar. 30, 2007, Slate)
Always Look on the Supply Side of Life: No matter what else comes out about Rudy Giuliani's three marriages, it's hard to imagine a stranger union than the one he announced this week, with multimillionaire conservative presidential wannabe Steve Forbes. [...]
Like Forbes, Giuliani is a one-note candidate - but they're completely different notes. The Onion teased Giuliani for running for president of Sept. 11th; Forbes ran for president of April 15th, the national day of remembrance for taxes.
As a candidate, Forbes had one idée fixe - the flat tax. Over the years, that has been his economic policy, his social policy, and at times, his foreign policy. Steve Forbes viewed the flat tax the way George W. Bush views Iraq: You're either for it or against me.
Until this week, Giuliani was one of the flat tax's most outspoken Republican opponents. Back in 1996, as the New York Times pointed out yesterday, Giuliani took to the airwaves to attack the Forbes flat tax as "a disaster." This week, Giuliani stood alongside Forbes and offered up a reverse double pander, declaring that he'd rather not have a federal income tax at all, but if we must have one, it ought to be a flat tax.
Giuliani didn't even try to hide the motives behind his strange new arranged marriage. In conjunction with the Forbes endorsement, his campaign started running ads on conservative talk radio touting his support for "supply-side policies." He told Larry Kudlow, "I regard myself as a supply sider for sure."
Never mind that in eight years, Giuliani's supply-side revolution managed to reduce the top personal income tax rate in New York City by nine-tenths of 1%. The campaign's theory is obvious: Giuliani can't win the nomination as a social liberal, and Mitt Romney is already running as the social flip-flopper. So Hizzoner will run as an economic flip-flopper instead.
The trouble with this theory is that even Steve Forbes doesn't believe in it. In 1996, Forbes ran a campaign like Giuliani's - as a pro-choice supply-sider. He lost everywhere but Delaware and Arizona. When he ran the next time, Forbes turned himself into such a pro-life enthusiast he accused Bush of hedging on whether abortion would be a litmus test for judges and his running mate. (He lost again, anyway.)
There's going to be way stranger.
WELCOME TO FISHERCAT NATION:
Pettitte and Mussina get their work in (Peter Abraham, 3/30/07, Lo Hud Yankees)
Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina each started games over at the minor-league complex across the street. They faced Toronto prospects.
Pettitte vs. Class AA New Hampshire: 4 innings, 7 hits, 4 earned runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts. 70 pitches/43 strikes. He retired 8 of the first 10 batters he faced before a rocky fourth inning that included five hits and 34 pitches.
As he prepares to go 0 for New England this season?
MITT VS. HIMSELF:
Mitt's Biggest Flop (David Hogberg, 3/30/2007, American Prospect)
Mitt Romney's most-heralded achievement as governor of Massachusetts was his overhaul of the Bay State's health care system. However, as I've noted on the AmSpec blog, "RomneyCare" began running into problems pretty quickly. After much initial self-promotion, Romney now is slowly backing away from his health care plan, hinting that the Democrats now in charge should be blamed if it flops. "I was a little concerned at the signing ceremony when Ted Kennedy showed up," Romney recently quipped. But the fact is that RomneyCare was a pretty liberal health care plan right from the start.
In 2006, then-governor Romney promoted his plan with enthusiasm and aplomb. He also did his best to mollify conservatives he sought to court for his presidential campaign who were concerned that his plan was little more than big government in disguise. Regarding the individual mandate that required all citizens of Massachusetts to purchase health insurance, Romney defended it in conservative terms -- even if doing so seemed a bit Orwellian. He referred to the mandate as "a personal responsibility principle." Yet if the government is forcing people to buy insurance, how can that be described as "personal"? Romney has never bothered to explain.
Romney is now avoiding responsibility for RomneyCare.
The sooner Fred Thompson gets in the race the sooner Mitt can bow out gracefully.
DUDE, YOU'RE MAKIN' MAJOR LEAGUE MEAL MONEY...:
Peralta a sure thing for Royals (Pitcher, whose career has been more suspect than prospect, has become what Bell calls a 'valuable guy.' (BOB DUTTON, 3/30/07, The Kansas City Star
Royals reliever Joel Peralta has it figured out, he believes. It was a Dominican delicacy that knocked him for a loop last month and resulted in a hospital stay that included a strength-zapping spinal tap.
"Food poisoning," he said. "Because all of the tests that they did to me, they didn't find anything wrong. I know what it was -- it was some part of the cow that I'd never had before."
Hey ... got to ask.
"The tail," Peralta revealed.
Not as bad as you thought, right?
Bad enough, though. It put Peralta, who was born and still lives in Bonao, Dominican Republic, on the shelf for more than a week in a camp where he needed to pitch well to retain his job in a revamped bullpen.
ALL MOBBED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO:
Testimony by Giuliani Indicates He Was Briefed on Kerik in '00 (WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, 3/30/07, NY Times)
Rudolph W. Giuliani told a grand jury that his former chief investigator remembered having briefed him on some aspects of Bernard B. Kerik's relationship with a company suspected of ties to organized crime before Mr. Kerik's appointment as New York City police commissioner, according to court records.
Mr. Giuliani, testifying last year under oath before a Bronx grand jury investigating Mr. Kerik, said he had no memory of the briefing, but he did not dispute that it had taken place, according to a transcript of his testimony.
Mr. Giuliani's testimony amounts to a significantly new version of what information was probably before him in the summer of 2000 as he was debating Mr. Kerik's appointment as the city's top law enforcement officer. Mr. Giuliani had previously said that he had never been told of Mr. Kerik's entanglement with the company before promoting him to the police job or later supporting his failed bid to be the nation's homeland security secretary.
The phone calls in SC write themselves.
IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH THE 5 YEAR OLD CAN KICK YOUR BUTT IN MONKEYBALL? (via The Mother Judd):
Video Games Conquer Retirees (SETH SCHIESEL, 3/30/07, NY Times)
Anxious about the mental cost of aging, older people are turning to games that rely on quick thinking to stimulate brain activity. A step slower than in their youth, they are using digital recreations of bowling, tennis and golf.
Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.
But can they Flashbowl?
THE GUSHERS WILL STILL BE GOING WHEN THE SUN EXPLODES:
Why hybrid cars aren't selling well (Alan Caruba, March 26, 2007, Enter Stage Right)
In an informative new book by John Ghazvinian, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil, the author notes that, "Thanks to more than a decade of wildly successful discoveries by the world's largest oil companies, as well as the efforts of a growing army of Washington's lobbyists and lawmakers, Africa has been quietly transformed in policy-making circles from an insignificant backwater into a potentially lucrative new source of oil and gas for the global market."
"Since 1990 alone," writes Ghazvinian, "the petroleum industry has invested more than $20 billion in exploration and production activity in Africa. A further $50 billion will be spent between now and the end of the decade, the largest investment in the continent's history--and around one-third of it will come from the United States."
"Three of the world's largest oil companies--the British-Dutch consortium Shell, France's Total, and America's Chevron--are spending 15 percent, 30 percent, and 35 percent respectively of their global exploration and production budgets in Africa."
The need for energy, the lifeblood of economic development, is driving nations of considerably divergent outlooks in terms of their religions and their political systems to work together for their own and the greater good of the world's population. It is largely an invisible force at work, but it shows up at the gas pump and in the auto showroom where hybrids go unsold.
The ultimate irony is that Big Oil may do more for world peace and prosperity than all the posturing of diplomats and world leaders combined.
The following is an excerpt from the book Untapped by John Ghazvinian (Copyright © 2007 John Ghazvinian)
Since 1990 alone, the petroleum industry has invested more than $20 billion in exploration and production activity in Africa. A further $50 billion will be spent between now and the end of the decade, the largest investment in the continent's history -- and around one-third of it will come from the United States. Three of the world's largest oil companies -- the British-Dutch consortium Shell, France's Total, and America's Chevron -- are spending 15 percent, 30 percent, and 35 percent respectively of their global exploration and production budgets in Africa. Chevron alone is in the process of rolling out $20 billion in African projects over a five-year period.
The overwhelming majority of this new drilling activity has taken place in the so-called "deep water" and the "ultradeep" of the Gulf of Guinea, the roughly 90-degree bend along the west coast of Africa that can best be visualized as the continent's "armpit." Its littoral zone passes through the territorial waters of a dozen countries, from Ivory Coast in the northwest down to Angola in the south, and a good deal of its geology shares the characteristics that have made Nigeria a prolific producer for decades. Indeed, a number of unexpectedly productive fields have been discovered in the Gulf over the past decade. But although the Gulf of Guinea has lately been sub-Saharan Africa's most exciting region for the oil industry, it is hardly the only "prospective" part of the continent (to borrow the industry term). The parched semideserts of southern Chad and southern Sudan have recently added hundreds of thousands of barrels a day to global markets, and a growing chorus of voices is now touting the East African margin as the industry's "next big thing."
But be it east or west, jungle or desert, it is a safe bet that where the drillers go, the politicians, strategists, and lobbyists are not far behind. Washington in particular has taken a keen interest in Africa's growing significance as an oil-producing region since the headline discoveries of the late 1990s. In December 2000 the National Intelligence Council, an internal CIA think tank, published a report in which it declared unambiguously that sub-Saharan Africa "will play an increasing role in global energy markets," and predicted that the region would provide 25 percent of North American oil imports by 2015, up from the 15 percent or so at the time. (This would put Africa well ahead of Saudi Arabia as a source of oil for the United States.) In May 2001 a controversial and fairly secretive energy task force put together by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney declared in its report: "West Africa is expected to be one of the fastest-growing sources of oil and gas for the American market."
In the following months, a group of congressmen, lobbyists, and defense strategists came together under the umbrella of the African Oil Policy Initiative Group, and began preaching the message that the Gulf of Guinea was the new Persian Gulf, and that it should become a strategic priority for the United States, even to the point of requiring an expanded military presence. A series of well-placed articles in the American media followed, some breathlessly announcing the inauguration of a new Middle East off the shores of Africa. Before long, the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies had chimed in with a couple of reports, its most recent, in July 2005, claiming that "an exceptional mix of U.S. interests is at play in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea."
During these years, a number of prominent lawmakers in Washington began getting excited about the possibility of shifting some of America's oil dependence from the Middle East to Africa. One former senior official charged with African affairs recalls Kansas Senator Sam Brownback rushing up to him one afternoon in October 2002, positively glowing with excitement. "What do you think about bases in Africa?" Brownback asked. "Wouldn't that be great?"
But does Africa measure up to the hype? After all, the entire continent is believed to contain, at best, 10 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, making it a minnow swimming in an ocean of seasoned sharks. Africa is unlikely ever to "replace" the Middle East or any other major oil-producing region. So why the song and dance? Why all the goose bumps? Why do so many influential people in Washington let themselves get so carried away when they talk about African oil?
The answer has very little to do with geology. Africa's significance as an oil "play," to borrow the industry lingo, lies beyond the number of barrels that may or may not be buried under its cretaceous rock. Instead, what makes the African oil boom interesting to energy security strategists in both Washington and Europe (and, increasingly, Beijing) is a series of serendipitous and unrelated factors that, together, tell a story of unfolding opportunity.
To begin with, one of the more attractive attributes of Africa's oil boom is the quality of the oil itself. The variety of crude found in the Gulf of Guinea is known in industry parlance as "light" and "sweet," meaning it is viscous and low in sulfur, and therefore easier and cheaper to refine than, say, Middle Eastern crude, which tends to be lacking in lower hydrocarbons and is therefore very "sticky." This is particularly appealing to American and European refineries, which have to contend with strict environmental regulations that make it difficult to refine heavier and sourer varieties of crude without running up costs that make the entire proposition worthless.
Then there is the geographic accident of Africa's being almost entirely surrounded by water, which significantly cuts transport-related costs and risks. The Gulf of Guinea, in particular, is well positioned to allow speedy transport to the major trading ports of Europe and North America. Existing sea-lanes can be used for quick, cheap delivery, so there is no need to worry about the Suez Canal, for instance, or to build expensive pipelines through unpredictable countries. This may seem a minor point, until you look at Central Asia, where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, stretching from Azerbaijan through Georgia and into Turkey, and intended to deliver Caspian crude into the Mediterranean, had to navigate a minefield of Middle East politics, antiglobalization protests, and red tape before it could be opened. African oil faces none of those issues. It is simply loaded onto a tanker at the point of production and begins its smooth, unmolested journey on the high seas, arriving just days later in Shreveport, Southampton, or Le Havre.
A third advantage, from the perspective of the oil companies, is that Africa offers a tremendously favorable contractual environment. Unlike in, say, Saudi Arabia, where the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco has a monopoly on the exploration, production, and distribution of the country's crude oil, most sub-Saharan African countries operate on the basis of so-called production-sharing agreements, or PSAs. In these arrangements, a foreign oil company is awarded a license to look for petroleum on the condition that it assume the up-front costs of exploration and production. If oil is discovered in that block, the oil company will share the revenues with the host government, but only after its initial costs have been recouped. PSAs are generally offered to impoverished countries that would never be able to amass either the technical expertise or the billions in capital investment required to drill for oil themselves. For the oil company, a relatively small up-front investment can quickly turn into untold billions in profits.
Yet another strategic benefit, particularly from the perspective of American politicians, is that, until recently, with the exception of Nigeria, none of the oil-producing countries of sub-Saharan Africa had belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Thus they have not been subject to the strict limits on output OPEC imposes on its members in an attempt to keep the price of oil artificially high. The more non-OPEC oil that comes onto the global market, the more difficult it becomes for OPEC countries to sell their crude at high prices, and the lower the overall price of oil. Put more simply, if new reserves are discovered in Venezuela, they have very little effect on the price of oil because Venezuela's OPEC commitments will not allow it to increase its output very much. But if new reserves are discovered in Gabon, it means more cheap oil for everybody.
But probably the most attractive of all the attributes of Africa's oil boom, for Western governments and oil companies alike, is that virtually all the big discoveries of recent years have been made offshore, in deepwater reserves that are often many miles from populated land. This means that even if a civil war or violent insurrection breaks out onshore (always a concern in Africa), the oil companies can continue to pump out oil with little likelihood of sabotage, banditry, or nationalist fervor getting in the way. Given the hundreds of thousands of barrels of Nigerian crude that are lost every year as a result of fighting, community protests, and organized crime, this is something the industry gets rather excited about.
Finally, there is the sheer speed of growth in African oil production, and the fact that Africa is one of the world's last underexplored regions. In a world used to hearing that there are no more big oil discoveries out there, and few truly untapped reserves to look forward to, the ferocious pace and scale of Africa's oil boom has proved a bracing tonic. One-third of the world's new oil discoveries since the year 2000 have taken place in Africa. Of the 8 billion barrels of new oil reserves discovered in 2001, 7 billion were found there. In the years between 2005 and 2010, 20 percent of the world's new production capacity is expected to come from Africa. And there is now an almost contagious feeling in the oil industry that no one really knows just how much oil might be there, since no one's ever really bothered to check.
All these factors add up to a convincing value proposition: African oil is cheaper, safer, and more accessible than its competitors, and there seems to be more of it every day. And, though Africa may not be able to compete with the Persian Gulf at the level of proven reserves, it has just enough up its sleeve to make it a potential "swing" region -- an oil province that can kick in just enough production to keep markets calm when supplies elsewhere in the world are unpredictable. Diversification of the oil supply has been a goal -- even an obsession -- in the United States since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. Successive U.S. administrations have understood that if the world is overly reliant on two or three hot spots for its energy security, there is a greater risk of supply disruptions and price volatility. And for obvious reasons, the effort to distribute America's energy-security portfolio across multiple nodes has taken on a new urgency since September 11, 2001. In his State of the Union address in January 2006, President Bush said he wanted to reduce America's dependence on Middle East crude by 75 percent by 2025.
FEAR OF A BLACK HAND:
Agents of change see a free China: Dissidents' visits are an uncomfortable reminder of oppression (Greg Sheridan, March 31, 2007, The Australian)
[T]here are others who see a different China, who imagine a future for China beyond economic growth alone, one that does encompass democracy and human rights.
Four such Chinese visited Australia this week.
There was Wang Jingtao, labelled by Beijing as "the black hand of the black hands" for his role in organising the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 in Beijing. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail on the charge of seeking to overthrow the Government.
He was joined by Han Dongfang, founder of the China Labour Bulletin. A former railway worker, he was sentenced to four years in jail for founding a trade union and for organising workers to join the student demonstrations of 1989. His notional crime was spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda.
Also visiting was Fei Liangyong, the Cologne-based president of the Foundation for a Democratic China. And the fourth was Albert Ho, the new chairman of the Opposition Democratic Party in Hong Kong.
All share a single vision: that in their lifetimes they may see a democratic China. But lest they, too, be accused of the fatuousness of the Australian businessman, it is clear they see this is emerging not out of a straight-line continuation of trends in China today; rather, only if there is radical political change in China.
They visited in part to speak to a seminar organised by three unusually brave politicians: Victor Perton, a former Liberal member of the Victorian parliament; former Liberal senator Tsiben Tschen; and the federal Labor whip and member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, by far the most courageous politician in any mainstream party when it comes to Chinese human rights.
Though they were received politely enough, the delegation was hardly the toast of the town. It is remarkable, really, with honourable exceptions, how few senior politicians wanted to see them.
What's that? Labour rights in China? I think I'm washing my hair. Chinese prison conditions? Not my bailiwick. The future of democracy? What if we talk about the future of trade instead.
Of course, it is entirely a good thing to trade with China and to acknowledge the remarkable progress it has made on so many fronts of human as well as commercial endeavour. But it's a pity not to listen to the voices of Chinese democracy, for they too have enlightening, mostly positive, sometimes alarming, things to say.
We are fortunate enough to live in an age when such imaginings have become realities at a remarkable pace.
China and the 'enlightened' West: a review of The Writing on the Wall by Will Hutton (Tony Norfield, 3/31/07, Asia Times)
WHAT LIES BETWEEN:
India straddles Middle East divide (Sudha Ramachandran, 3/31/07, Asia Times)
Even as the Indian government courts Israel, its soldiers - part of a United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon - are winning the hearts of Hezbollah and of the Lebanese people.
Hezbollah spokesperson Ali Fayyad praised India's peacekeeping in southern Lebanon at a conference on "War, Imperialism and Resistance" in New Delhi two weeks ago. "The role of the Indian Army deployed as part of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon is very positive and it has no problem with the people of Lebanon and Hezbollah," he said.
India, which has provided soldiers to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for the past nine years, has about 850 soldiers currently deployed in the eastern sector of the 13-mile buffer zone north of the Israeli border.
Hardly surprising that the Indians have grasped more quickly than their allies that the Shi'a aren't the enemy. Indeed, they'll broker the rapproachment between the U.S. and Iran.
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE W BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
'Axis of democracy' flexes its military muscles (Hisane Masaki, 3/31/07, Asia Times)
Will their love be requited? Japan and the United States have been ardently courting India recently for what appears to be an emerging "axis of democracy" in Asia, also involving Australia, primarily aimed at keeping China in check.
In a significant sign that these efforts by Japan and the US may be bearing fruit, the two countries and India are preparing to hold their first-ever joint military exercise in the Pacific Ocean near Japan.
Not just China.
WHICH IS WHY THE REVOLUTIONARY GUARD IS ACTING OUT OF PANIC:
Real US battles with Iran still lie ahead (Mahan Abedin, 3/30/07, Asia Times)
As the war of words between Iran and the United States continues to escalate, the psychological-warfare campaign of the latter is assuming greater and more sinister proportions, so much so that there are now good reasons to believe the US has orchestrated the kidnapping of a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps general in Istanbul.
Unfortunately for Iran, the US psychological-warfare campaign seems to be working. This is evident on both the domestic and external fronts. Domestically, the Mahmud Ahmadinejad government and its allies - who favor a tough approach to nuclear negotiations - are being increasingly attacked by a broad range of political forces. Moreover, on the foreign-policy front, the Islamic Republic continues to lose ground. Having acceded to Saudi Arabia's new and more forceful diplomacy, the Iranians have now acquiesced - albeit very tentatively - to US security designs in Iraq, as evidenced by their participation in the Baghdad security conference this month.
When Ayatollah Khamenei's candidates lost the last election to Ahmedinejad it forcved the contradcitions of Iranian conservatism--the Republic can only be saved by Reform.
WHY ARE NEOCONS ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW?:
Arab proposal is 'revolutionary change', says Israel (Staff and agencies, March 30, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today welcomed a land-for-peace deal offered by Arab states as a "revolutionary change", but warned that his country remained deeply sceptical about aspects of the plan.
Members of the Arab League meeting in Saudi Arabia agreed yesterday to a unified proposal offering Israel recognition and security in exchange for a return to 1967 borders and a "just solution" to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
This plan shows Arab states now realise they "may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world's greatest problem", Mr Olmert told the Haaretz daily in one of a round of newspaper interviews. As such, it was a "revolutionary change in outlook", he remarked.
He told another paper, Yediot Ahronot, that there was now "a real chance that within five years Israel will be able to reach a comprehensive peace deal with its enemies."
Mr Olmert added: "Things are happening that haven't happened in the past, and they're ripening. We have to know how to take advantage of this opportunity."
Israel needs out and they'll take the best bad deal they can get to achieve that end. Sadly, Ariel Sharon fell before he could impose a good one.
WHICH IS WHY THE NATIVIST SPASM IS DOOMED TO A SHORT LIFE:
Where Are All The Workers?: Companies worldwide are suddenly scrambling to manage a labor crunch (Business week, 3/30/07)
Employers in some unlikely places say they're having trouble filling jobs. Factory managers in Ho Chi Minh City report many of their $62-a-month workers went home for the Tet holiday in February and never came back. In Bulgaria, computer experts are in such demand they can't be bothered to answer the want ads of a Los Angeles movie studio. And in Peoria, Caterpillar Inc. (CAT ) is struggling to train enough service technicians. The problem in each case: not enough people who are both able and willing to do the work for the posted pay. "We've got a global problem...and it's only going to continue to get worse," says Stephen Hitch, a human resources manager at Caterpillar.
A global labor crunch, already being felt by some employers, appears to have intensified in recent months. That's in spite of widely publicized layoffs, including Citigroup's (C ) plans to shed as many as 15,000 staffers. In fact, U.S. unemployment remains low--just 4.5% in February--and even companies in countries with higher jobless rates are feeling pinched. "It's not just a U.S. phenomenon," says Jeffrey A. Joerres, CEO of Manpower Inc., the staffing agency. On Mar. 29, Manpower was to release the results of a survey of nearly 37,000 employers in 27 countries. The study found that 41% of them are having trouble hiring the people they need.
What's going on here? With global growth running at a strong 5% a year since 2004, the strategies that companies developed to hold down labor costs--including offshoring work to low-wage countries--are running out of gas far sooner than many expected. The seemingly inexhaustible pools of cheap labor from China, India, and elsewhere are drying up as demand outstrips the supply of people with the needed skills. "Companies were hoping they wouldn't have to worry about human resources at all," says Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Now they do."
We need them more than they need us.
March 29, 2007
The Revolutionary Guards are the Real Power in Iran (David Ignatius, 3/30/07, Real Clear Politics)
The Revolutionary Guards seized the hostages, if that's the right word, at a time when they are under intense and growing pressure. U.S. troops captured five of their intelligence operatives last January in the Iraqi city of Irbil. Perhaps the Revolutionary Guards commanders wanted some bargaining chips to get their people back.
There are larger forces at play, too. The Revolutionary Guards were targeted in the new U.N. sanctions enacted last weekend against Iran's nuclear program -- which, as it happens, is run by the Revolutionary Guards. The elite military group may have wanted to retaliate by imposing its own brute sanctions against Britain, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
European officials note that the provocative move comes at a time of growing speculation about new discussions between the United States and Iran -- a dialogue the Revolutionary Guards may oppose. The two nations met in Baghdad this month as part of a regional conference on Iraqi security, and it was expected that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would meet her Iranian counterpart at a follow-up meeting in Istanbul in April. That meeting may be in jeopardy if the British sailors aren't returned soon.
The Revolutionary Guards may also have hoped to sabotage diplomatic negotiations over the nuclear issue. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said several weeks ago that the United States was getting "pinged all over the world'' by Iranian intermediaries who wanted a resumption of negotiations. Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, hinted that message in his recent contacts with the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana. But the prospect of nuclear talks may have been blown out of the water, as it were, until the British issue is resolved.
One of the useful things they teach you at AA is that families tend to adjust their behavior to fit the alcoholic, thereby giving the most dysfunctional member of the group the most power. The usual suspects want to play into the Guards' hands just at the moment they're in maximum peril thereby empowering the dysfunctional.
THEY'VE WON THE ARMS RACE BY A MILE, BUT...:
GM reviews state of team (Howard Ulman, March 29, 2007, AP)
Before Boston's final Grapefruit League game, a 3-3 tie with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Epstein discussed Daisuke Matsuzaka, the rookie pitching star from Japan, and players whose exhibition game performances weren't as good.
Matsuzaka has a 2.04 ERA with one game left, a brief tuneup on Saturday in Philadelphia, before his first regular-season start next Thursday in Kansas City. Reliever Hideki Okajima has a 2.84 ERA in 10 appearances.
"I'm very happy with the transition process," Epstein said. "The rest of our players deserve credit for taking something that could have been a distraction and turning it into a positive."
The lack of distractions didn't help captain Jason Varitek or rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Varitek is 4-for-39 (.103) and Pedroia is 12-for-57 (.211). Varitek turns 35 on April 11 and is coming off a career-low .238 batting average.
Epstein feels good about shape of Sox (Ian Browne, 3/29/07, MLB.com)
Though Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka certainly represent an imposing front three to the rotation, Epstein isn't ready just yet to anoint it as the best starting staff he's had in his five years as general manager.
"I don't like assessing teams on paper," Epstein said. "On paper, it's got as high a ceiling as any team we've had. We got it going pretty good towards the end of 2004. Those guys made all their starts. That's an important thing.
"Often times, you look at the end of the year, the team that won the pennant is the team that had a rotation that made the most starts and stayed the healthiest, the top five guys. They can take the ball and not miss starts, that's a good sign. That's a pretty important factor for us and for all of our competitors as well."
In the past, Epstein has admitted that building a bullpen is an art he has struggled at. How does he like this year's bullpen now that Jonathan Papelbon is back in the closer's role?
"It's always wait-and-see [approach] for every team," Epstein said. "I think we have some veteran talent in the big leagues right now. I think we have the best depth we've had in Triple-A in a long time. That's a pretty good Triple-A bullpen that we have right now, and starting rotation. Considering that we usually use at least 20 pitchers to get through the season, I think we're built better for the long haul."
The pitching is likely to be even better than folks expect going in, but Varitek's decline is a real problem and they're very dependent on getting 600+ plate appearances from Manny and Big Papi.
YET THERE IS NO FRENCH "TRAIN IN VAIN":
Paris calling: Rachid Taha was just one of the musicians inspired by the Clash's visit to Paris in 1981. John Lewis explores the band's enduring influence in France (John Lewis, March 30, 2007, The Guardian)
Rachid Taha wasn't the only musician to be inspired by the Clash on that seven-night residency. Just as the Sex Pistols show at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976 served as the catalyst for Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Mark E Smith and Mick Hucknall, the Clash's run at the Théâtre Mogador five years later was witnessed by a veritable who's who of French rock. Manu Chao was in the audience with friends who would later form Mano Negra, as was Helno and his ramshackle world music combo les Négresses Vertes, gypsy rockers Lo'Jo, members of anarchist punk collective Bérurier Noir, and Kortatu, the Basque ska-punk band formed by Fermin Muguruza.
"The gigs were important for many reasons," says Jean-Daniel Beauvallet, editor of the French rock and arts weekly Les Inrockuptibles, who was also at Mogador in 1981. "French pop was always very apolitical. In May 1968, leftwingers were suspicious of music, and pop music in particular, and that suspicion continued for many years. Even when punk kicked off in France in 1977 with bands like the Stinky Toys - who played on the same bill as the Sex Pistols in London - it was very much an arty fashion movement for rich kids. It had none of the anger you got in England at the time. But the Clash changed all that. Mogador '81 was May 1968 gone rock'n'roll: the slogans, the graffiti, the combat fatigues, the air of revolution. It was all there."
"The Clash were militant and hedonistic in equal measure," says Rachid Taha. "And that was exciting to me. You could be a rebel and be in the biggest rock'n' roll band in the world! It was also clear that they loved music. Joe Strummer had nothing to do with that terrible punk cynicism. By the time of Mogador '81 they weren't just a rock'n'roll band, they were doing hip-hop, reggae, ska, country and western, disco, but making it sound their own. I think that's what gave French musicians the confidence to do the same with whatever music they were into. In some ways, they introduced us to the world."
Earmark monitor's exit baffles, troubles GOP (Sean Lengell, 3/29/07, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The federal agency that tracked pork-barrel spending during the 12 years of the Republican congressional majority has discontinued the practice since Democrats took power, riling lawmakers suspicious of the timing and concerned about the pace of fat being added to bills. [...]
Several lawmakers, particularly those who had come to rely on the agency to identify the dollar value of earmarks in appropriations and other laws, were caught off guard by the change.
"It's troubling -- I can't think of any justification for that," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "They've done good research in the past. ... That's what they're here for -- the benefit of the members" of Congress.
Silly Republicans...spending projects inserted by Democrats are, by definition, vital to the species, not mere pork....
ONE ECONOMY TO RULE THEM ALL (via Kevin Whited):
Economy Grows at 2.5 Percent Pace in 4Q (Jeannine Aversa, 3/29/07, AP)
The economy grew at a 2.5 percent pace in the final quarter of last year, healthier than previously thought but still largely caught up in a spell of sluggishness.
The new reading on gross domestic product, released by the Commerce Department on Thursday, was an improvement from the prior estimate of a 2.2 percent growth rate for the October-to-December period. However, it marked the third quarter in a row where the economy's growth clocked in at a lethargic 2 percent or better, reflecting the drag of the crumbling housing market on overall business growth.
As if it weren't instructive enough that the main problem facing the American lower class is obesity, how about having an economy that's stuck growing at "2 percent or better"?
ALL PUNCHED OUT:
Arab peace plan could see detente with Israel (Staff and agencies, March 29, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
According to a draft version, the summit will "call on the government of Israeli and the Israelis at large to accept the Arab peace initiative and seize the available opportunity to resume direct and serious negotiations on all tracks".
The initiative, first put together at a summit in 2002, has won uniform acceptance from Arab leaders gathered for the two-day event in Riyadh, but could yet founder, with Israel expressing doubts about the extent of territorial withdrawal and the possible return of large numbers of Palestinian refugees to their former homes.
Israel says it could accept the offer with certain changes, but some Arab leaders have, thus far, refused to amend it. [...]
The Arab unanimity over the deal was due in large measure to Saudi Arabia, which bridged its quarrels with Syria and persuaded the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas to stay onside.
The initial offer in 2002 was ignored by the west and Israel at the height of the second intifada, and was then overshadowed by the Iraq war.
The plan's revival represents the broadest possible Arab support for a permanent accommodation with Israel.
WHERE'S THE VINCENNES WHEN YOU NEED IT?:
... And Prepare To Use Your Guns (DANIEL JOHNSON, March 29, 2007, NY Sun)
Remember the Iranian hostage crisis between 1979 and 1981? This, surely, was the lowest point in American foreign policy since 1945. The botched attempt to rescue the hostages defined the failure of the Carter presidency, just as their release indicated that the Reagan era would be different.
Well, now we have a new Iranian hostage crisis. By "we" I mean in the first instance the British. Last Friday, eight royal navy sailors and seven royal marines were taken prisoner by Iranian Revolutionary Guards while carrying out a routine inspection of a cargo ship, on the false pretext that they had entered Iranian waters illegally. This was unmistakably an act of war.
Since then, the Iranians have refused to give any information about the whereabouts of the captives, let alone consular access. All we know is that they are being interrogated and accused of espionage. There have been hints that a show trial is being prepared. So-called students have already held a mock trial of the hostages that ended in shouts of "death to Britain."
The Foreign Office reflex in these situations is to appease. It did so in a similar incident that occurred in 2004, when eight marines were captured. The Foreign Office prides itself on the fact that the marines were soon released. It omits to mention that the marines were physically abused by their guards and humiliated by being forced to grovel on Iranian television. One of their boats is on display in Tehran as a trophy.
The feeble British response three years ago will have emboldened the Iranians to go further this time. They know how these stories will be depicted in the Western press.
It's tragicomic the way we prod them to react and then find ourselves shocked and dismayed whenever they do.
HECK, THAT'S A COMPLIMENT:
Bloc Party attacks Oasis with thesaurus: Frontman Kele Okereke calls the Gallagher lads 'pernicious' and 'repetitive Luddites' in an interview (Rosie Swash, March 29, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
Repetitive Luddites is even a better name for a band than Oasis.
HECK, HE'S ONLY THE SECOND BEST SS IN NYC:
Stealing Mickey's Mantle: José Reyes could be the greatest--if he doesn't figure out just how much Mets fans want from him (Allen Barra, March 27th, 2007, Village Voice)
He is, to listen to his teammates and others who watch him on a day-to-day basis, the game's new Superman, or at least Superboy. "He's our igniter--offensively and defensively--especially on offense," said Mets third baseman David Wright during last year's National League Championship Series. "As he goes, we go."
Carlos Beltran, the Mets' best slugger, is fond of telling his young teammate, "You have the potential to be one of the best players in the game." Mets announcer Gary Cohen calls Reyes "the most fabulously gifted player in the game, and the most exciting player baseball has had so far in this century." Reyes is also, to listen to the swarms of radio talk-show callers and bloggers, an antidote to the city's weariness of the ongoing dialogue over Alex Rodriguez's psyche.
These are great notices for a show that, for all intents and purposes, is still on the road. José Reyes is just 23 years old--he will be 24 on June 11--and has played only two full seasons of Major League Baseball, fewer than 440 games overall. He has never won a Most Valuable Player award and in fact has never led the leagues in any major category except stolen bases, a stat regarded by most baseball analysts as more gaudy than meaningful. The list of things that José Reyes has so far not done is quite long: He has never hit as many as 20 home runs in a season, driven in more than 81 runs, or batted as high as .310. But if greatness is measured in potential, many of Reyes's contemporaries are ready to vote him into the Hall of Fame right now.
"I can't remember the last time I saw such a combination of power, speed, and enthusiasm," says his manager, Willie Randolph, who played with Reggie Jackson and coached Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. "I ask myself what his limits could be, and I don't know the answer. He might have more sheer talent than any player I've ever seen."
Just for some perspective, Jose Reyes will turn 24 in June and last year hit .300 (.354/.487) with 19 HRs, 81 rbi, & 64 sbs. Rickey Henderson turned 24 in the December before the 1983 season and proceeded to hit .292 (.414/.421) with 9 HRs, 48 rbi, and 108 sbs.
Given the fact that Mr. Reyes plays ss, rather than the outfield, he really only needs to raise his OBP to take his place in the firmament along with the greatest of lead-off men.
However, Alex Rodriguez turned 24 in July of 1999 and the year before he hit .310 (.360/.560) with 42 HRs, 124 rbi, and 46 sbs. Not too shabby....
IS IT STILL A REVOLUTION IF THE STUPID PARTY DOESN'T REALIZE THEY EFFECTED IT?:
Health Savings Accounts can do double duty as backup for insurance, retirement booster (Associated Press, 3/29/07)
New rules governing Health Savings Accounts are making them more attractive to consumers, who can use HSAs to help reduce health insurance costs now - and, potentially, in retirement.
Health Savings Accounts are like Individual Retirement Accounts for health care. They were created by Congress in 2003 so that workers could cover some of their medical costs with pretax money if they have high-deductible health insurance plans.
The idea is that workers and their employers can fund the tax-free accounts, with withdrawals used for copays at doctors' offices, prescription and nonprescription medicines, and hospital services not covered by insurance.
Because unused balances in the HSAs can be rolled over from year to year, some financial advisers are suggesting that the accounts can be a way for families to accumulate money to be used to cover health care costs in retirement, including Medicare deductibles and long-term care insurance.
JoAnn Mills Laing, author of "The Consumer's Guide to HSAs," said that there were 3.6 million HSA accounts at the end of 2006 with $5.1 billion in deposits, up from 1.1 million accounts with $1.2 billion in deposits at the end of 2005.
She predicts further growth, in part because more companies are offering high-deductible insurance plans to their workers. That's because these plans are less costly for employers and employees than traditional health policies but still give workers coverage for medical catastrophes.
You could spend every minute of the next CPAC conference trying to explain this to the Right and they'd never get it.
THERE'S A WRITER WHO NEVER MET ROGIE VACHON:
Quirk of fortune: Superstitions the norm among baseball players (Stan Grossfeld, March 29, 2007, Boston Globe)
The Red Sox have had plenty of superstitious players.
First baseman Dick Stuart -- known as "Dr. Strangeglove" -- used to get comfortable in the batter's box and then take his used gum out and toss it across the plate. Third baseman Wade Boggs made it into the Hall of Fame with a routine of eating chicken before every game, taking batting practice at exactly 5:17, and running wind sprints at exactly 7:17. He also took exactly 150 ground balls in practice and carved the Hebrew "chai" symbol in the dirt each time he stepped to the plate, even though he is not Jewish. Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra taught a whole generation of New England kids to tap their toes and adjust their batting gloves before they stepped in.
No major sport has more rituals or superstitions than baseball. Players avoid touching the foul lines as if they are the third rail. They never talk to the pitcher during the late stages of a no-hitter. Some behave as if the baseball gods will strike them dead if they don't follow the same rituals.
Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn used to sleep with his bat.
That's just the Louisville Slugger Dutch Wife.
EVEN BUSHROVE ISN'T THAT BRILLIANT:
Bush Derides Iraq War Measure: He Says Democrats Will Be Blamed if Funds Are Held Up (Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman, 3/29/07, Washington Post)
In his most combative comments yet, President Bush mocked Democratic lawmakers yesterday for including a deadline for troop withdrawals and "pork" projects in an Iraq spending bill, declaring that "the American people will know who to hold responsible" if funding for the war stalls. [...]
Many Republicans are eager for Bush to veto the legislation, believing it could bolster him politically by reinforcing his role as commander in chief, while bringing about the Democrats' first public defeat on Iraq since they took control of Congress in January. Even GOP critics of Bush's Iraq record regard the Democratic withdrawal effort as overly meddlesome.
"The war will be funded," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN yesterday morning. "And we will give these young people a chance to succeed, not a signal that we're going to depart at a certain date and divorce totally from reality on the ground."
In a speech to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Bush said "members of Congress need to stop making political statements and start providing vital funds for our troops. They need to get that bill to my desk so I can sign it into law."
Although Democratic leaders said they still hope to negotiate a final war spending bill that the president could sign, they now view a presidential veto as unavoidable. To prepare, they are studying the events of 1995 and 1996, when President Bill Clinton vetoed appropriations bills and then successfully blamed Congress for shutting down the government.
A Democratic threat to shut down the government pretty much has to be called the Cleavon Little Strategy.
Sox: Let's do lunch: Matsuzaka, Okajima on menu (Michael Silverman, March 29, 2007, Boston Herald)
As soon as the right elbow of Daisuke Matsuzaka banged hard against the edge of the table, 10 pairs of eyeballs widened to expose maximum whiteness.
"Whoa, what just happened? Is he OK? How do you say 'Tommy John surgery' in Japanese," was the evolution of the thought process flashing through the collective minds of Red Sox [team stats] media types, invited by the team to have lunch yesterday with Matsuzaka, reliever Hideki Okajima and Japanese interpreters Masa Hoshino and Sachiyo Sekiguchi.
Matsuzaka had been asked to answer a question about how aware he had been of the Red Sox' historic 2004 World Series drive. While answering in Japanese, he had been rolling both his forearms forward when his right elbow connected with the table. He did not blink or even rub the elbow, but everyone could not wait for Hoshino to explain what the heck had just happened.
"That was Pedro (Martinez) throwing Don Zimmer to the ground," said Hoshino, prompting a collective round of laughter that pretty much defined the relaxed and helpful breaking-of-bread session, even if Matsuzaka's answer was about 2003.
White House works behind the scenes for immigration reform: The administration has been meeting with key Republican senators to devise a consensus plan aimed at garnering wide GOP support (Nicole Gaouette, March 29, 2007, LA Times)
With President Bush looking to counter a legacy increasingly marred by the war in Iraq, the White House has launched a bold, behind-the-scenes drive to advance a key domestic goal: immigration reform. [...]
The intense effort -- conceived by the president's chief political strategist, Karl Rove -- is intended to ensure that Bush will achieve at least one crucial policy victory in the last two years of his presidency.
Success on immigration reform could also accomplish another Rove goal, shoring up the GOP's weakened support among Latinos, who are even more important to the party as independent voters become increasingly disenchanted.
IT'S NOT IMPORTANT TO BE HAWKISH, JUST TO SEEM SO:
Hard line on inflation adds to fears: The Fed chief's stance underestimates the risk of waiting too long to cut interest rates, critics say (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, March 29, 2007, LA Times)
The primary sources of inflation -- rising energy and commodity prices -- are not easily controlled by tight monetary policy, critics say. If the Fed waits too long to cut interest rates and stimulate growth, unemployment could start rising and slip beyond its control too.
By holding interest rates at current levels, as it has since August, the central bank risks recession while failing to significantly lower inflation, some analysts say.
The Fed "always focuses on inflation risks until the growth story is so blindingly obvious that it can no longer be ignored.... The longer this lasts, the bigger and quicker will be the easing," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, predicting that the Fed will cut " very aggressively" this year when the slowing economy becomes more obvious.
But markets being largely irrational, the psychology that the Fed creates does matter and the belief that the Fed is being hawkish on inflation is important.
JUST BECAUSE WE KNOW HOW HISTORY ENDS DOESN'T MEAN WE GET THERE SMOOTHLY:
In Zimbabwe, even loyalists are disloyal: His own party, the army and police are all ready for Mugabe, 83, to go. (Robyn Dixon, March 29, 2007, LA Times)
Even as Mugabe cracks down on the opposition, his support among core backers has evaporated as hyperinflation eats into the business interests of ruling party heavyweights and gobbles police and army wages, causing mass desertions.
"The internal problems we have got are much larger than the problems created by the MDC," said the party official. "I don't think that even the president worries about the MDC. He's much more worried about what is happening in his own party."
The official's willingness to talk, even anonymously for fear of political reprisal, is a sign of the divisions in ZANU-PF and the difficulties Mugabe faces in overcoming party opposition to his plans to run for president again next year. Internal party opposition has already forced him to abandon a bid to extend his term to 2010.
African leaders, normally mute about Zimbabwe's human rights abuses and economic collapse, also have grown more alarmed since Tsvangirai and dozens of other activists were arrested and beaten in the capital, Harare, on March 11. About 100 activists have been hospitalized since then. Many were abducted from their homes and severely beaten, often with iron bars.
On Wednesday, at least nine other opposition leaders were arrested overnight, said opposition spokesman Eliphas Mukonoweshuro. Tsvangirai was released unharmed several hours later.
The opposition is demanding a new constitution leading to free and fair elections next year and is reportedly willing to offer Mugabe immunity from prosecution. Without reform, it has threatened to boycott next year's election.
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community, a regional group, will hold an emergency meeting in Tanzania today at which they are expected to press Mugabe to spell out plans to retire and ensure an orderly transition.
The small ruling party clique that still supports Mugabe argues that ZANU-PF will collapse in chaos if he goes.
Progress often depends on a period of chaos.
Africa: How we killed our dreams of freedom: Across the continent, liberation movements that fought against colonial rule proved unable to sustain democratic governance. We cannot keep blaming the past. (William Gumede, 02 April 2007, New Statesman)
In the inner sanctum of South Africa's ruling African National Congress they have coined a word for it: "Zanufication". As Zimbabweans flee across the border to avoid police brutality or the hardships of an economy in free fall (inflation at more than 1,700 per cent and shortages of basic foodstuffs), they whisper it in hushed tones, a warning.
A senior national executive member of the ANC, Blade Nzim ande, warned recently: "We must study closely what is happening in Zimbabwe, because if we don't, we may find features in our situation pointing to a similar development."
Unions, sections within civil society and church groups daily inveigh against the South African government's head-in-the-sand policy towards Zimbabwe and President Thabo Mbeki's "quiet" diplomacy. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has complained to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, over its failure to cover the Zimbabwean meltdown. Although the ANC in South Africa and Zanu-PF are light years apart, the spectre of "Zanufication" haunts South Africa, raising the question: "Is there something inherent in the political culture of liberation movements that makes it difficult for them to sustain democratic platforms?"
The irony is that it is the leaders of former heroic liberation movements who have become stumbling blocks to building a political culture on the African continent based on good governance.
How would movements that are reactions to the West be Western?
THE MAN WHO SAVED TELEVISION?:
A 'Law & Order' Presidential Candidate? (Michael D. Shear, 3/29/07, Washington Post)
For now, anyway, Thompson's supporters are apparently stuck with reruns of "Law & Order." But his fans could be disappointed on one front if he does ultimately run.
Election law requires that TV stations give all candidates equal time. Experts said Thompson -- like the last movie-star candidate, Ronald Reagan -- would probably vanish from the airwaves except in news programming. That would probably mean that he would leave "Law & Order" and that networks would not air his reruns during the campaign.
In the 1970s and 1980s, stations dropped "Bedtime for Bonzo" and other Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and for president.
Getting rid of the omnipresent Law & Order is reason enough to vote for him.
POLICY IS JUST POLITICS PUT INTO EFFECT:
Former Justice official defends firings: The attorney general's former chief of staff testifies today before Congress about the role of politics in dismissals. (Richard B. Schmitt and Richard Simon, March 29, 2007, LA Times)
The former Justice Department official who orchestrated the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year plans to tell Congress today that such dismissals are appropriate when prosecutors prove ineffective from "a political perspective."
In his first public remarks on the firings, D. Kyle Sampson says the process of identifying underperforming U.S. attorneys "was not scientific nor was it extensively documented," according to testimony prepared for delivery to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
None of the prosecutors was asked to resign for "improper reasons," notes a copy of Sampson's statement obtained by The Times, but an unusually broad standard was used to decide on proper grounds for dismissing them.
"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," Sampson says, noting that a federal prosecutor who falls down on the job from a political perspective is "unsuccessful."
An employee of the Executive who refuses to follow the political line laid out for him is, by definition, not performing his job well.
WHO YA GONNA CALL?:
Faced with Iranian blackmail, Europe must show real solidarity: Iran depends on German government export guarantees. Let the EU presidency put its money where its mouth is (Timothy Garton Ash, March 29, 2007, The Guardian)
Last week, while the European Union celebrated 50 years of peace, freedom and solidarity, 15 Europeans were kidnapped from Iraqi territorial waters by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. As I write, those 14 European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged "confession", clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what's it going to do about it? Where's the solidarity? Where's the action?
There is no Europe.
Evil Americans, Poor Mullahs (Claus Christian Malzahn, 3/29/07, Der Spiegel)
The Germans have believed in many things in the course of their recent history. They've believed in colonies in Africa and in the Kaiser. They even believed in the Kaiser when he told them that there would be no more political parties, only soldiers on the front.
Not too long afterwards, they believed that Jews should be placed into ghettos and concentration camps because they were the enemies of the people. Then they believed in the autobahn and that the Third Reich would ultimately be victorious. A few years later, they believed in the Deutsche mark. They believed that the Berlin Wall would be there forever and that their pensions were safe. They believed in recycling and environmental protection. They even believed in a German victory at the soccer World Cup.
Now they believe that the United States is a greater threat to world peace than Iran. This was the by-no-means-surprising result of a Forsa opinion poll commissioned by Stern magazine. Young Germans in particular -- 57 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds, to be precise -- said they considered the United States more dangerous than the religious regime in Iran.
The German political establishment, which will no doubt loudly lament the result of the poll, is largely responsible for this wave of anti-Americanism.
THIRD AS IN ONLY:
Actuaries call for 'third way' (om Stevenson, 29/03/2007, Daily Telegraph)
Pension fund advisers have called on the Government to change the law to allow a new "third way" of shared risk retirement schemes.
The Association of Consulting Actuaries described its proposal for a new tier of pensions to sit between generous final salary schemes and riskier defined contribution plans as a "once in a generation opportunity to re-energise workplace pensions".
Ian Farr, ACA chairman, said: "Shared risk schemes could fill the gap being left as final salary schemes close to new entrants and future accrual".
March 28, 2007
THE BALL IS IN THE SUPREMO'S COURT:
The two faces of Tehran: how diplomats and extremists fight for control of foreign policy (Angus McDowall, 29 March 2007, Independent)
Taking advantage of the deep fractures in the Iranian state, the revolutionary guards have created a fait accompli, forcing the government to adopt a position from which it will be hard to back down. Driven by their experiences of the revolution and eight bloody years of war with Iraq, many guardsmen want to see Iran take a more aggressive stance against Britain and America.
The confusion is caused by Iran's unusual political system, which combines democratic elements such as an elected president and parliament with the theocratic rule of a supreme leader. In practice, this means decisions are rarely made by a single person: they are disputed and fought over by a host of political factions and vested interests including religious leaders, elected politicians, wealthy merchants - and soldiers.
Analysts believe the latest confrontation stemmed from a desire to show Britain and America that Iran can hit back despite coming under sanction for its nuclear programme and having military figures arrested in Iraq. Revolutionary guards and their supporters in government have always viewed the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan with the deepest suspicion and accuse America and Britain of fomenting unrest among their own ethnic minorities.
Accuse? We've been bragging about whipping up their minorities.
Iran ahead of the game - for now (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 3/30/07, Asia Times)
"The US is not escalating tensions with Iran," said a Pentagon spokesperson in reference to the major US naval exercise in Persian Gulf "off the coast of Iran", per the wire reports. That is, a hair stretch beyond Iran's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.
The Iranians can be excused if they think otherwise - that the purpose of the massive US maneuver at their doorstep, involving two aircraft-carrier task forces and some 10,000 troops, is to send a "strong signal" to them about the price they may have to pay if they persist in defying the will of US power and its allies. This is not to mention a French aircraft carrier making a solidarity appearance in Persian Gulf waters at the same time, thus adding to the overall Western menace with regard to Iran.
No point in picking a fight and then whining when you get punched.
YOU JUST KNOW FOLKS WILL EVENTUALLY BE FARMING KUDZU:
Deadly Nut Tapped as Biofuel Source (Thanaporn Promyamyai, 3/28/07, AFP)
On a large tract of land in Thailand's dusty northeast, Suwit Yotongyot hopes to make a fortune on jatropha, a plant with a poisonous nut that might hold the key to the nation's energy troubles.
The flowering bush has long been used as live fencing in dry regions around the world.
But it's the deadly black nuts that have caught the attention of scientists who say that it could help produce biodiesel and ease Thailand's reliance on imported oil.
The nuts are more than 30 percent oil, which burns with a clear flame, producing a fraction of the emissions of traditional diesel. As a bonus, the oil can be used in simple diesel engines without refining, just by mixing it with fuel.
YOU'VE GOT TO READ THIS ONE YOURSELVES:
U.N.: Don't Disturb Decorum With Truth (Democracy Project)
Another Beltway Bubba?: Fred Thompson has spun an insider background into a good ol'boy image that could take him to the White House (Michelle Cottle, December 1996, Washington Monthly)
With his traditional Southern values, his common-sense reform goals, and his folksy demeanor, "Ol' Fred," as the senator sometimes refers to himself, puts a populist face on a party struggling with an elitist image. Factor in Thompson's media savvy, and you have the makings of a political icon. You have, in fact, the makings of another Ronald Reagan.
Thompson's acting background alone might have made the Reagan comparisons inevitable. But he also has that innate "Reaganesque" charisma that neither MGM nor Julliard can impart. (In describing the senator, people use "mesmerizing" and "magnetic" often enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck.) Also, like no Republican since Reagan, Thompson embodies what the GOP is desperate to achieve: a marriage between its social traditionalists and its fiscal conservatives. He doesn't even face the gender gap the party grapples with. And unlike fantasy candidate Colin Powell, Thompson is a political animal willing to sling--and get slapped with--some mud if need be.
Thompson's no-nonsense demeanor also marks him as statesmanlike. "In Tennessee, we have two Republican U.S. senators, a majority in the House, a Republican governor--all these people look to Fred as a unifying voice," says Alex Fischer, executive vice-president of Akins & Tombras, a Knoxville-based public relations firm that works with the state's prominent Republicans. "He pulls everybody together and has kept the party here on a more even kilter than in other parts of the nation"
For all of his charm and presence, Thompson is more than just a pretty face. Once people finish gushing over how genuine and friendly he is, they move on to terms like "smart," "intelligent," even "brilliant" (giving him a leg up on Reagan in the brains department). His professional reputation among lawyers and politicians alike is that of a sharp mind and quick wit. "Fred brings with him the grace of a Southern lawyer, and he's an excellent negotiator," says Sam Dash, Thompson's majority counterpart during the Watergate hearings. "He knows how to look laid back even when he's not. He can tell a joke and drawl his voice to make everybody feel he's not under anxiety. He'll get you talking about an entirely different topic, then from out of nowhere comes the punch"
The GOP is well aware of Thompson's potential. Tennessee was the epicenter of the 1994 Republican revolution, with the party picking up the governorship, two Senate seats, and two seats in the House. Republicans credit much of their Tennessee landslide to Ol' Fred.
Buoyed by Thompson's performance at home, party leaders lost no time trotting him out to test on a national audience. In December 1994--having served a total of one day in elected office--Thompson was picked by Bob Dole to give the GOP's response to President Clinton's televised tax-cut message. Chosen largely for his familiar mug and intimate speaking style, Thompson served up a performance that garnered rave reviews. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post declared him the clear victor in this Battle of the Bubbas.
Since then, Thompson's cup has continued to run over. He has been listed as a "rising star" and "freshman all-star" in the Washington press. In October Bob Dole invited him down to his Bal Harbor, Fla., condo to help Dole practice for the presidential debates, and after waltzing into his second term last month, Thompson is slated to assume the chairmanship of the influential Governmental Affairs Committee--a major coup for someone with only an abbreviated, two-year term under his belt. "Right now," says Susan Thorp, political columnist for The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal, "he's the poster boy of the party, and he knows it"
Already there are rumblings about Thompson as a future contender for the White House. (With Vice President Gore the likely Democratic choice, this sets up the intriguing possibility of an all-Tennessee ballot.) Even the opposition is taking notice. One former Clinton campaign staffer predicts: "Forget Kemp. Thompson is the Republican to beat in 2000"
Thompson's swift rise to power can be attributed to equal parts luck, savvy, and timing Like many of the 1994 freshmen, he rode the prevailing wave of antigovernment sentiment into office, campaigning on a platform of term limits, campaign finance reform, and slashing congressional pay and perks. Arguing that career politicians lack the courage to make the tough decisions (i.e., spending cuts), Thompson maintains congressional service should be an interruption to, rather than the foundation of, a career. He advocates filling Congress with "citizen legislators," people not dependent on the government for their livelihoods. Thompson's 1994 campaign ads combined this reform theme with a down-to-earth image, featuring the candidate in bucolic settings, talking about eliminating Congress's "million-dollar pensions" and teaching them that "we can't tax our way to prosperity:' His stump speeches painted voters a picture of Thompson riding up to the Capitol in his truck, picking Washington up "by the scruff of the neck and giving it a good shake"
The voters ate it up. Positioned as a champion of the people, Thompson stood out in sharp contrast to his cerebral, wonkish opponent, then-Rep. Jim Cooper. The epitome of a New Democrat, Cooper had undercut much of his support on the left by supporting NAFTA and voting against the administration's crime bill. His proposal for overhauling health care (the major competitor of the President's plan) had earned him the moniker Mr. Managed Care, and the insurance industry contributions to his campaign marked him as the puppet of special interests. With his 12 years in the House, Cooper didn't stand a chance against Thompson's popular cut-their-pay-and-send-them-home campaign.
Once in office, the unthinkable happened: Thompson began working to make good on his word.
HECK, MOST OF THEM STILL THINK ALGER HISS WAS INNOCENT:
'Guilty' puts end to the Hicks myth (Miranda Devine, March 29, 2007, Sydney Morning Herald)
By pleading guilty to terrorism this week, David Hicks has plastered egg all over the faces of his supporters - the naive hysterics who believe he is a tortured innocent as well as those glory-seeking civil rights lawyers who have attached themselves to his case.
JUST BECAUSE YOU'VE FORGOTTEN THEM DOESN'T MEAN THEY'VE FORGOTTEN YOU:
Powder Keg at Shatt al-Arab: The Shatt al-Arab waterway, where Iranian forces seized 15 British sailors last week, has been contested by regional and world powers for decades. The first shots of the Iran-Iraq war were fired here. Iranian sensitivities and the West's desire to protect Iraqi oil installations make for an explosive mix. (Bernhard Zand, 3/28/07, Der Spiegel)
Most of Iran's oil wealth lies concentrated in Chusistan province, which is why the British would have liked nothing more, after World War One, than to make that stretch of land with its Arab population part of a British-controlled sheikhdom. But that was prevented by Shah Reza Pahlevi, who managed to consolidate his power. Still the region remained disputed, because the British remaining in Iraq continued to covet it.
Violating international custom, the British fixed the border along Shat al-Arab in such a way that the entire river, which marks the border between Iran and Iraq, became Iraqi territory - right up to the Iranian coast. It was only in 1975 that the government in Baghdad accepted shifting the border to the center of the river - a concession in return for which Shah Resa Pahlevi ceased supporting insurgent Iraqi Kurds.
In 1980, Saddam Hussein changed his mind, and the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran began with an Iraqi bombardment of the Iranian oil refinery town Abadan on the eastern bank of the Shat. Britain and the United States sided with the Iraqi dictator, providing him with military reconnaissance, weapons and even poison gas - a decision that continues to represent a bitter legacy liability for the West, and especially Britain, to this day.
Andrew Phillips, a British member of parliament, recently noted that the number of Iranians killed between 1980 and 1988 is comparable to that of British losses during World War One. In Iran, anti-British sentiment isn't limited to conservatives or to the radicals surrounding President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's much more deep-seated than the hatred of the "Great Satan," the United States, that is constantly reiterated, partly for propaganda purposes.
Comeuppance is a bitch.
The appeasement of Iran (Melanie Phillips, , 28 March 2007, Daily Mail)
[I]n its response to these events, Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake.
Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another country's military personnel.
What clearly does belong to another age is this country's ability to understand the proper way to respond to an act of war. When his Marines were seized by the Iranians, the commander of HMS Cornwall, Commodore Nick Lambert, did nothing to stop them and later said it was probably all a misunderstanding. If Nelson had been such a diplomat in such circumstances, Trafalgar would surely have been lost.
Our Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the Government had been 'disturbed' by the incident. The Prime Minister took three days to say that the seizure was 'unjustified and wrong' and mouthed platitudes about the welfare of the detainees. Yesterday he talked severely of 'moving to a new phase'.
My goodness, the Iranian regime must be shivering in its shoes. With what contempt they must regard us -- a country that stands impotently by while its people are kidnapped and then does no more than bleat that it is 'disturbed'.
What on earth has happened to this country of ours, for so many centuries a byword for defending itself against attack, not least against piracy or acts of war on the high seas?
Twenty-five years ago, we re-took the Falklands after the Argentines invaded. Faced with an act of war against our dependency, Mrs Thatcher had no hesitation. Aggression had to be fought and our people defended. It was the right thing to do.
Can anyone imagine Mrs T wringing her hands in this way over Iran's seizure of our Marines?
HOSTAGE SAILORS -- BRITAIN'S IMPOTENCE (ARTHUR HERMAN, March 28, 2007, NY Post)
IT'S been a tough month for the British Navy. On March 7, it learned that Tony Blair's Labor government was going ahead with drastic cuts in its budget and number of ships. By this time next year, the once-vaunted Royal Navy will be about the size of the Belgian Navy, while its officers face a five-year moratorium on all promotions.
If that wasn't demoralizing enough, last Friday the Iranian Navy seized a patrol boat containing 15 British sailors and Marines, claiming they'd crossed into Iranian waters. They're now hostages and may well go on trial as spies.
The latest report is that the Britons were ready to fight off their abductors. Certainly their escorting ship, HMS Cornwall, could have blown the Iranian naval vessel out of the water. However, at the last minute the British Ministry of Defense ordered the Cornwall not to fire, and her captain and crew were forced to watch their shipmates led away into captivity.
There was a question whether the Blair government would end up leaving Britain with a navy too small to protect its shores. Now it seems to want a navy that can't even protect its own sailors.
Nevermind the nuclear sub accident...
IT WAS SAFE RIGHT UP UNTIL THEN:
HIV man 'tricked sex slave' (Natasha Robinson, March 29, 2007, The Australian)
A MAN charged with deliberately spreading HIV allegedly tricked his lover - who had registered himself with the local council as a dog - into having unsafe sex on the basis he could not transmit the disease.
Patrick aide accused of meddling in labor cases (Frank Phillips, March 28, 2007, Boston Globe)
Two commissioners on the state's quasi judicial labor relations board are accusing Governor Deval Patrick's chief labor aide of interfering with the agency on cases involving two unions that endorsed Patrick and donated heavily to his gubernatorial campaign.
Why are we the Stupid Party if Democrats can't figure out that people vote for the guys who can deliver the goods?
That Europe may again be "leaven for the world" (Benedict XVI, Chiesa)
It clearly emerges from all this that one cannot think of building an authentic "common European home" while overlooking the very identity of the peoples of our Continent.
This is, in fact, an historical, cultural, and moral identity before being geographical, economic, or political; an identity constituted by a collection of universal values that Christianity has contributed to forging, thereby acquiring a role that is not only historical, but also foundational in relation to Europe.
These values, which constitute the soul of the Continent, must remain in the Europe of the third millennium as a "ferment" of civilization. In fact, if these were to be diminished, how could the "old" Continent continue to carry our the function of being "leaven" for the entire world? If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the Union wish to "get closer" to their citizens, how could they exclude an element of European identity as essential as Christianity is, and with which the vast majority of them still identify themselves? Is it not a cause for surprise that today's Europe, while striving to position itself as a community of values, seems more often to contest the idea that there are universal and absolute values? Does not this remarkable form of "apostasy" from itself, even before [apostasy] from God, perhaps induce it to doubt its very identity?
This ends in the spread of the conviction that the "weighing of benefits" is the only method of moral discernment, and that the common good is synonymous with compromise. In reality, if compromise can constitute a legitimate balancing of different particular interests, it becomes a shared ill whenever it involves agreements that are harmful to the nature of man.
A community that constructs itself without respect for the authentic dignity of the human person, forgetting that every person is created in the image of God, ends up by not being good for anyone.
This is why it appears increasingly more indispensable that Europe should guard itself against that pragmatic attitude, widespread today, which systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if the acceptance of a presumably lesser evil were inevitable. Such pragmatism, which is presented as balanced and realistic, is not that way deep down, precisely because it denies the dimension of values and ideas that is inherent in human nature.
When, later, secularist and relativist tendencies and currents are woven into this sort of pragmatism, Christians are in the end denied the right to intervene as Christians in public debate, or at the very least their contribution is disqualified with the accusation that they want to safeguard unjustified privileges.
In the present historical moment and in the face of the many challenges that mark it, the European Union, in order to be a valid guarantor of the order of law and an effective promoter of universal values, cannot help but acknowledge clearly the certain existence of a stable and permanent human nature, the source of rights common to all individuals, including those who deny them. In this context, the right to conscientious objection must be safeguarded whenever fundamental human rights may be violated.
Dear friends, I know how difficult it is for Christians to make a strenuous defense of this truth of man. But do not grow weary, and do not be discouraged! You know that it is your task to contribute to building up, with the help of God, a new Europe - one realistic but not cynical, rich in ideals and free from naïve illusions, inspired by the perennial and life-giving truth of the Gospel.
THERE IS NO BRITAIN:
Labour faces meltdown as SNP heads for power (Angus Macleod and Philip Webster, 3/28/07, Times of London)
The SNP is heading for victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections on May 3, in what would be a severe blow to Gordon Brown shortly before he becomes Prime Minister, an opinion poll for The Times suggests today.
Mr Brown could go into the next general election with the Nationalists the largest single party in his own backyard, and facing the prospect of an SNP-led minority executive in Edinburgh seeking to challenge him at every turn. [...]
If the SNP leader Alex Salmond becomes First Minister, Mr Brown would face taunts that he would be a Scot in power in England whose writ did not run on issues such as health, education and transport in Scotland.
THE HEADLINE SAYS IT ALL:
Senate backs Iraq retreat -- Bush again says no (DAVID ESPO, March 28, 2007, AP)
JUST CAUSE YOU CAN'T PLAY 2ND DOESN"T MEAN YOU CAN'T RUN THE TEAM...:
Who's on First? Who Cares. What's His GPA?: The future of baseball is a 16-year-old mathlete from Bloomington (G.R. Anderson Jr., 3/27/07, City Pages)
Victor Wang does the math. Seated in an overstuffed recliner in his family's living room, the Bloomington Jefferson High School junior is tossing out terms that wouldn't be out of place in his Calc II class. Coefficient. Correlation. Predictor. He shrugs: He knows he's a math geek and now you know he's a math geek, too. So what?
Besides, Wang is actually talking baseball, not calculus, on this recent Sunday afternoon. He keeps an eye on a TV in the corner broadcasting a Twins spring training game. He likes the hometown nine's chances this year, but he warns that the team can't stumble out of the gate like last season. He sums up some of the team's notable qualities.
"Justin Morneau is a good player, but he's not an elite player," Wang says flatly of the MVP first baseman. "But for a guy who comes this cheap, you gotta have him."
Wang's assessment is more than just the talk of a casual fan. It is the assessment of an obsessive fan and baseball number-cruncher. Wang recently garnered notoriety in the cloistered niche of baseball stat-heads when the New York Times publicized his article for a small baseball quarterly called By the Numbers. In the February 25 Times story, Alan Schwarz prominently discussed Wang's work to explain a statistic. [...]
For even by the malleable standards of the world of baseball stats, where numbers can be manipulated to say pretty much anything, Wang's August 2006 essay in By the Numbers dealt with a rather arcane stat called Gross Production Average. Wang examined all the runs scored by every team since 1960, then referred to a stat called OPS, or on-base-plus-slugging percentage. On-base percentage measures how often a player gets on base, while slugging percentage measures the number of bases for every at bat.
Wang set out to prove an age-old theory: that on-base percentage is a far better measure of a player's value than slugging, and a greater contributor to a team's total runs. In Wang's accounting, multiplying on-base percentage by a coefficient of 1.8 and adding it to slugging percentage, drew the strongest correlation to runs scored. And, voilà! A new stat, GPA, was born. [...]
Wang possesses an even stronger hint of humility. "If I can contribute stuff to the statistics community, that's good," he concludes, sounding like a graduate of the Bull Durham school of media relations. "But I don't want to do this forever. I want to run a baseball team."
WHAT THEY MEAN BY SUFFERING:
Putting brisket to the taste test: A chef's sophisticated version goes up against a traditional Passover recipe. Which will be the favorite? (Lucy Stille, March 28, 2007, LA Times)
Friday night brisket
Total time: 5 hours and 25 minutes, plus cooling time
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: Adapted from Joan Nathan's "Jewish Holiday Cookbook." Bottled chile sauce such as Heinz Chili Sauce is widely available.
1 (4- to 5-pound) brisket
2 (1-ounce) packets onion soup mix
1 1/2 cups chile sauce
6 cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds carrots
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat fat-side up in a large Dutch oven. Sprinkle the onion soup mix over the meat. Cover with the chile sauce and 2 cups of water, or more if needed to almost cover the meat. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the liquid.
2. Cover the pan and cook for 4 hours. Let the brisket cool for about 45 minutes and refrigerate overnight. Then skim the fat off the meat.
3. About 1 1/2 hours before you wish to serve the brisket, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the brisket to a cutting board and slice it thinly across the grain. Trim, peel and cut the carrots into one-half-inch-by-2-inch sticks. Cook the brisket and carrots covered for 1 hour, until the brisket is heated through and the carrots are fork tender. (Alternatively, the brisket can be completed the same day: While the brisket is cooling for 45 minutes, trim, peel and cut the carrots into one-half-inch-by-2-inch sticks. Remove the brisket and slice it thinly across the grain. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid, add the sliced brisket back to the pan with the carrots, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 more hour, or until carrots are fork tender.) Serve on a platter.
One day Jews will realize they can afford cuts of meat that you don't have to boil for two days...
SORRY, WE CAN'T TALK TO YOU, WE'RE PRETENDING:
Salam Fayyad: Everyone's favorite Palestinian (Barak Ravid, 3/27/07, Ha'aretz)
The old-new Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayyad, took advantage of last weekend, before the new Palestinian unity government was sworn in, to say "farewell" to his Israeli colleagues. In effect, already at the end of February, when Fayyad held talks with senior Israeli officials at the Finance and Foreign Ministries, he was aware that by joining a government which includes Hamas, he - the Palestinian politician most esteemed in the West - would be added to the growing list of Palestinians Israel is boycotting. "I very much enjoyed working with you," Fayyad told one senior Israeli official during that weekend. "It is a shame that we will not be able to continue talking. I can only hope that this will change in the future."
Fayyad was not the only one who regretted the end of contacts. Many Israelis, both senior and less so, were sorry to see him leave. Everyone who met him in the past few years was enchanted by him. In Jerusalem, Washington, Paris, London and many other capitals, Fayyad became the ultimate Palestinian "icon," the ideal partner. Tzipi Livni, Ephraim Sneh and other Israeli politicians enjoyed sitting and talking with him in the captivating garden of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, or on the terrace of the King David Hotel, in the city's west. Fayyad is the only Palestinian in whose hands they were prepared to place hundreds of millions of dollars in the belief that these monies would indeed be used to pay salaries. [...]
Fayyad is a strange bird in Palestinian politics. On the one hand, he is the Palestinian politician most esteemed by Israel and the West. However, on the other hand, he has no electoral power whatsoever in Gaza or the West Bank. Before last year's parliamentary elections he was courted by Fatah, which promised him that if he joined the party's slate he would become prime minister. But Fayyad read the political map astutely and realized that Fatah did not have a good chance at winning. Instead, he set up the Third Way Party with Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Abed Rabbo. They won only two seats but Fayyad remained an extremely influential figure in the PA's political arena.
That'll teach their faces.
FORCING THE CONTRADICTIONS:
Quebecers no longer have to take it or leave it (William Johnson, March 27, 2007, Ottawa Citizen)
What an upset. No, a volcano. The first minority government since 1878. Mario Dumont's party, the Action Democratique du Quebec, surging beyond anything that was expected. The Parti Quebecois under Andre Boisclair falling back to an unimaginable third place. This campaign has changed the political landscape of Quebec. It broke the three-decades-long polarization between secessionist Parti Quebecois and federalist Quebec Liberal Party. [...]
Several factors contributed. Stephen Harper's offer of a new "open nationalism" and his Quebec breakthrough in the 2006 elections ended a long deadlock. He displaced the federal Liberals, courted Quebec and Charest shamelessly, and rehabilitated federalism for Quebecers. Some nationalists now look to Charest to deliver tangible "gains" for Quebec, such as reversing federal intrusions into Quebec's jurisdictions, recognizing the Quebecois nation, settling the fiscal imbalance to Quebec's advantage, and promising to restrict federal spending power. It also happened that Boisclair's personality provoked resentment outside Montreal's cosmopolitan circles. The more conservative were disturbed by a prospective premier who was an avowed homosexual, had taken cocaine while a cabinet minister, whose former chief of staff Luc Doray pleaded guilty in 2001of defrauding the government to pay for purchases of alcohol and cocaine, who appeared in a gay parody of Brokeback Mountain and who advocated removing the crucifix from the National Assembly.
The very epitome of the city slicker, Boisclair's decline in the polls coincided with a grassroots revolt against cosmopolitan Montreal and "reasonable accommodations," exemplified when Herouxville adopted a municipal code against stoning women and veiling faces except at Halloween.
While Charest and Boisclair initially deprecated this nativist movement, Dumont defended it as "a cry from the heart" in defence of Quebec's identity and values. He scored with an unexpected new category of nationalists.
Dumont tapped into a conservative nationalism earlier associated with Maurice Duplessis's Union Nationale and Real Caouette's Ralliement Creditiste. He positioned his party as the alternative to federalism and separatism, ending the deadlock between Liberals and Pequistes by taking a third way called "autonomism."
His slogan: "To assert ourselves without separating." Quebec should develop its own constitution, take control of all income taxes, create a Quebec citizenship. He denounced Charest for putting off constitutional reform and Boisclair for weakening Quebec by holding another losing referendum. He repudiates the Council of the Federation because it brings Quebec down to the level of other provinces. He would negotiate "d'egal a egal" with the rest of Canada, dealing as an equal nation with the other nation of Canada. Shades of Daniel Johnson Sr. [...]
Dumont's issues, once derided, became so popular during the campaign that the new Quebec government will have to consider them seriously. They include $100 a week for each child under six not in subsidized daycare; $5,000 for a third or subsequent child; a greater role for private medicine to ensure timely treatment, and putting 25,000 people on welfare back to work.
When you recognize them as a nation they're inevitably going to start acting like one.
HEIMLICH? HE WAS WORKIN' HER LIKE A PEZ DISPENSER:
Retriever did Heimlich on me: owner (Chicago Sun-Times, March 28, 2007)
Toby, a 2-year-old golden retriever, saw his owner choking on a piece of fruit and began jumping up and down on the woman's chest. The dog's owner believes the dog was trying to perform the Heimlich maneuver and saved her life.
TWO MORE GOOD SOURCES FOR PODCASTS FOR YOUR WALK:
The Foundering Continent: a review of The Future of Europe by Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi (CLAIRE BERLINSKI, March 28, 2007, NY Sun)
It takes on average 62 working days, 16 separate documents, and the equivalent of $5,000 to acquire the permits to open a business in Italy. In France, it takes 53 days, 15 documents, and $4,000. In America, it takes a mere four days, four documents, and $166. In "The Future of Europe" (MIT Press, 172 pages, $24.95), economists Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi provide a wealth of such examples to buttress their argument that Europe is on a state-subsidized train to economic and political irrelevance, but as anyone who has tried to do business in Europe knows, those statistics alone are all you really need.
The 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Economic Community, has occasioned festivities across the Continent -- free beer and sausages on the streets of Berlin, a gala performance in Brussels by the stars of the Eurovision Song Contest, state-subsidized raves -- accompanied by a great deal of self-congratulation. The editors of Newsweek's international edition have declared this Europe's "Golden Moment." Europe, they write, is now "a global superpower of world-historical importance, second to none in economic clout ... its values are spreading across the globe -- far more attractive, in many respects, than those of America." As for the gloomy pundits who keep insisting that Europe is in terminal decline, well, if only they would visit Europe, they would see this is "wrong, even absurd," and if anything, "Europe's trajectory is up, not down."
Messrs. Alesina and Giavazzi have not only visited Europe but are, in fact, Europeans, albeit Europeans who, like many of their most talented contemporaries, have taken up residence in America. Mr. Alesina is a professor of political economics at Harvard University, where, he notes, Europeans who have fled their countries' moribund universities comprise about a third of the economics department. Mr. Giavazzi is a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are not persuaded by the vision of Europe's trajectory as an infinitely ascending golden ladder. The extended postwar period of European economic growth is over, they argue, and barring "serious, deep and comprehensive reforms," Europe will "inexorably decline, both economically and politically."
Disputing the oft-asserted claim that Europeans work less than Americans because they have perfected the art of living, Messrs. Alesina and Giavazzi contend that European idleness is the predictable result of stultifying labor market regulations, high taxation, and the excessive power of Europe's labor unions.
We've friends in the Dartmouth Econ Department who've published with him, so some bias, but Mr. Alesina seems to write more interesting economics pieces than the rest of his profession combined.
BREAKING THE DROUGHT:
The Long-Cherished Anger of Geoffrey Hill (ADAM KIRSCH, March 28, 2007, NY Sun)
For the last few years, one of the running scandals in the world of poetry was the failure of Geoffrey Hill to find an American publisher -- or, rather, the failure of any American publisher to make its way to Mr. Hill's doorstep. Mr. Hill, an Englishman who teaches at Boston University, has been considered one of the leading poets of his generation ever since his first book, "For the Unfallen," was published in 1959. But in the past 10 years, he has become something more, thanks to a sudden and surprising transformation of his style.
For four decades, Mr. Hill was the most costive of poets. His "New and Collected Poems 1952-1992" runs to barely more than 200 pages, and each of his poems seemed to require long gestation: They were gorgeously wrought, highly allusive, and obsessed with the difficulty of honest poetic speech. Mr. Hill seemed to write little and rarely because every word he did write was charged with conscientious labor. His style was darkly beautiful, saturnine, full of Latin echoes:
Platonic England, house of solitudes,
rests in its laurels and its injured stone,
replete with complex fortunes that are gone,
beset by dynasties of moods and clouds.
These lines, from Mr. Hill's 1978 collection "Tenebrae," also suggest his favorite themes. He is deeply engaged with English history, including church history, and with the landscape that is history's theater. At a time when English poetry was becoming more modest, confessional, and cosmopolitan, Mr. Hill's high seriousness and implied conservatism made him distinctly unfashionable.
Then, in the mid-1990s, came a surprising change. Mr. Hill began to write very rapidly, his trickle of poems turning into a torrent -- he has published more verse in the past 10 years than in the previous 40. And his poems, while still intricate and ambiguous, became much more personal, outlandish, and comical. Instead of small, poised objects, they started to seem like installments in an ongoing monologue. In the rants that make up "The Triumph of Love" (1998) and "Speech, Speech" (2000), the poet presents himself as a cross between King Lear and Coriolanus -- a bemused, outraged, always eloquent denouncer of his times and his fellow men. Sometimes, the manic energy of Mr. Hill's writing sends it careening over the cliff of sense, so that all the reader can glean is a mood:
Ruin smell of cat's urine with a small gin.
Develop the anagram -- care to go psychic?
Psych a new age, the same old dizzy spell.
Force-field of breakdown near the edge.
Whether Mr. Hill's late style is an improvement on his early style remains an open question. What is beyond doubt is that the transformation has made Mr. Hill one of the most fascinating poets at work today -- one whose every new book promises a revelation. That is why so many readers of poetry have been aghast to see Mr. Hill's publishers grow smaller and smaller, and finally disappear, so that his last collection -- "Scenes from Comus" which appeared in England in 2005 -- was never even released here. It is now common to hear English critics call Mr. Hill the greatest poet alive; in America, where he actually lives, it is hard even to find his books.
Happily, the drought has broken with the publication of "Without Title" (Yale University Press, 96 pages, $26).
Coarsely textured cookie makes a smooth finish (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 3/26/07, Houston Chronicle)
CORNMEAL HAZELNUT COOKIES
* ¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 cup cornmeal
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1½ teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts, chopped (see note)
Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg. Combine the dry ingredients, and add to the creamed mixture. Mix well. Add the vanilla and nuts. Shape the dough into 2 rolls, each approximately 1 inch in diameter, and wrap well in wax paper. Chill for several hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the dough into ¼-inch-thick discs, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
THE PROBLEM BEING THAT RUDY ISN'T THE GUY THEY THINK THEY KNOW:
Too Late? (Lisa Fabrizio, 3/28/2007, American Spectator)
[T]his week, I saw an interesting thing happen. As dubiously as I normally regard polling data, the latest from Rasmussen -- its first national telephone survey involving Thompson -- may be highly instructive. The results show that without even the brim of his hat in the ring, he already leads Hillary Clinton by a percentage point.
True, it also has him trailing Barack Obama by 12%, but the bad news for Obama is that although he has a robust 54% favorability rating, he has a 36% unfavorable mark, which means that only 10% of those polled are left with no opinion of him. Likewise, only two percent are undecided about Mrs. Clinton; not surprising since she's been in the national spotlight for nearly 15 years. And while Rudy -- with a 66% favorability rating -- beats both of them head to head poll-wise, only a slim five percent of those polled had no opinion of him.
In other words, with nine months to go before the first primaries kick off, most folks have their minds made up about the front-runners. On the other hand, according to the poll Thompson shows a 36% favorable and only a 23% unfavorable number meaning that he's got a potential 41% of the folks to win over. Should his Reagan-like affability and common sense values appeal to say, even half of them, we've got ourselves a horse-race with a real conservative entry in it.
IT CAN'T GO MUSLIM FAST ENOUGH:
Drug smuggler can deduct cost from taxes (AP, March 28, 2007)
A Dutch court has added a new item to the list of activities eligible for tax relief: drug-running.
Judges have declared a fisherman convicted of smuggling drugs could deduct the cost of buying and shipping hashish to the Netherlands from his income on his tax return.
IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE TO PICK BURKE OVER ROUSSEAU...:
France's Agents of Change (David Ignatius, 3/27/07, Real Clear Politics)
"This election will end more than 30 years in which politics was dominated by the old system,'' says Olivier Duhamel, a professor of politics at Sciences Po. He notes that most French voters under the age of 50 have known only two presidents, Chirac and his predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, who served a combined 26 years. "The French people know they can't go on this way, with more unemployment and less growth than the rest of the world,'' Duhamel says.
Nicholas Sarkozy, the conservative front-runner, announced two years ago that he wanted nothing less than a "rupture'' from the old politics. He proclaims his fondness for America and was eager to get his picture snapped with President Bush at the White House last fall, which is more than you can say for most Republican congressmen. Most French people secretly love American imports, such as jazz and Hollywood movies, but Sarkozy actually likes liberal, free-market economics, which led a rival to dub him "a neoconservative with a French passport.''
Sarkozy has trimmed his pro-U.S. rhetoric in recent months and has said that Chirac was right to oppose the Iraq War. Even so, his election would mark a sharp break with the Gaullist tradition of French foreign policy, which has defined itself since the 1950s in reaction (and often opposition) to U.S. hegemony. Sarkozy, a hard-nosed child of immigrants, would break that mold. Among other things, he would be closer to Israel and less automatically friendly with the Arabs than recent French presidents.
...but because they chose Descartes over Christ their future likely lies with Allah.
BUREAUCRACIES NEVER FORGET:
Remember to Forget, Borrow, and Learn: That's the formula for innovation offered by the Tuck School's Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, a world authority on the subject (Marshall Goldsmith, 3/28/07, Business Week)
My good friend Dr. Vijay Govindarajan is a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School and a world authority on strategic innovation. He is also one of the best executive educators and business-school professors in the world. He and I recently spoke about innovation in older businesses. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow: [...]
What is the hardest part of executing innovation?
For a breakthrough idea to have a chance, there must be a careful approach to building the new business unit .The new business must be designed in such a way that they can forget, borrow, and learn. They are the three fundamentals. They must forget the parent company's success formula, borrow the parent's resources, and learn how to succeed in a new environment. It's kind of like when you leave home to go to college. You forget your parent's rules, borrow their laundry facilities, and learn how to succeed on your own terms.
What is the most common mistake that gets made when companies try to innovate?
They underestimate just how hard it is for an organization to shake itself loose from its past. Organizations understandably become very complex machines--machines hard-wired to excel in the current game. As a company gets bigger and bigger, employees get more and more specialized, and the number of people who understand how the machine works as a whole gets smaller and smaller.
And then along comes an idea for an innovative new business. Step 1 in building it is to destroy the hard-wiring. In creating the new business unit, you must be questioning every assumption about the way the core business works. That's a tall task that we call "forgetting."
Why do you say that "forgetting" is one of the most important steps for innovation?
I once had a baseball coach who told me that he couldn't teach me how to hit until he managed to get me to forget all of the bad habits that I picked up on the elementary school playground. This coach understood that forgetting is often a prerequisite for learning. Forgetting is crucial for innovation because at its core, innovation is an experiment-and-learn process. When a company clings to established mindsets and assumptions--when it fails to forget--it cannot learn.
So how do you get an organization to "forget"?
To get an organization to forget, you have to change the underlying rules that control how an organization behaves--things like how it hires and promotes, how it confers status, how it plans, how it evaluates business performance, how it awards bonuses, the core values to which it aspires, and more.
Which is why every federal bureaucracy should sunset and start over again from scratch every few years.
March 27, 2007
I SEE RED PEOPLE:
Senate Democrats defied President Bush's threat of a veto Tuesday and narrowly won a vote to keep in place a timetable that calls for the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days of passage of the measure.
An attempt to scuttle the timetable was offered as an amendment to the emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 50-48 vote to defeat the amendment was a reversal of a vote earlier this month that rejected a similar timetable.
The first one to guess which state's two senators turncoated on this wins a corncob.
THE STAN TOO BUSY TO HATE (via Kevin Whited):
Kurdistan lines up production deals (Upstream, 3/25/07)
Iraq's Kurdish regional government expects to sign deals with at least 10 foreign oil companies by the end of the year, it said today, as it strives to increase output by 1 million barrels per day over five years.
Ashti Hawrami, Minister of Natural Resources in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, said five production-sharing agreements have already been signed with the details to be released in the next few weeks.
The companies involved include Norway's DNO, Turkey's Genel Enerji together with Addax Petroleum and Canada's Heritage Oil and Western Oil Sands.
"We are in discussions with a number of other companies and they are ready to come in," Hawrami told a briefing for potential investors in London, Reuters reported. "We are holding things back, not them."
HE MAY NOT BE BLACK, BUT HE SURE AIN'T CAJUN:
Breaux Waits For Ruling on La. Candidacy (Chris Cillizza, March 27, 2007, Washington Post)
Former senator John Breaux (D-La.) will run for governor this November -- assuming the state's top cop lets him. [...]
Still, even if Breaux gets the okay from Foti to run, his election is far from a sure thing. Republicans are extremely confident that their likely candidate -- Rep. Bobby Jindal -- can beat all comers.
A recent poll by Southern Media & Opinion Research showed Jindal with a surprisingly large lead -- 56 percent to 26 percent -- over Breaux.
Blanco won the last match-up by running a racist campaign, Breaux presumably can too.
(via Ed Driscoll):
Mayor Wants Billboards Removed (AP, March 27, 2007)
The head of the city's teachers union said it won't take down "Stop the killings" billboards despite complaints from business owners and the new mayor that they're driving away business.
Mayor Cory Booker, who campaigned last year on a promise of reducing crime, says the signs fuel a negative image of the city, where a record 106 people were killed last year - the highest number in a decade. [...]
"I think we have a serious problem," said [Joe Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union], whose union endorsed Booker's opponent and is at odds with Booker over school vouchers. "It's about people dying."
If they're going to educate Newark's kids he's going to have to break the union, so why not run counter-ads? Make them look nearly identical, but insert the word brain between "the" and "killings" and then put a pro-voucher message below, effectively co-opting Del Grosso's signs in the process.
MR. ROVE, JOE LIEBERMAN ON LINE #1:
Senate's Iraq vote likely to come down to the wire (ANNE FLAHERTY, March 27, 2007, Associated Press)
An upcoming Senate vote on the Iraq war could come down to just one or two votes, testing Democratic unity on a proposal to begin bringing combat troops home.
Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor and Ben Nelson are expected to deliver the critical votes this week, when members decide whether to uphold legislation that orders some troops home right away, with the goal of ending combat missions by March 31, 2008.
The real testing is of the Senator from CT.
OUGHTN'T CRUISE PLAY THE OTHER ROLE?:
Family of German war hero slam Cruise casting (Guardian Unlimited, 3/27/07)
A forthcoming film about Adolf Hitler's would-be assassin has sparked criticism from the dead man's family. Descendants of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg object to the choice of Tom Cruise for the lead role, fearing that the story will be turned into "propaganda" for the actor's Scientology beliefs.
Focus, a German news magazine, has reported that Cruise is currently considering the role of von Stauffenberg. A spokesperson for United Artists, the film's backers, is believed to have confirmed the news.
Born into an aristocratic Bavarian family, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was the Wehrmacht colonel behind the July 20 plot to kill the Führer in 1944. The German officer placed a bomb in a suitcase under a table at a meeting Hitler was attending. The bomb detonated but was not strong enough to kill the German leader, although four members of his inner circle died in the blast. Von Stauffenberg was subsequently caught and executed.
The poor guy gave his life fighting one cult leader only to be played by another?
BUT JOHN EDWARDS WILL KEEP CAMPAIGNING!:
Tests show Snow suffering from recurrence of cancer (JENNIFER LOVEN, 3/27/07, Associated Press)
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow's surgery to remove a small growth showed that his cancer has returned and spread to his liver, the White House said Tuesday.
President Bush, making a brief statement to reporters in the Rose Garden, struck an optimistic tone that echoed how aides said Snow was feeling. Bush said he looked forward to the day when Snow returns to the White House.
''His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat,'' Bush said. ''My attitude is that we need to pray for him, and for his family.''
Snow, 51, had his entire colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. A small growth was discovered last year in his lower right pelvic area, and after months of monitoring, tests now show that it has grown slightly. It was removed Monday.
Doctors determined that it was cancerous, and found during the surgery, which was exploratory, that his cancer had metastasized, or spread, to his liver, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
DEFENDING TERRORISTS AND KILLING BABIES:
Amnesty International UK endorses policy to campaign for abortion (Simon Caldwell, 3/27/07, Catholic News Service)
The British section of Amnesty International has endorsed a policy in support of legalizing abortion which could change the human rights group's global neutral policy on abortion.
TWO MAN RACE:
The Fred Thompson Effect (The Nation, 3/27/07)
The latest USA Today/Gallup poll is out and it is pretty startling. Despite being undeclared, actor Fred Thompson is polling at 12%. Giuliani, meanwhile, is down 13%, partly as a side-effect of Thompson's potential candidacy, partly as a result of increased conservative awareness of Rudy's personal profile. And Romney barely registers anymore.
There was never any chance of Rudy withstanding scrutiny by Republican voters.
E... (via pchuck):
'Billboard King' Reid Looks to Leave Mark on Senate War Funding Measure (Elizabeth Williamson, 3/27/07, Washington Post)
In a (quite) large sign that protecting U.S. troops isn't the only thing on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's mind these days, the Nevada Democrat inserted an item into the Senate's Iraq war funding bill -- safeguarding billboards.
Senate debate began yesterday on the bill, which provides $122 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; sets a goal of March 31, 2008, for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq; and -- if Reid has his way -- allows thousands of billboards destroyed by bad weather to be rebuilt.
For the senator, who has referred to himself as the King of Billboards, "it's a constituent issue, but it's a value that he believes in," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. [...]
About 40 billboard companies operate in Nevada. Over the past two years, Reid's Searchlight Leadership Fund has received $6,000 in contributions from the OAAA's political action committee.
Doesn't the neon make Nevada ugly enough without billboards too?
FORTUNATELY, AL GORE IS LIKE A TUMS TO THE SUN!:
Sun Burp Blasted Ozone Layer in 1859 (Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News)
A titanic burp of protons from the sun in 1859 appears to have temporarily weakened Earth's ozone layer, say scientists studying ice cores from Greenland. The evidence of the massive radiation event is in the form of an excessive amount of ozone-related nitrates in the ice from that year.
The huge September 1859 solar flare appears to have gushed 6.5 times the protons of the largest flare seen by modern science -- which was in 1989. By modeling the space storm using nitrate data from the ice -- compared with the modern event also detectable in the ice -- the researchers estimate that more than three times as much ozone was destroyed by the 1859 event than in the 1989 blast.
The discovery is a hint at just how nasty the solar weather can get.
We're gonna need more Pepcid....
PINOCHET'S ARE EXCEEDINGLY RARE...:
Pakistan's Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared (MOHSIN HAMID, 3/27/07, NY Times)
I WAS one of the few Pakistanis who actually voted for Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the rigged referendum of 2002. I recall walking into a polling station in Islamabad and not seeing any other voter. When I took the time required to read the convoluted ballot, I was accosted by a man who had the overbearing attitude of a soldier although he was in civilian clothes. He insisted that I hurry, which I refused to do. He then hovered close by, watching my every action, in complete defiance of electoral rules.
Despite this intimidation, I still voted in favor of the proposition that General Musharraf, who had seized power in a coup in 1999, should continue as Pakistan's president for five more years. I believed his rule had brought us much-needed stability, respite from the venal and self-serving elected politicians who had misgoverned Pakistan in the 1990s, and a more free and vibrant press than at any time in the country's history.
The outcome of the referendum -- 98 percent support for General Musharraf from an astonishing 50 percent turnout -- was so obviously false that even he felt compelled to disown the exercise.
Rigged elections rankle, of course. But since then, secular, liberal Pakistanis like myself have seen many benefits from General Musharraf's rule. [...]
But there have been significant problems under General Musharraf, too. Pakistan has grown increasingly divided between the relatively urban and prosperous regions that border India and the relatively rural, conservative and violent regions that border Afghanistan. The two mainstream political parties have historically bridged that divide and vastly outperformed religious extremists in free elections, but under General Musharraf they have been marginalized in a system that looks to one man for leadership.
What many of us hoped was that General Musharraf would build up the country's neglected institutions before eventually handing over power to a democratically elected successor. Those hopes were dealt a serious blow two weeks ago, when he suspended the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. [...]
Despite his subsequent apology for the Geo incident, General Musharraf now appears to be more concerned with perpetuating his rule than with furthering the cause of "enlightened moderation" that he had claimed to champion. He has never been particularly popular, but he is now estranging the liberals who previously supported his progressive ends if not his autocratic means. People like me are realizing that the short-term gains from even a well-intentioned dictator's policies can be easily reversed.
General Musharraf must recognize that his popularity is dwindling fast and that the need to move toward greater democracy is overwhelming. The idea that a president in an army uniform will be acceptable to Pakistanis after this year's elections is becoming more and more implausible.
...and there was only one Washington.
GEE, EUROPE SEEMS SO KID FRIENDLY...:
'Dump your children here' box to stop mothers killing their babies (Roger Boyes, 3/27/07, Times of London)
Desperate mothers are being urged to drop their unwanted babies through hatches at hospitals in an effort to halt a spate of infanticides that has shocked Germany.
At least 23 babies have been killed so far this year, many of them beaten to death or strangled by their mothers before being dumped on wasteland and in dustbins.
Police investigating the murders are at a loss to explain the sudden surge in such cases, which have involved mothers of all ages all over the country.
You can't make your society anti-human and then expect folks to act human.
MORE (via Brian Boys):
Meanwhile, here's Al Gore's view of humankind:
READ WITHOUT YOUR SPOUSE THINKING YOU'RE LAZY:
These feet were made for walking: Forget jogging , gyms and fancy sports gear - the best way to lose weight, avoid illness and improve your brainpower is to take a daily walk (Peta Bee, March 27, 2007, The Guardian)
It requires no gym subscription, no spandex, Lycra or legwarmers and is an activity to which even the most fitness-phobic individual might not be averse. So what is the latest exercise trend that we are being encouraged to embrace for the good of our health and the sliminess of our thighs? A daily stroll. Earlier this month, the LA Times predicted that walking would be this year's biggest fitness trend and that we will be taking to pavements in hordes akin to the jogging boom of the 1970s. Indeed, high-profile personal trainers on both sides of the Atlantic can now be spotted marching their clients around parks and pavements.
Lucy Knight, author of Walking for Weight Loss (Kyle Cathie, £12.99), says that the benefits of walking are countless. You use pretty much the same muscles as running - strengthening the hamstring, quadriceps, iliopsoas muscles at the front of the hips, calf and the gluteus maximus muscles with each stride - but the activity is far kinder to the joints. "It is not a high-impact activity," she says. "So, while it strengthens and stabilises the muscles around your major joints, it reduces the wear and tear on the cartilage and minimises the risk of joint injury." Researchers, too, are in no doubt that the resurgence of a daily stroll to boost health is much needed. "Humans were designed to walk," says James Levine, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic college of medicine in Minnesota, who has studied the benefits. "We spent 7m years of our history walking and now, all of a sudden we are sitting down. That is having a profound effect on our health."
A daily walk has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes. And studies have shown that a broader set of disorders - from sexual dysfunction to cognitive decline - can also be aided by a brisk walk around the block. Indeed, JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard University, goes as far as describing a daily stroll as being "as close to a magic bullet as you'll find in modern medicine. If there was a pill that could lower the risk of chronic disease like walking does, then people would be clamouring for it".
With an iPod and an Audiobook from your local library, you'll barely notice you're walking. I've been listening to the Aubrey/Maturin series, read by the incomparable Simon Vance, and have several times found myself going for longer than intended just to finish a scene.
ISN'T EVERYONE JUST ROOTING AGAINST NOAH?:
Sizing Up the Final Four: Dan Shanoff's Bracket Isn't in Great Shape, But He's Still Savoring March Madness (DAN SHANOFF, 3/27/07, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
As with the Monday morning after the tournament field was announced, the biggest storyline is Florida's chance to become the first team to repeat as champs since Duke in 1992. Simply returning to the Final Four with the same five starters as last year is historically notable.
Blocking Florida's path is the team the Gators beat last year in the national-title game: UCLA.
The question is this: Was the Bruins' loss to the Gators a year ago a template for another defeat this year -- or will UCLA find a decisive edge in the opportunity for a little payback?
In the other semifinal, Georgetown will take on Ohio State.
Twenty-five years after the Hoyas' reputation was secured with a trip to the national-title game (a loss to North Carolina, belatedly avenged Sunday in the most exciting game of the tournament so far), Georgetown is playing the best of any of the Final Four teams:
• Their coach, John Thompson III, is the son of legendary Hoyas coach "Big John" Thompson.
• Their key reserve, Patrick Ewing Jr., is another eponymous kid of a famous Hoyas legend.
• Their star, Jeff Green, is the most complete forward in college basketball.
• Their retro-aggressive Hoyas defense and modified "Princeton" offense is the toughest Xs and Os match-up of the Final Foursome.
• Their ongoing motivation derives from having lost in the final seconds to Florida a year ago in the Sweet 16.
In short: There's a reason Georgetown was the "trendiest" choice to make the Final Four.
IF EVEN THE IRISH CAN DO IT...:
Arab Ministers Agree To Revive Initiative For Mideast Peace (Glenn Kessler, 3/27/07, Washington Post)
Arab foreign ministers agreed to relaunch a five-year-old peace initiative with Israel, including establishment of a working group to begin negotiations on the plan, according to reports from Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
"The initiative includes a mechanism to promote it and gain its acceptance and especially registering it officially at the United Nations," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters. "That's what's going to happen, so that it becomes a basis and a major reference point for peace in the Middle East."
Under the plan, Arab nations would recognize Israel if it gave up land occupied after the 1967 Middle East war and granted Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes lost six decades ago when Israel declared it was a state.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling this week in the Middle East, has pushed Arabs to back the long-dormant plan as the basis for negotiations, not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Both U.S. and Israeli officials said they were pleased by the decision, which will be formalized later this week at a summit of the Arab League.
In Indonesia's Aceh, a former rebel takes the reins (Seth Mydans, March 27, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
[ Irwandi Yusuf, the new governor of Aceh,] is a one-man political science experiment, a separatist rebel who has, quite unexpectedly, become the leader of the government he until recently fought against.
Under a peace agreement signed in 2005, Irwandi renounced his separatist agenda, ran for governor last December and won, taking almost 40 percent of the vote in a field of eight. The second-place finisher was also a member of the former separatist movement, bringing its total to more than 50 percent of the votes cast.
Irwandi took office at the start of February and is now guarded by the army that once hunted him in the jungle. He works with a police force that was known for its brutal treatment of his comrades. He travels to Jakarta to talk policy with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former general.
He has no alternative but to leave the past behind, he said. Most of the people he works with are his former enemies.
Military intelligence still watches him, he said, as it did in the past, and he expects hard-line opponents to try to complicate his job with political manipulation. But the agreement that ended Aceh's 30-year separatist war is holding - after the death of 15,000 people - and both sides seem to have embraced nonviolence.
NOT CRIME, SO YOU'RE BACK TO RACE (via Kevin Whited):
All illegal immigration is local (Steve Chapman, March 27, 2007, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
The city government of Hazleton, Pa., got in trouble when it passed a law intended to drive out illegal immigrants. [...]
The trial itself, which concluded Thursday and now awaits a verdict, has not shed flattering light on the competence of those who drafted the law. Mayor Lou Barletta said he was compelled to act when a resident was shot to death, it is believed by two illegal immigrants.
But he had trouble explaining why, if illegal immigrants generate crime, they have been implicated in only about 20 of the 8,500 felonies committed in Hazleton in the last six years. ACLU attorney Witold Walczak also noted that amid this supposed crime wave, the city reduced the size of the police force, despite a budget surplus.
If Hazleton's illegal immigrants are prone to crime, they're the exception. Despite the growth of illegal immigration in the last decade, crime rates have dropped sharply across the country. This may not be a coincidence. In every ethnic group, reports a recent study by Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing for the American Immigration Law Foundation, young men born in the United States are far likelier to wind up in prison than those who come here later.
In Hazleton, as elsewhere, the main reason Latino foreigners come is to work and stay out of trouble. In fact, those qualities are the same ones that get them accused of stealing jobs. Even those immigrants who work off the books contribute to the economic health of local businesses by buying goods and services. Hazleton has seen an expansion of its tax base.
Indeed, the immigrants have lowered crime per capita.
CHANGE-UPS DON'T BREAK BOTH WAYS:
The myth behind the man: Matsuzaka says 'gyroball' not part of his arsenal (Tom Verducci, March 27, 2007, Sports Illustrated)
Despite highly descriptive news reports, slow motion video and purported eyewitness accounts from major league hitters -- well, the Florida Marlins' scrubs -- Red Sox pitching sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka does not throw a gyroball, G. Gordon Grinch of the North Pole news bureau of SI has learned. Several sources close to Matsuzaka -- and you can't get much closer to Matsuzaka than Matsuzaka himself -- confirmed to Mr. Grinch that Matsuzaka's gyroball is nothing more than media mythology, a promulgation the pitcher delightfully enjoys.
Repeated attempts to reach the Easter Bunny, the Loch Ness monster, the tooth fairy and a Chicago Cubs world champion for comment were unsuccessful.
Seriously, I know the gyroball is a cool, real concept and Matsuzaka already has this air of mystery about him that invites possibility and that everybody likes a good story, but enough already. A Marlin by the name of Jason Stokes, after facing Matsuzaka in a spring training game, pumped the legend of the demon pitch when he announced in wonderment, "I saw the gyroball." He did stop short of saying it emitted a beam of light that transported him into a flying saucer, where his innards were removed bloodlessly before he was returned to the batter's box.
Here's the truth: Matsuzaka's changeup is so wicked, so unlike most every changeup anyone has seen, that people don't know what to make of it. Matsuzaka has told me he does not throw the gyroball. Every Red Sox staff member and official I've talked with said he does not throw it.
"What the Marlins thought was the gyro was the changeup," one of the Boston sources said. "That's what people think is the gyro. It's his best pitch."
Said another Red Sox insider, "Japan is famous for copious scouting reports. If you throw a pitch once in your life the scout will include it in the report. Dice-K enjoys letting people think he throws it. There's no harm in it. Why not just give them one more thing to think about?"
The most consistent remark you hear from guys who've faced him is that what makes him so tough is his ability to throw 6 to 8 different poitches anywhere in the count. They just have no idea what's coming.
VICTORY AFTER VICTORY:
Australian pleads guilty at Guantanamo: David Hicks admits to material support of terrorism. He says he did not commit a violent act (Carol J. Williams, 3/27/07, LA Times)
Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty Monday to material support of terrorism, securing a symbolic victory for the Bush administration in the first war crimes trial since World War II.
After a day of legal wrangling in which two of Hicks' three defense lawyers were barred from representing him, the 31-year-old Muslim convert and soldier of fortune told the military judge in a specially reconvened night session that he had aided a terrorist group.
Bedraggled and appearing irritated, Hicks showed little emotion at the prospect of potentially leaving Guantanamo Bay after more than five years in military detention.
Under an agreement between Washington and the Australian government, Hicks would be allowed to serve any sentence in an Australian prison.
PAYING THE COST TO BE JOSS:
Joss Stone to debut 'Introducing' album in U.S.: Hopes are high for the new CD but it comes amid cloud of criticism, skepticism (Ann Powers, March 27, 2007, LA Times)
Stone, whose birth name is Joscelyn Stoker, grew up in a privileged household -- her father is a highly successful importer of dried fruit -- listening to soul music. "Somebody told my mum that you get your pitch within the first three years of your life," she said. "She says that I got mine from Anita Baker, because she was playing her a lot." After school, Joss would put on Dusty Springfield's "Greatest Hits" and cook dinner for her family as the original blue-eyed soul singer's voice wafted through the kitchen. Factor in her brother's penchant for old-school hip-hop, dad's Jam fandom and her granny's fondness for Led Zeppelin, and it adds up to a smorgasbord of takes on black music, from both sides of the racial divide.
Unlike many artists who absorb these sources and then take time to make them into something new, Stone became a star in her mid-teens. She won an "American Idol"-style TV talent contest at 14 by singing Donna Summer's "On the Radio" and soon signed with an American manager who brought her to Miami, where she recorded her debut under the guidance of soul singer Betty Wright. Stone's big voice and gift for channeling her sources gained her instant notice, and soon she found herself learning at the feet of the very people whose recordings had shaped her childhood reveries.
"I learn from Lamont Dozier, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle," she said, name-checking one great songwriter and two essential divas from soul's greatest era. "I sit around and soak up whatever they want to give me. I've had long conversations with them. My mom told me when I was young: Just be like a sponge. And that's what I'm trying to be."
The problem is, a sponge isn't an artist, especially as defined by Anglo-American pop culture, which values individualism over the upholding of tradition. The "gifted student" approach that Stone took on her first two albums -- which have sold 914,000 and 1.2 million copies in the U.S., respectively -- is now a weight around her neck. "Introducing," produced by veteran R&B auteur Raphael Saadiq, is Stone's attempt to break free of the vintage aura of her earlier work, which she feels was too uniform.
"When you listen to the [new] album, you're going to have to decide what you call it, because I don't know," she said. " 'Less Is More' is a reggae joint. 'Tell Me' has the Bob Marley thing too. 'Music' is more hip-hop, and 'Arms of My Baby' is actually a salsa-ish track."
Saadiq's approach, which he's been refining since his mid-1980s debut with the band Tony! Toni! Ton-!, is retro-futuristic: He blends classic references (punchy horns, bubbly bass, sassy backing singers) with up-to-the-minute studio techniques to create a sound that is modern but not trendy. Enlisting like-minded (if somewhat predictable) souls like Lauryn Hill and Common as guests, Saadiq has created an environment well-suited to a young singer trying to find herself within a daunting tradition.
"I think we both have a love for authentic real music," Saadiq said by e-mail about the collaboration. "That does not mean just a live band jamming; it means that through those live musicians you create a song.... The song, the players' dedication to the song -- not the drum roll or guitar lick -- each player playing a role actually makes it a record. We both hear that."
If there's one fault on "Introducing," it's that Stone's comfort level with that tradition remains too high. Throughout the album, she sings in a voice she learned from those soul albums; the lilt of coastal England never surfaces. Crafting a new self from beloved popular cultural sources, Stone is very much of her generation; it's her sincerity, her refusal to see that identity as artificial, that singles her out.
RED ON RED:
Insurgents report a split with Al Qaeda in Iraq: The U.S. hopes to take advantage of the Sunni rebel schism, which has resulted in combat in some areas. (Ned Parker, 3/27/07, LA Times)
Insurgent leaders and Sunni Arab politicians say divisions between insurgent groups and Al Qaeda in Iraq have widened and have led to combat in some areas of the country, a schism that U.S. officials hope to exploit.
The Sunni Arab insurgent leaders said they disagreed with the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq over tactics, including attacks on civilians, as well as over command of the movement.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, on his last day in Iraq, said Monday that American officials were actively pursuing negotiations with the Sunni factions in an effort to further isolate Al Qaeda.
"Iraqis are uniting against Al Qaeda," Khalilzad said. "Coalition commanders have been able to engage some insurgents to explore ways to collaborate in fighting the terrorists."
An Enclave of Normalcy in Fearful Baghdad: In Shiite Slum Named for His Family, Radical Cleric Offers Aid, Hope (Sudarsan Raghavan, 3/27/07, Washington Post)
In front of a blue metal gate, women in black abayas clutch food ration cards and exhibit a confidence rarely felt in the Iraqi capital. They will feed their families tonight. Several yards away, men sit behind wooden desks poring over hundreds of colorful folders, one each for Shiite families forced to flee their homes. Every family will be given a new life.
This busy office in the heart of the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City is not an arm of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Nor is it a relief agency. It is the domain of the 33-year-old Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Here, Sadr doles out aid to his neediest followers, from cradle to grave, filling a void in a desperately uncertain country.
"We get no help from Maliki. Only Sayyid Moqtada helps us," said Saleh al-Ghathbawi, a tall, balding clerk in a blue tracksuit, using the honorific that signifies Sadr's descent from the prophet Muhammad.
As the United States and Iraq proceed with a six-week-old security offensive to pacify the capital, Sadr's black-clad fighters have melted away. His advisers have fled to evade arrest. His own whereabouts are contested. U.S. intelligence officials say elements of his Mahdi Army militia have splintered off beyond his control.
Yet nowhere is Sadr's power more visible than in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad that bears his family's name. Through legacy, symbolism and money, he has built up his street credentials by helping and protecting Iraq's Shiite majority. His militiamen have made Sadr City into the safest, most homogenous enclave in a capital scarred by war and ruled by a fragile government. It often appears to operate like a separate nation, where Sadr's words carry the weight of law.
...ON THE PC:
TV on the Radio: No static from original, energetic outfit (Patrick MacDonald, 3/27/07, Seattle Times)
Being different is an asset in rock 'n' roll, and TV on the Radio, the Brooklyn band that headlined the Moore Sunday night, is decidedly different.
Energetic, intense lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, whose hands, arms and legs are in constant motion when he performs, is a rock singer who also croons and whistles, shouts and scats, and weaves elements of blues, jazz and rap into his potent delivery.
Drummer Jaleel Bunton drives the music with powerful rhythms, aided by Gerard Smith on bass. Kyp Malone, the band's most instantly identifiable member, due to his enormous Afro and matching beard, plays bluesy rock guitar and contributes sweet background vocals.
Second guitarist David Sitek, also the band's producer, matches Adebimpe in intensity on stage, seeming to delight in creating big, enveloping soundscapes, by way of pedal-effects and feedback.
TVOTR is David Bowie's favorite new band, which is not surprising because he's one of rock's original space cowboys. He duets with Adebimpe on a song called "Province" on TVOTR's latest CD, "Return to Cookie Mountain," which was Spin magazine's 2006 album of the year.
THE NORTH REMAINS:
Paisley's politics pays off (Padraig O'Malley, March 27, 2007, Boston Globe)
He destroyed every Unionist leader who tried to make an accommodation with the Catholic minority. He played to Protestant fears: of a united Ireland, a Catholic Ireland, of a sellout by the British government.
He castigated six British prime ministers and he denounced every agreement between the Irish and British governments, the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, and, finally the breakthrough Good Friday Agreement. He refused to become a signatory to the Good Friday Agreement, demanding that unless the IRA put its weapons permanently and verifiably beyond use, there could be no lasting peace and no power-sharing government. The more he dug in his heels, the more the Protestant community swung toward him until the Democratic Unionist Party eviscerated the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party and can claim to be the one true voice of Protestant Ulster.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has emerged as the authentic voice of Catholic nationalist aspirations. In the furtherance of its interests and in order to restart power sharing in Northern Ireland, even one that would put Paisley at the helm, Sinn Fein decommissioned its arms, accepted the authority, and will fully support the Northern Ireland Police -- all demands that for Paisley were non-negotiatiable.
Although many Catholics would say that his actions over the years were incitement to violence by Protestant paramilitaries, Paisley fulfilled his historical role. His unequivocal, non-negotiatiable demand that he would not do business with Sinn Fein until the IRA had for all practical purposes put itself out of business is an articulation of what most nationalist politicians in the North and most people in the South felt but were constrained from expressing because of their history. For all his braggadocio, he spoke relentlessly to one essential truth: In a democracy you cannot have a political party that is attached to a paramilitary organization.
That was actually the second essential truth. The first was that a people who consider themselves a separate nation are one.
IF WE NEEDED STENTS WE'D EVOLVE THEM:
Study finds heart procedure benefits few (MARILYNN MARCHIONE, 3/27/07, The Associated Press)
More than half a million people a year with chest pain are getting an unnecessary or premature procedure to unclog their arteries because drugs are just as effective, suggests a landmark study that challenges one of the most common practices in heart care.
The stunning results found that angioplasty did not save lives or prevent heart attacks in non-emergency heart patients.
An even bigger surprise: Angioplasty gave only slight and temporary relief from chest pain, the main reason it is done.
THE DRIVER'S SEAT:
Singapore woos immigrants to boost population (Koh Gui Qing, 3/26/07, Reuters)
Singapore's government is so worried about the low birth rate and greying population that it is turning to immigrants like Chandran to add another two million people to the island of 4.5 million over the next 40 to 50 years. [...]
Many countries -- such as Spain, Ireland and United Arab Emirates -- rely on immigration to boost a shrinking labor force. But Singapore's immigration plan is unique because it would boost the population by nearly 50 percent, to the point where those born in Singapore would barely form a majority in their own country.
As the need of dying nations for immigrants becomes more dire they'll be able to write their own tickets.
March 26, 2007
NO HARAAM, NO FOUL?:
Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama (Mike Allen, March 26, 2007, Politico)
Speaking early this month at a church in Selma, Ala., Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said: "I'm in Washington. I see what's going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they're writing the energy bills and the drug laws."
It was a fine populist riff calculated to appeal to Democratic audiences as Obama seeks his party's presidential nomination. But not only did Obama vote for the Senate's big energy bill in 2005, he also put out a press release bragging about its provisions, and his Senate Web site carries a news article about the vote headlined, "Senate energy bill contains goodies for Illinois."
Former dictator Salazar chosen as greatest Portuguese of all time by TV viewers (Joana Mateus, 3/27/07, Associated Press)
Former dictator Antonio Oliveira Salazar was chosen as the greatest Portuguese of all times by viewers of a TV show.
Salazar, prime minister of a repressive right-wing regime also known as the New State from 1932 to 1968, received 41 percent in Sunday evening's final of "Great Portuguese."
The show, broadcast by state-owned RTP, asked viewers to choose people who had contributed to the greatness of Portugal's history. Ten figures were selected for voting, from statesmen like the Marquis de Pombal to explorers like Vasco da Gama.
Salazar's secret police, PIDE, used detentions without trial, torture and kangaroo courts to keep opponents off the streets.
What sentient being would prefer the opponents to have won and turned Iberia into the sort of Gulag they created in Eastern Europe?
THEY USED TO BE THE SUNNI AND THE SHI'A:
HISTORIC BREAKTHROUGH IN NORTHERN IRELAND: Paisley and Adams Reach Agreement on Power-Sharing: UPDATE Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, the leaders of Northern Ireland's main Protestant and Catholic parties, have met for the first time to discuss devolution for the province. They have reached an agreement to form a power-sharing administration by May 8. (Der Spiegel, 3/26/07)
Ian Paisley meeting Gerry Adams? It was an event of lion-laying-down-with-lamb proportions, as Paisley, a Protestant minister with a taste for fiery Biblical rhetoric, might describe it -- even though each side would doubtlessly argue over who was the lion and who was the lamb.
The meeting was certainly a historic breakthrough for Northern Ireland. Arch-rivals Paisley and Adams have long been icons of the Protestant and Catholic sides respectively in the long and bitter struggle over who should rule Northern Ireland. Paisley is the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which wants to keep Northern Ireland's ties to Britain, while Adams is president of Sinn Fein, whose ultimate goal is a united Ireland.
The two men held their first ever face-to-face meeting Monday in the Northern Ireland Assembly buildings in Stormont, Belfast. However the two arch-rivals did not shake hands, according to officials from both sides.
Afterwards they announced a deal to forge a power-sharing administration by May 8, which will lead to a new era of home rule for the province.
"After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province," commented Paisley, 80, who had previously refused to negotiate directly with Adams or Sinn Fein. "We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children."
Which leaves Palestine the only unresolved naval chokepoint from the Cold War.
I'M AFRAID OF THE BRITISH, CAN'T SLEEP AT NIGHT:
The big question: What is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and who controls them? (Angus McDowall, 27 March 2007, Independent)
Will the British servicemen be released soon?
* Iranian media have played down the incident, creating some room to back off
* The Iraqi government has said that the boats were in their waters, not in Iran's
* Iranian pragmatists have become more important in recent months and might counsel a swift solution
* Top officials have said the servicemen could be charged which might take weeks
* Revolutionary Guards are angry at what they see as recent American escalation of involvement in Iraq
* Some factions might see the servicemen as bargaining chips for other disputes
Largely unmentioned, because little understood in the West, is that even reform-minded, pro-Western, secular Iranians would be prepared, at some level of consciousness, to believe that the Brits were there spying. There is a near universal mood of Anglophobia that lingers as a result of past British meddling in Iranian affairs and that is best captured in Iraj Pezeshkzad's very funny novel, My Uncle Napoleon. As Azar Nafisi writes in her Introduction:
My Uncle Napoleon is the story of a pathetic and pathological man who, because of his failure in real life, turns himself into a Napoleon in his fantasies and becomes convinced of a British plot to destroy him. It gripped the Iranian imagination to such an extent that since its publication in 1973 it has sold millions of copies and has been turned into perhaps the most popular television series in the history of modern Iran. Banned by the censors of the Islamic Republic in 1979, both the book and television serial have thrived underground.
Part of this phenomenal success is because, like all good works of fiction, My Uncle Napoleon is rooted in the reality it fictionalises. It reveals an essential truth about life in contemporary Iran. In a speech at the University of California at Los Angeles, Pezeshkzad traced the origins of Uncle Napoleon's character to his own childhood, when, listening to grown-ups, he was baffled by the way they indiscriminately labelled most politicians "British lackeys". This obsession was so pervasive that some Iranians even claimed Hitler was a British stooge and Germany's bombing of London a nefarious plot hatched by British Intelligence. Similar sinister musings were spouted recently when, after the bombings in London last July, the powerful Iranian cleric Ahmad Janati, chair of the Council of Guardians of the Revolution, claimed in a nationally broadcast sermon that "the British government itself created this situation". Janati also blamed the Americans for the attacks on September 11 2001.
After the publication of My Uncle Napoleon many, including the late prime minister Amir Abbass Hoveyda -who, in a macabre twist of fate, was accused of being an imperialist stooge, among other charges, and was murdered by the Islamic regime - were convinced that Dear Uncle Napoleon was based on a family member.
Although the book is not political, it is politically subversive, targeting a certain mentality and attitude. Its protagonist is a small-minded and incompetent personality who blames his failures and his own insignificance on an all-powerful entity, thereby making himself significant and indispensable. Uncle Napoleonites can be found anywhere in the world and among the different strata of any society. In Iran, for example, as Pezeshkzad has mentioned elsewhere, this attitude is not limited to "common" people but is in fact more prevalent among the so-called political and intellectual elite.
In My Uncle Napoleon, as in another and very different Iranian masterpiece, The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat, the tension between reality and fiction is an integral part of the story's plot. The conflict between what exists and what is imagined to exist shapes the characters and their relations. The plot's tragicomic resolution depends on the way this tension is resolved. But the absurdities that cause us to laugh at a ludicrous fictional character can become sources of great suffering when practised in real life. Pezeshkzad's Dear Uncle Napoleon can only exercise his petty tyrannies within his own household, yet he also represents far grimmer dictators with much greater power to harm.
Sometimes it seemed to me when I still lived in Iran that My Uncle Napoleon predicted and articulated in farcical terms the mindset ruling over the Islamic Republic. Like all totalitarian systems, the Iranian government feeds and grows on paranoia. To justify its rule the regime had to replace reality with its own mythologies. The Islamic regime based its absurd justice on Uncle Napoleonic logic, destroying the lives of millions of Iranians through its laws, jailing and torturing and killing all imagined enemies and accusing them of being agents of the Great Satan, namely America and its allies. If Uncle Napoleon felt that the delay in his nephew's train was a British plot, the guardians of morality in Iran saw a woman's lipstick or a man's tie as props/accessories in an imperialist plot to destroy Islam.
SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH IRAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER: 'We Warned the United States': Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, 53, discusses efforts to resolve the conflict over Tehran's nuclear program, his country's right to resist and its offer to help bring peace to Iraq. (Der Spiegel, 3/26/07)
SPIEGEL: Is Iran's nuclear program truly so important that you would even risk going to war over it?
Mottaki: Every country in the world sets its goals and should also be able to achieve them. On March 5, 1957, exactly 50 years ago, we signed a treaty with the United States that granted us the right to acquire nuclear power plants. The first sentence in that agreement guarantees that the peaceful use of atomic energy is one of the fundamental rights of all nations. We consider the right to development to be inalienable.
LOST IN ATOMIZATION:
Meanwhile: The only warmth in my life is the heated toilet seat (Kumiko Makihara, March 26, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
Pity the lonely Japanese salaryman, or white-collar worker, who wrote that ode to his electrically warmed commode. The poem was an entry to this year's annual Salaryman Senryu Contest (senryu is a form of Japanese short poetry).
I had thought the stereotypical salaryman, often mocked as a corporate drone, was a thing of the past. Many fathers at my son's primary school, after all, show up at dawn on field day to grab prime viewing spots, displaying what seems like a healthy devotion to family life. But the following senryu suggests those dads may have simply extended their corporate servitude to the household.
Dad, please, a ride, save a seat, be in charge of the camera, and take out the trash
The insurance firm Dai-ichi Life runs the contest and recently selected 100 finalists from this year's 23,179 submissions. The public is currently invited to vote via the company's Web site (www.dai-ichi-life.co.jp), and the 10 most popular senryu will be announced in May. The contest is now in its 20th year, and the winners' words have come to be regarded as indicators of the times.
Office politics and family life - or the lack of it - have been mainstay themes over the years, according to Dai-ichi Life, while dieting and high-tech ineptitude are recent topics. This year's submissions show many aging salarymen finding themselves misfits in their own firms amid increased competition, while years of corporate devotion have left them isolated from their families and communities.
ADLAI STEVENSON WITH A 'FRO:
Obama and blue collars: Do they fit?: History says he must reach working-class voters -- Hillary Clinton's stronghold (Ronald Brownstein, March 25, 2007, LA Times)
IN THE EARLY returns among the young, computer-savvy social networkers on the MySpace website, Barack Obama is running laps around Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama's MySpace page has attracted more than twice as many friends as Clinton's unofficial page on the site.
But when the two leading contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination appeared earlier this month in Washington before a beefy, brush-cut audience at an International Assn. of Fire Fighters convention, the result was reversed. Obama received a tepid response while Clinton blew away the room when she followed him to the stage.
"If I was Barack Obama, I'd say that speech -- that's the one I wanted to deliver to the firefighters," said Bob Markwood, an Orlando firefighter, a few minutes after Clinton concluded.
These contrasting responses signal the resurgence of a dynamic that has repeatedly shaped, and frequently decided, the contests for the Democratic presidential nomination over the last generation.
Obama's early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees.
Perhaps Obama is Swahili for egghead?
IS IT JUST ME...:
The personal is political: Giuliani's propensity for the weird has GOP worried (CRAIG GORDON, March 26, 2007, Newsday)
Rudolph Giuliani's own campaign once called it the "weirdness factor."
In 1993, aides fretted that voters would look askance at him for his 14-year marriage to his second cousin, later annulled.
Then last week, the latest Mrs. Giuliani injected a twist into his White House campaign, with revelations of a "secret" third husband.
For longtime Giuliani-watchers, it was just a fresh chapter in the long-running Rudy drama - the kind of made-for-tabloids story that left his aides scrambling and people scratching their heads about his would-be first lady Judith Nathan Giuliani. But the story pointed up a fear among some Republicans as Giuliani sits in the frontrunner's spot: that the ex-mayor's personal and political foibles, mostly shrugged off at home, won't wear well nationally, because voters want to see their candidate as commander-in-chief material and not tabloid fodder.
"There are people who if they support Rudy, they'll be keeping their fingers tightly crossed that there's no other embarrassing episode in the media. They've got a lot on the line here," said one Republican familiar with Giuliani's hunt for GOP endorsements.
...or is it suggestive that the Mayor and Marv Albert have never been seen together? You shake this closet hard enough and the transvestite dominatrii are bound to come tumbling out.
TOO BAD THEY SHAFTED THE ORANGE:
Four Mighty Contenders for NCAA Basketball Crown (JONAH KERI, March 26, 2007, NY Sun)
After 60 games, dozens of thrilling moments, and one of the lowest upset tallies in recent tournament history, the Final Four has come down to four mighty contenders. Or to be more precise, two talent factories and two great systems.
Get ready for a star-studded cast: Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison. One of the strongest Final Four fields in years will do battle, with two no. 1 and two no. 2 seeds taking the floor. Here's a look at the four combatants, how they got here, and how they might fare in Atlanta...
You are invited to join my on-line college hoops bracket
group! To accept this invitation and join the group, click
the link below (or cut and paste the link into your
browser's address field). You'll be asked to enter the
group's password before you can join. The group password is
included in this e-mail.
Our Group password is: ericjulia
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad MARCH (JONAH KERI, March 14, 2007, NY Sun)
Raise your hand if you can remember an NCAA tournament field as wide open as this year's. The usual stalwarts of recent vintage, Duke and Connecticut, are nowhere near their usual status as no. 1 seeds -- UConn didn't even make the NIT.
There are still plenty of familiar names. But how do you separate North Carolina from Kansas? If Ohio State plays Florida, would the Thad Five prevail, or would Gators fans be chanting "Just like football"?
You've got questions; we've got answers.
If the tournament plays out the way the regular season did, there's sure to be fireworks. The 2006-2007 season was the Year of the Freshman. The NBA's new rookie eligibility rules forced top high school seniors to go to college for at least one year. Combine the rule with an amazing bumper crop of super frosh, and you have a situation similar to Carmelo Anthony's national championship season at Syracuse -- times 10.
You are invited to join my on-line college hoops bracket
group! To accept this invitation and join the group, click
the link below (or cut and paste the link into your
browser's address field). You'll be asked to enter the
group's password before you can join. The group password is
included in this e-mail.
Our Group password is: ericjulia
Three fired U.S. attorneys balked at seeking death penalty: Prosecutors in California, Michigan and Arizona share a reluctance to pursue the ultimate punishment. (Richard A. Serrano, Tom Hamburger and Ralph Vartabedian, March 26, 2007, LA Times)
As a U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., Margaret Chiara, who once studied to become a nun, appealed several times to the Justice Department against having to seek the death penalty. In hindsight, for her it was a risky business.
No prisoner has been executed in a Michigan case since 1938, but the Bush administration seemed determined to change that. Under Attys. Gen. John Ashcroft and Alberto R. Gonzales, far more federal defendants have been dispatched to death row than under the Clinton administration. And any prosecutors wishing to seek other punishment often find themselves overruled.
Chiara was not the only one to run afoul of the administration's death penalty stance.
In San Francisco, U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan was ordered by Ashcroft to conduct a capital trial for a Californian charged with killing a man with a booby-trapped mail bomb. Ryan persuaded Ashcroft's successor, Gonzales, to drop the death charge; last month the defendant, David Lin, was acquitted in San Jose.
In Phoenix, prosecutor Paul Charlton was told repeatedly, despite his resistance, to file capital murder charges in a case where the victim's body has not been recovered. The woman's remains are believed buried deep in an Arizona landfill, but the Justice Department refused Charlton's request to shoulder the cost -- up to $1 million -- to retrieve the corpse.
The three prosecutors are among eight U.S. attorneys terminated last year in a housecleaning by the Justice Department.
What's the country coming to when bureaucrats are forced to do their jobs or hit the bricks?
YOU ARE WHAT YOU TOLERATE:
Germany rattled by militant's release: Unrepentant convicted killer Brigitte Mohnhaupt walks free, setting off a debate over whether everyone really does deserve a second chance. (Jeffrey Fleishman, March 26, 2007, LA Times)
A recent poll...found that 66% of Germans believed the militants should serve their full life sentences. Known to most of the country from her wanted poster, which showed a broad-faced woman with light hair and thick mascara, Mohnhaupt today is at the center of a debate over a legal system rooted in European liberalism that prides itself on tolerance and compassion. Her case also has revealed that vestiges of extreme leftist politics still resonate among certain intellectuals who never realized their anarchist dreams.
"The people are against releasing Mohnhaupt and Klar," said Gabriele von Lutzau, who was a flight attendant on a Lufthansa jet hijacked by RAF-inspired Palestinian militants in 1977. "The RAF wanted to free the masses, but the masses wanted them thrown into the dungeon and the key tossed away. How many people do you have to kill before they don't let you walk free?"
The RAF went through several incarnations between 1968 and its disbanding three decades later. It was a violent spinoff of a student movement that demanded Germany account for its Nazi past, denounce capitalism and oppose U.S. power. Public support for the RAF evaporated quickly in the face of the group's bombings and kidnappings, which unnerved a divided nation that was rebuilding from World War II and navigating the dangerous politics of the Cold War.
The terrorists turned the country into a film noir landscape where TV news carried images of bullet casings and blanket-draped bodies. It was a time that also foreshadowed a new generation of politicians, including Joschka Fischer, a cabdriver- turned-street protester who would become Germany's foreign minister, and Gerhard Schroeder, a young lawyer who represented an RAF member and would be elected chancellor in 1998.
Mohnhaupt and Klar surfaced as two of the RAF's main leaders in the mid-1970s. During their tenure, the group stormed the West German Embassy in Sweden, tried to forge bonds with other European extremists and killed several leading German citizens, including federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback and banker Juergen Ponto, whom Mohnhaupt and Klar shot at least five times after delivering flowers to his home.
Neither Mohnhaupt nor Klar has offered public apologies or given details about the RAF's inner workings or which members carried out certain killings. Nor was Mohnhaupt required to apologize under the terms of her release.
Their reticence has left criminal cases unresolved, including bombings and attacks on U.S. bases in Germany. Furor and bewilderment concerning the imprisoned terrorists' fate intensified in January when a letter in which Klar called for the overthrow of capitalism was read at a political conference.
"Considering the gravity of this wrongdoing," Gunther Beckstein, the conservative interior minister of Bavaria state, said of Mohnhaupt's crimes, "I can't imagine that the victims and those affected will consider it justice when a criminal like this walks around in freedom."
The center-left newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that the case underscores the wisdom of German law: "The state remained a state of justice; it didn't become a state of revenge. The decisions to release prisoners from jail, these acts of humanity ordered by the state, show the strength of this state far more impressively than any tightening of laws."
In German terms, the injustice lies in how much longer they were improsoned than the Munich massacre crew.
THE BEST THE EUROS CAN DO...:
Europe's 50th Anniversary Clown Show: The European Union's absurd birthday bash says more about the EU at 50 than 1,000 bland pronouncements from the bureaucrats and politicians who wish to rule Europe ever could. (Alan Sked, March 2007, Foreign Policy)
Today's EU resembles a sort of undemocratic Habsburg Empire. Its legislation is proposed by a Commission of unelected bureaucrats who have now apparently lost control of their own staffs and who themselves are usually political outcasts from their national political systems. Decisions on whether to adopt their often bizarre initiatives are then taken in total secrecy by the Council of Ministers or the European Council, before being rubber-stamped by the federalist parliament and imposed on the citizens of member states, whose national legislatures can do absolutely nothing to alter their directives or regulations. Indeed, 84 percent of all legislation before national parliaments, according to the German Ministry of Justice, now simply involves implementing Brussels diktats. All this makes European politics undemocratic at all levels, and opinion polls reflect the public's growing disillusionment. So, given the present lack of democracy, together with corruption scandals and splits over foreign policy--not to mention the prospect of having a constitution rammed down the throats of voters who originally rejected it or never had the chance to vote on the matter in the first place--it can be no surprise that ordinary Europeans see the celebrations as a sick joke.
...is not trash the place too much before the next tenants move in.
A Fresh Face Vows to Revive the G.O.P. (MICHAEL LUO, 3/26/07, NY Times)
Amid the sea of square jaws and swept-back gray hair in Congress, Representative Adam H. Putnam, a tousled redhead whose cherubic appearance still causes Capitol police to stop him occasionally, appears a bit out of place.
But Mr. Putnam, 32, a Florida Republican, has become the unlikely mouthpiece for the beleaguered minority in the House, taking over as chairman of the Republican Conference, the third-ranking post behind the minority leader and whip, as his party struggles to right itself.
Mr. Putnam, something of a political wunderkind who at 26 was one of the youngest members of Congress in decades when he was elected in 2000, has taken on the role of attack dog over the last three months.
Combining agility on the issues and controlled partisan outrage, he has helped lead Republicans in the debate over the war in Iraq, lambasted Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her use of a military jet to fly across country to her home district, and generally tried to eke out political points at every opportunity.
"I think in the minority, the challenge is to get noticed," Mr. Putnam said in an interview. "In a presidential election cycle, the novelty of a new Democratic majority, the historical nature of a woman speaker, it becomes very hard to be heard above all the noise."
His tactics, however, have earned him the enmity of the speaker's office, as well as others who accuse him of partisan showboating.
However? That's the point.
BECAUSE THE BANLIEUE'S NEED A POLITICAL PARTY TOO:
Royal gives backing to Ankara's EU bid (Delphine Strauss, March 25 2007, Financial Times)
Ségolène Royal has declared her support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union, becoming the only main contender in France's forthcoming presidential election to endorse an enlargement deeply unpopular with voters.
"In the end, Turkey has a vocation to join Europe, provided that it satisfies the membership criteria, which are not just economic and financial but also democratic," the Socialist party candidate said in a new book, extracts of which were published by Le Monde on Sunday.
She's right on the policy, of course, but the politics only make sense once you realize they're willing to concede the French nationalist vote in favor of the immigrant.
ETHNICITY UBER ALLES:
The Most Un-Islamic Republic of Persia (Spengler, 3/27/07, Asia Times)
Iran's uninterrupted tantrum over the portrayal of the 5th-century BC Persian Empire in a US film is very Persian, but not at all Islamic. It has gone unnoticed in the shouting over 300 that the Koran explicitly welcomed the destruction of the pagan (Zoroastrian) empire at the hands of the Byzantine Christians a millennium after the Spartans and their allies defended the pass at Thermopylae. Iran's identification with pre-Islamic Persian paganism is decidedly un-Islamic.
Writing of the destruction of the Sassanid Empire at the hands of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at the Battle of Issus in AD 628, the Koran hailed a "victory for believers", namely the Christian monotheists of the Eastern Roman Empire, over the Persian heathens. The Romans at first would be defeated (as they were when the Persians occupied Jerusalem in 615), but they would rise and win again, and "on that day, the believers shall rejoice" (Sura 30, verses 2-4). The Sura is by no means obscure, for Islamic scholars cite it as an example of a Koranic prophecy that came true.
That does not square with the declaration last Friday of Iran's embassy in France denouncing the local release of the film 300: "Throughout history, the Iranian culture has always advocated peace ... As a result, any wrong image about Iranian culture will be void of value and will be accordingly judged by those familiar with the history of the world."
Even setting aside the Sunni/Shi'a divide, folks who were fretting about the danger of a united Islam waging war on the West never reckoned with Persian contempt for the Arabs.
THE NEXT W:
Yes, the next Reagan (Bruce Walker, March 26, 2007, Enter Stage Right)
Two months ago, I wrote an article, "The Next Reagan," in which I outlined many of the reasons why Fred Thompson will be the next Ronald Reagan. Events since then have confirmed my arguments. I predict that Fred Thompson will enter the Republican nomination, that he will win it fairly easily, and that he will also defeat Hillary comfortably in the presidential election.
He can't actually win the nomination from John McCain, but given Maverick's age it's smart to be positioned to take over should health problems intervene.
TRIBALISM IS TOO TOUGH A NUT FOR ISLAMICISM TO CRACK:
Sunni sheiks become valuable U.S. allies (TODD PITMAN, 3/26/07, The Associated Press)
Not long ago it would have been unthinkable: a Sunni sheik allying himself publicly with U.S. forces in a xenophobic city at the epicenter of Iraq's Sunni insurgency.
Today, there is no mistaking whose side Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi is on. Outside his walled home, a U.S. tank is on permanent guard beside a clutch of towering date palms and a protective dirt berm.
The sheik, 36, is leading a growing movement of Sunni tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaida-linked insurgents in Anbar province.
The dramatic shift in alliances may have done more in a few months to ease daily street battles and undercut the insurgency than American forces have achieved in years with arms.
The U.S. commander responsible for Ramadi, Col. John Charlton, said the newly friendly sheiks, combined with an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy and the presence of thousands of new Sunni police on the streets, have helped cut attacks in the city by half in recent months.
A bad thing in the long run, but convenient in the short.
NOT YOUR FATHER'S SOX:
New 'swing' looks good: Beckett pays off with delivery (Jeff Horrigan, 3/26/07, Boston Herald)
Beckett said his new delivery adds an element of deception. Instead of raring back to throw and surging forward to release the ball with the same relative speed in the motion, he is beginning the windup at a much more deliberate pace, adding quickness to the arm action only before releasing the ball. Beckett said it's a return to his former style, which he gradually got away from over the past few years.
"I think I'm going slower at the beginning and not rushing through the delivery," he said. "It helps me throw the ball late. All my power is like a golf swing. Your power is the last three feet of your swing. It's the same thing with pitching. The last foot and a half of my arm slot will dictate how hard I'm going to throw the ball and where I'm going to throw it."
Beckett, who is 3-1 with a 3.04 ERA in five Grapefruit League starts, also is throwing more curves, preventing batters from sitting on his fastball. Last year, partly in an effort to avoid the finger blisters that have hampered him throughout his career, Beckett cut way back on the number of breaking balls he threw, relying on a much higher percentage of fastballs.
Pineiro set up for potential trade (Jeff Horrigan, 3/26/07, Boston Herald)
If the Red Sox [team stats] want to deal Joel Pineiro now that he is no longer in the picture to serve as closer, they are not going to have difficulty finding a trading partner.
Scouts from several teams have been monitoring the right-hander, whose role was shifted to middle or set-up innings following Jonathan Papelbon's recent return to closer. The Cincinnati Reds, who are leaning toward selecting Dustin Hermanson as closer from a pool of journeyman relievers, may be the best fit. Signed for only one year at $4 million (plus the possibility of an additional $2 million in incentives based on games finished), Pineiro most likely would fit into Cincinnati's tight budget.
Club decides Hansack should start season in minors (Jeff Horrigan, 3/26/07, Boston Herald)
Believing that sitting for long stretches in the bullpen could hamper Devern Hansack in the long term, the Red Sox reached the difficult decision to option the right-hander to Triple-A Pawtucket. [...]
"We felt he was very capable of doing this, but it was nice to see," Francona said. "We just don't want a kid like that to come here and not pitch, because that would hurt his development, and we don't want to do that."
Hansack was visibly crestfallen by the news. He politely declined to comment.
"We tried to make sure Hansack understood that last year at this time, he wasn't even in camp, and this year there's disappointment he didn't make the club, so that's an unbelievable jump," Francona said. "He did a fantastic job. He has a bright future. We've tried to make sure he understands that."
Strange to say, but with Coco Crisp still nursing the same hand problems that limited him last year, Jason Varitek now a black hole in the lineup, and Dustin Pedroia sometimes looking overmatched, the offense looks rather mediocre while the pitching is easily the best in baseball, even down to the lower levels of the minors.
March 25, 2007
WHO KNEW THE PRESSURE EVER RELENTED?:
Hong Kong's new chief faces renewed pressure for universal vote: Donald Tsang must navigate the choppy waters between his constituents - who want democracy - and his political backers in Beijing (Peter Ford, 3/26/07, The Christian Science Monitor)
Hong Kong, often seen as a bellwether for democracy's prospects in China, opened a potentially decisive chapter in its history Sunday, as the winner of elections to the territory's top job pledged new steps to open up the territory's backroom politics. [...]
Now [Donald Tsang] will have to navigate the choppy waters between the citizens he rules and represents in Hong Kong, who overwhelmingly want democratic elections for his job in five years, and his political masters in Beijing, who are wary of free votes.
BUT EVERYONE INSIDE THE BELTWAY LIKES HIM...:
Blanco's out - Who will be our next Governor (Christopher Tidmore, March 26, 2007, Louisiana Weekly)
Who will be the next governor?
Former Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub revealed he is considering a run for Governor himself, and he is confident John Breaux is not. Some insiders wonder if Breaux opts not to run, would Mitch Landrieu take his place?
Ieyoub told The Louisiana Weekly, he is "not closing the door" on running for Governor. "I am not foreclosing any options," he said.
"Obviously the announcement has changed the political landscape," the former Attorney General stated. "I'm just leaving things open."
"I think you need a dynamic aggressive leader, who will make decisions," Ieyoub said, sounding very much like a candidate, "We need somebody with a lot of dynamic charisma, aggressive in his program, and capable of making decisions."
Moreover, he does not believe that John Breaux will make the race.
"First of all as to the legal issue, as concerning his residency," the former Chief Attorney of Louisiana said, "It would be a very, very stiff legal challenge from the Republicans if he chooses to run. In my opinion, I don't believe that Breaux is going to run. He has an excellent position as a lobbyist."
Breaux's family is in Maryland, Ieyoub explained, and he faces a daunting election. "John in most of his political career has not had to get into a drop down drag out fight." The GOP will press the residency issue, and, the former AG said, "I don't think he wants to get into that."
Pollsters, like Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media & Opinion Research, claim that the latest polls show that former U.S. Senator John Breaux would be "a significant underdog" in a race against Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal.
Pinsonat says the latest survey shows Jindal leading Breaux by nearly 30%, with 55% of those polled favoring Jindal and 25.6% supporting Breaux.
The pollster says "not a lot of people could name anything he (Breaux) has done for Louisiana recently."
YOU'D WIN OR LOSE DEPENDING ON WITH WHOM YOU SPOKE:
At the table with Iran, what could the US concede?: Dialogue is the right step. But the US must be ready to settle old claims of compensation (John K. Cooley, 3/26/07, CS Monitor)
The UN Security Council Saturday unanimously passed a resolution to sharpen sanctions against Iran for its presumed nuclear-weapons ambitions. This unanimity provides the West with an occasion for a bold new diplomatic initiative.
The US should propose a comprehensive, formal dialogue with Iran on nuclear matters that also covers all issues that have divided Washington and Tehran since the cleric-led revolution toppled America's former ally, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlevi, in 1979.
Such talks, were they to cut out Ahmedinejad and go over his head to Ayatollah Khamenei, would be useful. Talk to Mahmood and he wins.
UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS:
A convocation of eagles: A parliament of owls? A clowder of cats? When two or more animals of the same species congregate, it can be quite a 'romp.' (Robert Klose, 3/26/07, CS Monitor)
Just the other morning, while working at the computer, my 10-year-old son and I stumbled upon a website listing collective names for animals. Anton's response was the same as mine had been when I first discovered this peculiarity of the language as a child: He was captivated.
A brace of ducks, a gaggle of geese, a kindle of kittens, and on and on. We immediately commenced a spontaneous census of the wildlife about our house here in central Maine, in terms of collective nouns.
OUTLASTING ANOTHER ONE:
Chirac bows out of politics praising his enemy Blair (Stephen Castle, 26 March 2007, Independent)
The feud between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac fizzled out yesterday as the French President departed from European politics, offering his old adversary praise and support.
EU summits have been the scene of spectacular verbal fireworks between the two leaders over issues ranging from Iraq to the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.
But at a press conference, 74-year-old M. Chirac offered his backing to Mr Blair over the detention of British marines and sailors by the Iranians. He also praised Britain for its contribution to EU defence policy.
No doubt to his satisfaction, Mr Blair has outlasted his French counterpart...
All you really need to know about the two men is that on leaving office Mr. Blair will become a Catholic, Mr. Chirac a convict.
THEY'LL HAVE NONE OF IT:
'Quebec's Le Pen' likely to make major election gain (Hugh Winsor, 26 March 2007, Independent)
A young conservative populist sometimes described as Quebec's Jean-Marie Le Pen is likely in today's election to throw a spanner into the separatist versus federalist competition that has dominated Quebec politics for decades.
Polls indicate Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a small fringe party for the past three elections, is about to seize the balance of power in the first minority parliament in 129 years.
The ADQ has side-swiped the separatist Parti Quebecois and the ruling federalist Liberals, led by Jean Charest, by exploiting a backlash against multiculturism, especially Muslims.
Adebate has developed throughout the province about what constitutes reasonable accommodation to the cultural and social practices of expanding ethnic communities.
AS LABOUR TURNS LEFT AND AWAY FROM TONY BLAIR...:
Labour will send fewer to jail in U-turn on crime policy (Andrew Grice, 26 March 2007, Independent)
The Government is to dramatically overhaul its strategy on crime by ending its drive for ever-tougher sentences and instead putting more emphasis on rehabilitating offenders and sending fewer of them to prison.
Cabinet papers leaked to The Independent show that ministers admit their current approach alone will not solve the complex problem of crime in Britain today. The significant change of emphasis will be welcomed by critics who claim Tony Blair has not lived up to his own rhetoric because he has been "tough on crime" without being "tough on the causes of crime".
...David Cameron and the Tories are provided with a massive opening.
STARRING--W AS THE GIPPER; ISLAMICISM AS COMMUNISM; BA'ATHISTS AS THE SANDINISTAS; AND TED KENNEDY, JOHN KERRY, ETC., AS THEMSELVES:
Time Present, Time Past: Reinventing Ronald Reagan (Noemie Emery, 04/02/2007, Weekly Standard)
A look at Time's archive for 1987 shows a drumbeat of attack, if not of derision, for the man and his plans and ideas. True, the magazine did have a column by the late Hugh Sidey, a centrist's centrist if ever there was one and a man with an institutional fondness for presidents. He cut the old man a break every few issues. But on the whole, in a long series of fairly long stories, some of them featured on the cover, the magazine made room for a series of writers--Garry Wills, Lance Morrow, and George J. Church among them--to whipsaw the Gipper back, forth, and sideways as a poseur, a fraud, an out-of-touch airhead, a lame duck, a loser, a man dwelling in dreamland, a man whirled about by the currents around him, and, of course, wholly washed up. It had been a bad year for Reagan and Republicans, bracketed by the Iran-contra scandal and the stock market crash. Reagan's foreign policy ventures in Latin America and vis-à-vis the Soviet Union seemed stalled. His nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court had failed, and in November 1986 he had lost the Senate. As far as Time was concerned, the whole jig was up.
"What crashed was more than just the market," wrote Walter Isaacson in the November 2, 1987, issue. "It was the Reagan Illusion: the idea that there could be a defense build-up and tax cuts without a price, that the country could live beyond its means indefinitely. The initial Reagan years, with their aura of tinseled optimism, had restored the nation's tattered pride and the lost sense that leadership was possible in the presidency. But he stayed a term too long. As he shouted befuddled Hooverisms over the roar of his helicopter last week or doddered precariously through his press conference, Reagan appeared embarrassingly irrelevant to a reality that he could scarcely comprehend. Stripped of his ability to create economic illusions, stripped of his chance to play host to Mikhail Gorbachev, he elicited the unnerving suspicion that he was an emperor with no clothes."
Another piece in that same issue piled on: "The stock-market plunge only magnified his new aura of ineffectiveness." The announcement that a Washington summit had been called off by Mikhail Gorbachev (it would be back on within weeks) "was a devastating political blow for Reagan, all but ending his last, best hope for recovering from a string of setbacks that have left him, with 15 months remaining in his term, not just a lame duck, but a crippled one. One after another, his major goals for this fall have gone aglimmering: the appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, the hope to win renewed funding for the contras in Nicaragua, and his aim of pushing through a budget plan that would protect defense spending without raising existing taxes or imposing new ones."
Even before the crash, the magazine was ringing with warnings that the whole Reagan era had been a mistake. "Ronald Reagan did not build a structure; he cast a spell," wrote Garry Wills in the March 9, 1987, issue. "There was no Reagan revolution, just a Reagan bedazzlement. The magic is going off almost as mysteriously as the spell was woven in the first place. There is no edifice of policies solid enough to tumble down piece by piece, its props being knocked out singly or in groups. The whole thing is not falling down; it was never weighty enough for that" in the first place. It was "simply evanescing," as befitted a fantasy. "Aides defended the Reagan fairy tales; editors treated his errors with restraint; the public punished those who were too critical of his whoppers. It was a vast communal exercise in make-believe."
"Is he more out of touch than ever?" asked George J. Church on January 26, 1987. "'Brain Dead,' the title of an article in the New Republic, referred to the lack of new ideas within the Reagan administration . . . but carried a not-very-subtle implication about the president as well. A story in the Washington Post reported that chief of staff Donald Regan had formed the administration's position on federal pay raises with only 'minimal' involvement from the President, and one in the New York Times described how congressional leaders had come away from meetings with Reagan wondering 'if he had understood the issues they had raised.'"
"Who's in Charge?" asked Lance Morrow in Time's November 9, 1987, issue. "Reagan's tepid and grudging reactions--reluctant and uncomprehending--confirmed a suspicion in many minds that Reagan, a lame duck with 15 months to go in his second term, was presiding over an administration bereft of ideas and energy. . . . The President seemed bizarrely disengaged." He seemed in fact just like Willy Loman, in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, who rode a smile and shoeshine into utter oblivion. "Reagan seems to invite the thought that he has found a new model, the Salesman, in the last act, standing on a stage about to go dark."
Judging from all this, the right had little to go wrong from in the first place, the Reagan Legacy seems hardly worth claiming, and the charges brought by Time against current conservatives eerily echo those brought by Time against Reagan himself.
It isn't particularly unusual for history to repeat itself, but it is odd to see so many of the same pundits and Democratic pols play the fools twice.
A SIMPLE SECURITY ISSUE:
Jeb Bush encouraged brother to pursue ethanol (DAVID ADAMS, March 5, 2007, St. Petersburg Times)
For years, Brazil tried in vain to persuade U.S. officials of the merits of ethanol, which had made the largest country in South America virtually energy self-sufficient.
"The price of oil for a long time didn't compel," said Donna Hrinak, U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 2002 to 2004. She recalls Brazil raising the issue in 2003. "Our response was 'We are working on the hydrogen car. We are happy with that and we'll see you later.' "
That began to change with the emergence since 1999 of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who is using his country's vast petroleum reserves to undermine U.S. influence in the region.
Bush got a taste of that firsthand in November 2005 when he attended a regional summit in Argentina that was marred by anti-U.S. riots stoked by Chavez.
On his way back from the summit, Bush stopped in Brazil, where he got a much warmer reception. Lula invited him to his country home, known as Crooked Creek Ranch, for a relaxed barbecue.
"It was a very good, cordial meeting, lots of smiles and a warm atmosphere," said John Danilovich, U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 2004 to 2006, who was present. "There's a real rapport between the two men."
A leftist former union leader, Lula might not seem Bush's natural ally. But he is big on biofuels. He keeps a display in his office of feedstock samples and the fuels they produce. Bush and Lula have grown so close that they regularly speak by phone, often outside office hours.
At the barbecue, Lula asked his agriculture minister, Roberto Rodrigues, to make the case for biofuels to the Americans.
Rodrigues spoke for an hour.
"How is it that humanity built a civilization upon fossil fuels, a finite substance that is poorly distributed around the world?" he said. "It makes no sense when we have a renewable liquid that can be produced by almost any country."
The Americans listened intently, he said. "President Bush had lots of questions. So did Secretary Condoleezza Rice."
Bush returned to Washington "all charged up" on Brazilian biofuels, recalls Allan Hubbard, the president's chief economic adviser.
"When he got back he grabbed me and said 'Hubbard, what about this, what they are doing with ethanol down in Brazil?' " he said.
White House staff had already done some work on biofuels, but nothing had gone as far as the president's desk.
"We've been working on it for a while. We didn't actually start presenting it to the president until after the (November 2006) election," Hubbard said.
In the meantime the president received a letter from his brother in Tallahassee. Florida had taken a beating from the 2005 hurricane season, sending gas prices soaring. The governor's contacts in Miami were touting Brazil as a model for energy independence.
Jeb Bush wrote to his brother in April, urging the president to implement "a comprehensive ethanol strategy for our country and our hemisphere."
Rather than buy oil from hostile nations such as Venezuela, which supplies about 12 percent of U.S. petroleum needs, Jeb Bush said the United States ought to buy biofuels from friendly countries such as Brazil and Colombia, as well as Central America and the Caribbean.
Jeb Bush was already deep in talks with the Brazilian ethanol industry about a joint partnership. In December, two weeks before leaving office, he co-founded the Interamerican Ethanol Commission to promote regional production. Rodrigues, who gave President Bush the biofuels lecture, was a co-signer.
In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush surprised many by setting a goal of 35-billion gallons of annual biofuels consumption by 2017, a sevenfold leap from current capacity. While the United States hopes to achieve most of that processing domestic corn and other plant material, Bush said imports would also be required.
Since January, Bush has been on a tear, visiting biofuels labs in North Carolina and Delaware. He hosted a hybrid car demonstration at the White House.
Last week, Bush led a panel of biofuels scientists at a leading enzymes company. Bush chatted knowledgeably about the science of ethanol and new technology to make it from nonfood crops.
"I am passionate about this subject," he told the audience.
That combination of reduced dependence on the petro-states and cementing the Axis of Good is tough to resist.
AS THE PANTIES UNTWIST:
Rejected on ports deal, UAE to buy 2 U.S. aerospace firms (WORLD TRIBUNE.COM, March 22, 2007)
The United Arab Emirates was expected to purchase two aircraft engine repair firms in the United States.
Officials said that neither the Bush administration nor Congress would block a purchase by the UAE state-owned Dubai Aerospace Enterprise of two U.S. aerospace companies. They said the proposed DAE purchase of Landmark Aviation and Standard Aero Holdings Inc. would not be deemed a security threat.
"The deal is unlikely to have problems in Congress," Sen. Charles Schumer, a leading member of the Democratic-controlled Congress, said.
Who'da thunk Chuck Schumer had a sense of shame?
BUT WAIT, THERE IS NO "C" IN SELF...:
Best-case scenario in NY?: Yankees believe they are the team to beat (Nick Cafardo, March 24, 2007, Boston Globe)
[$]180 million probably doesn't buy what it used to. There are flaws.
Andy Pettitte has been bothered by back spasms, and Chien-Ming Wang will start the season on the disabled list with a hamstring problem. The end of the rotation, with Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, is unsettling, though Igawa, who was being considered for Scranton, eased concerns with six shutout innings against the Phillies last Tuesday after a poor start. Pavano is at least healthy and throwing well, but needs to be careful with lefthanded hitters. And the issues with Pettitte and Wang are not considered long-term problems.
General manager Brian Cashman is trying to get the team younger, and it doesn't appear that he'll let much get in the way. That's why you see righthanded starter Jeff Karstens getting a long look for a spot in the rotation. That's why you see a solid, young five-man rotation at Scranton, with real prospects including 20-year-old phenom Philip Hughes. That's why when camp breaks, veteran Todd Pratt, who might be best-suited for the backup catcher role, might not make it over young Wil Nieves or Raul Chavez.
The front four in the bullpen -- righthanders Mariano Rivera, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth, Luis Vizcaino (.163 vs. lefties) -- are solid. And lefty Sean Henn's strong spring training performance could cost a veteran like Mike Myers or Ron Villone a roster spot.
A huge issue is whether Alex Rodriguez can ever be comfortable playing in New York, where the fans are relentless. He could make it better by hitting in the clutch and making fewer errors, or he could make it a lot worse. But Damon and Jason Giambi are committed to making sure Rodriguez can relax and just let his incredible talents flow.
"We've got to do a better job with Alex as far as keeping him loose and putting him in a frame of mind where he's going to really take off," Damon said. "The closer we get to the season here, the more excitement we're starting to feel."
"Sky is the limit for this team," Giambi said. "We can hit and score runs. We have a good rotation, a good bullpen. We have to find a way to get beyond where we were last year and just stay consistent as a lineup."
The inadequacy of the rotation is obvious enough, but not that it isn't Jeter and Torre who are leading the team but Damon and Giambi?
WANNA FEEL OLD?:
Fathers and Sons: College Glory, Family Legacies Intersect As Georgetown Plays for Final Four (Camille Powell, 3/25/07, Washington Post)
When the Georgetown men's basketball team faces North Carolina on Sunday evening for a spot in its first Final Four since 1985, the two men most responsible for that 22-year-old achievement will be watching. Patrick Ewing Sr., the greatest player in school history, will contort his 7-foot frame into a cushioned folding chair in the stands, and his former coach, John Thompson Jr., will provide commentary on CBS Radio.
But Thompson's professional obligations aside, the two men will be here as fathers first, athletic legends second. Georgetown's basketball renaissance has been cultivated by a coach named John Thompson with help from a player named Patrick Ewing, Hoyas of a new generation.
For the fathers, adjusting to their new roles is not always easy. Over the first 11 games of the season, Ewing Jr. averaged only 8.6 minutes of play per game. In four of those games, he didn't attempt a single shot. He wasn't bothered by his role, but his father was.
"It was frustrating for me," said Ewing Sr., who stepped down from his assistant coach position with the Houston Rockets to watch his son play this season. "Big John called me and said, 'Let him have the relationship with his coach that your mother and father let you have with me.' But it was hard to sit here and see him not playing."
John Thompson Jr., meantime, said he tries not to dole out advice, coach-to-coach, to his son, John Thompson III. But father-to-son, well, that's different. "The father has the right and license to meddle anytime he wants to," Thompson Jr. said.
We used to watch them play the Orangemen at the Carrier Dome and now here are their kids...
ALL THE HARDER TO JUSTIFY TOLERATING ASSAD, KIM, CASTRO & MUGABE:
Most Americans untouched by war (Rick Montgomery, 3/25/07, McClatchy Newspapers)
Since the start of the Iraq war four years ago, Americans have bought more than 110 million cellphones and spent $35 billion on HDTV sets.
They have moved into 5 million new homes, bought about 60 million new cars and trucks and watched the Dow Jones industrial average climb from 8,200 to 12,000 and beyond.
Despite bloodshed from a conflict lasting longer than U.S. participation in World War II, life for most Americans has clicked along without personal loss or even higher federal taxes to cover the fighting in Iraq.
"We're in a country where it isn't clear in our daily routine that we're living with war," said Carolyn Marvin, a communications professor and cultural historian at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication.
The unique capacity in the annals of humanity to liberate 20+ million people with no discernable effect on your own country raises certain moral obligations.
BUT NOW AM FOUND:
No mystery why he's at the heart of 'Lost' (Maria Elena Fernandez, March 25, 2007, LA Times)
IN the last two episodes of "Lost," John Locke told a few lies, killed an "Other," blew up a hatch full of communication devices and then set off more explosives in the Others' submarine to prevent anyone from leaving or arriving on the island. It's a far cry from the weeks he spent in a hole in the ground last season, punching computer buttons, only to emerge feeling like he wasted his time.>
"Lost" mythology has cast Locke, played by the Emmy-nominated Terry O'Quinn, as the show's most enigmatic character. When Locke has his mojo, it seems, so does "Lost." In fact, the arc of Locke, and even O'Quinn's own story, closely parallel the highs and lows of the ABC serialized ensemble drama that changed television three years ago. Now, 80 days into the journey of the plane crash survivors, what most viewers intuited from the beginning seems to hold true: Locke is one important dude.
But is he the most significant castaway? The creators of "Lost" would never say anything that definitively, but they were willing to offer a glimpse of the way they've embedded some of the series' most telling elements in his story from the beginning. Co-creator Damon Lindelof confirms that in the end, Locke will be among the ones who matter most. Executive producer Carlton Cuse added this, with all the finality he could muster: "The character of John Locke is just the very heart of the show."
Likewise, during the extended time they've spent pursuing other storylines --with the singular exception of Hurley's (see in particular the episode where he restores the VW microbus) -- the show has had no mojo.
POLICY IS JUST POLITICS PUT INTO EFFECT:
Justice Department tugged to the right: Under Bush, the department has been tainted by politics, many say (Tom Hamburger, March 25, 2007, LA Times)
Not long after President Bush was first sworn in, White House political guru Karl Rove and his lieutenants met with officials of nearly every Cabinet agency to brief top officials on the latest polling data and issues that could influence voters and key constituencies.
But the departments of Justice, Defense and State were exempt. Given their missions -- to administer federal laws, protect national security and conduct foreign policy -- it was considered inappropriate to make such partisan presentations to them.
Not shifting State to the Right as well will be one of the few black marks on this presidency. Elections have to have consequences. The Progressive victory in insulating the Civil Service from the will of the people has been an unmitigated disaster and is antithetical to the Founding.
HAVING THE CONTRADICTIONS FORCED UPON US:
Hear out Muslim Brotherhood (Joshua Stacher and Samer Shehata, March 25, 2007, Boston Globe)
ON A QUIET, one-way street in Cairo's middle-class Manial district, two bored security guards sit idly sipping tea. The building behind them houses a small apartment that serves as the main offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist group in the Middle East. In Egypt, the Brotherhood is the country's largest opposition group and its best-organized political force. No one would know it from the headquarters' modest appearance, but the Brotherhood is likely to be the dominant force in Egyptian politics in the future. Yet the United States stubbornly refuses to deal with the Brotherhood, taking its cue from the sclerotic and hopelessly corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak. [...]
Islamist political groups are incredibly popular in the Middle East, and will remain so for some time. As the oldest of these groups, the Brotherhood has continuing ties to other regional Islamist parties and movements. The United States currently lacks access to some of these Islamist organizations. Engaging with the Brotherhood, therefore, would open up new channels of communication with Islamist groups. It would also signal that the United States is open to talking with all groups that are committed to peaceful political participation.
The Brotherhood has consistently demonstrated a long-term commitment to working peacefully within Egypt's legal framework -- despite years of repression against the group's members. The organization has offices across the country, and its members regularly compete in all types of elections. Unlike other Islamist organizations, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, the Brotherhood has no armed wing, and neither the US Department of State nor the European Union considers it a terrorist group.
Indeed, despite its illegality under Egyptian law, the regime tolerates many of its activities, including a wide network of social welfare services, religious activities, and professional and civic organizations.
Opening a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood would signal to ruling regimes and opposition groups in the region that the United States is committed to promoting democracy -- not just to supporting those who are friendly to US interests. Democracy requires a broader commitment to political participation, inclusion, reform, moderation, transparency, accountability, and better governance.
The notion that we can democratize the Islamic world without empowering Islamic political parties is incoherent.
IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME UNTIL THEY EVOLVED ORTHODONTURE:
Mouse 3, Man 0: 'That little stinker stole my teeth' (Chicago Sun-Times, March 25, 2007)
Never underestimate a mouse's determination.
There's a mouse in Bill Exner's house that he says he has captured three times. Each time, the mouse escaped, and the last time the rodent made off with his lower dentures.
Exner, 68, said he and his wife, Shirley, scoured his bedroom after the dentures disappeared from his night stand.
''We moved the bed, moved the dressers and the night stand and tore the closet apart,'' he said. ''I said, 'I knew that little stinker stole my teeth' -- I just knew it.''
Group retracing war hero's past with scenic route (AP, Mar. 25, 2007)
Several groups hope to highlight historic and scenic areas in four New Hampshire towns by retracing some travels of Revolutionary War hero John Stark, author of the state motto "Live Free or Die."
Two regional planning commissions and the towns hope to establish a new General John Stark Scenic Byway along existing roads in Goffstown, New Boston, Weare and Dunbarton. It would pass more than 45 historic, cultural and scenic points.
The groups say they want to reflect the history of the communities through the Stark family.
Stark once lived in Dunbarton and married there. It's where he and Molly Stark had their firstborn son.
If approved, the towns will be eligible to seek federal money for information kiosks, parking lots, bike paths and marketing materials.
The byway would run along Route 13 from Goffstown west to New Boston, north along Routes 77 and 114 to Weare, east along Route 77 to Dunbarton, and south along Route 13 back to Goffstown.
"We want to reflect the history of those communities in terms of the Stark family and General John Stark, to tie them together into a scenic and cultural byway," said Jack Munn, senior planner at the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, which submitted the application with the Central Regional Planning Commission and officials from each town.
Even better than "Live Free or Die" were his words before the Battle of Bennington: `My men, yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. Tonight, the American flag floats from yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!'
A GLUT OF KNH'S:
Hansack makes another pitch to stay (Jeff Horrgan, March 25, 2007 , Boston Herald)
Devern Hansack is giving the Red Sox [team stats] reason to have second thoughts about leaving him off the Opening Day roster.
The 29-year-old right-hander, who was called up from Double-A Portland last September for the final 12 days of the season and will most likely open 2007 with Triple-A Pawtucket, extended his dominant spring yesterday by tossing three perfect innings in a 1-1 tie with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Al Lang Field.
Hansack, who has a 2.08 ERA in five spring appearances, retired all nine batters he faced, including three on strikeouts. He threw his fastball, changeup and curveball all for strikes and mixed in an effective slider.
Okajima won't be left out of spotlight (Tony Massarotti, 3/25/07, Boston Herald)
The Japanese have a term for people like Hideki Okajima. Loosely translated, the kage no hero is "a supporting actor, someone who lives in the shadow of the hero."
But if Okajima keeps this up when the Red Sox start playing games for real, he'll be casting a sizable shadow himself.
Making his eighth official appearance of the spring, Okajima threw two scoreless innings yesterday in the Red Sox' 1-1 tie with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 10 innings at Al Lang Field. The outing trimmed Okajima's spring ERA to 1.69. He has allowed two runs in 10 innings, both runs coming on solo homers.
For all of the attention that has been placed on Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1, 2.84 ERA in 12 innings), Okajima has been equally as impressive.
Pineiro not pining for Pap's position (Karen Guregian, 3/24/07, Boston Herald)
"They never told me it was my job. They never told me that's what I was going to do," Pineiro said before yesterday's 3-2 win over the Orioles. "They said I'd be in the back end of the bullpen, but I don't feel like I lost the job. It wasn't my job to lose. That was his. My contract, that's no problem.
"I thought it was the right decision anyway in the first place. When I heard (Papelbon) was going in the starting rotation, I was like, 'Why is he doing that?' He did such a great job and he dominated everybody."
Sox manager Terry Francona said that, during a meeting Thursday in which he, pitching coach John Farrell and general manager Theo Epstein informed the relievers of the Papelbon news, Pineiro got up and said, "We're deeper now."
That response impressed the manager.
When you consider how bad several National League rotations are -- like the Mets and Nationals -- and the fact that even a mediocre AL starter like Bronson Arroyo so easily became an NL ace, it would be surprising if the Sox didn't deal at least one guy from the Snyder, Hansack, Hansen, Delcarmen, Gabbard, Piniero group.
WITNESSING THE COLD HARD FACTS:
Under sequins, Porter Wagoner is a rebel: His improbable return to Nashville at 79 after a dire health setback wasn't enough. Look who's found the indie crowd (Randy Lewis, March 25, 2007, LA Times)
PORTER WAGONER strides calmly to the microphone set center stage on the wood plank floor of the Grand Ole Opry here, pretty much the same way he has most every week since he was invited into country music's royal chamber 50 years ago.
As usual, he's dressed to thrill on this recent Friday night, in a royal-blue western suit embroidered with wagon wheels and rose blooms, all sparkling with sequins. The tips of the collar on his pale lavender shirt look to have been dipped in gleaming gold, and a dazzling sapphire-colored, triangular cut-glass neckpiece hides the top button. At his waist, a gold and silver National Wild Turkey Federation belt buckle big enough to catch radio waves from Jupiter.
Best of all, his boots. If, as they say in Texas, God is a cowboy, surely Wagoner this night has his boots, a dazzling gold pair with turquoise-colored cactus figures carved in, the toes and bootheels caked in jewels as if he'd stomped through a stable full of rhinestone horses.
At 79, Wagoner is the star most closely identified with the Opry -- the living and, thanks to a little emergency surgery last summer, still breathing personification of Nashville country tradition.
"This is my second weekend back," Wagoner says in his no-hurry-folks Missouri drawl backstage a few minutes before going on. He's referring to his seven-month layoff from the Opry after suffering a near-fatal aortic aneurysm last July. "It's so wonderful just to get out of the house. I didn't realize what being cooped up does.... I was so ready to come back to work."
Despite the old-time numbers he and mountain music patriarch Ralph Stanley sing for the Opry audience -- they form a duo that's collectively older than the Civil War -- Wagoner's sights these days are set resolutely forward. He's got a new album coming in June, "Wagonmaster," his first secular studio album in seven years, produced by longtime fan and fellow musician Marty Stuart. It's reductive country and honky-tonk that's likely to give Wagoner some late-in-the-game career-appreciation props the way Rick Rubin's albums with Johnny Cash (Stuart's onetime boss) did.
Wagoner's album isn't as consistently stark, it just shares the vision of classic country music sung the old-school way: staring straight into the heart of human darkness. [...]
His always-ready-to-work ethic has helped keep him as long and lean at 79 as when he was 29. The big difference, besides a fuller face and the usual wrinkles and creases of age, is the hair. The flattop he wore into the '50s, and which morphed in the '60s into his signature blond pompadour, has given way to a meticulously groomed silver cotton candy-like 'do.
Despite his astonishing tenure at the Opry, which will celebrate his half-century there with a May 19 all-star show, Wagoner never made it into country's top echelon of artists with the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones or Dolly Parton.
Parton, in fact, launched her career after Wagoner hired her in 1967 and featured her every week on "The Porter Wagoner Show," the first nationally syndicated country music TV series, one that ran for two decades and is reruns today on the RFD cable channel.
The team of Wagoner and Parton is second in the annals of country duet partners only to George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Their relationship rose to similar musical heights and sank to personal lows after her career skyrocketed in the '70s, taking her right past him and into the top rank of country stardom, at the same time his was falling back to Earth.
It was the stuff of a great country song, especially when the mentor sued his former prot-g- in 1979, feeling slighted and underappreciated once she got a taste of fame and fortune. Parton, meanwhile, felt stifled and exploited by the man who also served as her manager and shared in royalties of the songs she wrote, including "Coat of Many Colors" and "I Will Always Love You," a send-off that some have suggested was written with Wagoner in mind.
They settled the suit -- he got to record with her again at the peak of her pop-crossover success in the early-'80s; she regained ownership of her song catalog, one of the strongest in country music. And despite a period of bitterness, they returned to cordial relations as the years rolled by.
In recent years, Wagoner, who always held the respect of mainstream fans, has won over a lot of today's country cognoscenti for the plain-spoken credibility he typically brought to tightly crafted narratives full of melodramatic, hyper-emotional plot twists.
He's also won points for his maverick sensibility, no more evident than when he funked up the Opry in 1979 after persuading James Brown to play there.
Like the films of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, his songs explore the extremes to which characters are often pushed, challenging those who take them in to ponder how far from reality they really are. Yet there's no question how many light years separate Wagoner's brand of country from today's soccer-mom music by the likes of Rascal Flatts.
In "The Cold Hard Facts of Life," a Bill Anderson song that Wagoner took to No. 2 in 1967, a hapless fellow returns a day early from a business trip to find his wife with another man. After confronting the two with a knife -- the tragic denouement is assumed rather than detailed -- he dispassionately sings, "I guess I'll go to hell or I'll rot here in this cell/But who taught who the cold hard facts of life?"
In 1971 he sang of life in "The Rubber Room," a song he wrote about losing one's grasp on sanity, a theme that also crops up on the new album with "Committed to Parkview," a sobering look at life in a mental institution that Johnny Cash wrote in the '70s, at least in part with Wagoner in mind because both singers had spent time in the Nashville hospital by that name. Wagoner was admitted in 1965 for exhaustion because of his extensive touring schedule.
'60s country star Porter Wagoner is a Renaissance man: : He always has been a flashy entertainer, though his music has had its macabre moments. (Brian Mansfield, 3/24/07 USA TODAY)
March 24, 2007
WE ARE ALL DESIGNISTS NOW:
2007: a scorching new space odyssey: One of the most exciting British movies this year is Danny Boyle's sci-fi epic, Sunshine, which puts the divine back into a genre that had lost its way. To film-makers, it seems, the infinite has a spiritual attraction (Mark Kermode, March 25, 2007, The Observer)
At a key moment in Danny Boyle's radiant new sci-fi film Sunshine, a character is asked, 'Are you an angel?' With its retina-scorching visuals, which blaze from the screen into the dark abyss of the cinema auditorium, this extraordinary epic certainly seems to burn as brightly as a host of fiery angels. Set in 2057, Sunshine follows the crew of the spaceship Icarus II as they attempt to deliver a thermonuclear payload into the heart of the sun, lending new light to our galaxy's inexorably darkening star. En route, they pick up a distress signal from their lost predecessor, Icarus I, which disappeared into the void seven years earlier. Like an interstellar Marie Celeste, the first Icarus now hangs in space like a ghost ship, seemingly without a soul in sight. But as the reason for its mission failure is gradually revealed (more psychological than scientific), the crew of Icarus II fall prey to the eternal inner demons which haunt those who fly too close to the sun.
Shot not in Hollywood but in the 3 Mills studios in London's East End, Sunshine boasts extraordinary computer graphic imagery so luminescent you feel you could get sunburn just watching the film. As a sensory experience, it's overwhelming. But perhaps more importantly, Sunshine also harks back to a time when sci-fi turned its attention not toward the hallowed teen market but toward the heavens. Although screenwriter Alex Garland has said the inspiration for the film came from 'an article projecting the future of mankind from a physics-based, atheist perspective', this ambitious British fantasy increasingly blurs the boundaries between science and religion. In this respect, it falls within a grand tradition of adult-orientated science-fiction which is haunted by the question of divinity, whether as a presence or an absence.
These ideas are familiar to director Danny Boyle, who had a traditional religious upbringing, and planned to join a seminary at the age of 14. 'I was at school in Bolton,' he remembers, 'and all set to transfer to this seminary near Wigan. Then one of the priests told me that maybe I should wait, maybe I should stay and finish my school education. Quite soon after that, I saw A Clockwork Orange, which was the first film I went to see by myself. And it just changed everything. I know it all sounds too neat, but that's what happened.'
Boyle went on to make Trainspotting, which has been dubbed 'the Clockwork Orange of the Nineties' - a viscerally hip portrait of anarchic youth culture which became both a controversial modern film classic and a defining pop icon. Yet despite his current free-form agnosticism, Boyle's films have continued to be haunted by the detritus of his religious background, from the worldly angels of the romantic fantasy A Life Less Ordinary (which owes a debt to Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven) to the solidly earthy apparitions of saints who appear to the young hero of the underrated Millions. Other Boyle hits include 28 Days Later, a Garland-scripted zombie shocker set in a terrifying post-apocalyptic Britain. Now, with Sunshine, Boyle has set his sights higher than ever before, making a film which addresses 'what happens to your mind when you meet the creator of all things in the universe'.
When they try to figure out the point at which the zeitgeist shifted out from under Darwinism, folks may eventually pinpoint the release of the Intelligent Designist classic, 2001.
ONE TRIES NOT TO LAUGH:
Pavano could go Opening Day (Bryan Hoch, 3/24/07, MLB.com)
The Yankees learned Saturday that their Opening Day starter won't be Chien-Ming Wang, who will miss most of the season's first month with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring.
Because of the way the rotation aligns for the season opener, it won't be Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina, either. Manager Joe Torre said that the Yankees will select from a group including Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa and Jeff Karstens to throw the season's first pitch on April 2.
Of those three -- unbelievable as it might seem -- Pavano has become the likely favorite.
FIVE YEARS? WHAT A BUNCH OF WAHOOS...:
Breaux: I'll run for Louisiana governor if it's legal (DOUG SIMPSON, 3/24/07, Associated Press)
Breaux said he would give up his lobbying job in Washington, D.C., and begin campaigning if the state attorney general determines he meets residency requirements to run. [...]
Republicans have raised questions about whether Breaux can be a legal candidate in Louisiana. To be eligible to run for a statewide elected office, the state Constitution requires that a person be a "citizen" of the state for "at least the preceding five years."
Breaux is registered to vote in Maryland and lists his primary address there, about 70 miles from Washington, where he works for Patton Boggs LLP, a lobbying firm. Republicans say that disqualifies him from running for Louisiana governor.
An idiotic law, but it would be great for the GOP if he can't run.
Gun permits soar in post-Katrina New Orleans (MARY FOSTER, 3/24/07, The Associated Press)
People across New Orleans are arming themselves - not only against the possibility of another storm bringing anarchy, but against the violence that has engulfed the metropolitan area in the 19 months since Katrina, making New Orleans the nation's murder capital.
The number of permits issued to carry concealed weapons is running twice as high as it was before Katrina - this, in a city with about half its pre-storm population of around 450,000.
Attendance at firearms classes and hours logged at shooting ranges also are up, according to the gun industry.
Gun dealers who saw sales shoot up during the chaotic few months after Katrina say that sales are still brisk, and that the customers are a cross-section of the population - doctors, lawyers, bankers, artists, laborers, stay-at-home moms.
CRANK UP THE VCR:
GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET: "The First Emperor" (Premieres March 24, 2007 on PBS)
Composer: Tan Dun
Librettist: Ha Jin and Tan Dun, based on the HISTORICAL RECORDS by Sima Qian (c. 145-85 BCE) and on Wei Lu's screenplay for THE EMPEROR'S SHADOW
Production: Zhang Yimou
Conductor: Tan Dun
Performers: Wu Hsing-Kuo (Ying-Yang Master), Michelle DeYoung (Shaman), Plácido Domingo (Emperor Qin), Haijing Fu (Chief Minister), Hao Jiang Tian (General Wang), Elizabeth Futral (Princess Yueyang), Susanne Mentzer (Mother of Yueyang), Paul Groves (Gao Jianli), Timothy Breese Miller (Guard), Dou Dou Huang (Principal Dancer)
THE ONLY REALISTIC ALTERNATIVE TO MAVERICK:
Thompson debuts at 10% in new NH poll (Manchester Union-Leader, Mar. 23, 2007)
A new poll of New Hampshire voters suggests that Fred Thompson might undermine Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani. [...]
In a February poll, Giuliani led the field with 27 percent, one point ahead of John McCain. In March, Giuliani slipped to 19 percent, four points behind McCain. Mitt Romney was supported by 17 percent.
Next in line were two unannounced candidates, Newt Gingrich at 11 percent and Thompson, who had not been part of earlier surveys, at 10 percent.
Thompson Overtakes Romney in Iowa (NY Sun, 3/24/07)
Well, the first round of Fred Thompson numbers continues to come in from state-level polls around the country. The latest numbers out from American Research Group show Mr. Thompson at 12% among likely Iowa caucus goers, beating Mitt Romney's 10%.
WHICH SIDE WERE YOU ON, MA'AM?:
The reason we have to fight (MICHAEL COREN, 3/24/07, Toronto Sun)
Imagine a history book being read by people in 100 years time. In a chapter entitled, Why We Fought, it would list the crimes of an ideology and a movement, Islamic fundamentalism, that became so powerful and so grotesque in the opening years of the 21st century that the civilized world was obliged to resist.
The book would explain that some of the wars of resistance were unsuccessful, or even ill-advised, but that in the end the forces of light triumphed over the death-black darkness.
It would also recount how some people in the civilized world opposed the struggle, out of self-loathing, cowardice, leftist politics or simply because they were part of the jihadist movement.
But right always wins in the end, the readers would be reminded, and did so in this great culture war.
It's strange the way the Right was capable of loathing FDR, Truman and LBJ yet supporting and even leading the Long War while the Left could barely bring itself to support the latter two and actively opposed/opposes Nixon, Ford, Reagan, GHWB, and W. At some point, you have to reckon with the notion that it just isn't their war.
French and British policy towards their large Muslim populations has been very different. There is apartheid in France: not official or legal, of course, but de facto. Whether it is better or worse to segregate, intentionally or not, your social problems in this way, as the French have done, or to disperse them everywhere so that nowhere is free of them, as the British have done, I leave to moral philosophers to decide.
When I was in France during the riots, the most striking thing was not the riots themselves; it was the complete calm, indeed serenity, of ordinary French citizens. Most of them, of course, had no more contact with the riots than they had had with the rioters beforehand. The commander of the CRS, the extremely tough and rightly feared riot police, issued a statement to the effect that the worse the situation got, the more "serene" were his men: a veiled threat that les jeunes were French enough to understand and take seriously, which explains why no cars were burnt, and no riots occurred, in the centers of any major towns or cities.
The British system, of course, has been more laissez-faire in its economic aspects, though combined with enervating political correctness in its cultural ones, which means that in the areas in which Muslims congregate there are large numbers of small businesses, many of them very successful. This is not altogether comforting, however, because it is from this stratum of society--from the sons of the owners of these businesses, who are very far from economically deprived, and who have usually been to university--that some of the suicide bombers have been drawn.
Steyn is right that the main struggle is one of ideas. Unfortunately, political correctness, which is to thought what sentimentality is to compassion, means that the intelligentsia of the West has disarmed itself in advance of any possible struggle. But I think Steyn is mistaken, or at least fails to make a proper distinction, when he says that Islam is ideologically strong and confident. Shrillness and intolerance are not signs of strength, but of weakness; fundamentalism is a response to an awareness that, if the methods of intellectual inquiry that were used to challenge Christianity were permitted in the Muslim world, Islam would soon fall apart. But if Islam fell apart in the Islamic world, what source of self-respect would be left to the population? Their backwardness and mental impoverishment would then be exposed in all nakedness.
The weakness of the isms and the inevitability of our victory make the Left's cowardice all the more peculiar.
FUNNY, HE DOESN'T SOUND ALL THAT CHALLENGED:
House votes to fund war -- with a deadline: The bill would require withdrawal next summer. Bush says it has no chance of becoming law (Richard Simon and Noam N. Levey, March 24, 2007, LA Times)
In their strongest challenge yet to President Bush over the war in Iraq, the Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed a war spending bill Friday that requires the withdrawal of most U.S. forces by late summer 2008.
The measure passed, 218 to 212, on a largely party-line vote, drawing support from just two Republicans after an emotional debate. House members who fought in Vietnam and Iraq delivered some of the most impassioned speeches -- both for and against the measure.
Hours after the vote, Bush appeared before television cameras at the White House to denounce the legislation, which he has repeatedly threatened to veto. He accused Democrats of performing "an act of political theater" by passing a bill that has "no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job."
March 23, 2007
HE MAY LOSE THIS BATTLE, BUT HE WON THE WAR:
Class War in Conrad's Court (Naomi Klein, April 9, 2007, The Nation)
It makes sense that Lord Black is a nobody in Chicago. Black never needed to bother with politics in the United States--as far as he was concerned, the country was close to perfect. It was the rest of the English-speaking world that required Black's bombastic ideological lectures. Delivering those was his life's mission.
Black is the world's leading advocate of the "Anglosphere," a movement calling for the creation of a bloc of English-speaking countries. Adherents claim that the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand must join together against the Muslim world and anyone else who poses a threat. For Black, the United States is not just the obvious leader of the Anglosphere but the economic and military model that all Anglo countries should emulate, as opposed to the soft European Union.
Although the consolidation of the Anglosphere as a political bloc receives far less scrutiny than US military interventions, it has been a crucial plank of Washington's imperial projects. The movement recently gained some notoriety when it emerged that on February 28, the White House had hosted a "literary luncheon" for George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's new favorite writer, ultraright British historian Andrew Roberts, author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, an Anglosphere manifesto. But it is Black who has been the linchpin of Anglosphere campaigns for two decades, using his British and Canadian newspapers to reach out and collectively hug his beloved United States. In Britain this took the form of using the Daily Telegraph as a beachhead against "euro-integrationism" and insisting that Britain's future lies not with the EU but with Washington. This vision reaches its zenith, of course, with the Bush-Blair team-up in Iraq.
In Canada, where Black controlled roughly half the daily newspapers, the push to Americanize was even more strident. When Black founded the daily National Post in 1998, it was with the explicit goal of weaning Canadians from our social safety net (a "hammock") and forming a new party of the "united right" to unseat the governing Liberals.
Not that many prophets get to see themselves proved right during their lifetimes.
Run, Fred, Run!: Thompson's potential candidacy is creating a stir. (Mona Charen, 3/23/07, National Review)
What about that likable fellow from Tennessee? Thompson is not "just an actor" (though they said that about Reagan, and he turned out OK). He began his professional life as an assistant U.S. attorney, worked as Sen. Howard Baker's campaign manager and did a stint as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. It was he who asked the innocuous-sounding but momentous question of Alexander Butterfield:"Were you aware of the existence of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"
After leaving Washington, he continued to practice law and slipped into acting as easily as a wagon rolls downhill. They were making a film about his legal exploits and couldn't find anyone who could do Fred Thompson as well as he did himself. His voting record is solidly conservative. He is articulate, self-made (his father was a car salesman), highly intelligent, and exudes calm authority. His star power offers him an opening with independent voters that other candidates can only dream of, while his solid conservative credentials will excite the Republican base.
He hasn't dreamed of becoming president since he was in diapers.
Unlike the Senator, who would crawl over his sick wife to get to the White House?
MISTAKING THE BAKER'S WINDOW FOR THERMOPYLAE:
The Cost-Free Catastrophe: What will new energy policies cost? (Rich Lowry, 3/23/07, National Review)
Maybe the next Al Gore film should be called How to Profit From the Coming Global Meltdown. The former vice president told Congress during his star-turn there that, in the course of combating global warming, we can "improve our economy's productivity and performance."
It is a common argument among advocates of greenhouse-gas restrictions and clean-technology subsidies that these measures will be an economic boon. When John Edwards unveiled his plan to "halt global warming," he promised to create a million new jobs as part of "a new energy economy." If global warming can be stopped while adding jobs to the economy -- what are we waiting for? We can have all the economic growth we want and save the planet too.
As it happens, serious efforts to combat global warming in the U.S. will create new jobs, but most of them probably will be in China and India. It was just four years ago that Democrats were attacking "out-sourcing." Now they are willing to contemplate measures that would encourage it in the cause of reduced American carbon emissions.
It would be difficult to be more wrong, though that';s not atypical of the Right on such questions. China and India aren't innovative and won't be the ones to come up with replacement technologies, America will. And you can't very well out-source the physical work of upgrading our energy delivery and conservation systems, that construction work'll be done by Mexican immigrants, not that the Right grasps that either...
CATCHING UP TO THE REBEL-IN-CHIEF:
GOP Alternatives to HillaryCare (Kimberley Strassel, 3/23/07, Real Clear Politics)
Conservative health-care guru John Goodman remembers going to Washington in the early 1990s to get Republicans interested in individual health savings accounts, and "only about five guys would even meet with me," he recalls. Now, HSAs "are a religion" among the right, he notes, and Republicans used their last years in the majority to significantly expand access to these accounts. In the past 15 years, the GOP has also planted the roots of Medicare reform, looked at interstate trade in health insurance, and got behind competitive Medicare reforms in their states.
The recent White House and Senate proposals are meant to package these ideas into a more unified, free-market whole. Mr. Coburn, like the White House, would remove the subsidy corporations get for health care, and instead give the money to individuals--putting them in charge of their health expenditures. It would expand HSAs, and allow consumers to buy insurance from any state, thereby avoiding costly regulations. It would modernize Medicare, allowing workers to invest their payroll taxes into a savings account and control their care in their retirement years. It would free up the states to inject Medicaid with new flexibility and competition.
There's plenty of big ideas in these new proposals over which conservatives can argue. Do they get behind tax rebates (à la Coburn) or tax deductibility (à la President Bush)? Do you leave medical liability to the states, or intervene with federal legislation to set up state "health courts"? Or do they write all this off as too hard a political sell, and run for the Schwarzenegger "universal coverage" cover?
The important thing is that debate equals education, which equals understanding, which equals precisely what the GOP needs right now. The Heritage Foundation's Mike Franc says Republicans are still too preoccupied with health-care small-ball--which procedures should be covered by Medicare, how much should generics cost--to get their heads around the broader subject. "This is still outside their intellectual comfort zone, and Republicans never do well in that situation," he says. "But to win this debate--the defining issue of the next 40 or 50 years--they're going to have to address it forcefully, head-on, and with every bit of their intellectual firepower."
You'd have thought the right would have figured this out by now, given its success at reframing other policy issues.
Except that the Right is too busy denouncing W's liberalism to figure out his conservatism. We aren't the Stupid Party for nothin'.
THERE'S NO OVERCOMING THE WEIRDO FACTOR:
RUDY JUDI'S BOMBSHELL: REVEALS THAT HE'S HER THIRD HUSBAND (ANDREA PEYSER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, March 23, 2007, NY Post)
Rudy Giuliani's wife, Judith, made a shocking revelation yesterday that stunned even those close to the White House hopeful - he isn't her second husband, but her third.
"Something I will share with you is that, since I haven't done [many] interviews . . . Rudy and I have both been married three times," Judith told The Post.
Once you get past 9-11, and in a two year presidential campaign you eventually will, the most distinctive thing to Americans about Rudy Giuliani is going to be his oddness.
As '08 Candidate, Giuliani Strikes a New Tone on Guns (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 3/23/07, NY Times)
As mayor of New York City, Rudolph W. Giuliani became the favorite Republican of gun control advocates.
He spoke in favor of a licensing system for gun owners that would require trigger locks and firearms training, and he lobbied Congress to outlaw most military-style assault weapons. He was the only Republican mayor to join a lawsuit by dozens of cities against the gun industry, and he complained that Southern states had lax gun laws that fed the illegal weapons trade in the Northeast.
"It was very important to have a visible Republican to make the case that this wasn't some liberal Democratic agenda," said Paul Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., and the president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "I was at the signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House when Bill Clinton signed the crime bill with the assault weapons ban, and Giuliani had the most prominent seat in the front row."
But as a presidential candidate, Mr. Giuliani now talks very differently about guns as he tries to allay the concerns of Republican primary voters.
NATIONALIZATION HAVING FAILED SO SPECTACULARLY IN THE PAST, ON TO THE NEXT NATIONALIZATION?
Rudd reads Left riot act on schools (Sid Marris, March 23, 2007, The Australian)
Mr Rudd and his education spokesman, Stephen Smith, promised this week that private schools would not lose money - a policy designed to bury Mark Latham's "hit list" of private schools in 2004 and Kim Beazley's freeze on funding of rich schools in 2001.
The blunt message is one of a series of steps being taken by the Labor leader during the first half of the year to drag the party away from some of its historic left-wing pillars and create a less intimidating face for mainstream voters.
It's the future, stupid: This week the nation was promised a faster internet. Kevin Rudd seems to have grasped quickly that this federal election is about where we're going, not where we've been (Paul Kelly, March 24, 2007, The Australian)
AT one stroke the Labor Party has taken a step into the future. Kevin Rudd has surrendered the long-lost battle over Telstra privatisation and declared a new war over a national broadband plan and the Future Fund. Rudd is chasing multiple dividends: pitching to corporates and small business, presenting as the party of productivity and the information economy, and reinforcing his 2007 theme of Labor as the party of the future. This theme will underpin his election campaign.
John Howard and Rudd took decisively different paths this week over the economy, broadband (sometimes called fast internet) and infrastructure. This time Labor is fighting on its own ideas, not those defined by Howard.
Rudd has released two blueprints to command the "future" position in politics: his Education Revolution and this week's national broadband plan. He presents both as economic policies designed to depict the Government as belonging in the past.
By switching the focus from personality politics to policy, Rudd won the tactical contest this week. But it is the strategy that counts and Rudd's strategy is to have Labor known by new ideas, not by anti-Howard negativity. The risks are obvious. Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have attacked Rudd for a "smash and grab raid" on the Future Fund to finance his scheme, for making "the most irresponsible economic announcements of the past 11 years", for leading a bunch of "tomb raiders" and for stealing from future generations of Australians. It is just the start.
Given Labor's fiscal history, this may give the Government political traction.
Better to say, "Given History...."
NEVER HAVE SO MANY LABORED SO HARD FOR SO LITTLE:
Dems make last push for Iraq vote (DAVID ESPO, Mar. 23, 2007, The Associated Press)
On the eve of a critical vote, House Democrats labored Thursday to lock down a majority behind a Sept. 1, 2008, deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, the sternest test yet for a determined new majority eager to challenge President Bush.
"If it comes off, it's a superb accomplishment," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., as the party's leaders cajoled liberals who want an even faster timetable and moderates fearful of tying the hands of the commander in chief and generals in the field.
Given the effect it will have, it's an "accomplishment" to rank with the creation of National Rutabaga Week.
FORTUNATELY, THE RATIONALISMS ARE ALL INSANE:
"The Wages of Destruction" | An unusual portrait of Nazis' real downfall: a review of "The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy"
by Adam Tooze (Bruce Ramsey, 3/23/07, The Seattle Times)
When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the German economy devoted 1 percent of its output to the military. By 1939 it was 30 percent. The Nazis, writes Adam Tooze in "The Wages of Destruction," had undertaken the "largest transfer of resources ever undertaken by a capitalist state in peacetime."
Tooze, a lecturer in economic history at the University of Cambridge, undertakes to explain how the Nazis overcame their economic problems -- or didn't. He shows how economics influenced Hitler's decisions about going to war, and how to undertake his persecution of the Jews. Tooze affixes an economic turning point for the war -- late 1941 -- and he attacks what he declares to be misconceptions about the German economy,
For example, unlike some theorists, he does not portray the Nazis as pro-business. The party's name was, after all, the National Socialists, and its real interest was conquest rather than commerce. Most German industrialists went along with the Nazis because they promised to tame the unions and leave company management alone. What business got was an economy in which it could make money if it did what the government wanted, which was to build a war machine.
Tooze's story is far more realistic than the cartoonish tale Americans are told about Hitler aspiring to "take over the world." His dream was less than that, but grandiose enough. He was trying to create an Eastern European empire that would be self-contained in raw materials and could hold its own against the British Empire and the United States.
In pursuit of that goal, the Nazis cut Germany off from dependence on the global economy. They stiffed Germany's British and American creditors. They allowed only those imports that fed the military machine and only the exports that paid for the imports. Before the war, the Nazis pressed the Jews to leave, but the central bank wouldn't allow them to take their money out because the foreign exchange was for the military.
By the time Hitler began the war, his central bank was broke. He was not about to subject his dreams to the limitations of bankers. But during the war, he had no choice about subjecting them to the limitations of coal, oil, iron ore, steel, copper, fodder, food, labor and recruits. All were scarce. On paper, Nazi Europe should have been as productive as the United States, but that was impossible because of the predatory way the Nazis ran it.
You can still see remnants of it among the elites who think the Chinese can catch up to us running an authoritarian economy and among folks who think Iran is a threat, but the older among us will recall that as recently as twenty or thirty years ago--in other words, pre-Reagan--it was an article of faith among intellectuals that America was at a disadvantage when it fought the Nazis and Communists because our economy and society were free and therefore somewhat unruly while theirs were strictly controlled. The reality -- that all of the isms are incapable of functioning well, nevermind competing with us, for precisely the reasons that the rationalists thought them superior -- is slow to sink in.
Harper's Tories on course for majority: poll (BRIAN LAGHI, 3/23/07, Globe and Mail)
Stephen Harper's Conservatives are edging into majority-government territory with an eight-point lead over the Liberals.
A new poll also shows that although twice as many Canadians support this week's federal budget as oppose it, most think it favoured Quebec over the rest of the country.
The poll conducted for The Globe and Mail/CTV News by the Strategic Counsel shows support for the Conservatives up three points from last week to 39 per cent, while the Liberals have stayed level at 31 per cent.
I'M IN MY HAPPY PLACE:
Tavarez in a happy place: He gets a shot in revamped rotation (Gordon Edes, March 23, 2007, Boston Globe)
The month of March is coming to a much happier conclusion for Julian Tavarez this spring.
Yesterday, Tavarez was officially anointed the Red Sox' No. 5 starter, the trickle-down effect of the team's declaration that Jonathan Papelbon will remain the team's closer. Last March 27, Tavarez was slapped with a 10-game suspension for a punch to the head of Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright that all but eliminated him from assuming a meaningful role with the club.
But Tavarez, who ended last season with an unexpectedly strong run as a starter, will get his chance to reprise that role, at least until lefty Jon Lester is fully recovered from his bout with cancer or Kyle Snyder mounts a challenge.
An effective, potentially dominant, young starting pitcher is worth so much more to a team than a closer that moving Papelbon back to the 'pen is a dubious call. However, Tavarez, Snyder & even Kason Gabbard would all be in most teams' rotations--heck, each would be the #1 in places like Washington and KC--and with Lester, Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard coming, the Sox could still end up with 5 aces all under 28 years old next year. And there's something to be said for the peace of mind that SuperBon provides Red Sox Nation....
North Koreans hungry for a deal (Donald Kirk, 3/24/07, Asia Times)
Rising food shortages in North Korea, however, lead analysts to believe that the country is in no position to stay away from the talks for long - and is indeed willing to give up its nuclear program, including its 5-megawatt experimental reactor, after extracting as many concessions as possible.
The World Food Program as well as non-governmental agencies say North Korea is again in the throes of a food shortage in which many people are expected to die. Good Friends, headquartered in South Korea, reports starvation after a "poorer than expected" harvest last year. South Korea has promised to resume food and fertilizer shipments, cut off after the North test-fired seven missiles in July, but North Korea needs far more to meet its needs this year, according to the WFP.
In fact, analysts in Washington and at the United Nations in New York believe that North Korea by now is no longer interested in flaunting its nuclear strength - one reason it signed on to the deal to give up its nukes. A number of reports from North Korea indicate that it had been planning for some time to discontinue activities at the Yongbyon complex but is keeping it open for purposes of negotiations for food, fertilizer and other forms of aid.
To be a Realist is to believe in negotiations for their own sake, even when your opponent across the table has nothing to offer.
YET FOLKS THINK A WALL WILL STOP THEM?:
Six strikes until they're out (ELLIOT SPAGAT, 3/23/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
Guidelines issued by U.S. attorneys in Texas showed that most illegal immigrants crossing into the state had to be arrested at least six times before federal authorities would prosecute them, according to an internal Justice Department memo.
IMAGINE WHAT CAPRA COULD DO WITH THESE GUYS?:
'Reign Over Me': Don Cheadle gives Adam Sandler space to do his serious thing. (Kevin Crust, March 23, 2007, LA Times)
Don Cheadle stars as Alan Johnson, a successful New York dentist, jolted out of a melancholia of indeterminate causes when he unexpectedly encounters Adam Sandler's Charlie Fineman, his college roommate with whom he'd lost contact. That Charlie does not recognize him and appears to have suffered some type of breakdown only energizes Alan's desire to rekindle their friendship.
The oddly matched pair begins to hang out, with Alan drawn into Charlie's strangely cloistered world of vintage rock. He's got a music room where he plays along to vinyl records, and he somewhat incongruously drums in a local punk band. The music is a haven from any reminders of a life he lost.
In hair that looks like it was borrowed from late-model Bob Dylan, Charlie is one sad and scary cat. The tragedy that triggered Charlie's withdrawal from life in the first place hovers in the background like a dark cloud threatening a downpour.
One minute he's feverishly scaling the video game heights of Shadow of the Colossus, the next he's retreating into the safety of his iPod. It's a one-man frat-boy world devoid of responsibility that's marvelously attractive to the reserved Alan.
A scattershot dramatist at best in terms of plot, Binder rigs his scenarios like rickety scaffolding, and you wonder how they remain standing. Like his "The Upside of Anger," with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner as well-matched suburban lushes, "Reign Over Me" depends on the interaction of its complexly drawn characters to remain compelling even when its plot veers into questionable territory.
Along with two excellent lead performances, the film has a fine supporting cast, including Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland and Binder himself. Binder's people are not anyone you'd ask over for dinner, but it's fascinating to watch them argue, negotiate and cajole one another in exasperatingly human ways. The two men at the center of "Reign" are both treading water, and though their situations and reunion feel awfully contrived, there's an authenticity to the way Alan gravitates to Charlie and then tries to help him.
We've seen Sandler do serious before -- notably in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" -- so it should be no surprise that he pulls it off here. There's always an underlying anger to Sandler's most interesting performances, that sense that he's going to pop at any moment. Charlie allows him to be all the things that have made him a lively performer -- outrageous, vulnerable, goofy and violent, almost simultaneously.
It helps that Sandler has the intensely reactive Cheadle to play off, especially when he delivers a key monologue that easily could have gone awry. Generosity is the sign of a great actor, and Cheadle shares the screen in an illuminating way. Alan is the ostensible protagonist, but Cheadle is confident enough to essentially play straight man to Sandler's inherently showier role.
While Don Cheadle is easily the best dramatic actor of his generation, only too many bad film choices prevent Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler from being #2 and #3. With better representation, both could be peers of Jimmy Stewart.
Reign Over Me (Todd Hertz, 03/23/07, Christianity Today)
When Charlie feels threatened or must keep his mind from wandering to uncomfortable thoughts, he retreats into loud classic rock played over his headphones. One of those songs--played prominently several times in the film--is The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" (redone for the film's soundtrack by Pearl Jam). It's obvious that it's not just a random song placement. In fact, the song's title fills in the word missing from the film's name.
What does Charlie need to reign over him? Love.
In telling the story of Alan's steady, bold and abrasive love slowly brightening Charlie's dark world, Reign Over Me hits on poignant, profound themes that make you think. This movie will lead to great discussions. Christians will see several ideas and thoughts reflected from the Bible. And Charlie's attitudes, emotional traps and side effects of grief may remind any audience of hurting loved ones--or themselves. After the film, you may think of hurting friends you need to call. I did. You may feel the need to talk to your spouse about what you want for them if you pass on first. I did. There are just so many provocative truths.
We see an example of why God designed us for close friendships and biblical fellowship. We see why we need one other--and, sometimes, need help from trained professionals. We see the importance of communication. We see the reality of people painfully holed up in their grief. We see the need to not run from or bury past loves, losses and mistakes, but instead remember--as painful as that process may be. We see why love is selfless. And we see the reason for Paul's message in Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit are doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (NIV).
At its heart, the movie is about people who have lost their bearings through tragedy, and dealing with it in unhealthy ways. It's redeeming and powerful--though uncomfortable to watch at times because it's about messy people navigating messy lives. And like in life, nothing heals quickly and easily. Instead, progress comes in fits and starts--and tends to hit rock bottom just when you think everything's getting better.
Who Else but an Old Buddy Can Tell How Lost You Are? (A. O. SCOTT, 3/23/07, NY Times)
Like "The Upside of Anger," in which Mr. Binder benefited from fine work by Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, "Reign Over Me" uses the rhythms and moods of comedy to explore, and also to contain, overpowering feelings of loss, anger and hurt. And like that earlier movie, this one is maddeningly uneven.
It's rare to see so many moments of grace followed by so many stumbles and fumbles, or to see intelligence and discretion undone so thoroughly by glibness and grossness. And it is puzzling, and ultimately draining, to see a film that waves the flag of honesty -- Face your demons! Speak from your heart! Open up! -- turn out to be so phony.
The best scenes are those that give Mr. Cheadle and Mr. Sandler room to play against each other, to bring their very different temperaments into a workable syncopation. The premise of their relationship is fairly schematic. Alan, who resumes his friendship with Charlie after years of being out of touch, tries to coax his old pal back into contact with the world around him, while Charlie's life of compulsive play allows Alan a furlough from his confining responsibility. The two actors perform the dance of superego and id with impressive ease and suavity.
'Shooter': Mark Wahlberg gives 'Shooter' its considerable firepower. (Kenneth Turan, March 23, 2007, LA Times)
It's a sentiment not found on the poster, but if you had to sum up Hollywood's latest action thriller in one sentence, you'd select the traditional "Mark Wahlberg is 'Shooter.' " He really is, and that is a good thing.
One of those elevated B-pictures that runs type across the bottom of the screen to identify cities, "Shooter" has its pro forma, paint-by-numbers elements, but it is executed with such efficiency and energy by action maestro Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") that ignoring flaws and becoming involved in the proceedings isn't a matter of choice.
Starting from a script by Jonathan Lemkin loosely adapted from Stephen Hunter's bestselling "Point of Impact," "Shooter" presents us with the kind of character the movies love: the heroic loner forced to do unequal battle for justice against phenomenal odds.
The source novel was pretty good, but wouldn't Bobby Lee be in Iraq?
PSSSST...IT ALREADY KNIEVELED LAST SEASON:
'Battlestar' finale may put fans at crossroads (Mark A. Perigard, 3/23/07, Boston Herald)
For much of the season, fans of Sci Fi's "Battlestar Galactica" have been teased with the notion that one of the five hidden Cylons would be revealed - as a member of the Galactica crew.
The third-season finale (Sunday at 10 p.m.) delivers on that premise and then some.
"Cliffhanger" is such an inadequate word to describe the episode.
Cries of "Holy frak!" will arise from fans all over the country after the final moments air. The "Battlestar" universe will never be the same after the revelations in "Crossroads Part II."
Some fans will be jazzed for the new season. Others will accuse the show of jumping the shark. But no other TV show on any other network has shown such a willingness to both surprise its viewers and rip apart its own formula in such a challenging, creative way. Ronald D. Moore, executive producer/writer, refuses to take the easy route and let his cast or his viewers get comfortable. [...]
I've already said too much. There are spoilers on other Web sites that give away every detail of this episode. Please avoid them. Give yourself the chance to enjoy "Crossroads Part II" as it was meant to be. Allow yourself the pleasure of being genuinely surprised.
There are far too many shows on the air that are capable of doing that. "Battlestar" is one of the few that delivers and one of the best.
WHICH MAKES IT THE NATION OF WAZIRISTAN, NOT PAKISTAN:
Pakistan Officials Applaud Fighting in Tribal Region (Griff Witte and Kamran Khan, 3/23/07, Washington Post)
Pakistani officials say the fighting validates their counterterrorism strategy: allowing tribal leaders to evict al-Qaeda on their own, without the direct help of the Pakistani army. But analysts say that the tribes have their own reasons for battling the foreign fighters and that this latest violence could further distance the region from central government authority.
Waziristan, which is remote and relatively lawless, has become a haven for al-Qaeda in recent years, and the United States has been pressing Pakistan to do more to oust the group. Pakistan's army has tried and largely failed to extricate the foreign fighters on its own.
"For the first time ever, the local tribesmen have taken up arms against the foreign militants in South Waziristan. This is a big breakthrough," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said in an interview.
Officials have recently begun to concede that the fighters are present in large numbers and that they are attacking targets on both sides of the border. Sherpao acknowledged that "the size of the Central Asian and Arab guerrilla force far outnumbered our estimate of foreigners hiding in this area."
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, a military spokesman, said that the Pakistani army was not directly aiding the tribal forces but that those groups are responding to government calls for action. Pakistan's government has told tribal authorities that the presence of foreign fighters could prompt U.S. or Pakistani strikes against suspected hide-outs. It has also offered financial incentives for driving the al-Qaeda fighters out.
"We have asked the tribal governments to take responsibility for their areas and not shelter foreign militants," Arshad said. "That is what they are doing."
You are the sovereign of the area over which you have responsibility.
The intellect behind Islamic radicalism: review of The Power of Sovereignty by Sayed Khatab (Dmitry Shlapentokh, Asia Times)
It is not surprising that books about Qutb proliferate. The Power of Sovereignty is written for a scholarly audience, with not much attention to style or even to the organization of the text. Still, it provides insight into Qutb's philosophy and explains the reason it has become such a powerful force.
The key to this appeal is that Qutb's teaching discards the notion that Islam is just a religion, reduced to a few rituals and obligations in daily life. In Qutb's view, Islam permeates all aspects of human life; society should be Islamic from top to bottom.
The ideal of the total Islamization of society is an important element of Qutb's philosophy, but does not fully explain its appeal. It has a strong internationalist underpinning and resolutely discards nationalism. In this aspect it strongly resembles Marxism... [...]
[Q]utb's work explains the way radical Islamism has become a sort of replacement for various forms of radical Marxism, such as Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism, and plays such an important role in this century.
The Islamicization of Islam by Western Rationalism has, sufficve it to say, been a disaster on par with the rest of the Enlightenment.
AND STARRING PIUS NCUBE, AS POPE JOHN PAUL II:
Zimbabwean archbishop calls for mass protests (The Guardian, March 23, 2007)
The Zimbabwean archbishop Pius Ncube has called his countrymen "cowards" for failing to stand up to the strong-arm tactics of their ageing president, Robert Mugabe.
The archbishop of Bulawayo urged mass demonstrations to force an end to the 27-year rule of Mr Mugabe. "I am ready to stand in front. We must be ready to stand, even in front of blazing guns," he told a group of clerics, pro-democracy activists and diplomats, most from western countries, in the capital, Harare, yesterday.
"The biggest problem is Zimbabweans are cowards, myself included. We must get off our comfortable seats and suffer with the people. We have to stand up against this oppression. The time for radicalism is now. If we gather a crowd of 20,000, the government will not use its guns."
The archbishop has long been an ardent critic of Mr Mugabe, 83, and his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front party. The archbishop's efforts in the past to rally Zimbabweans have not led to mass protests, but his latest comments come at a time when the opposition appears particularly determined and international pressure is growing on Mr Mugabe's regime following renewed claims of police brutality.
THE LONGER THEY NEGOTIATE THE MORE THEY'LL GIVE UP:
Sundering Jerusalem Is Explored: Israel's Government Considering Plan Advanced by Riyadh (ELI LAKE, March 23, 2007, NY Sun)
In a bid to open a channel to the Arabs, Israel's premier is embracing a long dormant Saudi peace proposal that would divide Jerusalem and could flood the Jewish state with Palestinian Arab refugees with family claims to land evacuated in the 1948 war that created the state.
DOING HANK PROUD:
Hometown author shares her stories of inspiration (CHRIS GRAY, The Romeo Observer)
Denise Coughlin, author of "Dragon in my Pocket," visited Croswell Elementary to speak with students about writing and inspiration, tying in with March being Reading Month. [...]
In her book, an illustrated children's story about a boy named Sebastian, she gives a message of courage and inspiration for kids, saying it is the size of your heart that matters. [...]
The Shelby Township resident told a captivated audience of students how her father would talk about her Polish ancestor named Henryk Sienkiewicz.
"He was Poland's first Nobel Prize winner for literature," she said. "Listening to my father talk about him inspired me to write."
Because of this, she told students she wanted to have characters from Poland in her story. A character named Grandma Busia tells the Legend of Kraskow, sharing not only a tale from history, but Polish culture with the students.
BUT WHY BE BILLIE?:
The best singer you've never heard of: Bob Dylan was a big fan, like most of those who heard the late, great vocalist. Now, 14 years after her death, Karen Dalton's time has come. (Laura Barton, March 23, 2007, The Guardian)
'Karen's voice is a voice for the jaded ear; a combination of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Jeannie Ritchie, the Appalachian singer." The country singer Lacy J Dalton is on the line from Nevada, trying to put into words the voice of Karen Dalton, whose surname she adopted in tribute. "There's a horn quality to it and her phrasing is exquisite," she says. "I once heard it described as cornmeal mush, but it's more than that. When she sang about something, you believed her."
Dalton is the great lost voice of the New York's Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s. Hers was a voice to make the listener feel sad and lost. At times it was warm and supple, rippling over Something on Your Mind, for example; at others it was twisted and other-worldly, as when wrapped around Katie Cruel. It was a voice that earned her the tag "folk music's answer to Billie Holiday" - a comparison she loathed, but which was inevitable, Dalton's voice possessing that same welling, bluesy sadness. [...]
After the failure of In My Own Time, Dalton seemed to drift out of view, participating less in music and more in drink and drugs. "I only knew her as an addicted personality," says Brooks. "She had drug problems the whole time I knew her. She had a painful personality and I think she did drugs to soothe the pain." Lacy recalls that Dalton and her boyfriend "were probably dealing drugs. They did dangerous things, heavy things like heroin." Dalton once overdosed at her house. "She called me up after that and she said 'I guess it's been three weeks. It's taken me this long to call and say I guess I oughtta thank you for something.' She was furious at me for bringing her back."
Dalton's unhappiness was partly personal - the failure of her marriage and her later estrangement from her children hurt her considerably, according to Lacy. But it was also part of a wider cultural despondency. "She was of the old beat generation that felt you had to be burning the candle both ends and dying of hunger to call yourself an artist," says Lacy. "I've always called them canaries in the coalmine, because they were in some ways hypersensitive to what was going on in the world. They were expressing their feelings of powerlessness and they felt they should live, do drugs, drink, whatever to take the pain away."
By the early 90s Dalton was living on the streets of New York. "Whenever I performed there she would show up," Lacy remembers. "She didn't look too bad. She had an odour and her teeth were awful, but she was a very clean person and very beautiful to everyone, so I don't think people noticed her teeth."
As Dalton drifted steadily downwards, Lacy pulled some strings to get her into rehab in Texas. "We got her guitars out of the pawnshop, we got her damn cat from Pennsylvania and we got her on a plane to Texas. There was a recording session set up for her for when she'd finished. She called me when she got there. She said, 'I oughtta stick my cowboy boot up your ass! One of us oughtta change her name. Get me a plane ticket home now!' I said, 'Karen, stay long enough to get your teeth fixed,' but what I didn't realise at the time was that her teeth was how she was getting access to codeine. And so she went back to New York and died on the streets a year later."
Quite how she died remains muddled. "Some said it was a drug overdose," says Brooks. "But from what I understand, she ran out of steam."
A QUESTION OF TOO FARNESS:
Executive Overreach: The White House Is Taking Privilege Too Far (Beth Nolan, March 23, 2007, Washington Post)
The Framers of our Constitution envisioned that in the exercise of their authorities, the two political branches would assert their prerogatives against each other. A process of negotiation and accommodation between the branches is what one would expect. That process isn't elegant, but a push-pull between the branches doesn't necessarily mean that anything is wrong.
What is going wrong today, however, is the take-it-or-leave-it position of the White House.
The struggle between Congress and the executive branch over the requested testimony of White House officials regarding the removal of eight U.S. attorneys is playing out in the political arena. In fact, the political arena is where the contours of these prerogatives are largely shaped, rather than in our courts. While executive privilege is based in constitutional principles of the separation of powers and the authority of the president over the executive branch, and the privilege has been recognized by the Supreme Court, its scope has been largely determined outside the judicial process.
Having conceded the Executive's prerogative a proper analysis never arrives at a mere legal privilege.
The triumph of the Eurocrats (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, March 23, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
Behind the resentment is a great gulf, between the politicians and bureaucrats who created the EEC and then saw it evolve into the European Union, and the ordinary people of Europe. At heart, the "European idea" has always been a clerical enthusiasm, in the ecclesiastical sense: like certain episodes in church history, it has been much more cherished by the clergy than the laity.
Our clerisy today are the political and administrative class, the Eurocracy, the "soi-disant élites," as the contrarian French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement calls them. Again and again they have tried to make Europe run before it could walk; have pushed toward political integration much faster than most of their voters wanted; have written one treaty after another that the electorate greeted with hostility.
Shocking as that French "non" in 2005 was to the clerisy, it was nothing new. Every European treaty is meant to be ratified by each member state, through parliamentary vote or referendum. The Danes voted against the Maastricht treaty and the Irish voted against the Nice treaty, before they were both told to go back and vote again until they got it right.
This dissonance between rulers and ruled is illuminated by comparing the European Union and the American Union. [...]
[T]he American republic was an organic growth, a lay movement, "We the people" speaking as a nation. The EU has too often been the other way round, the clerisy deciding what is good for "you the people."
So close--as the American "We" is an organic outgrowth of our Judeo-Christianity, so too is the European "I" an organic outgrowth of their secular rationalism.
March 22, 2007
ONE IN THE BOX:
Stuart Rosenberg: Television and film director best known for 'Cool Hand Luke' and 'The Amityville Horror' (Independent, 23 March 2007)
Stuart Rosenberg, film director: born New York 11 August 1927; married 1950 Margot Pohoryles (one son); died Beverly Hills, California 15 March 2007.
Stuart Rosenberg directed one of the outstanding films of the 1960s, Cool Hand Luke, which won an Oscar for its supporting player George Kennedy and a nomination for its star, Paul Newman. It remains one of the finest films to deal with prison life, and the scene in which the disturbed loner Newman wins over fellow inmates by his ability to consume 50 hard-boiled eggs in one uninterrupted session has become iconic, as has the catchphrase used by the warden (Strother Martin) which has since become part of the language, "What we have here is failure to communicate." [...]
Rosenberg himself discovered Donn Pearce's 1965 novel Cool Hand Luke, and recommended it to Jack Lemmon, who had formed his own production company, Jalem. "It was the first time I had come across an existential hero - not an anti-hero - in American literature," he said. The 1967 film version proved a potent mixture of social comment and fine entertainment, its depiction of life in a southern prison prompting the historian Clive Hirschhorn to comment in his 1979 book The Warner Bros. Story, "Stuart Rosenberg's probing, intimate direction almost amounted to an invasion of the prisoners' privacy."
What has Cool Hand Luke to do with prison?
A TAD TOO MUCH FIRE IN THE BELLY:
The campaign goes on, says Edwards (Guardian Unlimited March 22, 2007)
John Edwards is to continue his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination despite his wife, Elizabeth, suffering a recurrence of cancer, he announced today.
A series of reports in the US had predicted that the 53-year-old former senator - one of three frontrunners for the Democratic ticket along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - was about to announce his withdrawal.
Democratic sources were quoted as saying that Mr Edwards would use a press conference in his home state of North Carolina to announce the move today.
However, he instead pledged to continue as he stood next to his wife in the town of Chapel Hill. "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly," he told reporters.
The question is why should we elect a guy who cares more about becoming president than about his wife? Such ambitious men are rarely good presidents.
Europe's approaching train wreck (Stanley Kober, March 22, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
The momentum toward independence for Kosovo seems irresistible because it is unlikely that the predominantly Albanian population there will accept anything less. [...]
If 1244 is ignored, it is unreasonable to expect that our actions would not be treated as a precedent to ignore other UN resolutions in the future. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have both made this point.
Russia, and many other nations, have been irritated by the tendency of NATO countries, and the United States in particular, to bypass the Security Council when they cannot obtain a resolution they want.
The dilemma confronting policymakers is acute. Kosovar aspirations cannot be denied much longer, but the effort to satisfy them absent an agreement with Serbia is bound to alienate the Serbs and, by extension, the Russians.
And if we craft solutions that bypass existing law, we should recognize that we are creating opportunities for mischief down the road.
Indeed, if we attempt to buy peace at the expense of law, we might find out we end up with neither.
With Ahtisaari's declaration that further negotiation is pointless, Europe's trains -- Kosovo independence vs. Serbia's territorial integrity, legitimacy vs. law -- are hurtling toward each other.
If the Russians (and possibly the Chinese) oppose revision of Resolution 1244 to grant Kosovo effective independence, and if the United States and its allies ignore these concerns and endorse the Ahtisaari plan, the reverberations will be felt well beyond the Balkans.
It's a quaint enough notion that regard for international law forbids the majority of a discrete territory from declaring themselves a state, but you have to ignore at least the 20th and 21st centuries to still believe it.
WHAT HAVE ISMS TO DO WITH SENSE?:
All hands to the pump: Oil-rich Iran may have to ration petrol (The Economist, 3/22/07)
In the meantime the shortage represents a vulnerability at an unfortunate moment: Western countries are looking for ways to press Iran over its nuclear programme and there has been some talk of a future embargo on imported petrol.
The subsidy is anyway costing the country dear at a time when the economy has become the focal point of domestic opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A populist spending spree has fuelled inflation and unbalanced the budget. Cheap petrol also encourages enormous waste as well as smuggling to neighbouring countries where it is more expensive. Officials have suggested that raising the price could help reduce consumption by around 20%.
The fear, though, is of a further increase in inflation if prices are brought, as economists say they should be, up to the cost of domestic production, something like 20 cents a litre. There is also a political problem. Iranians often see cheap petrol as proof that the government is redistributing oil wealth back to the people--one of Mr Ahmadinejad's big election promises. Raising the price makes economic sense but is the last thing a populist government wants to do.
Bigger than thought: An underestimated pay-off from economic reform (The Economist, 3/22/07)
WHEN it comes to economic growth, Brazil has long been seen as something of a laggard. But it turns out that the country's economy in 2005 was 10.9% bigger than previously thought and has grown since 2000 at an annual average rate of 3%, rather than 2.6%. That still lags the world (see chart) but is a bit more respectable. [...]
There are other reasons to think that Brazil is better off than generally realised. In a recent paper*, two IMF economists argue that official data "grossly underestimate" the growth of household income. Brazil's economic opening in the early 1990s lowered prices and improved the quality and availability of goods, changes that were largely missed by the consumer-price index. Using data about what people actually consumed, the economists estimate that income per head grew 4½% a year between 1987 and 2002 compared with the official figure of 1½%, with the poor benefiting most. That makes Brazil look better; it makes economic reform look better, too.
'NUFF SAID (via Bryan Francoeur):
Fans of comic book superheroes Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men will be able to see their favorite characters when a new theme park opens in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by 2011.
The $1 billion park, the first of its kind in the region, is being developed by U.S.-based Marvel Entertainment Inc, which licenses the comic book heroes, and UAE-based construction and real estate company Al Ahli Group.
Marvel currently owns a superhero island and rides at Universal Studios' parks in Florida, California and Japan, but the Dubai park will be the company's first full theme park and the largest outside the United States.
AND GENERALISSIMO FRANCISCO FRANCO IS STILL DEAD:
Public Still Supports Path to Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants (Joseph Carroll, 3/14/07, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)
The March 2-4, 2007, USA Today/Gallup Poll updated a question asked several times last year that measured Americans' preferences for the handling of illegal immigrants already in the country:
Which comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States? Should the government -- [ROTATED: deport all illegal immigrants back to their home country, allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States in order to work, but only for a limited amount of time, or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens, but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time]?
Given these three options, the majority of Americans, 59%, support the government allowing illegal immigrants to remain in this country and eventually become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements. Fifteen percent of Americans support allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country to work for a limited period of time. About one in four Americans, 24%, say all illegal immigrants should be deported back to their home countries.
Across the four polls on which Gallup has asked this question since the illegal immigration controversy heated up last spring, most Americans have consistently supported the idea of allowing illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens after meeting certain requirements.
People who imagine Americans would feel otherwise must think their fellow citizens monsters.
Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades (Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, Federal Reserve Working Paper 06-2)
In this paper, we use five decades of time-use surveys to document trends in the allocation of time. We document that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked (per working-age adult) between 1965 and 2003. Specifically, we document that leisure for men increased by 6-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in market work hours) and for women by 4-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in home production work hours). This increase in leisure corresponds to roughly an additional 5 to 10 weeks of vacation per year, assuming a 40-hour work week. We also find that leisure increased during the last 40 years for a number of sub-samples of the population, with less-educated adults experiencing the largest increases.
...how life gets easier in direct proportion to the elites whining about how hard it is?
WE ARE ALL INTELLIGENT DESIGNISTS NOW:
These invasive species are ruining the retail ecosystem: Unchecked by effective regulation, chain stores such as Tesco resemble nature's hungry breeds, suffocating diversity (Andrew Simms, March 22, 2007, The Guardian)
White Dwarf Explodes in 3-D Simulation (Larry O'Hanlon, March 22, 2007, Discovery News)
A small star was blown to bits on Thursday in Santa Barbara, California. The star was not of the Hollywood sort but a white dwarf, which astrophysicists have finally figured out how to self-destruct in a 3-D supercomputer simulation.
YOU CALL THEM PRISONS, WE CALL THEM NEIGHBORHOODS:
Planners go 'round and around over cul-de-sacs: Once a homeowner's dream, the dead-end street is falling out of favor everywhere -- except Southern California (Dawn Bonker, March 22, 2007, LA Times)
CITY planners shun them. New urbanists hate them. Boulder, Colo., all but banned them.
Cul-de-sacs -- those once-beloved icons of the suburban good life -- have become something of a demonized concept. The growing consensus among urban planners is that these lollipop-shaped streets hurt communities by chopping up neighborhoods, isolating children, intensifying traffic woes and discouraging walking.
Then why are so many still being built here?
Leave it to Southern California to defy the new convention. While cities across the country return to streets laid out on a traditional grid system, cul-de-sacs are springing up from Calabasas to Chula Vista. Yes, homeowners often fall in love with the quiet courts and initial sense of built-in neighborliness. But, experts say, just wait.
"The problem with the cul-de-sac is not the cul-de-sac itself," says Jeff Speck, director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts and coauthor of "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream." Over time, he says, "very few streets carry most of the traffic and therefore must be exceedingly wide, creating an environment that is generally unwalkable."
People inclined to leave their cul-de-sac usually face the equivalent of neighborhood highways -- a pedestrian nightmare of high-speed arterial streets that are unsafe for children and no fun for anyone, Speck says. Dead-end streets that start out as a playground for youngsters, he says, turn into a prison when children get older.
"Age 3 through 8, it's great. Beyond there, you're a captive," says Speck, who along with his "Suburban Nation" coauthors coined the term "cul-de-sac kid" to describe children isolated by geography.
INHERIT THE BAG OF WIND:
Some Heated Words for Mr. Global Warming (Dana Milbank, March 22, 2007, Washington Post)
Al Gore, star of an Academy Award-winning film, was in town for a double feature on Capitol Hill yesterday. But instead of giving another screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," the former vice president found himself playing the Clarence Darrow character in "Inherit the Wind."
Darrow lost his argument too.
POWERS AND PREROGATIVES AREN'T PRIVILEGES:
The Executive Privilege Showdown (Reynolds Holding, 3/22/07, TIME)
Generally speaking, executive privilege is the president's right to withhold certain information from Congress, the courts and most anyone else, even in the face of a subpoena. It's a conditional privilege, meaning it can be overridden in some circumstances, such as when the president is the target of a criminal investigation. That's why President Nixon famously lost his 1974 struggle in the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the Watergate tapes private. But the courts are typically deferential to the privilege, presuming that it holds unless someone can prove an overwhelming interest in obtaining the information.
Executive privilege usually applies to White House deliberations, on the theory that the president needs candid and confidential advice from his staff. The Supreme Court acknowledged that need as early as 1803, in Marbury v. Madison. But the privilege also protects national security matters, especially when they involve military and foreign affairs, and has the very practical effect of allowing the administration to keep things like the names of spies and informers and the progress of delicate negotiations secret.
Although President Bush has not yet invoked executive privilege in the U.S. attorneys standoff, White House counsel Fred Fielding alluded to it when he mentioned "the constitutional prerogatives of the presidency" in a letter offering a compromise to Congress.
No, he didn't. He specifically referred to the Constitution which by Separating the Powers of the three branches means the matter need never reach a court, where a mere legal privilege would be invoked.
Bush's Big-Picture Battle: Presidential Prerogatives (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 3/22/07, NY Times)
The battle over the Congressional inquiry into the dismissal of federal prosecutors is not one of Mr. Bush's choosing. But now that it has been thrust upon him, Mr. Bush is defiantly refusing to allow Karl Rove and other top aides to testify publicly and under oath, as Democrats are demanding. And he is standing by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, despite calls for Mr. Gonzales to quit.
In doing so, the president is sending a message to the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill: He may be a lame duck and his poll numbers may be down, but he will protect those closest to him, defend his presidential powers and run his White House the way he sees fit in his remaining 22 months in office. [...]
Mr. Bush is also waging what he views as an even bigger war over presidential prerogatives. He has moved aggressively to expand presidential powers, claiming authority to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants and try terror suspects before military tribunals. To avoid divulging the membership of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, the administration even went to the Supreme Court. The president does not intend to backtrack now that Democrats are in charge.
The big picture is called the Constitution.
LIVE FREE, DIE OBESE:
N.H. House rejects trans-fat ban (Nashua Telegraph, Mar. 22, 2007
The House of Representatives rejected a mandatory ban on the sale of foods with artificial trans fats Wednesday.
Instead, the House approved a much-diluted bill that compels all superintendents to evaluate the use of trans fats in their public schools by Sept. 1.
If God had wanted us scrawny He wouldn't have given us cows.
MAYBE THESE WOMEN COULD TRY LESS HARD TO BE BILLIE HOLIDAY?:
Incoherent, virtually friendless and depressed - what is happening to Joss Stone? (RICHARD PRICE, 3/22/07, Daily Mail)
Backstage at the Brit Awards, Joss Stone is in full flow, tossing her frazzled pink mane to and fro as she holds forth about her 'amazing' new record.
Utterly oblivious to the lateness of the hour and the fact that this is her umpteenth interview, the 19-year-old shows no sign of tiring at the sound of her own voice and is clearly enjoying the attention of the two men who are hanging on her every word.
Then, after a rambling five-minute monologue (delivered in that peculiar highpitched transatlantic drawl which betrays nothing of her Devon roots), she finally looks down for a moment and stops mid-sentence.
Her 'interviewers', she suddenly realises, are holding walkie-talkies, not tape recorders.
They are not journalists but a pair of security guards who were far too polite - and scared - to inform the singer of her folly.
Welcome to the random world of Joss Stone: teenage millionaire, self-confessed dope smoker and desperately lonely girl whose best friends are her mother, her dog and her hairdresser.
"It was absolutely hilarious and at the same time very sad," says a source who witnessed the Brits debacle. [...]
So what exactly is going on with the girl formerly known as Joscelyn Stoker?
Out again! Amy celebrates US success with a night on the town (Daily Mail, 22nd March 2007)
Amy Winehouse looks a bit unsteady on her feet after a night out on the town in LA with pal Kelly Osbourne. [...]
The pair have been friends since meeting at the Brits three years ago when Amy introduced herself by groping the reality TV star.
"She came up to me drunkenly and grabbed my boob and said how she wasn't being funny, but just really liked me," said Kelly. "We started talking about tattoos and just became friends."
The twosome left Tebby's nightclub hand in hand
The two girls certainly seem to have a lot in common, Amy has been nicknamed 'Wino' thanks to her boozy antics and Kelly has checked into rehab for drug addiction on two occassions.
WHIPPING THE BLACK CAUCUS:
Jackson Lee balks at Democrats' bill on Iraq pullout: With showdown looming, Houston lawmaker has resisted her party's bill (MICHELLE MITTELSTADT, 3/22/07, Houston Chronicle)
As the House edges toward a showdown with the White House over Iraq, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has been among the band of Democrats resisting her party's leadership-backed bill setting a fall 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.
She's been summoned to a one-on-one meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., lobbied by the party's vote-mustering "whip" organization and dealt with telephone calls from constituents on all sides of the issue. [...]
The congresswoman, who wants the troops withdrawn from combat in Iraq by year's end, offered a hint, though, that she could back the legislation.
"I will ultimately fall down the side of ensuring my vote is cast to do something," she said.
To the extent that's coherent it's inaccurate.
BECAUSE CITIES WERE A MISTAKE:
Major decline in Cook County population (ART GOLAB, 3/22/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
Census population estimates released today show Cook County posted the third biggest decline in the nation, losing 88,000 residents since 2000.
Only counties surrounding New Orleans, ravaged by a hurricane, and Detroit, clobbered by a declining auto industry, lost more. [...]
The numbers illustrate a continuing national trend of counties with large urban areas losing population, said Loyola University demographer Kenneth Johnson.
Disney offers the better model for cities---use mass transit to bring guests into the facilities for work and play but close them at the end of the night.
THE STRAW THAT STIRS THE STRAWMEN:
Why the U.S. Still Drives Asia's Growth: Nanyang Technological University Professor Friedrich Wu says hype about China and India aside, the U.S. economy ultimately matters more for Asia (Friedrich Wu , 3/21/07, Business Week)
Despite the recent hype about "Indian triumphalism," it will be decades before that country can emerge to serve as a growth engine for its Asian neighbors. Aside from a few pockets of the economy--such as IT and services outsourcing--that have been penetrated by globalization, an overwhelming majority of the Indian economy remains insular and over-regulated.
A recent World Bank report entitled Doing Business in South Asia 2007 ranks India a lowly 134th out of a total of 175 countries on a business environment improvement index. Furthermore, as Edward Luce has somberly highlighted in his recent book, In Spite of Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, it would be sheer hubris for Indian leaders to proclaim their country to be the next great economic power.
India presently has more than 300 million people living in absolute poverty. Only 10% of its workers are employed in the formal economy, 35% of its population remains illiterate, and it has the largest number of HIV-infected patients in the world--while corruption is so endemic and deep-rooted that the author laments that "it is the system."
In the case of China, its average 9% to 10% economic expansion in the past five years and its rising investment and trade ties with economies in the region have indeed helped lift the growth of its neighbors. Nevertheless the Chinese economy itself is prone to recurring episodes of "overheating", and hence lacks macroeconomic stability.
As such, in the near term, it is hardly a reliable and sustainable growth engine for its economic partners. While the Beijing government has implemented, since 2004, a plethora of administrative and market-based measures in an attempt to control runaway growth, the jury is still out on whether these policies can cool the turbo-charged economy.
The IMF and Asian Development Bank have separately warned that Asian economies and commodity-exporting countries with strong investment and trade ties to China would suffer various degrees of collateral economic damage should an "overheating" Chinese economy experience a precipitous fall into a "hard landing".
Aside from this risk, China itself is still very much dependent on the U.S. market. In 2005, nearly a quarter (21.5%) of its total exports were shipped to the U.S. Even though other Asian countries have become less dependent on the U.S. market, the latter still absorbed between 10.4% (Singapore) and 20% (Malaysia) of these countries' total exports.
Furthermore, exports to the U.S. account for as high as 20% or more of the gross domestic products of Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. The ratios for China, Taiwan, and Thailand are lower but still average a not-insignificant 7% to 10%. Last but not least, for many Asian countries, their growing exports of components and parts to China for assembling into finished products also depend on final demand in the U.S. market. Should the latter's demand decelerate or contract, Asian countries' exports to China would also falter.
Just as important, the U.S. is ranked the largest (for Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan) or second largest (Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore) foreign investor in many Asian countries. For these six countries, at least 25% of their 2005 total, inward, foreign direct investment came from U.S. multinationals. A trend away from--or an abrupt decline in--U.S. foreign direct investment in the region would certainly hurt most Asian economies, resulting in significant job losses.
THE SKY IS RISING, THE SKY IS RISING!:
TB infection rate may be on 'threshold of decline' (Thomas H. Maugh II and Jia-Rui Chong, March 22, 2007, LA Times)
For the first time in modern history, the rate of infections in the global tuberculosis epidemic has leveled off and may be on the "threshold of decline," the World Health Organization announced today.
The percentage of the world's population struck by TB peaked in 2004 and then held steady or even declined in 2005, according to the report, but the actual number of new cases increased to 8.8 million because of the growing world population.
Dr. Mario RaviglioneÖ, director of the WHO's Stop TB Department, said the figures represented the "first time ever" that TB rates had declined.
"Incidence has peaked around the world," he said. "This is fruition of all our efforts."
The announcement marks a milestone in the fight against TB, which the WHO declared a global health emergency in 1993 because of skyrocketing infections.
Since then, the number of deaths has declined from more than 3 million to 1.6 million in 2005, the report said.
TANNED, RESTED, & TESTED:
Fred Thompson: A Presidential Primer: Do the movies make the man? (Victorino Matus, 03/22/2007, Weekly Standard)
It's best not to underestimate the degree to which he'll be judged by who we think he is.
WATCH HOW FAST THE LEFT FALLS OUT OF LOVE WITH SWEDEN...:
Tougher rules for unemployed (The Local, 3/22/07)
The government has called for the introduction of tougher rules for the unemployed in a bid to get people to rejoin the labour market.
According to the new proposal, the current 100 day grace period for finding suitable employment in a job seeker's home region is to be removed. Instead people must be prepared to move or change professions from the day they become unemployed.
In another change, it will no longer be possible to seek an extension to claim unemployment benefits for over 300 days. The only exception is for people with children under the age of 18, who may receive benefits for up to 450 days.
If a person has not found work at the end of this period they will be covered by the government's 'job guarantee'.
...as History Ends there too.
AS IF ON CUE...:
Play ball with Russia: The Kremlin softened its position on Iran; now it rightfully expects the U.S. to listen up on Kosovo (Dimitri K. Simes, March 22, 2007, LA Times)
HERE'S SOME good news: Russia is moving toward cooperating with the United States when it comes to Iran. This week at a Senate hearing, a State Department representative indicated that Russia could be expected to press Iran on the matter of nuclear proliferation. It's also becoming clear that the Kremlin would support further sanctions against Iran and would withhold nuclear fuel from the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But that good news could change.
The Kremlin's movement toward the U.S. position on Iran comes in part from a reluctance to see a nuclear-armed Iran, concern over Ahmadinejad's unpredictability, eagerness to avoid a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and frustration over contractual disputes with Tehran. But it is also a gesture toward the Bush administration and European powers that Moscow wants to be viewed as a responsible player in the world arena.
Now Russia is waiting for the U.S. response on issues important to the Kremlin.
...comes one of the Realists in Chief to argue that, although even he acknowledges that Russia is merely acting in its own self-interest, that we should make concessions. If only these guys were realistic they'd recognize that these are moments for us to make further demands.
EVEN LIZZIE BORDEN PUT DOWN THE AXE EVENTUALLY:
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-fed22mar22,0,3711224.story?track=ntottext>The Fed eases its stance on rates: Policymakers hold a benchmark for interest costs steady, but hopes rise for cuts this year (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, March 22, 2007, LA Times)
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday suggested it had softened its disposition toward raising interest rates, boosting hopes for rate cuts this year that could spur growth and ease housing woes.
While leaving its benchmark short-term rate unchanged at 5.25% as expected, the Fed referred to "future policy adjustments" without specifying possible rate increases as it has done in the past. That indicated the central bank had adopted a more neutral stance -- and was not leaning toward raising rates as much as before, analysts said.
Investors hoping for rate cuts were cheered. The Dow Jones industrial average, flat prior to the announcement, rallied sharply on the news, posting a gain of nearly 160 points -- its biggest of the year.
THE ONLY WAY MR. OBAMA WILL ADMIT HIS CAMPAIGN'S INVOLVEMENT...:
Creator of anti-Clinton ad is identified: The man behind the Internet hit has ties to Obama's presidential campaign (Dan Morain, March 22, 2007, LA Times)
A Democratic operative with ties to Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign claimed credit Wednesday for creating and posting a mystery video on the Internet that slammed Obama's main rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Obama's campaign repeated its denial of any involvement in the matter. The operative, Philip de Vellis, said he created the spot and posted it on YouTube while employed by a firm that is advising the Illinois Democrat on his Internet presence. The firm, Blue State Digital, said De Vellis, 33, was "terminated" Wednesday; De Vellis said he resigned.
...is if you break out the rat cage.
THE PRESIDENCY AND BOBBY McGEE:
Bush v. Congress v. high court (Mark Silva, 3/22/07, Chicago Tribune)
In addition to the other restrictions, White House counsel Fred Fielding has agreed to let committee members interview Rove, Miers and others only regarding communications between those inside and outside the White House.
"The president must remain faithful to the fundamental interests of the presidency and the requirements of the constitutional separation of powers," Fielding wrote congressional leaders.
There are varying degrees of executive privilege, courts have ruled, with matters of national security ranking highest.
Bush insisted this week that the principle is central to a president's ability to get good advice. "If the staff of a president operated in constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations, the president would not receive candid advice, and the American people would be ill-served," he said.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday the matter is non-negotiable. "We're laying down a marker in terms of internal White House deliberations," Snow said.
National moods, scandals and the personalities of the individuals occupying the White House have dictated the power swings from White House to Congress over the years.
Congress was at its peak of power in the post-Watergate period.
"As time has passed, it has swung back to the executive," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a research group that advocates openness in government.
The Bush administration, and particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, have been advocates of a stronger executive branch. But legal scholars noted that previous presidents have asserted the doctrine of executive privilege more often than Bush.
"[President] Clinton clearly was more aggressive in using executive privilege than any of the modern presidents since Eisenhower," Mark Rozell, a law professor at George Mason University, told The New York Times. "Bush has been somewhat reluctant to use it."
The Bush administration has asserted the presidential privilege before. Bush invoked it during Miers' failed Supreme Court nomination when he refused to show the Senate memos Miers had written.
Cheney invoked it early in Bush's first term in declining to release notes of his energy task force.
Yet the White House also has made an exception, allowing then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Sept. 11 Commission.
The principle of presidential privilege is not clear-cut and is not in the Constitution. Instead, presidents long have asserted it as a corollary to the constitutional separation of powers.
The Supreme Court ruled on the question in 1974, when the special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation demanded that President Richard Nixon turn over tapes of Oval Office conversations.
But since it derives from the Constitution's Separation of Powers, there is no basis for the Executive submitting to the Court on the question.
A Smoke-Filled War Room (THOMAS B. EDSALL, 3/22/07, NY Times)
The Democratic leadership...instead of hammering Mr. Bush, has busied itself behind closed doors, producing a toothless, loophole-ridden resolution that showcases the party's generic antiwar stance while trying to establish troop readiness requirements, benchmarks for Iraqi progress and withdrawal timetables. The resolution -- more precisely, a set of deals intended to paper over intraparty factions -- is the result of a process better suited to a highway bill than national security.
This patchwork proposal not only demonstrates the House leadership's inability to extract a meaningful consensus from a membership that runs the ideological gamut from the Out of Iraq Caucus on the left to the Blue Dogs on the right. It also risks setting the Democrats up for a poisonous share of responsibility for the failure of United States foreign policy, while amplifying questions regarding Democratic competence on military matters.
Even worse, they're going to be blamed for trying to impede the cause of liberty as happened when they tried saving the Sandinistas and the USSR from Ronald Reagan the last time they thought US policy was failing.
WE'RE JUST MONTHS AWAY FROM HILLARY PLAYING UP HER VOTE FOR THE WAR:
UN chief flies into Iraq for talks (Guardian Unlimited, 3/22/07)
Mr Ban, formerly South Korea's foreign minister, took over from Kofi Annan in the UN top post in January. It is his first visit to Iraq.
Mr Annan last visited Baghdad in November 2005, just ahead of the country's parliamentary elections.
Last week, Mr Ban unveiled the "international compact with Iraq" in which he appealed for international support for a five-year Iraq reconstruction plan, calling it "a tool for unlocking Iraq's own potential".
His visit came as a senior Iraqi official said the country's government is holding talks with Sunni insurgent groups in a bid to persuade them to lay down their arms.
Saad Yousif al-Muttalibi, of the Ministry of National Dialogue and Reconciliation, said the talks were initiated at the request of the insurgents and have been taking place inside and outside Iraq for the last three months.
He refused to identify the groups, but said they did not include al-Qaida in Iraq or Saddam Hussein loyalists. Members of the former president's Ba'ath party did, however, take part, he added.
Mr al-Muttalibi said negotiations were deadlocked over the insurgent groups' insistence that they would lay down their arms only when a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led coalition troops in Iraq is announced.
The government's response was that such a move could only be taken when security is restored.
Mr al-Muttalibi's comments came one day after he expressed optimism in an interview with the BBC that the Iraqi government was making progress in talks with insurgent groups, predicting some factions might be close to laying down their arms. "One of the aims is to join with them in the fight against al-Qaida [in Iraq]," he told the BBC.
In a separate BBC interview yesterday, Iraq's vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, called for talks with every insurgent group except al-Qaida.
Democrats hung themselves out to dry when they gave up on defeating the USSR--you'd think they'd have learned from the experience. We are quite secondary to the End of History.
NEVER A BAD TIME:
Morning Mojito (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 22, 2007)
1/2 cup dark honey
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
2 cups fresh grapefruit juice, chilled
2 cups fresh orange juice, chilled
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 lime, cut into 6 slices
In a small saucepan, combine the honey and lime juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the mint leaves and remove from heat.
Steep the honey mixture for 5 minutes, then pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pressing down lightly on the leaves with the back of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate the syrup until cold.
In a large pitcher, combine the mint syrup, grapefruit and orange juices and lime zest. Stir until the syrup is dissolved.
Pour into tall, chilled glasses and garnish each glass with a lime slice.
HOW'D YOU LIKE YOUR HONEYMOON?:
Congress Job Approval Back Down Again This Month: January and February uptick appears to have dissipated (Frank Newport, 3/22/07, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)
The modest uptick in approval of the job being done by Congress has dissipated for the most part after only two months. Congress job approval had risen over the last two months after the Democrats took over control of Congress in early January -- fueled in large part by a jump in approval among rank and file Democrats. This month, however, Congress job approval is back down to levels quite similar to where it was in 2006. Democrats have lost a good deal of the positivity exhibited in the first two months of the year after their party took over.
According to Gallup's monthly update on job approval of Congress -- in a March 11-14, 2007, national poll -- 28% of Americans approve of the job being done by Congress and 64% disapprove.
ANSWERING TO THE SOVEREIGN POWER:
Maliki 'orders' US to free top Sadr ally: Iraqi vice president calls for dialogue with 'everybody' - except al-qaeda (The Daily Star, March 22, 2007)
US forces have released a senior aide to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the orders of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the premier's office said on Wednesday, as Iraq's vice president called for talks with insurgent groups. Ahmad Shibani, who had been held for more than a year, is a senior aide to Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army militia.
"[Shibani] has been released this afternoon on the orders of Prime Minister Maliki," an official in the prime minister's office told Reuters.
Nassar al-Rubaie, head of the Sadrist bloc in parliament, said US forces had been detaining Shibani without charge.
"We know that today he will be released by the occupation forces and delivered to the prime minister today to be freed," he said.
AT THIS RATE, FRANCONA'S GOING TO REGROW HIS HAIR:
Dice-K aims higher: Unsatisfied despite 5 2/3 dominant innings (Jeff Horrigan, 3/22/07, Boston Herald)
Red Sox [team stats] manager Terry Francona was amused to hear that Daisuke Matsuzaka was so unsatisfied with his work in yesterday's 7-3 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field that he considered himself to have "struggled" throughout his 5 2/3-inning stint.
Evidently, allowing one run on one hit with a walk and seven strikeouts in gusty conditions left the Sox' newest cult hero unfulfilled, which drew a chuckle from his manager.
Drew in the swing (Jeff Horrigan, 3/22/07, Boston Herald)
With the spotlight primarily redirected to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Manny Ramirez [stats], Curt Schilling [stats] and the uncertain closer situation, J.D. Drew has quietly put together an incredible first spring with the Red Sox.
The veteran outfielder, who signed a five-year, $70 million free agent contract over the winter, went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI in yesterday's 7-3 victory over Pittsburgh. Drew, whom manager Terry Francona gave a five-day rest last week to conserve energy for the regular season, is hitting a team-leading .464 in 10 games with three doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBI.
"He's been tremendous and it bodes well for the season," Francona said. "Because of the way he's hitting, that left field wall (at Fenway Park) is going to look very near to him."
Manny makes trip for extra work (Jeff Horrigan, 3/22/07, Boston Herald)
The always unpredictable Manny Ramirez [stats] passed up a light workout day in Fort Myers and asked to accompany the Red Sox [team stats] on their bus ride north for yesterday's 7-3 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.
Ramirez was 1-for-1 with an RBI single and two walks to improve to .267 this spring. He is expected to get back on the bus this morning for the three-hour trek to Clearwater to face the Philadelphia Phillies. The enigmatic slugger often has asked at the last minute to make trips that he wasn't scheduled to be on in order to get more at-bats and find his comfort zone.
"He said he was bored, and he wanted to play," manager Terry Francona said with a laugh. . . .
WHERE'S THE UIC WHEN YOU NEED THEM?:
Lion or Zion?: Anglo-Jewish football fans face a tough choice - should they cheer on England or Israel when they clash in a European Championship game on Saturday? As the teams face each other for the first time in a competitive match, Seth Freedman discovers how the supporters are divided (Seth Freedman, March 22, 2007, The Guardian)
It's incredible the difference a ceasefire makes. Seven months after Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez deemed it "totally unacceptable" to take his team to Israel to play Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League, the biggest match ever on Israeli soil is about to take place. Last summer's Lebanon war was the latest in a long list of events that have caused sporting events to be switched to safer shores for security reasons. But with the country experiencing a period of relative calm, England's footballers will face Israel in a vital clash in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
The match will see issues of loyalty and patriotism take centre stage for Jewish football fans, both in England and in Israel. The European Championships qualifier is the first competitive match between the two national teams. They are tied on seven points in their qualifying group, and each is desperate for points in order to close the gap on leaders Croatia. England's only previous games against Israel were two friendlies in Tel Aviv in the mid-1980s, and the gulf between the two sides has narrowed greatly since then.
For most fans at the Ramat Gan Stadium, there can be no doubt who they will be singing their hearts out for. Native Israelis, or Sabras, will don the blue and white of their flag, neck a few bottles of Goldstar, the local beer, and get behind their team of underdogs. As for the few thousand England fans who decide to brave the heavily armed Israeli security forces at Ben Gurion airport, they will be roaring on their squad of underachieving prima donnas, desperate to see the iron of the English lion in Zion.
But, dotted around the stands, in the bars of Ramat Gan, and in the pubs of north-west London, there will be the torn. When it comes to the crunch - assuming a football match is the closest these two allied states will come to war - whose colours will they cheer?
March 21, 2007
The Devil Wears Earmarks (Winslow T. Wheeler, March 21, 2007, Politico)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised "the most ethical Congress ever." One abuse being addressed is "earmarking" -- the practice of pandering to constituent favor and vested interests with special projects injected into spending bills -- also known as "pork." Based on press coverage, it would seem that Pelosi and her party have, at a minimum, made an honest effort to deliver on their promise.
It would be nice if that were true, but it is not. [...]
Here's what they've done.
House Resolution 6, Pelosi's ballyhooed measure to reform earmarking and other abuses, permits any spending bill to be ruled "out of order" in the House (and therefore dead) unless it is accompanied by a list of all earmarks in the bill and its associated legislative materials. The identity of each earmark's congressional sponsor must be displayed along with "the name and address of the intended recipient" or "the intended location" of the earmark, its purpose and a certification that no member of Congress, or spouse, has any financial interest in the earmark. In other words, the reform seeks to shed sunshine on earmarks.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
The sunshine this measure sheds is more deceptive than illuminating. That's because each earmark description, and all the associated information, is to be supplied not by an objective entity, but by the earmark's congressional sponsor. In other words, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will be allowed to explain without fear of contradiction why his brown tree snake eradication program should be added to the defense budget. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) can articulate every reason the Boeing Co. has fed him for why another four-star general needs a new VIP aircraft.
Gosh, weren't you convinced everything would be different?
DERANGED DEMOCRATS IN DUBIOUS PURSUIT OF DUBYA
The Inter-Branch Clash Over Fired U.S. Attorneys (Andrew C. McCarthy, 3/21/07, National Review)
Such threats from Congress are politically tactical but legally dubious. They flout our bedrock separation-of-powers doctrine, under which the two political branches are peers -- neither the other's master, and thus neither in a position to command the other's unqualified cooperation.
Weighing the law and the politics, the president and his able new counsel, Fred Fielding, offered a compromise. Members of the president's executive staff would be made available for private interviews just as President Bush and Vice President Cheney (as well as President Clinton and Vice President Gore) agreed back in 2004 to make themselves accessible to the congressionally chartered 9/11 Commission. Congress would not be permitted to place the president's advisers under oath and there would be no stenographic transcript.
The committees would, of course, continue to be able to compel sworn testimony and other information from top executive officials at the Justice Department, over which Congress has funding and oversight authority. The administration, however, would not surrender internal communications between members of the president's own staff.
Again, law collides with politics.
From a legal and policy perspective, the White House position is unassailable. Quite apart from what it may want, and what may be politically expedient for the administration to give, Congress is entitled to nothing from the president's staff. Its demand is no more appropriate than would be a summons from President Bush to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's staffers to press them on whether Leahy's blocking of highly qualified judicial nominees stemmed from principle or bare-knuckles partisanship.
It seems unlikely the Court would take a case that so clearly invokes a purely political question between the other two branches and if it did the Executive ought to just refuse to participate since the Judiciary has no role to play here. Meanwhile, the Legislative and Judiciary stand to be the big losers, precisely because the Executive would be re-establishing its ancient prerogatives, which have been attrited over time. You'd think for that reason alone they'd drop the topic. The funniest part of the whole contretemps would be watching Hillary and Obama try to figure out whether to attack the branch they hop to control or alienate the whackos they need to get there.
THIS KID'S GOOD:
George P. Bush Joins Navy Reserve (Mike Allen, March 21, 2007, Politico)
George P. Bush, a nephew of President Bush who was a hit on the campaign trail, has been accepted in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer and has begun the process of being commissioned for eight years of service.
Bush, 30, said in a telephone interview from his office at a real estate development firm in Fort Worth, Texas, that he was moved to join the service in part when he attended the rainy commissioning in October of the aircraft carrier named for his grandfather -- the USS George H.W. Bush.
"My grandfather's my hero, and what really sold me on the ultimate decision was having the chance to see the CVN-77 be commissioned under his name," he said. "That was pretty moving, and I had a chance to meet some Navy admirals, as well. I had a chance to talk to them briefly about the opportunity, and I was won over."
George Prescott Bush, the oldest son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said the death of Pat Tillman, the NFL player and Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 in what was later determined to be a friendly-fire incident, "was a wake-up call for me."
Be the first on your block to put up a "GPB in 2020" sign.
NOT SO CLEAN DEAN?
Who Created "Hillary 1984"? Mystery Solved! (Arianna Huffington, 3/21/07, Huffington Post)
Some suspected right wing SwiftBoaters. Some speculated it was the work of disaffected Democratic consultants. One blogger even pointed the finger at me.
As the intrigue deepened, the mainstream media joined the fray, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both being asked about the viral smash -- and much talk about the impact user-generated political videos will have on the 2008 race.
Well, today I can end the guessing. Last night, we sent out a challenge to the HuffPost team asking them to hit the phones and contact all their sources. As a result, we have learned the video was the work of Philip de Vellis, who was the Internet communications director for Sherrod Brown's 2006 Senate campaign, and who now works at Blue State Digital, a company created by members of Howard Dean's Internet Team.
Governor Dean would be the favorite to win the NH primary even if Hillary isn't bloodied.
IF WE WERE SERIOUS:
The Brotherhood and America (Manal Lutfi, 3/21/07, Asharq Al-Awsat-)
But why discuss the future of Muslim Brotherhood/US relations? Do some American officials and researchers believe that there are common interests shared by both parties? And if so, is it better to put the future of relations on the table? The answer is yes; there are some who believe in the possibility and necessity of dialog to maintain US interests in the region.
Discussing this point, a key US State Department official told Asharq al Awsat that there is an agenda of common interests between Islamists and the Americans in some regional states, but that America does not want to publicly show its interest in one group or another for fear of the so-called American "kiss of death". After all, any political current that is directly backed by America has many shadows of doubt cast across it.
Speaking to Asharq al Awsat, on the condition of remaining anonymous, the American official said, "I think there can be an agenda of common interests between Islamists and the US administration; however, this should not to be overestimated.
The fact is that there is currently no common agenda, although many people think it already exists. For example, we criticize the Syrian regime, as does the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, however this does not imply that we work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria or work against the Syrian regime. So, one has to be careful to avoid exaggeration. There is a common agenda but this does not mean we work closely together. We adhere to American non-intervention in internal partisan policies, we support political process transparency and election monitoring, but we do not want to select favorites because we fear the American "kiss of death". We reject the "kiss of death" notion for any Arab world party or direct US support because this is forbidden and this does not serve the interests of America or these parties."
For his part, John Alterman, the director of the Middle East Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, stresses that there is increasing understanding of political Islam in Washington, pointing out that regional governments no longer monopolize political power. He cited last summers events, when the Middle East witnessed an unprecedented escalation of violence, both in Iraq (between the Americans and the "resistance" forces or "militants", who are armed organizations rather than governments) and in Lebanon as a war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah (which is not a government either), indicating that this is a reason for concern. "If we look at governments alone, we will miss part of the picture," he said, explaining that the rise of armed organizations, non-official political bodies and Islamic organizations has to be accompanied by changes in how American policy in the region is formulated. "America often talks to Islamists. In the cases where dialogue does not exist, the main obstacles arise from some rejections by regional governments, rather than from hesitation by the US administration. But if we are serious, we have to interact with politically active groups, and the Muslim Brotherhood is definitely a key part of local political interactions in the region. However, questions will remain about how Islamists would act if they gained more political power and about the relationship between political Islam and violence", he told Asharq al Awsat.
Alterman said there must be ongoing discussions in Washington on the relationship with Islamic organizations. In fact, one reason why it is difficult to determine the US policies dealing with Islamists is the existence of the push and pull between some State Department officials and US ambassadors to the region. State Department officials may propose contacts with one Islamist party while embassies in respective capitals are more interested in maintaining diplomatic relations, and even in consolidating such relations, especially with America's key allies in the region. In this respect Alterman says, "There is a difference between realizing information and wisdom. There are people inside the administration who have information but it is not integrated correctly so as to be comprehensible to senior administration officials and therefore the whole picture is sometimes lost. Most foreign US policies are put in force by the various US embassies in world's capitals and embassies depend on the existence of strong relations with the governments of these countries. So on the whole, in the administration there may be people who believe in opening dialogues with Islamists, but the focus of embassies in respective countries is focused on strong bilateral relations."
No matter the ignorance and inertia of ideologues and bureaucrats, eventually you end up siding with the folks with whom you share common interests.
SHOCK AND AW, SHUCKS::
Democrats struggle to prevail on war bill: Majority not assured in showdown vote (Jeff Zeleny, March 21, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
The consternation among Democrats on both the left and the right has made the outcome of the vote far less certain than leaders had hoped, particularly after respected figures like Representative John Lewis, a liberal Georgia Democrat, declared his opposition, saying: "I will not and cannot vote for another dollar or another dime to support this war."
On the eve of the final debate, Democrats said they were short of the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation. Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic majority leader, conceded: "If you are asking me, do I have 218 people that I know are definite yeses right this minute? The answer to that is no."
The Iraq vote, which could be delayed until Friday to give leaders more time to build support, provides one of the most significant tests of the new Democratic Congress. The debate over influencing the administration's war strategy has unsettled the party's caucus, particularly the newly elected members who came to Washington on a wave of discontent over the war in Iraq.
Representative Carol Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat who defeated a two-term Republican last fall by waging an antiwar campaign, said the Iraq debate had proved to be more distressing -- and complicated -- than she imagined. Two weeks ago, as she suited up in body armor before climbing into a Black Hawk helicopter to fly into Baghdad, she said she began to plainly see both views, but wanted to support the troops and bring a responsible end to the war.
When she returned to her district last weekend and told constituents she planned to support the Iraq legislation because it had a specific troop withdrawal date, she said she encountered "no murmuring, but screaming."
Even her family was furious by her decision, she said.
"I was pretty clear that I was against this war and it is a shock for people to hear me say that I'm supporting the supplement," Shea- Porter said in Washington Wednesday. "I would have preferred it to happen faster, but I'm not a Congress of one."
There are few votes to spare from either side of the party's spectrum, with many members of the liberal Out of Iraq Caucus ideologically opposed to legislation they believe would fuel the war for at least another year and a half. Many conservative Democrats regard the measure as one that would tie the hands of the president, a notion that does not sit well in their districts.
Who won the election?
THE ASSET CAPTAIN OZONE SQUANDERED (via Kevin Whited):
Thompson has 'hidden' assets (David Hill, March 20, 2007, The Hill)
In particular, Thompson's swing-state origins and his self-imposed term limitation stoke my enthusiasm.
Tennessee is an interesting setting in which to learn the political craft. In so many ways, the Volunteer State teaches compromise. Regional conflict is one reason. Tennessee pols must learn to bridge vast chasms of culture and history. It's almost 350 miles from Memphis and the state's western border to Knoxville in east Tennessee. But culturally, the distance from the banks of the Mighty Mississippi to old Rocky Top in the Smokies is 10 times the actual mileage. In the middle, there's Nashville. To be blunt about it, the central communities of the state, particularly the tonier neighborhoods around Nashville, have always had a superiority complex. But they couldn't get things done without some cooperation from their country cousins.
The hillbillies in east Tennessee, the Mississippi River rats out west and the snooty snots in Belle Meade -- they might as well hail from separate states. Getting such a diverse bunch of volunteers headed in the same direction sharpens the political mettle. It's not surprising that Thompson's mentor in his early and present career is former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, a man that many called the "Great Conciliator" when he led Republicans in the Senate.
The state is also distinctive in its partisan balance. The Democrats control the state House narrowly while the Republicans have a razor-thin edge in the state Senate. The state has a Democratic governor, two moderate GOP senators, five Democratic members of the U.S. House and four Republicans. Can any state claim to have any more balanced political outcomes?
Thompson cut his political teeth in this competitive environment, first as a manager for others and later for his own candidacy.
Which is why it was so odd when Al Gore zagged so far Left in '00. Had he just run as if he were only running in TN he might even have carried it.
PORK BELLIES ARE DINNER:
Why Vote When You Can Bet?: Slate's guide to all the political markets (Slate, 3/21/07)
Why Vote When You Can Bet? The idea behind political prediction markets is simple. Lots of people wager on the outcome of political campaigns: Who's going to be the Democratic presidential nominee? Will the Republicans take back the House? And when the votes are counted, the winning bettors collect. The thrill of prediction markets for political junkies is that they harness "the wisdom of crowds." A single person's bet on an election outcome isn't very good, but thousands of bets, with real stakes, are more likely to predict the correct result than even the best pundit. The Iowa Electronic Markets, the big daddy of the political prediction markets, is consistently better at forecasting winners than pre-election polls. (Read a 2003 Slate "Explainer" about prediction markets here.)
If a single prediction market is wiser than the pundits and the polls, imagine how wise all the prediction markets are together. That's the idea behind Slate's "Political Futures," which offers a comprehensive guide to all the big political prediction markets. From now until Election Day 2008, we'll publish regular updates of the key data from Iowa Electronic Markets, Intrade.com, and Casualobserver.net. (Casualobserver has not yet launched its 2008 political prediction market, but we will add it as soon as it goes up.) In these early days of the campaign, we are tracking four markets: 1) Democratic nominee for president, 2) Republican nominee for president, 3) presidential victor, and 4) party control of the presidency. We'll add Senate and House races as they heat up next year.
I've been having fun trading baseball player future at ProTrade, which is free:
orrinj thought you'd be interested in PROTRADE, the sports stock market where you buy and sell shares of athletes to earn cool prizes.
Click this link to sign up now and start trading (plus, I'll earn some extra dollars when you join): http://www.protrade.com/home/InviteLanding.html?sp=KI100334051
FORCING THE CONTRADICTIONS:
For Gaza, a Question of Responsibility: Israel, at High Court, Argues That Strip Is No Longer Occupied (Scott Wilson, 3/21/07, Washington Post)
The Israeli government is arguing in domestic courts that it no longer occupies the Gaza Strip, a designation that under international law holds the Jewish state responsible for the welfare of Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians.
Israel declined to seek a change in Gaza's legal status with the United Nations following its September 2005 departure from the coastal territory, when it pulled out thousands of Jewish settlers and shut down its military government. The move was hailed internationally as a step toward peace.
But the government is making the case now in order to defend its restrictions on the ability of Gazans to trade and travel. If successful, the legal claim could also make it more difficult for the Israeli military to enter the 140-square-mile region, where Palestinian rocket attacks and arms smuggling have increased sharply since the army's departure.
And so does the fiction that there is not already a state of Palestine force them into incoherence.
FORCING THE CONTRADICTIONS:
Tailoring an antiabortion message to blacks: Activists open crisis pregnancy centers in minority areas to draw more African Americans to their cause. (Stephanie Simon, March 21, 2007, LA Times)
Antiabortion activists are reaching aggressively to draw more African Americans into their movement, targeting urban communities that they have long considered hostile turf.
They are opening crisis pregnancy centers in minority neighborhoods, establishing partnerships with black pastors and distributing provocative leaflets to raise suspicion about Planned Parenthood, a longtime provider of reproductive healthcare and abortions in poor urban areas.
Framing their cause as the new frontier in civil rights -- an effort to stop "black genocide" -- these activists have turned to revered names in black history. A niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tours the nation, speaking out against "the war on the womb." The great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott recently compared Roe vs. Wade to the 1857 Supreme Court decision declaring blacks so far inferior that they had no rights.
"Often the inner-city, the immigrant and minority populations are invisible when we think of the whole abortion issue," said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, which runs nearly 900 antiabortion counseling centers across the nation -- almost all in mostly white suburbs. [...]
A single statistic underlies all these efforts: African Americans make up 13% of the population but account for 37% of all abortions in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though blacks tend to express deep moral qualms about abortion, liberal groups that support abortion rights -- most prominently Planned Parenthood -- have spent years building ties with black churches and providing subsidized healthcare, such as pap smears and AIDS tests, to poor urban communities.
Obama Rebuffs Soros: Billionaire's Comments on Aipac Are Scored (ELI LAKE, March 21, 2007, NY Sun)
Leading Democrats, including Senator Obama of Illinois, are distancing themselves from an essay published this week by one of their party's leading financiers that called for the Democratic Party to "liberate" itself from the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.
The article, by George Soros, published in the New York Review of Books, asserts that America should pressure Israel to negotiate with the Hamas-led unity government in the Palestinian territories regardless of whether Hamas recognizes the right of the Jewish state to exist. Mr. Soros goes on to say that one reason America has not embraced this policy is because of the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Yesterday, Mr. Obama's presidential campaign issued a dissent from the Hungarian-born billionaire's assessment. "Mr. Soros is entitled to his opinions," a campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said. "But on this issue he and Senator Obama disagree. The U.S. and our allies are right to insist that Hamas -- a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction -- meet very basic conditions before being treated as a legitimate actor. AIPAC is one of many voices that share this view."
The Soros article puts Democrats in the awkward position of choosing between Mr. Soros, a major funder of their causes, and the pro-Israel lobby, whose members are also active in campaign fund-raising. Pressed by The New York Sun, some Democrats aired their differences with Mr. Soros.
Latino leaders' silence is killing blacks: L.A. is headed for a racial meltdown unless the two groups form a coalition (Kerman Maddox, March 21, 2007, LA Times)
I WILL SAY PUBLICLY what many people are whispering privately in barbershops, soul food restaurants and church parking lots in South Los Angeles. If relations don't improve between African Americans and Latinos in Southern California, we are headed for a major racial conflict.
Sure, this is multicultural Southern California, where coalition politics is supposed to rule. However, anyone paying attention to what is happening here knows the accuracy of this assessment. Why are Latinos committing violent crimes targeted against African Americans -- especially in one neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway area -- and why aren't Latino leaders speaking out against them?
No tent can be as big as the one Democrats need to enclose cadres whose interests are fundamentally at odds--eugenicists vs. minorities, Jews vs anti-Zionists, blacks vs. Latinos, Teachers Unions vs minorities, Darwinists vs. the religious, etc.
FORGET GLOBALIZATION, HOW ABOUT DISNEYFICATION?:
Tourism is restoring the buildings of Old Havana (MIKE WILLIAMS, 3/21/07, Miami Herald)
It's one of the hemisphere's architectural treasures, but in a country of scarce resources, saving the crumbling buildings of Old Havana might easily have been overlooked.
Instead, Cuba has slowly but steadily restored some of the oldest -- and most gorgeous -- buildings in the Americas. The innovative plan has also funded social programs and housing reconstruction, making it a model for historic districts around the world, experts say.
''It's a self-financing, self-sustaining model,'' said Herman Van Hooff, a United Nations cultural official based in Havana. ``It's an integrated vision of restoration and providing services to the population. It has matured into a model with valuable concepts for other places.''
The unique part of Cuba's plan has been its strategy of restoring old hotels, restaurants and buildings to attract tourists and then using tourism revenue to fund more restoration, along with social programs and housing renovation, one of Cuba's most pressing problems.
Post-Castro Cuba is in for one heck of a lot of US tourist business.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH ALL THESE APPLES & PENCILS IF THERE'S NO DEPRESSION?:
U.S. Productivity Advances Solidly (Prof. Peter Morici, 3/14/2007, Global Politician)
Tuesday, the Department of Labor reported productivity in the nonfarm private business sector increased at a 1.6 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2006. This was a sharp improvement over the 0.5 percent decline recorded in the third quarter.
Average productivity for all of 2006 was up 1.6 percent over 2005.
This solid performance indicates the growth potential of the U.S. economy remains significant. [...]
The slowdown in productivity growth recorded in the third quarter was likely attributable to the adjustments in capacity utilization and investment imposed by the housing slowdown and jump in energy prices. Those were temporary events, and productivity growth should be strong in the months ahead but especially in the second half of 2007
The U.S. economy continues to bang out new products and more efficient methods for making goods and services. Little good evidence has been offered to explain why the process of accelerated innovation that began in the 1990s should dissipate now. Productivity will continue to surge in the months ahead. Coupled with a one percent annual growth in the labor force, the economy can grow 3 percent a year with the right mix of fiscal and monetary policies.
WAY TO RUB SAUL IN HIS WOUNDS:
Law & Order Candidate Trumps Romney (Ryan Sager, March 21, 2007, NY Sun)
The lawyer-turned-actor-turned-senator-turned-actor -- best known from TV as the down-home, tough-as-nails District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order" -- hasn't announced, hasn't campaigned, and hasn't been on the political radar since leaving the Senate in 2003. Yet suddenly he's being hailed as the next Ronald Reagan. With this kind of rhetorical heat at his back, Mr. Thompson's a threat to every candidate for the Republican nomination.
But there's one candidate whose campaign he could end almost instantaneously, should he choose to run: that of Mr. Romney. Mr. Thompson is pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage, and anti-tax -- like Mr. Romney. But he has one advantage over the former governor: He didn't just come to these positions over the last year or so, in a "Road to Des Moines" conversion.
THERE HAS TO BE A SOVEREIGN (via Ali Choudhury):
40 killed in Waziristan clashes: Death toll on the rise as fighting continues (Zakir Hassnain, 3/21/07, Daily Times)
More than 40 people were killed and several wounded in clashes between local and foreign militants on Tuesday in the Azam Warsak and Kaloosha areas, west of Wana in South Waziristan, said officials in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. [...]
The reason for Tuesday's clashes was reported to be differences between local tribesmen and foreign militants over the law and order situation. Both blamed each other for the increasing crime rates and deaths in the area.
42 Uzbeks among 58 dead: Fierce clashes in S. Waziristan (Ismail Khan & Alamgir Bhittani, 3/20/07, Dawn)
Forty-two Uzbeks militants and 16 tribespeople were killed in two days of fierce clashes in the volatile South Waziristan tribal region, government and security officials told Dawn.
They said another 27 Uzbek militants had been captured by tribal militant commander Maulvi Nazir. [...]
The government, it appears, has chosen to take a back seat and allow tribal dynamics to play out to deal with the situation, fearing that any intervention to side with tribespeople or militants supporting the action against foreign militants could discredit the whole campaign.
�Let the tribespeople deal with the situation. That�s the best way to deal with the problem. There is a groundswell of support for action against Uzbeks and any attempt by the government to intervene in support of the tribal action would actually discredit it. There is tribal sensitivity involved here,� the official said.
The latest flare-up, the second this month, occurred after the killing of an Al Qaeda-linked Arab identified as Saiful Adil last week. His body was found abandoned in the outskirts of Wana.
Maulavi Nazir, a top pro-Taliban militant commander in Wana region, suspected Uzbeks for their involvement in the murder.
The security official said a foreign militant and his tribal escort carrying blood money to the widow of Saiful Adil were also attacked on their way which added fuel to the fire.
Maulvai Nazir had strained relations with Uzbek militants due to their alleged involvement in local crimes, decided to take them on, banking largely on popular support for his action, government and security officials said.
The officials said militant commanders were now clearly divided over the issue with some supporting the Uzbeks.
Musharraf tells militants to surrender (Daily Times, 3/21/07)
President General Pervez Musharraf warned militants on Tuesday that they should lay down their arms, otherwise "they will be eliminated and allowed to exist no more".
"Where does decency stand on the way to blowing up gas pipelines and railway tracks? These elements are opposed to development and want their hegemony to prevail. I warn them to surrender, otherwise they will be eliminated and they will not be allowed to exist any more ... these miscreants are minimal in number, and we will deal with them. If they want to fight, I know (how) to fight more than them," said Musharraf while inaugurating the Gwadar deep-sea port here on Tuesday. Port operations began with the unloading of cargo from three ships.
He said that 2007 would be election year, and called on people to reject extremists, and "vote for my associates ... if they stay, there will be development".
Someone is going to have to either establish law and order or depopulate the region. Better they do it themselves, but....
MORE REASONS THAT FRED THOMPSON SHOULD BE PRESIDENT:
and is way cooler than Chuck Norris.
JINDAL ALL THE WAY:
Louisiana's governor says no to second term (MELINDA DESLATTE, 3/21/07, Associated Press)
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, burdened by the sluggish pace of the state's hurricane recovery and by pressures from within her own party, announced Tuesday that she won't seek re-election.
The decision could allow former U.S. Sen. John Breaux to enter the fall election. [...]
Elected in 2003, Blanco, a Democrat from Louisiana's Cajun country, had already drawn a half dozen challengers for this fall's election, including popular Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whom she defeated the last time out with 52 percent of the vote. Breaux, a popular Democrat who said he wouldn't enter the race if Blanco was a candidate, has said he will decide soon whether he will make a bid for the job.
IT'S ALMOST LIKE HE SAVED SOME MONEY, EH?
Home equity could buoy economy: Borrowers who have built up their stakes could help keep the U.S. out of recession, despite troubles in sub-prime lending, economists say. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, March 21, 2007, LA Times)
Steve Nguyen bought his first home, a three-bedroom ranch house in Lakewood, three years ago with a no-interest sub-prime mortgage. Since then, the sub-prime market has virtually collapsed, leaving many nervous about the housing market and the national economy.
But Nguyen, 31, is feeling confident. Though he figures his home's value fell at least $40,000 during the last year, he gained $200,000 in equity during the five-year boom. Thanks to that equity and his earnings as a project manager at UnitedHealthcare, he's qualified for a conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on a $750,000 house he hopes to move to in Orange County after he sells his current home.
"It's at a good state right now," Nguyen said of the housing market. "It didn't completely crash on me."
Analysts say the U.S. economy won't completely crash either as a result of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, thanks in part to homeowners like Nguyen. Their home equity built up during the boom is among several factors that could support consumer spending and the housing market.
Sure, but his savings account is empty....
HAVING BIFFED THE MOG AGAIN:
Heavy fighting erupts in Somalia (BBC, 3/21/07)
Heavy fighting has broken out in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, between government forces backed by Ethiopian troops and armed insurgents.
A BBC correspondent says seven people were killed in the battle, the heaviest since the Islamists fell last year.
There are reports that angry crowds dragged dead soldiers' bodies through the streets and set them on fire.
Some 1,200 African Union troops were deployed to Mogadishu this month to try to bring stability to the city.
Dozens have been killed during insurgent attacks in Mogadishu in the past two and a half months, which the government blames on remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
We'll not only welcome the return of the UIC to power but may well help them.
OLLY-OLLY OXEN FREE:
House immigration bill offers citizenship: The effort includes measures to appeal to conservatives, including tougher security and enforcement and a requirement that illegal immigrants leave and return (Nicole Gaouette and Teresa Watanabe, March 21, 2007, LA Times)
Two lawmakers will fire the opening salvo in this year's immigration debate Thursday when they introduce the first House bill in many years to call for citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will unveil broad legislation that would also create a new worker program, stiffen worker verification procedures and overhaul the visa system to reduce waiting times for legal immigrants.
In recognition of the tensions that surround the controversial issue, the bill also contains provisions designed to appeal to conservatives who want stronger border enforcement and oppose citizenship provisions that grant amnesty to people in the country illegally.
One measure would ensure that tough border security and work-site enforcement standards are met before other changes can go forward. Another would require illegal immigrants eligible for citizenship under the bill to leave the country and return legally.
The congressmen, veterans of the immigration issue, are introducing their legislation at a time when Senate efforts to craft a bill have stalled, even as the Bush administration has worked intensely to build GOP support. Flake and Gutierrez worked with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to craft a joint bill before moving ahead on their own.
The leave and return provision is particularly childish, but you've got to throw the wahoos a bone once in awhile.
HISTORY ENDS THE SAME EVERYWHERE:
As Arab Market Matures, Dubai Cashes In: High growth and investment opportunities are attracting financial giants like Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley to the emirate's glitzy towers (Stanley Reed, 3/21/07, Business Week)
A couple of years ago, the Dubai International Financial Center looked like a white elephant. Now banks have to beg for space in the imposing, gray stone and glass complex built by the Dubai government in an effort to attract financial institutions to the emirate and create a kind of Wall Street of Arabia.
Set off by reflecting pools and flower beds, the Dubai money center lies at the heart of what is becoming perhaps the world's glitziest city. "I used to think this was over the top, but now it is full," says Bruno Daher, head of private banking for the Middle East at Credit Suisse (CS), an early tenant in the complex.
Wall Street's latest gold rush is to the Middle East, and Dubai is the boomtown.
THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE RESPIRATOR:
Sarko's Interior Monologue (CLAIRE BERLINSKI, March 21, 2007, NY Sun)
Americans with a friendly disposition toward France have many reasons to hope for Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the presidential elections in April. The interior minister and leader of the Union for a Popular Movement is the most dynamic and exciting politician France has produced in years. He is a loyal admirer of America, which he calls "the greatest democracy in the world." He has promised to overhaul the sclerotic French social welfare state and reform France's second-rate educational system. Unlike his chief rival, the pretty airhead Ségolène Royal, he is not a tired socialist who declares money the "lifelong enemy."
Mr. Sarkozy is the only politician in the race forthrightly to address the challenge of integrating France's Muslim minority and to propose serious policies to redress its estrangement -- policies that go beyond firehosing more taxpayer money into French ghettos. He correctly deplores a contemporary French culture that discourages initiative, punishes merit, and remunerates sloth more than work. He calls for lower taxes, more flexible labor laws, the partial deregulation of the French economy, and the streamlining of its bureaucracy. He affirms his solidarity with Israel and rules out no options in countering Iranian nuclear ambitions -- as opposed to the current Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy who recently claimed Iran is a "force for stability" in the Middle East.
Mr. Sarkozy takes a tough line on crime, but he is by no means inhuman (as he is often portrayed). As Interior Minister, for example, he ended the practice of "double punishment" -- the policy of deporting foreign criminals at the end of their jail terms -- on the grounds that most of those deported had families in France. It did no one any good, he argued, to make children fatherless.
Except that France is everything Sarkozy opposes, so if you care about it you'll dislike him. It is Americans with a friendly disposition towards the Anglosphere who hope for his victory, that the failed French experiment may mercifully be brought to an end, even if two centuries too late.
IF I HAD A HAMMER:
Watching Big Sister: '1984' Takeoff on YouTube Is a Sign Of Why 2008 Won't Be Like 2004 (Jose Antonio Vargas and Howard Kurtz, 3/21/07, Washington Post)
The video's creator -- who claims on YouTube to be 59 years old and goes by the name ParkRidge47 -- isn't talking.
The clip, titled "Vote Different" and posted on YouTube on March 5, is one of the most watched on the video-sharing site. On Monday it had more than 500,000 views. By yesterday, after a day of mainstream media attention, it had passed a million, with text comments and video responses pouring in. Online pundits agree that it's a brilliant piece of agitprop, expertly produced.
Said Mike Krempasky of the Edelman public relations firm, who blogs on the conservative site RedState.com: "One of the reasons it's so good is that it's really creative and entertaining. People look at it and say, 'Wow, that's really cool.' If we find out that this was some college kid who lives in the Bronx, it's going to teach people a lesson: Anybody can be a producer here."
And that fact, said Micah Sifry of TechPresident.com, which tracks the candidates online, "shows that voter-generated content is going to be the wild card of 2008. It should strike fear in the hearts of traditional political consultants because it shows that you don't need lots of money to make a viral message spread."
Jeff Jarvis, the veteran journalist who examines online video through his site PrezVid.com, said the YouTube clip is analogous to the television ad paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who parlayed a modest television buy into a media firestorm for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. The difference is, Jarvis pointed out, the group of Vietnam veterans were upfront about their identity.
"There are a lot of things happening here, and it's all about identity and trust and anonymity. So was this attack made by Obama's campaign? They say it's not. But then who?" Jarvis said. "Anonymity is a part of the Internet. But the problem now is attacks could come from anywhere, and I fear that we're going to have more and more Swift Boating. With the help of the Web, it's low-cost and easily spreadable."
For David Weinberger, former senior Internet adviser to Howard Dean and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the video is a "meta-comment" of the Clinton campaign.
"It's expressing frustration and unhappiness with the level of control that her campaign is exerting. It's no more controlled than any other traditional campaign. It's not especially controlled by previous standards. But it's tightly controlled by the standards of the Web. And for a big part of the population, the standards are the Web standards," Weinberger said.
To regain her footing online, the New York senator "should go off-message and her talking points" and post videos and blogs that show "that she doesn't have the answer to everything, that she's made mistakes, that she can talk like another human being." As such the video, Weinberger added, "is particularly effective because it draws the parallel that's apparent to so many people -- that Hillary is to the campaign as PCs are to computing."
Obama, for his part, made no attempt to distance himself from the video that uses his name. Clinton is similarly taking a hands-off approach.
On "Larry King Live" Monday night, Obama said: "One of the things about the Internet is that people generate all kinds of stuff. In some ways, it's the democratization of the campaign process."
Nothing terrifies Democratic politicians like the prospect of democratic political campaigns.
Bush clashes with Congress over U.S. attorney firings: He refuses to let Rove testify. Democrats say they will issue subpoenas. (Richard B. Schmitt and Richard A. Serrano, March 21, 2007, LA Times)
Inviting a showdown with congressional leaders over the firing of U.S. attorneys, a defiant President Bush on Tuesday refused to make White House political strategist Karl Rove available for public questioning under oath.
Bush agreed to let lawmakers interview Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers in private, but the concessions failed to placate Democrats, who have accused the White House and Justice Department of dismissing eight federal prosecutors for political reasons.
He shouldn't have yielded that much--it's an Executive matter.
The Phoniest Scandal of the Century (So Far) (Dick Morris, 3/21/07, Real Clear Politics)
When will the Bush administration grow some guts? Except for its resolute -- read: stubborn -- position on Iraq, the White House seems incapable of standing up for itself and battling for its point of view. The Democratic assault on the administration over the dismissal of United States attorneys is the most fabricated and phony of scandals, but the Bush people offer only craven apologies, half-hearted defenses, and concessions. Instead, they should stand up to the Democrats and defend the conduct of their own Justice Department.
There is no question that the attorney general and the president can dismiss United States attorneys at any time and for any reason. We do not have civil servant U.S. attorneys but maintain the process of presidential appointment for a very good reason: We consider who prosecutes whom and for what to be a question of public policy that should reflect the president's priorities and objectives.
March 20, 2007
AT THE CONFLUENCE OF THREE STORYLINES:
Pakistan port opens new possibilities (Syed Fazl-e-Haider , 3/22/07, Asia Times)
Gwadar is on the southwest coast of Pakistan, close to the Strait of Hormuz that links the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Its location marks the confluence of three increasingly important regions - the oil-rich Middle East, heavily populated South Asia, and resource-rich Central Asia. The seaport will serve as an economic and trade transit point for Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
It is expected that the port will not only promote trade with Persian Gulf states, but will also facilitate the transshipment of containerized cargo, unlock the development potential of the hinterland, and emerge as a regional hub for major trade and commercial activities. It is also expected that Gwadar, 70 kilometers east of the Iranian border and in close proximity to Gulf shipping lanes, will handle transshipment traffic for the Gulf and ports on the Arabian Peninsula.
Some analysts see an operational Gwadar port as China's first foothold in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as providing road and rail links to the economic powerhouse. Beijing wants Gwadar to be the gateway port for its western region, as its eastern seaboard is 3,500km from Kashgar, the main city in the far west of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, whereas the distance from Kashgar to Gwadar is only 1,500km. This makes it feasible and cost-effective for China's interior regions to carry out trade through this port. That is why China expressed interest in helping Pakistan to develop Gwadar into a full-fledged deepwater commercial port, capable of handling cargo ships of up to 50,000 tons or more.
Energy-hungry China is eyeing Central Asia's oil and gas reserves and is increasingly looking to Pakistan for oil and gas supplies. Beijing plans to run at least five oil and gas pipelines to Gwadar from the Central Asian republics and wants to turn the facility into a transit terminal for Iranian and African crude-oil imports.
Gwadar is expected to play a key role in China's energy security, as its strategic location gives it greater scope as a free oil port in the region, and it will be the endpoint of all gas pipelines from Central Asian states, Iran and Qatar.
The most obvious story here is the sort of economic opportunity that awaits the region if it can get itself straightened out, but note too that, where Realists and others insist that we must negotiate with folks like the Chinese and the regime of the Middle East in order to get them to help with development, the reality is that they have no choice but to do so.
JOHNNY MARR NEVER GOES OUT:
Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Annie Zaleski, March 21, 2007, City Pages)
Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr knows a little something about dealing with strong-willed vocalists (ahem, Morrissey), so it's no surprise that his contributions to the poppiest Modest Mouse record yet are solid. But it's still a treat to hear how focused Isaac Brock and Co. are on the lushly arranged We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, perhaps thanks to new member Marr's steadying veteran influence. "Dashboard" is Talking Heads taking a spin at the roller disco (and is Ship's über-mainstream moment, à la "Float On"), while other songs channel the maritime folk of the Waterboys and Pogues, strident dance-punk, and (as usual) Built to Spill's nervous energy and Pavement's drawl. Even the occasional nods to Modest Mouse's less-accessible days (i.e., the string-storm "Parting of the Sensory," whose ominous chords and chorus--"Someday you will die somehow and something's gonna steal your carbon"--thunder like a fire-and-brimstone sermon) somehow feel more mystical than manic.
SUCH IS POLITICAL CORRECTNESS THAT...:
Stating the obvious: Nature doesn't care about the emotional well-being of older people. It's about the continuation of the species -- in other words, children. (Garrison Keillor, Mar. 14, 2007, Salon)
I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them, and I could tell you about how good that is for children, and you could pay me whatever you think it's worth.
Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids. This was before caller ID, before credit cards, before pizza, for crying out loud. You could put me in a glass case at the history center and schoolchildren could press a button and ask me questions.
Monogamy put the parents in the background where they belong and we children were able to hold center stage. We didn't have to contend with troubled, angry parents demanding that life be richer and more rewarding for them. We blossomed and agonized and fussed over our outfits and learned how to go on a date and order pizza and do the twist and neck in the front seat of a car back before bucket seats when you could slide close together, and we started down the path toward begetting children while Mom and Dad stood like smiling, helpless mannequins in the background.
Nature is about continuation of the species -- in other words, children. Nature does not care about the emotional well-being of older people. [...]
The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men -- sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That's for the kids. It's their show.
..the usual suspects are outraged by his statement of the obvious.
CONSIDER IT AN INTERVENTION:
US envoy defies Israel by holding talks with Palestinian minister (Donald Macintyre, 21 March 2007 , Independent)
The US has opened contacts with a senior Palestinian minister in a move which underlined a difference between Israel and its closest allies over their approach to the new coalition government.
Salam Fayyad, the moderate Finance minister, disclosed that he had held a meeting in Ramallah with Jacob Walles, the US consul general in Jerusalem.
Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved a policy of having no contacts with ministers in the new "national unity" Palestinian Authority whether they were in Hamas or not. Raymond Johansen, deputy foreign minister of Norway, which has said it will end its boycott of the PA because of the new coalition, said yesterday that Israel had declined to meet him in protest at his meeting in Gaza on Monday with the Hamas Prime Minister, Ishmail Haniyeh.
The US had already indicated that it was prepared to meet members of the new government like Mr Fayyad, a former World Bank official with whom it has already had regular contacts.
Our friendship with Israel increasingly looks like it will require us to make them stop hurting themselves. Their adventure in Shi'a Lebanon was counterproductive enough, but their insistence on remaining engaged in a death dance with Palestine has reached absurd proportions.
Embargo didn't stop flow of Palestinian aid (Steven Erlanger, March 21, 2007, NY Times)
Instead of going to the Palestinian Authority, much of the money was given directly to individuals or through independent agencies like the World Food Program.
The International Monetary Fund and the United Nations say the Palestinians received $1.2 billion in aid and budgetary support in 2006, about $300 per capita, compared with $1 billion in 2005.
While the United States and the European Union have led the boycott, they, too, provided more aid to the Palestinians in 2006 than 2005. Washington increased its aid to $468 million in 2006, from $400 million in 2005.
The European Union and its member states alone are subsidizing one million people in the West Bank and Gaza, a quarter of the population, as part of their effort to avoid creating a catastrophe from the embargo.
GAS BEING THE NEW BREAD:
U.S. tightens financial squeeze on Iran: But sanctions aimed at energy projects could anger Europe (Steven R. Weisman, March 20, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
For all of the U.S. efforts to apply economic and political pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, Washington has never used a potentially potent tool in its arsenal -- penalties on foreign companies that assist Iran in producing oil and natural gas.
That may be about to change. The United States has quietly been warning energy companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol and SKS, as well as the governments of China, India, Pakistan and Malaysia, that sanctions are possible if they pursue energy deals with Iran.
As a result, several huge projects planned for Iran could be vulnerable, including one possible $10 billion project planned by Shell and Repsol, the Spanish oil company, and another $20 billion venture by SKS, the Malaysian oil company, to produce natural gas in Iran's Golshan and Ferdows fields.
SHOULDN'T IT BE CALLED HUPAS?:
Hooters to expand to Israel (Harry R. Weber, AP)
WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE SURPLUS? (via Patrick H):
Alive on Arrival (Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2007)
Earlier this year, President Bush proposed to restructure the $250 billion of annual federal tax subsidies for employer-sponsored health insurance by treating it as taxable income and then capping the tax deduction at $15,000 a year per family. The savings would be used to provide new tax incentives for uninsured low-income workers to purchase private insurance. Democrats declared the plan dead on arrival and have refused even to hold hearings on it.
But the [Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation], which "scores" tax policy changes, has breathed new life into the Bush plan by estimating that it would actually save the federal government $333 billion over the next 10 years. (Its first estimate was $526 billion.) This means that the Bush proposal would not only reduce the inequitable tax treatment of health care and the number of uninsured, but it would do so while saving the government lots of money.
The revenue windfall the JCT is predicting would be so large over time that there would be enough money left over to underwrite a $5,000 health-care insurance voucher to millions of the nation's uninsured -- without increasing the budget deficit.
Talk about your virtuous cycles....
JUST HAPPENED TO BE IN THE FRONT ROW?:
Uecker's stalker gets warning after going to spring training (Associated Press, 3/20/07)
A woman once charged with stalking announcer Bob Uecker was asked to leave a Milwaukee Brewers' spring training game.
The baseball team notified the Phoenix police that Ann E. Ladd was at Monday's game, Police Sgt. Joel Tranter said today. A restraining order issued in September bars Ladd from games Uecker is announcing and requires her to stay at least 500 feet away from him.
Couldn't she just leave loony comments on his blog?
TELL ME YOUR ZEITGEIST AND I'LL COOK UP A SCIENCE TO MATCH (via Ed Bush):
Evolution myths: a review of Morse Peckham, editor, CHARLES DARWIN'S ORIGIN OF SPECIES & Frederick Burkhardt and Duncan Porter, editors, THE CORRESPONDENCE OF CHARLES DARWIN Volume 14: 1866 (Jim Endersby, 3/14/07, Times Literary Supplement)
The Victorian "crisis of faith" predated the Origin by many years; Tennyson found himself stretching "lame hands of faith" when confronted by "nature red in tooth and claw" in 1850, almost a decade before Darwin went public. When Nature gave voice in Tennyson's In Memoriam, instead of demonstrating the existence and beneficence of the creator, she expressed complete indifference for species, the "types" of living things: "'So careful of the type?' but no. / From scarped cliff and quarried stone / She cries, 'A thousand types are gone: / I care for nothing, all shall go'".
It was the fossilized evidence of extinct species, entombed in the cliffs (until the quarrying, mining, railway building and canal cutting of the Industrial Revolution revealed them) that led men like Tennyson to doubt that "God was love indeed". These were doubts that he, and many of his contemporaries, had harboured at least since the 1830s, when Charles Lyell's geological theories gave them a glimpse of the terrifying vastness of time. An ancient Earth was not inherently disturbing, but the fossil record made it clear that for most of its long history, the Earth had been uninhabited by people. If, as the Bible claimed, this planet had been made as a habitation for humanity, why had its creator taken so long to get the tenants in? And if God was such a great designer, why was almost everything he'd designed now extinct?
Not only did Darwin fail to shatter a universal faith, the Origin's appearance was actually greeted with enthusiasm by some churchmen. When the Revd Charles Kingsley (of Water Babies fame) wrote to thank Darwin for his complimentary copy of the Origin, he noted that although he'd not yet had time to read it, he had already "gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development" as it was "to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made". Natural history was a popular pastime for country clergymen (the ministry, indeed, had been Darwin's planned career, until the Beagle opportunity came along) and those, like Kingsley, who spent their spare time gathering seaweeds or butterflies, were primed to see the force of Darwin's arguments. It seemed that Darwin had done for beetles and pigeons what Newton had done for planets; replacing a hands-on deity (who seemed to be forever tinkering with the ill-designed machinery he'd made) with an exalted conception of a divine artificer who had devised natural laws so delicately balanced that they would run forever.
IS ANYONE LESS REALISTIC THAN A REALIST?:
The icon and the eagle (Henry A. Kissinger 3/20/07, Tribune Media Services)
Ambivalence characterizes relations between Russia and the United States. President Vladimir Putin snipes at American conduct and policies, while his foreign minister reaffirms Russia's interest in a partnership with the United States. Washington seeks Russian assistance on nonproliferation while pursuing policies on Russia's borders that Moscow and many Russians consider highly provocative.
In the meantime, both countries are threatened by radical Islam; cooperation between the nuclear powers of the world is imperative, and an emerging set of issues -- like environment and climate change -- can only be solved on a global basis.
Given the extent to which their national interests have become interconnected, neither side can want or, indeed, afford a new Cold War.
Actually, we aren't much threatened by even radical Islam while Russia is unlikely to survive moderate Islam for demographic reasons. Russia needs us. We don't need them.
THE IRAQ SURGE: WHY IT'S WORKING ... (GORDON CUCULLU, March 20, 2007, NY Post)
'I WALKED down the streets of Ramadi a few days ago, in a soft cap eating an ice cream with the mayor on one side of me and the police chief on the other, having a conversation." This simple act, Gen. David Petraeus told me, would have been "unthinkable" just a few months ago. "And nobody shot at us," he added.
Petraeus, the new commander managing the "surge" of troops in Iraq, will be the first to caution realism. "Sure we see improvements - major improvements," he said in our interview, "but we still have a long way to go."
What tactics are working? "We got down at the people level and are staying," he said flatly. "Once the people know we are going to be around, then all kinds of things start to happen."
But we're not.
WHICH SIDE WERE YOU ON IN THE WAR?:
'300' mixed messages: The film's team says no big statements were intended. Sure. We believe that. (CARINA CHOCANO, March 20, 2007, LA Times)
Even before  became a box-office sensation, the director[, Zack Snyder,] was sloughing off questions of whether the movie was a metaphor for the current war, or any war we might happen to have in the works. Any political message was "inadvertent." That people were picking up on some political message -- well, you could have knocked the director, producers and studio marketing department over with a feather. As for some people's fixation on certain words, "When someone in a movie says, 'We're going to fight for freedom,' that's now a dirty word," Snyder told Entertainment Weekly. "Europeans totally feel that way. If you mention democracy or freedom, you're an imperialist or a fascist. That's crazy to me." [...]
Sure, Frank Miller, on whose graphic novel the movie was based, has a political point of view. On NPR's "Talk of the Nation" last month he expressed his dismay about the "state of the home front" and his disappointment at the fact that "nobody seems to be talking about who we're up against -- and the 6th century barbarism that they" -- by which he meant not just terrorists, but entire civilizations -- "actually represent." (He also, incidentally, quoted philosopher Will Durant's line -- "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within" -- which opened "Apocalypto," another movie that was either a comment on our current political situation -- or not.)
Snyder has repeatedly expressed his desire to remain true to Miller's vision and leave it at that.
Forget what the filmmakers secretly meant, isn't the important point here that you have to hide such a message from Hollywood suits and Europeans?
A Critical View of Miller's Blockbuster '300' (Talk of the Nation, March 12, 2007)
The movie version of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 opened Friday to mixed reviews and then dominated at the box office, taking in $70 million over the weekend. Syndicated columnist Victor Davis Hanson offers his take on the stylized account of the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held a narrow mountain pass against invading Persians in 480 B.C.
SPARE THE DRUGS, SPOIL THE ADULTS' DAY:
The children drugged for being naughty: Countless children labelled hyperactive are being subdued with drugs like Ritalin. But many experts think they're just naturally boisterous - and those needless pills are causing terrifying side-effects. (Daily Mail, 3/20/07)
Figures published last week show that NHS spending on these drugs has tripled in the past five years, to £12.8 million. Much of the rise in prescribing is driven by parents desperate for anything that may help.
It also encouraged by some experts who believe that ADHD could affect as many as 5 per cent of school children; one or two in every class, each a potential candidate for treatment with drugs.
But although some children undoubtedly do benefit, and many parents find them a godsend, there is growing concern that ADHD is being overdiagnosed � that it is being used indiscriminantly to label children who have other problems, or who may simply be badly behaved. Some experts are worried that calming these children down with drugs does nothing to deal with the underlying causes.
Even more worrying are the claims that parents are not being given an accurate picture about the risk of side effects � most notably the raised risk of psychotic episodes. Last year the American Food and Drugs Administration advised that ADHD drugs should have stronger warnings about this type of psychiatric side effect.
Children aged ten and younger who took ADHD drugs described seeing, for example, polka dot alligators or hallucinated that all their Christmas presents were being stolen by men who broke into their house.
Keeps the little bastards quiet though....
MAYOR DALEY MAY HAVE COMPANY:
Spitzer Nears Hospital Deal That Could Isolate Union (JACOB GERSHMAN, March 20, 2007, NY Sun)
Governor Spitzer is moving closer to brokering an agreement on a Medicaid budget framework with the state's largest hospital association, a development that would further isolate the health employees union at a critical stage of negotiations.
A deal that is emerging between the Healthcare Association of New York State and Mr. Spitzer is likely to restore a sizable portion of the $1 billion cost-saving measures that the governor put into his executive budget. It's also likely to fall significantly short of the demands made by the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which has been leading the charge against Mr. Spitzer's Medicaid agenda.
Putting Students First (JACOB GERSHMAN, March 19, 2007, NY Sun)
Mr. Spitzer this year has made the strategic decision to pick a fight with only one special interest group: the hospital lobby. But without saying so, Mr. Spitzer may be quietly laying the groundwork for his next major battle. For if one follows the governor's logic of "patients first," it's an argument that could just as easily be applied to the education lobby. If it makes sense to distribute Medicaid money based on a principle of "patients first," why doesn't it make sense to distribute education money based on the principle of "students first"?
After all, the return on New York's investment in education is just as dismal as its return on Medicaid spending. New York has the second highest per pupil spending rate in the nation, but, as Mr. Spitzer has noted, the state's students have the third lowest graduation rate, just better than Georgia and South Carolina.
It's not that difficult to imagine a Spitzer speech touting the idea of "students first." In January, the governor delivered a speech on his health care budget that began like this:
"Our agenda is based on a single premise: patients, not institutions, must be at the center of our health care system. That means that every decision, every initiative and every investment we make must be designed to suit the needs of patients first. The result will be a high-quality health care system at a price we can all afford."
With just a few adjustments, a "students first" speech would read like this:
"Our agenda is based on a single premise: students, not school districts and unions, must be at the center of our education system. That means that every decision, every initiative and every investment we make must be designed to suit the needs of students first. The result will be a high-quality education system at a price we can all afford."
Underpinning "students first" would be the idea that the money follows the student -- whether it be to a charter school or a private school -- instead of automatically flowing to the school districts and teachers.
New York does not -- at least not yet -- operate under this concept, which is freighted with an ideological "school choice" stigma that doesn't have a health care parallel. While student demand for charter schools has increased, the state tightly controls the supply of the schools.
A Democrat willing to break the public sector unions in order to Reform entitlements is an immediate presidential contender.
IT TAKES AN ORGANIZATION OF THOUSANDS TO HOLD US DOWN:
NAACP Is Riven by Quarrel That Goes Back a Century (JOSH GERSTEIN, March 20, 2007, NY Sun)
Mr. Gordon, a former Verizon executive, was hired in June 2005 as the organization sought traction in the Republican-dominated capital and hoped to fend off a federal tax investigation. He resigned last month, citing differences with the NAACP's 64-member board, but observers say one factor in his demise was that his corporate sensibilities proved to be less of an asset after Democrats won control of the House and Senate.
"They didn't put Gordon in there to make nice to Charlie Rangel," a political analyst at a Washington think tank, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, David Bositis, said. "Why suck up to Republicans when they're clearly on the defense?"
In 2006, Mr. Gordon persuaded President Bush to speak to the group's annual convention for the first time in his presidency. To outsiders, that may have seemed like a shrewd move for both Mr. Bush and the group, but the president's appearance there hurt Mr. Gordon with the organization's local activists.
"They resented that, quite frankly," a former NAACP official, Michael Meyers, said. "They don't cotton to Republicans.
The "C" has always stood for "Certain".
War Bill Includes Tempting Projects: Democrats' Tactic Poses Dilemma for Some Lawmakers (Jonathan Weisman, 3/20/07, Washington Post)
House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year.
So far, the projects -- which range from the reconstruction of New Orleans levees to the building of peanut storehouses in Georgia -- have had little impact on the tally. For a funding bill that establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline to bring the troops home, votes do not come cheap.
But at least a few Republicans and conservative Democrats who otherwise would vote "no" remain undecided, as they ponder whether they can leave on the table millions of dollars for constituents by opposing the $124 billion war funding bill due for a vote on Thursday.
A trough by any other name....
CIA Kidnapping Leaves Ex-Terror Suspect a Broken Man: Radical imam Abu Omar was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan four years ago and taken to a prison in Egypt. (Matthias Gebauer, 3/20/07, Der Spiegel)
The imam was certainly no docile pacifist: For years he had preached messages of hate against the United States to fundamentalist Muslims in Milan. He fought in Afghanistan himself, and he's said to have encouraged young recruits of jihad to do the same.
Broken is a nice start, but why is he still alive?
THE NATURE OF THE LEFT:
Malaria: GM mosquitoes offer new hope for millions: Controversial strategy would mean releasing laboratory-created insects into wild (Ian Sample, March 20, 2007, The Guardian)
The multimillion-dollar effort to eradicate one of the world's deadliest diseases received a significant but controversial boost yesterday when scientists announced the creation of genetically modified mosquitoes that cannot pass on malaria.
Trials revealed that the GM mosquitoes could quickly establish themselves in the wild and drive out natural malaria-carrying insects, thereby breaking the route through which humans are infected.
The strategy is likely to prove contentious as it would require the unprecedented release of tens of thousands of GM organisms into the wild. But it has raised hopes among scientists, some of whom believe it may be powerful enough to finally bring under control a disease which strikes 300 million people a year and causes more than 1 million deaths, mostly of children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nowhere is it easier to see the antihuman nature of the secular humanists than in their eagerness to bioengineer/clone/etc. humans in order to extend their own lives, but their fanatical resistance to bioengineering non-humans to save millions of Africans.
BEN, WE HARDLY KNEW YE:
Top forecaster sees year without rate increases (Barbara Hagenbaugh and Barbara Hansen, 3/20/07, USA TODAY)
Richard DeKaser predicts that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates unchanged all year. [...]
Last year he was the most accurate forecaster on USA TODAY's panel of prominent economists. He ranked first out of 41 economists who filled out the survey every quarter.
The economy is in fairly good shape, DeKaser notes, arguing that the USA is "well into a soft landing, Goldilocks scenario" -- not too hot, not too cold.
It would be a tragedy if Chairmen Bernanke's legacy is usurious rates.
HOLD THE ICE:
The Riddle: With an array of pitches as sublime and mesmerizing as haiku, $100 million import Daisuke Matsuzaka could tip the American League balance of power to the Red Sox -- and explode the old myths about pampering pitchers (Tom Verducci, March 20, 2007, Sports Illustrated)
The cherubic face of Daisuke Matsuzaka bears a mysterious contentment, the calm self-assuredness of a kid who knows something you don't, who knows the questions before the exam is given. It's as if the pitching gods have let him in on a great secret, and it's safe with the chosen one.
The look is there even at the end of an exhausting day, in the cramped clubhouse of what the Boston Red Sox call their player development complex, a tract of green fields carved among industrial eyesores in a section of Fort Myers, Fla. Matsuzaka, 26, is still wearing his baseball undershirt and the rest of his uniform, some six hours after he dressed and long after many of his teammates have hit the back nine. Boston's new Japanese import put in the equivalent of heavy lifting for this early in spring training: 80 pitches from flat ground, 50 pitches off the bullpen mound and 50 pitches of live batting practice, followed by an hour of autographs, two press conferences (one to English-speaking journalists and one to the 150 Japanese journalists on hand expressly to record his every word, pitch and breath) and a lengthy sit-down interview with a Japanese television network.
What strikes you now about Matsuzaka, once you get beyond the knowing countenance, is that after all that throwing, never did he bother to ice his arm or shoulder. In major league locker rooms, ice packs are ubiquitous appendages for pitchers, who wrap their shoulder or elbow or both, the better to calm muscles, ligaments and tendons that have been stressed by the unnatural act of throwing a baseball. Relievers are known to ice after facing only one batter in a game.
Not Matsuzaka. He didn't ice after he threw 103 pitches in the bullpen the second time he stepped on a mound in spring training in 2007, more than twice the number of even the heartiest of his fellow Red Sox pitchers. He didn't ice after one of his twice-weekly 20-minute long-toss sessions, when he throws from the rightfield foul pole to the leftfield wall -- a distance of about 300 feet -- while taking only one step to load his arm. (Most pitchers throw half that distance.) In past years with the Seibu Lions, he wouldn't ice even after his frequent 300-pitch bullpen sessions, a program that would have been grounds for dismissal for any major league pitching coach who allowed it.
Russia Gives Iran Ultimatum on Enrichment (ELAINE SCIOLINO, 3/20/07, NY Times)
Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials say.
The ultimatum was delivered in Moscow last week by Igor S. Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian National Security Council, to Ali Hosseini Tash, Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a confidential diplomatic exchange between two governments was involved.
March 19, 2007
THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING...DO NOT WATCH THIS IF YOU WANT TO RETAIN CONTROL OF YOUR OWN MIND:
OBLIGATORY NAZI REFERENCE:
A government scientist, under sharp questioning by a federal panel for his outspoken views on global warming, stood by his view today that the Bush administration's information policies smacked of Nazi Germany.
It would help his case if the warming crowd weren't using bogus science for anti-human purposes.
EVEN THE STATIST ENCLAVES ARE BAILING:
Malaysia Airlines likely to cancel Airbus A380 orders (People's Daily On-Line)
Malaysia Airlines System ( MAS), the national carrier, is likely to cancel its orders for six Airbus A380 jumbo passenger jets, local press reported Monday.
Despite the huge discounts for the new A350 planes Airbus is offering to almost all airlines that have ordered the A380, the new delivery dates for the aircraft will no longer fit into MAS's fleet plan, said the New Straits Times.
A380 reaches new heights in airspace: The jetliner debuts in the U.S. with room for 491 fliers and then some -- but still there are lines at the bar and the 15 restrooms. (Peter Pae, March 20, 2007, LA Times)
So far, 156 orders have been placed -- though none by U.S. carriers.
Airbus c'est arrive!: The giant A380 landed Monday at LAX, which is ill-equipped to handle many more of them. (Paul Thornton, March 20, 2007, LA Times)
[A] few minutes after the plane arrived, the surrealism kicked into high gear.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that super-size planes such as the A380 are "better for our airports." But in the distance behind him, aging terminals were already crowded wingtip-to-wingtip with jets much smaller than the A380. An executive from Qantas Airways, which will be the first airline to fly the A380 to L.A., boasted of his airline's commitment to LAX as the airport's biggest international carrier -- even as Qantas moves some flights that serve LAX north to San Francisco's gleaming new international terminal.
The most perplexing comments came from Allan McArtor, head of Airbus North America. He declared that the A380 is "perfectly designed" for LAX. In an abstract sense, he has a point -- airlines plan to make L.A. the top destination in the U.S. for the A380, and ideally, bigger planes mean fewer flights.
But in reality, LAX is one of the worst-equipped airports that will handle the A380. By the end of this year, just two gates at LAX will be able to accommodate the plane.
BONUS POINTS FOR HONESTY:
Gun Shy: Ditch the Second Amendment (Benjamin Wittes, 03.19.07, New Republic)
It's time for gun-control supporters to come to grips with the fact that the amendment actually means something in contemporary society. For which reason, I hereby advance a modest proposal: Let's repeal the damned thing.
Makes sense at cocktail parties on the coasts...
NO CAMPAIGN WILL PRODUCE A BETTER AD THIS CYCLE:
New Anti-Hillary Clinton YouTube Ad Makes Waves on Web (Fox News, March 19, 2007)
Officials in the Illinois senator's camp say they have nothing to do with the ad. The Clinton campaign says it doesn't know where the ad came from and had no further official comment. But Clinton supporters are wondering aloud about the role of Obama's campaign even though they readily admit they have no evidence to support their suspicions apart from Obama's Web site being named at the end.
Regardless of the source, the ad hits its mark. Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network in Washington, D.C., told The San Francisco Chronicle that the ad, cheaply produced and apparently unfettered by copyright restrictions, represents the power of individual activists in a new era.
The ad is proof that "anybody can do powerful emotional ads ... and the campaigns are no longer in control," Rosenberg said. "It will no longer be a top-down candidate message; that's a 20th century broadcast model."
Rich Masters, a Democratic strategist supporting Obama, told FOX News that the ad represents a new day in politics, but not one that voters should welcome. He called the ad shameful and part of "the politics of personal destruction."
"For all we know, Swift Boat Veterans For Truth produced it," Masters said, suggesting that those who stand to benefit from the publicity are not Obama and his supporters, but Republicans or another Democrat further down the pack.
FORCING THE CONTRADICTIONS:
Dangerous Ruling (Washington Post, March 10, 2007)
While the ruling caught observers off guard, it was not completely unexpected, given the unconscionable campaign, led by the National Rife Association and abetted by the Bush administration, to broadly reinterpret the Constitution so as to give individuals Second Amendment rights.
And so the goose meets the gander...
WHILE THE LEFT SAYS: "LET MY PEOPLE GO":
Pentagon says Cole bombing chief confessed: Waleed Mohammed Bin Attash said to admit role in Guantanamo hearing (AP, 3/19/07)
Waleed Mohammed Bin Attash, long suspected of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole, confessed to planning the attack during a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a Pentagon transcript released Monday.
He also said he helped plan the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 213, the transcript said. Seventeen sailors were killed and 37 injured when suicide bombers steered an explosives-laden boat into the battleship on Oct. 12, 2000.
BECAUSE HE'D LIKE TO BE MAJORITY LEADER:
McConnell eyes 'bipartisan' illegals bill (S.A. Miller and Christina Bellantoni, March 19, 2007, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans are trying to craft a "bipartisan solution" to illegal immigration -- generating concern among party members who consider President Bush's goal to be amnesty.
THE REACH OF RUSH WITH THE SENSE OF REAGAN:
Thompson Could Fill the Missing Slot (Peter Brown, 3/19/07, Real Clear Politics)
He could run as a common sense Washington outsider with Ronald Reagan-class communications skills, Thompson's name recognition is still limited, but his celebrity means his face recognition is unusually high and very favorable. [...]
Thompson's backers argue there are similarities to Reagan, some superficial, others and more tangible, from the days when the idea an actor running for president was often mocked.
Both entered politics late in life after other careers in the movies and television in which they were able to burnish their conservative credentials. Thompson, currently the co-star of the TV'st Law and Order, almost always plays principled, decisive authority figures - the exact image Americans look for in a president.
Both had to be coaxed to run for office, and even admirers concede neither man has the fire in the belly to be president that has generally been required.
Thompson's candidacy is intriguing to some because of his potential to appeal to independents and moderate Democrats, like McCain and Giuliani. But unlike they, his background and charisma could fire up the GOP base, which is searching for a champion. He'll get to audition for them in the coming weeks when he fills in for ABC Radio's Paul Harvey, whose show is a staple for conservatives.
It was the discipline of thinking out, writing and delivering thousands of speeches for GE, for himself, and for his radio addresses that made Ronald Reagan the most thoughtful of presidents. The radio gig would be ideal preparation for Mr. Thompson.
Will Fred's old, red pickup ride again on presidential trail? (GAIL KERR, 3/19/07, Tennessean)
If Fred Thompson decides to run for president, it's hard to imagine him driving to the Iowa caucus in anything but his famed red Chevy pickup truck -- the vehicle that became a colorful signature for his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign in Tennessee.
But whatever happened to the truck?
"I haven't seen the truck since the end of the campaign," said Tom Ingram, the political mastermind who had a hand in revamping Thompson's image by putting him behind the wheel of the truck.
As campaign icons go, it was a humdinger.
"I don't know who came up with the original idea," said Ron McMahan, a GOP insider who worked on the Senate race. "The campaign had no fire in it. Fred was doing lawyerese stuff. It's been written that Ingram came up with it. It's been written that I did. I do not know whose idea it was."
Ingram recalls a meeting with Thompson at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Cookeville: "He wasn't too happy with traditional campaigning. The conversation went something like this: I said, 'What would you do if you could do what you want to do?' He said, 'I'd go to my dad's used car lot (in Lawrenceburg) and get a truck and drive it across the state.' I said, 'Do it.' People thought he was crazy. It worked because it wasn't an unnatural or unreal thing for him to do."
Was '06 a Starting Point for Democrats or Was It Their High-Water Mark? (Stuart Rothenberg, 3/19/07, Real Clear Politics)
Probably the best way to show the Democrats' challenge next year is to look at what happened in 1996, when Republicans made the same kind of argument about allegedly vulnerable Democrats that Democrats are making today about Republicans who had a close call in November.
The accompanying table lists 46 Democrats who were elected in 1994 with 55 percent of the vote or less. Two years later, with Republicans salivating at their presumed opportunities and making a major effort to win most of those seats, Democrats retained 41 of those districts. Only two Democratic incumbents seeking re-election (out of 38) went down to defeat, while three other Democratic open seats flipped to the GOP. [...]
The 1994 election constituted a Republican tidal wave, which means that, by definition, it was an aberration. Two years later, the political environment returned to normal, and Democrats who looked ripe for the taking because of their narrow 1994 victories suddenly looked stronger.
In fact, those Democrats were stronger, in part because they had survived the difficult year and in part because the Republican challengers weren't as strong as they seemed without a stiff wind at their backs.
The particular problem for Democrats in '08 is not just the number of new seats they likely couldn't defend in a vacuum but that the top of the ticket will be such a drag.
750 MILLION PITCHFORKS WILL DO SOME DAMAGE:
Property law denies farmers the good earth (Antoaneta Bezlova, 3/20/07, Asia Times)
China's national parliament passed a controversial property law on Friday that, despite lofty-sounding clauses and media hype, fails to safeguard the ownership rights of more than half the population.
China's 750 million rural residents cannot own farmland, a legacy of Maoist collectivization in the 1950s, which violently persecuted landowners. Instead, they must lease from the state and have little or no recourse when local officials move to take it. The new law does nothing to change this reality.
"How can you enact a piece of national legislation that is inapplicable to some 60% of the country's population?" mused Wen Tiejun, a senior expert on rural issues at Renmin University in Beijing. "It only goes to show that China's rural and urban division is going to continue for a long time."
Iraqis: We're not in civil war (Chicago Sun-Times, March 19, 2007)
Only 27 percent of Iraqis believe their country is in a civil war -- an issue that has roiled American politics.
Among Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority, a mere 15 percent thought the nation was experiencing civil war, a new poll says. [...]
• • 49% of those questioned preferred living under the current government to living under Saddam Hussein. Only 26% said things had been better with Saddam.
• • 53% of Iraqis think security would improve with a pullout by U.S.-led forces. Some 26% think it would get worse, the Times said.
IRAQ YEAR 4: PRESERVING VICTORY (Amir Taheri, 3/19/07, NY Post)
A quick checklist shows that the war achieved all its objectives.
š Saddam's regime was toppled.
š Its machinery of war and internal repression was dismantled.
š Decades of one-party rule - the "Republic of Fear" - came to an end.
š Political power was taken from the brutal and corrupt ruling elite and transferred to the Iraqi people as a whole.
š Iraqis discovered such things as freedom of expression, media without censorship and a plethora of political parties to choose from.
š For the first time, the Iraqi people were able to write their own Constitution, hold their own general elections, choose their own government and start building their own institutions.
Not surprisingly, such achievements did not go unchallenged: The new emerging Iraq came under attack from many different quarters almost immediately.
The 'Surge' Is Succeeding (Robert Kagan, March 11, 2007, Washington Post)
Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that "early signs are encouraging." The first impact of the "surge," they write, was psychological. Both friends and foes in Iraq had been convinced, in no small part by the American media, that the United States was preparing to pull out. When the opposite occurred, this alone shifted the dynamic.
Only the psychology really matters. Pretend to be the strong horse and you are, even though the surge is cover for the withdrawal.
HIS FATHER'S SON:
Presidential candidate bungles speech in Miami (BETH REINHARD, 3/19/07, Miami Herald)
People chuckled when presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon raised in Michigan and elected in Massachusetts, bungled the names of Cuban-American politicians during a recent speech in Miami.
But when he mistakenly associated Fidel Castro's trademark speech-ending slogan -- Patria o muerte, venceremos! -- with a free Cuba, listeners didn't laugh. They winced.
Castro has closed his speeches with the phrase -- in English, ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome'' -- for decades.
''Clearly, that's something he was ill-advised on or didn't do his homework on,'' said Hialeah City Council President Esteban Bovo. ``When you get cute with slogans, you get yourself into a trap.''
Time to put this campaign out of its misery.
THE IMMIGRANT ADVANTAGE:
Black Immigrants, An Invisible 'Model Minority' (Clarence Page, 3/19/07, Real Clear Politics)
In a side-by-side comparison of 2000 census data by sociologist John R. Logan at the Mumford Center, State University of New York at Albany, black immigrants from Africa average the highest educational attainment of any population group in the country, including whites and Asians.
For example, 43.8 percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared to 42.5 of Asian Americans, 28.9 percent for immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada, and 23.1 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.
That defies the usual stereotypes of Asian Americans as the only "model minority." Yet the traditional American narrative has rendered the high academic achievements of black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean invisible, as if it were a taboo topic.
Thomas Sowell has argued for decades that the success rate of African, Haitian, Jamaican, etc. immigrants puts paid to the Left's claim that it is lingering racism that holds blacks back. The interesting question that he raises is whether the fact that blacks never had the normal first wave immigrant experience but were brought here in chains and kept in first slavery and then segregation instead has had such a deleterious effect on the culture of their community that it is largely responsible even to this day.
The uncomfortable question for conservatives, who are initially happy to see racism knocked about the head, is whether this doesn't provide an argument in favor of some sort of reparations.
Here's an idea though: why not a reparations bill that just creates O'Neill accounts for every newborn black kid for a generation? Then when folks complain about such a race-based program you agree to expand it to every new-born regardless of race.
MIRAGES ALL THE WAY DOWN:
Me, My Soul, and I (Kevin Kelly, 3/19/07, Wired)
In 1979, an unknown just out of grad school published his first book, using a then-exotic computer to do his own typesetting. The work was the inimitable Gödel, Escher, Bach, and its creator, Douglas Hofstadter, stunned the world with his zany, in-depth, and utterly brilliant investigation of self-reference in art and mathematics. Gödel earned him a Pulitzer Prize and inspired legions of youth to study computer science, but Hofstadter always felt readers didn't quite get it. So to make his point perfectly clear, he has expanded upon his original thesis in I Am a Strange Loop, due in March. Wired asked Hofstadter to elaborate on some of his more mind-bending ideas.
-- Kevin Kelly [...]
You have a great line: "I am a mirage that perceives itself." If our fundamental sense of what is real -- our own existence -- is merely a self-reinforcing mirage, does that call into question the reality of the universe itself?
I don't think so. Even though subatomic particles engage in a deeply recursive process called renormalization, they don't contain a self-model, and everything I talk about in this book -- consciousness -- derives from a self-model.
Because, after all, while rationally I am a mirage, I can still know not only that the rest of the Universe exists but the properties of subatomic particles?
TIME TO GROW UP:
Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America the most. (George Packer, March 26, 2007, The New Yorker)
Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country's religious and ethnic spectrum, welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young men and women who embraced America's project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq's smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country--a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam's Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, "a one-way road leading to nothing." I thought of them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation ends when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war created intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis. America's failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.
An interpreter named Firas--he insisted on using his real name--grew up in a middle-class Shia family in a prosperous Baghdad neighborhood. He is a big man in his mid-thirties with a shaved head, and his fierce, heavily ringed eyes provide a glimpse into the reserves of energy that lie beneath his phlegmatic surface. As a young man, Firas was shut out of a government job by his family's religious affiliation and by his lack of connections. He wasted his twenties in a series of petty occupations: selling cigarettes wholesale; dealing in spare parts; peddling books on Mutanabi Street, in old Baghdad. Books, more than anything, shaped Firas's passionately melancholy character. As a young man, he kept a credo on his wall in English and Arabic: "Be honest without the thought of Heaven or Hell." He was particularly impressed by "The Outsider," a 1956 philosophical work by the British existentialist Colin Wilson. "He wrote about the 'non-belonger,' " Firas explained. Firas felt like an exile in his own land, but, he recalled, "There was always this sound in the back of my head: the time will come, the change will come, my time will come. And when 2003 came, I couldn't believe how right I was."
Overnight, everything was new. Americans, whom he had seen only in movies, rolled through the streets. Men who had been silent all their lives cursed Saddam in front of their neighbors. The fall of the regime revealed traits that Iraqis had kept hidden: the greed that drove some to loot, the courage that made others stay on the job. Firas felt a lifelong depression lift. "The first thing I learned about myself was that I can make things happen," he said. "When you feel that you are an outcast, you don't really put an effort in anything. But after the war I would run here and there, I would kill myself, I would focus on one thing and not stop until I do it."
Thousands of Iraqis converged on the Palestine Hotel and, later, the Green Zone, in search of work with the Americans. In the chaos of the early days, a demonstrable ability to speak English--sometimes in a chance encounter with a street patrol--was enough to get you hired by an enterprising Marine captain. Firas began working in military intelligence. Almost all the Iraqis who were hired became interpreters, and American soldiers called them "terps," often giving them nicknames for convenience and, later, security (Firas became Phil). But what the Iraqis had to offer went well beyond linguistic ability: each of them was, potentially, a cultural adviser, an intelligence officer, a policy analyst. Firas told the soldiers not to point with their feet, not to ask to be introduced to someone's sister. Interpreters assumed that their perspective would be valuable to foreigners who knew little or nothing of Iraq.
Whenever I asked Iraqis what kind of government they had wanted to replace Saddam's regime, I got the same answer: they had never given it any thought. They just assumed that the Americans would bring the right people, and the country would blossom with freedom, prosperity, consumer goods, travel opportunities.
It's hardly news that the more statist the regime the more infantilized those who live under it. A republic requires grown-ups.
POLITICS TRUMPS JIHAD:
AL-QAEDA DENOUNCES HAMAS (AKI, 3/16/07)
In a new invective published via the internet, Atiyatullah Abdel Rahman al-Libi, considered by intelligence experts a key al-Qaeda liaison figure, has harshly condemned the Palestinian Islamic movement, Hamas. "Hamas exploits its martyrs to occupy positions of power," read a statement from al-Libi, in which he commented on the latest audio message from al-Qaeda's number two Ayman al Zawahiri, who had condemned the Mecca accord between Hamas and Fatah which paved the way for the formation of a national unity government after six months.
"The danger with what is happening is that Hamas has decided to enter the political game. By entering the apostate government, it wants to collaborate with apostates and recognise a secular constitution like the Palestinian one, which violates Sharia law," it added.
According to al-Libi the reassurances from Hamas on the desire to continue their armed resistance against Israel count for nothing. "The very fact of wanting to give them a part of Islamic territory amounts to a defeat," it said. "You can assure us of your determination to continue Jihad only by carrying out further Jihadi activities."
Statehood is the Palestinian jihad.
March 18, 2007
KING CONG (via Kevin Whited):
That Old Bus Magic: Will hitting the road help McCain's campaign? (John Dickerson, March 16, 2007, Slate)
Taking to the highway again may not win McCain the nomination (it didn't in 2000, either), but watching the senator for a day, it's clear that it would be stupid for him to retire the bus. McCain's authenticity was his chief selling point in the last campaign. That brand has been blurred. Some who once liked his maverick persona think he's sold out by supporting George Bush and reaching out to social conservatives he once disparaged. A lot of conservatives at the heart of his party still don't like him. The only way he can reassert himself or address people's doubts about him is by participating in a slew of town halls, the way he did last time.
It's his best act. Town halls are risky because the questions can be unpredictable and confrontational, but voters tend to give McCain credit for showing up, facing their questions, and being straightforward even when he disagrees with them. "I view this as starting all over," said McCain.
The Senator needs to take a lesson from the man who got him into politics, The Gipper, and run like an insurgent even though he's the favorite.
A One-Man Civil War (MATTHEW CONTINETTI, 3/19/07, NY Times)
It's Mr. McCain's transformation from insurgent to semi-favorite son that has unsettled the Republican Party and conservative movement. In past years, the Republicans nominated the man who had patiently waited his "turn": Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H. W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996. The man who ought to benefit from the machine this time around is Senator McCain, whose insurgent campaign against George W. Bush came close to winning the nomination eight years ago. And sure enough, large portions of the party establishment have embraced him. [...]
More important than ideology or personality is culture. For years conservatives have cast a suspicious eye on Senator McCain because non-conservatives find him appealing. They distrust the institutions of liberal culture -- the news media in particular -- to such a degree that a politician those institutions embrace must be suspect. They grow furious when they hear Senator McCain on Don Imus's radio show but not Rush Limbaugh's. The politics of polarization militate against a McCain candidacy. The man transcends the partisan divide -- but what partisans want above all is a fellow partisan. [...]
Call it poetic justice, tragedy or farce: Senator McCain's quest to become the establishment candidate has jeopardized his candidacy and exposed deep fissures within the conservative movement. A true reckoning will be had only if Senator McCain revives the authentic, conservative, reform-oriented insurgent spirit that motivated his 2000 candidacy. Let Senator McCain be Senator McCain, as the saying goes. Then the fissures will be healed, for better (from Mr. McCain's point of view) or worse.
Free-Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right (LINDA GREENHOUSE, 3/18/07, NY Times)
As the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Juneau on its way to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, students were allowed to leave the school grounds to watch. The school band and cheerleaders performed. With television cameras focused on the scene, Mr. Frederick and some friends unfurled a 14-foot-long banner with the inscription: "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."
Mr. Frederick later testified that he designed the banner, using a slogan he had seen on a snowboard, "to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television." Ms. Morse found no humor but plenty of meaning in the sign, recognizing "bong hits" as a slang reference to using marijuana. She demanded that he take the banner down. When he refused, she tore it down, ordered him to her office, and gave him a 10-day suspension.
Mr. Fredericks's ensuing lawsuit and the free-speech court battle that resulted, in which he has prevailed so far, is one that, classically, pits official authority against student dissent. It is the first Supreme Court case to do so directly since the court upheld the right of students to wear black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, declaring in Tinker v. Des Moines School District that "it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
The court followed that 1969 decision with two others during the 1980s that upheld the authority of school officials to ban vulgar or offensive student speech and to control the content of school newspapers. Clearly there is some tension in the court's student-speech doctrine; what message to extract from the trio of decisions is the basic analytical question in the new case, Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278. What is most striking is how the two sides line up.
The Bush administration entered the case on the side of the principal and the Juneau School Board, which are both represented by Kenneth W. Starr, the former solicitor general and independent counsel. His law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, is handling the appeal without a fee. Mr. Starr and Edwin S. Kneedler, a deputy solicitor general who will present the government's view, will share argument time on Monday. The National School Board Association, two school principals' groups, and several antidrug organizations also filed briefs on the school board's side.
While it is hardly surprising to find the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship on Mr. Frederick's side, it is the array of briefs from organizations that litigate and speak on behalf of the religious right that has lifted Morse v. Frederick out of the realm of the ordinary.
The groups include the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson; the Christian Legal Society; the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization based in Arizona that describes its mission as "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth"; the Rutherford Institute, which has participated in many religion cases before the court; and Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm "dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights and religious freedom."
The institute, based in Plano, Tex., told the justices in its brief that it was "gravely concerned that the religious freedom of students in public schools will be damaged" if the court rules for the school board.
Presumably the religious would also defend the kid's "right" to fly the banner at home over his parents' objections?
THE FRENCHAL SOLUTION:
Napoleon, the Jews and French Muslims (Michael Goldfarb, March 18, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
To find out if there was something in Jewish law and custom preventing integration, Napoleon summoned a council of Jewish leaders and put to them 12 questions about Jewish laws and customs. To modern eyes, these questions combine ignorance, condescension and insensitivity. One was: Are Jews allowed to have more than one wife? Another: Can a Jew marry a Christian?
But the more important questions related to the transition a marginalized people were making to a new idea of citizenship: Jews born in France were treated by the law as citizens, did they regard France as their country? Did they feel they had an obligation to defend it?
In response to Napoleon's questions, 200 years ago this month, a group composed of 71 leading rabbis and businessmen met in the Hotel de Ville in Paris to deliberate on their responses and present them to the emperor. Their answers stated what is now considered obvious, that there was nothing inherent in the religion preventing full integration of the Jewish community into French life. Twelve months later, by imperial decree, the Jewish confession was brought under state control. Jews were obligated to take French names and had to apply annually for a license to do business.
And here is where the story is relevant to our times. French public opinion about Muslims today echoes public opinion about Jews 200 years ago.
Of course, despite that statist solution, the French still shipped Jews East to the camps as fast as folks turned them in.
Mexico's president rides popularity wave (James McKinley, March 17, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
President Felipe Calderón is on a roll. You can see it in his relaxed manner these days, his ease at the lectern, whether he is meeting with President George W. Bush or swinging through Baja, California, to unveil new projects. [...]
He has reason to look relieved. Just a few months ago, his paper-thin victory gave him almost no mandate in the eyes of many voters, and his leftist rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, threatened to thwart his tenure with violent protests, arguing that the election last year had been fraudulent.
Now, recent polls show, Calderón's approval ratings are above 50 percent. He has buried López Obrador under a flurry of projects and proposals, relegating his former nemesis to the netherworld of political gadflies and malcontents deep inside the daily newspapers.
The new president cracked down on violent protests that were tearing apart the colonial city of Oaxaca. He has sent troops and federal agents into several states to combat drug cartels. He also extradited several high-level drug kingpins to the United States.
He learned the Colombian lesson.
IT'S NONE OF CONGRESS'S BUSINESS:
Why attorney firings kicked up such a huge fuss (Adam Sichko, 3/18/07, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
They're political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be removed at any time. So why the big flap over the recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys?
Because the Executive happens to be a conservative Republican?
WHAT IS: IMPROBABLE?:
3 'Jeopardy' Contestants End Up Tied (Associated Press, March 17, 2007)
All those years of answers and questions, and it's never happened before on "Jeopardy!" What is a three-way tie, Alex?
The three contestants on the venerable game show all finished with $16,000 after each answering the final question correctly in the category, "Women of the 1930s," on Friday's show. They identified Bonnie Parker, of the famed Bonnie and Clyde crime duo, as a woman who, as a waitress, once served one of the men who shot her.
"We've had a lot of crazy things happen on 'Jeopardy!' but in 23 years I've never seen anything like this before," host Alex Trebek said.
The show contacted a mathematician who calculated the odds of such a three-way tie happening _ one in 25 million.
EXCEPT THAT THE PRC IS THE LAST BIG PIECE OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS:
Across Asia, Korea talks have wider ambitions (Jim Yardley, March 18, 2007, NY Times)
For more than three years, the grinding, often exasperating negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program have been about taking the bomb away from Kim Jong Il. As if that were not complicated enough, the agenda is now becoming more ambitious. One new goal could be loosely described as cleaning up the 20th century.
Starting Monday. That is when diplomats from the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia will reconvene in Beijing with a docket that is still dominated by nuclear disarmament but that also now includes unresolved disputes that have bedeviled Northeast Asia for decades. [...]
"We are dealing not only with denuclearization," Hill said at one news conference during negotiations in Beijing last month, "but we are dealing with some of the problems in the region, some of the problems in the region caused by the region's difficult history. This type of ambitious undertaking hasn't been tried before."
The end must be to denuclearize China, either peaceably or by force.
DOES ANYONE EVER KNOW LESS ABOUT A TOPIC THAN THE ANALYSTS WHO SPECIALIZE IN IT?:
Sunni Militants Disrupt Plan to Calm Baghdad (MICHAEL R. GORDON, 3/18/07, NY Times)
In January, when President Bush announced his plans to reinforce American troops in Baghdad, Shiite militias were seen as the main worry. Some analysts predicted that bloody clashes with Shiite militants in the Sadr City district in northeastern Baghdad were all but inevitable.
Instead, during the early weeks of the operation, deadly bombings by Sunni Arab militants have emerged as a greater danger. In particular, the threat posed by the Sunni group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was underscored when American troops seized a laptop computer from a senior operative in the group who was killed in late December.
Information from captured materials indicates that the group's leadership sees "the sectarian war for Baghdad as the necessary main focus of its operations," according to an intelligence report that was described by American officials.
Reflecting concern over the bomb attacks, especially car bombings, American military officials have begun to emphasize that bringing security to the Iraqi capital will involve not only the protection of Baghdad neighborhoods, but also raids to shut down bomb factories and uncover arms caches in the largely Sunni areas on the outskirts of the city.
IF MA HAD NUKES WE'D HAVE TO INTERVENE:
The most powerful governor in America?: Deval Patrick, according to one nationwide analysis, holds the strongest governorship in the country. Does he have what it takes to wield that power? (Dave Denison, March 18, 2007, Boston Globe)
Governor Patrick made it clear on his first day in office that he was thinking like a muscular governor: He told reporters that he would seek direct control over independent quasi-public authorities such as the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority -- a goal no governor has achieved, though many have tried.
But after a string of missteps and misfortune, Patrick suddenly seems to be at the helm of a diminished governorship. Headlines about lavish spending for office furnishings and a state car -- and about an ill-advised phone call on behalf of his former business associates -- have hurt his image. News that his wife is suffering from exhaustion and depression means that Patrick will have important family priorities to attend to in coming months.
Clearly, if there were a power-meter for Massachusetts politicians, Patrick's reading would be down several notches from where it was when he took office in January. And yet a governor's power takes many forms. There is the personal influence often referred to as clout, which can be augmented or squandered, and there is the fixed, constitutional power of the office. And it's worth noting that when it comes to the latter -- the inherent powers of the governorship -- the Massachusetts governor is among the strongest in the nation.
Boom times, crackdown slow emerald wave (Kevin Cullen, March 18, 2007, Boston Globe)
Ireland's booming economy and the crackdown on illegal immigration that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have combined to produce a reversal of migration patterns for those who have long made up the biggest, and most influential, ethnic group in Boston.
Put simply, more people are returning to Ireland, and fewer are replacing them, reversing a pattern of immigration that was established in the late 1840s, when Ireland's potato blight killed 1 million people and sent 2 million others scurrying for the ships.
In one generation, Boston was transformed from an overwhelmingly Protestant city in which most of the inhabitants traced their ancestry to England, to a largely Roman Catholic city in which thousands had roots in Ireland. The Irish came to dominate Boston and the metropolitan area -- first its politics, then its commerce -- like no other ethnic group, putting their stamp on a place that is universally regarded as the most Irish city in America.
Now if we can just get the Krauts to go home Ben Franklin will have won.
THE WEAKEST LINK:
'Tek wants to hit stride: Catcher aiming to turn back the clock (John Tomase, 3/18/07, Boston Herald)
"I struggled last year," Varitek said. "If I'm not productive this year, it won't be because of my age. It will be because I just wasn't productive."
The 2006 season is one Varitek would like to forget. He batted a career-low .238 and barely slugged .400. He missed all of August with a knee injury, then returned to hit just .213 with one home run in September and October.
Their catching killed the Sox last year--Varitek's dreadful year on offense after years of bad defense, having to trade value for Mirabelli, and bringing in Javy Lopez instead of a defensive cipher when Varitek got hurt--they ought not let it happen again this year. Teammates seem to genuinely revere him and his leadership, so keep Varitek as the back-up and Tim Wakefield's caddy, but break in a George Kottaras as the starter or go get a Molina.
THE INDUSTRY EXISTS TO TRANSFER MONEY FROM TAXPAYERS TO ACADEMIA AND LENDERS:
'An unholy alliance' gouges students: probe ((MARK JOHNSON, 3/18/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
New York's attorney general has accused colleges across the country of taking kickbacks from student loan companies and reaping other benefits while making it harder for students to get better deals on their loans.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Thursday an investigation he began last month into the $85 billion student loan industry found numerous arrangements made to benefit schools and lenders over the students. In some cases, it found that lenders provided all-expense-paid trips for college financial aid officers to exotic locations in return for directing students to the lenders.
If the pols are going to create an ever bigger slush fund of money for college educations, they can't be surprised that the two main beneficiaries are growing fat off of them.
IF WE JUST TITHED FOR FREEDOM WE COULD LIBERATE 9 MORE NATIONS:
Iraq war cost near $500 billion (MATT CRENSON, 3/17/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
After four years, America's cost for the war in Iraq has reached nearly $500 billion -- more than the total for the Korean War and nearly as much as 12 years in Vietnam, adjusting for inflation. The cost could reach $1 trillion or more.
But even though the war has turned out to be much more expensive than Bush administration officials predicted, it is relatively affordable -- at least in historical terms. Iraq eats up less than 1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, compared with as much as 14 percent for Vietnam and 9 percent for Korea.
Regime change in Iraq was so cheap and so easy it raises the question of whether we don't have a heightened moral obligation to repeat it elsewhere.
March 17, 2007
JAMES WHITMORE EVEN HAD A WHITE MAN'S 'FRO:
John Howard Griffin Took Race All the Way to the Finish (JONATHAN YARDLEY, March 17, 2007, Washington Post)
In the fall of 1959 an obscure white journalist and novelist named John Howard Griffin, a native of Texas, went to a dermatologist in New Orleans with what can only be called an astonishing request: He wanted "to become a Negro." A man of conscience and religious conviction, he was deeply troubled by the racial situation in his native South. He was "haunted" by these questions: "If a white man became a Negro in the Deep South, what adjustments would he have to make? What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?"
The dermatologist agreed to cooperate with Griffin's project, darkening his skin "with a medication taken orally, followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays." Griffin, who had arranged with the editors of Sepia, the prominent black magazine, to write about his experiences, was in a hurry to get started and asked for "accelerated treatments," which he soon supplemented with stain. He also shaved his head, "since I had no curl." He did not look in the mirror until the process was complete, and when he did, he saw "the face and shoulders of a stranger -- a fierce, bald, very dark Negro." He was stunned:
"The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship. . . . I looked into the mirror and saw reflected nothing of the white John Griffin's past. No, the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles against the mark of blackness. . . . I had tampered with the mystery of existence and I had lost the sense of my own being. This is what devastated me. The Griffin that was had become invisible."
Thus began Griffin's six-week odyssey through the South, a journey that took him from New Orleans to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. In March of the next year Sepia published his story, and in 1961 an expanded version was published as a book, "Black Like Me." The cumulative effect of the magazine story, the book and all the attendant publicity -- Griffin was interviewed by the television journalists Dave Garroway and Mike Wallace and featured in Time magazine -- was astonishing. The book became a bestseller. It awoke significant numbers of white Americans to truths about discrimination of which they had been unaware or had denied.
I was one of them.
It used to be assigned reading in school, but obviously isn't anymore.
YOU WERE MEAN TO DANIEL PEARL'S HEADSMAN!:
Probe of Al-Qaeda Leader's Handling Sought: Senators Urge Inquiry After Mohammed Alleges Abuse (Dafna Linzer and Josh White, 3/17/07, Washington Post)
Two senators who observed last week's closed military proceedings against al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed called for an investigation into allegations that the accused planner of the Sept. 11 attacks was physically abused while in CIA custody.
There's an issue to take to the voters...as long as you don't mind them laughing at you.
E PLURIBUS UNUM ISN'T PUNIC:
Taming Fossil Fuels (NY Times, 3/17/07)
Last week the chief executives of America's largest automobile companies -- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota North America -- pledged to support mandatory caps on carbon emissions, as long as the caps covered all sectors of the economy. They delivered their promise to a House committee run by John Dingell -- the crusty Michigan Democrat who is another convert to the cause and has taken to describing the global warming threat with phrases like "Hannibal is at the gates." [...]
[W]hile technology will play an indispensable role, the lead authors of the M.I.T. report, writing in The Wall Street Journal, argue that the most effective way to reduce emissions is to attach a significant price to carbon emissions, either as a carbon tax or through a cap-and-trade program of the sort now embodied in various legislative proposals in Congress. Forcing people to pay to pollute would do more than any other known incentive to bring new technologies to commercial scale. That is the task before Congress.
Even supporters of higher gas taxes would do well to remind Mr. Dingell how Carthage did in that war.
Thompson would be candidate from conservative central casting: Activists court the actor and GOP ex-senator for a White House bid. They consider other hopefuls too moderate on key social issues. (Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook, March 17, 2007, LA Times)
Conservatives often ridicule Democrats for espousing the "culture of Hollywood." But in the latest sign of Republican discontent with the field of 2008 presidential hopefuls -- and in a familiar plot twist -- some of those same activists are eyeing an actor as the party's potential savior.
Fred Thompson, the former GOP senator from Tennessee who once played a White House chief of staff on the big screen and who appears now as a politically savvy prosecutor on TV's "Law & Order," is positioning himself to answer the call and, perhaps, follow the script that saw Ronald Reagan jump from Hollywood to the White House. [...]
"One advantage you have in not, you know, having [the presidency] as lifelong ambition is that if it turns out that your calculation is wrong, it's not the end of the world," Thompson said in a recent interview on Fox News.
But Thompson, whose spokesman said he would not comment for this article, is taking steps that serve to accentuate the buzz around a possible candidacy.
During the Fox News interview, he staked out solidly conservative positions on key issues, opposing same-sex marriage, gun control, and the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. [...]
Thompson first gained national attention as the counsel for Republicans serving on the Senate Watergate committee in 1973 and '74. Starting in the mid-1980s, he began balancing his legal and political interests with acting jobs -- in one of his more notable roles, he portrayed a rear admiral in "The Hunt for Red October."
He was elected in 1994 to fill the Senate term that Al Gore gave up for the vice presidency; he easily won reelection in 1996, then decided to step down in 2002. Around the same time, he was cast as Dist. Atty. Arthur Branch on NBC's "Law and Order."
Sometimes called "Hollywood Fred," Thompson's pitch to social conservatives could be complicated by his personal life. Divorced once, he was known for having an active social life that included a relationship with country music star Lorrie Morgan. He married his second wife, political media consultant Jeri Kehn, in 2002.
Although Thompson probably would offer himself as an outsider, his official residence is no longer in Tennessee, but in the affluent Washington suburb of McLean, Va.
Moreover, some question whether Thompson has the temperament and discipline to raise the money and adhere to the grueling schedule required by a presidential campaign.
"The only rap I know on him is he doesn't like to work hard," said influential conservative Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation.
Geez, he even has Reagan's "laziness" down.
GONNA NEED A HECK OF A LOT MORE POLISH PLUMBERS:
Home sales gridlocked (Edmund Conway and Amy Iggulden, 17/03/2007, Daily Telegraph)
The property market has come to a near standstill with the supply of homes for sale the lowest for 10 years, research by The Daily Telegraph shows.
Experts yesterday warned that the market was "gridlocked".
First-time buyers, families trying to move up the ladder and even older owners wanting to "downsize" are all effectively trapped because demand for homes is now far above supply.
The problem is particularly acute in the south of England.
Britain likely to need 5m new homes by 2027 (Angela Balakrishnan, March 17, 2007, The Guardian)
About 5m new homes will be needed in Britain over the next 20 years to keep up with soaring demand. An updated government forecast released yesterday showed that the annual rate of household growth in England to 2026 is now 223,000 compared with the 209,000 calculated in 2003.
The new figure, based on population growth estimates by the Office for National Statistics, prompted fears among housing organisations that house price inflation will be driven higher by a bigger than forecast housing shortage and strong demand from migrant workers and City employees with hefty bonuses. House prices have already seen annual increases of 11% over the past 10 years, according to the Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender.
America, meanwhile, needs housing for 200 million more people over the next few decades and the Mexicans to build them.
Testifying to panel, Plame takes spotlight: She accuses the White House of 'recklessly' blowing her CIA cover. (Greg Miller, March 17, 2007, LA Times)
On Friday, Plame finally offered her inside account. She testified before a congressional committee that she felt as if she had been "hit in the gut" when her once-secret identity appeared in the media, and accused the Bush administration of "recklessly" blowing her cover.
Plame answered lingering questions about her husband's role in investigating one of the administration's most alarming prewar claims about Iraq, and provided new details on the tense maneuvering between the White House and CIA in the run-up to the war.
Which page of the CIA manual recommends sending your husband on CIA missions and having him write about it for the Times?
PSSSTT...THAT'S A COMEDY, NOT A DRAMA:
Democrats engaged in fight to fulfill pledge on Iraq war: House members lack votes to get troops out by 2008 (RENEE SCHOOF, 3/16/07, Mcclatchy-tribune)
A mini-drama in a congressional hallway this week shed some light on the difficulties that Democrats are having in keeping their promise to change the course on Iraq.
They say they have a strategy to reach that goal, but it will take time to line up enough support to pressure President Bush.
"You have all the power! End the war," activist Maureen Murphy of Newtonville, Mass., said Thursday after waiting nearly five hours for a moment to face off with Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a Vietnam veteran and longtime military supporter who's been calling for a pullout from Iraq since 2005.
"We don't have all the power," Murtha replied gently. "It takes votes."
These people need hobbies.
BUT THERE ARE A BILLION OF THEM...:
Rural unrest in China : Worries about poverty and instability in central China (The Economist, Mar 15th 2007)
Although the government appears to be serious about tackling rural problems, its efforts face many obstacles. First, despite being increased to Rmb392bn in 2007, central government spending on rural development remains woefully insufficient. Given that local governments continue to be expected to shoulder most of the burden of rural healthcare and education, the impact of the recently announced increases is likely to be disappointing. The central government's spending on rural welfare continues to pale in comparison to allocations for urban workers. (In 2006 allocations for rural living allowances for China's rural population of 600m totalled Rmb4.2bn; the budget for the minimum living support insurance, which is issued to the estimated 22.3m urban poor, was a much more substantial Rmb13.6bn.)
Another significant obstacle is that the central government in Beijing relies to a large extent on local governments to implement its policies. In many instances, however, local governments are the perpetrators of--or at least complicit in--the abuses suffered by the rural population. This is particularly true with respect to the unfair expropriation of farmers' land for urban and industrial development. Cash-starved local governments have a strong incentive to seize farmers' land, reclassify it as urban, and lease it to developers at a massive profit. Profits from land-conveyance fees paid by developers and investors for long-term rights to use the land have become an increasingly crucial source of local government revenue, without which, ironically, they could provide even fewer public services.
Even where funding is adequate and the local government is co-operative, many national-level programmes are in an early stage of development and require a challenging degree of co-ordination between various levels of government. China's unemployment insurance system, which has no system for individual accounts, is a good example. Participation has been patchy and protection for migrant workers continues to be particularly poor. Out of an estimated 120m such workers, fewer than 450,000 have received unemployment allowances, with many employers avoiding contribution payments. [...]
Ultimately, inadequate support for basic public services in rural areas may constrain economic growth in rural areas, limiting the government's efforts to reduce poverty and create a "harmonious countryside". Access to basic healthcare and other public services in many areas now requires the ability to make an up-front payment, providing a powerful incentive for China's 600m rural dwellers to save any surplus income rather than to spend it or to make productivity-enhancing investments in their farms or enterprises. As a result, the failure of the government to channel sufficient resources to the countryside could slow rural development, making it more difficult to deal with the social and economic problems associated with rural-urban inequality and rapid urbanisation.
In political terms, however, expressions of rural discontent such as the riots in Hunan appear to pose little direct threat to the central government.
GOOD TO THE LAST DROP...OF MD 20/20:
What's past is perfect for her brassy alto: The English singer's retro sound fuses '60s Motown, jazz and rap with her torchy touch (Ann Powers, March 17, 2007, LA Times)
Slender actresses nibbling on red meat are a tired trope of celebrity profiles, but an artist's gustatory cravings rarely reveal anything about her character. But what Amy Winehouse ordered before a recent sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom here did inadvertently make a point.
Looking for a quiet place to conduct an interview, she'd wandered into Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse, a touristy shrine of "real" Ashkenazi kitsch. "This is cool!" declared the 23-year-old English singer-songwriter, who was raised Jewish, but not surrounded by schmaltz. "We don't have anything like this back in London." She marveled at the chicken fat on the table ("I thought it was orange drink!") and heartily approved of the Catskills-style crooner pumping on a synthesizer in the corner. Winehouse's appreciation wasn't just a matter of retro gawking; when the waitress came, she ordered chopped liver, which she then heartily devoured.
Winehouse's eager consumption of that dauntingly classic dish irresistibly compares to her style of music-making. With a brassy alto that would have made her a great Shirelle, and intonation spanning the gap between gospel and jazz, Winehouse is emerging as today's premier soul revivalist. It's not often that an album is praised for originality and dead-on vintage cool, but that's what's happening with "Back to Black," the award-winning 2006 disc that's now Winehouse's first U.S. release.
-100-Proof Voice: Amy Winehouse Has the Makings of an Incredible Musician. And Perhaps the Makings of a Sad, Short Story (Teresa Wiltz, 2/07/07, Washington Post)
Onstage, the more Amy Winehouse drinks, the better she sings, which is often the case. She's the hottest voice you've never heard -- her album hit No. 1 back home in England -- but right now, at her first U.S. concert, her nerves are bedeviling her. She makes awkward chitchat in that cockney twang. Tugs distractedly at her trademark ratty do. Yanks nervously on the strapless shift that's sliding dangerously south.
Finally, she requests an amaretto sour -- to hoots of approval. It's a part of her shtick, what her fans have come to expect.
"They keep trying to keep me from drinking, but they forget it's my gig." Pause. Sip. "Ahhhhhhhhhhh." She cocks back her head, then lets loose, her voice big, brassy, bitter, giving the lyrics to her single, " Rehab," a certain squirmy poignancy: They tried to make me to go to rehab, but I said no, no, no . . .
Tomorrow, when the hangover kicks in, it'll be a less amusing story, one that conjures that age-old trope of the tortured artist. To witness Winehouse is to wonder why art and self-destruction so often dance together.
-What I know about men ...: Amy Winehouse 23, singer/songwriter, lives with boyfriend (Interview by Chloe Diski, October 8, 2006, The Observer)
-A Billie Holiday for the 21st Century. (BBC)
FAIRYTALE OF BEANTOWN:
How Close Is Too Close to Shane MacGowan and the Pogues? (NICHOLAS KULISH, 3/17/07, NY Times)
For me, the Pogues' manic mix of mournful dirges and hard-edged thrashers seemed to map the chaos of my suburban teenage mind.
The fact that there was substance in there, a long Irish musical tradition coupled with references to literature and legend, was what allowed my relationship with the Pogues to blossom from passing fancy into obsession. To steep yourself in the Pogues requires you to read James Joyce and Brendan Behan, to listen to both the Clash and the Dubliners, and to take up some, but, I hope, not all, of the legendary bad habits of our latter-day Baudelaire, Shane.
The ultimate experience, then, would be a face-to-face meeting, a wide-ranging, soul-searching discussion of music and the written word. That was not quite how it unfolded for me when it finally happened, during the summer I turned 20.
Hanging out after a show in Washington in 1995, I found Shane MacGowan alone, confused and locked out of both the club and his tour bus. Pale and unsteady, his words unintelligible, he clawed feebly at the door of the bus. There would be no discussion of "Ulysses." I pounded on the bus door until the driver woke and let him in. Though this audience lasted several minutes, the only words of my hero's that I could make out were "Cheers" and "Thanks."
Until this week, I hadn't seen him play live again.
A healthier MacGowan makes for a stronger Pogues (Joan Anderman, March 10, 2007, Boston Globe)
The enduring poetry of the Pogues' music was front and center, as the punk-ish din of youthful rebellion has become the sound of survival. The sloshing bottle of wine MacGowan gripped seemed more prop than pacifier as the 49-year-old Irishman wended tenderly through "The Broad Majestic Shannon," spewed "Dirty Old Town" with debauched soul and spot-on pitch, and conjured a strong, steady croon for "A Rainy Night in Soho." He left the stage from time to time, ceding the spotlight to whistle player Spider Stacy , guitarist Philip Chevron, and multi-instrumentalist Terry Woods, who each took a turn at the microphone. The band's elegant, careening clatter shone in the absence of MacGowan's magnetic pull.
But the singer always returned, fresh cigarette and new container of booze in hand, and for the first time in a long time it didn't seem like a miracle. The show grew tighter and more spirited, not messier and more tragic, as the nearly two-hour set wore on -- culminating in a stunning run of "Star of the County Down," "Poor Paddy," the Dubliners' "The Old Triangle," and salty, waltzing "Fiesta." MacGowan didn't miss a beat, even as the tempos raced and he and Stacy bashed themselves on the head with sheet metal. After all these years it's going to take more than a little self-inflicted percussion to take the Pogues down.
A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues' Poet (ANDY WEBSTER, 3/13/07, NY Times)
The Pogues are in the United States for their annual St. Patrick's tour, hitting cities where their fan base and Irish enclaves are strong: Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Next the group goes to the Roseland Ballroom in New York, with gigs on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, St. Patrick's Day. (The band plays in Philadelphia on Friday too.)
A reporter had waited close to an hour in the bar at the Ritz-Carlton here before Mr. MacGowan -- resplendent in an untucked black-and-white-printed tropical shirt, primitive neck jewelry and a gaudy red and black cowboy hat -- shuffled in with Joey Cashman, his longtime assistant. Mr. MacGowan, 49, asked the waiter for Irish breakfast tea, and drank with a trembling hand.
It might be said that Mr. MacGowan speaks in a Joycean stream of consciousness, but a conversation with him is closer to a pinwheeling ramble with a very well-seasoned regular at the corner pub. He speaks in a flurry of digressions, uttered in a semi-slurred Irish-London accent that is tough to decipher at times. When, during one tangent, the term "British Isles" arose, Mr. Cashman was quick to correct it.
"Don't use the phrase British Isles," he said. "It's England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland." He added, "If you say it any other way, he'd probably throw his glass at you."
March 16, 2007
WELL, C'MON, HUGO DIDN'T BLOW UP THE WTC...:
Rudy Giuliani's Law Firm Lobbying in Texas for Venezuela-Owned Citgo (AP, March 15, 2007)
Rudy Giuliani's law firm has received $100,000 to $200,000 since 2005 to lobby Texas legislators on behalf of Citgo Petroleum Corp., a Houston-based oil company ultimately controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
SO MUCH FOR THE HOPE OF A BLOODY SPRING:
Taliban fleeing NATO forces: top U.S. general (JASON STRAZIUSO, 3/16/07, AP)
The top NATO general in Afghanistan said Friday the alliance's latest offensive is the first of a "rolling series" of operations against Taliban insurgents, some of whom have been fleeing western forces in the south.
U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the 36,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said western troops were exchanging fire with Taliban fighters "in a number of areas" in southern Afghanistan but that many militants were fleeing the 5,500 NATO and Afghan soldiers participating in Operation Achilles.
The hardest part of the WoT is always going to be getting such a feeble foe to stand and fight so we can kill them.
WAS THE BRACKET WRITTEN IN JAPANESE?:
Dice-K likes Tar Heels in NCAAs (AP, March 16, 2007)
How widespread is the public's fascination with the NCAA basketball tournament? Even Daisuke Matsuzaka, the much heralded newcomer to the United States, filled out a bracket sheet.
"You know he doesn't know" much about college basketball, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but it's good. You get people involved and guys have fun with it." [...]
The team Matsuzaka picked to win it all, North Carolina, beat Eastern Kentucky 86-65 in a first-round game Thursday night.
"I know he was the only guy that went from winner to back," Francona said.
While most people who fill out brackets -- players, businessmen or students -- start making their picks in the first round and move toward the Final Four and then the championship game. Matsuzaka picked his champion first and worked backwards.
IT IS THE CHURCHILLIAN PROJECT THAT THEY OBJECT TO:
Bush's Book List Gets More Islamophobic (Jim Lobe, Mar 16, 2007, IPS)
Accounts of a Feb. 28 "literary luncheon" at the White House suggest that President George W. Bush's reading tastes -- until now a remarkably good predictor of his policy views -- are moving ever rightward, even apocalyptic, despite his administration's recent suggestions that it is more disposed to engage Washington's foes, even in the Middle East.
The luncheon, attended as well by Vice President Dick Cheney and a dozen hard-line neo-conservatives, was held in honour of visiting British historian Andrew Roberts whose latest work, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900", Bush reportedly read late last year and subsequently sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair. Cheney took the book with him on his recent trip to Pakistan.
Roberts, an avowed Thatcherite who proudly declared himself "extremely right-wing" in a recent Financial Times interview, repeatedly advised the president, according to Irwin Stelzer, one of the neo-conservative attendees, to ignore rising anti-U.S. sentiment abroad and opposition at home in pursuing his war on terrorism -- or what the historian has called "the Manichean world-historical struggle" against fascism, of which "Totalitarian Islamic Terrorist Fascism" is only the latest. [...]
In his article, Stelzer, an economist at the Hudson Institute and London Sunday Times columnist, disclosed that Bush had also recommended that his staff and friends read another, even more apocalyptic, analysis of the current war on terror, "America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It", by Toronto-born neo-conservative columnist Mark Steyn.
Steyn's book, which, unlike Roberts', actually made the New York Times bestseller list, sees Europe's demographic trends and its multicultural, "post-nationalist" secularism -- of which his native Canada is also guilty -- as leading inevitably to the "Eupocalypse", the "recolonisation of Europe by Islam", the emergence of "Eurabia", and the onset of a "new Dark Ages" in which the United States will find it difficult to survive as the "lonely candle of liberty."
Steyn, who admits that he would have to drive three hours from his home in thankfully "undiverse" New Hampshire to find a Muslim, sees Islam itself -- and not just "Islamist radicals" or "jihadis", such as al Qaeda -- as a unique threat that cannot be reconciled with "free societies".
So after six years as president, Mr. Bush's reading list suggests the lesson that the Anglosphere is handy in a fight and continental Europe useless. Shocking....
NOW THAT'S A FAMILY:
Notable San Francisco Chronicle reporter Einstein dies at 80 (AP, March 16, 2007)
Charles A. Einstein, a former San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle reporter who became a noted baseball historian and collaborated with Willie Mays on a pair of books, has died. He was 80. [...]
Einstein worked with Mays on the books Born to Play Ball and My Life In and Out of Baseball, and also wrote a television documentary on Mays' life. Einstein wrote or edited more than 35 books, including four volumes of the Fireside Book of Baseball. His 1979 book, "Willie's Time: Baseball's Golden Age," was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Born in Boston on Aug. 2, 1926, Einstein came from a show-business family. He was the son of comedian Harry Einstein, whose stage name was "Parkyakarkus." Harry Einstein died in 1958 when he slumped into Milton Berle's lap after performing during a roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
N.J. governor and his union boss ex-girlfriend face questions (ANGELA DELLI SANTI, 3/16/07, The Associated Press)
After Jon broke up with Carla, he forgave a half-million-dollar mortgage loan he had given her. He also may have paid her kids' tuition and helped her with other expenses.
All of this might have been merely a story about a boyfriend and girlfriend who broke up and managed to stay friends, except that Jon is Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Carla is Carla Katz, president of New Jersey's biggest state employee union. And the two have been on opposite sides lately during contract talks covering 40,000 workers.
In recent weeks, their romantic and financial ties have raised conflict-of-interest questions, namely: Are Corzine and Katz faithfully serving the people they represent? Or are they hopelessly compromised?
C'mon, they aren't Republicans, are they? So, what's the problem?
IT IS NEXT SEASON:
Tigers look ready to motor (Ken Rosenthal, 3/16/07, FOXSports.com
The Tigers are the best team in Florida, maybe the best team in baseball.
Scouts following the defending American League champions are raving about how sharp the team looks in Grapefruit League play.
"They have a swagger about them, a confidence," one scout says. "They're all business. The way they approach it, they're on all cylinders now."
A second scout adds, "It's almost like they could open the season tomorrow and get out of the gate quickly, just by the way they prepare."
LEARN YE BASHFULNESS:
The Usual Suspects: A new list of America's most popular buildings. (Witold Rybczynski, March 14, 2007, , Slate)
There are a number of bona fide signature buildings on the list--Santiago Calatrava's addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Renzo Piano's (almost complete) New York Times Building, Moshe Safdie's Salt Lake City Public Library, and Foster & Partners' Hearst Building--but there are not many of them. Although buildings built after 1997 (when the Bilbao Guggenheim was built), represent 21 of the 150 favorites, which is a relatively large number for a single decade, only one (the Polshek Partnership's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York) is in the top 50, and most are toward the bottom of the list. Moreover, the most admired recent building is hardly avant-garde: Bellagio, a Las Vegas hotel and casino, is designed in an exuberant Italianate style and resembles a cluster of lakefront villas. I'm not sure what this means. Maybe it's just that more people go to casinos than planetariums, or maybe we should be talking about the Bellagio effect--architecture as popular entertainment.
At No. 22, Bellagio is not at the top of the list. The buildings that Americans care for the most tend to be older. Some, like the White House (No. 2) and the Washington Monument (No. 12) are very old; others, like Grand Central Station (No. 13) and the Chrysler Building (No. 9), date from the early decades of the 20th century. It's tempting to conclude that people just dislike Modernist architecture, but Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial (No. 10) and Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis (No. 14) are resolutely Minimalist, and the Empire State Building, which is No. 1, is Art Deco Modernist.
I don't think that most people who admire the Empire State Building know the name of its architect, William Lamb of Lamb, Shreve & Harmon. Nor would they recognize James Hoban, the architect of the White House, or George F. Bodley, the first architect of Washington National Cathedral, Nos. 2 and 3 on the list. Perhaps the architects are not well-known because, despite the size and prominence of their works, they are not signature buildings in the modern sense. They were not personal statements, and they were not meant to be shocking. These architects were striving for something different: long-term quality rather than short-term notoriety. And it is the steadfastness and enduring quality of these buildings that people like. Conversely, the impact of buildings that seem exciting and unusual today often doesn't last. That is something that cities lusting after signature buildings should remember. In architecture, the race is usually to the slow and steady.
Architecture? That could be the epitaph for the entire Enlightenment.
Here's a nice bit from Patrick O'Brian's H. M. S. Surprise in which Tom Pullings sums up the Anglo-French conflict:
"Then on her quarter, with the patched inner jib, that's the Hope: or maybe she's the Ocean -- they're much of a muchness, out of the same yard and off of the same draught. But any gait, all of 'em you see in this weather line, is what we call twelve-hundred-tonners; though to be sure some gauges thirteen and even fifteen hundred ton, Thames measurement. Wexford, there, with her brass fo'c'sle eight-pounder winking in the sun, she does: but we call her a twelve hundred ton ship."
"Sir, might it not be simpler to call her a fifteen hundred ton ship?"
"Simpler, maybe: but it would never do. You don't want to be upsetting the old ways. Oh dear me, no. God's my life, if the Captain was to hear you carrying on in that reckless Jacobin, democratical line, why, I dare say he would turn you adrift on a three-inch plank, with both your ears nailed down to it, to learn you bashfulness. the way he served three young gentlemen in the Med. No, no: you don't want to go arsing around with the old ways: the French did so, and look at the scrape it got them into.
COULD FOLKS BE ANY SLOWER ON THE UPTAKE?:
For U.S. and Sadr, Wary Cooperation: Radical Shiite Cleric Seen as Crucial To Success of Baghdad Security Plan (Sudarsan Raghavan, 3/16/07, Washington Post)
U.S. troops are conducting security sweeps in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City for the first time in three years, part of a revamped plan to pacify the capital. Yet the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has not risen up to fight them, despite U.S. raids on militia members' homes and growing Sunni attacks on Shiites.
"Until now, our leader has ordered us to keep quiet," explained Ayad al-Khaby, a local official in Sadr's organization. "This is in order for the security plan to succeed."
After four years of hostility, Sadr and the Americans are cooperating uneasily as the United States and Iraq attempt to tame Baghdad's sectarian violence. American officials, who in recent months described Sadr's Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability, now praise the Shiite cleric.
You can judge how worthless "expert" analysis of the Middle East is just by how long it's taken them to figure this one out.
Delicate negotiations to shift alliances (Seymour M. Hersh, March 17, 2007, The Australian)
IN the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis and the Bush administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, a US government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.
Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group.
(In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the US have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)
The third component was that the Bush administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shi'ite ascendance in the region. Fourth, the Saudi Government, with Washington's approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the Government of President Bashar al-Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad Government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations.
It's smart to use the Sa'uds against their fellow Sunni, but their Wahabbism is the ultimate enemy.
MAY AS WELL TELEVISE IT:
Congressmen witnessed pivotal Guantanamo hearing (Washington Post, 3/16/07)
Key congressional leaders flew secretly Saturday to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe the closed military hearing for al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to congressional staff and Pentagon officials.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a committee member, watched the proceedings over closed-circuit television from an adjacent room, said Tara Andringa, a spokeswoman for Levin. They were joined by a representative from the CIA, according to one U.S. government official.
The official transcript of Mohammed's hearing, called to establish whether he qualifies as an "enemy combatant," acknowledged the presence of five unnamed military officers, a translator and an official tribunal reporter.
It is unclear why the presence of two senators who helped write the law codifying the tribunals was not announced. [...]
Though there have been hundreds of status hearings for Guantanamo detainees, Saturday's hearings for Mohammed and two other al-Qaida suspects marked the first time that Combatant Status Review Tribunals were closed to the media and the public. Pentagon officials argued that hearings had to be conducted in secret for unspecified national security reasons.
While we've little truck with notion of national security secrets, for those who do believe in secrecy though it is notable that this hearing is leaking like a sieve.
US, Japan in security overdrive (Alan Boyd, 3/17/07, Asia Times)
A rat that gnaws at a cat's tail invites destruction, says the classic Chinese proverb on the importance of knowing one's physical limits. Yet the United States and its regional allies appear blissfully content that China, Asia's economic and political tiger, will not swat back as they pursue their crude security containment strategy.
This week's defense pact between Japan and Australia bolsters the third axis of the Trilateral Security Dialogue that those two countries share with the US. Washington wants to make it a neat quadrilateral by also bringing in India.
What then? Some diplomats envisage a happy family of democracies stretching through South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and possibly Thailand that would channel their collective fear of a resurgent China into a pooling of resources - and possibly even retaliatory measures.
The US already has defense arrangements with each of these countries. Canberra and Tokyo signed a memorandum in 2003 that initiated a strategic dialogue, including regular ship and aircraft visits and other exchanges. But the latest pact, the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, takes these relationships a step further by providing for the sharing of intelligence and high-level exchanges of military personnel, as well as extensive cooperation in training.
Mr. Boyd, like most, seems to have forgotten that George F. Kennan proposed containment because he understood that the USSR was doomed and need only be kept in check long enough to implode. Containment of China proceeds from a similar recognition of its weakness. This "tiger" can't spit the bit.
WHAT'S THE PERSIAN FOR HARVEY DENT?:
Top powers agree on Iran nuke sanctions (EDITH M. LEDERER, 3/16/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
The world's major powers agreed Thursday on modest new sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, sending a strong signal that the U.N. Security Council will likely remain united in seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The proposed new sanctions include a ban Iranian arms exports and financial restrictions against 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs -- about a third linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard.
The governments of the five veto-wielding permanent council nations -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France -- and Germany signed off on the draft resolution and it was then presented to the 10 elected council members.
US and Iran: Squint-eyed double-dealing (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 3/17/07, Asia Times)
"The US cannot have its cake and eat it too. It cannot expect cooperation from Iran on regional issues when it is doing everything possible to weaken Iran and to deprive Iran of much-needed peaceful nuclear technology," a Tehran University political scientist told the author recently. He added: "The US has now resorted to kidnapping Iranians, not only in Iraq but also in Turkey, with the help of the Israelis most likely, and yet expects to have a smooth meeting in Turkey with Iranian top officials when they meet next month."
Clearly this will not wash in the long run, and the administration of US President George W Bush must let the chips fall on one side or the other, instead of pursuing the current ambiguous dual track of detente and blatant hostility.
The duality of US policy is actually one of the first hopeful signs in our dealings with Iran, provided that it proceeds from a recognition that the Islamic Republic itself has a dual nature and that by dividing the anti-American hard-liners away from the conservative clerics and the reform-minded populace we can help the latter defeat the former.
IMPORTING THE SUPERIOR CULTURE:
Use Sharia law on bike thieves, says MP Boris (Daily Mail, 16th March 2007)
[B]oris Johnson has a new target in his sights - bicycle thieves.
Fed up with having his bike stolen and wheel nuts taken, the outspoken Tory MP and cycling enthusiast wants to get tough on bike thieves.
Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Islington Cyclists Action Group at Islington Town Hall on Wednesday night, he called for hardline 'Sharia law' to be used on bike thieves.
Should have just kept the Puritans.
DOES THE POPE LET PRIESTS PREACH HERESY?:
How one number touched off big climate-change fight at UW (Warren Cornwall, 3/16/07, Seattle Times)
The number is eye-popping, and it was repeated so often it became gospel.
The snowpack in the Cascades, it was said, shrank by 50 percent in the last half-century. It's been presented as glaring evidence of the cost exacted by global warming -- the drying up of a vital water source.
That statistic has been repeated in a government report, on environmental-advocacy Web sites and in media coverage. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels recently mentioned it in a guest column in The Seattle Times.
Here's the problem: The number is dead wrong.
The debunking of this statistic, and the question of just how much the state's snowpack shrank, is stirring up a heated debate among the region's climate scientists.
On Monday, it escalated further when University of Washington researcher and State Climatologist Philip Mote stripped a colleague of his title as associate state climatologist, triggering concerns that scientific dissent is being quashed.
Religions need not and ought not tolerate dissent.
CRAZY PEOPLE ARE FUNNY:
Us to George -- sure, whatever: In previous wars, we sacrificed our underwear. Now it's just our civil rights. (Bill Maher, March 16, 2007, LA Times)
STOP SAYING President Bush hasn't asked us to sacrifice anything for the war. He's asked us to sacrifice something enormous: our civil rights. To which the American people have responded: "Sure, whatever."
Note that while his statement is true -- Americans are unconcerned about the minimal impingement that steps taken to stop terror have had on the rest of us-- he couches it in terms that suggest contempt for his fellow citizens. Not only is his hysteria accidentally amusing but his expression of superiority is antithetical to his supposed liberalism.
NO ONE INVESTS IN THE FUTURES OF COUNTRIES THAT HAVEN'T ANY:
Sustaining the unsustainable: Global investors are worried about many things. Why is America's current-account deficit not one of them? (The Economist, 3/15/07)
[R]ejecting the conventional wisdom is now itself entirely conventional, as Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard University, has pointed out.
Three years ago, Michael Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau and Peter Garber, all economists at Deutsche Bank, argued that the world economy was enjoying a reprise of the Bretton Woods era. America's large external deficit could be sustained for years as Asian central banks kept their currencies cheap in order to foster export-led growth. In 2005 Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve, pointed out that global interest rates were oddly low, suggesting a glut of saving abroad, not a shortfall of saving at home, was responsible for the flow of capital to America.
More recent papers have picked up similar threads, arguing that imbalances might prove to be both more persistent and less perverse than once thought. A study last summer by three economists at the IMF, for instance, showed that poor countries which export capital have grown faster than those which rely on importing it from abroad.
One reason may be the feebleness of their financial markets. That is a thesis explored by Ricardo Caballero and Emmanuel Farhi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas of the University of California, Berkeley. They point out that emerging economies have been frantically accumulating real assets, such as assembly lines and office towers, but their generation of financial assets has not kept pace. Thanks to weak property rights, fear of expropriation and poor bankruptcy procedures, many newly rich countries are unable to create enough trustworthy claims on their future incomes. Lacking vehicles for saving at home, the thrifty buy assets abroad instead. In China, Mr Caballero argues, this is done indirectly through the state, which buys foreign securities, such as Treasuries, then issues bonds of its own, which are held by Chinese banks, companies and households.
Because emerging economies' supply of financial instruments is so unreliable, people may hoard more of them as a precautionary measure. Firms and households fear they will not be able to borrow to tide themselves over bad times, therefore they choose to save for a rainy day instead. Because they cannot transfer purchasing power from the future to the present, they must store it from the past.
If global imbalances are the result of such frictions, they are unlikely to unwind quickly. Financial systems, after all, do not mature overnight. If Mr Caballero is right, America is also less vulnerable to a sudden run on its securities. Where, he asks, would the excess demand for global assets go?
Meanwhile, since they make us stuff cheap and fund our government debt, we have managed to sock away a staggering $55 trillion.
THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HARVARD MAN!:
South Korean publisher pulls comic book blaming Jews for 9/11 (BURT HERMAN, 3/16/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
A South Korean publisher agreed Thursday to withdraw a best-selling children's book from stores after meeting with an anti-Semitism watchdog group that accused the author of spreading messages echoing Nazi propaganda.
The comic-book series by Rhie Won-bok, ''Meon Nara, Yiwoot Nara'' (''Far Countries, Near Countries''), purports to teach about the world. It has sold at least 10 million copies.
One of three books on the U.S. claims Jews were the driving force for the hatred that led to the Sept. 11 attacks, that they exert control over U.S. media and says they prevent Korean Americans from succeeding in the United States.
So are Korean grocers just a front for the old Jewish owners?
DOM, NOT DUMB:
Journey long but hardening: Path through hardships makes Sleeth stronger (Jack Etkin, 3/16/07, Rocky Mountain News)
At long last, things are happily different for Kyle Sleeth.
He was in camp with the Detroit Tigers last year, concentrating on rehabilitation, waiting to pitch to get his career, which began with so much fanfare, back on track.
It would be June before Sleeth, who went to Northglenn High School, made his 2006 debut only to discover he still was dealing with the effects of reconstructive elbow surgery. This spring training, there is an all-systems-go approach for Sleeth, 25, whose medical problems are in the past. [...]
Even though Sleeth has lost significant time - he has pitched only 185 innings and 148 were in 2004, his first professional season - he's very much on the Tigers' radar.
"He's got a power arm with power breaking stuff," Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "Great body, can change speeds and he's a quality prospect. He's plenty young enough to really be in a good spot. He can re-establish himself, move quickly."
Sleeth finally made his Grapefruit League debut last week. In two games, he pitched a combined three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk with four strikeouts. As expected, his stay in major league camp ended Monday when the Tigers sent him down to Double A Erie (Pa.).
Dave Dombroski gets appropriate credit for the team the Tigers put on the field now, but just as important is the fact that they could make a trade for a Gary Sheffield and still have plenty of premiere prospects in the minor league pipeline.
THERE IS NO CHINA:
Hong Kong's make-believe election: Nobody doubts that Donald Tsang will be returned as chief executive. But China is under pressure to allow a more open contest next time (The Economist, 3/15/07)
To democrats' surprise, a new election committee chosen last December had just enough members of the right bent to enable a pro-democracy candidate--Alan Leong, a barrister and a member of the local mini-parliament known as the Legislative Council (LegCo)--to be nominated for the first time.
In the last two elections for chief executive there was no contest and, according to Mr Leong, the government in Beijing had not expected opposition this time either. Mr Tsang is now having to put on a show of electioneering. In the televised debate on March 1st with Mr Leong, he appeared uncomfortable and defensive. Mr Leong noted that the public had not been invited to the event; only members of the election committee were allowed in and the few pro-democracy protesters who burst into the venue were bundled out. Another debate was due to take place on March 15th with questions from the public. Mr Leong says the political landscape of Hong Kong has been changed for good; no chief executive could expect to be elected again without having to face the people.
The election comes at a crucial juncture in Hong Kong's post-colonial development. According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution which was approved by China in 1990 and took effect when the British left in 1997, the territory's ultimate aim is to have universal suffrage. Many in Hong Kong had thought this could happen this year for the chief-executive election, and next year for the semi-democratic legislature.
But China's rulers decreed three years ago that Hong Kong would not be ready for democracy so soon. Pressure is now growing on Mr Tsang to set a target date.
Democratic rhetoric has a funny way of creating democratic reality.
First-ever debates become must-see TV for Hong Kong voters (GEOFFREY YORK, 3/16/07, Globe and Mail)
The two contenders stood toe-to-toe in the debating ring yesterday, firing their best rhetorical jabs as they battled for the right to become Hong Kong's next leader.
It would be a normal scene in many countries, but this was something historic: a televised debate on Chinese soil between two politicians of sharply opposing views, arguing over the future of democracy.
It's a risky new tactic by Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists. Instead of boycotting an election where the rules are rigged in favour of Beijing, the democrats have decided to contest the March 25 election. The televised debates, the first in Hong Kong's history, have sparked fresh interest in a democracy movement that had seemed to be fading from the public stage.
By generating a new buzz over an election controlled by just 800 voters, the democrats have created more pressure for universal suffrage in this former British colony. At least two million people out of Hong Kong's seven million watched the first televised debate on March 1, and an equally large audience had been expected to tune in last night for the second.
New law strengthens China's private property rights (Staff and agencies, March 16, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
China today took a further step away from its communist past as parliament passed legislation strengthening private property rights for individuals and companies. [...]
It had been vigorously opposed by a small but influential group of scholars and retired officials, who described it as a move towards unrestrained privatisation that would further widen social divisions.
The law, which has been debated for 14 years, effectively puts the final, official seal on the way China's still officially communist economic system has been transformed by private enterprise and foreign investment over the past three decades.
The economy is increasingly dominated by the private sector, which now accounts for 65% percent of China's gross national product.
Along with private businesses, the new law also aims to bolster the rights of homebuyers who have pushed the urban home ownership rate to more than 80%.
It is also intended to help farmers who have frequently lost their land to infrastructure and housing projects with little or no compensation.
China Backs Property Law, Buoying Middle Class (JOSEPH KAHN, 3/16/07, NY Times)
After more than a quarter-century of market-oriented economic policies and record-setting growth, China on Friday enacted its first law to protect private property explicitly.
The measure, which was delayed a year ago amid vocal opposition from resurgent socialist intellectuals and old-line, left-leaning members of the ruling Communist Party, is viewed by its supporters as building a new and more secure legal foundation for private entrepreneurs and the country's urban middle-class home and car owners.
There are folks who sweat that China will be able to maintain political authoritarianism while allowing protestantism and capitalism--seems a dubious proposition based on human history.
WE CAN AFFORD PATIENCE, BUT CAN THE ARAB PEOPLE?:
Abizaid's Long View (David Ignatius, March 16, 2007, Washington Post)
How do you win a "long war" against Islamic extremism if your country has a short attention span? That's an overarching concern for Abizaid regarding a conflict in which time -- not troops, not tactics -- is the true strategic resource. "The biggest problem we've got is lack of patience," he says. "When we take upon ourselves the task of rebuilding shattered societies, we need not to be in a hurry. We need to be patient, but our patience is limited. That makes it difficult to accomplish our purposes."
Abizaid tried to stay focused on the long war -- the battle against Islamic extremists who would kill a million Americans in an instant if they could -- and to avoid taking actions in the Iraq theater that would make this larger conflict worse. That meant trying, wherever possible, to reduce the footprint of American occupation in Iraq and to push the Iraqis to solve their own problems.
"Insurgencies are not easily solved by foreign troops," he warns. Only Iraqi security forces can stabilize the country in a lasting way, and America's mission is training and advising those forces. That's where patience comes in: America is four years into a process that, by Abizaid's reading of counterinsurgency history, takes an average of about 11 years. On that timetable, less than halfway through, he thinks the United States is doing okay in Iraq -- assuming it has the patience to finish the mission.
Abizaid won't talk, even in his last week on the job, about the political debate that has swirled in Washington during his final months about whether to "surge" additional troops into Iraq. But it's clear from his public statements that he regards the number of troops as a tactical matter. The essential ingredient for victory is something different -- a comprehensive strategy that draws together all the resources of the U.S. government and that has enough public support to endure from election to election and administration to administration.
"Military power solves about 20 percent of your problem in the region," he said in a speech at Harvard in November. "The rest of it needs to be diplomatic, economic, political."
This need for a comprehensive strategy -- and for a new national security structure that can make it work -- is the second big lesson for Abizaid. Facing a global communist adversary in 1947, the United States created institutions that could coordinate all the different strands of policy, and Abizaid argues that we need a 1947-style reform now. "There are too many bureaucratic impediments," he says. It's too hard, in Abizaid's view, to balance elements that should be working together but are instead competing -- State vs. Defense, legislative vs. executive, Iraqis vs. Americans, America vs. its allies.
Abizaid says that after retirement, he wants to join in a public debate about how to reform a national security system that hasn't worked well enough in Iraq.
Institutionalizing the Cold War is what made it last 50 years.
THAT PAPER MONEY FAD CAN'T END FAST ENOUGH:
Scrap the Greenback!: It's time to get rid of the dollar bill (Christopher Bonanos, March 15, 2007, Slate)
So the United States is introducing dollar coins, again. Earlier this month, the Treasury put George Washington's face on a golden coin, the first in a limited run that will eventually include every American president through Ronald Reagan and possibly beyond. (Only presidents who have been dead two years will be depicted, so if George H.W. Bush is still healthy when his turn arrives, the series will end with the Gipper.) This is the government's fourth attempt to move American spenders from dollar bills to dollar coins, after three flops that satisfied nobody but coin collectors. But these quite sensible efforts are destined to fail unless the Treasury finally does what it should have done long ago: Stop printing dollar bills.
There's no reason the United States shouldn't be using dollar coins right now. Canadian and Australian dollars are made of metal. So are the British pound sterling and the euro. That's because coins are vastly more durable than paper money. Though a coin costs about three times as much to produce as a bill, it will circulate for an average of 30 years, whereas a dollar bill lasts 22 months, and for the last few of those, has all the charm of a grimy, germy handkerchief. The United States General Accounting Office says we'll save $500 million a year in production costs if we shift to coins; another GAO document puts the savings even higher, at $747.5 million.
Of course, coins won't be around in a few years either.
Tragedy follows landmark court win: After success in a long fight against forced medication, a schizophrenic man gained freedom. But now he is accused of killing his roommate (Lee Romney and Scott Gold, March 16, 2007, LA Times)
ON a crisp afternoon last fall, a police officer responding to a 911 call pulled onto an abandoned military base on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay. Six dreary naval housing blocks, converted into apartments for down-on-their-luck veterans, had been painted with labels meant to inspire: Hope, Resolve.
The door to Apartment B, in the building called Courage, was open. The man who had summoned police, Kanuri Qawi, was waiting casually in the doorway, a glass of soda in his hand.
Qawi invited the officer inside and began spinning a wild tale. Intruders, he insisted, had entered his apartment. They had robbed him of $300, then stripped him naked, strapped him to a flatbed truck and paraded him through the streets. As Qawi talked, incense burned, but it could not hide the smell. It was the smell, the officer knew, of decaying flesh.
The officer asked if he could have a look around, then pushed open the door of an empty bedroom. Qawi's roommate, John Laird Milton Sr., was lying on his back, his body stiff, his face blue. His blood was splattered three feet up the wall. Next to the body were his glasses and one white sock. An autopsy would reveal that he had been stabbed seven times, once in the heart. He had been dead about a week.
Interviewed by investigators, Qawi was consumed by what he described as an elaborate conspiracy: how staffers at the apartment complex had called him a homosexual; how they wanted to kick him out because he had been "contaminated" by radiation during the Chernobyl meltdown.
Police quickly realized that Qawi, 46, was suffering from delusions. What they didn't know that day was how long and hard he had fought for the right to have them.
Qawi was a notorious figure in California mental hospitals. His nine-year legal battle had taken him all the way to the state Supreme Court, where he had won the right -- for himself and hundreds of other mental patients -- to refuse to take the psychiatric drugs prescribed by doctors.
His case was a seminal chapter in the campaign to modernize mental health treatment and give patients more control over their bodies. And in key ways, it helped transform California's mental hospitals, with a growing number of patients rejecting their drugs, suffering psychotic breaks and lashing out in violence.
When you make freedom the ultimate value, without concern for whether the individual is even capable of taking responsibility for what he does with it, you're pretty much begging for such outcomes.
THE CAR AS PEW:
A Signal From Above: Christian Radio Gets Closer to the Morning-Madness Crowd (David Segal, 3/15/07, Washington Post)
Until about a decade ago, when you ran across a Christian radio station you knew it right away. The programming was mostly recordings of preachers, and the music -- when there was music -- was sedate and reverent gospel.
"Entertainment used to be a bad word in Christian radio," says John Frost, a partner in Goodratings Strategic Services, consultants for religious broadcasters. "It was designed to appeal not merely to a small percent of people, but a small percent of Christians."
In the mid-'90s Frost and others convinced dozens of religious broadcasters that it was time for an overhaul. Audience research and production values became part of the mix. Today dozens of Christian stations leaven their message with professional DJs and atmospherics straight out of the secular radio playbook. (In Washington, there's WGTS at 91.9 FM, a Frost client that promises "No offensive lyrics. No blue humor.") Some of these refurbished stations place in the top 10 in their markets.
The National Religious Broadcasters organization believes that Stone's program is the only Christian morning-zoo show on the dial. And it's a radical departure for WAWZ, which was all preaching, all the time for decades after its launch in 1931 as an AM station. With 50,000 watts of power, the station's signal has long been strong enough to span the 40 miles between Zarephath and New York City, an area that is home to a massive horde of godless sinners.
Four years ago, the board of Pillar of Fire -- an organization that sprang from the Methodists -- decided it was time to talk to those hordes.
March 15, 2007
LIGHT IN THE LOAFERS SUFFICES (via Mike Daley):
CRACKING JOKES: Ezra Klein Flunks the Test (Russ Smith, 3/14/07, NY Press)
Left-wing political journalists, even the smart ones, aren't very adept at humor. Why that happens to be the case, I'm not sure, but if you can name even a half dozen Bush-hating keyboard-punchers who are also witty, there's a prize waiting at James Taranto's Wall Street Journal office. The late Molly Ivins was an exception, even if she laid the Texas cornpone on a bit thick, and Vanity Fair's James Wolcott is such an extraordinary writer that even though his valuable pop culture essays are peppered with Daily Kos/Atrios/Josh Marshall-like digressions, I read every word. Alexander Cockburn is another anomaly, since he pisses off people across the political spectrum, but with an impeccable sense of style and manners.
Can you say the same about Joe Conason (nice guy, but lacking a funny bone), Rick Hertzberg, Paul Krugman, Richard Cohen, Eric Alterman (the misanthropic foie gras devotee who, without irony, insists The New York Times is a conservative newspaper), Lewis Latham, Robert Kuttner, John Judis or the grand conspiracist Seymour Hersh? Of course not. On the other hand, the conservative stable of pundits is standing room only with guys and gals who can make a political point while making you chuckle at the same time. A partial roster: Mark Steyn, Howie Carr (who owns the Kennedy beat) James Bowman, P.J. O'Rourke, Matt Labash, Andrew Ferguson, Taki, John Tierney, Holman Jenkins Jr., Dorothy Rabinowitz and Cathy Seipp.
I'd been thinking about this odd phenomenon off and on for about 20 years or so, yet it took a March 8 New York Sun article by Josh Gerstein ("Could Edwards Become the First Woman President?") to make it all sink in. Gerstein had the good sense to not even mention the avaricious cartoon character Ann Coulter in his piece, which was a relief since the tiresome Michael Moore twin (I'm betting those two get together for brunch on a regular basis, comparing notes on how they've exploited their respective left and right wing fans) has generated far too much publicity for her dumb antigay slur against John Edwards. Rather it was the comments from the strident and militant pro-abortion spokeswoman-for-hire Kate Michelman, an adviser to the former senator and trial lawyer's presidential campaign that stirred the pot.
During a speech at the Berkeley campus last week, Michelman said, "As a lawyer, as a senator, as a husband, as a father of two daughters, [Edwards] understands the reality of women's lives. He understands the centrality of women's lives and experience to the health and well-being of society as a whole ... He understands that on an extremely personal level."
The term Ms Coulter used is too ugly for public discourse, but note that her point is the same as Ms Michelman's.
THE BLIGHT OF REALISM (via Mike Daley):
Persons: Cyril and Vivian
Scene: the Library of a country house in Nottinghamshire [...]
Writing an article! That is not very consistent after what you have just said.
Who wants to be consistent? The dullard and the doctrinaire, the tedious people who carry out their principles to the bitter end of action, to the reductio ad absurdum of practice. Not I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my library the word `Whim.' Besides, my article is really a most salutary and valuable warning. If it is attended to, there may be a new Renaissance of Art.
What is the subject?
I intend to call it `The Decay of Lying: A Protest.'
Lying! I should have thought that our politicians kept up that habit.
I assure you that they do not. They never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind! After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence. If a man is sufficiently unimaginative to produce evidence in support of a lie, he might just as well speak the truth at once. No, the politicians won't do. Something may, perhaps, be urged on behalf of the Bar. The mantle of the Sophist has fallen on its members. Their feigned ardours and unreal rhetoric are delightful. They can make the worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakeably innocent. But they are briefed by the prosaic, and are not ashamed to appeal to precedent. In spite of their endeavours, the truth will out. Newspapers, even, have degenerated. They may now be absolutely relied upon. One feels it as one wades through their columns. It is always the unreadable that occurs. I am afraid that there is not much to be said in favour of either the lawyer or the journalist. Besides, what I am pleading for is Lying in art. Shall I read you what I have written? It might do you a great deal of good. [...]
[(reading in a very clear, musical voice)]. ` THE DECAY OF LYING: A PROTEST.---One of the chief causes that can be assigned for the curiously commonplace character of most of the literature of our age is undoubtedly the decay of Lying as an art, a science, and a social pleasure. The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction. The Blue-Book is rapidly becoming his ideal both for method and manner. He has his tedious document humain, his miserable little coin de la création, into which he peers with his microscope. He is to be found at the Librairie Nationale, or at the British Museum, shamelessly reading up his subject. He has not even the courage of other people's ideas, but insists on going directly to life for everything, and ultimately, between encyclopædias and personal experience, he comes to the ground, having drawn his types from the family circle or from the weekly washerwoman, and having acquired an amount of useful information from which never, even in his most meditative moments, can he thoroughly free himself.'
`The loss that results to literature in general from this false ideal of our time can hardly be overestimated. People have a careless way of talking about a `born liar,' just as they talk about a `born poet.' But in both cases they are wrong. Lying and poetry are arts---arts, as Plato saw, not unconnected with each other---and they require the most careful study, the most disinterested devotion. Indeed, they have their technique, just as the more material arts of painting and sculpture have, their subtle secrets of form and colour, their craft-mysteries, their deliberate artistic methods. As one knows the poet by his fine music, so one can recognise the liar by his rich rhythmic utterance, and in neither case will the casual inspiration of the moment suffice. Here, as elsewhere, practice must, precede perfection. But in modern days while the fashion of writing poetry has become far too common, and should, if possible, be discouraged, the fashion of lying has almost fallen into disrepute. Many a young man starts in life with a natural gift for exaggeration which, if nurtured in congenial and sympathetic surroundings, or by the imitation of the best models, might grow into something really great and wonderful. But, as a rule, he comes to nothing. He either falls into careless habits of accuracy---'
My dear fellow!
Please don't interrupt in the middle of a sentence. `He either falls into careless habits of accuracy, or takes to frequenting the society of the aged and the well-informed. Both things are equally fatal to his imagination, as indeed they would be fatal to the imagination of anybody, and in a short time he develops a morbid and unhealthy faculty of truth-telling, begins to verify all statements made in his presence, has no hesitation in contradicting people who are much younger than himself, and often ends by writing novels which are so lifelike that no one can possibly believe in their probability. This is no isolated instance that we are giving. It is simply one example out of many; and if something cannot be done to check, or at least to modify, our monstrous worship of facts, Art will become sterile, and beauty will pass away from the land.'
`Even Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, that delightful master of delicate and fanciful prose, is tainted with this modern vice, for we know positively no other name for it. There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it too true, and The Black Arrow is so inartistic as not to contain a single anachronism to boast of, while the transformation of Dr. Jekyll reads dangerously like an experiment out of the Lancet. As for Mr. Rider Haggard, who really has, or had once, the makings of a perfectly magnificent liar, he is now so afraid of being suspected of genius that when he does tell us anything marvellous, he feels bound to invent a personal reminiscence, and to put it into a footnote as a kind of cowardly corroboration. Nor are our other novelists much better. Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty, and wastes upon mean motives and imperceptible `points of view' his neat literary style, his felicitous phrases, his swift and caustic satire.
Not near so painful as the reading thereof, which trend-sucking dilettantes consider their duty.
NO ONE WRITHES TO THE COLONEL:
Qadhafi Talks Up 'Direct Democracy' (Dan Morrison, 3/14/07, US News)
Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi rarely has encounters with the western media, but news organizations recently were invited to attend a panel discussion on democracy and economic reform hosted by the reclusive, longtime dictator. Special correspondent Dan Morrison reports from Libya:
SEHBA, Libya-It's rare that people contradict Libyan supremo Muammar Qadhafi. Rarer still in front of witnesses.
But there was British sociologist Anthony Giddens very politely dissenting from the Brother Leader's contention that the western democracies are in fact dictatorships and that Qadhafi's theory of "direct democracy'' is a model for the world.
"If the leader will forgive me,'' said Giddens, an adviser to Tony Blair, "I think it is wrong to say that you can have a democratic society without a strong element of representation.''
"Mm,'' replied the leader.
A paradox: two hours of talk about democracy with a figure who epitomizes one-man rule. The unusual "conversation'' among Qadhafi, Giddens, American political scientist Benjamin Barber, and the British interviewer David Frost was an effort to show the world a Libya in transition from socialism to free markets and from dictatorship to something-perhaps one day less than dictatorship. [...]
[R]eformers, led by one of Qadhafi's sons, Seif Al-Islam, hope to transform Libya into a "Scandinavia of the Middle East.''
SEEMS MORE LIKELY TO HAUNT MAHMOOD:
Pelosi, Dems stumble badly on Iran (John Nichols, March 15, 2007, The Capitol Journal)
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies in the Democratic leadership initially accepted that spending legislation designed to outline an Iraq exit strategy should also include a provision barring the president from attacking Iran without congressional approval, they opened up a monumental discussion about presidential war powers.
As such, the decision by Pelosi and her allies to rewrite their Iraq legislation to exclude the statement regarding the need for congressional approval of any military assault on the neighboring country of Iran sends the worst possible signal to the White House.
It is not too much to suggest that Pelosi's disastrous misstep could haunt her and the Congress for years to come.
Let us suppose the improbable, for just a moment. Suppose the hard-liners in Iran, understanding that their days are numbered, decided to take Israel with them and had a few nuclear tipped missiles with sufficient range to do so. Now let us suppose that his or her aides alert the president that Iran is launching the attack. Do these people on the Left really propose that the president summon Congress to determine whether we'll respond or not?
THAT'S NOT WHAT WAS MEANT BY SEPARATION OF POWERS, FELLAS:
What Was Once a Revolutionary Guard Is Now Just a Mafia (Mohsen Sazegara | Fri. Mar 16, 2007, The Forward)
Back in October 1978, none of us in exile with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imagined that victory for the Islamic Revolution would be attained only a few months later. It was during those days in Neuf-le-Chateau that the notion of starting a "people's army" first took hold, and expecting that our battle would be a long one, we took as models for our soon-to-be established army the forces in Algeria and Cuba.
But on February 1, 1979, we stepped off a plane from France into Tehran, and 10 days later we were in power. Suddenly we had a position to protect, and the model for our people's army changed dramatically. It seemed more appropriate to emulate such forces as the Swiss Armed Forces, United States National Guard or Israel Defense Forces.
The thought was that if the Islamic Republic had two separate armies with independent command structures, the country could insulate itself against a coup. If ordinary citizens were given military training in preparation for combat, we believed, then any military commander would think twice before contemplating overthrowing the government.
In the three decades since, there has not been a coup. That people's army, however, has grown into a multi-headed monster.
Today the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution -- known in Farsi as the Sepah-e Pasdaran and in English as the Revolutionary Guard -- is a mafia-like organization with a corrupting influence on Iran's army, police, media, industries, judiciary and government. It is imperative that every effort now be made to contain the Revolutionary Guard's powers, because its political and economic adventurism will ultimately lead to a serious crisis, not just in Iran but also across the Middle East.
They believed too much in revolution and not enough in republicanism. But the revolution having failed--as is their wont--it's not too late to save the latter.
DON'T BET ON THE CAMPUS THEATRE SHOWING "300" EITHER:
University is accused of censoring anti-Semitic Islam lecture (Sean O'Neill, 3/15/07, Times of London)
The University of Leeds was accused of infringing free speech last night when it cancelled a lecture on "Islamic anti-Semitism" by a German academic.
Matthias Köntzel arrived at the university yesterday morning to begin a three-day programme of lectures and seminars, but was told that it had been called off on "security grounds".
Dr Köntzel, a political scientist who has lectured around the world on the antiSemitic ideology of Islamist groups, told The Times there were concerns that he would be attacked. He said that he was "outraged" that his meetings had been cancelled and had yet to receive an explanation.
The university, which acted after complaints from Muslim students, denied that it was interfering with the academic freedom of Dr Köntzel, and said that proper arrangements for stewarding the meeting had not been made.
EVEN CLARENCE COULDN'T SAVE HIM:
It all went wrong: After 12 years of unkept promises, President Jacques Chirac leaves a confused France longing for someone completely different (The Economist, 3/15/07)
This was the candidate who promised to "mend the social fracture", get the French back to work, combat racial inequality in the banlieues, cut taxes, and put France back on track towards a future of shared prosperity.
On entering the Elysée Palace, Mr Chirac inherited a restive country, with high unemployment, mounting debt, a disoriented electorate and a sense of political stagnation. Twelve years later, having announced his decision not to run again, the 74-year-old Mr Chirac bequeaths to his successor a restive country with high unemployment, mounting debt, a disoriented electorate and an even more intense sense of political stagnation.
During Mr Chirac's two terms in office, French unemployment has averaged 10%, GDP per person has been overtaken by that of both Britain and Ireland, and public debt, at 66% of GDP, has grown faster than in any other European Union country. Over the past two years, the febrile French have rebuffed the president with assiduous regularity. They rebelled over Europe, by saying non in a referendum on its proposed constitution in May 2005. The multi-ethnic banlieues rebelled over social exclusion in three weeks of rioting in the autumn of 2005. The young rebelled over economic reform by taking to the streets against a less-secure job contract for the under-26s a year ago.
One gets the feeling that if an angel came to Earth and showed him what France would be like if Mr. Chirac had never been born it would be no different.
WE COULD START BY LOOKING AT WHAT HE DID:
Gandhi's Way Isn't the American Way: Collective suicide is no foreign policy (Fred Thompson, 3/15/07, National Review)
I feel bad for Nancy Pelosi, AND her neighbors. Anti-war activists from the group Code Pink have been giving her the same treatment the president gets at his Crawford, Texas, ranch. Camping on her San Francisco lawn, they're demanding she cut off funds to the troops in Iraq.
Besides coolers and mattresses, protesters have brought along a giant paper mache statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who is pretty much the symbol of the anti-war movement. Code Pink was founded on his birthday, and when Saddam Hussein was being given a last chance to open Iraq to U.N. weapons inspectors, posters appeared around America asking "What would Gandhi do?"
Divide the formerly-British Iraq as he did the formerly-British India into several ethnic/confessional states?
IS YAHWEH AN ANTI-ZIONIST THESE DAYS TOO?:
Taming Leviathan: These are both the best of times and the worst of times for the American-Jewish lobby (Lexington, Mar 15th 2007, The Economist)
THIS week saw yet another reminder of the awesome power of "the lobby". The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brought more than 6,000 activists to Washington for its annual policy conference. And they proceeded to live up to their critics' darkest fears.
They heard from the four most powerful people on Capitol Hill--Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner from the House, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell from the Senate--as well as the vice-president (who called his talk "The United States and Israel: United We Stand") and sundry other power-brokers. Several first-division presidential candidates held receptions.
The display of muscle was almost equalled by the display of unnerving efficiency.
Leviathan seems a particularly inappropriate aspersion.
Pacific allies to enlist India (Dennis Shanahan, March 15, 2007, The Australian)
AUSTRALIA has been approached to dramatically upgrade its three-way security arrangements with Japan and the US to include India in a four-way security agreement that would encircle China.
The Japanese Government and US Vice-President Dick Cheney are keen to include the growing economic and military power of India in the already enhanced "trilateral" security arrangements, locking together the three most powerful democracies of the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr Cheney gave the Japanese proposal new life on his recent visit to Japan and Australia after sections of the Bush administration rebuffed the plan. He raised the idea in talks with John Howard in Sydney two weeks ago after discussing the plan with the Government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.
The plan involves turning the trilateral security arrangements between Australia, Japan and the US into a "quadrilateral" arrangement including India.
India's military power, economic growth and geographic position would significantly offset China's emerging power, which is of concern to many in the Bush administration.
It is understood the Australian Government is not against the idea in principle but does not wish to hurry the process and wants to ensure that the heightened relationship with Japan is settled before embarking on any new arrangements. Mr Cheney's backing for the plan, which is understood to be strongly supported by the new Japanese Prime Minister, came only two weeks before Tuesday's signing of a historic security declaration between Japan and Australia, putting security, intelligence and military relations on the highest level they have been since World War II.
The disclosure of Mr Cheney's support for a plan that would close the back door on China is likely to cause deeper concern in Beijing, which is already accusing the US of attempting to contain its growth and influence.
One of these days the striped pants set is going to wake up and realize what W has pulled off right under their up-turned noses.
AND 1918/1920 WAS JUST HEALING THE DAMAGE TR HAD DONE:
Winning the White House? History's Against Them (Samuel L. Popkin and Henry A. Kim, March 11, 2007, Washington Post)
The Democrats' road to the White House in 2008 runs through Congress, and it is uphill all the way. The last time either party captured the White House two years after wresting control of both House and Senate in midterm elections was in 1920. Democrats who think that it is their turn to expand their pet programs and please their core constituencies have forgotten how quickly congressional heavy-handedness can revive the president's party. [...]
Early in 1987, to pick a powerful recent example, the Republicans' prospects looked even bleaker than they do today. Democrats had just recaptured the Senate and retained the House, and polls showed that the public had more confidence in them than in the Reagan administration to reduce the federal deficit. The Iran-contra hearings investigating the secret sale of arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages and the funneling of the profits to the Nicaraguan contras were the big story, and looked ominous enough to derail Vice President George H.W. Bush's White House aspirations. Then in 1988, Bush handily dispatched Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.
But this wasn't a new story. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman was lower in the polls after his midterm defeat than were George W. Bush, Clinton or Ronald Reagan after their midterm losses. Truman was reelected in 1948.
Presidential parties have also done well in the legislative battles that have followed every midterm takeover since World War II. Presidents and their parties recover after midterm wipeouts because, as Clinton had to remind people in 1995, "The Constitution makes me relevant."
The president's party begins to recover when he wields his veto pen -- especially if he can establish his relevance as a defender of the center against the other party's excesses.
THE POINT BEING THAT THEY ENJOY RUM, SODOMY AND THE LASH:
Bad news for the U.S. (Frank H. Stewart, March 15, 2007, International Herald Tribune)
The BBC World Service plans to start an Arabic television service this fall, and the BBC knows what it is doing. It has been broadcasting in Arabic on the radio for more than 60 years and has a huge audience.
This new television station might sound like good news for America. Many Americans pick up BBC broadcasts in English, and they respect their quality. But the World Service in English is one thing, and the World Service in Arabic is another entirely. If the BBC's Arabic TV programs resemble its radio programs, then they will be just as anti-Western as anything that comes out of the Gulf, if not more so. They will serve to increase, rather than to diminish, tensions, hostilities and misunderstandings among nations.
For example, a 50-minute BBC Arabic Service discussion program about torture discussed only one specific allegation, which came from the head of an organization representing some 90 Saudis imprisoned at Guantánamo. This speaker stated that the prisoners were subject to horrible forms of torture and suggested that three inmates reported by the United States to have committed suicide were actually killed. Another participant insisted that the two countries guilty of torturing political prisoners on the largest scale were Israel and the United States.
The authoritarian regimes and armed militants of the Arab world get sympathetic treatment on BBC Arabic. When Saddam Hussein was in power, he was a great favorite of the service, which reported as straight news his re-election to a seven-year term in 2002, when he got 100 percent of the vote. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria enjoys similar favor. When a State Department representative referred to Syria as a dictatorship, his BBC interviewer immediately interrupted and reprimanded him.
The Arabic Service not only shields Arab leaders from criticism but also tends to avoid topics they might find embarrassing: human rights, the role of security forces, corruption and censorship. When, from time to time, such topics do arise, they are usually dealt with in the most general terms: there may, for instance, be guarded references to "certain Arab countries."
By contrast, the words and deeds of Western leaders, particularly the U.S. president and the British prime minister, are subject to minute analysis, generally on the assumption that behind them lies a hidden and disreputable agenda. Last summer, when the British arrested two dozen people alleged to have been plotting to blow up airplanes crossing the Atlantic, a BBC presenter centered a discussion on the theory that these arrests had taken place because Tony Blair, embarrassed by opposition to Britain's role in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, wanted to distract the public while at the same time associating Muslims with terrorism.
The British are among America's closest allies, and it is strange that their government pays for these broadcasts, many of which are produced in Cairo rather than in London.
Self-loathing is fine, but leave us out of it.
THEIR TOMBSTONES HAVE RED STARS:
The liberal war on democracy (John Pilger, 19 March 2007, New Statesmen)
Elected last December with a record landslide of votes cast by three-quarters of the eligible population - his 11th major election victory - Hugo Chávez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain. In this country, the political class offers instead the arthritic pirouetting of Tony Blair, a criminal, and Gordon Brown, the paymaster of imperial adventures fought by 18-year-old soldiers who, on their return home, are so ill treated that there is no one to change their colostomy bag.
Chávez, having all but got rid of the deadly IMF from Latin America, dares to use the wealth from Venezuela's oil to unite the Latin peoples and to expel a foreign economic system that calls itself liberal and is the source of historic suffering. He is supported by governments and by millions across South America from whom he derives his mandate.
You would not know this on either side of the Atlantic unless you studied carefully. The propaganda that converts a lively, open democracy to an "authoritarian" dictatorship is written on the rusted crosses of Salvador Allende's comrades, of whom the same was said.
Well, he's certainly right that it was killing Allende and company that made Chile a lively democracy.
STRANGE THAT BERMUDA'S DOING SO WELL, EH?:
China rising: Back to the future (Robert Hartmann, 3/16/07, Asia Times)
Everyone can see that today's China has embarked on the path toward revival as a great nation. The prospering of China with its vast territory, large population and long cultural history not only will produce profound changes domestically but also will have great repercussions on the world and contribute greatly to the development of mankind.
It's entirely typical of the chattering class to cite three of China's greatest weaknesses as the reasons its rise is inevitable.
IF WE CAN'T HAVE JEB...:
Fred Thompson in 2008? (William Rusher, March 15, 2007, Sacramento Bee)
The battle for the Republican presidential nomination underwent a major transformation last weekend when Fred Thompson told Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel that he is considering entering the race. This is no minor development. Bob Beckel, Clinton's longtime press secretary and now a Democratic commentator for Fox, promptly asserted that Thompson is the only possible Republican contender "who scares me," and he is right to worry.
Thompson first attracted national notice as the Republican minority counsel in Congress's investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Television viewers liked the imperturbable figure they saw, and parts in various Hollywood movies came Thompson's way. Then, in 1994, Thompson was elected to the U.S. Senate in a landslide to fill the remainder of Al Gore's term, which Gore had vacated on his election as vice president in 1992. Thompson was elected to a full term in 1996, and served as chairman of the Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee.
In 2002, Thompson's prospects for re-election were rosy but, perhaps understandably, he opted to retire from the Senate and earn substantially more money for himself and his family as an actor. He was promptly snapped up by the wildly popular television series "Law & Order," which cast him as the wise and avuncular district attorney who oversaw its criminal prosecutions.
And recently, the Bush Justice Department enlisted him to accompany Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito on their visits to key senators when their nominations were up for ratification. The counsel of a shrewd former senator was judged of high value to the nominees.
Thompson has not yet officially thrown his hat into the 2008 ring, but his statement to Fox News was clearly intended to call attention to the possibility, and test the waters.
It is a major development because Thompson has so many undeniable qualifications for the nomination. First and foremost, he is a true-blue conservative, comfortable with all the positions on social issues (abortion, gay rights, gun control, etc.) that give Rudy Giuliani so much difficulty and that have inspired John McCain and Mitt Romney to "flip-flop" in recent years to curry favor with social conservatives. In the second place, he is (as his television career demonstrates) an immensely attractive personality at 64, with a rumpled and thoughtful charm. Thirdly, his service for eight years in the U.S. Senate (four times Barack Obama's current tenure) attests to his success as a political leader. And finally, he hails from a border state -- Tennessee -- with all that implies for electability in the South and elsewhere.
Actually, the Hollywood story is even better than that. His first role was playing himself in Marie, about the corruption case where he helped bring down the governor of TN. You could hardly ask for a better storyline with all the humturum about campaign finances and whatnot.
NEVER BET ON BLACK:
Noir America: Cynics, sluts, heists, and murder most foul. (Stanley Crouch, March 15, 2007, Slate)
Film noir evolved from the American crime thrillers that rose to pulp prominence between 1920 and 1940. Hollywood took those tales and put the focus on cynics, fall guys, sluts, heists, and murders most foul. The huge screens in movie theaters provided lurid masks for the resentments that pulse within Americana. Our hatred of the upper class and of goody-two-shoes morality got plenty of play. So did our repulsive puritanical troubles with sexual attraction, our reluctant but ultimate belief in the righteousness of force, and our tendency to answer life's pervasive horrors with conspiracy theories.
Noir's popularity was inevitable. How could American audiences resist the combative stance of an unimpressed hero whose ethos could be reduced to: "Is that so?" How could they fail to be lured by all of the actresses cast as Venus' flytraps? Everything in film noir takes place at the bottom, in the sewers of sensibility. It holds that the force of the world is not only indifferent to, but obviously bigger than, the individual, which is why personal satisfaction, whether illegal or immoral, is the solution to the obligatory ride through an unavoidably brittle universe.
A black and white phenomenon, film noir is thought to have achieved its greatest heights between 1945 and 1950, though the apparent moment of final brilliance arrived in 1958's Touch of Evil, directed with the heightened imagination of genius by Orson Welles. As a genre, film noir appeared as an antidote to the Hollywood conventions of pristine character and fulfilled romance because its creators sensed that "rah rah" was no longer the best prescription for the blues. Possessed of a shrewd aesthetic that was both meretricious and rebellious, film noir generously utilized sex and violence, firmly rooting itself in American culture.
The normally savvy Mr. Crouch misses the point of noir entirely and that which makes it quintessentially American. The formula could hardly be more Old Testament: an ordinary man, tempted by a woman, decides he can get away with evil just this once but ends by being punished horribly for his transgressions.
CHILL AFTER STIRRING:
You, Too, Can Ask the Ayatollah (Al Kamen, March 14, 2007, Washington Post)
Now that the British are leaving Shiastan and things are relatively quiet, folks there can fret about the more typical concerns of daily life. And many are logging on to the official Web site of the revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for answers.
The attractive site -- http://www.sistani.org-- has the answer for just about anything, from bullfighting ("discouraged") to birth control ("permissible"), lying on your résumé (not permissible), cloning (okay) to Zoroastrians (no one asked yet).
The answers from Iraq's preeminent Shiite cleric are often pragmatic and seem in part aimed at getting people to chill out.
ODDLY ENOUGH, THE REPUBLIC HAS SURVIVED NOT EVER GIVING POWS TRIALS:
Do You Miss Our Constitution?: No previous American law has been as subversive as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Nat Hentoff, March 9th, 2007, Village Voice)
Ours is the oldest constitution in the world, and for more than 200 years it has survived many grave assaults from one or more of our three branches of government. For example, in 1798, only seven years after the First Amendment was included in the Constitution, Americans, under the Alien and Sedition Acts, were put in prison for holding the president up to ridicule.
The Bush administration has cumulatively done more profound damage to our founding document than any previous administration. And because the president has placed John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, it may be years before we regain some of our privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment�and other of our suspended liberties.
But Bush's most wide-ranging assault on who we are as Americans is the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which he signed on October 17, 2006.
Actually, it's an assault on who captured Islamicists are as Americans. Newsflash: they aren't.
CHARITY FOR CAPITALISTS:
A Good Run for Your Money: What's the best way to loan a poor entrepreneur $20? (Jude Stewart, March 15, 2007, Slate)
Since my charity bucks are limited and divvying them up isn't ideal, I'm aiming for a tight sweet spot: a small donation with real bang for the buck. When I read about microcredit--the practice of making tiny loans to poor people in the developing world so that they can start businesses and break out of poverty--it piqued my interest. And when the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit work, I was hooked. As an entrepreneur, I dig the idea of helping another jump-start her kitchen-supply business in Ghana. It also eliminates that pointless drop-in-a-bucket feeling to know this specific woman couldn't open her tamale stand without my $20--let alone the fact that when the loan is repaid, that $20 can get reinvested into another success story. (Truly the gift that keeps on giving.) Question is: Which microlenders cater to individual donors? And which is the most satisfying place to sink my dime? [...]
Finally: microlending as I'd imagined it. Kiva (agreement or unity in Swahili) lets lenders choose from individual borrowers, who are vetted internationally by local microlenders. Started as a side project in 2004 by a married couple, neither the lender nor Kiva takes a cut of the interest, saving it all for the local lender to administer to the borrowers day-to-day.
The organization gets strong marks for both usability and payment options (all credit cards, plus PayPal); you can fund loans partially, although the minimum payment is $25. I funded Madam Elizabeth Lomotey in her kitchen-supply business in Ghana and was surprised to see pictures of my fellow lenders next to mine.
Kiva's weakness is the cursory business-plan descriptions: You're really trusting the judgment of the local lender more than the plan itself. I can overlook this, though, given the high number of descriptions local lenders seem to have to write on behalf of the borrowers. Other perks? You're alerted via e-mail every time another loan payment comes in, and it's fun to check back on your lender and review his or her journal entries. (Sadly, Madam Lomotey is a taciturn one; other borrowers and their local loan managers get more chatty.) All that's missing is information on the borrowers' previous loans, which could indicate an expanding business.
Kiva combines online community with microlending in a way that's truly exciting. It's remarkably compelling to see your borrower face to face--you can even contact them via their local lender rep. Given Kiva's shoestring budget, it's a strong start.
User Experience: 10
Small loans and big ambitions: The commercialisation of microcredit and what stands in the way (The Economist, 3/15/07)
Commercialisation is changing microfinance--and stirring debate. Some believe microlenders have no business making money from the poor. In many countries various rules, like interest-rate caps, have been put in place to crimp the industry's growth. This is despite ample evidence that where there is healthy competition in microlending, as in Bosnia and Peru, interest rates tend to drop substantially.
Most experts in IFIs and elsewhere believe the for-profit sector must play a role. Microlenders that can attract commercial funds--deposits, loans, the capital markets--have the potential to become self-sustaining, rather than relying on the charitable instincts of others.
Socially responsible investors are already pouring in. And even the purely profit-minded have begun to open their wallets. According to a study of 200 microlenders by MIX, which collects data on the microfinance industry, commercial funding grew to $7.3 billion in 2005, from $4.9 billion two years before.
WHY NOT "EMWOLB"?:
Democrats' out-of-Iraq measure clears Senate hurdle, but Republicans say they can stop it (DAVID ESPO, 3/15/07, Associated Press)
President Bush has a one-word response to Democrats who want to set a timetable for a troop wthdrawal from Iraq.
HELL CAN'T BE MUCH DIFFERENT THAN LOWER WACKER:
'It's not something you ever forget' (FRANK MAIN, RUMMANA HUSSAIN, DAVE NEWBART AND LISA DONOVAN, 3/15/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
The three college friends from the north suburbs were celebrating their spring break in a Chinatown restaurant Tuesday night.
They chatted with pals, sipped smoothies and dined on chicken fried rice, beef chow mein and crab rangoon.
"They were happy, talking," said Bo Wu, their waiter at Seven Treasures Cantonese Cuisine.
Less than an hour later, they died when their sports car crashed early Wednesday on Lower Wacker Drive -- a wreck so horrific, the car was towed to the Cook County medical examiner's office, where their bodies were cut out.
"It's not something you ever forget," said Jacob Glasnovich, a witness to the fiery accident. "It was surreal."
Roads are evil anyway, but a submerged one approximates Hades. The homeless population you see stumbling around down there is like something out of Durer.
DID HE CROSS HIS FINGERS OR SOMETHING?:
As a child, Obama crossed a cultural divide in Indonesia (Paul Watson, March 15, 2007, LA Times)
Obama's campaign aides have emphasized his strong Christian beliefs and downplayed any Islamic connection. The candidate was raised "in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother," his chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement in January after false reports began circulating that Obama had attended a radical madrasa, or Koranic school, as a child.
"To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago," Gibbs' Jan. 24 statement said. In a statement to The Times on Wednesday, the campaign offered slightly different wording, saying: "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim." The statement added that as a child, Obama had spent time in the neighborhood's Islamic center.
His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama's grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended.
That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades, Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.
The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played," said Zulfin Adi, who describes himself as among Obama's closest childhood friends.
The campaign's national press secretary, Bill Burton, said Wednesday that the friends were recalling events "that are 40 years old and subject to four decades of other information." Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only "for big communal events," not every Friday.
Disingenuousness seem,s a dangerous defense.
BIG & BENT:
For sumo's goliaths, a quaking moment: Published allegations of match fixing make for some peeled eyes at an Osaka tournament. (Bruce Wallace, March 15, 2007, LA Times)
It sure looks real enough, all those vicious slaps to the face and head-smacking collisions and men of generous poundage being hurled into the dirt.
But the shadow of fraud hangs over this spring's sumo tournament in Osaka. The event is taking place in the wake of a muckraking weekly magazine's accusations that Japan's national sport is all scripted, and allegations that a stunning run of tournament victories by Asashoryu, the unassailable grand champion who hails from Mongolia, has been greased by bribes.
Could it be that these goliaths will take a tumble for a price? Has Asashoryu's supremacy really been built on cash distribution rather than his speed, brute power and nasty streak?
Nah, say most of those filling the seats here at the Osaka Gymnasium during the sumo world's annual sojourn outside Tokyo, which began Sunday. They won't accept that the sport might be fixed. And even if Asa, as he is nicknamed, has paid off other wrestlers, they say it won't ruin their enjoyment of a pageant that depends in large part on artistic showmanship.
Didn't they read Freakonomics on sumo?
WHAT'S ODD ABOUT A CAPITALIST WHO WANTS A MORE ORDERLY SOCIETY?:
Nobel Laureate Eyes Election as Next Prize: Bangladeshi Planning Run for President (Nora Boustany. 3/15/07, Washington Post)
Economic growth in the country is running at 7 percent, after China's booming 10 to 11 percent annual rate. "Bangladesh could have been at a par with China had we had good governance and the chance of . . . a peaceful environment," [Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who turned small-scale lending to village women into a powerful force against poverty in his native Bangladesh and other low-income countries,] said.
The Bangladesh military declared emergency powers on Jan. 11 after rioting and political stalemate. Elections that under constitutional requirements were to take place that month were postponed. The delay was in part due to international concerns over alleged padding of voter registration lists by the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Yunus said he would resign from Grameen Bank once the official campaign period begins but would continue to prioritize women as a national resource. "This is not just politics for getting elected, but because they are a real strength," he said.
Yunus said he was saddened by media criticism of his planned candidacy. "People will say anything to deface you," he said, but he declined to respond to specific allegations. "This is the time to create something, a new core of talented young people rather than have all this meaningless infighting."
Yunus said the Bangladesh army was "cleaning up" by detaining corrupt officials.
He expressed confidence that new electoral regulations and electoral commission would help see the country through fair elections. "Everything people have been clamoring for is being put into effect, such as clean electoral procedures," he said. He said he believed elections would be held by the end of the year.
"It may ring untrue, but he is not at odds with the army," said Tasneem Khalil, an editor at the English-language Daily Star in the capital, Dhaka.
DEMOCRACY IMPOSES RESPONSIBILITIES:
Emerging Epicenter In the Afghan War: NATO Aims to Loosen Taliban's Grip in Helmand (Griff Witte, 3/15/07, Washington Post)
As the weather improves and Afghanistan enters its traditional fighting season, the province is shaping up as the war's central battlefield in a critical test for a country increasingly teetering under the pressure of a violent insurgency.
With a weak government presence in Helmand, the Taliban has gained more control there than in any other province in the five years since U.S.-led forces ejected the Islamic militia from power, according to foreign and Afghan officials.
In many villages, Taliban gunmen patrol day and night, residents said in telephone interviews. Some government supporters have been beheaded or hanged. Men who shave their beards, in breach of Taliban orders, have faced public whippings.
Meanwhile, NATO forces, now commanded by a four-star U.S. general, are focused on Helmand for their largest Afghan offensive ever. In the past week, NATO planes have carried out frequent airstrikes, trying to loosen the Taliban's grip before troops move in for what is expected to be intense ground combat this spring and summer.
Caught in between are Helmand residents who say they are fed up with both sides.
"Most of the people want the situation to be resolved very soon," said Nematullah Ghaffari, a cleric from the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, who represents the area in parliament. "Whether they want the government to take over or the Taliban, they are stuck in the middle right now, and they are suffering a lot."
But a quick resolution is unlikely, given the degree of instability.
"Helmand is everything in one. Drug trafficking. Weak government. Hard-core Taliban who are spreading fear," said Talatbek Masadykov, chief of political affairs for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. "The perception of many of the local people is that Helmand is almost lost."
Masadykov said he believes Helmand can still be turned around. The Taliban, he said, is actually fairly weak and enjoys little popular support. But he said that the government is not providing residents adequate protection and that winning the province back would take "immediate, urgent changes within the province. If the government can put in place a strong, qualified, professional team of leaders, with weapons and ammunition for the army and police, there's still an opportunity to reverse the situation."
If the residents won't sort out the extremists themselves then they're creating a free-fire zone about which they aren't entitled to whine.
Silent shock in Iraq (ROBERT H. REID, 3/15/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
Bomb deaths have gone down 30 percent in Baghdad since the U.S.-led security crackdown -- the troop surge -- began a month ago.
Execution-style slayings are down by nearly half. The sound of weapons has become occasional.
There are signs of progress in the campaign to restore order in Iraq, starting with its capital city.
But while many Iraqis are encouraged, they remain skeptical about how long the relative calm will last. Shiite Muslim militias and Sunni Muslim insurgents are still around, perhaps just lying low until the operation is over.
U.S. officials, burned before by optimistic forecasts, are cautious about declaring success.
We won the war for them, but they've got to police themselves. We put two million Americans in jail to get peace on our streets.
PLUS, NO PULP:
Why a glass of grape may be best way to start your day (Jeremy Laurance, 15 March 2007, Independent)
If you think a glass of breakfast orange juice is the best way to start the day, think again. Grape juice could be more beneficial.
Scientists have carried out the first scientific analysis of fruit juices to measure their antioxidant activity - the anti-ageing compounds that protect against heart disease and other chronic conditions.
Top of the league is purple grape juice followed by apple juice and cranberry juice, according to the study by researchers at the University of Glasgow.
SO? IN A HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW EMBRAER WILL MAKE KNOCK-OFFS OF IT:
Radical new Boeing aircraft takes flight: The company's new blended-wing plane prepares for its first test, carrying with it the airline's hopes for fuel-saving planes. (Benjamin Tice Smith, 3/13/07, Business 2.0 Magazine)
It would be a dream come true for the airline industry: A plane that uses up to 30 percent less gas to reach its destination, compared with today's jets.
That's the promise of the blended-wing, a radically new kind of aircraft set to take to the skies for the first time this month. Originally conceived by McDonnell Douglas and developed by NASA, the blended-wing merges fuselage and wings and eliminates the tail, reducing drag. That makes it vastly more fuel-efficient than regular "tube-and-wing" jets, according to Boeing (Charts) engineer Norm Princen.
His X-48B blended-wing prototype, now on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, is only about a 10th the size of the 240-foot-wingspan craft he hopes to build. But the Pentagon is watching keenly. "Blended-wing technology can cost-effectively fill many roles required by the Air Force," says Capt. Scott Van-Hoogen of the Air Vehicles Directorate. As a tanker, for example, it could refuel two planes in midair at the same time.
For now Boeing is focused on making a military version of the plane by 2022. But by 2030 blended-wing aircraft could be carrying commercial passengers.
THERE IS NO PHILIPPINES:
Autonomy hopes for southern Philippines (Noel Tarrazona, 3/16/07, Asia Times)
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently extended an autonomy and self-determination offer in behind-the-scenes talks with the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a fig-leaf gesture that some hope could bring an Aceh-like solution to a nearly three-decade-old conflict that has consumed as many as 140,000 lives.
March 14, 2007
YOU KNOW HISTORY HAS ENDED WHEN PAUL SAMUELSON DUMPS THE FRENCH MODEL:
The French are lazy, say Nobel laureates (Daily Mail 14th March 2007)
The French are workshy, unmotivated and inefficient, according to five of the world's greatest economists.
The brutal assessment was made by five Nobel Prize winners. One said France needed a 'Tony Blair figure' to scrap its archaic labour laws.
The French financial newspaper Les Echos asked the five experts for their opinion on the country's economy ahead of its presidential election this May. [...]
The 1970 winner Paul Samuelson added: 'It has not been able to adapt to the realities of the world economy.
"The French need to start questioning certain entrenched privileges and accept the fact that society may be more unequal. France needs to find its Ronald Reagan or its Tony Blair."
Of course, when America had its Reagan, Mr. Samuelson was still arguing that the French-model Soviet command economy was as good as ours.
TONY THE TORY'S TRIDENT:
Blair rescued by Tories in nuclear rebellion (George Jones and Toby Helm, 3/15/07, Daily Telegraph)
Tory support ensured Tony Blair's survival in the biggest domestic Labour rebellion of his premiership last night over updating the Trident nuclear weapons system.
An attempt to delay a decision - backed by Labour rebels and the Liberal Democrats - was defeated by 413 votes to 167, a Government majority of 246.
A second vote authorising work to start on a £20 billion plan for a new generation of submarines to carry the nuclear missiles was approved by 409 votes to 161, a majority of 248.
More than 90 Labour MPs defied the Government at the end of an impassioned six-hour debate as noisy protesters brought traffic to a halt in Parliament Square.
Without the Tory votes the Government would not have had a majority and Mr Blair's reliance on them was a blow to his authority in the last months of his period in office.
IF ONLY QUTB HAD NEVER VISITED A LIBERAL SOCIETY:
We are making a fatal mistake by ignoring the dissidents within Islam: Some critical Muslim intellectuals think their faith is compatible with a liberal society. It's dumb to prefer Bin Laden (Timothy Garton Ash, March 15, 2007, The Guardian)
Take Gamal al-Banna, for example, whom I visited in Cairo, in a cavernous, dark apartment lined from floor to ceiling with Islamic literature. He is the younger brother of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their father, a learned imam, spent 40 years cataloguing some 45,000 reports of alleged sayings and doings of Muhammad (hadith). Now 86 years old, Gamal al-Banna has devoted his whole life to studying Islam and its relations to politics. A man of tranquil clarity, he became mildly agitated only when denouncing the perversion of Islam by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian apostle of extremist, takfiri Islamism and a hero to al-Qaida.
Gamal al-Banna argues that "there is no contradiction between total freedom of thought and religion" and that "Islam does not pretend to a monopoly of wisdom". Critical ideas about Islam should be fought "by words and not by confrontation, terrorism or takfir - passing anathema on someone by pronouncing them an infidel". As for apostasy, the Muslim has the right to withdraw from Islam, the verses of the Qur'an are very explicit concerning this issue: "There is no compulsion in religion" (al-Baqara, The Cow, II, 256). Withdrawal from religion is mentioned at least five times in the Qur'an, none of which is related to a penalty. In the period of the prophet, many people withdrew from Islam; one of them was a scribe of the Qur'an. The prophet did not punish any of them.
The saying often attributed to the prophet - "Whoever changes his religion must be executed" - is rejected as inauthentic by Imam Muslim, one of the earliest and most respected compilers of collections of hadith, but Imam al-Bukhari, another respected compiler, included it in his version. "The signs of falsification are very clear in this saying," comments Banna, "and it contradicts many verses in the Qur'an that confirm freedom of faith."
WHICH WOULD BE MORE IMPRESSIVE IF TIGERS AND LIONS WERE SEPARATE SPECIES:
Big cat found on islands is entirely new species (Steve Connor, 15 March 2007, Independent)
A rare leopard found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra turns out to be an entirely new species of large cat according to a study of the feline's DNA.
The secretive clouded leopard which lives in remote rainforests was thought to be the same species as leopards on mainland south-east Asia.
However, scientists from the US National Cancer Institute who analysed the cat's DNA found that the differences between the two types of leopard are about as great as the differences between other feline species such as lions and tigers.
Genetic diversity in domestic cats Felis catus of the Tsushima Islands, based on mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b and control region nucleotide sequences. (Tamada T, Kurose N, Masuda R., Division of Bioscience, Graduate School of Environmental Earth Science, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.)
Nucleotide sequences of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of 50 domestic cats (Felis catus) obtained from the Tsushima Islands were determined and the genetic diversity was analyzed. In the cats, six haplotypes of the complete cytochrome b sequences (1,140 base-pairs, bp) and ten haplotypes of the partial control region sequences (350 bp) were identified. Haplotypes obtained from both genes showed existence of at least 11 maternal lineages of domestic cats in Tsushima. Mean values of polymorphic site numbers and sequences differences in the control region were 2.4 times and 1.8 times higher than those in the cytochrome b gene, respectively. Our results support the idea that the evolutionary rate of the control region was faster than that of the cytochrome b as reported in other mammals. Molecular phylogenetic trees showed the similar clustering of haplotypes for both genes. Meanwhile, no individual variations within the Tsushima leopard cat (Felis bengalensis euptilura), which is native to Tsushima, were observed, possibly as a result of genetic drift in the small ancestral population by geographical isolation. In contrast, the diversity of the domestic cat population was higher than that of the leopard cats, because the genetic variability of the former's founders, which were repeatedly brought to Tsushima in the past, still remains. In addition, no sequences of the leopard cat mtDNA were detected in any domestic cats. However, because the possibility that the domestic cat would crossbreed with the leopard cat cannot be denied, genetic monitoring of two species is necessary to biological conservation in Tsushima.
A Skeptical Friend of Democracy: a review of Daniel Tanguay's "Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography" and Eugene Sheppard's "Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile" (STEVEN B. SMITH, March 14, 2007, NY Sun)
Daniel Tanguay's "Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography" (Yale, 215 pages, $30) and Eugene Sheppard's "Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile" (Brandeis, 130 pages, $24.95) both try to answer the question of how a young German Jew became the political philosopher we know as Leo Strauss. Messrs. Tanguay, a professor of philosophy at the University of Ottawa, and Sheppard, a professor of modern Jewish history at Brandeis, each gives his own account of how Strauss became Strauss. Rather than treating Strauss's mature thought as something that arrived fully formed the way Mozart's music was viewed in the film "Amadeus," each is taken with a concern for Strauss's developmental history and how his distinctive ideas arose out of a confrontation with the intellectual currents of Zionism, existentialism, and political theology that marked his youth.
Mr. Tanguay's study provides a systematic interpretation of the theologico-political problem in Strauss's thought. Originally published in French, this work is brought to life in a highly readable translation by Christopher Nadon. It is likely to remain an indispensable guide to the study of Strauss for a long time to come. [...]
Strauss's first two books, "Spinoza's Critique of Religion" (1930) and "Philosophy and Law" (1935), were scholarly efforts come to terms with the existential situation of German Jewry. However it was not until his serious engagement with the great Jewish and Islamic philosophers of the Middle Ages -- Maimonides and Farabi -- that Strauss came to see this dilemma not merely as a local problem, but as a human and universal drama. The Medieval Enlightenment, as Strauss called it, was premised on the belief that there is a permanent and irreconcilable chasm between philosophy and the revealed law. This insight represents the "Farabian Turn" -- so named after the 10th-century Arabic philosopher -- that shaped Strauss's mature thought.
Central to Strauss's understanding of the Medieval Enlightenment was the claim that revelation is the medium of the moral and political life of the community. No community, not even the modern liberal state, can entirely escape theology. Philosophy must therefore pay its respects to religion by concealing its deepest and most disturbing truths by adopting a rhetoric of piety and obedience to the law. The model of this kind of "noble rhetoric" can be found in Plato. It was in Farabi's interpretation of Plato that Strauss first discovered the famous doctrine of the "double truth" to which he gave expression in his famous 1941 essay "Persecution and the Art of Writing."
Like every reader of Strauss, Mr. Tanguay wants to know whether Strauss's recovery of esoteric writing was intended purely as a historical insight or whether he incorporated the techniques of Plato and Farabi into his own writing. "Why did Strauss," Tanguagy asks, "who lived all his life in democratic regimes where freedom of expression is guaranteed by law, feel the need to employ an art of writing that is justified in part by fear of persecution?"
Strauss did not live in fear of persecution; he was not a paranoid. But his adoption of this "Farabian" rhetoric was his way of protecting his adopted homeland from the skepticism that is the mark of all true philosophy. Strauss's use of a rhetoric of discretion was his way of showing respect for democracy.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Straussianism is that, as much as they hate him, it is the American secular Left that is most Straussian, theoretically rejecting the Revelation that the Founding depends on but accepting it in practice.