Updated: 3/23/2007; 7:34:26 AM.

Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses


daily link  Friday, March 23, 2007


Reverse Foreign Aid:  Important issues with incomplete explanation.  "According to the United Nations, in 2006 the net transfer of capital from poorer countries to rich ones was $784 billion, up from $229 billion in 2002. (In 1997, the balance was even.)"  Reasons:
  1. Since 1990, the world’s nonrich nations have increased their reserves, on average, from around three months’ worth of imports to more than eight months’ worth — or the equivalent of about 30 percent of their G.D.P. China and other countries maintain those reserves mainly in the form of supersecure U.S. Treasury bills.. But the problem is that T-bills earn low returns. All the money spent on T-bills — a very substantial sum — could be earning far better returns invested elsewhere, or could be used to pay teachers and build highways at home, activities that bring returns of a different type. Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, estimates conservatively that maintaining reserves in excess of the three-month standard costs poor countries 1 percent of their economies annually — some $110 billion every year. Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economist, says he thinks the real cost could be double that.
  2. As poorer countries enter the W.T.O., they must agree to pay royalties on [intellectual property] — and a result is a net obligation of more than $40 billion annually that poorer countries owe to American and European corporations.
  3. The hypercompetition for global investment has produced another important reverse subsidy: the tax holidays poor countries offer foreign investors... Since deals between corporations and governments are usually secret, it is hard to know how much investment incentives cost poorer countries — certainly tens of billions of dollars. Whatever the cost, it is growing, as country after country has passed laws enabling the offer of such incentives.
  4. The migration of highly educated people from poor nations is increasing. A small brain drain can benefit the South, as emigrants send money home and may return with new skills and capital. But in places where educated people are few and emigrants don’t go home again, the brain drain devastates. .. The financial consequences for the poorer nations can be severe. A doctor who moves from Johannesburg to North Dakota costs the South African government as much as $100,000, the price of training him there. ..
  5. Most costly to poor countries, they have been drafted into paying for rich nations’ energy use. On a per capita basis, Americans .. create more global warming — than anyone else. .. American energy use is being subsidized by tropical coastal nations, who appear to be global warming’s first victims."
Reasons 1-3 add up to less than $300B of today's $784B.  Reason 4 has been happening ever since decolonization, and is substantially offset by remittances from the migrant home.  Reason 5 is not monetized today.  So the substantial majority of the amount is unexplained -- esp by comparison to 2002, when it was one third the size.  What changed so drastically?  Does this figure include China's net exports, and their policy of incredibly high foreign exchange holdings, inflating the entire issue?
  7:33:20 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, January 15, 2007


A World Free of Nuclear Weapons:  Long op-ed by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn on both urgent and long-term measures to cut the nuclear threat.  Meanwhile, US policy is going the other way: see U.S. Selecting Hybrid Design For Warheads and Complex 2030: DOE's Misguided Plan to Rebuild the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex.  11:11:49 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Dollar going down:  Mini-fact: Dollar down by 30% in last 5 years.  "The United States dollar index, a measure of the dollar’s strength against a basket of currencies, fell to 83.23 from 83.65 on Friday. In February 2002, the index was at 120."
  12:01:04 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, December 27, 2006


FT.com - Richest 2% hold half the world's assets:  "Personal wealth is distributed so unevenly across the world that the richest two per cent of adults own more than 50 per cent of the world’s assets while the poorest half hold only 1 per cent of wealth .. according to the data from the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-Wider). ..

Adults with more than $2,200 of assets were in the top half of the global wealth league table, while those with more than $61,000 were in the top 10 per cent, [and] to belong to the top 1 per cent of the world’s wealthiest adults you would need more than $500,000, something that 37m adults have achieved.  So much of the world’s wealth is concentrated in few hands that if all the world’s wealth was distributed evenly, each person would have $20,500 of assets to use.

Almost 90 per cent of the world’s wealth is held in North America, Europe and high-income Asian and Pacific countries, such as Japan and Australia.  While North America has 6 per cent of the world’s adult population, it accounts for 34 per cent of household wealth.  The concentration of wealth in different countries varies considerably, with the top 10 per cent in the US holding 70 per cent of the country’s wealth, compared with 61 per cent in France, 56 per cent in the UK, 44 per cent in Germany and 39 per cent in Japan."
  11:30:13 PM  permalink  

Global Voices Online:  Interesting compilation of current blog material from citizens of many counties, including Lebanon, Libya, China, Iran, with coverage of local news.  Would provide interesting inputs to the "open source intelligence" movement.
  11:24:52 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Dealing with Tehran:  Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options Toward Iran by former CIA official Flynt L. Leverett, The Century Foundation, 12/4/2006.  An op-ed version of this was blocked from publication by the CIA. It "lays out the essential features of a U.S.-Iranian grand bargain. If Washington does not begin to pursue such an arrangement vigorously and soon, the window for this kind of strategic understanding between the United States and the Islamic Republic is likely to close. Under these circumstances, Iran’s development of at least a nuclear weapons option in the next few years is highly likely.

Thus, if it does not pursue a grand bargain with Tehran, the United States almost certainly will have to take up the more daunting and less potentially satisfying challenges of coping with a nuclear-capable Iran. And the standing of the United States in the world’s most strategically critical region will continue its already disturbing decline."  See also commentary from Newsweek's James Dickey.  7:16:57 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker:  "The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province.  .. The Marines recently filed an updated version of [the August] assessment that stood by its conclusions ..

The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as "embroiled in a daily fight for survival," fearful of "pogroms" by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital. .. True or not, the memo says, "from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized." Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.

Between al-Qaeda's violence, Iran's influence and an expected U.S. drawdown, "the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point" that U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar," the assessment found. ..  "Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by Al Qaeda in Iraq," or a smattering of other insurgent groups, the report says"

From the story on the August report:  "One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost." .. One possible solution would be to try to turn over the province to Iraqi forces, but that could increase the risk of a full-blown civil war. Shiite-dominated forces might begin slaughtering Sunnis, while Sunni-dominated units might simply begin acting independently of the central government."

The more recent story has a video shows Post correspondent Thomas Ricks reporting on an option circulating in the Pentagon to simply side with the Shiites and encourage formation of a large national Shiite-Kurdish army to restore order.  This might reduce the importance of Shiite radicals like Al Sadr. Nothing is said in that report about the subsequent fate of the Sunnis in that scenario.
  4:21:00 PM  permalink  

The Election Is in the Mail:  In the 2006 election, "there was one state where all went well: Oregon, where everyone votes by mail. Since Oregon adopted Vote by Mail as its sole voting option in 1998, the state’s turnout has increased, concerns about fraud have decreased, a complete paper trail exists for every election, recounts are non-controvertible and both major political parties have gained voters. Moreover, in doing away with voting machines, polling booths, precinct captains and election workers, the state estimates that it saves up to 40 percent over the cost of a traditional election. ..

[If this was nationwide,] the country’s 35,000 post offices could provide information, distribute and collect voting materials and issue inexpensive residency and address identifications for voting purposes. Perhaps most important, given the concerns about voting machine security, mail ballots cannot be hacked. Tampering or interfering with mail is a federal crime, and the United States Postal Service has its own law enforcement arm, which works closely with a variety of enforcement authorities including the F.B.I. Trained election clerks can take the time to check signatures without delaying or discouraging voters. And the advantages of a paper trail outshine the glitter of black box electronic gadgetry.

Already, in order to help businesses that send out big mailings, the Postal Service uses bar-code scanning to inexpensively track large volumes of mail from origin to destination. With minor but careful modifications, this technology can be adapted for use with ballots — allowing voters to check on their location and status by entering a tracking number on the Internet or by phone."
  10:04:41 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, November 04, 2006


Carbonfund.org has a national marketing partner:  Good to see that they are reaching larger audiences through partnerships.  In this case, Working Assets is not only advertising to their membership, but offering a matching grant of approximately 25%.
  11:11:15 PM  permalink  

The Young and the Generous: A Study of $100 Million in On-line Giving:
  "On September 3, 2006, Network for Good processed its 100 millionth dollar in [online] charitable donations. .. The median age of donors at Network for Good is 38, .. significantly younger than off-line donors, who tend to be 60+ according to most studies. ..  Whether due to income levels, the impulsive nature of on-line giving, or the credit card effect, on-line donors give significantly more than off-line donors.

About 40 percent of giving through Network for Good was in December, when, just as off-line donors, on-line donors do most of their giving because of the holidays and the end of the tax year.  About 30 percent of giving was in response to disasters. ..

At times of disaster, donors tend to give to large, familiar organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. But when humanitarian crises are removed from the equation, it is clear that smaller organizations play a big role in on-line giving. This is not the case off-line. In the nonprofit sector, a small number of large organizations (in terms of annual revenue) account for 1 percent of the organizations but the lion's share of charitable giving. But at a giving portal such as Network for Good, where donors can choose from more than one million charitable organizations, smaller organizations benefit. Similar to the long tail phenomenon at Amazon, where bestsellers may sell many copies but not as many as the sum total of niche titles, Network for Good found that most giving goes to smaller, "niche organizations" rather than big-name organizations."
  11:08:13 PM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, October 28, 2006


Russia Led Arms Sales to Developing World in 2005:  "The Russian sales in 2005 included 29 of the SA-15 Gauntlet surface-to-air missile systems for Iran; Russia also signed deals to upgrade Iran’s Su-24 bombers and MIG-29 fighter aircraft, as well as its T-72 battle tanks. “For a period of time, in the mid-1990s, the Russian government agreed not to make new advanced weapons sales to the Iran government,” wrote Richard F. Grimmett, author of the study by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress. “That agreement has since been rescinded by Russia." ..

In 2005, the United States led in total arms transfer agreements, when deals to both developed and developing nations are combined. The total was $12.8 billion, down from $13.2 billion in 2004. France ranked second in total sales, with $7.9 billion, up from $2.2 billion in 2004. Russia was third when sales to developing and developed nations were combined, with $7.4 billion, up from $5.6 billion in 2004. ..

Russia’s arms agreements with the developing world totaled $7 billion in 2005, an increase from its $5.4 billion in sales in 2004. That figure surpassed the United States’ annual sales agreements to the developing world for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  France ranked second in arms transfer agreements to developing nations, with $6.3 billion, and the United States was third, with $6.2 billion. The leading buyer in the developing world in 2005 was India, with $5.4 billion in weapons purchases, followed by Saudi Arabia with $3.4 billion and China with $2.8 billion.  The total value of all arms sales deals worldwide, when counting both developing and developed nations, in 2005 was $44.2 billion."
  11:45:18 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, August 18, 2006


Uranium moved from Poland to Russia: "The International Atomic Energy Agency secretly completed the removal of 40 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear reactor near Warsaw on Wednesday and transferred the material to a secure site in Russia for disposal, according to an IAEA document. The operation is part of an ongoing effort by American and United Nations officials to secure and recover high-risk nuclear and radiological materials around the world. Similar operations over the past three years have returned material from Libya, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Uzbekistan to Russia, where it was first made during the Soviet era.

The IAEA wants to reduce the number of reactors around the world that still use weapons-grade uranium. The agency says that more than 100 are still in operation, including in the United States, China and India, though numbers are concentrated in Eastern and Central Europe. It wants them converted to use low-enriched uranium and to eliminate the commerce in highly enriched uranium for research reactors."  11:18:06 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, August 07, 2006


Some Convenient Truths: Short piece by Gregg Easterbrook that explains the optimism I feel on the technology of global warming. "Most progress against air pollution has been cheaper than expected. Smog controls on automobiles, for example, were predicted to cost thousands of dollars for each vehicle. Today’s new cars emit less than 2 percent as much smog-forming pollution as the cars of 1970, and the cars are still as affordable today as they were then. Acid-rain control has cost about 10 percent of what was predicted in 1990, when Congress enacted new rules. At that time, opponents said the regulations would cause a “clean-air recession”; instead, the economy boomed. ..
Emissions of CFCs have been nearly eliminated, and studies suggest that ozone-layer replenishment is beginning. ..

[Why the pessimism on cutting GHG?] the success of previous antipollution efforts remains something of a secret. Polls show that Americans think the air is getting dirtier, not cleaner .. Democrats have found they can bash Republicans by falsely accusing them of destroying the environment. ..  to acknowledge that air pollution has declined would require Republicans to say the words, “The regulations worked.” ..

Americans love challenges, and preventing artificial climate change is just the sort of technological and economic challenge at which this nation excels. It only remains for the right politician to recast the challenge in practical, optimistic tones...  Cheap and fast improvement is not a pipe dream; it is the pattern of previous efforts against air pollution. The only reason runaway global warming seems unstoppable is that we have not yet tried to stop it."

I recognize that unlike previous air pollution, CO2 is the key product of combustion, rather than an irrelevant byproduct as most pollution is, so it will be harder to reduce. On the other hand, CO2 is directly related to fuel costs, which provide more economic push for reduction; America's efficiency is far behind comparable countries, and there is a large body of off-the-shelf efficiency technologies available; and are many non-fossil fuel alternatives already on the market, which drop in price with every year.  Combining these factors, an 80% reduction in GHG from US levels seems to me feasible, especially over a 20-year period or longer.  If I get the time, I'll write up the details behind these numbers in a future blog entry.
  10:34:27 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, August 05, 2006


Tsunami and Peace Boost Illegal Indonesia Logging:  "The rebels of Aceh are trading their guns for chain saws and cashing in on a logging binge that is jeopardizing the future of the world's third largest tropical forest reserves.

It's a cruel conjunction of good news and bad news: The rebellion is over, but peace has opened previously inaccessible virgin forests to illegal logging. Meanwhile, 130,000 homes destroyed by the tsunami of December 2004 need replacing, and demand for timber is almost insatiable. ..

Indonesia, whose tropical forest reserves are the world's largest after the Amazon and the Congo basin, has lost around 40 percent of its canopy to loggers in the last 50 years.  At this rate of deforestation -- an area the size of New Jersey lost each year -- lowland trees of Sumatra and the neighboring island of Borneo will disappear by 2010, according to Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund or WWF.

Aceh was largely protected during a decades-long separatist insurgency, with logging primarily limited to rebels and rogue elements within the military. But last year's peace deal opened up previously inaccessible virgin forests."
  11:20:34 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, July 31, 2006


The Enemy of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy: An NYU professor in the 7/26 NYT: Hezbollah has taken the lead on the most incendiary issue for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel. Many Sunnis are therefore rallying to Hezbollah’s side, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan [and] the Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda .. For Al Qaeda, it is a time of panic. The group’s Web sites are abuzz with messages and questions about how to respond to Hezbollah’s success. One sympathizer asks whether, even knowing that the Shiites are traitors and the accomplices of the infidel Americans in Iraq, it is permissible to say a prayer for Hezbollah. He is told to curse Hezbollah along with Islam’s other enemies. ..

The truth is that Al Qaeda has met a formidable challenge in Hezbollah and its charismatic leader .. Al Qaeda’s improbable conspiracy theory does little to counter these advantages. .. Hezbollah will score a major propaganda victory in the Muslim world if it simply remains standing in Lebanon .. Perhaps Hezbollah’s ascendancy among Sunnis will make it possible for Shiites and Sunnis to stop the bloodletting in Iraq — and to focus instead on their “real” enemies, namely the United States and Israel. ..

[This would] mark a dangerous turn for the West. And there are darker implications still. Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.

Two days later: Al-Zawahri Calls for Muslims to Rise Up:  Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader called Thursday for Muslims to unite in a holy war against Israel and to join the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza until Islam reigns from ''Spain to Iraq.'' [in a] recruiting effort that even called on non-Muslims to join the Islamic cause. ..

Kamal Habib, a former member of Egypt's Islamic Jihad militant group who was jailed from 1981-1991 along with al-Zawahri, said the appeal to non-Muslims was unprecedented and reflected a change in tactics.  ''This is a transformation in the vision of al-Qaida and its struggle with the United States. It is now trying to unite Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and calling for non-Muslims to join the fight,'' he said. ..

''The war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires ... . It is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq,'' said al-Zawahri. ''We will attack everywhere. .. All the world is a battlefield open in front of us,'' ..

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahhal refused to comment on the al-Zawahri tape."  From other sources: "Another new audio or video message from bin Laden was also expected in the coming days and was planned to deal with Gaza and Lebanon, according to said IntelCentre, a US-based independent group that provides counter-terrorism information to the US government and media."  How large a terrorist attack would be needed to return al-Qaida to prominence?
  9:22:58 AM  permalink  

Million-dollar murray:  Malcolm Gladwell in Feb 06 about how some social problems have power-law distributions -- a small number of hard cases cause almost all the social harm -- so that "solving the problem may be less expensive than managing it."  Examples:  police brutality traced to a very small number of repeat offenders; medical emergencies for the homeless caused by a relatively small number of chronically homeless; air pollution caused by the small proportion of vehicles that are out of compliance.  These can be solved by targeted programs that are politically difficult, viewed as unfair or punative, so the problems persist, costing more than their solutions would.
  12:51:04 AM  permalink  

The vulnerable line of supply to US troops in Iraq:  From Pat Lang, former head of mideast intel at DIA.  "American troops all over central and northern Iraq are supplied with fuel, food, and ammunition by truck convoy from a supply base hundreds of miles away in Kuwait. All but a small amount of our soldiers' supplies come into the country over roads that pass through the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq. Until now the Shiite Arabs of Iraq have been told by their leaders to leave American forces alone. But an escalation of tensions between Iran and the US could change that overnight. Moreover, the ever-increasing violence of the civil war in Iraq can change the alignment of forces there unexpectedly.  Southern Iraq is thoroughly infiltrated by Iranian special operations forces working with Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades. Hostilities between Iran and the United States or a change in attitude toward US forces on the part of the Baghdad government could quickly turn the supply roads into a "shooting gallery" 400 to 800 miles long. ..

Compounding the looming menace of the Kuwait-based line of supply is the route followed by the cargo ships en route to Kuwait. Geography dictates that the ships all pass through the Strait of Hormuz and then proceed to the ports at the other end of the Gulf. Those who are familiar with the record of Iran's efforts against Kuwaiti shipping in the Iran-Iraq War will be concerned about this maritime vulnerability.  ..

A reduction in supplies would inevitably affect operational capability. This might lead to a downward spiral of potential against the insurgents and the militias. This would be very dangerous for our forces. .. Potential adversaries along the line of supply include many combat-experienced and well-schooled officers and former officers. We can be sure that they are acutely aware of this weakness in our situation. ..

Are there alternatives to the present line of supply leading to Kuwait? .. A new line of supply leading from Turkey or Jordan would require [new port and warehouse] facilities. Turkey has not been very cooperative in this war, and a supply line leading from Jordan would have to pass through Anbar Province, the very heart of the Sunni Arab insurgencies. Creating new facilities [would be] politically difficult, and it would take time.

Few of the permanent requirements for uninterrupted resupply can be satisfied out of the local economy. .. It seems unlikely that air resupply could exceed 25 percent of daily requirements. This would not be enough to sustain the force...

The precarious nature of our supply line is well-known to our military leadership. Unfortunately, this is one of the many problems in Iraq that has not been adequately addressed because of a shortage of troops. We should start building ourselves another line of supply as a backup, and we should do it soon."  12:19:05 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative:  Surprising to me, and hopeful. " [A] television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: "As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God's creation. The good news is that with God's help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord."  The advertisements are to be shown in Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

The Evangelical Climate Initiative, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, is being supported by individuals and foundations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation."

  10:51:45 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, February 04, 2006


'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration':  Review of the Risen book by Walter Isaacson, that makes some larger points:  "Even those of us who like the idea of the intelligence agencies using data-mining and electronic surveillance to detect terrorist communications are uncomfortable with the possibility that future presidents, with murkier agendas, might secretly use such techniques, without any authorization, for any purpose they alone deem part of their war-making powers. In these cases, oversight is supposed to come from Congress, the special intelligence courts and the lawyers at the Justice Department, C.I.A. and White House. But in an administration that has little appreciation for Congressional authority or for meddling lawyers, and in a town where the president's party controls all branches of government, there were no such checks or balances.

Except the press. Whether on torture or wiretapping, the news media have become a de facto fourth branch that provides some small check on executive power. That is why so many concerned or disgruntled sources, especially from within the intelligence agencies, came forward to give Risen information. So what are we to believe in a book that relies heavily on leaks from disgruntled sources? We are in an age where the consumer of information has to make an educated guess about what percentage of assertions in books like this are true. My own guess is that Risen has earnest sources for everything he reports but that they don't all know the full story, thus resulting in a book that smells like it's 80 percent true. If that sounds deeply flawed, let me add that if he had relied on no anonymous sources and reported instead only the on-the-record line from official spinners, the result would very likely have been only half as true.

In fact, the new way we consume information provides a good argument for the role of an independent press that relies on leakers. Other journalists will and should build on, or debunk, the allegations reported by Risen. This will prompt many of the players to publish their own version of the facts. L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq after the invasion, has just come out with his book pointing fingers at the C.I.A. for giving him flawed intelligence and at Donald Rumsfeld for not giving him the troops he actually wanted. And Tenet, one hopes, will someday cash in on a hefty book contract by clamping cigar in mouth and pen in hand to give evidence that he was not the buffoonish toady Rumsfeld's aides portray him to be. Besides being fun to watch, this process is a boon for future historians.

So welcome to the new age of impressionistic history. Like an Impressionist painting, it relies on dots of varying hues and intensity. Some come from leakers like those who spoke to Risen. Other dots come from the memoirs and comments of the players. Eventually, a picture emerges, slowly getting clearer. It's up to us to connect the dots and find our own meanings in this landscape."
  10:25:28 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength:  After 9/11, Iraq WMD, the Iraq insurgency, and now Hamas, and for that matter, Katrina, yet again she says:  "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing," she said .. "I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."

Hamas's victory has set off a debate whether the administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak."  12:17:01 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, January 27, 2006


Lessons of post-Cold War development: Summarizes and links to papers by Harvard's Dani Rodrik, especially an excellent review of economic development policies since 1990, "Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?"  For example:  "While it is true that over the past ten years scores of developing nations have not experienced economic growth, and in some cases have actually fallen backwards, despite following the rules of the Washington Consensus, paradoxically, that doesn't mean the era of globalization has been an unmitigated disaster. Quite the contrary: "From the standpoint of global poverty," writes Rodrik, "the last two decades have proved the most favorable that the world has ever experienced. Rapid economic growth in China, India, and a few other Asian countries has resulted in an absolute reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty."

But what's fascinating is that China and India made their march forward, according to Rodrik, not by willy nilly opening up their markets with neoliberal abandon, but with great attention to policy choices, and with explicit government involvement in the economy that can only be described as industrial policy. The same was true of many of the East Asian nations who developed earlier, like Taiwan and South Korea, which only started to seriously open up after they had achieved substantial economic growth through a mix of protectionism, export subsidies, and other policy choices."
  11:17:30 PM  permalink  

Dollars and Sense:  Provocative article by David Brooks on voter alignments in the US, explaining why economic issues seem to matter less than cultural to most voters.  "Over the past few decades, Democrats have generally conceived of America as a society divided between comfortable haves and insecure have-nots. Having read thousands of gloomy articles about downsizing, outsourcing and wage stagnation, they've tried to rally the insecure working majority against the privileged minority — or, as Al Gore put it, the people against the powerful...

Last year, the liberal economist Stephen Rose ..observed, "It is an occupational hazard of those with big hearts to overestimate the share of the population that is economically distressed." Rose concluded that only 19 % of males and 27 % of females are poor or working poor — a percentage that is "probably much smaller than most progressive commentators would estimate." .. [In recent decades] the share of bad jobs fell significantly as more workers with postsecondary education moved into an expanding set of managerial and professional jobs."  "

Excluding the young (who vote less often) the point gets sharper.  "Rose calculated the household incomes for people between 26 and 59 and found that the average annual family income is somewhere around $63,000 a year — an impressive figure. Opinion polls consistently show that people at these income levels feel as if they're doing quite well and don't feel oppressed by forces beyond their control. ..

over the past year the Democratic polling firm of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner has noted that voters don't separate values issues from economic issues. They use values issues as stand-ins and figure the candidates they associate with traditional morality are also the ones with sensible economic policies. In the current issue of The American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta [writes] "Traditional values have become aspirational. Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle-class people they want to be like." ..

especially in the information age, social values and cultural capital shape a person's economic destiny more than the other way around. If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing. If you have a daughter, you're right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization. This country's prosperity is threatened more by homes where no one reads to children than it is by big pharmaceutical companies.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed that the core conservative truth is that culture matters most, and that the core liberal truth is that government can reshape culture. But liberals have turned culturally libertarian. Afraid to be judgmental about things like family structure, they've dropped out of the core values debate.  Conservatives, especially evangelicals, have had free rein .. Middle-class Americans feel social anxiety more acutely than economic anxiety because they understand that values matter most."
  11:10:19 PM  permalink  

My Outsourced Life:  Funny article on individual outsourcing.  I wonder how close to true it is?
  10:59:40 PM  permalink  

Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History:  "where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? ..

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so. ..

My second question is this: What does history tell us about our earlier responses to traumatic events? ..  My list of precedents for the Patriot Act and government wiretapping of American citizens would include the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which allowed the federal government to close newspapers and deport foreigners during the "quasi-war" with France; the denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War, which permitted the pre-emptive arrest of suspected Southern sympathizers; the Red Scare of 1919, which emboldened the attorney general to round up leftist critics in the wake of the Russian Revolution; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which was justified on the grounds that their ancestry made them potential threats to national security; the McCarthy scare of the early 1950's, which used cold war anxieties to pursue a witch hunt against putative Communists in government, universities and the film industry.

In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing. Some very distinguished American presidents, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, succumbed to quite genuine and widespread popular fears. No historian or biographer has argued that these were their finest hours. ..

It is completely understandable that those who lost loved ones on that date will carry emotional scars for the remainder of their lives. But it defies reason and experience to make Sept. 11 the defining influence on our foreign and domestic policy. History suggests that we have faced greater challenges and triumphed, and that overreaction is a greater danger than complacency"
  8:36:36 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Sensors watch Barrier Reef coral: Cairns, Australia:  "The Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) is working with James Cook University on a project called Digital Skins. Smart sensors, developed originally for use in nuclear power stations, are placed in the ocean and also in water catchments on the mainland.  They are able to communicate with each other to monitor events such as coral bleaching as they happen. ..
 
Each sensor in the skin has its own numerical address and operating system. Using a global position system, the sensors know exactly where they are. Parameters such as salinity, temperature and nutrient levels are measured. 

Communicating with the sensors is a challenge, particularly for those sensors located out on the reef.  Using a technique that was discovered by the British during World War II, microwave signals are sent along the surface of the ocean.  Initial tests have seen data sent as far as 70km (43.5 miles) in one hop.

The final link in the chain is grid computing. All these sensors create terabytes of data every day.  High-speed links allow the various institutions to share their computing power. "

  12:42:57 PM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, January 22, 2006


Poll finds broad approval of terrorist torture:  "Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling."  The polling in Nov 2005, in the United States and eight of its closest allies, asked whether torture is ever justified:
  • In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions.
  • Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.
  • In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided
  • Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.  ..
In the poll, about two-thirds of the people living in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Spain said they would oppose allowing U.S. officials to secretly interrogate terrorist suspects in their countries. Almost that many in Britain, France, Germany and Italy said they felt the same way. Almost two-thirds in the United States support such interrogations in the U.S. by their own government."
  10:27:23 PM  permalink  

Truthiness 101: Nice definition.  "Democrats who go berserk at their every political defeat still don't understand this. They fault the public for not listening to their facts and arguments, as though facts and arguments would make a difference, even if the Democrats were coherent. It's the power of the story that always counts first, and the selling of it that comes second. Accuracy is optional. The Frey-like genius of the right is its ability to dissemble with a straight face while simultaneously mustering the slick media machinery and expertise to push the goods. It not only has the White House propaganda operation at its disposal, but also an intricate network of P.R. outfits and fake-news outlets that are far more effective than their often hapless liberal counterparts."  4:58:24 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, January 17, 2006


You're being watched ...  Some facts on increased surveillance powers.  "In 2004, the General Accounting Office surveyed 128 federal departments and agencies to determine the extent of data mining. It found 199 operations, [only] 14 of which related to counterterrorism. ..

A University of Illinois study found that in the 12 months following 9/11, federal agents made at least 545 visits to libraries to obtain information about patrons. ..

The Patriot Act allows law enforcement officers to get "sneak and peek" warrants to search a home for any suspected crime — and to wait months or even years to tell the owner they were there. Last July, the Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee that only 12% of the 153 "sneak and peek" warrants it received were related to terrorism investigations. ..

The FBI has used Patriot Act powers to break into a judge's chambers and to procure records from medical clinics. Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union recently revealed that the FBI used other new powers to eavesdrop on environmental, political and religious organizations."
  10:34:12 AM  permalink  

War's stunning price tag:  Linda Bilmes, former assistant secretary of Commerce, now teaching at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and Nobel Prize winner in 2001.  recently estimated the likely cost of the war in Iraq. "We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned — between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. ..
the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans .. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt..."
  9:20:28 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, January 13, 2006


Did Castro Kill JFK?  A German film finds intelligence and FBI officials who claim Cuba planned it and paid Oswald to do it.  Getting coverage overseas, but curiously not in the US (via WashPost blog).
  10:32:04 AM  permalink  

Dissecting the Chinese miracle: Concise summary of issues in China's current political economy, and why the near term future could get bumpy.  Topics include:
  • China's loss-making state-owned enterprises, and how they employ masses of people while enriching local and regional officials that fight reform and suppress popular opposition
  • The need to rationalize development goals and credit allocation to build a modern economy, and how there will have to be many losers in this effort
  • The tension in the rich-poor, urban-rural and coastal-interior gaps
  • "China consumes 12 % of global energy, 25 % of aluminum, 28 % of steel and 42 % of cement -- but is responsible for only 4.3 % of total global economic output. Ultimately, while the "solution" espoused by Jiang's generation did forestall a civil breakdown, it also saddled China with thousands of new non-competitive projects, even more bad debt, and a culture of corruption so deep that cases of applied capital punishment for graft and embezzlement have soared into the thousands."
  • "Western investment into China has remained startlingly constant at about $7 billion annually. Only Asian investors whose systems are often plagued (like Japan's) by similar problems of profitability or (like Indonesia's) outright collapse have been increasing their exposure in China."
  • China "is now a World Trade Organization member, and nearly half of its GDP is locked up in international trade. Its WTO commitments dictate that by December, Beijing must allow any interested foreign companies to compete in the Chinese banking market without restriction. But without some fairly severe adjustments, this shift would swiftly suck the capital out of the Chinese banking system."  So even the next two years could be turbulent.
  10:02:18 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, January 12, 2006


The California Solar Initiative:  "On January 12, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the California Solar Initiative by a 3-1 margin. With the previously approved 2006 budget, that a total of $3.2 billion in incentives over 11 years, enough for 3,000 megawatts of solar across the state. .. This is the biggest solar program in the country and, after Germany, the second largest in the world."
  2:41:55 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Why Do Some Turks Have Bird Flu Virus but Aren't Sick?:  I wonder if surviving a mild version of bird flu immunizes against the bad version.  "five cases in Ankara hospitals are different from those elsewhere in Asia. Four of the five display only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all..  Doctors are unsure whether they are for the first time seeing human bird flu in its earliest stages or if they are discovering that infection with the A(H5N1) virus does not always lead to illness. ..

Since none of the five have died, it is raising the possibility that human bird flu is not as deadly as currently thought, and that many mild cases in Asian countries may have gone unreported.  Turkey is the first country outside eastern Asia to have human cases, and the first one anywhere to have so many separate animal outbreaks simultaneously.

In one week, Turkey announced 15 confirmed human cases of A(H5N1); Asia has seen only about 140 in the space of five years. .. In Ankara, where the government has been sending out vans with loudspeakers urging people to report symptoms and avoid contact with animals, even people with mild symptoms are being checked for bird flu, meaning that milder cases are more likely to be detected than they are in other parts of Asia. "I'm sure that part of the explanation for the high number of case in Turkey is better surveillance," said Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for the W.H.O. in Geneva."  Again, better surveillance and quick communication are key.

  9:06:49 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Confidence Game: Analysis of Iran situation from Christopher Dickey.  "Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?.. Even some of the most rabid Iranian opposition groups think the mullahs can withstand whatever the Israelis or Americans throw at them from the air—and in the aftermath the Iranian public would rally around the turbans. Indeed, some opposition groups think Ahmadinejad is intentionally goading the Israelis to launch a strike for just that reason. "If they attack him, he will have his war; if they do not, he will have his bomb," says one well-connected exile ..

"The Iranians think they are untouchable," says a European diplomat involved with the negotiations .. Yet patience with Tehran may be wearing thin in Moscow and Beijing. Both governments joined with France, Britain and the United States sending letters to the Iranians yesterday telling them to back off from a renewal of the uranium enrichment research.  ..

Paradoxical as it may seem, their greatest weakness is their oil and gas industry. Sure, Iran has the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia. But its facilities for pumping and processing the stuff are in such a sorry state that domestic demand for gasoline is 60 percent greater than the country's refining capacity. To keep up, the mullahs have to import more than 95,000 barrels a day. Iran has the second-largest known reserves of natural gas in the world—but it's a net importer of the stuff its people use. To make matters much worse, the mullahs long ago adopted a policy trying to buy popular support with massively subsidized prices for cooking gas, gasoline and other products. Today, those subsidies eat up a whopping 10 percent of Iran's gross domestic product ..

If Ahmadinejad succeeds in provoking the United Nations to impose serious sanctions, cutting off Iran's imports of heavily subsidized natural gas and gasoline, the first people to suffer would be the Iranian president's core constituency—the poor and uneducated.  A long, tense game lies ahead, but, again like Iraq in 2003, there are options short of war that may yet bring the desired results.."

  3:19:01 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, January 06, 2006


Iran: Moscow missiles and Israel rumors:  "Though the EU-3 has coordinated its diplomatic efforts with Washington, Iran is by no means isolated. Russia is clearly in Iran's corner. [It maintains] that Iran is in compliance with its NPT obligations and that Iran has the right to master the nuclear fuel cycle.  In a very strong show of support for Tehran, Moscow agreed to sell Iran an air-defense system known as the Tor-M1. Arguably the most advanced system of its kind, the Tor-M1 uses a mobile launcher to track and destroy multiple targets, which can include incoming missiles, aircraft and helicopters.  Moscow's deal with Tehran, which was signed early last month, calls for the delivery of 30 Tor-M1 systems in 2006 and is worth more than $1 billion. According to Russian sources, it is the largest weapons deal between Moscow and Tehran in the past five years. ..

Last month, stories surfaced in the international press indicating that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had already approved a strike against Iran to be mounted this March. Israel's recent acquisition of "bunker-busting" bombs from Washington indicates that an Israeli strike may well be under consideration."  8:33:36 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Mob War In the Mideast:   New info from "Syria's former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam. From exile in France, he gave an astonishing interview Friday that linked the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to the murder last year of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. He told al-Arabiya television that "there were many threats" from Syria against Hariri before his death, and that it was "impossible that any apparatus in Syria could have taken a unilateral decision to murder Hariri" without Assad's approval.

[According to] Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community and something of a warlord himself. .. As Assad is backed deeper into a corner, he cautioned, the situation will become more dangerous for Lebanon. "The more you squeeze the Syrians, the more they get aggressive here," Jumblatt said. .. Like other Lebanese I spoke with this week, he fears a deadly new attack by the Syrians that would attempt to trigger sectarian conflict in Lebanon -- and take the heat off Damascus. Jumblatt argues that the only stable outcome will be regime change in Syria -- a "Milosevic solution" that will bring Assad to justice through the United Nations. ..

What makes the Syria-Lebanon situation especially volatile, Jumblatt explained, is that it is linked to the radical new Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He argued that Iran is using its alliance with Assad and Hezbollah in its larger strategic battles against Israel and the United States. "It's as if we are defending Iranian nuclear facilities from the border of Lebanon," he said."
  10:38:38 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, January 02, 2006


Democracy and terrorism:  Feb 2005 NYT article by Richard A. Clarke.  "Following the president's theory, they might assume terrorism cannot grow in democracies and that the best way to deal with it is to create more democracies. Unfortunately, both beliefs may be mistaken. ..

in the greater Muslim world, opposing democracy is not uppermost in the mind of Al Qaeda or the larger jihadist network. (In Saudi Arabia, for example, Al Qaeda wants the monarchy replaced by a more democratic government.) Radical Islamists are ultimately seeking to create something orthogonal to our model of democracy. They are fighting to create a theocracy or, in their vernacular, a caliphate (a divinely inspired government administered by a caliph as Allah's viceroy on earth). They are also seeking to evict American influence from nations with a Muslim majority .. In pursuing these goals, today's loosely affiliated Islamic terrorist groups are part of a trend dating back to at least 1928, when the Muslim Brotherhood was founded to promote Islam and fight colonialism.

This trend hasn't abated with the spread of democracy. In Indonesia, .. the jihadist movement is growing stronger, as it is in other Asian democracies. In Algeria, free elections in 1990 and 1991 resulted in victories for those who advocated a jihadist theocracy. Throughout Western Europe, the jihadists are becoming deeply rooted among disaffected Muslim youth. Free elections, in short, have not dimmed the desire of jihadists to create a caliphate.

Even without jihadists, Western democracies have hardly been immune to terrorism. The Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof gang of Germany and the Red Brigades of Italy all developed in democracies. Indeed, in the United States, the largest terrorist attack before Sept. 11 was conducted in Oklahoma by fully enfranchised American citizens.

Thus, it is not the lack of democracy that produced jihadist movements, nor will the creation of democracies quell them. .. President Bush's democracy-promotion policy will be appropriate and laudable at the right time in the right nations, but it is not the cure for terrorism and may divert us from efforts needed to rout Al Qaeda and reduce our vulnerabilities at home. The president is right that resentment is growing and that it is breeding terrorism, but it is chiefly resentment of us, not of the absence of democracy. The 9/11 Commission had a proposal similar to the president's, but more on point: a battle of ideas to persuade more Muslims that jihadist terrorism is a perversion of Islam. Most Middle East experts agree, however, that any American hand in the battle of ideas will, for now, be counterproductive. For many in the Islamic world, the United States is still associated with such acts as having made the 250,000 person city of Falluja uninhabitable. Because of the enormous resentment of the United States government in the Islamic world, documented in numerous opinion polls, we will have to look to nongovernmental organizations and other nations to lead the battle of ideas. "

  10:44:17 AM  permalink  

Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered: I missed this story from August 2005.  I found no updates since then.  So we are more exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq today than in 2002.  "U.S. troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said Saturday.   Monday's early morning raid found 11 precursor agents, "some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, said in Baghdad. ..

Boylan said the suspected lab was new, dating from some time after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration cited evidence that Saddam Hussein's government was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for the invasion. No such weapons or factories were found. .. Investigators still were trying to determine who had assembled the alleged lab and whether the expertise came from foreign insurgents or former members of Hussein's security apparatus, the military said. .. A [smaller] lab discovered last year in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah contained a how-to book on chemical weapons and an unspecified amount of chemicals .. No chemical weapons are known to have been used so far in Iraq's insurgency."

  10:36:03 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 18, 2005


Gapminder: An interactive presentation for the "Human Development Report 2005" by UNDP, relating population, income and health across countries and regions over 50 years.  Much improved in recent months.  In 10 minutes, it conveys a lot about where the world is going.

  12:50:27 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, December 17, 2005


State Department takes over Iraq reconstruction: 2.5 years late. "President George W. Bush on Wednesday announced that the State Department would lead all US post-conflict reconstruction, a move that supersedes the controversial decision to give that task to the Pentagon in Iraq following the 2003 invasion."  11:12:25 AM  permalink  

Op-Eds for Sale: "For years, rumors have swirled of an underground opinion "pay-for-play" industry in Washington in which think-tank employees and pundits trade their ability to shape public perception for cash. ..

A senior fellow at the Cato Institute resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients. Doug Bandow [also] writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service .. Copley News Service announced it is suspending Bandow pending its own review. ..

Bandow isn't the only think-tanker to have received payments from Abramoff for writing articles. Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation, says he, too, took money from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist's clients. "I do that all the time," Ferrara says. "I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."

Ferrara, who has been an influential conservative voice on Social Security reform, among other issues, says he doesn't see a conflict of interest in taking undisclosed money to write op-ed pieces because his columns never violated his ideological principles.  "It's a matter of general support," Ferrara says. "These are my views, and if you want to support them, then that's good." But he adds that at some point over the years, Abramoff stopped working with him: "Jack lost interest in me and felt he had other writers who were writing in more prominent publications," Ferrara says.

Ferrara's boss has a very different take on the Abramoff op-ed writing than did his peers at Cato. "If somebody pinned me down and said, 'Do you think this is wrong or unethical?' I'd say no," says Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation. Giovanetti says critics are applying a "naive purity standard" to the op-ed business. "I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements."

Ferrara began working at the Institute for Policy Innovation after the period during which he wrote the op-ed pieces for Abramoff. Earlier, he worked at the activist anti-tax organization Americans for Tax Reform.  .. He also wrote a 1998 book called The Choctaw Revolution: Lessons for Federal Indian Policy. Ferrara says the tribe paid him directly for his work on the book, which was published by the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation"

  10:54:56 AM  permalink  

What the Troops Really Need: US nation-building assets are weak.  "If you think that the $500 billion military is stretched thin, take a look at the anemic, $10 billion State Department. Most military officers crying for assistance in the field do not realize how small their diplomatic sister agency is. There are more musicians playing for the military services' bands than there are Foreign Service officers at State. This severe lack of capacity leaves the military with the bulk of the building, in addition to the clearing and the holding."

  9:32:44 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Software That Binds, And Converts, And Retains: In two articles, Baseline magazine profiles the use of customer relationship management (CRM) software in churches.  They track people so that visitors become members, members contribute and volunteer more, and members change churches ("churn") less -- all classic CRM.  "Eighteen months ago, [pastor] Hand implemented a new process based on software from a company called ConnectionPower to improve the church's outreach methods. ConnectionPower features modules for such things as automating the visitor follow-up process, tracking donations and revenues, and creating a Web portal for members. It's priced from $1,000 for a small church to about $20,000 for churches with 6,000 or more members. 

At [Hand's church], new visitors continue to fill out registration cards as they had in the past, with information such as family member names, ages, address [and] e-mail address. But now volunteers immediately type the information into the Windows-based ConnectionPower software. And now, each Monday morning, Hand or his assistant logs in to the system and see the names of the new visitors. .. The software then produces follow-up recommendations. For example, if a 28-year-old mother of two visits, the software prompts a volunteer of a similar age and background to make contact later in the week."

And the churches embrace podcasting and other media.  "69%of evangelicals use the Internet to send, receive and forward spiritual e-mail and electronic greeting cards and request prayers online, according to a Pew Internet survey last year. That's compared with 51% of Catholics and 54% of Jews, the Pew Internet study said. .. Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, an evangelical church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with 18,000 members, lets Apple iPod users download and take along a daily message from pastor Bob Coy, as part of what the church calls its Active Word Ministry. .. "If you don't have a parking lot, you can't get the people in the church to hear the message and ultimately lead them to the Lord. A Web site is as important as a parking lot to a church." "

  10:12:28 AM  permalink  

Brain imaging detects lies:  "Brain-imaging techniques that reveal when a person is lying are now reliable enough to identify criminals, claim researchers. .. neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia have now told Nature that they believe their test is ready for real-life scenarios. Daniel Langleben and his colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track people's brains when they lie and tell the truth. By analysing brain activity during both scenarios, they have developed an algorithm that can detect lies from truth with 99% accuracy.

Team member Ruben Gur points out that, unlike the polygraph, fMRI does not rely on controllable symptoms such as sweating or a fast heartbeat. Instead it monitors the central nervous system. When someone lies, their brain inhibits them from telling the truth, and this makes the frontal lobes more active. "A lie is always more complicated than the truth," says Gur. "You think a bit more and fMRI picks that up." ..

Langleben has previously warned that fMRI is a research tool, not a way to spot liars. But the latest research has changed his tune. "We can't say whether this person will one day use a bomb," he says. "But we can use fMRI to find concealed information. We can ask: is X involved in terrorist organization Y?" .. Critics argue that lab experiments do not equate to real-life situations. .. Critics and researchers agree that more funding is needed to standardize the method and iron out ethical concerns before the approach is used routinely. The team's next step is to expand its studies to include women, people of different cultures, and psychopaths."  9:13:17 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 11, 2005


Opinion Leaders Turn Cautious, Public Looks Homeward: Pew poll reveals long term trends. Most striking:  " Fully 42% of Americans say the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." This is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. "  Note the least isolation occured after the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 9/11.  Many other interesting findings, e.g.  "Pluralities in every group of influentials – as well as the public – attribute the fact that there has not been a terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 to luck. Just a third of the public – and no more than a third in any elite group – says it is because the government has done a good job in protecting the country."  5:00:15 PM  permalink  

Shattering Iraq:  Review of civil war histories related to Iraq.  "By just about every meaningful standard that can be applied -- the reference points of history, the research criteria of political science, the contemporaneous reporting of on-the-ground observers, the grim roll of civilian and combatant casualties -- Iraq is now well into the bloody sequence of civil war. Dispense with the tentative locution "on the verge of." An active, if not full-boil, civil war is already a reality." 

A Council on Foreign Relations report adds evidence that the Iraqi national army is not really national:  "There is a growing chorus of complaints from Sunni Arab leaders that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has been infiltrated by Shiite militias that engage in torture, kidnappings, and, in some cases, deaths squads against Sunnis. ..  “The ISF is not a true national force but rather a carved-up conglomeration of militias,” says Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst with the Congressional Research Service."

Also from Peter Galbraith, who welcomes the consitution's minimal central state in What Are We Holding Together?: "There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together -- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites. As a moral matter, Iraq's Kurds are no less entitled to independence than are Lithuanians, Croatians or Palestinians. And if Iraq's Shiites want to run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic principle should they be denied? If the price of a unified Iraq is another dictatorship, it is too high a price to pay."

  4:52:19 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, December 09, 2005


Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion: "The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials. The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.  The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members ..

The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced. ..

Mr. Libi was among a group of what American officials have described as about 150 prisoners sent by the United States from one foreign country to another since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for the purposes of interrogation"

  3:38:07 PM  permalink  

The Hubris of the Humanities: "Increasingly, we face public policy issues - avian flu, stem cells - that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, and just 12 doctors and 3 biologists.

This disregard for science already hurts us. The U.S. has bungled research on stem cells, perhaps partly because Mr. Bush didn't realize how restrictive his curb on research funds would be. And we're risking our planet's future because our leaders are frozen in the headlights of climate change.  In this century, one of the most complex choices we will make will be what tinkering to allow with human genes, to "improve" the human species. How can our leaders decide that issue if they barely know what DNA is?

Intellectuals have focused on the challenge from the right, which has led to a drop in the public acceptance of evolution in the U.S. over the last 20 years, to 40 percent from 45 percent. Jon Miller, a professor at the Northwestern University medical school who has tracked attitudes toward evolution in 34 countries, says Turkey is the only one with less support for evolution than the U.S"

  1:02:11 PM  permalink  

 
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