Saturday, December 31, 2005

Closing the year on a good note

It seems wrong to end the year with a post on the ten worst Americans - so let me close out the year on the blog by highlighting three people who I know and respect. All of them have written something constructive about Iraq in the past week:

1) Andrew Erdmann -- about whom I've blogged in the past -- had an op-ed in the New York Times earlier in the week on Iraq's parliamentary elections:
For better or worse, in the election's aftermath, the United States will almost certainly begin to withdraw its military from Iraq in 2006. But that does not mean that the time has come to disengage. On the contrary, a broader, more diverse engagement with Iraqi society is needed to help Iraqis develop the institutions, practices and values essential to real and enduring democracy....

Iraq's universities and colleges are unable to train sufficient numbers of professors or schoolteachers to educate the next generation. Today, Iraq's 20 public universities and more than 40 technical colleges and institutes struggle to educate more than 250,000 students annually. Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to build the system back up to where it was before Saddam Hussein took power; billions will be needed to meet today's regional standard, set by countries like Qatar.

How can we help build a better Iraq unless we focus on its vast population of young people, whose views of their country and its politics have yet to harden into dogma? But despite higher education's strategic importance, American support for it has been paltry. From 2003 to 2005, a United States Agency for International Development program allocated $20 million to building partnerships between American and Iraqi universities. That program ended without a successor; no agency funds are allocated for Iraqi higher education for 2006. The American Embassy in Baghdad backed the founding of an American University in Iraq in Sulaimaniya, but future support is uncertain....

We should expand "train and equip" programs for Iraqi editors, journalists, and publishers. We should also increase financing for the National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Institute of Peace and other organizations that are helping Iraqis build and sustain civic institutions. Such investments cannot be postponed and must not be considered merely "supplemental." We need to lock them into our budgets today.

But the United States government should not carry the load alone. Americans of all types - including educators, management consultants and municipal officials - can contribute and need to step forward. More organizations should follow the lead of Columbia University's Center for International Conflict Resolution, which works with civic leaders in regions of Iraq that are relatively peaceful. American trade unions, professional associations, educational institutions, journalists, students, human rights activists, scientists and business executives should establish ties with their Iraqi counterparts.

So far, many Americans who opposed the war have not extended a helping hand to the Iraqi people in its aftermath. Others sit on the fence. With elections under a new Constitution, the time has come to focus on Iraq's future and put aside the politics of the past.

2) A few years ago I was fortunate to have an office next door to Major Scott Cooper of the U.S. Marine Corps (we were both Council on Foreign Relations fellows). Cooper represents the best the Marines have to offer. On Christmas Day, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland relayed a long e-mail Cooper sent to him about how he views Iraq:
"The insurgents are not winning the overall struggle here," even if the United States has been unable to prevail militarily in the Sunni heartland, where Cooper is based. "They have not been able to extend the rebellion beyond the Sunni population. More than three-quarters of the Iraqi population are not engaged in the insurgency. In fact, they actively oppose it.

"And al Qaeda is losing the larger war on terrorism. Its immediate goal was to topple Muslim regimes in the Middle East who were friendly to the United States. No Muslim regime has fallen. A number of Arab countries and Pakistan have extended their cooperation to eliminate al Qaeda," he continues.

"We must define success by the changed behavior that is occurring in the region and by the fact that Iraq is no longer a threat to the region or the world. As a member of a weary military, I can attest that there are considerable sacrifices involved in all these endeavors. But if we are realistic about our goals, we can accomplish them."....

The aviator is hardly oblivious to Iraq's sectarian divisions, its culture of violence and long degradation under Saddam Hussein: "Iraq continues to be a collectivity of separate families and clans. A seeming lack of concern for the future by many Iraqis is the most troublesome quality we encounter. There is a puzzling indifference to what we are doing and even to what their new political leaders are doing."

Modest and practical, Scott Cooper would be the first to say that his views are personal, limited and subject to evolution. But this Marine's experiences over and at Al Asad have given him an unusual opportunity to understand that change in Iraq is both difficult -- and possible.

3) Former student Paul Staniland has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the best way to stanch the flow of foreign insurgents into Iraq:
President Bush's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" focuses on the need to stop foreign fighters from coming into Iraq through neighboring countries, especially Syria. However, current U.S. policies have not halted this flow of insurgents, weapons and money. Unless the United States and its Iraqi allies can seal the border with Syria, enduring peace will not come to Iraq....

Instead of relying on either Syrian cooperation or sporadic offensives in Al Anbar province, American and Iraqi forces need to establish real control along the border. This solution seems obvious, but it is often overlooked in favor of more dramatic policies, such as military invasions and coercive diplomacy. However, France, India, Israel, Morocco and Turkey have all successfully used border defenses to neutralize transnational insurgents....

The Iraqi border with Syria is a good candidate for a barrier. The terrain allows for easier patrol and surveillance than in Kashmir, and, unlike Israel, the border is internationally recognized as legitimate.

Sealing the entire border with a wall patrolled by troops would be ideal, but even just fencing off the most commonly used areas of infiltration, including along the Tigris-Euphrates river basin, would help.

Iraqi troops could perform basic tasks such as patrolling and maintenance, while the American military handled high-tech surveillance and pursued infiltrators. Well-guarded border crossings would allow international commerce to continue while also providing an opportunity to keep track of who is entering and exiting the country.

Sealing the Iraqi border would certainly be costly. But the expense in both blood and treasure is negligible compared to the alternatives.

Read all three pieces -- combined, their advice point the way towards a sober but hopeful picture of Iraq.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The ten worst Americans

So I see there's a meme going around the blogosphere on the "10 worst Americans." This seems as fitting a top 10 list as any to end the year. It was worth perusing some of the other lists, as they refreshed my historical memory a bit. That said, here's my list, without comment, in alphabetical order.

UPDATE: OK, two quick comments. First, I added Ames to Angleton because I was blanking on the former's name when I first put this together. They are perfect döppelgangers, however.

Second, I do find it interesting that the majority of my names come from the Cold War era.

Aldrich Ames/James Jesus Angleton
Theodore Bilbo
John Wilkes Booth
Aaron Burr
Nathan Bedford Forrest
J. Edgar Hoover
Charles Manson
Joseph McCarthy
Richard M. Nixon
Al Sharpton
Readers are heartily encouraged to amend, revise or propose their own lists.

posted by Dan at 08:20 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The greatest quote whore who ever lived

In the University of Chicago Alumni magazine, Amy M. Braverman has an excellent profile of Robert Thompson, Syracuse’s trustee professor of radio, television, and film in the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.

Thompson is better known as being the best quote whore in the business -- seriously, the could be asked to comment on wallpaper paste -- or That 70's Show -- and he'd come up with something worth putting in the first two paragraphs of a story.

What Braverman reveals, however, is that Thompson devotes considerable time and effort to hone this skill:

[A] large portion of his day is devoted to talking with reporters. Most mornings, after waking up at 5:30 to read a novel (favorite authors include Don DeLillo, Nicholson Baker, and Alison Lurie), he makes scheduled calls to a few radio shows. “If you’re a professor holding office hours,” he says, “you’ll talk to anyone who comes in. This is the same thing. If I have three calls—one from the student newspaper, one from the New York Times, and one from CNN, I’ll return them in that order.” When big television events occur, he’s inundated. After the 2004 Super Bowl, for example, “Janet Jackson gets her blouse ripped off, and that killed Monday.” In fact, the Janet calls continued for two weeks. For that particular story, he considered it important “to get another voice out there.” Nobody else, he says, was discussing how the Super Bowl “has always been a raucous, rowdy broadcast with cameras lingering on cheerleaders and crass commercials. What are you going to worry about more—the breast flashing at 50 yards or the countless commercials about beer and the good life? To me there’s no question.”....

It’s time to return some calls. He’s already spoken today with an LA radio station about the JetBlue incident, the Syracuse Post Standard about Martha Stewart’s Apprentice, the Los Angeles Times about the Weather Channel changing format for big weather stories like Hurricane Katrina, and WPRO in Rhode Island about the new fall television season. Now he plays phone tag with NPR, which wants him to reflect on Bugs Bunny for an upcoming “great characters in cultural history” series. He gets hold of Sacramento Bee reporter Alison Roberts and discusses JetBlue. The next day he appears in her story:

But did the coverage unnecessarily alarm passengers?

“The mode of American journalism is hyperbole,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television.

At the same time, the attention can also be reassuring, he added. “If CNN and Fox are on you—if you’re considered breaking news—then you figure somehow surely all that can be done is being done,” Thompson said.

The key to Thompson’s savvy is staying ahead of the game. “You hope that by the time a journalist calls you’ve already been thinking about it,” he says. The 60th anniversary of the webbed aluminum lawn chair, he offers as a nontelevision, pop-culture example, is approaching, so he read up. The chair is fascinating, he says, “because you had all this extra aluminum after the war,” and some enterprising folks thought to “take this surplus of aluminum and match it with the explosion of the suburbs, which was helped with the GI Bill.” It’s his favorite type of topic. “It’s fun to learn the contextual history of things you take for granted. The stuff is so totally a part of who you are and you fail to see the significance.”
The webbed aluminim lawn chair. Wow.

I humbly bow before the greatest quote whore who ever lived.

[Isn't there a price to be paid for this kind of slavish attention to media entreaties?--ed. I dunno. On the one hand, Thompson does seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject domain, thanks in no small part to his willingness to talk to the media. At the same time, attempting to render a two-sentence judgment on any media trend or phenomenon under the sun might carry a cost in terms of deeper thought -- a point Josh Korr makes here and here. Er, can't you say the same thing about bloggers?--ed. I'll leave that question for the comments.]

UPDATE: Thompson might be the most prolific quote whore ever, but I'm pretty sure Virginia Postrel will win the award for most profitable.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What's wrong with this sentence?

Vincent J. Schodolski has a story in today's Chicago Tribune about the unothrodox sentences judges sometimes impose on defendants. Here's how it opens:

There is a song in Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera "The Mikado" in which the title character reveals that one of his goals is "to let the punishment fit the crime." It appears that a number of judges around the country share that objective.

In various jurisdictions and for various crimes, judges have ordered individuals to spend a night in the woods, act as a school crossing guard, stand along busy streets with signs around their necks proclaiming their misdeed and even watch a film about violent neo-Nazis, "American History X."

Some of the judges involved said that they imposed these sentences to make criminals better understand the harm they caused or could have caused.

This month, an Arkansas woman who passed a stopped school bus and struck and killed a child was sentenced to spend one day a year in jail for 10 consecutive years, with the date to coincide with the date on which the child died.

Am I the only one who believes that ten days in jail stretched out over ten years is an extraordinarily lenient sentence for vehicular manslaughter?

At first I thought this was an error in the Trib story -- but it's not:

Tiffany Nix, 25, was ordered to spend every September 28 through 2015 in jail for the 2004 death of 9-year-old William "Isaac" Brian.

Nix pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter and passing a stopped school bus.

The judge ordered Nix to pay Isaac's family $5,694.62 for his funeral expenses. She will also be on probation for 10 years and must perform 400 hours of community service.

The boy's father, Kelly Brian, said after the hearing that he and his wife, Shari, were satisfied with the sentence.

Prosecutors had said Nix had opiates and amphetamines in her system at the time of the accident. She had initially been charged with negligent homicide, but prosecutors upgraded the charge after receiving results from laboratory tests.

In a written statement included in a police report, Nix said she saw the school bus but did not see its stop sign. She said she did not realize the bus was stopped until she saw the boy running in front of it.

Isaac's death prompted legislators to toughen penalties for passing stopped school buses.

As an aside, those tougher penalties don't seem to be working.

A question to the prosecutors in the audience -- given the circumstances, is this kind of jail time par for the course for a manslaughter conviction?

[Do you have any better ideas?--ed. Well, my wife, upon reading the story, had the instinctive reaction: "Put her in solitary for a few years, but on the date the child died release her into the general inmate population and tell everyone what she did." But you should see how responds if the kitchen is really messy.]

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Adios, siesta

It is with a hard head but a heavy heart that I relay this Financial Times report from Leslie Crawford:

Spain’s Socialist government on Tuesday officially abolished the siesta, the extended lunch break.

A new law decrees that lunch breaks will be limited to one hour to allow civil servants to clock off at 6pm.

Jordi Sevilla, minister for public administration and a father of three, said the aims of the law were to put an end to the “chaotic hours” worked in the civil service and allow Spaniards to reconcile work and family life.

He said he hoped private sector companies would follow suit. “We are trying to set an example by rationalising the working hours of civil servants,” he said.

“Henceforth, lunchtime will be from 12 to 1pm, like the rest of Europe, instead of between 2 and 4pm. This will allow civil servants to leave work at six, instead of eight or nine in the evening.”

Mr Sevilla said he wanted civil servants to “achieve the same amount of work in less time”.

The Círculo de Empresarios, a business lobby group, said it thought Spain’s long lunches were an inefficient way to break up the day.

“This is costing the economy as much as 8 per cent of gross domestic product,” said Claudio Boada, its president.

Spain ranks 10th in the number of hours worked per year, although productivity lags far behind countries that work fewer hours....

Still, change will not be easy. “The lunch is the main way personal relationships are established,” says Alejandra Moore, a communications consultant.

“I cannot imagine achieving anything meaningful over a 45-minute lunch.”

While I suspect the 8% figure is an exaggeration, it seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.

At the same time, the Burkean conservative in me mourns a loss. The siesta is such a lovely conceit for lazy people like myself -- who have a strong belief in the restorative and stimulating powers of the long lunch -- that it will be hard to imagine its disappearance from its country of origin.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen has more on the economics of napping.

posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What are the lessons of Munich?

Encouraged by the positive reviews it has received from film critics, my wife and I went to see Munich today, and perhaps the most accurate thing I can say about it is that it is, in every way, a lesser movie than the one in Spielberg's prior oeurve it most resembles, Saving Private Ryan.


A movie based on or inspired by historical events is always judged on two levels -- the extent to which the film hews to historical accuracy, and the larger meaning that is derived from the current context through which the film is viewed. Munich fails pretty badly on the first point -- as Aaron J. Klein points out in Slate, "Munich is not a documentary. Indeed, it is full of distortions and flights of fancy that would make any Israeli intelligence officer blush." (Check out Klein's interview with NPR as well.) The idea that the Mossad relied exculsively on a private organization for its intelligence and logistics is pretty absurd. The biggest difference might be that the Mossad agents who engaged in the Munich response did not evince any of the moral qualms that Spielberg assigns to his assassination squad. Ironically, this is less of a problem with Saving Private Ryan, even though the main narrative of that film is complete fiction. It is through the journey of trying to find Ryan that the protagonists and the movie-watching audience is exposed to the abject brutality of war.

So, what is Spielberg's larger meaning? There's lots of evidence here. As Edward Rothstein points out in the New York Times:

"There's no peace at the end of this," warns Avner, the morally anguished Mossad assassin, as Steven Spielberg's new film, "Munich," draws to a close. And by "this" he means the targeted killings that Israel is said to have begun after 11 of its athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympics by members of the Palestinian Black September offshoot of Fatah.

But Mr. Spielberg, in collaboration with his screenwriters, Eric Roth and the playwright Tony Kushner, also has a different "this" in mind. The camera pointedly settles on the period's skyline of lower Manhattan, showing the World Trade Center in sharp relief.

The warning and image are meant to suggest that militant attempts to destroy terrorism lead not to peace but to cycles of violence, and that the 9/11 attacks may even be consequences of Israel's response to the Munich massacre. A war on terror amplifies terror. Moreover, the movie teaches, opposing sides begin to resemble each other. Moral credibility is destroyed along with hope.

It's not just movie critics who have interpreted Munich in this way. Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, after viewing the film, said:
My reaction to it in some ways is less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more about the larger context of dealing with terror. In many ways this is a historical event. And for the Israelis and Palestinians, while it will move many, you look at the demographics of both peoples and you'll find this is ancient history for them. So, it doesn't have an immediate relevance for them per se, but it does have a relevance in terms of highlighting what happens when you're confronted with a horrific act of terror and you have to do something about it. My reaction to it from the beginning was much more about terror and the responses to terror, and much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And I saw dilemmas built in here. And what I liked about it from the beginning, Steven came to me and wanted my reaction to this. And I told him, my reaction was much more related to this contextual relationship with what happened then, but what was relevant for today. And the fact that it's a movie that suggests that you have to respond - it's understandable that you respond - but when you respond, you're actually confronted with real dilemmas. And the choices are hard, and sometimes you pick the best of the bad alternatives. And it has an effect on the people who do it.

In the movie, Spielberg suggests two dilemmas with the Munich response. The first is that terrorizing the terrorists carries with it a moral and ethical price that cannot be easily dismissed (ironically, this is best demonstrated in the film not through any speech but through the last murder the team successfully carries out). The second is that the practical results of such an operation are counterproductive -- they merely encourage one's adversary to escalate its campaign of terror, and those involved in the mission succumb to the grip of paranoia.

The problem with Munich is that neither of these dilemmas is accurately portrayed. Practically, there is evidence that the gains of the campaign outweighed the costs. Klein says that, "The numbers show a steep slide in the frequency of terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli institutions abroad from 1974 to the present." That fact matters in any utilitarian calculation of these actions, but it is never mentioned in the film.

As for the moral dilemma, none of my fellow moviegoers bought the idea that the Israelis would develop any remorse or inner conflict over what they did, and the historical record bears them out. This doesn't mean that in a world of Abu Ghraibs, the question shouldn't be asked. But just as critics of recent wars have argued that what happened at Munich in 1938 is an imperfect metaphor for policy responses, what happened after the Munich tragedy of 1972 is a badly flawed metaphor for the ethical dilemmas we face today.

Ross gets it right when he says, "the choices are hard, and sometimes you pick the best of the bad alternatives." Not even Steven Spielberg, however, can turn that lesson into a compelling movie.

posted by Dan at 09:53 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Why is Russia still a member of the G-8?

Both houses of the Russian legislature have passed a law (about which I have blogged before) that will impose formadible oversight and make it next to impossible for small or midsized NGOs to accept monety from Western donors.

Earlier this month The National Interest's Nikolas Gvosdev provided a weak defense of the proposed new law in the pages of the International Herald-Tribune:

[L]et's be honest - the crux of the matter lies with about 2,000 NGOs in Russia that deal with human rights and democracy issues, as well those groups unable or unlikely to get funding from Russian sources who rely on Western aid. And the proposed legislation is the clearest signal yet that Putin's vision for Russia - at least in the short term - is not liberal democracy but managed pluralism - a self-contained system where the Kremlin can set down red lines and can determine the amount of space different points of view will be allowed to occupy in the Russian political system. (Think Mexico in 1976 or Singapore under Lew Kuan Yew).

The preferred Western reaction - castigating Putin as a new Stalin and warning ominously about the KGB takeover of Russia - may make for wonderful copy but does little to ameliorate the situation. Nor were the comments of Lev Levinson of the Institute for Human Rights - that the government "cannot demand transparency from us" - particularly helpful. NGOs are not above the law, no matter how noble the cause....

It would be constructive to recognize that the Russian government has legitimate concerns - and to offer the benefit of the various North American and European approaches in terms of regulating nonprofit groups, defining what constitutes political activity, and establishing guidelines for how charitable contributions from abroad are processed.

The Russian government is free to reject that advice - but it will make the Western criticisms that follow much more legitimate. Our goal should not be bashing Putin or taking sides in Russia's political debates, but strengthening the long-term foundations for democracy.

I wonder what Gvosdev -- who also blogs -- would say about this Reuters report:
An outspoken aide to President Vladimir Putin resigned on Tuesday, saying he did not want to work for a state that had ended democracy and basic freedom.

Andrei Illarionov, who was stripped of many of his duties a year ago after he called the assault on oil company YUKOS "the scam of the year", was one of the few independent voices in an increasingly monolithic Kremlin establishment.

In potentially embarrassing remarks for Putin as Russia prepares to take over the presidency of the G8 club of free-market democracies on Sunday, he told reporters: "It is one thing to work in a country that is partly free. It is another thing when the political system has changed, and the country has stopped being free and democratic".

"I did not sign a contract with such a state, and therefore it is absolutely impossible to remain in this post." (emphasis added)

That bolded section raises an interesting point -- why is Russia still a member of the G-8?

It makes no sense from a liberal institutionalist perspective -- Russia has become less and less democratic over the past decade, and shows no sign under Vladimir Putin of trending in a constructive direction anytime soon.

It makes no sense from a realist pespective as well -- Russia is an economic lightweight with interests that diverge from the advanced industrialized nations in a number of areas. Russia so obviously does not belong in that grouping that it has never been allowed to participate in the most relevant G-7 grouping, that of the finance ministers.

Kicking Russia out of the G-8 would not necessarily accomplish a great deal -- it's not like Putin is suddenly going to smack himself on the forehead and say, "Gosh, you're right! I am monopolizing power within my country!" However, such a move would highlight the extent to which Russia has drifted away from the liberal democratic values it's government has lauded for fifteen years. It would not compromise any important component of U.S. foreign economic policy. And it might even revitalize a grouping that has been somewhat moribund during the Bush years.

UPDATE: Gvosdev responds in the comments -- and on his own blog.

posted by Dan at 09:34 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 26, 2005

The reorganization of U.S. foreign aid

Over the past few weeks there have been a trickle of stories coming out about a reorganization of U.S. foreign aid policies.

For example, there's Caroline Daniel and Guy Dinmore's Financial Times piece from December 11th:

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....

The presidential directive, issued this month but announced yesterday, will also reinforce the political power of the State Department’s office of reconstruction and stabilisation, with a mission to anticipate state failures, prevent conflict and lead the co-ordination of post-war efforts.

Carlos Pascual, the senior State Department official heading that office, said it was “important to get on paper” that the secretary of state would be in charge of future post-war reconstruction policies and planning.

The 2003 decision to hand control of the reconstruction to the Pentagon has been widely criticised and led to a degree of inter-agency friction. State Department experts who had planned for the post-war period were pushed aside by Pentagon officials, including defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who strongly resisted the notion of nation-building.

A former senior official involved in what he called the “chaos” of post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq said yesterday’s announcement also affirmed the growing power and influence of Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state.

Then there's this write-up of an FT interview with outgoing USAID head Andrew Natsios:
The US Agency for International Development will unveil early next year a comprehensive strategy for improving democracy and governance in developing countries.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Andrew Natsios, the USAID administrator who steps down at the beginning of next year, said the democracy strategy was a key milestone in the re-orientation of US aid programmes to focus on issues of effective governance alongside traditional development projects

Mr Natsios also confirmed that the administration was drawing up proposals for a broader overhaul of the organisation of US foreign aid, but would not discuss details, saying some of the final decisions had yet to be made.

He said there were structural issues that needed to be addressed, in particular the fragmentation of responsibility for development programmes across different departments and agencies in the US government. “There are problems that need to be addressed for the protection of the president’s legacy on foreign aid.”

With the Bush administration’s commitment to spreading democracy and repairing failed states that might harbour terrorists, foreign aid has become an increasingly critical part of the overall US national security strategy. Since 2000, the US aid budget has doubled from $10bn to more than $20bn this year.

I'm not sure how far the Bush administation is going to get in its reorganization, but the proposals raise an interesting question -- should the primary focus of U.S. foreign aid be on reconstruction and democratization? One could argue that this leaves out a whole lot of other aims -- literacy, disease prevention, and economic development, for starters. One could also argue, however, that reconstruction and democratization are prerequisites for the other stated aims of foreign aid. One could also argue, however, that democratization is the result and not the cause of those other goals.

Whenever you have a chicken-egg problem like achieving multiple development goals, it strikes me as wrong-headed to put all of your resources in one half of the equation. If the administration's proposal is to create such a balance, fine with me. If the idea is to make reconstruction and democratization the sole aim of foreign aid, though, then I'm not sure it's such a hot idea.

One final bureaucratic thought. The attempt to create logistical capabilities for aid and reconstruction within the State Department would have a significant effect on the traditional rivalry between State and Defense. The latter has always had an edge in terms of capabilities and resources. If State develops its own parallel means to deliver man and material somewhere, one of DoD's unspoken advantages in bureaucratic politics will be dented just a little bit.

posted by Dan at 09:09 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!! The streets are ours!!

Wonder what those of the Jewish persuasion do on Christmas day? Click here and watch the video to find out.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Worst tradecraft ever

John Crewdson has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune on the extent to which the CIA left footprints in their rendition of an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric commonly known as Abu Omar. This exercise has led Italy to issue 22 arrest warrants for alleged CIA officers for what they did.

Without getting into the normative debate about whether such renditions are appropriate or not, Crewdson's story suggests that the CIA's tradecraft is so bad it couldn't smuggle a ham sandwich out of a foreign country without getting detected by local police. The lowlights:

The trick is known to just about every two-bit crook in the cellular age: If you don't want the cops to know where you are, take the battery out of your cell phone when it's not in use.

Had that trick been taught at the CIA's rural Virginia training school for covert operatives, the Bush administration might have avoided much of the current crisis in Europe over the practice the CIA calls "rendition," and CIA Director Porter Goss might not have ordered a sweeping review of the agency's field operations.

But when CIA operatives assembled here nearly three years ago to abduct an Egyptian-born Muslim preacher named Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, more familiarly known as Abu Omar, and "render" him to Cairo, they left their cell phone batteries in.

Even when not in use, a cell phone sends a periodic signal indicating its location, enabling the worldwide cellular network to know where to look for it in case of an incoming call.

Those signals allowed police investigating Abu Omar's mysterious disappearance to ultimately construct an almost minute-by-minute record of his abduction, and to identify nearly two dozen people as his abductors.

Aides use words such as "horrified" to describe Goss' reaction to the sloppiness of the Milan rendition, and the relative ease with which its details have been unearthed by the Italian police and the news media.

In response, Goss has ordered a "top-down" review of the agency's "tradecraft," as the nuts and bolts of the spy business is known.

So amateurish was the Milan rendition that the Italian lawyer for Robert Seldon Lady, whom prosecutors identify as the former CIA chief in Milan, says Lady's primary defense will be that he was too good a spy to have been involved with something so badly planned and carried out.

"I think Bob is too intelligent," the lawyer, Daria Pesce, said in an interview earlier this month....

Should the CIA decide to teach its trainees how not to conduct a covert operation, it could find few better examples than the Milan rendition.

The list of mistakes made here is long, but it begins with the operatives' indiscriminate use of their cell phones, not only to communicate with one another but with colleagues in the U.S. Consulate in Milan, in northern Virginia where the CIA has its headquarters, and in some cases even with the folks back home.

One of the CIA's paramilitary operators made at least four calls to what appear to be friends and family in Texas, court records show. Another made a personal call to Greece. A man whose passport claims he was born in Tennessee made nine apparently personal calls, including one to a stockbroker in Kentucky.

The Tennessee man also registered in two Milan hotels under his real name, prosecutors say. So did another operative, who also used his real home address and his wife's e-mail address. A few hours after the abduction, he used his cell phone to call home.

Although the Milan operatives frequently changed hotels, perhaps to keep from attracting the attention of the police, the changes only made it easier for the police to identify them later.

It is comforting, however, to know that the CIA agents lived high on the hog while screwing up this badly, as Crewdson points out in a sidebar:
Italian prosecutors wrote in court papers that the CIA spent "enormous amounts of money" during the six weeks it took the agency to figure out how to grab a 39-year-old Muslim preacher called Abu Omar off the streets of Milan, throw him into a van and drive him to the airport.

First to arrive in Milan was the surveillance team, and the hotels they chose were among the best Europe has to offer. Especially popular was the gilt-and-crystal Principe di Savoia, with acres of burnished wood paneling and plush carpets, where a single room costs $588 a night, a club sandwich goes for $28.75 and a Diet Coke adds another $9.35.

According to hotel records obtained by the Milan police investigating Abu Omar's disappearance, two CIA operatives managed to ring up more than $9,000 in room charges alone. The CIA's bill at the Principe for seven operatives came to $39,995, not counting meals, parking and other hotel services.

Another group of seven operatives spent $40,098 on room charges at the Westin Palace, a five-star hotel across the Piazza della Repubblica from the Principe, where a club sandwich is only $20.

A former CIA officer who has worked undercover abroad said those prices were "way over" the CIA's allowed rates for foreign travel....

In all, records show, the CIA paid 10 Milan hotels at least $158,000 in room charges....

Once Abu Omar was safely behind bars in Cairo, some of the operatives who had helped put him there split up into twos and threes and headed for luxury resort hotels in the Italian Alps, Tuscany and Venice.

Asked if there had been some operational or other official reason for the ultra-expensive hotels and side trips, the senior U.S. official shrugged. "They work hard," he said.

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

The University of Chicago flunks George W. Bush

The Chicago Tribune asked three economists linked to the University of Chicago -- Ed Snyder, Michael Mussa, and Austin Goolsbee -- to grade various aspects of the Bush administration's economic performance for the past calendar year. The results aren't pretty:

While conservative economists like Mussa and Snyder say the president's tax cuts and stimulus package helped lay the foundation for the current economic expansion, they tend to join [former Kerry advisor] Goolsbee in lamenting that the administration's lack of spending discipline is mortgaging the nation's future....

"When you grade students you grade what's on the paper," Mussa said. "It's not whether you really like the student. I'm not prepared to ignore the obvious facts."

Read the whole thing -- here's the report card in brief:


posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

A new front in the war on terror?

The global war on terror has many fronts -- including, apparently, the pages of the January 2006 issue of GQ magazine:

The person you see above is Wafah bin Ladin Dufour, the subject of a GQ story by George Gurley entitled, "It Isn't Easy Being the Sexy Bin Laden." From the article:
On a hot August afternoon, aspiring pop star Wafah Dufour walks into the media lunch hub Michael’s, in Midtown Manhattan. Accompanied by her publicist, Richard Valvo, the slender, exotic young woman with long dark hair in a high ponytail à la I Dream of Jeannie is dressed in a white tank top, green love beads, lacy miniskirt, and backless pumps. Conversations continue as heads look up to check her out.

Ms. Dufour passes by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, who is lunching with designer Isaac Mizrahi, then stops at the next table to meet former Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola and NBC head Jeff Zucker.

“You know Wafah bin Ladin?” Valvo asks the men loudly.

“Wafah Dufour,” she snaps, shooting him a look that’s more pleading than hostile.

Lest you think this is some attempt at a put-up job by a deep cover Al Qaeda agent, Gurley provides some additional info:
She has no contact with most of her relatives, including her father, doesn’t speak Arabic, has an American passport… The list goes on. “At the end of the day, I believe that the American people understand things and they have compassion and they see what’s fair,” she says. “They’re very fair, and that’s why I love America, and that’s why my mom loves America.”
The entire staff here at wishes Ms. Dufour the best of luck in all of her endeavours -- and we hope in particular that word reaches her notorious uncle. As Reuters reports, "Asked how he would react to her posing for racy pictures in a glossy magazine, she said, 'I think he would have a heart attack.'"

posted by Dan at 12:40 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)