OxBlog

Sunday, March 07, 2004

# Posted 11:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRATIC TRIUMPH OR WASTE OF PAPER? It looks like Iraq will have an interim constitution by tomorrow in spite of Friday's sudden cancellation of the signing ceremony. One of NRO's guest authors thinks that the document just papers over more profound conflicts. For example:
One need look no further than the controversy over December 2003's IGC decree 137 which introduced sharia (Islamic religious law) in the place of secular family law to see how poorly democratic values are entrenched. Passed at a time when key secular members of the IGC were out of the country, and the chairman of the IGC was a Shia Islamist, decree 137 was denounced by the Kurds, women's groups, and some secular parties as undemocratic and discriminatory. Ambassador Bremer refused to sign decree 137, which meant that it could not be implemented.

Although decree 137 never had any force, the IGC bowed to pressure from women's groups in particular and symbolically repealed the decree on February 27, 2004. The reaction of some of the Shia Arab members of the IGC to the February 27, 2004 vote was troubling and revealing. Unhappy at losing the vote on decree 137, eight Shia members of the IGC walked out of the session when women's groups in the room cheered and shouted their pleasure at the vote. The eight Shia members did not just accept their defeat with ill grace. They then attempted to nullify their defeat through the interim constitution negotiations, a bid to put Islam on the statute books by every route available. The Shia Islamists and their allies are likely to continue with these tactics and can be expected to seek to undermine the current compromise text.
From a different perspective, this might just be a story of democracy at work. After all, there were no violent protests, no denunciations of the democratic system as anathema to Islam. Just hardball politics of the kind you see in any modern state. Of course, the Shi'ites can afford to be patient because they expect to dominate the new Iraq. But calculated or not, that kind of restraint on the part of a brutally repressed and suddenly liberated people suggests a certain faith in the democratic process. (Thanks to BM for the link.)
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# Posted 11:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FILM CLASSICS -- THE READERS RESPOND: Some very interesting comments have arrived in respose to my recent film reviews. Commenting on my review of M*A*SH, EJB says:
Take it from somebody who grew up with the "military life," specifically the United States Army Medical Corps. You don't have a clue, son. There is not and has never been a more dedicated, disciplined, and dynamic enterprise on the face of the planet...Not that we don't enjoy the humor ourselves, but especially after years of TV saturation, the leftist portrayal of "military life" was and is now an extreme disservice to our country and our people.

There is a difference between theater and reality. Your post reveals you don't know one from the other, just like that other Rhodes scholar who "loathed the military."
EJB's comments are pointed but fair. While I meant no offense, my review of M*A*S*H never challenged the film's portrayal of the Army Medical Corps. In retrospect, I should've made it clear that I was approaching M*A*S*H as a suggestive satire about military life, not an actual account of any specific soldiers or units. One reader who speaks to that point is naval officer CL, who writes:
Re: Your point about the US military juggernaut -

I was aboard one of our carriers in the Gulf last spring, and after another planning meeting broke up "requiring better problem definition," [I] remarked that very thing to one of our Royal Navy liaison officers.

I said to him that it can certainly look like a well oiled machine from the outside looking in. From the inside looking out it sometimes resembles a lunatic asylum, with all the inmates rushing around banging their heads on the walls. Through some sort of mysterious brownian movement, at some point all the lunatics bang their head on the same wall, and that one gives way into another room. Where the process repeats, and progress is marked.

The brownian movement metaphor seemed particularly apt to me. Think of the military as an observable, physical object, subject to Newtonian physics. You can gather simultaneous data on position and velocity, and so predict where it will end up.

At the unit level, the physics are closer to sub-atomic levels. It's quantum mechanics. The closer you are to determining position, the further you get from velocity, and vice-versa. One is forced to speak in terms of probabilities.

How does "it all come out fine in the end?" To quote from the movie Shakespeare in Love, "It's a mystery."
I fully agree. Whether we're talking about the US military, the US government or major corporations such as Microsoft and Ford, there is something inexplicable about their ability to function. And yet they do.

Moving on to the cultural side of things, NC remarks that
I recently rewatched MASH myself. What I found interesting was the initial hostility of Hawkeye and Trapper John when they first meet Frank Burns. They come into the tent where Frank is teaching [Korean teenager O-Jon] English [by using] the Bible. This leads to much mockery and the gift of a girlie mag to the kid, continuing as Frank kneels to pray at the foot of his cot, and sometime later [more] mockery of his refusal of a martini. This is all before Frank shows himself as the classic military martinet, perhaps earning the abuse that he suffers. Maybe as I've aged I have become more conservative (yet still agnostic, long haired, etc...) , or just sensitive, but the prejudice against Frank was in a sense shocking.
I fully agree. Most anti-authority films (think Animal House) protect the moral integrity of their protagonists by having the 'bad guys' break the rules first. But there's no mistaking what happens in M*A*S*H. Hawkeye is relentlessly cruel toward Frank Burns and Nurse O'Houlihan.

Perhaps the director wanted it to be that way, or perhaps the novel on which the film is based emphasizes that Hawkeye is anything but a Boy Scout. Either way, if the portrayal of Hawkeye's cruetly was intentional, I think it was a good decision from an artistic perspective. It shows that Hawkeye's behavior is a reflection of his character, not a sudden response to minor provocations by Burns or O'Houlihan.

It also adds sophistication, both moral and analytical, to the anti-authority message of the film. Hawkeye is rebelling against a system, not against one or two bad officers. Moreover, Hawkeye's cruetly suggests that the irrationality of the system may provoke the response it does because it is dealing with humans and not with angels. Of course, the irrationality of the system reflects the fact that it is composed of humans and not of angels.

Now, going back a bit further in time, there have also been some interesting comments made about Blackboard Jungle and To Sir, With Love. WS writes that
I had the pleasure of meeting Ron Clark, a real "To Sir With Love" teacher, last week at my corporate conference, where he was the featured speaker. His story is amazing and he is an terrific speaker. After falling in to teaching in his home town in rural North Carolina, Ron set out to teach in Harlem. He was the only white person in the school and he was given the very worst class. The transformation which took place, and he tells his story very well, was nothing short of fantastic. By the end of the school year he got nearly one-third of his class of 37 into the best junior high in the city. A school which only took 30 kids total by application and interview each year. His secret was teaching respect and civility as a foundation. Check out his website and his book. If you get a chance to hear him speak you won't be disappointed.
No doubt about that. Even those teachers who succeed in more favorable circumstances need tremendous strength of character and often have astounding stories to tell. Nonetheless, I think it is often hard to express exactly how one goes about transforming sullen and dejected students into curious and thoughtful ones. As I mentioned before, both Blackboard and To Sir find it hard to express the cause of that transformation. If Clark can put it into words, he is most assuredly an impressive speaker. Finally, DS writes that
I attended Bronx public schools starting in 1948, so I can report on actual conditions then. Blackboard Jungle was a best selling book before it was a movie. The author Evan Hunter (Ed McBain) has written a gazillion books, mostly mysteries, and remains productive today.

Back when Blackboard Jungle was written, some inner city high schools did indeed have the type of crime problems portrayed in the book. It was also the case that much of the general public was not aware of these problems, so the book was quite shocking. The movie was less shocking, as I recall, since the book had already made its point.

It is striking that after forty years of increased spending and increased attention from state and federal governmental entities, the problems of inner city schools have gotten a lot worse.
If only we knew how to fix them...

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# Posted 11:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

I DON'T GET IT. Is he joking or something?
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# Posted 10:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON GREEK ELECTIONS: A friend of ours in Greece writes to add his analysis of the elections taking place there today:
The Olympics are thought of as apolitical, really, and not something to get worked up about. Indeed a recent poll has show an alarming apathy towards them amongst the public. Also, I wouldn't say ND are 'edging ahead'. I have been here in Greece for a couple of years now. Last summer ND led PASOK by about 5 points. Since then, one of the two main issues has reared is ugly head: that was union power. I think it was September when the Govt capitulated to one of the major civil service unions, seemingly because it was scared of this 5% gap widening. This opened the floodgates, and it was 'beer and sandwiches' all round. Teachers, Lecturers, Doctor, Taxi drivers, and, yes, even prostitutes (here everything is unionised!) went on strike. I was worried that we were in for a winter of discontent, but somehow they managed to pay them off or stand them down. The damage was done, however, and a weakened government has just been limping along for a couple of months. The overall economy has moderate growth but is too resistent to structural change. Nothing for either party to really shout about. The other main factor is just the feeling that it is time for a change, that the present lot have become (too) corrupt and indifferent to their needs. Evidence for this is that when PASOK announced the PM would be retiring to let his foreign minister contest the election, their ratings jumped 5 points to make it 3 behind. The new guy, Papandreou, is no more popular a polician than the old one, Simitis, but just the change did them a lot good (but not good enough, unless the polls are wrong).

So, in summary, I'd say government weakness, corruption and staleness are what weigh on people's minds, and whether Papandreou can breathe new life into the Socialist party, or whether (possibly painful) economic and social structural reform by Karamanlis is desired.

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# Posted 8:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

GREECE VOTES TODAY: Turnout is expected to be high.
The main choice is between two political dynasties that have dominated modern political life.

On the right is New Democracy conservative leader Costas Karamanlis, nephew of a former prime minister who led Greece out of military dictatorship.

On the left, is Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou, grandson and son of former prime ministers, who is bidding to win the fourth consecutive election for the socialists since 1993.
Conservatives are edging ahead in what is anticipated to be a highly close result, and in which bloated bureaucracy and the country's embarrassing abysmally stalled preparations for August's Olympic games have become the most pivotal issues. Economist reviews the issues and political dynamics, while Guardian, scaremongering, fixates on a marginal far-right parliamentary candidate who has been expelled from the conservative coalition.
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Saturday, March 06, 2004

# Posted 6:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND HAPPY HOLI DAY, lest I forget! The first full moon of the Hindi month of Phagan marks Holi, an awfully nice festival which involves lots of color, and a fellow named Kamdev-the Love-god. What else could you want?

Okay, maybe a picture of Ganesh.
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# Posted 3:01 PM by Patrick Belton  

CHINA TO INCREASE MILITARY SPENDING MARKEDLY: See BBC. Analysts suggest that the decision was taken principally to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate, facing a largely symbolic referendum calling on China to end its military intimidation of the island; students of the Chinese military also further suggest that the poorly paid, trained, and equipped People's Liberation Army will require years and substantial funding to arrive at being a modern fighting force.
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# Posted 10:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY PURIM to all of our readers! Purim is a marvellous holiday in which yids and goys alike the world over can join hands in celebrating the fact that many Jewish women are, in fact, quite hot.
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# Posted 7:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM BBC: Extra Police Target 'Ned' Culture. Gee, even though democracy promotion has its opponents, we never knew NED was that controversial...
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Friday, March 05, 2004

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SYNONYM WATCH: At the risk of offending some very dangerous people, I'd like to remind Patrick that "jarhead" is also a synonym for "Marine". But I guess I don't really have much to worry about. The Marines can only come and get me if the Navy agrees to ferry them to my door. I may be a lifelong civilian, but I root for Army.
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# Posted 4:20 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAN UPDATE ON WINDS OF CHANGE: I've always liked Winds of Change since its debut, which I've always considered one of the best blogs focusing principally on the international affairs beat. In fact, we like it so much, that we're heading over there every Friday to pitch in with their democracy update. Our first piece is up there now, and is on Iran after the elections. Y'all come back, now!
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# Posted 9:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOTHING TO DO IN CHICAGO OVER THE WEEKENDS? So, come hang out with us! Our foreign policy society's Chicago chapter is meeting this Sunday evening. So don't eat your bratwurst alone this weekend - come join our chapter presidents, the Crescat authors, Sunday at 7 at the Cosi at 116 S. Michigan. (They'll be talking about foreign aid and the Millennium Challenge Account, by the way.)

In fact, you can hang out with all your favorite bloggers - our LA chapter is getting off the ground under the inspired leadership of Robert Tagorda, and our newest member Pejman nobly emits the admirable sentiment "I regret that I only have one blog to give for my country." So drop us a note, and come hang out with the cool kids! (Okay, maybe not all the cool kids yet - we're still working on CalPundit....)
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# Posted 9:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

MEA CULPA: It is, after all, a Friday in Lent. So let me apologize to one and all for referring to Marines as soldiers in my last Haiti updater. As everyone knows, the only appropriate synonyms for Marines are, first, Marines; second, riflemen (because every Marine is a rifleman); and under duress, "personnel," "America's finest," and "studs."

Okay, I wrote it, will you let me go now?
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# Posted 8:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

FEELING DEPRESSED? Then go read about the end of the universe. It might cheer you up.
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG FILM CLASSICS -- M*A*S*H: Born in 1977, I have some vague memories of M*A*S*H as a television show that everyone seemed to love but which I didn't understand. Especially that guy who was always wearing women's clothes. This past weekend, I finally had the chance to see the movie that started it all.

I didn't watch the film with any particular expectations in mind, since the few episodes of M*A*S*H that I saw on television left no impression on me. However, I did expect the film to be somehow anti-army or anti-war. It's important to keep in mind that one can be critical of the army without being critical of the war, or vice versa. A book like Catch-22 can expose the insanity of military life without suggesting that the US shouldn't have been fighting in Europe. If anything, the unquestionable necessity of the Second World War adds an important dimension to the tragedy of Catch-22, since the confusion and injustice that Heller portrays are part and parcel of a just cause.

That said, M*A*S*H came across as apolitical. It doesn't dwell on the human cost of war. The main characters are surgeons in a military hospital, but they never philosophize about the terrible human cost of war. The patients themselves have nothing to say, literally. There are no scenes of convalescing soldiers, only bodies under white sheets on the operating table. Hawkeye and Trapper John have no qualms about going to play golf in Japan. For them, being a military surgeon is just a job they never asked for.

The target of the film's satire is the hypocrisy and bureaucracy of military life. The villians of the camp are the bible-reading major and the uptight head nurse. The great joy of the film is to show how those who have a healthy disrespect for the mindless regimentation of military life can use the army's own rules against it. In a sense, the fact that the film takes place in a military hospital in Korea is almost irrelevant. It is simply a film about defying authority, wherever it may be found.

Perhaps this is not how the film came across in 1970. In the midst of the Vietnam war, it may not have been necessary to show the bodies or talk about the war in order to make a political comment. Simply ridiculing the army may have been enough. In that context, the incompetence portrayed in the film may have suggested that the irrationality of military life was responsible for our failure in Vietnam.

But in 2004, that message doesn't come across. Today, the American military is a high-tech juggernaut. At least to those of us on the outside. I have a friend in the service whose view of military life roughly corresponds to the one in M*A*S*H. All I ever hear from the captain is how the radios never work and the clowns in charge have no idea what they're doing. And yet somehow, it all comes out fine in the end.

I think the lesson here is that M*A*S*H and Catch-22 and other works in that genre remind of the inevitable absurdity of military life. Even in the most efficient army on earth, there is no escape from bureaucracy and confusion. And humor. God only knows what it was like to serve on the Iraqi side.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR: "He has issues with his wife, and he has issues with his kids, financial issues, you know, the kids aren't listening, the kids aren't doing this and that." -- Comment made on Canadian television by a former friend of Osama bin Laden.
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Thursday, March 04, 2004

# Posted 3:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAME OVER: Come on, Josh. It's time to admit it. You and me and Patrick are all just lackeys of the extreme center. We are on the payroll of an independent voters' PAC that rejects all principles on principle. Our only purpose in life is to prevent the emergence of coherent ideologies.
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# Posted 3:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE WASHINGTON POST has a quite good piece this morning on Uzbekistan's Karimov and the ambiguities of a U.S. alliance with a chronic human rights violator. Other with-your-coffee op-ed pieces today: the Economist on Iraq and the case for gay marriage, TNR on feminism in China and non-proliferation, and CS Monitor on criminalization under international law of WMD proliferation; and, in the blogosphere, Andrew's recollection of Allistair Cooke's brilliant career as a radiowave essayist, Eugene's consideration of whether Clinton could constitutionally serve as VP, Dan's recommendation of two books defending free trade, Winds of War's military analysis of the Haiti operation, Kevin's obituary for the primary season and just criticism of the policy response to the awwful water I wuz drinkin in Washington, Robert on rumors regarding replacing Cheney (but not with Clinton) and further counterarguments to Huntington's unworthy and silly piece (see also Matt), and the Crescat authors take up the question of implications of (some form of) world citizenship for foreign aid.

Want cream and sugar with that?
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# Posted 2:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

SETTING UP A WEBSITE? Then for heaven's sake, don't go to www.your-site.com to host it.

This company, whose implicit motto seems to be "you get what you pay for with our cheap service," just lost all of our foreignpolicysociety.org email that hadn't been downloaded, and had the cajones to send around this non-unduly-apologetic email:
What this means for you is that any email that was on the server prior to today at 1pm EST and has not been retrieved has been lost and is non-recoverable. Any emails that have been sent to an account after 1pm that we host will be either returned to the sender or the messages will go into the queue of the sending server and be set to retry to deliver the message for up to 5 days. Redelivery attempts are the most common response to this sort of problem. We regret that this has happened and that the redundancy of the mail system did not work as intended.
....

[The kicker:] Thank you for choosing Your-Site. Please tell your friends and business associates about us. Should you refer a new customer to us, we'll credit your account for one free month!
There - now, as you've asked, I've told my friends and business associates about you. Anything else, while I'm at it?
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# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, PART II: In the previous post I made some general points about the speech on national security that Kerry delivered last Friday. In this post I'd like to take a closer look at the text. No, that is not an indirect way of saying I am going to give Kerry a fisking. It means I think that the speech is good enough to look at in detail. The first substantive point in the speech begins with Kerry's observation that
As we speak, night has settled on the mountains of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Osama bin Laden is sleeping, it is the restless slumber of someone who knows his days are numbered. I don’t know if the latest reports – saying that he is surrounded – are true or not. We’ve heard this news before.

We had him in our grasp more than two years ago at Tora Bora but George Bush held U.S. forces back and instead, called on Afghan warlords with no loyalty to our cause to finish the job. We all hope the outcome will be different this time and we all know America cannot rest until Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.
What Kerry is saying is that whereas George Bush was afraid to sacrifice American lives in order to capture Osama bin Laden, John Kerry has the authority to order such a sacrifice because of his record as a war hero. Leaving aside the specifics of Tora Bora, this passage shows why Kerry's war record isn't just a biographical artifact. It is a personal trait that will change the way he makes critical decisions. After all, imagine Bill Clinton saying that he would send American soldiers' to their deaths in the same situation where George Bush wouldn't. No one would believe it. And when Clinton got into office, he had to tread lightly on the generals' turf. But Kerry would be in a much better position to handle them.

Next, Kerry observes that
This war isn’t just a manhunt – a checklist of names from a deck of cards. In it, we do not face just one man or one terrorist group. We face a global jihadist movement of many groups, from different sources, with separate agendas, but all committed to assaulting the United States and free and open societies around the globe.

As CIA Director George Tenet recently testified: “They are not all creatures of bin Laden, and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks.”

At the core of this conflict is a fundamental struggle of ideas. Of democracy and tolerance against those who would use any means and attack any target to impose their narrow views.

The War on Terror is not a clash of civilizations. It is a clash of civilization against chaos; of the best hopes of humanity against dogmatic fears of progress and the future.
Identifying "jihadism" as our opponent is a significant step. It entails the affirmation that this is a war of ideas, because one can stop terror with airport security, but one can only stop suicide bombers by destroying the ideology that animates them. Of course, there is a trade off here. By adopting language similar to that of George Bush, Kerry admits that the President has been right about something very important. Kerry will have to decide for or against such trade-offs on a lot of security related issues. He will have to calculate how much he needs to concede in order to show that he is "serious" about security without giving away so much that he presents no alternative to Bush. Apparently, Kerry's strategy for transcending this dilemma is to try and attack Bush from the right. Hence his statement that
I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he’s done too little.

Where he’s acted, his doctrine of unilateral preemption has driven away our allies and cost us the support of other nations. Iraq is in disarray, with American troops still bogged down in a deadly guerrilla war with no exit in sight. In Afghanistan, the area outside Kabul is sliding back into the hands of a resurgent Taliban and emboldened warlords...

The President’s budget for the National Endowment for Democracy’s efforts around the world, including the entire Islamic world, is less than three percent of what this Administration gives Halliburton – hardly a way to win the contest of ideas.
I'm somewhat surprised that Kerry is using quagmire language, e.g. "bogged down" to describe the situation in Iraq. With both guerrilla attacks and American casualties falling significantly, it seems strange to say that victory is not in sight. To be sure, the insurgents' murder of scores of Iraqis is horrific. But it is American casualty figures that matter to the electorate. As for NED and Halliburton, the good news coming out of the oil fields suggests Kerry might want to be more careful here as well. Like them or not, Cheney's boys are doing their country a great service and an expensive one. Although highly speculative, my sense is that Kerry hasn't been watching Iraq carefully enough to sense that the media's pessimism may not be worth investing in. Turning from Iraq to Al Qaeda, Kerry argues that
Working with other countries in the War on Terror is something we do for our sake – not theirs. We can’t wipe out terrorist cells in places like Sweden, Canada, Spain, the Philippines, or Italy just by dropping in Green Berets.

It was local law enforcement working with our intelligence services which caught Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramsi Bin al Shibh in Pakistan and the murderer known as Hambali in Thailand. Joining with local police forces didn’t mean serving these terrorists with legal papers; it meant throwing them behind bars. None of the progress we have made would have been possible without cooperation – and much more would be possible if we had a President who didn’t alienate long-time friends and fuel anti-American anger around the world.
I don't get it. How can Kerry attack Bush for his failure to cooperate with foreign intelligence services while citing as evidence our successful capture of Shaikh Mohammed, Bin al Shibh and Hambali? Moreover, law enforcement cooperation with our European allies doesn't seem to have suffered despite the conflict at the United Nations. As such, Kerry returns to stronger ground with his accusation that our
Troops are going into harm’s way without the weapons and equipment they depend on to do their jobs safely. National Guard helicopters are flying missions in dangerous territory without the best available ground-fire protection systems. Un-armored Humvees are falling victim to road-side bombs and small-arms fire.

And families across America have had to collect funds from their neighbors to buy body armor for their loved ones in uniform because George Bush failed to provide it.
Again, this is the kind of accusation that Kerry can only level because of his war record. While I vaguely recall hearing that the body armor situation had been dealt with, this sort of oversight on Bush's part is exactly what Kerry is in a position to take advantage of. Another oversight relates to non-proliferation. According to Kerry,
Today, parts of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal are easy prey for those offering cash to scientists and security forces who too often are under-employed and under-paid. If I am President, I will expand the Nunn/Lugar program to buy up and destroy the loose nuclear materials of the former Soviet Union and to ensure that all of Russia’s nuclear weapons and materials are out of the reach of terrorists and off the black market.
I strongly support Nunn-Lugar, but if I were Kerry, I'd focus a lot more on Pakistan. After all, here is a supposed all in the war on terror who has been selling nuclear secrets to our most dangerous enemies. Bush said that other nations would have to be with us or against us. Yet Pakistan is allowed to play both sides. There are reasons for treating Pakistan differently, some of them good. But as far as campaign logic goes, the situation in Pakistan seems like a perfect demonstration of how Bush's short-sightedness is undermining American security. The final subject that Kerry tackles is homeland security. He wants more firefighters and police. He says that
We need to provide public health labs with the basic expertise they need but now lack to respond to chemical or biological attack. We need new safeguards for our chemical and nuclear facilities.

And our ports – like the Port of Los Angeles – need new technology to screen the 95 percent of containers that now enter this country without any inspection at all. And we should accelerate the action plans agreed to in US-Canada and US-Mexico “smart border” accords while implementing new security measures for cross border bridges. President Bush says we can’t afford to fund homeland security. I say we can’t afford not to.
I'm not in a good position to comment on these recommendations since I have given in to my preoccupation with "foreign" policy and decided not to focus on the painstaking details of securing the homefront. By the same token, the media also seems to have lost interest in the story. But my gut instinct is that we've gotten lucky since 9/11. Who would've guessed there wouldn't be even one more attack on America soil (assuming the anthax letters were homegrown)? Not I. So perhaps Kerry should play this one up a little more. It seems tailor made for Kerry's interest in showing that he is far more serious Bush about winning the war on terror.

All in all, I think that Kerry gave a strong speech albeit a mild one. I have seen him breathe a lot more fire, especially when Howard Dean is involved. But perhaps the time has not yet come for that. Right now, Kerry may want to build a foundation of trust before going on offense. After all, the world is an uncertain place and you never what opportunity fate might throw his way.
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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

# Posted 11:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: It seems that Kevin Drum is the only one talking about the speech on national security that Kerry gave last Friday at UCLA. While Kerry's decisive victory over Edwards is obviously the bigger story, I hope that this speech gets some more attention, because I think it says a lot about how the national security issue will play out over the next six months.

Now, Kevin hits the nail on the head when identifies Kerry's proposal to add 40,000 soldiers to the US military as the headline news in Kerry's speech. As Kevin points out, Bush can't match the proposal without vindicating those critics who insist that we simply don't have enough boots on the ground in Iraq. Thus, Kerry now has a major issue on which he can credibly present himself as more hawkish than Bush.

The subheadline of Kerry's speech is his insistence that the United States has a "solemn obligation" to finish the job in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the Senator explains,
Whatever we thought of the Bush Administration's decisions and mistakes -- especially in Iraq -- we now have a solemn obligation to complete the mission, in that country and in Afghanistan. Iraq is now a major magnet and center for terror. Our forces in Iraq are paying the price everyday.

And our safety at home may someday soon be endangered as Iraq becomes a training ground for the next generation of terrorists.
Kerry's vague comments about the administration's "decision and mistakes" indicate that he isn't confident enough to directly attack the administration for its conduct of a war that Kerry himself voted to authorize. In fact, I was generally suprised by the restraint Kerry showed in criticizing the President's record on foreign policy. Perhaps it is not a matter of choice. On a lot of security issues, it is all but impossible for Kerry to attack the President without falling into the stereotype of a Massachusetts liberal. In contrast, Kerry had no qualms about using far more punishing language to attack Howard Dean's foreign policy in December than he is using to attack Bush's now. While Josh Marshall may love Kerry for being a fighter, it already seems that he is giving ground on the most important issue in the election.

The one point Kerry tries to hammer on relentlessly is Bush's disrespect for our allies. Yet when Kerry says that "As President, [he] will not wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake," he is again giving away the middle ground to Bush. Yes, one can argue that since there were no WMD in Iraq Bush was wrong to go to war without the Security Council. But Kerry can't say that without raising the question of why he voted for the war in the Senate.

Getting back to Kerry's talk of a "solemn obligation" in Iraq, I think it is important to point out that Kerry portrays the situation in Iraq as nothing more than a burden for the United States. As he strongly implies, the situation we now face in Iraq is a product of President Bush's "decisions and mistakes". In contrast, President Bush tends to portray the situation in Iraq as being a historic opportunity as well as a heavy responsibility. It marks the beginning of the democratic transformation of the Middle East. Such language, however, is entirely absent from Kerry's speech. To some degree, that is just partisan politics. Bush wants to spin the occupation as a historic event while Kerry wants to use it against the President. Now that Bush has unveiled his Greater Middle East Initiative, Kerry doesn't want to validate it by talking about the importance of democracy promotion. Yet if the promoting democracy weren't so important, why do we have a solemn obligation to ensure its success in Iraq? While this kind of subtle coloration of Kerry's words probably won't matter to much of the electorate, it does indicate to me that President Bush may have a better instinctive grasp than John Kerry does of what's at stake in Iraq.

On a similar note, I have to admit that I am disturbed by Kerry's statement that
It is time to return to the United Nations and return America to the community of nations to share both authority and responsibility in Iraq, and take the target off the back of our troops...

We must offer the UN the lead role in assisting Iraq with the development of new political institutions.
Does Kerry really believe that any other nation will provide enough troops to take American soldiers out of the line of fire? The best we can hope for is a token force from France and Germany that will add some legitimacy to the occupation. Then again, no one in Iraq seems to be complaining that the occupation is too American. After all, the insurgents even kill UN employees. What I want to know is, when would Kerry offer the UN "the lead role" -- not a lead role, but the lead role -- in the definition of Iraq's political future? Before or after it puts enough blue helmets on the ground to give our troops a rest? While the American public respects the UN, I don't think that giving it a quid without getting a pro quo is likely to create the impression that Kerry is serious about national security.

There is no question that Kerry's speech was a good one. If you take a closer look, its strengths become more apparent. But there are still strong indications of how divided Kerry is about whether to attack Bush's foreign policy from the left or from the right. Perhaps the answer is both. Yet by trying to have it all, Kerry may only reinforce the notion that he doesn't have a real position on the issue.

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# Posted 5:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE EMBATTLED CHAIRMAN OF SHELL, Sir Philip Watts, has resigned in the wake of revelations that Shell had overestimated considerably its reserves, and on the heels of widespread criticism from investors for (among other things) not having been on the conference call announcing the 20% decrease in its proven reserves. Along with Sir Philip, oil and gas head Walter van de Vijver (once considered Watts's likely successor) was also removed by the boards. Vice chair Jeroen van der Veer, who is known principally for his fondness for golf, will take over as the firm's head.
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# Posted 11:59 AM by Daniel  

MORE VEEPSTAKES. Jonathan Alter offers his thoughts. But he forgot to include one important candidate. Richardson seems like a good choice: the Latino factor, and the Mountain West will be up for grabs to a greater extent than the South. Plus, his foreign policy credentials can't hurt.
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# Posted 10:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD NEWS FOR COFFEE DRINKERS: And this courtesy of the always enjoyable Adrianne at Listen, My Children:
Compared to non-coffee drinkers, men who drank more than six eight-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee per day lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by about half, and women reduced their risk by nearly 30 per cent, according to the study in Tuesday's issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Nevertheless, experts said more research is needed to establish whether it really is the coffee or something else about coffee drinkers that protects them.

"The evidence is quite strong that regular coffee is protective against diabetes," said one of the researchers, Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. "The question is whether we should recommend coffee consumption as a strategy. I don't think we're there yet."

Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, typically shows up in middle-aged people. The disease is on the rise and is striking more and more young people as Americans become fatter and less active.
...
[And here's the kicker!...] There was a more modest effect among decaf drinkers: a 25 per cent risk reduction for men and 15 per cent for women. There was no statistically significant link between diabetes and tea.
So drink coffee, it's good for you!
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# Posted 6:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEW STUDY reveals OxBlog to have only six readers - the three of us, and our moms. The other 16,000 hits a day consist of Josh, David, and me hitting "reload" compulsively throughout the afternoon.

A warm welcome to all of our new readers! We hope you enjoy what you find here, and come back to join us often!
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# Posted 6:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

POLITICAL TRENDS IN WEST BANK AND JORDAN: For those of our readers who are in Oxford, tonight at 8 pm our good friend historian Mezna Qato will be discussing contemporary political trends in the West Bank and Jordan, where she's just returned from field research. The event will be in St Antony's, in the New Room of the Hilda Besse building, at 8 pm, and is part of our foreign policy society's events series. Whether or not you're able to make it, you might want to look at this essay on contemporary Palestinian political trends, which Mezna recommends.
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# Posted 5:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN THE WAKE OF YESTERDAY'S TERROR ATTACKS, two pieces on the changing nature and threat of Al Qaeda, in the Washington Post and in the Christian Science Monitor.
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# Posted 5:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ECONOMIST reviews events in Haiti.
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# Posted 4:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

DO YOU SEEK HAPPY AND LONG LIFE, and to live, with the psalmist, to see the children of your children and (if you do really well...) peace upon Jerusalem? If so, then you should read my mother-in-law's piece:
Ninety percent of the most cheerful quarter of the nuns [as determined by psychologists coding diary-style essays the aforementioned nuns wrote in 1932] turned out to be alive at age 85 compared to only 34 percent of the least cheerful quarter.

...the nuns in this study lived very similar lives.  They ate the same kind of food. They didn't smoke or drink or use drugs or get sexually transmitted diseases [thanks, Mom].  They didn't have husbands or children. They had the same access to good medical care. 
And if instead you want a different (and more Protestant) perspective, go to Kierkegaard: "Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate." Either/Or, vol. 1, sct. 1 (1843, trans. 1987).
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# Posted 4:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS releases shortlist of candidates for this year's foreign policy book prize.
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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

# Posted 3:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQI TIME BOMB: Matt Yglesias thinks that Iraq's interim constitution is a
Recipe for civil war down the road, especially as crucial issues like the borders of the Kurdish region remain undefined. Unfortunately, we're seeing a confluence of interests between the Bush administration and various internal groups that would like to undermine either the integrity or the democratic character of a future Iraqi state. Both just need to keep a lid on the situation for a few months yet so America can claim victory and go home before the real fights begin.
While it might be nice if the interim constitution represented a permanent consensus on religious tolerance and human rights, I don't see how Matt can expect a temporary document to accomplish the tasks of a democratically-elected constitutional convention. If the interim constitution sought to pre-empt those debates that will take place once the convention begins, it would be taking away the Iraqi people's right to control their own future.

Matt also quotes Juan Cole to the effect that no one in Iraq will have any incentive to compromise once the convention begins. But the interim constitution wouldn't then become a default point of compromise since it is supposedly just the product of a Bremer-Chalabi collaboration.

According to Matt, the time bomb within the time bomb is the preservation of the Kurdish militia known as the pesh merga. As &c. observes,
So much for the state's monopoly of force. If a future Iraq can survive as a unitary state with separate, ethnically based militaries, it will truly be something new under the sun.
But Matt seems to forget the Kurds are the faction most dependent on American protection and therefore most amenable to American influence. American diplomats have made it clear that Kurdish secession is intolerable. Kurdish leaders know that America won't protect them from predatory neighbors if they choose to go it alone. So while there are always reasons to say that the glass is half empty, this time it is at least half full.
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# Posted 2:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TNR TACKLES HAITI: Adam Kushner writes that
Despite the complexities of the unfolding situation in Haiti, two things can be said with certainty: Haiti is better for the fact that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is now in exile. And the world is better for the fact that we put him in power ten years ago.
I agree. (Link via Matt Yglesias)
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# Posted 11:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TERROR STRIKES: Multiple suicide bombings have left more than 140 dead in Baghdad and Karbala. The victims were Shi'ite worshippers celebrating the holy day of Ashura. This mindless violence achieves nothing.
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# Posted 6:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAITI UPDATER: 300 Marines are now in Port-au-Prince, with Secretary Rumsfeld reporting that the U.S. deployment there is likely to reach 1,500 to 2,000, while lasting no more than three months before handing over peacekeeping responsibilities to the United Nations. The Pentagon has not yet made statements about the rules of engagement governing the deployment (whether, for instance, troops will be permitted to fire on looters, or only in self defense). The Washington Post is reporting that the plan for political stabilization of Haiti will continue to draw upon the Caricom plan formulated by the Caribbean nations before Aristide's depature, calling for an independent prime minister and unity cabinet to be chosen through compromise among Haiti's political movements, and with representatives of the Lavalas party and Prime Minister Yvon Neptune taking part in Aristide's stead. The U.N. is planning to send a team to Haiti within the next several days to assess requirements for its eventual peacekeeping mission, as well as the effects of political instability on possible efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian situation. The NY Times reports that the constitutionally mandated legislative ratification of the succession to office of interim president Boniface Alexandre, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, cannot happen because the legislature is not at present meeting. Rebel leader Guy Philippe seems to hope to make his rebel force into the army of his nation (at present Haiti's army is disestablished). Both Philippe and rebel leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain (a former death squad leader and assassin) have expressed support for the US deployment.

The Globe points to the irony that the Bush administration, so vitally against nation building in candidature, is now engaged wholeheartedly in the creation of democratic structures of governance in failed states, and winning support for this policy with a skeptical electorate. This is not, incidentally, the first time a president came into office to adopt policies he had campaigned against in his predecessor - for only one example, as a candidate Clinton attacked the first President Bush mercilessly for his Realist, great-powers-comity stance toward China which left no room for human rights considerations; then, after a year, he adopted precisely the same policy under the guise of engagement.
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# Posted 1:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE NO-INCOMPETENT-DICTATOR-LEFT-BEHIND PROGRAM: CNN chooses this moment to run a story with the title "Aristide no stranger to struggle," that includes choice bits like
Along the way, he learned French, Latin, English, German, Spanish and Hebrew but is most eloquent in the native Creole that he used to exort Haitians to rise against the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.
...
But the man who once fired the hearts of Haitians to pursue freedom himself is being called a dictator.
Go figure.
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# Posted 1:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

EXTRA, EXTRA! The foreign policy society which I head up puts out a newsletter each week of upcoming foreign policy events and job openings. Here's this week's edition, and if you'd like, you can sign up to receive it by email.

In other news, our Southern California chapter is now open for business - and headed up by no less a statesman of the blogosphere than Robert Tagorda! Thanks, Robert!
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Monday, March 01, 2004

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG FILM CLASSICS -- SIDNEY POITIER DOUBLE FEATURE: The films on the agenda for today are Blackboard Jungle (1955) and To Sir, With Love (1967). The films work very well side by side since both tell the story of first-time teachers who take jobs at inner city schools only to discover that their students are completely out of control. In time, however, the teachers' dedication and empathy transforms their students into mature young men and women.

The side-by-side comparision of Blackboard and To Sir is also instructive because Poitier plays the rebellious student in the first film and the teacher in the second. Both performances are masterful. As student Gregory Miller, Poitier blends the sullen resentment and untapped potential of many an overlooked and underprivileged young man.

Poitier is even more impressive as Mark Thackeray, the out-of-work engineer who makes the decision to teach in London's East End. Thackeray is a fascinating combination of social awkwardness, intellectual ambition, human warmth and latent rage. Each one of his interactions with his students brings out an unexpected combination of these traits.

While Blackboard and To Sir were made only 12 years apart, they seem to be a full generation apart. The acting in Blackboard is of the stilted, artificial kind that seems so jarring to the modern viewer. (Poitier's performance is an exception and, as a result, seems far ahead of its time.) In To Sir, we come face to face with young men and women who would seem in place in any high-school classroom in America today, despite the fact that they are British and poor and living in 1967.

The difference in acting styles also accentuates the difference of the messages conveyed by the respective films. The message in Blackboard is explicity political and often makes the film seem more like a modern parody of 1950s culture than an actual product of the time. The strangeness begins with the film's trailer, which preceded the main feature on my copy of the cassette. In the manner of Reefer Madness, it promises to convey a shocking truth that naive and patriotic Americans have for too long ignored.

Given what inner-city schools are like today, one immediately begins to wonder whether any thing that happened in the 1950s could really have been all that bad. There are no guns in the film and drugs play a very minor role, so you figure that things can't really be all that bad. On the other hand, protagonist Glenn Ford (playing Rick Dadier) is beaten badly by his own students in a planned nighttime attack. The same students appear to be professional criminals who rob trucks after class. And at the climax of the film, one of them pulls a knife on Ford in class. Did things like that really happen in the 1950s? I don't know.

While this sort of scaremongering about inner-city youth might come off as racist today, its purpose in the film is to advance a liberal agenda. After all, the moral of the story is that if a teacher never gives up on underprivileged kids, they will shine through in the end. Thus, Blackboard manages in the space of a couple of hours to be both disturbingly alarmist and naively optimistic.

In contrast, To Sir has much less of a social agenda. While it does suggest that committed teachers can resolve a systemic crisis in education, the students come away mainly with a more mature approach to the constant challenges of life in the British working class. Moreover, they begin the film far more time than their Blackboard counterparts, who are miraculously transformed into patriotic Americans.

If I were to advance one main criticism of both films, it is that the moments of epiphany at which the students suddenly abandon the Dark Side of the Force seems improbable. To be fair, real-life student-teacher relations develop subtly over the course of months. To portray them in a matter of hours is all but impossible. Still, it seems like both sets of students are following a script when they undergo their conversions. It's never clear why they reject their goodhearted teachers at first but then come around when the time is right.

In the final analysis, To Sir, With Love is the superior film, one whose artistic merit should be evident to audiences today. However, Blackboard Jungle is still plenty worth watching, both for its historical value as well as the chance to observe a magnificent actor about to become a major star.

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# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FAREWELL, MON CHAT: Kevin Drum has declared an end to his cat-blogging. Having made the personal acquaintance of Inkblot and Jasmine, I can assure you that they will be missed.
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# Posted 11:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY ISN'T THAT FLAG ON FIRE? 20,000 South Koreans marched today in what AFP describes as a "pro-US rally". Quotations from the pro-US marchers make them seem a little bit off the wall, especially descriptions of high government officials as "North Korean sympathisers". On the other hand, I'm not sure what to make of a South Korean president who says that his nation ought to "embrace North Korea with a warm heart" despite its "eccentric" behavior.
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# Posted 6:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANTI-PASSION PASSION: I'm sort of proud of French film distributors for elevating their concerns about anti-Semitism above their interest in making a profit off of the Passion. But why does censorship seem to be the reflexive French response to dealing with censorship? First of all, censorship usually winds up antagonizing one's opponents and increading their resolve. Besides, given that so many anti-Semitic attacks are perpetrated by French Muslims, what good is banning the Passion? What I'd like to see is prominent Frenchmen (and -women) from all walks of life openly denounce anti-Semitism and explain why French Jews are no less French and no have no fewer rights than anyone else. The war of ideas cannot be won through futile efforts to shut down the opposition.
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# Posted 5:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOO MUCH GOOD NEWS: What is going on in Iraq? The NYT reports that oil production there is poised to surpass prewar levels. The NYT article on that subject is climibing the charts over at Memeorandum thanks to posts by Rob Tagorda, Greg Djerejian, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds and Rantingprofs.

I think it's worth taking a look at the NYT article in detail, since it contains so many surprises that run against the grain of conventional wisdom. Correspondent Neela Banerjee reports that
With additional production increases expected, oil exports this year could add $14 billion to Iraq's threadbare budget, compared with a little more than $5 billion last year, said a senior official with the Coalition Provisional Authority, the occupation government.
I don't know that the total Iraqi budget is, but I have to imagine that $9 billion will make a big difference in the books. This suggests, moreover, that American support may be fall back to more moderate levels and/or focus on institution-building rather than basic services such as santiation. Next up, consider this:
The revival of the oil sector is a result of the $1 billion in repairs undertaken by the Americans and Iraqis as well as some dogged ingenuity by the Iraqis in keeping their badly damaged industry running.
Usually, we hear that the American reconstruction effort is overwhelmed by chaos and getting little back in the way of results. On a related note,
The top American civil administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, appeared on Iraqi television on Friday to announce that electricity generation, a major source of discontent for this country of 25 million, had been restored to prewar levels and was expected to rise rapidly as summer approaches.
Assuming that Bremer knows what he's talking about, that's pretty impressive, especially the part about a rapid rise this summer. Of course, even silver linings have clouds:
In the north, [oil] exports have been stymied by attacks on the pipeline leading to an export terminal in Turkey. But the Northern Oil Company recently tested the pipeline and shipped a few million barrels of oil to Turkey.

Attacks on the pipeline dropped to 8 in January and February from 47 in the last three months of 2003, according to coalition officials ? a sign, they said, of the success of a new Iraqi oil police trained under an American contract.
Perhaps the reduction isn't all that surprising given that
The American military commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, said last week that attacks on coalition soldiers had been cut by half in the last three months, even as attacks on Iraqis had increased.
Accordingly, the Coalition's casualty and fatality figures fell in February to a level considerably below even that of last summer. (NB: It's not just because February is a short month. The per-day figures fell dramatically as well.) Finally, if you look at the print version of this morning's NYT, you find an interesting sentence that has disappeared from the online version of its article:
American efforts to restore Iraqi oil have been led by the Army Corps of Engineers and its principal contractor, Halliburton.
Halli-who? You mean those guys who overcharged the government for gas? Are we really supposed to believe that they do anything right or good? Well, if the NYT says so, who am I to disagree?

Anyhow, the good news isn't limited to the oil sector. The front page story about Iraq actually concerns its new interim constitution, which, if approved,
Would be the most progressive such document in the Arab world. Even before the hard bargaining began, there was wide agreement on many of its major features, including the freedom of speech, press and assembly and the free exercise of religion.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, equal treatment under the law regardless of gender or ethnicity, as well as civilian control over the military.
As if that weren't enough, Sunni clerics are now calling on anti-American forces to put an end to their attacks against both Iraqi civilians and security officers. The clerics' fatwa begins as follows: "Dear sons of our nation, we call upon you to close ranks and elevate yourselves above your grudges so that we may open a new chapter in the life of our country. We condemn any act of violence against Iraqi state government workers, police and soldiers, because it is aggression under Islamic law."

The document issued in Ramadi declares that killing fellow Iraqis not only runs counter to the idea of holy war, but also constitutes what is known in the Muslim world as haram, the unpardonable act of killing another Muslim.
You might even say that America has won over the Sunni clerics' hearts and minds. Last August, the big names in the liberal half of the blogosphere jumped all over those of us who said that the suicide bombings in Iraq were a sign of our enemies' desperation. Five months later, it's hard to see things any other way.
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# Posted 2:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND MORE ON HAITI: The Christian Science Monitor runs a piece on lessons learned from our last involvement in nation-building in Haiti. VOA reports another wave of anarchy and looting is breaking out in Port-au-Prince, and the Globe cites diplomatic sources who say that this court case about Aristide's involvement in a drug-trafficking ring gave the U.S. greater leverage on Aristide in encouraging him to leave the country. Mr Aristide, for his part, is in the Central African Republic, where he continues to seek asylum in South Africa. Both rebel and U.S. forces are in Port-au-Prince at the moment, with both apparently receiving cordial welcomes from the city's residents. A contingent of French forces is moving to secure French diplomatic sites, while a U.S. detachment has established a security perimeter at the airport. Other French and American contingents are securing a number of other sites of interest around the capital. Apparently both marines and rebels are currently to be found at the moment in the vicity of the National Palace and the surrounding park, but they are said not to be interacting with one another.
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# Posted 1:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

UPDATER ON HAITI: The Secretary of State appeared on several morning talk shows to respond to questions about Haiti. Transcripts are here, here, and here (and a very brief presidential statement is here). Reuters is reporting that a deployment of roughly 1,000 U.S. Marines will reach Haiti within the next few days, with 200 soldiers on the ground now and another 200 to arrive later today. French, Canadian, and Latin American personnel are expected to join the US detachment shortly. The Pentagon has announced that the aims of the American deployment are to secure key sites in Port-au-Prince; protect U.S. citizens; contribute to security and stability in the capital; pave the way for the arrive of the international force; assist in delivering humanitarian aid; and repatriate Haitian migrants interdicted at sea. The Quai d'Orsay's statement is here, and the UN Security Council invoked chapter VII unanimously last night to authorize a multinational peacekeeping force (release, text of UNSCR 1529). The OAS's Secretary General has announced support for the UN resolution and Haiti's new interim president, but the body has taken no other actions. And meanwhile, a member of House of Representatives is claiming that Aristide now says he was kidnapped.
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# Posted 8:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY SAINT DAVID'S DAY! I'll be looking for some leek soup and a daffodil today to celebrate the Welsh. Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus everyone!
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# Posted 5:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

SAUDIS SAY NO JEWS WILL BE GIVEN VISAS, then (when the WSJ points this out) quickly change website to indicate visas are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis...and then take a position of righteous indignation to a US congressman impertinent enough to question the whole shady business. Eugene and the Opinion Journal have more.
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# Posted 3:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEAD LANGUAGES IN THE NYT: Jack Hitt shows there can be good writing, even in the New York Times:
Languages die the way many people do -- at home, in silence, attended by loved ones straining to make idle conversation.

''A lot of rain,'' announces Juan Carlos. The fire crackles and hisses. The rain continues, staccato.

''Rain,'' Gabriela adds.

I sit quietly, smoking my way through their Samuel Beckett dialogue.
...

When I asked Emelinda what could be done to keep Yaghan alive, she said she was already doing it, as if a formal program were under way.

''I talk to myself in Yaghan,'' Emelinda explained in Spanish. ''When I hang up my clothes outside, I say the words in Yaghan. Inside the house, I talk in Yaghan all day long.''

I asked her if she ever had a conversation with the only other person in the world who could easily understand her, Cristina Calderón, the official ''last speaker'' of Yaghan.

''No,'' Emelinda said impatiently, as if I'd brought up a sore topic. ''The two of us don't talk.''
Even accounting for Hitt's occasional adolescent slips ("Does anything say Western dominance quite like the flush of a private john?"), the magazine should be congratulated for the highly unusual and innovative step of bringing good writing to the profit-making press.
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Sunday, February 29, 2004

# Posted 9:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STANDARDIZED ART: The SAT will be getting an overhaul in spring 2005, including the introduction of an essay section. The official grading standards suggest that Hemingway and Shakespeare might not have been fit to study at America's best colleges. (Link via Pejman.)
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# Posted 9:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GERECHT-IGKEIT: Reuel Marc rages against those amoral realists who want to sell out Iran's democratic opposition in order to cut a deal with Teheran on nuclear weapons. While selling out the dissidents would be unconscionable, Gerecht doesn't seem to accept that there really isn't a "get tough" option available to President Bush when it comes to Iran.

The future of Iran is in the hands of its own people. Our role is to encourage them by making it clear time and again that their ideals are ours as well. Encouragement is no guarantee of success, but we did learn after 1989 just how valuable moral support is for those who struggle against totalitarianism.
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# Posted 8:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING GORE: Not Al Gore. Hollywood gore. Rob Tagorda says that The Passion has been subjected to unfair abuse. In fact, Rob says that "It's a deeply moving film -- one that leaves me wondering whether it ranks among the best I've ever seen." I'll suspend judgment for the moment since I haven't seen the film, but my gut instinct says that its detractors are the ones on the side of angels.

Finally, DK writes in with a response to my statement that "Having lived through September 11th, we have no need to watch the planes crash again and again. But are there Christians who might be inspired by this sort of film, which goes beyond the violence of gospel?" According to DK,
Yes, absolutely there are, and there has been a long tradition of this sort of thing throughout history:

1. William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience" is in large part about exactly this issue, and he gives many examples stretching from the desert fathers of the early church to 19th century America. See [here and here] (look for Suso).

2. Catholics, Episcopalians, and others treat Good Friday as one of the most important days in the Church year, observed with 3 hour long vigil services focused on remembering the Crucifixion. Other than the graphic visuals, there is little in the film that doesn't fit traditional Good Friday and Stations of the Cross services...

4. I saw the movie with a group of people from my very liberal Episcopal church, which is very strongly in favor of gay bishops and active in pursuing ties with local Muslim and Jewish groups. And we all found it inspiring. Difficult to stomach, incorrect in a few places, but inspiring.
If you're still looking for more insightful comments about The Passion, Judith Weiss has a very comprehensive set of links up over at Kesher Talk.
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# Posted 8:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN KERRY, MASTER OF NUANCE: Yet again, John Kerry has come forward with an extremely complicated explanation of why positions he has taken might seem inconsistent at first but are in fact part and parcel of a sophisticated and coherent worldview. The issue this time is gay marriage and the relevant facts have been provided by CJR's Campaign Desk. Here goes: In 1996, Kerry voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. This week, Ron Brownstein of the LAT asked Kerry whether his position on DOMA implied that the only way to ban gay marriage is by amending the constitution. Kerry responded to Brownstein by stating that he was wrong in '96 about the constitutionality of DOMA. Following Kerry's logic, Brownstein then asked whether Kerry would vote for DOMA if it up were put before the Senate today. Kerry evaded that question by saying that DOMA is already the law of the land.

Campaign Desk goes through all of this in order to demonstrate that a number of major media outlets have misrepresented Kerry's views on gay marriage. As far as I can tell, they have, albeit slightly. Even so, you have to have a lot of faith in Kerry in order to believe that his rhetorical acrobatics represent a sincere effort to explain his views rather than a calculated effort to explain them away. And even if the Senator's views are consistent, his decision to dodge Brownstein's final question is a pretty clear indication of the fact that Kerry does not want to let anyone know what his real views on gay marriage are.

But that's only the beginning. It also turns out that Kerry would support amendents to state consitutions that outlaw gay marriage provided that such amendents protect civil unions and the like. However, Kerry is against an amendent to the federal constitution which would do the same. These positions are consistent now that Kerry has revised his view of the constitutionality of DOMA. But what did he revise his view of DOMA? Has he changed his interpretation of the 14th Amendment, or did he misunderstand certain parts of DOMA?

Perhaps the more important question is whether it hurts Kerry more to reinforce his reputation for straddling the fence, or whether he should pay that price to avoid seeming too liberal (or too conservative?) on gay marriage. On the one hand, I sympathize with Kerry for having to make such a hard decision. On the other, I expect real answers from a candidate for President.
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# Posted 10:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

COMING ATTRACTIONS: This week, the administration will be pushing its Middle East democracy promotion program with a trip to the region by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, as well as upcoming discussions about the Greater Middle East Initiative with Nato allies, the G-8, and Turkey. The diplomatic push will be an attempt to win over the support of wary regional governments cautious of what they will be eager to label as American meddling. WaPo presents a summary of what it calls "the most ambitious U.S. democracy effort since the end of the Cold War": in short, it calls for the United States and Europe to press for and assist free elections, foster new independent media, help create a politically literate generation, establish a greater Middle East Development Bank modeled on Europe's postwar Marshall plan model, translate Western classics into Arabic, and give $500 million in loans to small entrepreneurs, especially women, according to the draft report. It is scheduled to be formally released in June, and it follows in broad outline the 1975 model of the Helsinki accords.

By shrewdly laying his Iraq quarrels with Chancellor Schröeder aside, President Bush has secured Germany's support for the intiative. In the opposing camp is Egypt's Mubarak, who has already been travelling the region to ask its autocratic rulers (beginning in Riyadh) for their opposition.
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# Posted 9:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

YIDS AND GOYS SIT DOWN TO POPCORN TOGETHER: A sympathetic, evangelical Matt Labash watches Mel Gibson's Passion with a mildly wary, jocular Jew. The most amusing, and human, piece to be written so far on this whole affair results.

(Greatest hits: "The narrative necessarily implicates Jews and Romans, since there weren't many Norwegians around at the time." "In the back of the theater, two cops are present, perhaps to make sure the Jews and Christians don't turn into the Jets and Sharks, what with all the talk of anti-Semitic overtones, or perhaps just to guard against the phone bully. "Don't worry," offers Norm, in the event of a Jewish uprising. "You're with me. You'll be okay.")
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# Posted 7:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

ARISTIDE HAS INDEED LEFT HAITI:
The Bush administration said it welcomed Aristide's departure and said it was in the best interests of Haiti. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Aristide left at about 6:45 a.m. EST, accompanied by members of his security detail.

[One of his advisors] said Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president in 200 years of independence, was flying to the Dominican Republic and would seek asylum in Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.

Aristide left as fighters in a popular rebellion that erupted on Feb. 5 came within 25 miles of Port-au-Prince, the capital, and threatened to attack unless he resigned.
See also this piece from earlier this morning, on the administration's decision yesterday to increase its pressure on Aristide to leave, to leave open chances for a peaceful resolution in his absence:
Earlier in the day, senior administration officials said the United States did not want to seem to be pushing an elected leader out of office. But after a meeting of Mr. Bush's national security advisers on Saturday morning — run by teleconference from Camp David by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser — the president concluded that Washington's strong hints to Mr. Aristide that he needed to resign must be stepped up to a strong shove.

During the meeting, officials said, Mr. Bush's advisers concluded that the rebel forces holding in position outside the city were unlikely to stay there for long. "If they go in and Aristide is still sitting there, it's not going to be pretty," a senior official said Saturday evening. "So the conclusion was that the only way to get to a political solution was to exert more pressure, an evolution of what we've been doing all week."
Rebel leader Guy Philippe, who had earlier boasted that he would be in Port-au-Prince today to mark his 36th birthday, had reportedly slowed his advance into the capital city in response to a request from Washington.

So who's left to pick up the pieces of power in Port-au-Prince? The Democratic Platform opposition coalition had been led by senior socialist member Micha Gaillard, Christian Democrat Marie-Denise Claude, and Paul Denis of the left-wing Organisation for the People's Struggle. Other key figures in the political opposition include Lionel Etienne, head of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce; and industrialist Edouard Peaultre. (See AFP). The Platform Democratique, in turn, includes the Convergence Democratique (a wide-ranging collection of political and civil society groups) and the Group of 184 (which represents Haiti’s business community; website). It's not yet clear whether a restoration in order in Haiti will now follow along the lines of the French peace plan, in which a multinational police force would deploy to Haiti along with relief aid, human rights observers, and a U.N. representative; a government of national unity would be formed among political parties; and new presidential elections would take place before the summer. (The alternative, CARICOM, plan had called for Aristide to remain in power heading a government of national unity.) And the State Department has already indicated that a multinational force will be sent to the Haiti soon.
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# Posted 6:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOT ON HAITI, but Harvard deserves to be congratulated on this program - it would be a very good thing if other universities (President Levin?) follow suit:
Aiming to get more low-income students to enroll, Harvard will stop asking parents who earn less than $40,000 to make any contribution toward the cost of their children's education. Harvard will also reduce the amount it seeks from parents with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

"When only 10 percent of the students in elite higher education come from families in the lower half of the income distribution, we are not doing enough," said Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard, who will announce the financial aid changes at a meeting of the American Council on Education in Miami Beach today.

Dr. Summers said that higher education, rather than being an engine of social mobility, may be inhibiting it because of the wide gap in college attendance for students from different income classes.
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# Posted 1:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAITI -- A DIFFERENT VIEW: CS writes that
The Administration's policy toward's Haiti is anything but coherent. Running the gamut from ignoring the coming crisis then rushing to negotiate a half baked "peace plan." Haiti under Aristide may be a lot things but a dictatorship is a bit much. Aristide has been a failure as a leader and needs to go but I remember Haiti under Duvalier and you can't begin to compare the two.

Haiti's problem is that governmental power is concentrated in the executive and in Port au Prince. Some of Aristide's critics have always hated him for a variety of Haitian reasons involving class and race and have been scheming to get him out for since he was reelected in 2000, through his incompetence and malfeasance his given them enough rope to hang him with. The "civil" opposition does not have much chance for survival as a coalition without Aristide as a focal point. Once he leaves it will fall apart. Even in his weakened condition, Aristide and his party Lavalas would still beat the opposition in a fair election. Which is propably why the political opposition doesn't want elections with Aristide around.

Many Republicans in and out of the Administration have hated Aristide since he was first elected in 1991 and won't be shedding any tears if he goes. The Administration has been instrumental in blocking Haiti from receiving loans totaling $500 million from the World Bank, Interamerican Development Bank, and other multilateral institutions since 2000. USAID, IRI and other American institutions have given millions of dollars to the opposition. Many members of the armed opposition were trained by the U.S. military and the CIA. This Administration has yet to craft a balanced approach when it comes to Haiti, for example when the opposition failed to agree, yet again, to a power sharing agreement with Aristide. The Administration immediately placed the blame on Aristide, not even mentioning the opposition's intransigence. Aristide's removal or resignation does not end the crisis. Now with the US actually pushing Aristide out, it is doing harm to Latin America's transition to a democracy.
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Saturday, February 28, 2004

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCATHING: The WaPo looks at Bush's rhetoric on taxes.
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# Posted 10:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWSFLASH -- HAITI A DEMOCRACY: In an interview with the NYT, John Kerry held the Bush administration responsible for the chaos in Haiti.
His message to the rebels, Mr. Kerry said, would be: "You're not going to take over. You're not kicking [Aristide] out. This democracy is going to be sustained."
According to Freedom House, Haiti
has become a dictatorship in all but name, as power has been monopolized by President Aristide and his Lavalas Family (FL) party.
Makes you wonder what kind of democracy Sen. Kerry would like to promote in Iraq. And if Bush called Haiti a democracy, you could bet that the next line in the NYT article would've read "According to Freedom House, Haiti is a violent dictatorship."
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# Posted 9:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ON THE RIGHT TRACK IN HAITI: I haven't read more than a half-dozen articles about the situation there, but it seems like the Bush administration is handling the situation fairly responsibly. Both Colin Powell and the human rights community seem to agree that the leaders of the insurrection are a collection of notorious thugs and murderers. At the same time, President Bush has clearly identified Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the individual whose corruption and selfishness are responsible for igniting the rebellion.

Bush is now stating pretty clearly that Aristide must go. Obviously, doing so raises the possibility that the rebels may take over. Yet having Aristide go now may result in there be a lot less violence than if the rebels had to invade Port Au Prince and haul him out. Morevoer, if Aristide resigns in response to American pressure, the rebels will be robbed of the legitimacy that comes from ousting a dictator (cf. "Sandinistas").

I don't how much chance there is that the democratic opposition to Arisitide can become an interim government in the event of the President's resignation. But if the US, UN and France all support a clear pro-democracy line, the worst may not come to pass.

Oh, and by the way, notice how neither the NYT nor the WaPo said anything bad about the rebels until the last couple of days. But that's the kind of oversight you should expect when big-name correspondents fly around the world from trouble spot to trouble spot rather than really learning about any of the nations they cover. For example, last week the WaPo identifed Louis-Jodel Chamblain as a "former army officer". The NYT described M. Chamblain as "leader of the rebel troops" and quoted him as saying that
"Cap Haitien is a symbol of Haiti's freedom. This fight is to liberate the Haitian people under the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide."
Today, the NYT describes Chamblain and Jean-Pierre Baptiste as
Two leaders of Fraph, the Haitian Front for Advancement and Progress. Fraph was an instrument of terror wielded by the military junta that overthrew Haiti's embattled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991. It killed thousands over the next three years.
You know, you'd think that American journalists would be more skeptical when someone claims to be waging a war of liberation. After all, a few months ago, someone or other at the Pentagon said something about liberating some country in the Middle East and caught hell for it from the media. But some two-bit gang leader gets press coverage that makes him look like George Washington. Go figure.
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# Posted 9:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ISN'T THE FRONT PAGE FOR NEWS? The NYT has a major story about the massive corruption that Iraqi officials embedded in the UN's Oil-For-Food program. Of course, it was on the NYT's own op-ed page -- ten months ago -- that WSJ correspondent Claudia Rosett argued that the Oil-For-Food program had become a total fiasco.

While the NYT cover story contains a lot of interesting information, its criticism of the UN's role in the affair is too light to even be described as a slap on the wrist. While Rossett's op-ed makes clear that widescale corruption was only possible because of ridiculously lax UN oversight, all the NYT gives us is a pathetic denial from the UN official in charge:
The director of the Office of Iraq Programs, Benon V. Sevan, declined to be interviewed about the oil-for-food program. In written responses to questions sent by e-mail, his office said he learned of the 10 percent kickback scheme from the occupation authority only after the end of major combat operations.
Yeah, right. Just this week, Rosett published another column which provides considerable evidence that either that the UN is hiding a lot of information from the public or that its accountants don't understand basic arithmetic.

On a related note, one also has to ask to what degree the French and Russians were involved in Saddam's massive kickback scheme. To its credit, the NYT raises the issue briefly at the end of its lengthy report. Hopefully, it will follow up on the issue, because even the little bit it has found is quite incriminating.
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Friday, February 27, 2004

# Posted 6:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S ANNUAL COUNTRY REPORT OF HUMAN RIGHTS has been released - it's online on the Department's website, here. A transcript from Assistant Secretary Craner's q&a with the press is here. The document is critical both of allies and adversaries, accusing China of backsliding, with arrests of democracy activists and Internet essayists and bloggers, speaking of a "dramatic worsening" of human rights abuses in Cuba underlined by long prison terms handed down to 75 human rights activists, and very critical language toward Burma and North Korea ("one of the world's most inhumane regimes"). Several allies also received critical note, including Saudi Arabia and, to an extent, Israel. On the other hand, trends toward democratization were noted in Qatar, Oman, Yemen and Jordan, as well as the Kyrgyz Republic.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias doesn't buy that Kyrgyzstan is trending toward democratization (and correctly points out that a good deal of quite execrable oppression is taking place in that country), while Brian Ulrich argues in Matt's comments that the Kyrgyz Republic is at any rate the most free of any Central Asian nation, and whether it is trending toward more or less democracy is open to dispute. Incidentally, Freedom House has two reports on Kyrgyzstan, here and here: their consensus is that corruption is rife, and initial hopes for a thriving Kryyz democracy have been dashed by growing presidential authoritarianism.

I'm not convinced yet, though, by Matt's criticism that the State Department country reports alter their analyses or pull their punches to cohere with broader government foreign policy goals. In fact, it's my fairly strong impression that the bureaucratic processes leading to the production of the human rights reports are staffed by people drawn in from the human rights community (like human rights lawyer Harold Koh from YLS, or civil rights lawyer John Shattuck), who remain in very close contact with the principal human rights organizations from whom they draw most of their reporting. The human rights groups, in turn, are generally laudatory of the human rights reports, while using them as an opportunity to criticise broader US policy - see Tom Malinowski from 2002 here, or Amnesty from this year here. This seems to me like a far more benevolent form of the common political phenomenon of bureaucratic capture - where a government agency is staffed principally by members of an industry, who continue to represent its aims and view of the world while working in the executive. And this seems to me, first of all, a good thing where the industry in question is the human rights community, and second of all, to be precisely in line with the legislative intent of Congress when late in the Nixon administration it created the Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in Section 301 of the International Security and Arms Export Control Act of 1976. The idea then was to create an entrenched bureaucratic interest which, even in the cynical course of promoting its own bureaucratic stature within the State Department, would also tend over time to promote the cause of human rights within US foreign policy. That said, I'm personally very fascinated by the Bureau, and would be very interested to hear whether any of our friends have more to say on the point.
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# Posted 4:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

OH, PRIVATISATSIYA: An interesting glimpse into the economic structure of contemporary Russia is in Forbes's just-released list of billionaires: once you scan past the palaver about Harry Potter, you get to this interesting bit:
New York was the home base of choice for the super-rich, with 31 of them living there. Moscow came in second with 23, followed by Hong Kong with 16 and Paris with 10.
Almost as many billionaires live in Moscow as in New York! That there would be comparable numbers of billionaires living in the financial capital of a nation with a PPP GDP of $1.409 trillion and that of one of $10.45 trillion is a stunning indication of the oligarchic character of a country where like medieval Western Europe there are only two true powers, declining oligarchs and a rising dirigiste state. The professional and commercial middle classes, so important for democratization, are in mother Russia dearly missed.
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