Post-9-11 events and analyses
Ken Novak's Weblog
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The Monopoly Factory:
How and why the patent office grants many spurious patents, with examples of the costs to society, and how to fix the system. 11:36:54 PM
Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? "Lake Pontchartrain continues to pour through a two-block-long break in the main levee, near [New Orleans'] 17th Street Canal. With much of the Crescent City some 10 feet below sea level, the rising tide may not stop until it's level with the massive lake. ..
When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.
Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars. .. In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." ..
The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history... [A] "study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said." ..
One project that a contractor had been racing to finish this summer: a bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal, site of the main breach on Monday. The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. ... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."" 11:04:23 PM
Monday, August 29, 2005
The Observer: Iraq takes a step closer to civil war: "it appears it was not the Shias, as Bush feared, but the Sunnis who have torpedoed consensus on the constitution, first forcing a number of concessions from the Shias, then deciding to walk out on the whole process. 'The Sunnis made the tactical decision to negotiate for as much as they could get out of the document and then walk out to protect their own positions within their community,' said one diplomat. 'It is a dangerous tactic. It will take a lot of patching up.'..
While Bush could pick up the phone to try to cajole or mollify Hakim as a representative of Shia desires, on the Sunni side, despite more than two years of effort, there is no one of a similar stature and influence to call. ..
pessimism has been reflected in the new and chilling conversation that has repeatedly taken place among government and intelligence officials in the past few weeks on both sides of the Atlantic - how do you know when you are on the brink of civil war? And which, out of the available models, Iraq might follow if it follows down that path. It is not Vietnam that officials are looking to for their model of a worst-case scenario in Iraq, but to the fratricide of Lebanon's civil war." 11:55:15 PM
Juan Cole on success and frustration in Iraq: "Sullivan says that given US and British forces on the ground, the "insurgency" "cannot win." The problem is that the "insurgency" doesn't have to win in order to succeed. All it has to do is spoil everyone else's successes. By sabotaging the oil pipelines and the electricity grid that supports them, the guerrillas have reduced Iraqi government revenue by a third to a half of what it otherwise would be. They can go on doing that a very long time. They have put the lives of every senior member of the new government in danger, and have managed to assassinate a whole roster of high-ranking officials, even two members of the new parliament and two members of the constitution drafting committee.
They have kept the new government, and even the US military, from truly controlling the major Sunni Arab cities, and have even made mixed cities such as Baqubah big security problems. They have increasingly succeeded in provoking deep hatred between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, contributing to a low-intensity, uncoventional war between the two that seemed unlikely as recently as a year ago. These tactics are proving successful and can be maintained for a very long time." The article also makes some predictions for 2006.
In a similar vein from Cole's March 05 op-ed, U.S. Caught in the Crossfire: "For all of these reasons, the United States will increasingly find its hands tied in Iraq. Caught between a popularly elected government dominated by fundamentalist Shiites and a determined guerrilla movement led by Arab nationalists and radical Sunnis, the United States is left without a safe and secure escape hatch." 11:41:53 PM
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Sunnis offer an exit plan: "Largely unnoticed amid the U.S. political debate, al-Rawi and other Sunni leaders close to the insurgency have reached tacit consensus over the broad outline of an interim program to reduce the violence, stabilize the country and thus enable the U.S.-led coalition troops to begin a gradual withdrawal. While differences remain on some points, there is wide agreement on these steps:
-- A troop pullout from most urban areas and an end to military checkpoints and raids. "The Americans and British must leave all residential areas," said al-Rawi. ..
-- Overhaul of the Iraqi Army and National Guard... Sunni Arabs point out that these two institutions are almost completely composed of members of their ethnic enemies -- the Kurdish peshmerga and the Shiite militias. "These people want to humiliate the Sunni," al-Hashimi said. "The Army and National Guard must be professionalized. They cannot be dominated by members of the party militias." ..
-- Release of prisoners. The number of Iraqi prisoners in American military custody has grown rapidly in recent months, with as many as 15,000 Iraqis behind bars, according to U.S. estimates. Military officials have admitted that many of the prisoners have simply been swept up in neighborhood roundups. Because there is no formal trial process, the process of vetting prisoners and releasing those found innocent is very slow. Military officials have reportedly expressed worry that the sprawling prison camps are serving as recruiting camps for al Qaeda and the most extremist insurgent groups. .. Nadhmi and other Iraqis interviewed for this article said they did not advocate release of Saddam Hussein or others accused of involvement in killings and torture. ..
-- Negotiations with the "resistance." Sunni leaders have frequently met with U.S. officials in Baghdad to try to coax them to talk with the guerrillas. They draw a line between what they call the "resistance," by which they mean Iraqi fighters who attack only U.S. and Iraqi troops, and the Sunni extremists linked to al Qaeda who have spread terror with car bombs and suicide attacks against Shiite civilians. A big problem, however, is figuring out which insurgent groups to approach. The Sunni Arab leaders consulted for this article estimated the number of insurgent organizations as ranging from 12 to 35 -- not including foreign groups. ..
"We realize that it will take a long time for the Americans to leave. We cannot say six months or 12 months, because we may have to change the plan when the situation changes. If the Americans start taking real steps, if the Iraqi people feel that they will no longer be occupied, they will say with one voice to the terrorists, 'Please leave us.' And they will go," he said.
"But in this situation now, when the troops are even in our universities, our mosques, our houses, it is impossible." " 1:02:16 PM
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Amusing multi-stage chart to tell whether a copyrighted work has entered the public domain. 12:43:29 PM
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
H5N1 seen spreading: "A bird flu outbreak in seven northern Kazakh villages is dangerous to humans and threatening the west of the sprawling country, the Agriculture Ministry said yesterday. .. ``The western region is now in the risk zone because migratory birds are starting to fly to the Caspian Sea and Urals-Caspian basin,'' he said. The outbreak spread from Siberia in neighbouring Russia.. Although the H5N1 strain has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003, no one has caught it in Russia or Kazakhstan. ..
Since its discovery on a farm in Siberia in mid-July, bird flu has spread to other areas in Russia. More than 130,000 birds have been culled in order to try to prevent further contagion. Another 11,715 birds died of the virus, the Russian Emergencies Ministry said in a report yesterday. In Kazakhstan, at least 9,000 birds have died or been destroyed since the outbreak started in the north of the Central Asian state last month."
Meanwhile, The EU battens down hatches against bird flu: "Dutch poultry farmers have complied with a government order to move all their birds indoors, as Europe steps up its efforts to prevent a potentially deadly bird flu pandemic this northern winter. Germany plans to follow suit by ordering that all free-range birds be moved indoors next month to prevent contact with birds arriving from the east that may be carrying the virus. .. All EU states are monitoring poultry health closely and stocking vaccines for use in the event of an epidemic. At the weekend, Italy announced stricter import controls, heightened surveillance and accelerated vaccine production. .. [H5N1] has been moving steadily westwards. It has reached Siberia and experts are saying that migratory fowl could bring it to western Europe this northern autumn. " 10:48:27 PM
Monday, August 22, 2005
Scientists Race To Head Off Lethal Potential Of Avian Flu: More details, esp. on the science of avian flu transmission. "The  discovery by Hulse and Webster led, in part, to an extreme program Thailand mounted last November. About 70,000 investigators went into every village in the country looking for sick ducks and sampling the feces of healthy-looking ones. Flocks carrying H5N1 influenza virus were killed. The strategy appears to have worked. Last year, Thailand had 12 human deaths from H5N1 flu. So far this year, it has had none...
The world, Webster believes,would be well advised to draw up a plan to limit human movement and distribute vaccine and antiviral drugs should a pandemic flu strain emerge despite the efforts to prevent it." 10:30:19 PM
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Akamai monitors news activity:
Web page shows spikes in news reading
, by story: "It's debatable how big a deal any specific news event is compared to all the other human mayhem that occurs each day. .. A news mapping service introduced on Thursday by Akamai Technologies Inc. promises to give unprecedented insight into the relative hunger that millions of Internet users have to learn of breaking events minute-by-minute. Akamai, which helps speed delivery of 15 percent of the world's Internet traffic over its network, is looking to count the sum of page requests across 100 major news sites it serves to rank interest in major events on a scale never seen before." 9:08:34 AM
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
"The results of the war have so far been utterly perverse. Not only wasn’t Iraq actively developing weapons of mass destruction; the invasion gave Iran all the more incentive to pursue its own nuclear program so it would not someday suffer the same fate as its neighbor -- and it has now broken off negotiations with the Europeans over that program and resumed processing nuclear fuel. That our intervention has inadvertently brought pro-Iranian parties to power in Iraq only adds to the irony. The great neoconservative hope was that the war would create a new political dynamic in the region that would favor pro-Western democracy. In fact, we have changed politics in the region -- in favor of Iran, just at the time that country has moved toward a more conservative, hard-line, Islamic government.
And the list of perverse effects of the war doesn’t end there. By occupying Iraq, we have provided the insurgency its sustaining passion. Rather than stopping terrorism, we have stoked it. We sought to demonstrate American power, and we have ended up demonstrating its limits. ..
Recently, after stepping down as chief of Australia's armed forces, General Peter Cosgrove called for foreign troops to quit Iraq by the end of 2006 so 'we take one of the focal points of terrorist motivation away, and that is foreign troops.' " 9:54:25 AM
Monday, August 15, 2005
The Africa You Never See: Africa, "according to the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corp., offers the highest return in the world on direct foreign investment, [yet] it attracts the least. Unless investors see the Africa that's worthy of investment, they won't put their money into it. .. Consider a few facts: The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world's highest-performing stock markets. Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations. Cell phones are making phenomenal profits on the continent. Brand-name companies like Coca-Cola, GM, Caterpillar and Citibank have invested in Africa for years and are quite bullish on the future.
The failure to show this side of Africa creates a one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. .. With good governance and sound fiscal policies, countries like Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and many more are bustling, their economies growing at surprisingly robust rates.
Private enterprise is not just limited to the well-behaved nations. [In Somalia] private enterprise is flourishing. Mogadishu has the cheapest cell phone rates on the continent, mostly due to no government intervention. In the northern city of Hargeysa, the markets sell the latest satellite phone technology. The electricity works. When the state collapsed in 1991, the national airline went out of business. Today, there are five private carriers and price wars keep the cost of tickets down. .. Obviously life there would be dramatically improved by good governance -- or even just some governance -- but it's also true that, through resilience and resourcefulness, Somalis have been able to create a functioning society.
Most African businesses suffer from an extreme lack of infrastructure, but the people I met were too determined to let this stop them. It just costs them more. Without reliable electricity, most businesses have to use generators. They have to dig bore-holes for a dependable water source. Telephone lines are notoriously out of service, but cell phones are filling the gap. .. As I interviewed successful entrepreneurs, I was continually astounded by their ingenuity, creativity and steadfastness. These people are the future of the continent. " 8:33:32 PM
Are We Prepared for Avian Flu?: An interview with "Laurie Garrett, the only reporter to win all three of journalism's big "P" awards (the Peabody, the Polk and the Pulitzer) .. resigned from Newsday earlier this year [citing] a deteriorating climate for journalism .. Today, Garrett is Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her story "The Next Pandemic?" was published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs ..
"Avian influenza comes from aquatic birds, including migratory ducks, geese and herons. The loss of these birds' migratory routes in China has brought them into direct contact with humans in farms and parks. In this way, influenza is spread from migrating birds to domestic birds, then to pigs and ultimately to humans. This chain of events involves veterinary science, ecology and medicine, the triumvirate studied by the science of conservation medicine." One general issue: we lack "respectful mutual lines of communication between those protecting human health, those protecting animal health and those dealing with ecology."
On avian flu response specifically: "I think the CDC is doing a lot. But what I keep trying to get across to people is that flu starts in Asia. We're a lot better off if we can stop it in Asia than if we wait until it is here and try to figure out some means to minimize the damage. And that means a whole lot more multinational agreements, and this is difficult at a time when our Congress is full of members saying really terrible things about China [and Vietnam]..
In a recent study published in Nature, a team at Oxford University did a computer model just simply asking if it is possible to stop pandemic flu. And the good news is their answer is yes, it is possible, but the bad news is it can be stopped only if you identify it when there are just 30 human cases. Well, we're not going to spot those first 30 human cases before it spreads to hundreds or thousands of people unless we have a much better infrastructure of public health, vigilance and surveillance in poor countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and in countries with more money but completely lacking in sophisticated public health infrastructure, like China." " 2:04:44 PM
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Trading Cricket for Jihad:
"We know, thanks to a database gathered by Marc Sageman, formerly of the C.I.A., that about 75 percent of anti-Western terrorists come from middle-class or upper-middle-class homes. An amazing 65 percent have gone to college, and three-quarters have professional or semiprofessional jobs, particularly in engineering and science. .. these men are, far from being medieval, drawn from the ranks of the educated, the mobile and the multilingual. .. The jihadists are modern psychologically as well as demographically because they are self-made men (in traditional societies there are no self-made men). Rather than deferring to custom, many of them have rebelled against local authority figures .. They have sought instead some utopian cause to give them an identity and their lives meaning. ..
In other words, the conflict between the jihadists and the West is a conflict within the modern, globalized world. The extremists are the sort of utopian rebels modern societies have long produced. In his book "Globalized Islam," the French scholar Olivier Roy points out that today's jihadists have a lot in common with the left-wing extremists of the 1930's and 1960's. Ideologically, Islamic neofundamentalism occupies the same militant space that was once occupied by Marxism. It draws the same sorts of recruits (educated second-generation immigrants, for example), uses some of the same symbols and vilifies some of the same enemies (imperialism and capitalism). .. Roy emphasizes that the jihadists are the products of globalization, and its enemies. ..
The first implication, clearly, is that democratizing the Middle East, while worthy in itself, may not stem terrorism. .. Second, the jihadists' weakness is that they do not spring organically from the Arab or Muslim world. They claim to speak for the Muslim masses, as earlier radicals claimed to speak for the proletariat. But they don't. Surely a key goal for U.S. policy should be to isolate the nationalists from the jihadists. Third, terrorism is an immigration problem. .. Countries that do not encourage assimilation are not only causing themselves trouble, but endangering others around the world as well. " 5:38:24 AM
G.M. Thrives in China With Small, Thrifty Vans: "In this obscure corner of southern China, General Motors seems to have hit on a hot new formula: $5,000 minivans that get 43 miles to the gallon in city driving. That combination of advantages has captivated Chinese buyers, propelling G.M. into the leading spot in this nascent car market. ..
The minivans, which G.M. builds in a joint venture with a Chinese partner, have a quarter the horsepower of American minivans, weak acceleration and a top speed of 81 miles an hour. The seats are only a third the thickness of seats in Western models but look plush compared with some Chinese cars. ..
The utilitarian minivans and pickups are mainly purchased in China by small-business owners in towns and smaller cities, who drive them both to carry supplies for their businesses and to transport their families. .. The minivans have been a big hit, helping G.M. sell more than 170,000 very small vehicles - automobile types not available in the United States - and to pass Volkswagen this year in sales in a market that VW has dominated for two decades. They have helped turn China into G.M.'s biggest center of automotive profit - in contrast to losses in manufacturing operations in the United States - and its second-largest market in terms of the number of vehicles sold, after the United States...
The Chinese government has also encouraged a shift toward more efficient models through stringent fuel-economy regulations, even as Congress has opted for more subsidies for oil production and a limit on hybrid car subsidies .." 5:32:53 AM
Monday, August 08, 2005
Terror views of Indonesians changed by tsunami relief: "In the first substantial shift of public opinion in the Muslim world since the beginning of the United States’ global war on terrorism, more people in the world’s largest Muslim country now favor American efforts against terrorism than oppose them. This is just one of many dramatic findings of a new nationwide poll in Indonesia conducted February 1-6, 2005 ..
- For the first time ever in a major Muslim nation, more people favor US-led efforts to fight terrorism than oppose them (40% to 36%). Importantly, those who oppose US efforts against terrorism have declined by half, from 72% in 2003 to just 36% today.
- For the first time ever in a Muslim nation since 9/11, support for Osama Bin Laden has dropped significantly (58% favorable to just 23%).
- 65% of Indonesians now are more favorable to the United States because of the American response to the tsunami, with the highest percentage among people under 30."
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action: Richard A. Clarke and others released this report in November 2004. The Summary of the Recommendations is worth reading: "We argue that the threat is not terrorism, nor even all terrorist organizations, but rather jihadist terrorists, who seek to hijack Islam and use violence to replace existing governments with non-democratic theocracies. In most predominately Muslim nations, these affiliated jihadist groups seek to overthrow the existing government .. In Islamic countries, the jihadists seek to expel non-Muslims and non-Muslim influences. In nations where Muslims are in the minority, jihadists seek to create sub-cultures that are insulated from the nations and societies in which they exist. Often they also use their presence in these nations as a base for propaganda, recruitment, fundraising, and terrorism aimed at influencing the host governments. ..
There is disagreement as to whether jihadists are motivated chiefly by U.S. actions, such as the invasion of Iraq or U.S. support to Israel, or by their desire to create theocratic governments. Jihadists successfully employ criticism of U.S. policies to widen their support. Whether or not the U.S. were in Iraq or Israel in the West Bank, however, the core jihadists would still seek to overthrow existing regimes to create theocracies, and would target the U.S. because American support of existing Islamic governments makes that goal harder to achieve. ..
Since 9/11 Washington has provided only $516 million dollars towards the $5.6 billion the Coast Guard estimates U.S. ports need to make them minimally secure. In the FY2005 budget, the White House asked for just $50 million more. ..
The $155 million appropriated by Congress for [rail security] is about 1% of the funding appropriated for aviation security, though 16 times as many people travel by public transportation every day than by air. The next administration has the opportunity to play a critical role in this process by ensuring the passage of a block grant program dedicated to enhancing transit system security, focusing in particular on subways, commuter trains, and Amtrak railways...
Today, there are 123 chemical plants in this nation that, if attacked, could threaten up to one million people each. Yet there is no requirement to secure these plants. A Government Accounting Office (GAO) report released in March 2003 noted that even though U.S. chemical facilities were “attractive targets for terrorists,” the ability of any facility to respond to an attack was “unknown.” GAO found that the chemical industry was not required by law to assess vulnerabilities or take action to secure its facilities, and that “the federal government has not comprehensively assessed the chemical industry’s vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks.”.. " 4:42:35 PM
Saturday, August 06, 2005