Post-9-11 events and analyses
Ken Novak's Weblog
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength:
After 9/11, Iraq WMD, the Iraq insurgency, and now Hamas, and for that matter, Katrina, yet again she says: "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing," she said .. "I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
Hamas's victory has set off a debate whether the administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak." 12:17:01 AM
Friday, January 27, 2006
Lessons of post-Cold War development:
Summarizes and links to papers by Harvard's Dani Rodrik, especially an excellent review of economic development policies since 1990, "Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?"
For example: "While it is true that over the past ten years scores of developing nations have not experienced economic growth, and in some cases have actually fallen backwards, despite following the rules of the Washington Consensus, paradoxically, that doesn't mean the era of globalization has been an unmitigated disaster. Quite the contrary: "From the standpoint of global poverty," writes Rodrik, "the last two decades have proved the most favorable that the world has ever experienced. Rapid economic growth in China, India, and a few other Asian countries has resulted in an absolute reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty."
But what's fascinating is that China and India made their march forward, according to Rodrik, not by willy nilly opening up their markets with neoliberal abandon, but with great attention to policy choices, and with explicit government involvement in the economy that can only be described as industrial policy. The same was true of many of the East Asian nations who developed earlier, like Taiwan and South Korea, which only started to seriously open up after
they had achieved substantial economic growth through a mix of protectionism, export subsidies, and other policy choices." 11:17:30 PM
Dollars and Sense:
Provocative article by David Brooks on voter alignments in the US, explaining why economic issues seem to matter less than cultural to most voters. "Over the past few decades, Democrats have generally conceived of America as a society divided between comfortable haves and insecure have-nots. Having read thousands of gloomy articles about downsizing, outsourcing and wage stagnation, they've tried to rally the insecure working majority against the privileged minority — or, as Al Gore put it, the people against the powerful...
Last year, the liberal economist Stephen Rose ..observed, "It is an occupational hazard of those with big hearts to overestimate the share of the population that is economically distressed." Rose concluded that only 19 % of males and 27 % of females are poor or working poor — a percentage that is "probably much smaller than most progressive commentators would estimate." .. [In recent decades] the share of bad jobs fell significantly as more workers with postsecondary education moved into an expanding set of managerial and professional jobs." "
Excluding the young (who vote less often) the point gets sharper. "Rose calculated the household incomes for people between 26 and 59 and found that the average annual family income is somewhere around $63,000 a year — an impressive figure. Opinion polls consistently show that people at these income levels feel as if they're doing quite well and don't feel oppressed by forces beyond their control. ..
over the past year the Democratic polling firm of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner has noted that voters don't separate values issues from economic issues. They use values issues as stand-ins and figure the candidates they associate with traditional morality are also the ones with sensible economic policies. In the current issue of The American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta [writes] "Traditional values have become aspirational. Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle-class people they want to be like." ..
especially in the information age, social values and cultural capital shape a person's economic destiny more than the other way around. If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing. If you have a daughter, you're right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization. This country's prosperity is threatened more by homes where no one reads to children than it is by big pharmaceutical companies.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed that the core conservative truth is that culture matters most, and that the core liberal truth is that government can reshape culture. But liberals have turned culturally libertarian. Afraid to be judgmental about things like family structure, they've dropped out of the core values debate. Conservatives, especially evangelicals, have had free rein .. Middle-class Americans feel social anxiety more acutely than economic anxiety because they understand that values matter most." 11:10:19 PM
My Outsourced Life:
Funny article on individual outsourcing. I wonder how close to true it is? 10:59:40 PM
Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History:
"where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? ..
Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.
Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so. ..
My second question is this: What does history tell us about our earlier responses to traumatic events? .. My list of precedents for the Patriot Act and government wiretapping of American citizens would include the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which allowed the federal government to close newspapers and deport foreigners during the "quasi-war" with France; the denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War, which permitted the pre-emptive arrest of suspected Southern sympathizers; the Red Scare of 1919, which emboldened the attorney general to round up leftist critics in the wake of the Russian Revolution; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which was justified on the grounds that their ancestry made them potential threats to national security; the McCarthy scare of the early 1950's, which used cold war anxieties to pursue a witch hunt against putative Communists in government, universities and the film industry.
In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing. Some very distinguished American presidents, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, succumbed to quite genuine and widespread popular fears. No historian or biographer has argued that these were their finest hours. ..
It is completely understandable that those who lost loved ones on that date will carry emotional scars for the remainder of their lives. But it defies reason and experience to make Sept. 11 the defining influence on our foreign and domestic policy. History suggests that we have faced greater challenges and triumphed, and that overreaction is a greater danger than complacency" 8:36:36 PM
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Sensors watch Barrier Reef coral: Cairns, Australia: "The Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) is working with James Cook University on a project called Digital Skins. Smart sensors, developed originally for use in nuclear power stations, are placed in the ocean and also in water catchments on the mainland. They are able to communicate with each other to monitor events such as coral bleaching as they happen. ..
Each sensor in the skin has its own numerical address and operating system. Using a global position system, the sensors know exactly where they are. Parameters such as salinity, temperature and nutrient levels are measured.
Communicating with the sensors is a challenge, particularly for those sensors located out on the reef. Using a technique that was discovered by the British during World War II, microwave signals are sent along the surface of the ocean. Initial tests have seen data sent as far as 70km (43.5 miles) in one hop.
The final link in the chain is grid computing. All these sensors create terabytes of data every day. High-speed links allow the various institutions to share their computing power. " 12:42:57 PM
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Poll finds broad approval of terrorist torture:
"Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling." The polling in Nov 2005, in the United States and eight of its closest allies, asked whether torture is ever justified:
- In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions.
- Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.
- In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided
- Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy. ..
In the poll, about two-thirds of the people living in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Spain said they would oppose allowing U.S. officials to secretly interrogate terrorist suspects in their countries. Almost that many in Britain, France, Germany and Italy said they felt the same way. Almost two-thirds in the United States support such interrogations in the U.S. by their own government." 10:27:23 PM
Nice definition. "Democrats who go berserk at their every political defeat still don't understand this. They fault the public for not listening to their facts and arguments, as though facts and arguments would make a difference, even if the Democrats were coherent. It's the power of the story
that always counts first, and the selling of it that comes second. Accuracy is optional. The Frey-like genius of the right is its ability to dissemble with a straight face while simultaneously mustering the slick media machinery and expertise to push the goods. It not only has the White House propaganda operation at its disposal, but also an intricate network of P.R. outfits and fake-news outlets that are far more effective than their often hapless liberal counterparts." 4:58:24 PM
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
You're being watched ...
Some facts on increased surveillance powers. "In 2004, the General Accounting Office surveyed 128 federal departments and agencies to determine the extent of data mining. It found 199 operations, [only] 14 of which related to counterterrorism. ..
A University of Illinois study found that in the 12 months following 9/11, federal agents made at least 545 visits to libraries to obtain information about patrons. ..
The Patriot Act allows law enforcement officers to get "sneak and peek" warrants to search a home for any suspected crime — and to wait months or even years to tell the owner they were there. Last July, the Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee that only 12% of the 153 "sneak and peek" warrants it received were related to terrorism investigations. ..
The FBI has used Patriot Act powers to break into a judge's chambers and to procure records from medical clinics. Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union recently revealed that the FBI used other new powers to eavesdrop on environmental, political and religious organizations." 10:34:12 AM
War's stunning price tag:
Linda Bilmes, former assistant secretary of Commerce, now teaching at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and Nobel Prize winner in 2001. recently estimated the likely cost of the war in Iraq. "We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned — between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. ..
the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans .. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt..." 9:20:28 AM
Friday, January 13, 2006
Did Castro Kill JFK?
A German film finds intelligence and FBI officials who claim Cuba planned it and paid Oswald to do it. Getting coverage overseas, but curiously not in the US (via WashPost blog
). 10:32:04 AM
Dissecting the Chinese miracle:
Concise summary of issues in China's current political economy, and why the near term future could get bumpy. Topics include:
- China's loss-making state-owned enterprises, and how they employ masses of people while enriching local and regional officials that fight reform and suppress popular opposition
- The need to rationalize development goals and credit allocation to build a modern economy, and how there will have to be many losers in this effort
- The tension in the rich-poor, urban-rural and coastal-interior gaps
- "China consumes 12 % of global energy, 25 % of aluminum, 28 % of steel and 42 % of cement -- but is responsible for only 4.3 % of total global economic output. Ultimately, while the "solution" espoused by Jiang's generation did forestall a civil breakdown, it also saddled China with thousands of new non-competitive projects, even more bad debt, and a culture of corruption so deep that cases of applied capital punishment for graft and embezzlement have soared into the thousands."
- "Western investment into China has remained startlingly constant at about $7 billion annually. Only Asian investors whose systems are often plagued (like Japan's) by similar problems of profitability or (like Indonesia's) outright collapse have been increasing their exposure in China."
- China "is now a World Trade Organization member, and nearly half of its GDP is locked up in international trade. Its WTO commitments dictate that by December, Beijing must allow any interested foreign companies to compete in the Chinese banking market without restriction. But without some fairly severe adjustments, this shift would swiftly suck the capital out of the Chinese banking system." So even the next two years could be turbulent.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
The California Solar Initiative:
January 12, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the
California Solar Initiative by a 3-1 margin. With the previously approved
2006 budget, that a total of $3.2 billion in incentives over 11 years,
enough for 3,000 megawatts of solar across the state. ..
This is the biggest solar program in the country and, after Germany,
the second largest in the world."
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Why Do Some Turks Have Bird Flu Virus but Aren't Sick?: I wonder if surviving a mild version of bird flu immunizes against the bad version. "five cases in Ankara hospitals are different from those elsewhere in Asia. Four of the five display only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.. Doctors are unsure whether they are for the first time seeing human bird flu in its earliest stages or if they are discovering that infection with the A(H5N1) virus does not always lead to illness. ..
Since none of the five have died, it is raising the possibility that human bird flu is not as deadly as currently thought, and that many mild cases in Asian countries may have gone unreported. Turkey is the first country outside eastern Asia to have human cases, and the first one anywhere to have so many separate animal outbreaks simultaneously.
In one week, Turkey announced 15 confirmed human cases of A(H5N1); Asia has seen only about 140 in the space of five years. .. In Ankara, where the government has been sending out vans with loudspeakers urging people to report symptoms and avoid contact with animals, even people with mild symptoms are being checked for bird flu, meaning that milder cases are more likely to be detected than they are in other parts of Asia. "I'm sure that part of the explanation for the high number of case in Turkey is better surveillance," said Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for the W.H.O. in Geneva." Again, better surveillance and quick communication are key. 9:06:49 AM
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Confidence Game: Analysis of Iran situation from Christopher Dickey. "Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?.. Even some of the most rabid Iranian opposition groups think the mullahs can withstand whatever the Israelis or Americans throw at them from the air—and in the aftermath the Iranian public would rally around the turbans. Indeed, some opposition groups think Ahmadinejad is intentionally goading the Israelis to launch a strike for just that reason. "If they attack him, he will have his war; if they do not, he will have his bomb," says one well-connected exile ..
"The Iranians think they are untouchable," says a European diplomat involved with the negotiations .. Yet patience with Tehran may be wearing thin in Moscow and Beijing. Both governments joined with France, Britain and the United States sending letters to the Iranians yesterday telling them to back off from a renewal of the uranium enrichment research. ..
Paradoxical as it may seem, their greatest weakness is their oil and gas industry. Sure, Iran has the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia. But its facilities for pumping and processing the stuff are in such a sorry state that domestic demand for gasoline is 60 percent greater than the country's refining capacity. To keep up, the mullahs have to import more than 95,000 barrels a day. Iran has the second-largest known reserves of natural gas in the world—but it's a net importer of the stuff its people use. To make matters much worse, the mullahs long ago adopted a policy trying to buy popular support with massively subsidized prices for cooking gas, gasoline and other products. Today, those subsidies eat up a whopping 10 percent of Iran's gross domestic product ..
If Ahmadinejad succeeds in provoking the United Nations to impose serious sanctions, cutting off Iran's imports of heavily subsidized natural gas and gasoline, the first people to suffer would be the Iranian president's core constituency—the poor and uneducated. A long, tense game lies ahead, but, again like Iraq in 2003, there are options short of war that may yet bring the desired results.." 3:19:01 PM
Friday, January 06, 2006
Iran: Moscow missiles and Israel rumors:
"Though the EU-3 has coordinated its
diplomatic efforts with Washington, Iran is by no
means isolated. Russia is clearly in Iran's
corner. [It maintains] that Iran is in compliance with its NPT
obligations and that Iran has the right to master
the nuclear fuel cycle. In a very
strong show of support for Tehran, Moscow agreed to
sell Iran an air-defense system known as the Tor-M1.
Arguably the most advanced system of its kind, the
Tor-M1 uses a mobile launcher to track and destroy
multiple targets, which can include incoming
missiles, aircraft and helicopters.
Moscow's deal with Tehran, which
was signed early last month, calls for the
delivery of 30 Tor-M1 systems in 2006 and is worth
more than $1 billion. According to Russian
sources, it is the largest weapons deal between
Moscow and Tehran in the past five years.
Last month, stories surfaced in the
international press indicating that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon had already approved a strike
against Iran to be mounted this March. Israel's recent
acquisition of "bunker-busting" bombs from
Washington indicates that an Israeli strike may
well be under consideration." 8:33:36 AM
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Mob War In the Mideast:
New info from "Syria's former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam. From exile in France, he gave an astonishing interview Friday that linked the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to the murder last year of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri. He told al-Arabiya television that "there were many threats" from Syria against Hariri before his death, and that it was "impossible that any apparatus in Syria could have taken a unilateral decision to murder Hariri" without Assad's approval.
[According to] Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community and something of a warlord himself. .. As Assad is backed deeper into a corner, he cautioned, the situation will become more dangerous for Lebanon. "The more you squeeze the Syrians, the more they get aggressive here," Jumblatt said. .. Like other Lebanese I spoke with this week, he fears a deadly new attack by the Syrians that would attempt to trigger sectarian conflict in Lebanon -- and take the heat off Damascus. Jumblatt argues that the only stable outcome will be regime change in Syria -- a "Milosevic solution" that will bring Assad to justice through the United Nations. ..
What makes the Syria-Lebanon situation especially volatile, Jumblatt explained, is that it is linked to the radical new Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He argued that Iran is using its alliance with Assad and Hezbollah in its larger strategic battles against Israel and the United States. "It's as if we are defending Iranian nuclear facilities from the border of Lebanon," he said." 10:38:38 PM
Monday, January 02, 2006
Democracy and terrorism: Feb 2005 NYT article by Richard A. Clarke. "Following the president's theory, they might assume terrorism cannot grow in democracies and that the best way to deal with it is to create more democracies. Unfortunately, both beliefs may be mistaken. ..
in the greater Muslim world, opposing democracy is not uppermost in the mind of Al Qaeda or the larger jihadist network. (In Saudi Arabia, for example, Al Qaeda wants the monarchy replaced by a more democratic government.) Radical Islamists are ultimately seeking to create something orthogonal to our model of democracy. They are fighting to create a theocracy or, in their vernacular, a caliphate (a divinely inspired government administered by a caliph as Allah's viceroy on earth). They are also seeking to evict American influence from nations with a Muslim majority .. In pursuing these goals, today's loosely affiliated Islamic terrorist groups are part of a trend dating back to at least 1928, when the Muslim Brotherhood was founded to promote Islam and fight colonialism.
This trend hasn't abated with the spread of democracy. In Indonesia, .. the jihadist movement is growing stronger, as it is in other Asian democracies. In Algeria, free elections in 1990 and 1991 resulted in victories for those who advocated a jihadist theocracy. Throughout Western Europe, the jihadists are becoming deeply rooted among disaffected Muslim youth. Free elections, in short, have not dimmed the desire of jihadists to create a caliphate.
Even without jihadists, Western democracies have hardly been immune to terrorism. The Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof gang of Germany and the Red Brigades of Italy all developed in democracies. Indeed, in the United States, the largest terrorist attack before Sept. 11 was conducted in Oklahoma by fully enfranchised American citizens.
Thus, it is not the lack of democracy that produced jihadist movements, nor will the creation of democracies quell them. .. President Bush's democracy-promotion policy will be appropriate and laudable at the right time in the right nations, but it is not the cure for terrorism and may divert us from efforts needed to rout Al Qaeda and reduce our vulnerabilities at home. The president is right that resentment is growing and that it is breeding terrorism, but it is chiefly resentment of us, not of the absence of democracy. The 9/11 Commission had a proposal similar to the president's, but more on point: a battle of ideas to persuade more Muslims that jihadist terrorism is a perversion of Islam. Most Middle East experts agree, however, that any American hand in the battle of ideas will, for now, be counterproductive. For many in the Islamic world, the United States is still associated with such acts as having made the 250,000 person city of Falluja uninhabitable. Because of the enormous resentment of the United States government in the Islamic world, documented in numerous opinion polls, we will have to look to nongovernmental organizations and other nations to lead the battle of ideas. " 10:44:17 AM
Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered: I missed this story from August 2005. I found no updates since then. So we are more exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq today than in 2002. "U.S. troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said Saturday. Monday's early morning raid found 11 precursor agents, "some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, said in Baghdad. ..
Boylan said the suspected lab was new, dating from some time after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration cited evidence that Saddam Hussein's government was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for the invasion. No such weapons or factories were found. .. Investigators still were trying to determine who had assembled the alleged lab and whether the expertise came from foreign insurgents or former members of Hussein's security apparatus, the military said. .. A [smaller] lab discovered last year in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah contained a how-to book on chemical weapons and an unspecified amount of chemicals .. No chemical weapons are known to have been used so far in Iraq's insurgency." 10:36:03 AM