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Saturday, February 28, 2004

African security 

Africa has its fair share of wars and humanitarian disasters, and this agreement, if followed through, could go a long way toward improving the situation.

African leaders meeting in Libya have agreed to set up a joint military force which could intervene to end civil wars or prevent genocide...

Heads of state and prime ministers of the 53-nation African Union unanimously approved the document called Common Defence and Security Policy for Africa.

The African Standby Force will begin deploying about 15,000 troops by 2005.

It will have a peace-building and humanitarian role, and may intervene unilaterally in the event of "war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as a serious threat to legitimate order," the text said.
Congratulations are in order for these African leaders for their actions today.
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Dominoes, anyone? 

This is about as clear as it gets:

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi says he gave up his plans to develop weapons of mass destruction, because such weapons would have exposed Libya to danger, rather than protect it.

It was his first public reference at an international gathering to Libya's surprise decision last December to renounce its arms of mass destruction program. Colonel Gadhafi told leaders from other African countries that individual nations should not try to develop such weapons.

"Any national state that will adopt this policy cannot protect itself. On the contrary, it would expose itself to danger," he said.
Got that right.
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The UN's Oil-for-Kickbacks program 

The New York Times has a very interesting, in-depth look at where the Oil-for-Food money went. (Hint: Not all of it was used to buy food and medical supplies for Iraqis. Not by a long shot.)

UPDATE: By the way, some of the individuals and companies allegedly involved in the kickbacks include a French diplomat, numerous Russian companies, and some Chinese ones too. All from permanent members of the UN Security Council that voted against military action. Imagine that.

Roger Simon has been all over this story for a while (since late December, thanks for catching on so fast, New York Times), and he has a few good posts about it:

December 30th, January 2nd, January 19th, January 27th, January 31st, February 9th, February 14th, February 19th, February 25th

Oh, and there's more. Check out how naive the UN was about the program. Just read...

Here's what the NYT article says today:

United Nations overseers say they were unaware of the systematic skimming of oil-for-food revenues. They were focused on running aid programs and assuring food deliveries, they add.

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.
That is total, unadulterated crap:
The United States and Britain want a U.N. panel monitoring sanctions to reduce the list of operators purchasing Iraqi oil in an attempt to stop alleged kickbacks to Baghdad, diplomats reported on Wednesday...

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a Tuesday report on the "oil-for-food" humanitarian program for Iraq, included a warning on the surcharge, saying buyers had been informed that the United Nations had not approved "a surcharge of any kind on Iraqi oil" and they should not pay it.
--Reuters, 11 March 2001

The UN Office of the Iraq Programme says the same thing, right there on their own site in a 19 December 2000 report. (I incorrectly said 2001 earlier.):

On Friday, 15 December, the Security Council’s 661 sanctions committee for Iraq requested the United Nations oil overseers to convey to the buyers of Iraqi oil the Committee’s position on the reported surcharge for the purchase of Iraqi oil. In a letter to the buyers the oil overseers noted that the Committee had not approved a surcharge of any kind on Iraqi oil. Payments for the purchase of Iraqi crude oil could not be made to a non-UN account and, therefore, buyers of Iraqi oil should not pay any kind of surcharge to Iraq.
The UN either had its head in the sand or really didn't care to look into the kickbacks. Either way, they're guilty of complicity in robbing the Iraqi people of food and humanitarian goods. Shame. (Oh, and lining Saddam's pockets. Can't leave that out.)
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The origin of the tinfoil hat 

Many people are familiar with the notion of the tinfoil hat, an idea linked with wild conspiracy theories. I think I've figured out where the tinfoil hat idea comes from. From 100-year old junk science, as a matter of fact.

The February issue of Scientific American contains this item on its "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago" page:

FEBRUARY 1904
CHIMERICAL RAYS--"M. Aug Charpentier brings out the interesting point that the rays given out by living organisms differ from the N-rays discovered by M. Rene Prosper Blondlot, and the thinks they are formed of N-rays and another new form of radiation. This is especially true of the rays from the nerve centers or nerves, whose striking characteristic is that they are partially cut off by an aluminum screen. A sheet of 1/50th of an inch is sufficient to cut down considerably the rays emitted by a point of the brain... [Editors' note: Both these forms of radiation were eventually disproved.]" (Emphasis mine.)
So there you have it--the origin of the tinfoil hat.
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Economic hope 

Tax refunds up from 2003

But I thought the cuts only helped the rich! Whatever the case may be, there's a huge serving of demand on the way to spur the economy on:

Prakken [Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers LLC] said taxpayers can expect to get between $40 billion and $50 billion returned this spring...
And Alan Greenspan is upbeat.

"I would say that we could get a pop in employment almost any time," Greenspan said, since the economy had been growing rapidly enough that companies cannot indefinitely boost output with existing workforces.
Gosh, if all this good economic news keeps up, John Kerry might have to change the order of his list of issues. At this writing, "Restoring Jobs and Rebuilding Our Economy" is on top. Those things might come to pass in nine months, Senator... Be careful or your top issue might vanish by the election.
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Suicide bombers 

I've noticed a very positive trend in the last couple of days... Let's hope it continues. This is suicide bombing distilled down to its purest form, so that suicide becomes the focal point, and all the senseless murder is left out. Bravo, fellas.

UPDATE: Another one. Almost, anyway.
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Mugabe's torture camps 

Do dictators and despots ever stop to think, "Wow, I must really suck as a ruler if I have to use torture and murder to stay in power?"

President Robert Mugabe's government has set up secret camps across the country in which thousands of youths are taught how to torture and kill, the BBC has learned.

The Zimbabwean government says the camps are job training centres, but those who have escaped say they are part of a brutal plan to keep Mugabe in power.
Here's one recruit's story:

Daniel was plied with alcohol and drugs, and learned how to electrocute his victims.

He said: "I would just touch, krr, krr - tell us information."

Asked if he thought it was OK to torture people, he added that it was "nice", because "your mind is disturbed".
And it gets better. There will be millions of Daniels in Zimbabwe if Mugabe has his way:

What is more frightening is that President Mugabe now wants every Zimbabwean youth to undergo training.
Hitler youth, anyone?
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Friday, February 27, 2004

The spirit of giving in Iraq 

Chief Wiggles wasn't the only one giving donated goods to Iraqi children, as the story of a platoon leader from Maine illustrates.

FRENCHVILLE - First Lt. Jody Daigle is quite proud of the way Maine people answered his pre-Christmas request for school materials and clothing for Iraqi children in the northern city of Mosul, where he and his platoon of U.S. soldiers were stationed.

His platoon received $28,000 to $30,000 of school materials and clothing, he estimated, and most of it came from Maine...

"Kids loved getting anything we had for them," he said early Wednesday morning before leaving on his two-day drive back to the base. "They crowded around us on the street and at the schools, asking for pencils and other school stuff.

"Before this project, they asked for money," he said, sitting at a coffee shop in his hometown. "The project and all the donations we received were great because the schools had nothing at the beginning, and before we left, they had pencils, notebooks, clothing and all kinds of things.

"I wanted to thank everybody for all the help and support you have given us in Iraq," he wrote in an e-mail sent about the time he was being redeployed back to the United States. "Our platoon did a great job in our area with the stability and security portion of our mission, and you all helped out more than you could ever imagine by sending over all the school supplies and clothes for the children."
Thanks to Lt. Daigle and the Mainers who donated school supplies and clothing, those children in Mosul will know Americans as a generous people. But the effort isn't over:

His replacement, Captain Duane Patin, is continuing the effort started by Daigle and his men.
The article doesn't give any contact information for Capt. Patin, who is with the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade (and who, incidentally, is a past winner of the Best Ranger Competition). But it does provide Lt. Daigle's email address, if anyone is interested in helping out.

And there are others:

Capt. Paul Gonzalez in Altun Kopri.
Lt. Col. Gary Maddocks in Baghdad.
2nd Lt. Amy Gorman in Mosul.
Pvt. David Lancia in Baghdad.
Capt. Todd Scott in Mosul.
Sgt. Michelle Greek in Abu Lohker.
And the 1st Marine Division, of course.

And many more, I'm sure. All of them going above and beyond what is asked of them to help the children of Iraq. Is there a better American face to show the Iraqi people than this one?
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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Curses 

A few posts ago I mentioned the infamous foul ball which a Cubs fan destroyed in spectacular fashion today. Well, a local television news program ended with that story, and one of the anchors asked if the Red Sox could do something similar. The sports guy answered, "Well, they haven't invited Grady Little back."

Ouch.
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Brits are terrorists 

Tough day for MI6. First they are accused of spying on Kofi Annan, and now the Saudis say they were planning a bombing campaign.

The allegations were revealed as seven British men tortured and falsely accused of carrying out the bombings launched legal action against Saudi officials, including the interior minister, Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz. They are seeking compensation for more than two years' imprisonment and torture.

Five of the men appeared in televised confessions claiming responsibility for a wave of anti-western explosions that killed one Briton and injured several others. The Saudis said the bombings were the result of a turf war between western bootleggers, although they were widely acknowledged to be the work of dissident Islamist groups.
What a sick country. Some Islamists set off bombs, and rather than own up to the role their society plays in producing terrorists, the Saudis torture a few infidels until they confess. That's real class.

The sooner the West weans itself off Saudi oil, the sooner we can leave the kingdom to its sand and its extremists, and consign it to history's garbage pile.

UPDATE: And Arabs, if you're going to criticize us for encouraging reform, just shut the hell up. We don't care what your governments think any more. With things like the story above, why should we?
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Now they tell us 

The list of what's good for you and what's bad for you is changing all the time...
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UN warns UK 

After a former British cabinet minister said that her government had bugged Kofi Annan's office, the UN issued a warning:

British spies would have undermined the United Nations' work if it was true they bugged Secretary General Kofi Annan's office, says a UN spokesman.

Fred Eckhard told reporters Mr Annan wanted the action stopped if it was happening, especially as it would have been illegal.
Speaking of "illegal," the UN would do well to spend this much energy on cleaning its own house...
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Remembrance and progress in Rwanda 

The New York Times has an excellent piece by Marc Lacey today, about the struggle in Rwanda to remember the 1994 genocide while burying the bones, figuratively and literally.

Tacitus recently wrote an amazing two-part account of the week he spent in Rwanda, which you can read here and here. It is full of historical background, personal vignettes, and a foreboding sense that the genocidal past is lurking just beneath the surface of Rwandan society. I highly recommend it as some of the best blogging you're likely to see.

As a side note, Tacitus is currently in Jordan on his way to visit the Holy Land. No doubt his writing about this trip will be every bit as good as it was for his African journey.
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The goat won't care 

As a Red Sox fan, I'm all for ending baseball curses, but this seems a bit extreme.

UPDATE: It is done. No doubt the curse of the goat will be lifted, and Greg Maddux will push the Cubs over the top to victory.

"It's like the ring from 'The Lord of the Rings' and we're kind of like Frodo, trying to get it over with."
Okay... So does that mean Steve Bartman is Gollum? Kind of unfair, don't you think?
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A bad idea catches on 

The government of Namibia apparently thinks that neighboring Zimbabwe has taken the right approach to land reform:

Namibia will start to forcibly take land from white farmers to give to landless blacks, the government says.

Prime minister Theo-Ben Gurirab said in a national address that land reform had to be speeded up but it would remain orderly and peaceful.
The government had been buying land from white farmers and then settling black citizens on the land, but apparently that wasn't going fast enough. So now Namibia is going to just take the land. Where did that idea come from?

Namibia's President Sam Nujoma, who is a close ally of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe...
Say no more.

The United Nations has something to say, in a two part report on Namibia's land reform published last week, before today's announcement. And the land reform undertaken thus far has been about as successful as Zimbabwe's:

Researchers have suggested that many beneficiaries were unable to sustain themselves on their allocated land, which has led to calls on government to provide more long-term support to new small-scale farmers.
So let me get this straight... The government buys farm land at fair market price, resettles landless black citizens on it, and expects them to instantly become farmers. But they don't, because they don't have the capital to invest in equipment or any knowledge of farming. As a result the farms--which once fed a nation--fail so dramatically that they can't even feed their new owners:

A report by Namibia's Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), 'One Day We Will Be Equal ... A socio-legal perspective on Namibian Land Reform and Resettlement Process', said "the only reason that rampant starvation and malnutrition do not ravage the resettlement projects is because the government operates a food-for-work programme in virtually every resettlement project".

"Beneficiaries of resettlement projects are caught in a vicious [cycle] because of their poverty: they have to sell agricultural produce to obtain some cash, which in turn lands them in a food deficit situation."

It added that "one of the main criticisms against the resettlement programme has been that it does not provide sufficient training on how to effectively utilise land obtained from the government, nor does it provide access to modern farm equipment".
At even the slow pace of land reform thus far, Namibia is in a food crisis. But why stop there? Speed up land reform by seizing farms, and effectively stop useful agriculture on an even higher percentage of arable land.

Mindblowing, really. But to anyone who has paid attention to Zimbabwe's problems, it's not terribly surprising. The sad part of it all is that the Namibian people don't deserve to be starved in the name of hasty land reform, but that's exactly what's happening.

Samantha Power wrote an article for the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly, entitled "How To Kill A Country," subtitled "Turning a breadbasket into a basket case in ten easy steps—the Robert Mugabe way." Click on the link and you'll see that number one on her list is "Destroy the engine of productivity." It's no secret how horribly things have gone next door in Zimbabwe, and the government of Namibia should know better than to follow in Mugabe's footsteps.
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The Passion and anti-semitism 

I have not yet seen The Passion of the Christ, although I am eager to do so. But there is so much talk about the supposedly anti-semitic tone the film takes, and I want to comment about that briefly.

First off, it's just a movie, about events that happened long ago. I realize the cultural impact this particular one is having, but really... is anyone going to walk into the multiplex with no prejudices, and walk out a couple of hours later hating Jews? I don't think so.

The Passion portrays a historic event, and it just so happens that some Jews were involved in the chain of events that ended with Christ's crucifixion. Not "the" Jews, "some" Jews. And all of this happened 2,000 years ago.

"The" Jews at the time were no more responsible for Christ's death 2,000 years ago than "the" Arabs are responsible for Islamic terror today. And the Jews of today don't have any connection to the handful who urged the Roman provincial government to execute Christ so long ago. I really don't see how any portrayal of the people involved in 2,000-year-old events could cast a bad light on their descendants. There's no logic in that.

I think most people are smart enough to realize this. The French, after all, don't think back to Caesar's conquest of Gaul and decide to hate present-day Italians because of it. And anyone who hates Jews because "they" killed Christ is clearly ignorant. It's not Mel Gibson's fault--such people have been idiots since long before The Passion was released.
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Schadenfreude 

This is not terribly surprising, nor terribly heartbreaking, to me:

Officials from Japan's fair trade watchdog have raided Microsoft's Tokyo offices on suspicion of anti-monopoly law violations, authorities said.
Microsoft: The New York Yankees of the computer world.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

New counter-terror network announced 

Tom Ridge announced the creation of a new information-sharing system to help government agencies fight terrorism. The headline says the network was "launched," but the article says the first phase is set to be implemented this summer.

Hundreds of federal, state and local intelligence and law enforcement agencies will be able to share threat reports, investigative leads and potential evidence instantaneously under a new counter-terrorism computer system announced yesterday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Developed since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Homeland Security Information Network is part of a sweeping data-sharing policy adapted by federal authorities. The network, created in response to presidential priorities, is designed to prevent acts of terror and to give local police chiefs, mayors and governors greater access to federal intelligence.
It sounds like sort of a beefed up Intelink that state and local officials can access.

One of the biggest weaknesses exposed by 9/11 was a lack of coordination between agencies, which resulted in fragmentary pieces of information being widely scattered, rather than being assembled in a central location where someone could piece them together. This network might go a long way toward connecting the dots, and quickly getting information into the hands of people who can act on it.

When the first phase is completed this summer, the network will provide a real-time instant messaging, e-mail and live chat service for 5,000 authorized users across 300 agencies in all U.S. states, five territories and 50 urban areas, Ridge said. Users with proper security clearances and software will be able to share vast quantities of data, from audio to computer models, and from foreign news clippings to refined analyses.

In effect, the system will flash information from a police officer on the street to Ridge's office to across the country in minutes, instead of the 12 to 24 hours that can elapse before information is received now.
Definitely a big step toward streamlining the distribution of terrorism intelligence. Now all we need to do is work on improving the human side of our intelligence collection. Technology can do some wonderful things, but it's not going to let you hear a word-of-mouth rumor floating around a terrorist camp.
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Carnival time 

The best ever Carnival of the Vanities is up, hosted by Da Goddess.
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New Whittle coming soon 

Bill Whittle has another of his wonderful essays coming, by Monday. It will rock.
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Monday, February 23, 2004

Struggle for Power in Iran 

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is hosting a discussion on the "Struggle for Power in Iran" on Thursday at 12:30. Live audio will be available. The purpose of the discussion will be to "assess the domestic, regional and global implications of this on-going political crisis." It might be interesting to hear what the three participating scholars think about the election's fallout.
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IAEA hunts for nukes 

The BBC reports that Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says that his organization "urgently wants to find out whether countries besides Libya have acquired designs for nuclear warheads."

El Baradei is in Libya, monitoring the dismantling of that country's nuclear weapons program after Libya revealed the existence of the program and declared itself willing to disarm.

And that is a key point: The IAEA has yet to dig up anything substantial on its own, anywhere. Ever. The only countries that have ever verifiably disarmed are countries that voluntarily admitted their weapons development and then fully cooperated with inspections. See South Africa and Ukraine. Now El Baradei seems to believe that the IAEA is set for some unprecedented successes:

Mr ElBaradei said finding out whether other countries had acquired nuclear weapons technology was "an important and urgent concern for us".

"I think we're coming to the conclusion that it's the same source of supply [in Iran and Libya]," the IAEA head has said.
And of course, they are reaching that conclusion not as a result of their own work, but by virtue of Pakistan's admission that A.Q. Khan had been selling nuclear secrets. I'll repeat what I said above: The IAEA has yet to dig up anything substantial on its own, anywhere. Ever.

Speaking after his talks in Libya, Mr ElBaradei said: "We agreed that we will make every effort to come to a closure on this issue hopefully by June, by our June [IAEA] Board of Governors [meeting]".
Why does El Baradei think his organization will succeed now, when it never has in the past? It is either incredibly optimistic or severely naive to think that in four months, the IAEA will have uncovered the international network of clandestine nuclear trading.

After all, for years the IAEA had no clue that Libya had a nuclear program, or that Pakistan was sharing technology, until those countries came forward voluntarily. (Spurred on, no doubt, by the consequences of noncooperation that befell Saddam.)

Do I think the IAEA has an important job? Absolutely. The spread of nuclear weapons is one of the top security issues facing the world today. But the IAEA alone will not get the job done. A strengthened nonproliferation regime with teeth, increased intelligence cooperation between nations and with international organizations, and the threat of force to stop proliferators are necessary to put real pressure on those who would spread this most deadly of technologies.

The IAEA is a vital part of the effort to stop nuclear proliferation, but it can't be the only weapon in the arsenal.
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