Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

1976 Swine Flu Vaccine May Still Protect Against Current Pandemic

Someone I know saw a link to this September 2009 Scientific American article in a Reuters item, and wondered why it isn't getting more play--as action based on these findings could make available 43 million doses of needed H1Ni flu vaccine to those who really need it. Money quote:
One of the NEJM studies also showed that many older Americans as well as recipients of the 1976 swine flu vaccine may already be protected against the new virus. In that study, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that tests of serum taken from 1976 swine flu vaccine recipients showed a strong protective immune response against today's pandemic virus. The findings may help to explain why the virus sickens children and young adults more than older people, the authors wrote. The preexisting immunity may also prime 1976 vaccinees to respond vigorously to the new pandemic vaccine.

"It would certainly be something very interesting to look at," says Jackie Katz, senior author of the study. "That's why we did these studies originally, to help inform the public health response."

Adults appear protected

Since the new H1N1 virus emerged earlier this year, health officials have noted how it has disproportionately struck children and young adults and conspicuously spared older people worldwide. The disparity is most dramatic in the U.S.: 79 percent of laboratory-confirmed cases have been in people under 30 years old, whereas only two percent of cases have been in adults over 60. The U.S. median age of pandemic infections so far is 12, but somewhat higher in other countries. The median age of confirmed cases in Australia is 21, for example.

Since May, Katz, who is chief of the CDC National Influenza Division's Immunology and Pathogenesis Branch, has been testing stored serum samples to look for existing immunity to the new virus in the U.S. population. Her group's latest report shows that serum from adults born before 1930, including survivors of the 1918 pandemic, possesses antibodies that recognize and respond powerfully to the novel H1N1 virus.

With an antibody concentration of 40 or more considered protective (immunologists describe antibody responses in terms of serum dilution ratios, such as 1:40), the tests showed that 100 percent of subjects born between 1910 and 1929 mounted antibody levels of 80 or more. Only 34 percent of subjects born before 1950 mounted comparable levels, suggesting that exposure to the 1918 pandemic virus or its immediate descendents in the 1920s and 1930s conferred the strongest protection against the new flu.

The original swine flu

The CDC group also started over the summer to test 83 samples of serum drawn in 1976 from adults who received a single dose of the swine flu vaccine as well as a handful of samples from children who got the 1976 vaccine. The study found that the serum from 52 (63 percent) of the adult subjects produced antibody levels of 160 or more when exposed to the novel H1N1 virus. That number was nearly as many (59) of those whose serum demonstrated a strong response when exposed to the 1976 swine flu itself.

The NEJM report notes that a Japanese study recently reported finding protective antibody responses against the novel H1N1 virus in Japanese adults exposed to the 1918 pandemic virus, but not in subjects born after 1920. Serum from older Europeans tested by the CDC also showed lower response levels than the U.S. samples, possibly indicating a greater level of protection among Americans from the 1976 vaccine, which was given only in the U.S.
I got my shot in 1976, as did someone I know, so we won't be getting it again...freeing up at least two doses for some kids with asthma or those with weakened immune systems.

Given the current shortages of vaccine, I hope the Centers for Disease Control would try to spread the word about health benefits of the 1976 shot more vigorously.

Friday, October 30, 2009

PBS Documentary's Message: "Let Them Smoke Pot"


The other night, I came home from teaching to find someone I know watching a PBS documentary instead of the World Series. The Botany of Desire, a 1.2 million dollar program, featured our former next-door neighbor on West 110th Street in New York City, now millionaire and bestselling author, Michael Pollan. He was completely unrecognizable, now looking more like bullet-headed former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson than the bearded, softy, Bennington graduate and protege of novelist John Gardner. As the program unfolded, it became pretty obvious that Pollan and his crew of not-so-merry Cannibis lobbyists, including New Age health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, were singing the praises of recreational hemp--their argument apparently growing (forgive the pun) out of mankind's desire for plants such as tulips and apples.

I figure, given the time it takes to produce a PBS documentary, the network brass must have green-lighted this infomercial for the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry sometime during the Bush administration. Let's call it a triumph of product placement by "Big Dope."

Eight years after 9/11, I finally was told by PBS, and my former neighbor, what the American establishment thinks we should do to cope with a world on fire with economic collapse, Islamic revolution, and terrorism.

PBS's answer:"Let them smoke pot."

Having lived through the ghastly 1970s when so many were stoned, and having benefitted from the Reagan administration's "Just Say No" turnaround, I'm glad most of America was watching the World Series the other night. I don't want to live through another Carter administration, thank you very much...

I'm rooting for the Yankees, myself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Arianna Huffington: Time for Obama to Act on Economy

From today's Huffington Post:
Meanwhile, the fundamental structural problems that led to the collapse are still not being addressed. A sense of urgency and crisis was exploited when it was useful in persuading taxpayers of the need to bail out the banks. But now that the banks are no longer in crisis -- and it's just the rest of the country that is in trouble -- the sense of urgency has faded. Because nothing says lack of urgency like "convene a conference."

Elizabeth Warren sums it up ominously: "All the things we were talking about that were serious, serious problems for the financial institutions seem to me are still serious, serious problems."

And Neel Kashkari, the former overseer of the TARP program under Bush, knows a lack of change when he sees it. "I think that the way that a Democratic administration talks about certain issues is probably a little different than the way a Republican administration does, and that's appropriate," he said. "But the substance of the actions, I think, are very consistent, and that's been important."

Important for Wall Street. And tragic for the rest of us -- both in terms of what hasn't been accomplished, and in terms of how much more misery it will lead to down the road. Misery that is avoidable -- if only Barack Obama would stop acting like a pundit, egging on change from the sideline, and start acting like the president, dictating the game from the middle of the field.


Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/barack-obama-is-doing-my_b_334631.html

Monday, October 26, 2009

Captain January (1936)

Watched it the other night, rented from Netflix. Shirley Temple has 2 Daddys! Standardized testing mocked! Buddy Ebsen dances at the Codfish Ball with Shirley Temple! A great film...which no doubt led to making Shirley Temple Black a great diplomat!
From Wikipedia
The peak of Black's diplomatic career came when she was United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and witnessed the Velvet Revolution. She commented about her Ambassadorship, "That was the best job I ever had."
Five stars.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hillary Clinton's Unprincipled Freudian Slip...

Took place Wednesday, October 21st in a speech sponsored by the US Institute of Peace dealing with nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State declared:
Pursuing these goals is not an act of starry-eyed idealism or blind allegiance to principle. It is about taking responsibility to prevent the use of the world’s most dangerous weapons, and holding others accountable as well. The policies that take us there must be up to the task: tough, smart, and driven by the core interests of the United States. As the President has acknowledged, we might not achieve the ambition of a world without nuclear weapons in our lifetime or successive lifetimes. But we believe that pursuing this vision will enhance our national security and international stability.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration to USIP reveals that she doesn't understand the meaning of the word principle.

Did any of her speechwriters consult Merriam-Webster Online?
Main Entry: prin·ci·ple
Pronunciation: \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at prince
Date: 14th century
1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles (a man of principle) c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device
2 : a primary source : origin
3 a : an underlying faculty or endowment (such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity) b : an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality
4 capitalized Christian Science : a divine principle : god
— in principle : with respect to fundamentals (prepared to accept the proposition in principle)
In other words, one simply cannot have a blind obedience to principle, logically one must recognize a fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption in order to follow it. By definition, principled behavior is self-conscious, aware, enlightened...never blind. One might have a blind allegiance to prejudices, myths, superstitions, shibboleths, taboos, and even the Democratic Party--but not to a principle. By definition, a principle is antithetical to blind allegiance.

So, in this statement the Secretary of State has revealed what she thinks about matters of principle...which is what makes it a Freudian slip.

Holbrooke's Kiss of Death to NGOs

Some diplomatic doubletalk at yesterday's State Department press conference, meaning (IMHO): "So long, it's been good to know you..."
QUESTION: This is Laura Rozen from Politico. I know your team has been meeting with USAID contractors and NGOs and others in the past week to try to communicate your ideas for assistance to Pakistan. Can you talk a little bit about what you all are trying to communicate?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not sure what you mean by the last week. I meet with NGOs every few days. We are the only office in this building with a full-time NGO person assigned to us who has joined us recently. He – we have a list of close to a thousand NGOs that we have now compiled and doing databasing on. NGOs are a hugely important part of this process. And the Secretary of State herself is deeply involved in outreach to the NGOs. She cares about the NGOs. I ran three NGOs myself until January 19th and have served on many boards. And so yesterday, we met with some of them. We support the NGOs.

At the same time, we’re trying to improve the operations of entities – NGOs and contract employees – who serve – who carry out part of American foreign policy in the region. And this is a very delicate balance, and some people have expressed concerns about this, but we have a very clear image of speeding up the flow of American taxpayer dollars to the people and the governments of the two countries. So if it’s a government contract, we want to speed it up.

Now, of the NGOs I met with yesterday, they all pointed out that only a certain percentage of their funds come from the U.S. Government, and that that percentage is going down. So we encourage them to work with us, and we’ll continue. And I don’t believe you’ll ever find in this building, in its past or currently, any office which spends more time with NGOs --

QUESTION: And --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: -- because it’s what we believe in. Hillary Clinton and I believe in it, and because they’re important.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Niger Election Crisis Rooted in Chinese Oil & French Uranium

From Radio France International
President Mamadou Tandja’s ruling National Movement for the Development of Society has won in Niger’s elections, according to partial results announced by the electoral commission on Friday. From results of 100 constituencies, Tandja’s party won 68.

The partial results were announced on state television by electoral commission head Moumouni Hamidou. 113 constituencies were being contested.

Opposition parties boycotted the poll and the country had been suspended from the Economic Community of West African States, following the announcement of the election.

Tandja, a 71-year-old retired colonel, called the elections to replace the parliament he dissolved in June after they refused his plans to extend his term past the 10-year limit.

On Thursday the European Union threatened to cut ties with Niger. They already froze development aid to the country, following the referendum in August, which gave him another three years in power.

“It won’t have any affect on Tandja or the politicians who are supporting him, because obviously he does not care,” Ousseina Alidou, an analyst from Rutgers University, told RFI.

Tandja claims that he needs to stay in power to ensure that projects such as a Chinese oil refinery and French uranium mine are finished.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Allan Sloan: Uncle Sam Takes From Prudent Savers, Gives to Wall Street Speculators

From today's Washington Post:
One day, the federal government won't be able to keep all these interest rates artificially low. The Chinese government, our major financier, is growing restless. The dollar's sharp decline relative to other currencies is an ominous sign. If this problem accelerates, it will put pressure on the Fed to let interest rates rise to protect the dollar from a collapse.

But until rates go up, Wall Street will be chowing down on essentially free money, while fixed-income people living off their investments will have to eat into their capital, take more risk or reduce their standard of living. A nice reward from their government for a lifetime of saving. Thanks for nothing, guys.

Human Rights Watch Founder Condemns Human Rights Watch

Organization founder Robert Bernstein finally objects to Human Right Watch's anti-Israel jihad, in today's New York Times.
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.
Will Bernstein's op-ed make any difference? Or is it too little, too late?

Monday, October 19, 2009

NY Times Axing 100 Reporters

From the NY Observer (ht Eric Fettmann). Editor Bill Keller announced the layoffs by email:
I had planned to invite you to the newsroom and break this news in person today, but I've been hit by something that seems to be the flu. Though I strongly believe in delivering bad news in person, I don't want to add insult to injury by spreading infection.

Let me cut to the chase: We have been told to reduce the newsroom by 100 positions between now and the end of the year.

We hope to accomplish this by offering voluntary buyouts. On Thursday, the Company will be sending buyout offers to everyone in the newsroom. Getting a buyout package does NOT mean we want you to leave. It is simply easier to send the envelopes to everyone. If you think a buyout may be right for you, you have up to 45 days to decide whether you will accept it or not.

As before, if we do not reach 100 positions through buyouts, we will be forced to go to layoffs. I hope that won't happen, but it might.

Our colleagues in editorial and op-ed, and on the business side, also face another round of budget cuts.

In recent years, we've managed to avoid the disabling cutbacks that have hit other newsrooms. The Company has chosen to protect the journalism by cutting production and other business-side costs, and the newsroom itself has managed its resources frugally. These latest cuts will still leave us with the largest, strongest and most ambitious editorial staff of any newsroom in the country, if not the world.

I won't pretend that these staff cuts will not add to the burdens of journalists whose responsibilities have grown faster than their compensation. But we've been looking hard at ways to minimize the impact -- in part, by re-engineering some of our copy flow. I won't promise this will be easy or painless, but I believe we can weather these cuts without seriously compromising our commitment to coverage of the region, the country and the world. We will remain the single best news organization on earth.

I doubt that anyone is shocked by the fact of this, but it is happening sooner than anyone anticipated. When we took our 5 percent pay cuts, it was in the hope that this would fend off the need for more staff cuts this year. But I accept that if it's going to happen, it should be done quickly. We will get through this and move on.

In my absence, Bill Schmidt and John and Jill have volunteered to take your questions this afternoon. Feel free to bring additional questions to me as soon as I'm back, or check with Bill Schmidt or John or Jill privately, or save them for the next Throw Stuff at Bill session, which is in a couple of weeks.

We often -- and rightly -- voice our gratitude that we work for a company and a family that prize quality journalism above all. I hope you know that the company and the family, and I, feel an equal debt of gratitude to all of you whose sacrifice and loyalty have kept us strong.

Like you, I yearn for the day when we can do our jobs without looking over our shoulders for economic thunderstorms.

Bill

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chinese Film Week in Tel Aviv

While the West fixates on demonizing Israel in Switzerland through British-French acquiescence in the notorious Goldstone Report (not since the Dreyfus Affair have we heard of such an obvious calumny), this Tel Aviv film festival (reminiscent of "ping-pong diplomacy") shows China is meanwhile improving ties with the Jewish State:
TEL AVIV, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Film Week opened in the Israeli port city of Tel Aviv on Sunday night with a film named "The Park" serving as the opening film.

Addressing the opening ceremony, Chinese Ambassador to Israel Zhao Jun said the Chinese film week is part of one of the biggest cultural events in Israel, noting that the culture event entitled "Experience China in Israel" is aimed to let more Israelis to know more about China.

Zhao introduced the history of China's film industry since its first motion film called "Conquering the Dream Mountain" in 1905, saying that "During the past century, Chinese film industry has developed into a complete industry."

"The cultural exchanges in the arena of film between China and Israel are increasing in the recent years," he said, adding that an Israeli film week with seven films were held in Beijing and Shanghai respectively in 2007 and last year a Chinese film week with 10 feature films were held in Israel.

"By seeing these seven films during the festival, you will have a better idea of the life and mentality of the ordinary Chinese people, and also the technical skills and conducting abilities of the Chinese film industry at present," he said.

The opening film "Park," which was produced in 2007, tells the story of an old-fashioned father and a modern daughter who can't stop hurting each other though they love each other deeply.

Other films include "A Battle of Wits," "You and Me," "A World Without thieves" and "The Silent Holy Stones."

Jointly held by the State Council Information Office of China and Israeli Foreign Ministry, the "Experience China in Israel" event is dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and the 17th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel.

Happy Diwali!

From Wikipedia::
Diwali or Dīpāvali[1] (Sanskrit: दीपावलि: a row of lamps[2]) is a significant festival in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and an official holiday in India.[3] Adherents of these religions celebrate Diwali as the Festival of Lights. They light diyas—cotton string wicks inserted in small clay pots filled with oil—to signify victory of good over the evil within an individual.

Friday, October 16, 2009

China v West in Guinea Violence?

From AFP:
BEIJING — China on Friday denied involvement with a large mining and oil deal in Guinea following accusations it amounted to supporting the west African country's military junta.

Guinea's Mining Minister Mahmoud Thiam told AFP Thursday the country's junta-backed government had signed the seven-billion-dollar (4.5-billion-euro) deal with the China International Fund (CIF) and Sonangol, an Angolan partner.

China International Fund is a China-linked investment company registered in Hong Kong.

"The China International Fund is an international company registered in Hong Kong and its investment in Guinea is purely its own endeavour," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry's website.

"The activities of this company have nothing to do with the Chinese government. China's government has no knowledge of the specifics of this venture."

The deal comes as Guinea's military rulers face increasing criticism after troops opened fire on anti-junta protesters on September 28, killing at least 150 people, according to rights groups.

About 1,200 people were injured and many women were raped by soldiers, rights groups said.

The military government, which says 56 people died, has denied responsibility.

China has expanded trade ties with Africa, where it seeks to tap into the continent's mineral and energy resources to feed its economic growth.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hollywood by the Syr Darya

According to Ferghana.Ru, the film industry in Uzbekistan has revived after its post-Soviet collapse:
According to the 2008 statistics of UzbekKino, the state agency overseeing the Uzbek film industry, there are close to fifty private film studios in the country. In 2008 they produced 48 films, compared with 30 in 2006, 20 in 2005, and a dozen produced between 1991 and 2000.

Uzbek TV soap operas modeled after Latin American and Korean ones are also becoming popular across Uzbekistan. In November 2008, Uzbek filmmakers instituted an annual ceremony to award best films and actors. The current trend marks a stark contrast to the early 1990s, a period when the Uzbek film industry was on the verge of collapse as lavish Soviet state subsidies abruptly ended.

Most Uzbek films rely on low budgets and heart wrenching plots to attract viewers. The 2005 box-office hit, "An American Groom," fits this genre. A young Uzbek-American visits his grandfather’s village in a remote part of Uzbekistan only to fall in love with an Uzbek girl from a conservative family. The girl rejects his charms and refuses to marry him. The American wins her over only after he masters nuances of Uzbek traditions and his affluent grandfather generously gifts one million dollars to her family.

“Super Kelinchak,” (Super Daughter-in-Law), a 2008 box office hit, tells the story of a posh city woman who falls for and marries a man from a family where conservative values run strong and wives are subordinated to their in-laws. In the course of the ensuing power struggle with her feisty mother-in-law, the city woman learns how to wear traditional clothes, milk cows and respect family traditions.

Sobirjon Rahimov, an assistant film producer based in Tashkent, told Ferghana.ru that film directors often pay out-of-pocket to produce such movies. “It costs about 30 to 50 thousand [US] dollars to make [a film], but the return can be three time bigger.” According to Rahimov, it takes less then three months to complete a film in Uzbekistan.

Daniel Pipes on the Council on American-Islamic Relations

Daniel Pipes writes about the release of a potentially explosive new expose. An excerpt:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has, since its founding in 1994, served as the Islamist movement in North America's most high-profile, belligerent, manipulative, and aggressive agency. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., CAIR also sets the agenda and tone for the entire Wahhabi lobby.

A substantial body of criticism about CAIR exists, some of by me, but until now, the group's smash-mouths and extremists have managed to survive all revelations about its record. The publication today of Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underwold that's Conspiring to Islamize America may, however, change the equation.

Written by P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry, the investigation is based largely on the undercover work of Gaubatz's son Chris who spent six months as an intern at CAIR's D.C. headquarters in 2008. In that capacity, he acquired 12,000 pages of documentation and took 300 hours of video.

Chris Gaubatz's information reveals much that the secretive CAIR wants hidden, including its strategy, finances, membership, and internal disputes, thereby exposing its shady and possibly illegal methods. As the book contains too much new information to summarize in small compass, I shall focus here on one dimension – the organization's inner workings, where the data shows that CAIR's claims amount to crude deceptions.

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and undercover intern Chris Gaubatz at CAIR's national headquarters in 2008.

Claim 1: According to Ibrahim Hooper, the organization's communications director, "CAIR has some 50,000 members." Fact: An internal memo prepared in June 2007 for a staff meeting reports that the organization had precisely 5,133 members, about one-tenth Hooper's exaggerated number.

Claim 2: CAIR is a "grass-roots organization" that depends financially on its members. Fact: According to an internal 2002 board meeting report, the organization received $33,000 in dues and $1,071,000 in donations. In other words, under 3 percent of its income derives from membership dues.

Claim 3: CAIR receives "no support from any overseas group or government." Fact: Gaubatz and Sperry report that 60 percent of CAIR's income derives from two dozen donors, most of whom live outside the United States. Specifically: $978,000 from the ruler of Dubai in 2002 in exchange for controlling interest in its headquarters property on New Jersey Avenue, a $500,000 gift from Saudi prince al-Waleed bin Talal and $112,000 in 2007 from Saudi prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad, at least $300,000 from the Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, $250,000 from the Islamic Development Bank, and at least $17,000 from the American office of the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization.

Claim 4: CAIR is an independent, domestic human rights group "similar to a Muslim NAACP." Fact: In a desperate search for funding, CAIR has offered its services to forward the commercial interests of foreign firms. This came to light in the aftermath of Dubai Ports World's failed effort to purchase six U.S. harbors in 2006 due to security fears. In response, CAIR's chairman traveled to Dubai and suggested to businessmen there: "Do not think about your contributions [to CAIR] as donations. Think about it from the perspective of rate of return. The investment of $50 million will give you billions of dollars in return for fifty years."

Combining these four facts reveals a CAIR quite unlike its public image. Almost bereft of members and dues, it sustains itself by selling its services to the Saudi and U.A.E. governments by doing their ideological and financial bidding...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Afghan Ambassador Backs Gen. McChrystal

Transcript from The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Ambassador Said Jawad spoke with Margaret Warner:
MARGARET WARNER: Do you disagree with the assessment that General McChrystal did, for instance, about the whole security situation, that it was serious and that it was deteriorating?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Overall, in the country, yes, it is. In the south, we are facing serious security challenges. That's why we welcome General McChrystal's assessments, and think that additional troops are needed in order to provide space and time for the Afghan security forces to be trained and equipped.

Additional troops are needed. The U.S. engagement should be long-term in Afghanistan, does not mean necessarily military engagement.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let's get into that more, because, of course, this takes place as the president and his administration are doing this intensive review of strategy and troops. So, what would Afghanistan like to see come out of this reassessment?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: A clear commitment to success in Afghanistan. Additional troops are needed. The U.S. engagement should be long-term in Afghanistan, does not mean necessarily military engagement.

We would like to see more investment being made and build the capacity of the Afghan security forces, Afghan police force, and the government to take more responsibility on this fight.

MARGARET WARNER: And how many more troops?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: It depends on how intense the pressure on Afghanistan is.

Today's bombing shows that -- that, really, it's a -- terrorism is a regional issue. And unless we get the cooperation of all the parties involved in the neighborhood, we will need stronger presence of the United States. We will need 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops on the short term.

MARGARET WARNER: And you said for an expended period, you want to see a commitment. What are we talking about here?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: A commitment to build the Afghan security forces to a strength of 250,000, helping the Afghan government to extend its capability to provide service and protection to the Afghan citizen, and for the -- Afghanistan to serve as a partner in a volatile region of the world, where there are nuclear ambitions or there are a lot of threats from extremism, to have an Afghanistan that will serve for the cause of stability.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, if the U.S. were to do this, I mean, you know the strength of the Afghan security forces now. You know all of the problems. What do you think we're talking about in terms of years, in terms of at an extended -- at a -- at a beefed-up troop strength, say 100,000 troops?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: It really depends how much we invest up front. It is truly an investment in building the capacity.

If we continue to do a duct tape approach and under-resource the mission and does not provide the investment necessary, then you will be there for long haul. But if better investment has been made to build the capacity up front, then that pressure will be relieved on you.

There is no shortage of courage or manpower in Afghanistan. There's shortage of skills on the part of our army and police force. And that skill could be created if there is more intense investment.

I think we should not allow a sense of -- of retreat or defeat to emerge from our mission in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you know -- as you know, there's another set of voices inside the administration -- reported -- reportedly, Vice President Biden is among them -- saying really that the U.S. ought to rethink the whole focus here, not try to focus on building up a strong Afghan central government, which they say Afghanistan's never had, stop trying to fight Taliban insurgents all over the country, and focus instead on al Qaeda and its immediate allies, targeting those kinds of terrorists, if they're in Afghanistan or if they try to return. Now, what do you think of that notion? Does that make sense to you?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: First, it will send a message of defeat of the United States in undertaking in Afghanistan.

And this message will further embolden the terrorists and extremists, not only Afghanistan, but also in the region.
Targeting al Qaeda targets through drones and -- and cruise missile has been done in Afghanistan. After the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa, similar actions were taken.

But it put al Qaeda and Taliban even more closer together. There is close correlation, and there's close relation between Taliban and al Qaeda, as evidenced from the bombing of today. Why would actually -- if it's a Taliban action, why would not they target our ministry of interior, which is just across the street, and target an international target that shows the international connections of the Taliban and al Qaeda and how closely they work with each other?

I think we should not allow a sense of -- of retreat or defeat to emerge from our mission in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you well know, also underlying this reassessment is a concern here that the Karzai government really isn't legitimate. It isn't seen as legitimate by its own people, that it's -- it's widely seen as corrupt, and that the election was considered to be riddled with fraud.

What is your response to that? How serious of an Achilles' heel is this for the case you're trying to make?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Well, first, the issue of the legitimacy of the Afghan government should be determined by Afghan people, not by a foreign capital or a foreign individual.

A lot of preparation went into the election process in Afghanistan. It was not a perfect election and a perfect condition. There were irregularities. There were potential frauds. But there's also processes in place to look after that.

And, if the majority of the Afghans elect their president, that president is a lot more legitimate than having the president being appointed by a foreign individual or a foreign capital.

Millions of people went out to vote. On the day of the election, rockets were coming in. People were killed. People were -- fingers were cut to go out and participate in the election process.

MARGARET WARNER: But nobody's talking about having a foreign capital appoint the president of Afghanistan, but they -- you said if a president is legitimately elected by the people. But that's the big if, isn't it?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Millions of people went out to vote. On the day of the election, rockets were coming in. People were killed. People were -- fingers were cut to go out and participate in the election process.

So, considering all these challenges -- and more than 6,000 observers, both Afghan and international, participated in this process -- considering all these constraints, in the history of Afghanistan, and comparing to the elections in the region, in other countries, this is the best that could happen in Afghanistan.

If we could improve the -- the security situation, we would have had better outcome of -- sure, that's the target that you are working for.

MARGARET WARNER: So, when do you expect this recount process to be concluded?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Early next week, hopefully.

MARGARET WARNER: And if the conclusion is that President Karzai falls below 50 percent, is he prepared to go through a completely new election?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: This is a requirement by the Afghan constitution. The president is completely ready to comply with what the Afghan laws and constitution require, of course.

MARGARET WARNER: And, on the other hand, if the recount certifies that he did get over 50 percent, then the question here is, what is President Karzai prepared to say and do in a concrete sense to address these concerns about widespread corruption in the government?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: We have heard clearly the message of our friends, both in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. administration and Europe.

President Karzai is planning on having two clear compact if he is elected, one compact with the Afghan people indicating what he's going to do in the next five years, and a second compact with the international community, especially the United States, indicating the mutual expectations that exist between the Afghan government and the international partner, especially United States.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what would you say to members of Congress, particularly a lot of Democrats, who are reflecting the concerns of their constituents?

I will just quote one, Jane Harman...

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: ... who's consider add hawk in the Democratic Party.

And she said, "How can we ask our troops to risk their lives in Afghanistan while Mr. Karzai cavorts with warlords and drug smugglers?"

Now, what do you say to that kind of deep suspicion of this government and -- and concern that -- that their constituents don't want to waste or spend young American lives on that kind of government?

AMBASSADOR SAID JAWAD: Young American lives are -- are served in Afghanistan for a very noble cause, of making Afghanistan, the United States a safer place.

I think members of Congress, friends of Afghanistan should work harder to shape the public opinion. It's a hard sacrifice when your son and daughter is fighting in Afghanistan. We're very grateful for that. We appreciate this very much.

But now to -- to add to this fuel, and not to support the government of Afghanistan, or find excuses, that is not helpful, neither for the mission of the United States in Afghanistan, nor helpful for those soldiers who are fighting so bravely to make Afghanistan, the United States, and the world a safer place for all of us.

We have to work more actively to strengthen our partnership and shape the public opinion.

Charles Crawford on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

The retired British diplomat on the first American President since Jimmy Carter to win the honor:
Here is the citation for President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. One line stands out:

His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

Huh?

Michael Binyon gets in an early wallop.

John Miller at The Corner notes that nominations for this award had to be in by 1 February 2009, so Obama wins on the basis of 10 days' work!

On the substance, I always thought that democratic leaders should respond to the values and attitudes of those who elected them, not those who don't. My bad.

How do we assess the Values and Attitudes shared by the 'majority of the world's population'?

It looks like a safe bet to say that (for example) they are for the death penalty and generally homophobic. So does Obama represent them?

If a majority of the planet in a global poll voted to abolish Israel or indeed the USA, would Obama represent them?

Blimey.

The good news here is that to try to save a flagging Presidency sooner or later President Obama will order a tough response to some or other outrage against civilisation somewhere on Earth, and then these simpering Euro-weeny Nobelists will be left looking utterly ridiculous.

Update: a reader wittily proposes a posthumous Nobel Peace award to Neville Chamberlain.

The point being that the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions. Delivering real progress on peace and disarmament requires not only la few days' worth of lofty rhetoric in that direction, but years of patient and wily and skilled work.

And, perhaps, some tough work which does not easily accord with the Values and Attitudes of the majority of the world's population.

Which we'll be able to asertain with great accuracy once all of them have a free vote for their own leaders and a free media so that rival views can be explored and debated.

In other words, not for a very long time.

An award which at best is a tad premature?

An Advertisement in DC Metro Stations

Sent in by an anonymous reader:

I looked up the ad's sponsoring organization on Google, and found this information in the "About Us" section:
The Avaaz community is served by a small team of global campaigners working in many countries to identify and develop opportunities for members to take action. Our campaign team consults with Avaaz.org members to develop campaigns and set the priorities of the organisation. Avaaz also relies on teams of expert advisors to help develop our campaigns, and often Avaaz members volunteer to work with the team on specific projects. We currently have staff based in Rio de Janeiro, Geneva, New York, London, and Washington DC. Our core campaign team members are:

Ricken Patel – Co-Founder and Executive Director (Canada)
Paul Hilder – Campaign Director (UK)
Ben Wikler – Campaign Director (US)
Alice Jay - Campaign Director (Spain)
Luis Morago - Campaign Director (Spain)
Brett Solomon - Campaign Director (Australia)
Alice Wynne Wilson - Media Director (Belgium)
Milena Berry – Chief Technical Officer (Bulgaria)
Rajeev Purohit - Washington DC Representative (UK)
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman - Senior Climate Campaigner (US)
Raluca Ganea - Senior Campaigner (Israel)
Paula Brufman – Global Campaigner (Argentina)
Iain Keith – Global Campaigner (UK)
Graziela Tanaka – Global Campaigner (Brazil)
Pascal Vollenweider – Global Campaigner (Switzerland)
Benjamin des Gachons - Global Campaigner (France)
Julius van de Laar - German Elections Campaigner (Germany)

Margaret Mikkelsen - Operations Director (US)
Veronique Graham - Executive Assistant (France)

Avaaz.org was co-founded by Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and Moveon.org, an online community that has pioneered internet advocacy in the United States. Our co-founding team was also composed of a group of global social entrepreneurs from 6 countries, including our Executive Director Ricken Patel, Tom Perriello, Tom Pravda, Eli Pariser, Andrea Woodhouse, Jeremy Heimans, and David Madden. Avaaz is lucky to have the founding partnership and support of leading activist organizations from around the world, including the Service Employees International Union, a founding partner of Avaaz, GetUp.org.au, and many others.
Google led to this bio of the organization's co-founder on the Res Publica website:
Ricken Patel: Ricken is Canadian and has consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Harvard University, CARE International and the International Center for Transitional Justice, in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Afghanistan, Sudan and New York. He has a Master in Public Policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a Bachelor’s degree from Balliol College, Oxford University. He graduated first in a class of 350 from Oxford, and led student governments and student activism at both universities.
And here's a list of the Res Publica advisory board from the website (dated 2006):
• Anthony Barnett, Editor in Chief, OpenDemocracy.net.
• Dai Qing, celebrated Chinese journalist and environmental activist, and opponent of the Three Gorges Dam
• Clare Short, former UK Sec. of State for International Development, resigned over Iraq war, current member of Parliament.
• Soha Ali Khan, Indian Bollywood film star, also Oxford/LSE graduate, has worked with the Ford Foundation and Citigroup.
• Baroness Glenys Kinnock, Member of the European Parliament, Vice-President of Parliamentarians for Global Action, President of One World Action.
• Eli Pariser, Co-Founder and Executive Director of MoveOn.org PAC.
• Sanjeev Khagram, Co-Director of the Transnational Studies Initiative of Harvard University and the University of Washington, a prominent scholar of transnational civil society networks
• Andrew Graham, former Economic Advisor to the UK Prime Minister and current Master of Balliol College, Oxford, Co-Founder of the Oxford Institute for the Internet and Society
• Kofi Woods, Reebok Human Rights award winner and prominent Liberian human rights activist, Founder and Director of the Foundation for International Dignity.
• Zainab Bangura, African anti-corruption and women’s rights activist, former World Bank civil society advisor, and former board member of the Open Society Institute West Africa and the International Crisis Group.
• John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton and President and CEO of the Center for American Progress
So, now readers of this blog know who to write...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What if Afghanistan is Not Another Vietnam?

"Generals always fight the last war," goes the cliche. After listening to current public debate over Afghanistan policy, and the recurring invocation of America's Vietnam experience, perhaps that might be updated to something like: "Anti-war activists always fight the last war?"

Of course, any war could become another Vietnam. Such a parallel could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just run an interminable "limited war" rather than demanding victory. Make strategic decisions for short-term domestic political gain. Give juicy contracts to Kellogg, Brown and Root (which became KBR/Halliburton, for a while). Undermine your allies and the leadership of the country you purport to be defending. Watch domestic public support disappear. See your party crushed at the polls....

But if there is a reasonable strategy, there's no necessity to repeat the Vietnam debacle. Anti-war activists tend to call any war "Vietnam" just because it is a war they oppose. I was around in 1981, and like most New Yorkers, a knee-jerk liberal anti-war protester, when Glenn Silber released a documentary film under the title "El Salvador: Another Vietnam. Unfortunately for Glenn, who might have become his generation's Michael Moore, President Reagan came up with a successful strategy for Central America as one front in the context of a global ideological struggle against Communism--and not too many people remember the film, or even America's war in Central America. Even anti-war activists don't talk much about Central America anymore. So successful was Reagan, that I eventually became a late convert to Reaganism--as did many in the former Soviet Bloc (my university in Tashkent had pictures of Milton Friendman and von Hayek hanging on the walls).

So, speaking from personal experience, it seems clear that defeat of Al Qaeda should put an end to talk of Vietnam redux, even from anti-war activists.

In any case, no Vietnamese ever blew up the World Trade Center or Pentagon. Which in my mind, makes America's conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban more akin to World War II after Pearl Harbor. It is unfortunate that George Bush wasn't up to the job. But just because the worst President in the history of the United States couldn't beat Osama Bin Laden (is he dead or alive?), doesn't mean that Barrack Hussein Obama won't be able to do the job that, in my opinion, he was elected to do... And strongly in President Obama's favor is his decision to shoot those Somali pirates a few months ago (piracy headlines have disappeared, since).

Of course, I'm not the only one who believes the Vietnam parallel is forced and phony. General Petraeus said it at an October 1st Washington, DC conference covered by CBS News:
...U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia David Petraeus discussed why, in his mind, it is unwise to draw close comparisons between Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam or assume what worked in one conflict will work in another.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Is Gen. McChrystal the New Billy Mitchell?


I can't believe that commentators who in the Bush administration held views like "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" are now telling Gen. McChrystal to "shut up and salute the Commander-in-Chief." Secretary of Defense Gates is wrong. Policy debates should take place in public--before commitments have been made. Principled dissent over strategy is the essence of a democracy.

And military officers don't give up their rights as citizens when they join the armed forces. Dissenters can become heroes, as in the case of court-martialed Billy Mitchell. Or they can be heeded, as in the case of George Marshall, or Colin Powell during the first Gulf War. When they go too far, like Gen. McArthur, they can be fired for insubordination by the Commander-in-Chief, and disgraced. But until that point, they need to speak up-- before things get out of hand.

Indeed, Rumsfeld's sidelining of Gen. Shinseki for stating his unvarnished opinion that the Iraq war effort needed more troops should give pause to those pundits, bureaucrats and politicians currently engaged in general-bashing. A reminder from Wikipedia:
Shinseki publicly clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops the U.S. would need to keep in Iraq for the postwar occupation of that country. As Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki testified to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be required for postwar Iraq. This was an estimate far higher than the figure being proposed by Secretary Rumsfeld in his invasion plan, and it was rejected in strong language by both Rumsfeld and his Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who was another chief planner of the invasion and occupation.] From then on, Shinseki's influence on the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly waned. The end of his term of Army Chief of Staff came in June 2003, just a few weeks after President Bush proclaimed that "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." At that time, General Shinseki retired from the Army after 38 years of military service.
If President Bush had listened to Shinkseki, Obama wouldn't have some of the problems he is facing today. Of course, Shinseki is in the cabinet as head of the VA, so perhaps he is offering private counsel on Afghanistan...

Meanwhile, my favorite story of public debate over strategy in wartime involves Walt Disney. He was an advocate of strategic bombing as opposed to tactical support. So convinced was Disney that the United States needed a change in strategy, that he personally paid for the production of a 1943 feature film based on Russian aviator Alexander P. de Seversky's (a disciple of Billy Mitchell) 1942 book, Victory Thorugh Airpower. Disney arranged for the film to be shown in the White House to FDR, an event that led to the eventual destruction of Japanese and German cities by strategic bombing campaigns--and victory in World War II. More details, again, from Wikipedia:
While most World War II films were created for training purposes, films such as “Victory Through Air Power” were created to catch the attention of government officials and to build public morale among the U.S. and allied powers. Among the notables who decided after seeing the film that Seversky and Disney knew what they were talking about were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Disney studio sent a print for them to view when they were attending the Quebec Conference. According to Leonard Maltin, "it changed FDR's way of thinking—he agreed that Seversky was right." Maltin also adds that "it was only after Roosevelt saw Victory Through Air Power that our country made the commitment to long-range bombing.".
If Gen. McChrystal is convinced that his strategy is correct, he could do worse than to follow in the footsteps of Billy Mitchell. BTW, there's a great film about him, The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, starring Gary Cooper.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Standardized Test Results as Phony as Moody Ratings of AIG Stock

Todd Farley spilled the beans about the fraudulent standardized academic writing tests in a September 28th NY Times Op-Ed , that I looked up because of all the interesting letters published today. Here's the money quote:
Multiple-choice items are scored by machines, but open-ended items are scored by subjective humans who are prone to errors. I know because I was one of them. In 1994, I was a graduate student looking for part-time work. After a five-minute interview I got the job of scoring fourth-grade, state-wide reading comprehension tests. The for-profit testing company that hired me paid almost $8 an hour, not bad money for me at the time.

One of the tests I scored had students read a passage about bicycle safety. They were then instructed to draw a poster that illustrated a rule that was indicated in the text. We would award one point for a poster that included a correct rule and zero for a drawing that did not.

The first poster I saw was a drawing of a young cyclist, a helmet tightly attached to his head, flying his bike over a canal filled with flaming oil, his two arms waving wildly in the air. I stared at the response for minutes. Was this a picture of a helmet-wearing child who understood the basic rules of bike safety? Or was it meant to portray a youngster killing himself on two wheels?

I was not the only one who was confused. Soon several of my fellow scorers — pretty much people off the street, like me — were debating my poster, some positing that it clearly showed an understanding of bike safety while others argued that it most certainly did not. I realized then — an epiphany confirmed over a decade and a half of experience in the testing industry — that the score any student would earn mostly depended on which temporary employee viewed his response.
Farley has written a tell-all book about his experiences in the standardized testing business. Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry, may be found online at Google books.

An excerpt published in Rethinking Schools contains these gems:
If test scoring is "scientifically-based research" of any kind, then I'm Dr. Frankenstein. In fact, my time in testing was characterized by overuse of temporary employees; scoring rules that were alternately ambiguous and bizarre; and testing companies so swamped with work and threatened with deadlines that getting any scores on tests appeared to be more important than the right scores. I'd say the process was laughable if not for the fact those test scores have become so important to the landscape of modern American education....

***

...A project manager for a test-scoring company addresses the supervisors hired to manage the scoring of a project. The project is not producing the results expected, to the dismay of the test-scoring company and its client, a state department of education. The project manager has been trying to calm the concerned employees, but she's losing patience. She's obviously had enough.

"I don't care if the scores are right," the project manager snarls. "They want lower scores, and we'll give them lower scores."
How about a Congressional investigation of ETS?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the New Head of Britain's MI6

In Ann McElvoy's Sunday Times (UK) profile, illustrated with Facebook photos of John Sawers in his bathing trunks, copied from his wife's Facebook page, and headlined: "On Her Majesty's Not-So-Secret Service"... (ht Charles Crawford)
In 2001 Sawers was dispatched as ambassador to Cairo — in effect a listening post for the Middle East. Then in 2003 Blair sent him to Iraq, to report on the aftermath of the invasion. It took only four days for the newcomer to issue a devastating verdict. Sawers soon sent a cable entitled “Iraq: what’s going wrong” back to Downing Street, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence, clearly informed by a multiplicity of sources in Baghdad. It combined an intelligence-gatherer’s breadth with political analysis. Neither was it short on self-belief: “A Baghdad first strategy is needed. The problems are getting worse in the capital and it is the one place we cannot afford to get wrong. We need a clear framework on which Ba’athists can return, a more concerted effort on reconstruction, and an imaginative approach on the media. The clock is ticking.”

He noted further that the US administration in Baghdad was “an unbelievable mess — no leadership, no co-ordination, no strategy, no structure, inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis”.

Most controversially, he declared that the 3rd (US) division, which was battle-weary, should “go home and be garlanded as victors” and that the British should put its battalions onto the streets of Baghdad instead.

Blair’s response was mixed. He did not put British troops in Baghdad — which would have been seen as a snub in Washington, though, as David Owen points out, “It would have been a very sensible thing to do at the time and it could have at least slowed the descent into chaos in the capital.”


In Iraq, the PM wanted to use Sawers as a trouble-shooter, and there was plenty of trouble to be shot. So for three months he was the British government’s special representative in Baghdad, then he headed the British side of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme — his graduate physics background ensuring, as one other member of the team wryly put it, “that he was the one person who probably really knew the ins and outs of a nuclear bomb”.

The shadow of Iraq still hangs over Sawers’ new appointment. Not least because it follows that of John Scarlett, whose authorship of the WMD dossier led to allegations that the service had allowed its work to be manipulated by the government of the day.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What Happened to Legal Seafoods at Reagan National Airport?


When I went to pick up my sister-in-law the other day, I was surprised to see that my favorite restaurant at Reagan National Airport, Boston's Legal Seafoods, had closed. It was always busy, and I know that someone I know and myself would book flights at the airport in order to be able to eat lunch or dinner there, so it couldn't have been a business decision by the owners. A quick google search turned up the explanation--the landlords forced out Legal Seafoods, replacing it with something called "Sam and Harry's Steakhouse." Owner Roger Berkowitz didn't want to close, it turns out--so Legal Seafoods is now suing the people who operate concessions at Reagan National.

You can read the whole story in an article from the DC Examiner, based on this Legal Seafoods press release:
"Legal's is a highly successful owner-operated restaurant at National Airport," Berkowitz added. "We have 5 restaurants in the DC area and we are very committed to staying and expanding at National. Despite challenging economic conditions including more dining options at National and a decrease in enplanements, we agreed to invest in the restaurant with a renovation and expansion plan. "

Legal Sea Foods filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Virginia this week to force MWAA to reconduct the leasing process in an open and transparent way as is required by federal law. In the complaint Legal Sea Foods believes that in awarding the lease for the space to another concession MWAA did not conduct an open and transparent process and thus violated the law.

"Something smells fishy and we are going to fight to get to the bottom of it," Berkowitz said.

"We are one of the top revenue generators at the airport and we want to stay. It simply makes no sense to replace a long term tenant like Legal Sea Foods and our track record of success with a concession that has no history at National Airport. We believe the process was unfair and probably illegal and we have filed suit to stay and keep over 50 jobs we have at the airport restaurant," said Berkowitz.
UPDATE: The Washington Post covered this dispute in an August 4th, 2009 story.