Monday, April 30, 2007

Terror attacks increase, says US


The number of people killed around the world in terror attacks rose by 40% last year to more than 20,000, the US State Department has said.

The increase is mostly due to greater violence in Iraq the State Department's annual report on terrorism says.

Iran is listed as the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, supporting extremist groups throughout the Middle East but particularly in Iraq.

Venezuela is criticised for allowing Colombian rebels to use its territory.

The number of attacks in Iraq nearly doubled to 6,630, accounting for 45% of the global total.

Iraq alone accounts for nearly two-thirds of all terrorism-related deaths last year.

The numbers do not include attacks on US or other coalition troops in the country.

'Destabilising role'

In the latest violence, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed 32 people and himself at a Shia funeral in Khalis, north of Baghdad in Diyala province.

40% increase in deaths to 20,498
28% increase in attacks to 14,338
Iraq: 65% of all deaths
700 children killed, 1,100 wounded
Source: US State Department

Iran is playing a "destabilising role" in Iraq, supporting Shia militias that have attacked Sunnis, as well as US and British forces, the report says.

The report also points to "militias and death squads increasingly engaged in sectarian violence and criminal organisations taking advantage of Iraq's deteriorating security situation."

The number of attacks also took a large jump in Afghanistan.

Syria is named as the number two state supporter of terrorism, followed by Cuba, North Korea and Sudan.

Children were increasingly the victims of terror attacks last year. As many as 700 children were killed and 1,100 wounded - an increase of 80%.

The report, put together by the US National Counterterrorism Center says that al-Qaeda is adapting to counter-terror measures.

"Although we have killed or captured numerous senior al-Qaeda operatives," said the NCTC's director Frank Urbancic, "al-Qaeda's core elements are resilient and they remain the immediate national security threat."

The report also repeated allegations from previous years that the Venezuelan government allows the Colombian left-wing rebel groups Farc and ELN to use its territory as a safe haven.

Giuliani as Leader and Consoler

The Opinionator

Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez has a question: What exactly did Rudy Giuliani do on Sept. 11, 2001, that qualifies him to be president of the United States? “I’m not so much interested here in the broader question of whether he’d make a good president, but why this, in particular, seems to be given such incredible weight,” Sanchez writes on his personal blog, Notes From the Lounge. He adds, “[T]they seem to half mean it in the theatrical sense of the word: the image of a strong, calm leader he projected to the city and the nation.” He continues:

Now, I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and I vaguely recall some of this, remember thinking he did a good job. I’m sure it would’ve been worse if he’d gone on TV and begun hollering: “We’re all going to DIE! Flee, flee NOW!” But at the end of the day, on the long list of things vying for my brainspace that week, Rudy’s personal gravitas ranked low. Maybe this kind of thing seems more important after six and a half years of a president who seems improbably unacquainted with his ostensible native tongue, and whose face seems perpetually frozen in the expression of a sniggering teenager waiting for you to realize he’s Saran-Wrapped your toilet bowl. But Bush is, as in so many other things, aberrant here. Within the normal range of competence—which is where all the major contenders appear to be—marginal differences in ability to do a passable Robert Young impression just don’t seem especially important—nowhere near important enough, at any rate, to hang an entire campaign on.

It’s perfectly understandable, of course: We know that the vast majority of an executive’s job—the most important part—happens offscreen, but that (naturally) makes it hard to evaluate well. What we all see is not so much the actual leadership, but the president playing leader on teevee in the wake of major tragedies, so we use that at as a proxy.

Or, at any rate, so I hope. The more terrifying possibility is that this kind of therapeutic speechifying is, in itself, a core component of what we want from a president—that grown American men and women need their elected political leaders to make them feel OK about sad or scary events.


Where Was Perle After 9/11?

Bill Kristol says George Tenet’s anecdote about Richard Perle isn’t a slam dunk: The Weekly Standard editor writes of what he calls a “stunning error” in Tenet’s new book, “At the Center of the Storm.” Tenet writes that Richard Perle told him during an encounter on Sept. 12, 2001, “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.” Kristol objects: “Here’s the problem: Richard Perle was in France on that day, unable to fly back after September 11. In fact Perle did not return to the United State until September 15.”

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF: Gold Stars and Dunce Caps

In this presidential campaign, we need somebody who wants to address the question President Bush once raised: “Is our children learning?”

International testing shows that U.S. schools do a lousy job teaching math and science, in particular. And far too many American students aren’t going to college or even completing high school, undermining our competitiveness for decades to come.

Moreover, the U.S. education system reinforces the gulfs of poverty and race. Well-off white kids tend to go to good schools that propel them ahead, while many poor black and Hispanic kids attend bad schools that hold them back.

For inspiration, presidential candidates might look at this bold three-part plan for improving American schools:

End requirements for teacher certification.

Make tenure more difficult to get so weak teachers can be weeded out after two or three years on the job.

Award $15,000 annual bonuses to good teachers for as long as they teach at schools in low-income areas.

Those ideas are cribbed from a provocative report on education from the Hamilton Project, which is affiliated with the Brookings Institution. The report was prepared by Robert Gordon of the Center for American Progress, Thomas Kane of Harvard and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth, and it fits in with a burst of other research pointing in similar directions.

In the past, we tried to ensure the quality of teachers through certification procedures. But that has failed. Growing evidence indicates that certification requirements limit the pool of potential teachers — and discourage midcareer switches into teaching — without accomplishing much else.

“Teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certified or not is largely irrelevant to predicting their effectiveness,” concluded a report last year for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The reality is that paper credentials can’t predict who will be an effective teacher. A half-dozen studies have found that teachers with graduate degrees aren’t any better than teachers without them. Other studies show that teachers who did well on their own SATs, or went to selective colleges or had high G.P.A.’s, don’t make significantly better teachers, either.

Yet teachers still vary tremendously in their effectiveness, as the Hamilton Project study found when it examined results in Los Angeles schools. It looked at the 25 percent of teachers who raised their students’ test scores the most, and the 25 percent who raised students’ scores the least. A student assigned to a class with a teacher in the top 25 percent could expect — after just one year — to be 10 percentile points higher than a similar student with a bottom-tier teacher.

“Moving up (or down) 10 percentile points in one year is a massive impact,” the authors wrote. “For some perspective, the black-white achievement gap nationally is roughly 34 percentile points. Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.”

The Hamilton Project study recommends that the weakest 25 percent of new teachers should be denied tenure and eliminated after two or three years on the job (teachers improve a lot in the first two years, but not much after that). That approach, it estimates, would raise students’ average test scores by 14 percentile points by the time they graduated.

“There’s no decision that school districts make that’s more important than the decision regarding who is going to stand in front of the classroom,” Professor Kane said. “Yet most districts spend more time choosing textbooks than they do reviewing the performance of teachers on their first few years on the job.”

School reform could also play a major role in fighting poverty and spreading opportunity. One sound proposal is to pay substantial bonuses to get the most effective teachers into schools with low-income students. It’s simply unfair for America’s neediest students to be continually assigned to the weakest teachers, perhaps consigning them to another generation of poverty. Higher pay will help recruit and retain excellent teachers.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered much leadership on education. Democrats have been too close to teachers’ unions to rock the boat, and Republicans don’t invest in education — so Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind effort has ended up as an underfinanced mess.

What we need now is for a presidential candidate to seize these ideas and run with them. Any takers?

ATUL GAWANDE: The Power of Negative Thinking

We Americans believe instinctively in the power of positive thinking. Whether one is fighting a cancer, an insurgency or just an unyielding problem at work, the prevailing wisdom is that thinking positive is the key — The Secret, even — to success. But the key, it seems to me, is actually negative thinking: looking for, and sometimes expecting, failure.

We were given a revealing and, for a surgeon like me, disheartening example recently with the scandal at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The real puzzle was how one institution could be responsible for helping to save the highest percentage of battle-wounded soldiers in history and for providing such disturbingly neglectful care afterward.

Soldiers told of extraordinary care at Walter Reed that had saved them despite multiple limbs blown away, burns over 90 percent of their bodies, brain injuries previously considered unsurvivable. And then they told of outpatient facilities, at the same hospital, where wheelchair-bound soldiers were stranded without food, the brain-injured denied aid because they couldn’t fill out forms.

What explains this? The final report recently released by the military’s independent review group did not find good people in one department and bad people in another. The soldiers testified over and over about how “caring” and “dedicated” they found Walter Reed’s personnel to be. “The staff here is great,” a wounded officer insisted.

But in one part of the hospital good people succeeded, and in the other good people failed.

The review revealed severe strains — from plans to close Walter Reed in four years and orders to privatize certain services — but these pressures applied everywhere at the hospital. The primary difference was whether leaders accepted the value of negative thinking or not.

Consider how Walter Reed helped lower the death rate for wounded soldiers. It was 25 percent in the first Persian Gulf war; today it is less than 10 percent. Trauma care did not change. Medical personnel are actually stretched thinner than before. But they have tracked weekly data on injuries and survival rates, and actively looked for failures and how to overcome them.

Nothing was too trivial. During a visit with colleagues at Walter Reed early in the Iraq war, I was struck, for example, by their attention to eye-injury statistics. Instead of being proud of saving some soldiers from blindness, the doctors asked a harder, more unnerving question: why had so many injuries occurred? They discovered that the young soldiers weren’t wearing their protective goggles. Too ugly, the soldiers said. So the military switched to cooler-looking Wiley X ballistic eyewear. The soldiers wore their eyegear more consistently, and the eye-injury rate dropped immediately.

Encouraged by leaders to think negative, medical staff members also reported on transport problems for the injured, soldiers’ not wearing their Kevlar, communication glitches, unexpected infections — and instituted changes to address them. The result: they are saving soldiers who’d never have been saved before.

Contrast this with the same leaders’ approach to care afterward. The independent review group found zero effort to track how soldiers were doing in rehabilitation. No one pushed to discover failures. As a result, failures were unrecognized, yet everywhere to be seen. The review group found the same problems The Washington Post had: disorganized, bureaucratic care with glaring gaps; dismal living conditions; dangerous staff shortages.

“It was a one-sided representation,” said the Army medical chief and former Walter Reed commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley when the atrocious conditions were first exposed. “While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure.” He was just trying to think positive.

Negative thinking is unquestionably painful. It involves finding and exposing your inadequacies, which can be overwhelming. And not every problem discovered can be solved. You live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

That’s an unhealthy way to be in large parts of life: you don’t want to constantly seek out the inadequacies of your children, your looks, your abilities as you age. But in running schools or businesses, in planning war, in caring for the sick and injured? Negative thinking may be exactly what we need.

Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at Harvard Medical School and a New Yorker staff writer, is the author of “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance.” He is a guest columnist this month.

Media Matters for America , April 30, 2007

Broder pronounced McCain's return to "candor," despite reported efforts to pander to GOP base on former pet issues

In his April 27 nationally syndicated column, headlined "Straight Talking Again," Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is "risking the ire of Bush fans" by "running as the anti-Bush" and concluded that, for McCain, "there must be at least some relief now in being able to speak his own mind -- whatever the consequences. Candor, even belatedly, becomes him." But elsewhere in the column, Broder acknowledged to some extent the seemingly contradictory fact that McCain has backed off certain issues because his prior positions were unpopular with the Republican base. Indeed, Broder noted that McCain "gives no emphasis to the campaign finance reforms that were central to his 2000 message, knowing that they are not popular with Republican power brokers." Broder further wrote that during McCain's official announcement that he is running for president, McCain "was notably silent on immigration reform, another issue on which he has found himself at odds with many of his fellow Republicans." Read more

Ignoring McCain's "greeted as liberators" assurance, Wash. Post editorial credited him with prewar "foresight"

A Washington Post editorial praised Sen. John McCain's "foresight and consistency about how the [Iraq] war should have been waged"; however, in the days immediately before and after the invasion, McCain echoed Bush administration statements that U.S. forces would be greeted as "liberators." Since then, McCain has made apparently contradictory statements on the administration's management of the Iraq war. Read more

Scripps article uncritically reported that RNSC attack ad contains quotes from U.S. troops

In an April 26 article, Scripps News Service reported that Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) would not criticize the recent assertion by his state's Democratic colleague, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that the Iraq war "is lost," which Reid followed up by stating that the war "can only be won diplomatically, politically, and economically." The article noted that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Ensign heads, recently released an "Internet advertisement that used Reid's words to campaign against Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2008." Scripps asserted that the ad features "written comments from U.S. troops" and then uncritically reported the claim by an NRSC spokeswoman that the comments were taken from letters "sent to a blogger who asked troops to write in to tell the majority leader how they felt about his comment." Yet the article did not mention that the "blogger" the NRSC spokeswoman referred to is right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin or that two of the five quotes used in the ad came from letters sent to Malkin signed by one person who included only a first name and another who used only initials. The other two identified themselves as "LT Jason Nichols, USN" (who was quoted twice in the ad) and "SPC Matthew S Gangwer." Read more

After attacking Reid over war "is lost" comment, Broder "doubtful" Iraq victory is possible

On the April 30 edition of XM Radio's The Bob Edwards Show, Washington Post columnist David Broder asserted that it was "really doubtful" President Bush would be able "to salvage something that would look like a victory in Iraq." Broder made this statement four days after he attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for what he called Reid's "ineptitude," because of, as he wrote in his April 26 Post column, Reid's assertion that the Iraq war "is lost." As Media Matters for America noted, in that column, Broder pointed to Reid's "war is lost" remark to compare him to embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and accuse him of engaging in "inept discussion[s] of the alternatives in Iraq" and of not being "a man who misses many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth." Further, after discussing Democratic strategist Paul Begala's recent column on The Huffington Post, in which he wrote that "Broder, of course, is a gasbag," host Bob Edwards noted, "[W]e're in the world of the blogs and this stuff spreads so fast." Broder responded: "I am not a fan of the blogs, and the blogs are not fans of mine." Read more

Under FIRE: Campus Speech Regulations Once Again

Stanley Fish

Last week saw the end of a little drama that had been playing out on the campus of the University of Rhode Island for some months. On April 26 the student senate turned back a committee recommendation to “derecognize” the College Republicans because the group refused to apologize for one of its actions. What the College Republicans had done was invite applications for the “First Annual White Heterosexual Male Scholarship,” otherwise known by the acronym WHAM. Applicants were asked, first, to certify that they were indeed white, heterosexual, American and male and then to answer two questions: “In 100 words or less, what does being a White Heterosexual American Male mean to you? As a White Heterosexual American Male, what adversities have you had to deal with and overcome?”

Many of the 40 or so who sent in applications recognized the satirical intention (to ridicule and parody raced-based scholarships and other forms of campus affirmative action) of the obviously bogus scholarship and wrote in the same spirit. But the student senate was not amused, and in February the Student Organizations Advisory and Review Committee demanded that the College Republicans: A) not award the $100 scholarship, B) apologize in writing for having violated the anti-discrimination section of the senate’s bylaws, and C) seek permission from the senate before mounting any programs in the next 12 months. The group cheerfully agreed to A – why not? – and declined to comply with B and C.

In response the Advisory and Review Committee exercised the nuclear option and voted to derecognize the group, in spite of the fact that Robert Carothers, the university’s president, had declared on April 6 that it was unconstitutional to require the College Republicans to “make public statements which are not their own.” (The relevant First Amendment category is “compelled speech.”) Given Carothers’s unequivocal position, it was only a matter of time, and the time arrived last Thursday, before the Senate backed down, asking only that the College Republicans issue an explanation of the point they were trying to make. The group is reported to be satisfied with this condition, as well it might be, since it now has another (and mandated) opportunity to get its point of view out to the public.

There is nothing particularly interesting or edifying about this incident. One could accuse the College Republicans of bad taste and the Senate committee of overreacting and of failing to understand what the First Amendment protects (since Hustler v. Falwell, it protects political satire no matter how crude or offensive), but that is more or less par for the course in such matters.

What is interesting, however, is that at least part of the credit for the resolution of the controversy belongs to an outside agency, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a campus watchdog group founded by free speech activists Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate, authors of “The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.” FIRE wrote one letter to the student senate president, and two letters to President Carothers. The second of those letters ended by reminding the president that “FIRE is prepared to use the full extent of its resources to see this matter through to a just and moral conclusion.”

Those resources include, in addition to a staff well-schooled in First Amendment law, the ability to command the microphones of Fox News and the pages of The New York Post. Last week, FIRE announced that, beginning immediately, it will have its own weekly column in the Post, titled Campus Watch. The first of the columns ran on April 24 and alerted Post readers to the situation at U.R.I.; two days later the student senate capitulated. Cause and effect in these matters is never simple, but there would seem to be some truth to FIRE’s boast, made in a press release the same day, that the senate acted in response to “pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.”

In fact, if you check out FIRE’s Web site, you’ll find that literally scores of colleges and universities have felt that pressure. Time and again, FIRE reports a happy ending that was reached “Thanks to FIRE’s intervention.” Nor does FIRE wait for an actual incident before it intervenes. Independently of any complaint, FIRE issues assessments of campus speech codes and mission statements and often finds them in violation of First Amendment strictures. One report surveys all 16 schools in the University of North Carolina system and concludes that 13 of them “have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” You can bet that the university’s administration is paying attention. A new feature on the FIRE Web site highlights “The Speech Code of the Month.” No college or university president will want his or her institution to be accorded that “honor.”

FIRE is not the only watchdog organization looking for what it deems bad behavior. One reason the Don Imus comment received such widespread and immediate attention was that Ryan Chiachiere, a researcher and writer, was watching and recording the show for the liberal group Media Matters for America. Soon a clip of the offending moment appeared on the group’s Web site and on YouTube. In little more than a week, Imus was off the air.

The difference between Media Matters for America and Fire is that while the former is a frankly political organization – dedicated, its home page says, to “correcting conservative misinformation” – the latter is dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of students and teachers no matter what their political affiliations. One sees itself in the business of improving the culture in the right (that is, left) direction; the other sees itself in the business of making sure that colleges and universities know what the law is and obey it.

Not everyone would accept this account of what FIRE stands for. In an essay in the April 20 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, John B. Gould, a lawyer and professor at George Mason University, criticized the organization for exaggerating the extent to which higher education is “under siege from a politically correct plague of hate-speech codes” and for being ideologically selective in its targets. What FIRE is really after, said Gould, is “liberal, academic censors.” Not so, replied FIRE, citing a number of left-leaning academics – including Sami al-Arian of the University of South Florida and Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado – to whose defense it has risen.

Much of the disagreement between Professor Gould and FIRE turns on the technical question of what does and does not amount to harassment. FIRE follows a 1999 Supreme Court decision (Davis v. Monroe County) in asserting that speech is harassing, as opposed to being merely offensive, if it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” Professor Gould’s threshold for deeming a form of speech harassing would be lower and would be tied to what he considers to be the prevailing norms of “civil society.” Students, he reports, arrive on campus “already believing that colleges should prohibit sexist speech,” and their view is in line with the 55 percent of those surveyed by the First Amendment Center who don’t think that the right of free speech allows people “to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups.” By that standard – being offensive to racial groups – the College Republicans’ mock scholarship offer would be an appropriate candidate for regulation. In FIRE’s view, the degree of protection extended to an individual’s speech should not turn on public opinion or cultural norms, but on abstract legal categories that stand free of either.

What we see here is a tension (which I have noted in earlier columns) between a desire to have our laws and procedures reflect our sense of social justice and a resolution to adhere to first principles – “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech” – no matter where obedience to their dictates may take us. Professor Gould looks around and finds that behavior once acceptable and unchallenged – the making of sexist and racist comments – has come to be regarded as objectionable and harmful, and he concludes that our enlightened views should be reflected in campus regulations. FIRE would no doubt respond that our present understanding of social justice and civility is temporary and revisable; to enshrine it in law would be to have the law bend to the received wisdom of the moment, which would mean that the law would no longer be a normative enterprise and would instead be a plaything of politics. (When the received wisdom of the moment changed, it would change too.) I have been on both sides of this divide, and at this point all I know is that it cannot be bridged.

** Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Fish has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University. He is the author of 10 books. **

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 289

April 30, 2007 - Suffering And Silence Edition

The right-wing seems to be rapidly running out of things to say - if they're not putting their feet in their mouths, they're falling back on stale old ideas and campaign slogans. Laura Bush (1) and George W. Bush (2) seem quite happy in their bubble, while Rudy Giuliani (3) and Mitt Romney (4) appear to be at odds. Elsewhere, Dana Perino (6) is in a huff, Fox News (9) can't tell fact from fiction, and Michelle Malkin (10) goes bonkers. We're pic-heavy this week, so my apologies to you dial-uppers out there.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Another Economic Disconnect

Last fall Edward Lazear, the Bush administration’s top economist, explained that what’s good for corporations is good for America. “Profits,” he declared, “provide the incentive for physical capital investment, and physical capital growth contributes to productivity growth. Thus profits are important not only for investors but also for the workers who benefit from the growth in productivity.”

In other words, ask not for whom the closing bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Unfortunately, these days none of what Mr. Lazear said seems to be true. In the Bush years high profits haven’t led to high investment, and rising productivity hasn’t led to rising wages.

The second of those two disconnects has gotten a lot of attention because of its political consequences. The administration and its allies whine that they aren’t getting credit for a great economy, but because wages have been stagnant — the median worker’s earnings, adjusted for inflation, haven’t gone up at all since the current economic expansion began in 2001 — the economy feels anything but great to most Americans.

Less attention, however, has been given to the first disconnect: the failure of high profits to produce an investment boom.

Since President Bush took office, the combination of rising productivity and stagnant wages — workers are producing more, but they aren’t getting paid more — has led to a veritable profit gusher, with corporate profits more than doubling since 2000. Last year, profits as a share of national income were at the highest level ever recorded.

You might have expected this gusher of profits, which surely owes something to the Bush administration’s pro-corporate, anti-labor tilt, to produce a corresponding gusher of business investment. But the reality has been more of a trickle. Nonresidential investment — that is, investment other than housing construction — has grown very slowly by historical standards. As a share of G.D.P., nonresidential investment remains far below its levels of the late 1990s, and it has been declining for the last two quarters.

Why aren’t corporations investing, and what does the lack of business investment mean for the economy?

It’s possible that sluggish business investment reflects lack of confidence in the economic outlook — a lack of confidence that’s understandable given the bursting of the housing bubble, which has already caused G.D.P. growth to slow to a crawl.

But as Floyd Norris recently reported in The Times, there is a more disturbing possibility. Instead of investing in physical capital, many companies are using profits to buy back their own stock. And cynics suggest that the purpose of these buybacks is to produce a temporary rise in stock prices that increases the value of executives’ stock options, even if it’s against the long-term interests of investors.

It’s not a far-fetched idea. Researchers at the Federal Reserve have found evidence that company decisions about stock buybacks are strongly influenced by “agency conflicts,” a genteel term for self-dealing by corporate insiders. In the 1990s that kind of self-dealing often led to excessive investment, which at least left a tangible legacy behind. But today the self-interest of management may be standing in the way of productive investment.

Whatever the reasons, we now have an economy with incredibly high profits and surprisingly low investment. This raises some immediate, short-run concerns: with housing still in free fall and consumers ever more stretched, optimistic projections for the economy depend on vigorous growth in business investment. And that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The bigger issue, however, may be longer term. Mr. Lazear was right about one thing: business investment plays an important role in raising productivity. High investment in equipment and software was one major reason for the productivity takeoff that began in the Clinton era, and continued in the early years of this decade.

And low investment may be one reason productivity growth has slowed dramatically over the last three years — another development that hasn’t received as much attention as it should.

In any case, next time someone tells you that any action that might reduce corporate profits a bit — like actually enforcing health and safety regulations or making it easier for workers to organize — will reduce business investment, bear in mind that today’s record profits aren’t being invested. Instead, they’re being used to enrich executives and a few lucky stock owners.

BOB HERBERT: Working the Truth Beat

The initial feeling is shock, and then comes anger, the anger bursting through even before the inevitable sadness sets in.

Two people whom I respected a great deal were killed — one of them insanely and the other absurdly — in the past three weeks.

Julia Campbell was a friend from several years back who had worked as a freelancer at The Times and a number of other media outlets before joining the Peace Corps and going off to the Philippines. I was watching the news on television about a week and a half ago when her photo came on the screen. The story said that she had been reported missing.

A couple of days later the news came that she had been murdered. The authorities have arrested a man who said he bludgeoned her to death with a rock after she accidentally bumped into him.

I remember once when we were hanging out, shooting the breeze about some horror in the news, Julia said to me, “Why is the world the way it is?” She added quickly, as though embarrassed: “I know it’s a ridiculous question. But I wonder.”

David Halberstam died in the most ordinary of ways, like Camus, in the kind of car crash that is such an everyday occurrence it never warrants a second look unless the victim is a celebrity or someone we know.

David and I weren’t close, but we got along well. He was always exceptionally kind to me, very generous with sources and advice, and funny as hell with stories from his legendary past. It’s a cliché, but he was a larger-than-life figure, a big, distinguished-looking man with a carefully cultivated baritone voice and a touch of pomposity that was tempered by a look in his eye and a hint of a smile that let you know that he knew exactly what he was doing.

He was among the very best reporters I’ve ever known.

If there was one thing above all else that David taught us, it was to be skeptical of official accounts, to stay always on guard against the lies, fabrications, half-truths, misrepresentations, exaggerations and all other manifestations of falsehood that are fired at us like machine-gun bullets by government officials and others in high places, often with lethal results.

“You have to keep digging,” he would say, “keep asking questions, because otherwise you’ll be seduced or brainwashed into the idea that it’s somehow a great privilege, an honor, to report the lies they’ve been feeding you.”

On the day after David was killed, a Congressional committee in Washington held a public hearing to explore the extraordinary lies concocted by the government to describe the killing of Cpl. Pat Tillman, a former N.F.L. football player, in Afghanistan, and the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in the very early days of the war in Iraq.

Corporal Tillman was killed by an American soldier in a friendly-fire incident. Instead of telling the truth, the military created an account in which Corporal Tillman, exhibiting extreme bravery, was cut down by enemy fire.

Pat Tillman’s younger brother, Kevin, appalled at what the government had done, told the committee how the corporal had been publicly praised and posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor for what the Army described as his heroic confrontation with the “well-armed enemy.”

The only problem with the Army’s account, said Kevin Tillman, was that “it was utter fiction.”

The initial account of the incident in which Private Lynch was taken prisoner (she was later rescued) was lifted straight from Hollywood, a typical macho fantasy of war. There was no validity to the story, and Private Lynch, very seriously wounded, had had nothing to do with it. Ms. Lynch told the committee that “the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting” was simply not true.

She said she remains “confused as to why they chose to lie.”

A government that will lie about the tragic fates of honorable young Americans like Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch will lie to the public about anything.

One of the primary tasks of a journalist is to protect the public from such lies by exposing them, and by reporting the truth. David Halberstam was a master at that.

In a larger sense, our job has to do with the question Julia Campbell asked in those days when her heart was set on a career in journalism. We don’t know why the world is the way it is, but the job of the journalist is always in some sense to chase after the answer to that question.

US forces storms Sadr's office, arrest those inside

BAGHDAD, April 29 (KUNA) -- Armed clashes broke out in Kadhmiya district in northern Baghdad Sunday after an American force stormed Shiitte cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr's office and arrested some of the people inside.

A source at the Iraqi police told KUNA US forces exchanged fire shots with the guards of Al-Sadr's office. He said the guards resisted the American troops.

American army vehicles surrounded the office and the forces started shooting at it then stormed it and arrested the people inside, said the source.
Locals at Khadmiya and eyewitnesses said the exchange of fire lasted for some an hour.

They reported that warnings, through loud speakers of mosques, to the citizens that the American forces were surrounding Al-Sadr's office.

Iraqi Artists Look to Spruce Up Baghdad

BAGHDAD - It was something you don't see everyday on the streets of Baghdad, a man squatting on the sidewalk, earnestly dipping a brush into yellow paint, then sweeping it onto a concrete wall.

But a group of Iraqi artists - Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and others - have come together to beautify a stretch of the bleak, gray blast barriers on central Baghdad's Saadoun Street erected to protect the area from car bombings and other attacks.

The murals range from the pastoral to the historical - with scenes from the era of the ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi.

"About 80 Iraqi artists from different parts of Iraq and of different religious and ethnic backgrounds decided to participate in this initiative in a bid to bring happiness and joy to the Iraqis who see these walls everywhere and everyday and can't do anything about it," Talib Muhsin said as he painted a 2 1/2-by-10-yard scene of a palm grove with white birds.

The initiative comes as Iraqis are engaged in a fierce debate over a wall under construction elsewhere in Baghdad.

The U.S. military announced earlier this month that it was building a three-mile long, 12-foot tall security barrier in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad whose residents often fall victim to retaliatory mortar attacks by Shiite militants following bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say the plan was aimed at protecting the neighborhood and was one of several security measures that were part of a strategy of enforcing so-called "gated communities."

Residents and Sunni leaders complained it was a form of discrimination that would isolate the community.

Muhsin, a 42-year-old artist who graduated from Iraq's College of Fine Arts in 1987, said that as long as authorities insisted on building the walls, they may as well look nice........

82 Inmates Cleared but Still Held at Guantanamo

LONDON -- More than a fifth of the approximately 385 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been cleared for release but may have to wait months or years for their freedom because U.S. officials are finding it increasingly difficult to line up places to send them, according to Bush administration officials and defense lawyers.

Since February, the Pentagon has notified about 85 inmates or their attorneys that they are eligible to leave after being cleared by military review panels. But only a handful have gone home, including a Moroccan and an Afghan who were released Tuesday. Eighty-two remain at Guantanamo and face indefinite waits as U.S. officials struggle to figure out when and where to deport them, and under what conditions.

In many cases, the prisoners' countries do not want them back. Yemen, for instance, has balked at accepting some of the 106 Yemeni nationals at Guantanamo by challenging the legality of their citizenship.

Another major obstacle: U.S. laws that prevent the deportation of people to countries where they could face torture or other human rights abuses, as in the case of 17 Chinese Muslim separatists who have been cleared for release but fear they could be executed for political reasons if returned to China.

Compounding the problem are persistent refusals by the United States, its European allies and other countries to grant asylum to prisoners who are stateless or have no place to go.......

A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key


WASHINGTON, April 28 — No foreign diplomat has been closer or had more access to President Bush, his family and his administration than the magnetic and fabulously wealthy Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.

Prince Bandar has mentored Mr. Bush and his father through three wars and the broader campaign against terrorism, reliably delivering — sometimes in the Oval Office — his nation’s support for crucial Middle East initiatives dependent on the regional legitimacy the Saudis could bring, as well as timely warnings of Saudi regional priorities that might put it into apparent conflict with the United States. Even after his 22-year term as Saudi ambassador ended in 2005, he still seemed the insider’s insider. But now, current and former Bush administration officials are wondering if the longtime reliance on him has begun to outlive its usefulness.

Bush administration officials have been scratching their heads over steps taken by Prince Bandar’s uncle, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that have surprised them by going against the American playbook, after receiving assurances to the contrary from Prince Bandar during secret trips he made to Washington.

For instance, in February, King Abdullah effectively torpedoed plans by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a high-profile peace summit meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, by brokering a power-sharing agreement with Mr. Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas that did not require Hamas to recognize Israel or forswear violence. The Americans had believed, after discussions with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis were on board with the strategy of isolating Hamas.

American officials also believed, again after speaking with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis might agree to direct engagement with Israel as part of a broad American plan to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. King Abdullah countermanded that plan.

Most bitingly, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh three weeks ago, the king condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.” The Bush administration, caught off guard, was infuriated, and administration officials have found Prince Bandar hard to reach since.

Since the Iraq war and the attendant plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world, King Abdullah has been striving to set a more independent and less pro-American course, American and Arab officials said................

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Loud explosions rock southern Baghdad - witnesses

BAGHDAD, April 29 (Reuters) - About two dozen loud explosions shook southern Baghdad on Sunday, Reuters reporters heard.

The blasts, several seconds apart, sounded like artillery.

The U.S. military could not immediately confirm the cause of the blasts. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the military sometimes fired artillery in support of operations.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops have been deployed in Baghdad as part of a 10-week-old security crackdown to combat sectarian militias and insurgents.

While the plan has reduced the number of sectarian killings, car bombs in the capital and across Iraq remain a security concern for military commanders.

Many roadside bombs, the deadliest weapon for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, have exploded recently in southern Baghdad.


US launches artillery barrage in southern Baghdad

BAGHDAD, April 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. military in Iraq launched an artillery barrage in southern Baghdad on Sunday against suspected insurgent targets, with two dozen loud explosions shaking the southern outskirts of the capital.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the morning blasts, which were heard across the city, were caused by U.S. artillery but declined to say what the target was.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops have been deployed in Baghdad as part of a 10-week-old security crackdown to combat sectarian militias and insurgents.

The Iraqi police said the artillery was being fired from the U.S. Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad into the al-Buaitha neighbourhood of Dora, a volatile district that is a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

FRANK RICH: All the President’s Press

SOMEHOW it’s hard to imagine David Halberstam yukking it up with Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz and two discarded “American Idol” contestants at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Before there was a Woodward and Bernstein, there was Halberstam, still not yet 30 in the early 1960s, calling those in power to account for lying about our “progress” in Vietnam. He did so even though J.F.K. told the publisher of The Times, “I wish like hell that you’d get Halberstam out of there.” He did so despite public ridicule from the dean of that era’s Georgetown punditocracy, the now forgotten columnist (and Vietnam War cheerleader) Joseph Alsop.

It was Alsop’s spirit, not Halberstam’s, that could be seen in C-Span’s live broadcast of the correspondents’ dinner last Saturday, two days before Halberstam’s death in a car crash in California. This fete is a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent “mushroom clouds” to “Saving Private Lynch” to “Mission Accomplished,” whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday. For all the recrimination, self-flagellation and reforms that followed these journalistic failures, it’s far from clear that the entire profession yet understands why it has lost the public’s faith.

That state of denial was center stage at the correspondents’ dinner last year, when the invited entertainer, Stephen Colbert, “fell flat,” as The Washington Post summed up the local consensus. To the astonishment of those in attendance, a funny thing happened outside the Beltway the morning after: the video of Mr. Colbert’s performance became a national sensation. (Last week it was still No. 2 among audiobook downloads on iTunes.) Washington wisdom had it that Mr. Colbert bombed because he was rude to the president. His real sin was to be rude to the capital press corps, whom he caricatured as stenographers. Though most of the Washington audience failed to find the joke funny, Americans elsewhere, having paid a heavy price for the press’s failure to challenge White House propaganda about Iraq, laughed until it hurt.

You’d think that l’affaire Colbert would have led to a little circumspection, but last Saturday’s dinner was another humiliation. And not just because this year’s entertainer, an apolitical nightclub has-been (Rich Little), was a ludicrously tone-deaf flop. More appalling — and symptomatic of the larger sycophancy — was the press’s insidious role in President Bush’s star turn at the event.

It’s the practice on these occasions that the president do his own comic shtick, but this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining, saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a “funny guy.” Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a “funny guy” at other press banquets we’ve watched on C-Span? At the equivalent Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association gala three years ago, the president contributed an elaborate (and tasteless) comic sketch about his failed search for Saddam’s W.M.D.

But the revelers in the ballroom last Saturday could not raise that discrepancy and challenge Mr. Bush’s hypocrisy; they could only clap. And so they served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the president’s sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops’ coffins.

By coincidence, this year’s dinner occurred just before a Congressional hearing filled in some new blanks in the still incomplete story of a more egregious White House propaganda extravaganza: the Pat Tillman hoax. As it turns out, the correspondents’ dinner played an embarrassing cameo role in it, too.

What the hearing underscored was the likelihood that the White House also knew very early on what the Army knew and covered up: the football star’s supposed death in battle in Afghanistan, vividly described in a Pentagon press release awarding him a Silver Star, was a complete fabrication, told to the world (and Tillman’s parents) even though top officers already suspected he had died by friendly fire. The White House apparently decided to join the Pentagon in maintaining that lie so that it could be milked for P.R. purposes on two television shows, the correspondents’ dinner on May 1, 2004, and a memorial service for Tillman two days later.

The timeline of events in the week or so leading up to that dinner is startling. Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004. By the next day top officers knew he had not been killed by enemy fire. On April 29, a top special operations commander sent a memo to John Abizaid, among other generals, suggesting that the White House be warned off making specific public claims about how Tillman died. Simultaneously, according to an e-mail that surfaced last week, a White House speechwriter contacted the Pentagon to gather information about Tillman for use at the correspondents’ dinner.

When President Bush spoke at the dinner at week’s end, he followed his jokes with a eulogy about Tillman’s sacrifice. But he kept the circumstances of Tillman’s death vague, no doubt because the White House did indeed get the message that the Pentagon’s press release about Tillman’s losing his life in battle was fiction. Yet it would be four more weeks before Pat Tillman’s own family was let in on the truth.

To see why the administration wanted to keep the myth going, just look at other events happening in the week before that correspondents’ dinner. On April 28, 2004, CBS broadcast the first photographs from Abu Ghraib; on April 29 a poll on The Times’s front page found the president’s approval rating on the war was plummeting; on April 30 Ted Koppel challenged the administration’s efforts to keep the war dead hidden by reading the names of the fallen on “Nightline.” Tillman could be useful to help drown out all this bad news, and to an extent he was. The Washington press corps that applauded the president at the correspondents’ dinner is the same press corps that was slow to recognize the importance of Abu Ghraib that weekend and, as documented by a new study, “When the Press Fails” (University of Chicago Press), even slower to label the crimes as torture.

In his PBS report last week about the journalism breakdown before the war, Bill Moyers said that “the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses.” That’s not universally true; a number of news organizations have owned up to their disasters and tried to learn from them. Yet old habits die hard: for too long the full weight of the scandal in the Gonzales Justice Department eluded some of the Washington media pack, just as Abu Ghraib and the C.I.A. leak case did.

After last weekend’s correspondents’ dinner, The Times decided to end its participation in such events. But even were the dinner to vanish altogether, it remains but a yearly televised snapshot of the overall syndrome. The current White House, weakened as it is, can still establish story lines as fake as “Mission Accomplished” and get a free pass.

To pick just one overarching example: much of the press still takes it as a given that Iraq has a functioning government that might meet political benchmarks (oil law, de-Baathification reform, etc., etc.) that would facilitate an American withdrawal. In reality, the Maliki “government” can’t meet any benchmarks, even if they were enforced, because that government exists only as a fictional White House talking point. As Gen. Barry McCaffrey said last week, this government doesn’t fully control a single province. Its Parliament, now approaching a scheduled summer recess, has passed no major legislation in months. Iraq’s sole recent democratic achievement is to ban the release of civilian casualty figures, lest they challenge White House happy talk about “progress” in Iraq.

It’s our country’s bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway. Take the current dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, who is leading the charge in ridiculing Harry Reid for saying the obvious — that “this war is lost” (as it is militarily, unless we stay in perpetuity and draft many more troops). In February, Mr. Broder handed down another gem of Beltway conventional wisdom, suggesting that “at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback.”

Some may recall that Stephen Colbert offered the same prediction in his monologue at the correspondents’ dinner a year ago. “I don’t believe this is a low point in this presidency,” he said. “I believe it is just a lull before a comeback.” But the fake pundit, unlike the real one, recognized that this was a joke.

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF: Diplomacy at Its Worst

In May 2003, Iran sent a secret proposal to the U.S. for settling our mutual disputes in a “grand bargain.”

It is an astonishing document, for it tries to address a range of U.S. concerns about nuclear weapons, terrorism and Iraq. I’ve placed it and related documents (including multiple drafts of it) on my blog,

Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal, and interviews with key players suggest that was an appalling mistake. There was a real hope for peace; now there is a real danger of war.

Scattered reports of the Iranian proposal have emerged previously, but if you read the full documentary record you’ll see that what the hard-liners killed wasn’t just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process. The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials — which makes me ache for my country.

The process began with Afghanistan in 2001-2. Iran and the U.S., both opponents of the Taliban, cooperated closely in stabilizing Afghanistan and providing aid, and unofficial “track two” processes grew to explore opportunities for improved relations.

On the U.S. side, track two involved well-connected former U.S. ambassadors, including Thomas Pickering, Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt. The Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif, was a central player, as was an Iranian-American professor at Rutgers, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who heads a friendship group called the American Iranian Council.

At a dinner the council sponsored for its board at Ambassador Zarif’s home in September 2002, the group met Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. According to the notes of Professor Amirahmadi, the foreign minister told the group, “Yes, we are ready to normalize relations,” provided the U.S. made the first move.

This was shaping into a historic opportunity to heal U.S.-Iranian relations, and the track two participants discussed further steps, including joint U.S.-Iranian cooperation against Saddam Hussein. The State Department and National Security Council were fully briefed, and in 2003 Ambassador Zarif met with two U.S. officials, Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad, in a series of meetings in Paris and Geneva.

Encouraged, Iran transmitted its “grand bargain” proposals to the U.S. One version was apparently a paraphrase by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran; that was published this year in The Washington Post.

But Iran also sent its own master text of the proposal to the State Department and, through an intermediary, to the White House. I’ve also posted that document, which Iran regards as the definitive one.

In the master document, Iran talks about ensuring “full transparency” and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran offers “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization.” Iran also contemplates an end to “any material support to Palestinian opposition groups” while pressuring Hamas “to stop violent actions against civilians within” Israel (though not the occupied territories). Iran would support the transition of Hezbollah to be a “mere political organization within Lebanon” and endorse the Saudi initiative calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran also demanded a lot, including “mutual respect,” abolition of sanctions, access to peaceful nuclear technology and a U.S. statement that Iran did not belong in the “axis of evil.” Many crucial issues, including verification of Iran’s nuclear program, needed to be hammered out. It’s not clear to me that a grand bargain was reachable, but it was definitely worth pursuing — and still is today.

Instead, Bush administration hard-liners aborted the process. Another round of talks had been scheduled for Geneva, and Ambassador Zarif showed up — but not the U.S. side. That undermined Iranian moderates.

A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords.

I’ve chosen the two winners of my second annual “win-a-trip contest.” One is Leana Wen, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis. The second is Will Okun, who teaches at Westside Alternative High School in Chicago and dabbles in photography and writing.

Leana, Will and I will travel together through Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo. Stay tuned.

DAVID BROOKS: Grim Old Party

At the University of Chicago there’s a group of scholars who are members of what is called the Rational Expectations school of economics. They believe human beings tend to anticipate unpleasant future events and seek in advance to avoid them. Their teachings do not apply to the Republican Party.

The Republicans suffered one unpleasant event in November 2006, and they are headed toward an even nastier one in 2008. The Democrats have opened up a wide advantage in party identification and are crushing the G.O.P. among voters under 30.

Moreover, there has been a clear shift, in poll after poll, away from Republican positions on social issues and on attitudes toward government. Democratic approaches are favored on almost all domestic, tax and fiscal issues, and even on foreign affairs.

The public, in short, wants change.

And yet the Republicans refuse to offer that. On Capitol Hill, there is a strange passivity in Republican ranks. Republicans are privately disgusted with how President Bush has led their party and the nation, but they don’t publicly offer any alternatives. They just follow sullenly along. They privately believe the country needs new approaches to the war against Islamic extremism, but they don’t offer them. They try to block Democratic initiatives, but they don’t offer the country any new ways to think about the G.O.P.

They are like people quietly marching to their doom.

And at the presidential level, things are even worse. The party is blessed with a series of charismatic candidates who are not orthodox Republicans. But the pressures of the campaign are such that these candidates have had to repress anything that might make them interesting. Instead of offering something new, each of them has been going around pretending to be the second coming of George Allen — a bland, orthodox candidate who will not challenge any of the party’s customs or prejudices.

Mitt Romney created an interesting health care reform, but he’s suppressing that in an effort to pretend to be George Allen. Rudy Giuliani has an unusual profile that won him a majority of votes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, of all places, but he’s suppressing that to be George Allen. John McCain has a record on taxes and spending that suggests he really could take on entitlements. But at least until last week, he suppressed that in order not to offend the George Allen vote.

And just in case any of these George Allen wannabes weren’t George Allen enough for voters, Fred Thompson may enter the race as the Authentic Conservative, even though deep in his heart he’s no more George Allen than the rest of them.

The big question is, Why are the Republicans so immobile?

There are several reasons. First, there are structural barriers to change. As it has aged, the conservative movement has grown a collection of special interest groups that restrict its mobility. Anybody who offers unorthodox tax policies gets whacked by the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform. Anybody who offers unorthodox social policies gets whacked by James Dobson.

Second, there is the corrupting influence of teamism. Being a good conservative now means sticking together with other conservatives, not thinking new and adventurous thoughts. Those who stray from the reservation are accused of selling out to the mainstream media by the guardians of conservative correctness.

Third, there is the oppressive power of the past. Conservatives have allowed a simplistic view of Ronald Reagan to define the sacred parameters of thought. Reagan himself was flexible, unorthodox and creative. But conservatives have created a mythical, rigid Reagan, and any deviation from that is considered unholy.

Fourth, there is the bunker mentality. Republican morale has been brutalized by the Iraq war and the party’s decline. This state of emotional pain is not conducive to risk-taking and free and open debate.

In sum, Republicans know they need to change, but they have closed off all the avenues for change.

The tale is not entirely hopeless. McCain seems now to be throwing off his yoke. Newt Gingrich is way ahead of his colleagues when it comes to new ideas and policies. The libertarians and paleoconservatives have been losing for so long they are suddenly quite interesting. There are even a few of us who think it is time to revive the Alexander Hamilton-Theodore Roosevelt legacy.

Change could, miraculously, come soon. But the odds are it will take a few more crushing defeats before Republicans tear down the self-imposed walls that confine them.

Iranian tip-off may have led Americans to al-Qaeda leader

A major in Saddam's army, believed to have masterminded the London bombings, could have been betrayed in Tehran, reports Jason Burke

Sunday April 29, 2007
The Observer

British diplomats are checking secret reports that elements within Iran, normally hostile to the West, helped the American secret services to capture Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the Kurdish-born senior al-Qaeda militant who was revealed last week to have been arrested on the border between Iran and Iraq late last year.

Abdul Hadi, 45, a former Iraqi army officer who speaks five languages and is a key link between the al-Qaeda leadership in western Pakistan and militants in Iraq, had 'met with al-Qaeda leaders in Iran' and had urged them to support efforts in Iraq and to cause 'problems within Iran', US military sources told The Observer

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Elements within the complex matrix of interest groups that make up the Iranian regime, who have co-operated with Western intelligence services before when it has served their purposes, provided crucial elements of information, possibly through intermediaries, allowing Abdul Hadi to be captured. 'They may have felt he posed an equal threat to them,' said one Paris-based Middle Eastern diplomat yesterday. 'One of Tehran's biggest fears is of an alliance between Kurdish ethnic separatists in the northwest and al-Qaeda.'

Any such help would have been highly secret, given the tense relations between the Iranian regime and Western nations which came to a head with last month's detention of British naval personnel, allegations that Tehran is supporting Shia militants in Iraq and fierce recriminations over Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear technology.

However, senior US intelligence officials told The Observer that the Iranian government has 'in some cases' been helpful in tracking and 'disabling' key militants crossing their national territory between Iraq and Afghanistan. The key Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel, once in charge of training al-Qaeda's new recruits, and one of Osama bin Laden's sons are both believed to be under some kind of detention in Iran.

However, though such co-operation was relatively common in the years immediately following the 11 September attacks, the sources said, it had ceased more recently.

Though they refused to confirm that Abdul Hadi was picked up on the frontier with Iran, Pentagon officials said that he had been attempting to return to Iraq 'to manage al-Qaeda affairs and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets'.

Regional governments have made no comment on the arrest, but Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao described the arrest as a 'welcome development'. Senior British officials appeared unaware that Abdul Hadi had been detained by the CIA nearly six months ago, despite the militant's reported links to the London bomb plots and suspected interest in organising attacks on British soil. Intelligence services in the northern Iraqi cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah said Abdul Hadi, whose real name is Nashwan abd al-Razzaq abd al-Baqi, was well known to them.

Born in 1961 in the northern city of Mosul, Abdul Hadi - who is being held at Guantanamo Bay - is thought to have served in the Iraqi national army in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s before becoming involved in the Islamist groups active in northern Iraq's urban areas at the time. He is believed to have travelled to Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s to fight Soviet occupiers, fighting alongside the militia group of hardline local warlord Abd al-Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf. As Afghanistan sunk into civil war in the early 1990s, Abdul Hadi is thought to have stayed in the region, based in the western Pakistan city of Peshawar, where he instructed recruits in Sayyaf's complex of training camps. One Pakistani source told The Observer he had taken at least one local wife from among the city's large population of Afghan refugees and had at least one son. Towards the end of the decade, Abdul Hadi gravitated towards bin Laden's al-Qaeda, becoming close to the Saudi-born terrorist leader and taking up a position on his ruling consultative council. In the late 1990s Abdul Hadi commanded a unit of international volunteers fighting alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance of Ahmad Shah Massoud in the northeastern Afghan province of Takhar.

He became known to Western intelligence services during the battle of Shah-e-Kot in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002, when he is thought to have commanded the militants who inflicted heavy casualties on American troops and their Afghan auxiliaries in fierce fighting. A year later he is believed to have been appointed al-Qaeda's 'director of external operations', replacing Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 11 September attacks, who was arrested in Pakistan. 'It is the most exposed position in the al-Qaeda structure because it is the link with the outside world,' one British counter-terrorism official said. 'It's the job with the worst long-term prospects in the world.'

A document prepared by the UK's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre quoted Abdul Hadi as calling for an attack against the UK this summer, 'ideally before Tony Blair leaves office'. According to the document, he 'stressed the need to take care to ensure that the attack was successful and on a large scale'.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official confirmed that Abdul Hadi had been one of the key targets of a series of bloody offensives by Islamabad's troops in the 'tribal territories' and was believed to be a direct link between al-Qaeda leaders and the Taliban and deeply implicated in organising attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan. He had disappeared some time during mid-2005, around when the Pentagon says Abdul Hadi had been posted as a key link between bin Laden and local Iraqi militants, but surfaced in a violent recruiting video apparently filmed in Afghanistan.

His capture came just weeks after the US State Department issued his photograph and offered £500,000 for information on his whereabouts.

The Waning of the GOP

By William F. Buckley Jr.

The political problem of the Bush administration is grave, possibly beyond the point of rescue. The opinion polls are savagely decisive on the Iraq question. About 60 percent (CLOSER TO 70 PERCENT) of Americans wish the war ended — wish at least a timetable for orderly withdrawal. What is going on in Congress is in the nature of accompaniment. The vote in Congress is simply another salient in the war against war in Iraq. Republican forces, with a couple of exceptions, held fast against the Democrats’ attempt to force Bush out of Iraq even if it required fiddling with the Constitution. President Bush will of course veto the bill, but its impact is critically important in the consolidation of public opinion. It can now accurately be said that the legislature, which writes the people’s laws, opposes the war.

Meanwhile, George Tenet, former head of the CIA, has just published a book which seems to demonstrate that there was one part ignorance, one part bullheadedness, in the high-level discussions before war became policy. Mr. Tenet at least appears to demonstrate that there was nothing in the nature of a genuine debate on the question. What he succeeded in doing was aborting a speech by Vice President Cheney which alleged a Saddam/al Qaeda relationship which had not in fact been established.

It isn’t that Tenet now doubts the lethality of the terrorists. What he disputed was an organizational connection which argued for war against Iraq as if Iraq were a vassal state of al Qaeda. A measure of George Tenet’s respect for the reach and malevolence of the enemy is his statement that he is puzzled that Al Qaeda has not, since 2001, sent out “suicide bombers to cause chaos in a half dozen American shopping malls on any given day.” By way of prophecy, he writes that there is one thing he feels in his gut, which is that “Al Qaeda is here and waiting.”

But beyond affirming executive supremacy in matters of war, what is George Bush going to do? It is simply untrue that we are making decisive progress in Iraq. The indicators rise and fall from day to day, week to week, month to month. In South Vietnam there was an organized enemy. There is clearly organization in the strikes by the terrorists against our forces and against the civil government in Iraq, but whereas in Vietnam we had Hanoi as the operative headquarters of the enemy, we have no equivalent of that in Iraq, and that is a matter of paralyzing importance. All those bombings, explosions, assassinations: we are driven to believe that they are, so to speak, spontaneous.

When the Romans were challenged by Christianity, Rome fell. The generation of Christians moved by their faith overwhelmed the regimented reserves of the Roman state. It was four years ago that Mr. Cheney first observed that there was a real fear that each fallen terrorist leads to the materialization of another terrorist. What can a “surge,” of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn’t any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.

General Petraeus is a wonderfully commanding figure. But if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, he cannot win against it. Students of politics ask then the derivative question: How can the Republican party, headed by a president determined on a war he can’t see an end to, attract the support of a majority of the voters? General Petraeus, in his Pentagon briefing on April 26, reported persuasively that there has been progress, but cautioned, “I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and again I note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.”

The general makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.

Retired Gen.: Bush Should Sign Iraq Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush should sign legislation starting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on Oct. 1, retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom said Saturday.

"I hope the president seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill Congress has sent him," Odom said, delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address.

Odom, an outspoken critic of the war who served as the Army's top intelligence officer and headed the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration, delivered the address at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He said he has never been a Democrat or a Republican.

The general accused Bush of squandering U.S. lives and helping Iran and al-Qaida when he invaded Iraq.

"The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place," he said. "The president has let (the Iraq war) proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued. He lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies.".....

Friday, April 27, 2007

Minor Threat

The Opinionator

Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks advances an argument that is usually verboten among mainstream opinion-slingers: International terrorism does not represent an existential threat to the United States. “The 9/11 attacks were appalling and tragic, but they did not threaten the survival of the nation,” Brooks writes. “The year 2001 aside, total deaths (not just of Americans) caused by international terrorism worldwide have never exceeded — or even approached — 2,000 a year. Sept. 11 was an outlier: On 9/11, a group of brutal, extremist Islamic thugs got very lucky.” She continues:

Of course, 3,000 dead is 3,000 too many. But keep it in perspective. As a nation, we have survived far worse. We lost more than 100,000 Americans in World War I, more than 400,000 in World War II, 37,000 in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam — all without allowing our national character to turn into quivering jelly.

Every year, we also lose millions of Americans to preventable accidents and disease. We’re more likely to die on the road than as a result of Al Qaeda’s machinations. Annually, we lose some 43,000 people to auto accidents. For the grieving families, that’s 43,000 deaths too many. But, although we surely could reduce auto fatalities if we chose to make it our top national priority, the Bush administration has yet to announce a “War on Highway Deaths.”


A Dull First Debate

The Democrats debated. Not much of significance took place. Time’s Joe Klein gives his post-game wrap-up at Swampland: ” Most of the spinners were … speechless, or trading restaurant recommendations in Charleston, or asking reporters, ‘What did you think?’ This represents a major advance toward honesty in Democratic Party post-game politics.” (Democratic Party activist Matt Stoller described the candidates this way in a mid-debate post at “They are faithfully representing themselves.”) The New Republic’s Michael Crowley, on the other hand, thinks the time restraints made Joe Biden more, um, articulate than usual. “Is there some way to outfit him with, say, a high-tech ankle bracelet that issues a mild electric shock when he speaks for more than 30 uninterrupted seconds?” Crowley writes at The Plank. “It’d make him an instant frontrunner!”

  • The Washington Post editorial page denounces the return of the mysterious and anonymous Sen. Luddite, who is preventing the Senate from joining the late 20th century by blocking a bill that would require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically.

  • “We’ll never know if Iraq would be in any better shape today if the administration had stuck to the original scheme and handed off power to the first Iraqi exile who arrived in Baghdad with an autographed photo of Dick Cheney, or just asked Grand Ayatollah Sistani to pick a transitional government,” writes the Democratic Leadership Council’s Ed Kilgore at “But it’s unlikely it could have turned out much worse.”