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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beware the "halftime flush" 

Just when you thought modern life couldn't get any more complicated:

Miami civic officials are asking residents to time their trips to the bathroom during the Super Bowl because extra flushing at halftime can put added stress on the sewers.
The city said that to be on the safe side, people should stagger their trips to the loo because the so-called Halftime Flush could lead to clogs, worsen already leaky toilets and lower water pressure.

It is estimated that at halftime of the Super Bowl, across the United States 90 million people will flush about 350 million gallons (1.3 billion litres) of water down the toilet at the same time.

It is equivalent to the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls every 39 minutes.

I have this feeling that someone out there has already figured out an apocolyptic angle on this story, but I can't figure out what it is. Peak oil? Hmmm.

Oh, now I have it! Its another Halliburton conspiracy!

In the latest broadside against Halliburton and its performance in Iraq, Senate Democrats produced an e-mail Friday from Capt. A. Michelle Callahan, a family physician serving at Qayyarah Airfield West, recounting how she treated six infections over a two-week period in January, at the same time she was noticing the water in base showers was cloudy and foul-smelling.

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Quip o' the day 


Say what you will about Al Sharpton, but his personal hygiene appears to be excellent.

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Notes on Iran: Those helpful American doves 


Wittingly or not, the United States government continues to pressure Iran and strengthen its own hand. There are two bits to chew on buried in today's news, neither of which will delight most TigerHawk readers at first blush. On a closer inspection, however, they are interesting.

First, several Senators have "warned" against war with Iran.

Republican and Democratic senators warned Tuesday against a drift toward war with an emboldened Iran and suggested the Bush administration was missing a chance to engage its longtime adversary in potentially helpful talks over next-door Iraq.

"What I think many of us are concerned about is that we stumble into active hostilities with Iran without having aggressively pursued diplomatic approaches, without the American people understanding exactly what's taking place," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told John Negroponte, who is in line to become the nation's No. 2 diplomat as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy.

Obama, a candidate for president in 2008, warned during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that senators of both parties will demand "clarity and transparency in terms of U.S. policy so that we don't repeat some of the mistakes that have been made in the past," a reference to the faulty intelligence underlying the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Most of you will agree that in the playing of poker with Persians the last thing one needs is "transparency," so normally a story like this would spin me up. Why would we ever want Iran to know what our next move would be? How could that possibly help us in any negotiation? But then I realized that the first part of the story is potentially quite helpful to American signal-senders. If the anti-war Senators weren't accusing the Bush administration of risking or intentionally plotting military action against Iran, the mullahs would conclude that American or Israeli threats pumped through the "back channel" were mere bluffs. The silence of the left would betray the weakness of our hand, and any negotiation with Iran would be much more difficult. Instead, the mullahs must be wondering whether the flapping of the Senate's doves is a sign that the administration might be preparing an attack. Much as it vexes me to think it, the doves have probably improved the chances for avoiding war not by intimidating the Bush administration but by increasing the uncertainty in Iran's calculation and thereby decreasing the chance that the mullahs will call the bluff.

Chew on that one and get back to me in the comments.

Second, the Bush administration is showing some new subtlety in its dealings with Iran. Yes, it has been rolling up Iranian operatives in Iraq and loading up the Persian Gulf with carrier groups. At the same time, we seem to be inching our way toward overt direct talks. Today, John Negroponte said that "[t]he US is 'reluctant' to hold direct talks with Iran until there is progress in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program...." I believe it is the case that up until today we have said explicitly that we would not hold direct talks with Iran unless it froze its nuclear fuel program. No we're only "reluctant" to do so. Well, even George W. Bush can overcome "reluctance."

If I am correct that Negroponte's statement signals a shift, the Bush administration -- with the unwitting complicity of the Senate doves -- has contrived (1) to threaten Iran both implicitly and explicitly, (2) to boost the credibility of that threat by persuading a large number of dovish Senators to complain about the threat on television, and (3) to offer the Iranians a new carrot, direct negotiations without the condition that they suspend their nuclear program in advance. That's either lucky or subtle. Since the Bush administration has been neither for at least four years, I don't really care which it is.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

O'Quiz!!!! 


I got to this week's O'Quiz only a day after its normal release, and put up a "7," which regular readers know is a huge score for me. The current average score (at least until TigerHawk readers storm in and raise it up!): 4.72.


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How to segment a market: Espresso for the menfolk 


Now it is being sold extra, er, steamy.


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Notes on Iran: Stratfor on the back channel 


It is -- AARRRGGGHHH!!! -- annual review season, so I am extremely busy. I am delighted, however, to send a little Iranish reading your way, perhaps with some commentary later in the day. First up, Stratfor's evening analysis (sub. req.), which has something for everybody:

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini said at a weekly press conference in Tehran on Jan. 28 that Iran is pondering a message received from certain U.S. officials and politicians. Hosseini was intentionally vague on the details of the letter, only saying that the contents "will be divulged in due time," and that the names of the U.S. officials who had sent the message could not yet be revealed. The United States has not officially commented on the issue, although a spokesman from the U.S. National Security Council told Stratfor that the White House has nothing that would confirm that U.S. officials have sent a message to Iran.

Stratfor has discussed at length the logic behind U.S. President George W. Bush's troop surge strategy for Iraq. The United States is moving forward with a plan to bolster its negotiating position in relation to Iran. This plan involves reversing the expectations that the United States is left with no option but to admit defeat and withdraw its forces, and keeping the Iranians second-guessing about any U.S. and Israeli plans to take military action against Iran.

In the public sphere, the Bush administration will maintain a hard-line stance against Iran and make clear that U.S. forces will counter the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force's operations in Iraq by conducting raids and arresting Iranian officials involved in aggravating the Iraq insurgency. The troop surge has already been effective to some extent in bringing rebel Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to the negotiating table. In spite of considerable restraint from Russia and China, the United States will also make a push in the U.N. Security Council to enforce sanctions against Iran for its insistence on pressing forward with uranium enrichment.

Behind the scenes, however, the United States is likely revitalizing back-channel talks with Tehran to work toward a diplomatic resolution on Iraq. The Bush administration typically communicates with Iran via unofficial channels to maintain plausible deniability and to check Iranian moves to exploit Washington's call for talks. With Iran facing potential troubles of its own should Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pass away, Washington is hoping this two-pronged approach will hasten negotiations and allow Bush to claim progress in Iraq by November.

By publicizing the alleged letter from U.S. officials, Iran is ensuring that Washington follows through with any commitments it makes in back-channel talks on Iraq. U.S. diplomatic agencies have been quiet on the issue thus far, raising the slight possibility that Hosseini's statement is part of an Iranian disinformation campaign. While the United States is in the midst of trying to strengthen its hand in Iraq by taking a tougher stance against Tehran, the Iranian government can inject distrust and uncertainty among the Sunni Arab states that fear Tehran and Washington could strike a deal on Iraq that would leave the Shia in a prime position to project influence into the heart of the Sunni Arab world.

The question -- and it is difficult -- is whether Iran wants a stable Iraq in the abstract, in the long run. If it does, the United States has more leverage than is obvious, because it can influence the Sunni Arab states who will continue to subvert a Shiite government of Iraq. If, however, Iran is entirely comfortable with an unstable and tumultuous Iraq on its western frontier, then it is very difficult to see how we can get what we want any "negotiation," whether or not the surge creates some temporary peace. As future posts will discuss, belief in Iran's ultimate desire for a stable Iraq is the cornerstone of the serious "dove" case. Is that belief well-founded?

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Iran's Top Turbin dead? 

Iran's ex-Top Turbin?
Michael Ledeen has been wondering for weeks whether the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei is dead, or as good as dead. He is known to have cancer, so the rumor dovetails well with the recent surge of internal criticism of his hard-line pal, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Well, I just received an email from a source that is often correct that American intelligence -- I don't know which agency -- has concluded that Khamenei has, in fact, died. Unfortunately, Iran's succession planning is sufficiently robust that it is unlikely that the Supreme Leader's expiration will lead to meaningful change, except perhaps in tone.

UPDATE: Per regular commenter DEC, it appears that Khamenei is not only alive, but able to pose for pictures with visiting dignitaries.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

More on John Kerry's genuflection at Davos 


I and other American conservatives weren't the only ones who thought that John Kerry's revolting display at Davos amounted to support for the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranians thought so to.

The really hideous thing about all of this is that even dovish experts on Iran agree that any chance for internal reform of the Islamic Republic is undermined when Westerners kow-tow to the mullahs. Ali Ansari, a strong believer in promoting the internal reform of Iran rather than attacking it, argues that Prince Charles' visit in 2004 after the stolen parliamentary elections demoralized the opposition and "greatly eroded the credibility of the West in the eyes of those Iranian elites who are not friendly toward the mullahs." Well, if a cartoonish figurehead like Prince Charles can have that impact, what message does John Kerry -- who was, after all, only 60,000 Ohio voters shy of the White House -- send when he waxes jocular with the terrorism-fomenting, reform-rejecting, homosexual-executing Mohammad Khatami? When Kerry and other Western leaders lend their credibility to the bad guys running the Islamic Republic, it only serves to diminish the chances for substantial reform from within, which is in turn the best chance we have for resolving the regional security dilemma without war.


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Did we really pave paradise and put up a parking lot? 


In the immortal words of Barack Obama, "the suburbs bore me." But I live in them anyway because they confer great advantages over center cities and are then again not nearly as, well, boring as genuinely rural life. Still, I've long wondered whether our suburban car culture is sustainable or avoidable. The answers, it seems, are "yes" and "no," respectively. The best factoid in the linked article:

In truth, housing in this country takes up less space than most people realize. If the nation were divided into four-person households and each household had an acre, everyone would fit in an area half the size of Texas.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Well, somebody's afraid of the surge 


There are, I think, two groups of people who are afraid that the "surge" might work.

I spent the morning straightening up the house with various Sunday talk shows on in the background. The conviction with which Democratic Senators aver that the "surge" will only make matters worse is startling. They do not explain how it will make matters worse, only that it is inevitable that it will. While I myself am far from certain that the planned changes in tactics, commanders, force levels, rules of engagement and tone with the Iraqi government will work, I do not understand the downside. We are always free to adopt the opposition's idea, which is to withdraw at least from the fight, if not Iraq. If Iraq is in fact the geopolitical disaster that most Democrats (and no few Republicans) claim that it is, it seems to me that the incremental geopolitical risk in the surge is small.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer seemed to give away the game -- at least implicitly -- on "Meet the Press." He quite obviously does not want the next election cycle to be "about" Iraq. One gets the sense that this sentiment is even more pronounced among the Democrats who will be vying for their party's presidential nomination. It is easy to see why: the problem of Iraq will be nothing but trouble for leading Democrats. The party activists who hold sway during the primary season will demand that candidates embrace the so-called "anti-war" agenda without reservation, but if Democrats do that too enthusiastically they will remind voters that their party has been all about defeat since 1972. Since none of them want to be caught in that Liebermanesque trap, leading Democrats are desperate for Iraq to be off the table by next fall. [UPDATE: Hillary's new and bizarre demand that all American troops be out of Iraq by January 2009 is the new, best evidence in support of my suspicions. This was a mistake on her part, for it reinforces the impression that in opposing the surge the Democrats are motivated by electoral considerations rather than an honest appraisal of the national interest.]

From the perspective of Democratic political strategy, the worst possible result would be partial success -- for conditions in Iraq to improve significantly and palpably, but not decisively. That would guarantee that Iraq would remain a central theme in the 2008 campaign, not just as fodder for attacks on Republican "incompetence," but as a problem to be solved in the future, and that would be a nightmare for the leading Democrats. This is the reason, I believe, why at least some leading Democrats are so obviously willing the surge to fail.

Interestingly, the enemy also seems to be afraid of the surge. Under the headline, "Death squad chieftains flee to beat Baghdad surge," the Times of London reported not only that the new plan was motivating "death squad chieftains" to leave the country, but that Iran was sheltering the enemy:

DEATH SQUAD leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop “surge” and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Among those said to have fled is Abu Deraa, the Shi’ite militia leader whose appetite for sectarian savagery has been compared to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed last year.

This is far from unalloyed good news -- since these bastards have gone to Iran, we can't kill them and they will live to fight again. As the linked article makes clear, Prime Minister al-Maliki may have even encouraged them to flee. But scaring the death squad commanders out of the country is a good intermediate step. With the leadership gone, perhaps morale at the lower echelons will suffer, and perhaps the Iraqi army will be able to make some progress in restoring the order that is necessary to strengthen the central government.

There is an additional advantage in this, and that is in the "outing" of Iran. It is, of course, no surprise to anybody who is even remotely aware that the Islamic Republic would provide sanctuary to somebody with an apparently unquenchable "appetite for sectarian savagery." Even under the "reformist" government of John Kerry's new greatest fan, Iran was ecumenical in its willingness to do so. Nevertheless, there remain a great many people in the world -- including United States Senators -- who believe that the perfidy of Iran is an invention of the Bush administration. If the surge clarifies that little ambiguity for the next president of the United States, it will at least have served the purpose of defining the threat.

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Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach joins the Princeton faculty 


As rare as they are, I always enjoy the intersection of Iowa and Princeton. Last week, Princeton University announced that former Iowa Republican Congressman Jim Leach will join the faculty of the Woodrow Wilson School in February for a three term appointment as "the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs and Co. Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs." This is great news for Princeton, and I hope that it is a satisfying experience for Jim Leach. Read the press release for his background, which is much richer than one would ordinarily expect for a Congressman, even from the Hawkeye State.

I have an ancient affection for Jim Leach. He does not know it, but he influenced me enormously when I was a teenager.

In September of 1976, I was a tenth grader at City High School in Iowa City. Our sitting Congressman, the legendary Edward Mezvinsky (who took a star turn on the House Judiciary Committee as a freshman in 1972, and who -- much later -- bilked investors out of millions of dollars and now languishes in jail) was being challenged for the second time by a very young Jim Leach. Leach had lost to Mezvinsky by a slim margin in the Democratic landslide of 1974, and was taking a second shot at it in 1976.

Early in the fall Congressman Mezvinsky came to City High to meet with students as part of what Democrats would now call a "listening" tour. Iowa City was a very liberal college town at a very liberal time, so Mezvinsky probably thought the day would be a cakewalk. Unfortunately for him, a number of conservative students in the room were very well prepared with sharp-edged questions that no reporter for 100 miles would have had the nerve to ask. Mezvinsky's answers were so lame that students started laughing openly, at which point he fled the room. It was my first exposure to guerrilla democracy.

The next day, a bunch of us went downtown to Leach's Johnson County headquarters and volunteered for his campaign. Fortunately, the local Republicans were both desperate enough and sufficiently visionary to realize that a dozen passionate tenth graders could be useful. I and several of my friends worked at least 20 hours a week during the fall campaign. We canvassed our precincts (voters will talk to kids when they won't talk to adults), knocked on doors all over town delivering campaign literature, handed out "Jim Leach for Congress" headbands (red and white paper with a red "Indian" feather sticking up from the back) during the University of Iowa's homecoming parade, stuffed envelopes, served coffee, ran errands, handed out bumper stickers and buttons, put up yard signs, and, totally unbeknownst to campaign officials, tore down Mezvinsky yard signs (only in retaliation for Democrat dirty tricks, mind you!). I learned an enormous amount about local political organizing working on the Leach campaign, and savored his victory as much as anybody who joined in the effort.

Of course, I met Jim Leach many times that fall, and to me and my friends he was a genuine role model. We were right in thinking this. Although Leach often disappointed partisan conservatives, he remained until his retirement one of the genuinely principled members of the House of Representatives. Now, Congress's loss is Princeton's gain.

When he gets here, I think I'm going to call him up and ask him out for a beer. He really should finally hear what happened to all those Mezvinsky yard signs.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

John Kerry questions his own patriotism 


The fun hasn't gone out blogging after all! Even though he is not running for president, the erstwhile leader of the Democratic party is still making an unbelievable ass of himself. He has gone to the World Economic Forum at Davos (where, Captain Ed observes, "American leftists [go] to slam their own country"), attacked the United States for policies that he voted for (and, no, I'm not talking about Iraq), and sucked up to the least bad president in the history of the Islamic Republic (that being a best-hockey-player-in-Ecuador standard if there ever was one).

Kerry was asked about whether the U.S. government had failed to adequately engage Iran's government before the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

Kerry said the Bush administration has failed in addressing a number of foreign policy issues.

"When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don't advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy," Kerry said.

"So we have a crisis of confidence in the Middle East — in the world, really. I've never seen our country as isolated, as much as a sort of international pariah for a number of reasons as it is today."...

Kerry criticized what he called the "unfortunate habit" of Americans to see the world "exclusively through an American lens."

Kerry's particular complaints are so asinine one is forced to wonder whether he knows that we know about Google. In 1997, John Kerry voted in opposition to the Kyoto treaty negotiated by the Clinton administration. George W. Bush has tripled the amount of money spent by the United States on humanitarian aid Africa over Clinton administration levels, and has proposed a further doubling.

Glenn Reynolds wrote of this: "Like Jimmy Carter, he'll never forgive America for rejecting him, and he'll console himself with the approval of America's enemies." It isn't just that, though. Kerry's need for the approval of foreigners predated his rejection by the American people. Kerry (like, I speculate, most of the people at Davos this week) is a "transnational progressive". He and his ilk -- they fill the coffee shops in Princeton -- recoil against national narratives and identity. Deep down, they think nations are primitive constructs. Not so deeply down, they actually believe that some amorphous international "acceptance" of American policy is more important than the national interest the policy is formulated to protect. Or, more precisely, they believe that American national interest depends on international acceptance, or at least that it ought to. Even this might make sense if it were symmetrical, but transnational progressives do not require the same "acceptance" for incompetent countries. Countries that have been unsuccessful economically, politically, or socially are rarely held to the same standard as the United States. Nobody stands up in Davos and declares that Iran is a pariah for spreading terrorism around the globe, or that China also is a pariah for refusing to participate in Kyoto, or that Saudi Arabia is a pariah because it oppresses half its population and it still functions under that most idiotic of all systems, monarchy. When people like John Kerry hold our enemies and other geopolitical adversaries to the same standards for that they require of the United States, then they will be worth listening to. Until then, they should be mocked or ignored.

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A podcast on executive compensation 


While pumping iron at the New York Sports Club on Harrison Street this afternoon, I listened to an Economist podcast on the subject of public company executive compensation that I thought worthy of a wider audience. From my perspective -- I am a well-compensated public company executive and not wholly deaf to the arguments of the activists who rather constantly and loudly complain that people like me are not worth what we are paid -- The Economist's take struck me as the most nuanced view of the controversy that you are likely to hear from the mainstream media. Click here to listen on your computer, or download it at iTunes.


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Silent movies 


Screenwriter Andrew Klavan has written an outstanding op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on the inability of Hollywood to produce heroic movies about the war against al Qaeda. Here's a teaser:

[M]oviemakers have a legitimately baffling problem with the nature of the war itself. In order to honestly dramatize the simple truth about this existential struggle, you have to depict right-minded Americans — some of whom may be white and male and Christian — hunting down and killing dark-skinned villains of a false and wicked creed. That's what's happening, on a good day anyway, so that's what you'd have to show.

Moviemakers are reluctant to do that because, even though it's the truth, on screen it might appear bigoted and jingoistic. You can call that political correctness or multiculturalism gone mad — and sure, there's a lot of that going around. But despite what you might have heard, there are sensible, patriotic people in the movie business too. And even they, I suspect, falter before the prospect of presenting such a scenario.

We cherish the religious tolerance of our society, after all. Plus, we're less than a lifetime away from Jim Crow and, decent people that we are, we're rightly humbled by the moral failures of our past. We've become uncomfortable to the point of paralysis when reality draws the limits of tolerance and survival demands pride in our traditions and ferocity in their defense. We can show homegrown terrorists in, say, "Déjà Vu" or real-life ones, as in "United 93," but we can't bring ourselves to fictionalize the larger idea: Islamo-fascism is an evil and American liberty a good.

Which is a shame. It's a shame for so powerful an art form to become irrelevant because we can't find a way to dramatize the central event of our time. It's a shame that we live under the tireless protection of lawmen and warriors and don't pay tribute to them. And purely in artistic terms, it's a shame that so many great stories are just waiting to be told and we're not telling them.

Klavan is almost right. As Wretchard wrote before me, it is not merely a "shame" that the iconic institution of American mass media cannot find it within itself to celebrate the victories of this war. It is a scandal, an outrage, and a travesty, and it is symptomatic of a more fundamental confusion abroad in the land:
Some individuals may find it convenient to blame President Bush for all the reversals that have taken place since he started fighting the War on Terror. And doubtless many reversals are the result of the President's mistakes and his alone. But to a certain extent whatever failures have befallen are partly ours too. The desire for safety without paying the price; the hope that evil men will back down simply because we believe they will. All will have its price. And it would be well to remember, for those who rejoice in watching George Bush pay the penalty for his errors, that the Wheel may round on us too. That one day we may awake to world grown weary of our childhood. Alone in the movies. And the lawmen gone away.

Does the entertainment industry really believe that white men can't be right, and brown Muslims can't be wrong, or does it simply wish that were true?

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Green houses, the return on photovoltaics in New Jersey, and John Edwards' palazzo 


We need a new house and have some particular requirements which are rare in existing homes, so we are thinking seriously about building from scratch. We are discussing the project with a local builder who has suggested that we put a photovoltaic system into the roof that can meet most if not all of the home's electricity requirements. Apparently, generous state subsidies for the initial investment and New Jersey's high electricity rates (which, by the way, will only go higher as the result of this decision on behalf of fish in the Delaware river) make it possible for the system to pay for itself in as little as four years. If true, that seems like a no-brainer to me: how often can you earn 25% on your money and slash carbon emissions to boot? Indeed, even if it takes 8 years to pay for itself the return is still very attractive. It makes me wonder why everybody doesn't put in a photovoltaic system (this builder, by the way, wonders the same thing -- he is now installing conduits to support the required wiring into every house he builds so that future owners can easily retrofit PV systems). Since the heating and cooling of homes accounts for approximately 20% of America's energy use, it seems we could make a big dent in our energy consumption by promoting the installation of PV systems into homes, especially expensive new homes.

All of this has led me to read unTigerHawk-ish articles such as "The Green House Effect" (sub. req.) in today's Wall Street Journal. It discusses the boom in green home construction, some of which is obviously more about politics than sensible home economics:

It's still not easy to go green. In 2005, architect Phil Bernstein set out to expand his family's 2,500-square-foot home in New Haven, Conn., by another 1,500 square feet. Mr. Bernstein and his wife wanted to use green design -- like double-pane windows and expanding-foam insulation -- as much as possible, but ran into problems. They had a hard time finding kitchen countertops made of recycled material, for one. "We found some in Seattle, but we decided it would defeat the purpose to have a truck spewing carbon emissions bringing them all the way here," Mr. Bernstein says.

The couple also wanted to use an alternative to mahogany for their cabinets that didn't come from endangered forests. They found one called Lyptus -- a hybrid of two species of eucalyptus trees -- but when the cabinets arrived, they were pink. Mr. Bernstein worked with his builder for three months to find the right dye for the wood.

The project is now months behind schedule, and has cost $500,000 so far -- $300,000 over budget, in part because of the complications in going green. That's far more than Mr. Bernstein, who is also a vice president at software maker Autodesk Inc., would expect to recoup on a home he values at about $800,000. "If we sold this house, we would lose our shirts," he says. "It's like one homeowner against the world."

I'm not that green. And, by the way, neither is Mr. Bernstein. Hard core conservation still requires living small:
"The biggest thing people could do to be green is not to build a 4,000-square-foot house, but a 2,000-square-foot house," says Tim Hermach, executive director of the Native Forest Council, an environmental group in Eugene, Ore.

All of which got me to wondering, did Democratic presidential "timber" John Edwards use green technologies to build his 28,200 square foot palazzo in the Carolina woods [link fixed]?

UPDATE (January 27): No doubt stung by Drudge's mocking link to the story about his house, John Edwards has rolled out his wife to write about the awesome greenyness of his 28,000 square foot house. I've highlighted my favorite parts in bold, and my annotations are in italics.
Here is what our family has done and is doing.

We sold the conventional fuel SUV that we used to carry children, strollers, luggage and toys between Washington, DC and North Carolina, and we bought a hybrid, a Ford Escape. [I know that I'm delighted that the Edwards family has such a good reason for driving an SUV.]

Since we were building a home in Orange County, we decided to take advantage of some of the technology that President Carter had encouraged.

All the water (all of which comes from wells) in our home and some of the flooring is heated with solar energy.

We built a highly energy efficient house. In fact, our home is Energy-Star rated. Energy Star is an EPA regulated designation for homes that are at least 30 percent more efficient than the national Model Energy Code. In building we made sure we had effective insulation in floors, walls, and attics. We chose efficient heating and cooling equipment and high-performance windows. Our builder paid close attention to making sure the construction was tight to seal out drafts and moisture. The day the independent inspector came to evaluate the house, we were on pins and needles while he tested our home's energy performance. As he packed his equipment, he gave us the good news: we are an Energy-Star home!

We recycle, of course, although just yesterday we got our Orange County recycle bin. [In a bit of arrestingly good luck, Mrs. Edwards was able to get the recycle bin only one day after Drudge mocked her family for building a 28,000 square foot house.] Until then we used the recycle facility just down the road. (The trash compactor I debated putting in is really useful for compacting cans and plastic, it turns out.)

And as the incandescent light bulbs the electrician installed in our fixtures burn out, we are replacing them with fluorescent bulbs. [Bizarrely, Mrs. Edwards missed a primo opportunity to congratulate Wal-Mart on its campaign to push fluorescent bulbs into every house in America.] If you are thinking that we are living now in harsh light, with buzzing sounds and constant flickers, you are thinking of your grandmother's fluorescent bulbs. There are a wide range of shapes and fittings available now; there are even dimmable fluorescents, and honestly I cannot tell without checking which of our bulbs are still incandescent and which are now - and will continue to be -- fluorescent. Switching is a little bit of a bite, because the bulbs are more expensive (although Costco and eBay have some good prices [What? It is Wal-Mart that's making a big deal out of these bulbs. Are we, perhaps, unwilling to annoy anti-Wal-Mart activists on the Democratic left?]), but replacing a single 60 watt incandescent with a 15 watt fluorescent you use just six hours a day could see an energy savings of more than $40 over the 4 year (4 year!) life of the bulb. And it is not just energy. A single fluorescent bulb "can prevent more than 450 pounds of emissions from a power plant over its lifetime" according to the Energy-Star website. That same site has these incredible statistics: "If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars." One bulb.

No mention of photovoltaics, though.

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Volunteer me! 

The fetching Miss Tennessee, Blaire Pancake


This year's Miss Tennessee apparently rejoices in the name "Blaire Ashley Pancake." No. Really.

Do you think she ever worked at a Waffle House? I'm guessing no.

Do you think anybody has ever tried to pick her up with the line, "I'd love breakfast in bed"? I'm guessing yes.

As a service to our readers, behold the complete Miss America rehearsal slideshow.


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Red sun rising? 


If Japan's population were growing, rather than shrinking, this shift in national attitude might be something to worry about:

The Japanese prime minister has pledged to create a "new national identity", saying Japan needs to beef up its role in international security and shake off the legacy of its defeat in the second world war.

Shinzo Abe said he would push through a bill on a national referendum by June to rewrite the country's pacifist constitution.

"Now is the time for us to boldly revise this post-war regime and make a new start," he said in parliament on Friday.

"It is our mission to create a beautiful Japan that will be able to withstand the challenges of the next 50 or 100 years."

In its morning email, Stratfor observed that Abe's public support as measured by opinion surveys has fallen from more than 70% when he took over in the fall to around 40% now, and that this "national identity" initiative is part of his strategy for rebuilding his popularity. If his politician's sense of the zeitgeist is on target then perhaps the appetite of the Japanese public for more military capability is even greater today than it was before Prime Minister Koizumi sent Japanese troops to Iraq.

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Republicans must be smarter than Democrats! 


They thought of all the arguments one might use against a president one doesn't like seventy years ago.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

A milestone, of sorts 


At some point in the last hour, this blog passed 2,000,000 page views since the Site Meter went up. Drudge does that before lunch time most days, but we're still delighted that we have given people a reason to load TigerHawk pages 2,000,000 times in less than three years (half of which have come since last March). Thank you to our readers for sticking with us, and thank you as well to the many big-traffic bloggers who have linked us.


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A letter to the editor on Iraq 


A few weeks ago The New Republic devoted an entire issue to Iraq under the theme, "What Next?" Fifteen or so public intellectuals wrote essays with titles such as "Talk, Talk, Talk" (Michael Walzer) to "Bribe The Insurgents" (Niall Ferguson) to "Admit It's Over" (Richard Clarke). I read some of them before I misplaced the magazine.

In the current issue, there is a letter to the editor from one Sandeep Puri (New York City) responding to all of this. I thought it was so good that I reproduced it below:

Reading the Iraq issue provided a sense of what is going on there. It also provided a sense of the notions held by a few upper-middle-class people who earn their living thinking and writing in comfortable neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.; Princeton; Cambridge; Palo Alto; and other non-war zones in the United States where water, food, rule of law, and utilities are taken for granted. What one wonders after reading the issue is, of the 16 views published, why the editors chose not to publish any perspectives by a) Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia, or Kurd; b) American military personnel who served in Iraq; or c) anybody who lives and works in the neighboring countries. Wouldn't Iraqis and American military personnel be in a position to test the viability of the ideas expressed in The New Republic by writers who have negligible direct experience with the realities of this war? What your magazine does is publish articles by people with fine academic credentials who believe in the superiority of their thoughts and who do not realize how limited they are by the combination of their privileged experiences, their inadequate knowledge of the region and circumstances, and the influence of the safe cities in which they reside. The ability of author after author to reference the terminology of the region is impressive. Yet this capability amounts to a faux authority -- kind of like someone who can weave into his language references to musical terms but cannot play a melody. By publishing this issue, the editors conveyed the message that the only important views are those of people who are like the editors in professional background, temperament, and geographical comfort. Next time, dare to try the unconventional tack of asking Iraqis, American military personnel, and other affected people what they think should be done.

Moreover, it is striking that, in all the essays published, no author wrote a single sentence exploring why none of the recommendations expressed have been put into action. What is the point of holding a dinner party in which you serve dishes to which the guests are allergic? Finally, it is interesting to see the editors apologize for their espousal of the war, because this apology gives rise to the question: If reason alone (in contrast to reason coupled with the experience of people who are confronting the realities directly) led the editors to a wrong conclusion, what basis is there to believe that, this time around, reason alone -- from people far removed from the realities of the war -- will lead to the write conclusion?

General Lucius Aemilius Paulus would have seen eye-to-eye with Mr. Puri, I think.

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Sponge baths will never be the same 


'Nurse bots' to be developed by 2010.


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O'Quiz!!! 


For your lunchtime pleasure, I present this week's O'Quiz. I scored my usual "6," barely above the current average of around 5.8.

I'm off to work out (and for those of you who are wondering, yes, I cracked under the pressure and booted up the back-up iPod last night). I'll see how many of you kicked my tail while I'm gone.


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Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby 

have a lot in common. They were high profile elements of a government investigation and prosecution. They both were in a position to hire excellent, world class legal counsel. They were both innocent of the core claims that prosecutors were investigating. They both had the benefit of that legal counsel when they sat down with prosecutors.

And they both screwed up, and got screwed.

When young, ambitious government prosecutors decide to come after you, you are in deep doodoo folks. They aren't seeking truth, justice and the American Way. They are seeking scalps. So don't be a moron, commit a process booboo and hand them yours. In a competitive endeavor, you don't have to win pretty. Fumbles, mud, weather...anything that gets you the W is ok. And its pretty clear that litigation --prosecution and defense -- is viewed by the participants as exactly that.

One other thing I guess they have in common -- they were both too "smart" for their own good.

When asked if he wanted a fair trial, a guilty man said, "no, I'd prefer to win."

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Has Wikipedia gone to the dark side? 


Maybe, but I'm with Ezra: "Wikipedia could steal my girl, key my car, and salt my lawn -- and I'd still think I'm getting the better end of the deal."


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Jim Webb and the Iraq/Vietnam analogy 


I do not agree with Jim Webb on the wisdom of the surge -- he being against it and me struggling to see what the downside might be -- but he is not shy about pushing Senate Democrats to think critically about their own assumptions:

Senator James Webb, a Virginia Democrat who fought as a marine in Vietnam, urged his colleagues not to draw a link between the Iraq and Vietnam wars. Such comparisons, he feared, could force people away from backing the Iraq resolutions.

“I think there are parallels and there were many people at this table who opposed the Vietnam War, but some of those parallels are superficial,” Mr. Webb said. “We’re losing the support of a lot of people who supported the Vietnam War and who have problems with this if we try to lump it together.”

I think Webb is being diplomatic, and believes that most of those parallels are superficial. In that regard, I highly recommend Mark Moyar's new revisionist history of the that war, Triumph Forsaken, of which more later.

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The night the lights went out in Georgia 


Genarlow Wilson, while a 17 year-old high school football star, succumbed to the advances of a 10th grade girl. A Georgia judge sentenced him to ten years in jail. It really is a horrible story.

There are a lot of people in jail because police, prosecutors and judges make mistakes. Wilson is in jail because all these people mindlessly, or perhaps meanly, complied with the letter of an idiotic law.

CWCID: Lucianne.


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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Remember the Pueblo 

In his response to Bush's State of the Union Address, Senator James Webb suggested that measures might be taken to end the Iraq war similar to those taken by Eisenhower to end the conflict in Korea. I found this an interesting concept, since the US has had troops stationed in Korea ever since, and the conflict never really ended, today's nuclear tensions with North Korea being the obvious example, but not the only one.

Consider, for instance, the USS Pueblo. Forty years ago this week, the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea, and 82 seamen were thrown in POW camps.

From the Daily Reckoning:

The Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan, North Korea and the crew interred in prisoner of war camps. The U.S. sailors later reported they were often starved and frequently beaten and tortured. The beatings got worse when their captors discovered that many of the crewmen were making obscene gestures with their hands when they were forced to pose for propaganda photos.

In December 1968, the United States won the release of the 82 sailors by issuing a written apology to North Korea for spying on the communist country. The statement promised we would not do so again. On December 23, 1968, the crew was taken to the South Korean border and permitted to walk across "The Bridge of No Return." As soon as they were safely in South Korea, the U.S. government rescinded its apology and assurances.


Read the whole thing.

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All the fun has gone out of blogging... 


This is truly terrible news.


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Did McCain fall asleep during the SOTU? 


Via the Corner, PoliPundit has a screen capture of John McCain from last night's speech. The long string of "Z"'s in the title to the post implies that McCain was asleep.

I don't think so. We in the TigerHawk household noticed that moment, and Mrs. TigerHawk reactively announced "Look, he's reading his Blackberry!" Now, you couldn't see the offending device in the screen so this is merely our hypothesis, but in the video it really does look as though McCain is stealing a surreptitious glance at his email. McCain wasn't sleeping. He was doing what many of us would do -- reading some snarky message from one of his friends.

MORE: Or maybe McCain was reading a copy of the speech. Of course, the presence of "white paper" doesn't exclude the possibility that he was also swapping mocking emails with his pals, and I'd be more likely to vote for him if he were. In any case, we know he wasn't sleeping.


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Jim Webb calls for nuclear brinksmanship! 


If you saw the Democratic rebuttal to the SOTU last night, you heard Jim Webb say this:

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end.

[Eisenhower] took the right kind of action ... for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action.... If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

Read this very interesting comment to my short SOTU post last night. Jim Webb's evocation of Eisenhower's resolution of the Korean War might plausibly be read as a demand that the United States significantly increase its threats against the various client states supporting the insurgency in Iraq.

Webb, being something of a student of military history, probably knew that Eisenhower threatened the use of atomic weapons to force a settlement of the Korean conflict. He also probably knew that virtually none of his Democratic colleagues or the reporters and editors covering the speech would know that, so he is at very little risk that anyone will ask him precisely what he meant when he promised to show Bush "the way."

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The geopolitical significance of Bush's political weakness 


In what will undoubtedly come as a relief for those of you who have lost interest in my iPod-induced emotional state, I offer for your consideration a short note from Stratfor this morning regarding the geopolitical significance of George W. Bush's extraordinarily weak political position:

U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union message, delivered Tuesday night, was framed by the release Monday of a CBS public opinion poll that shows Bush's approval ratings falling to only 28 percent. Those are the lowest ratings he has ever received, and take him to levels seen late in Watergate, in the weeks leading to Nixon's resignation. It should be noted that the CBS poll shows Bush as somewhat weaker than do other polls, which are tracking him in the low 30s. But the poll is consistent with others on the negative side, with everyone giving him a disapproval rating of 61-64 percent. The CBS poll differs primarily in that it has a higher undecided percentage than the other polls, and this is mostly subtracted from Bush's approval numbers. This undoubtedly is linked to a methodological issue of how questions are framed and how they are categorized.

Bush's poll ratings have now become a geopolitical issue. As we have discussed in the past, Bush's political position collapsed when he went below the high 30s. At that point, he started losing his Republican base. What we are now seeing is not an erosion of the base, but a Nixon-style split. When you push or break below the 30s, your base has divided. This, in turn, is reflected in the decision by some Republican senators to oppose Bush's troop surge in Iraq.

Bush's strategy in Iraq, to the extent that it has any viability, depends on the Iraqi -- and Iranian -- perception that Bush retains control of U.S. policy and that he has freedom to maneuver. Iraqi and Iranian politicians are watching the polls and watching Congress. The ultimate hammer that Congress has -- which it used to shut down U.S. participation in Vietnam -- is to cut off funding. Until now, there has been a general consensus that there aren't the votes in Congress to achieve that. That consensus has shaped an understanding that, no matter how weak Bush might be politically, he retains control of Iraq policy. That has been the psychological foundation of his strategy.

Even if we discount the CBS poll, Bush is now edging from the area where we can call him a crippled president -- if not a failed one -- to an area where he could genuinely lose the ability to govern. If his numbers plunge into the 20s, a substantial number of Republican senators and congress members might well decide that it is time to cut their own political losses and break with the president openly. That is what happened to Nixon. Leaving out the question of resignation or impeachment -- neither of which is possible under even worst-case scenarios -- Bush could face a revolt by enough Republicans in Congress that funding cuts could be imposed even in the face of a presidential veto. Presidents who have two-thirds of the public thinking poorly of them and only a quarter liking them might hold the office, but they do not run the country -- at least not very effectively.

Bush's strategy collapses if he is perceived as being crippled. No one will ally with the United States if they are unsure of continued U.S. support, and no one will hesitate to oppose the United States in Iraq if Congress seems likely to cut funding. Bush's military strategy was always a very long shot, but there was some possibility that he could achieve a political solution if he showed that he remained powerful.

We are now very near to the point where Bush's ability to govern, even in his role as commander-in-chief, is in jeopardy. We would judge that he is not quite there yet; but if other polls were to fall and stay in the 20s, the Republicans in Congress would split wide open. At this point, Bush is one piece of bad news away from paralysis. He could get lucky, but luck is one thing this president has not been able to count on. (bold emphasis added)

That is certainly true.

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My iPod: I hate it because I love it 


I had a long day yesterday, involving ten hours of meetings sandwiched between 135-mile drives around greater Philadelphia. Five hours of driving under such conditions without listening to newsy podcasts and music on my iPod motivated me to get up this morning and methodically work through all helpful instructions on the Apple support page again. I uninstalled and reinstalled iTunes and again "restored" my iPod (which the reinstalled iTunes was finally able to detect), but it still reports the iPod as "corrupted" (one is forced to wonder what "restore to factory settings" means under these circumstances). So the 30GB video iPod I bought on August 12, 2006 at no small expense is beyond recovery by me. This is frustrating, because it crapped out spontaneously. I hadn't dropped it or abused it in any way. It just melted down. So now my remaining practical option is to drive to one of the various Apple stores in New Jersey. The problem is, for me that involves a minimum of 90 minutes of driving and a visit to a mall, both of which seem like an inordinantly high price to pay.

In a comment to my last post, there was some debate over whether an iPod is a "MUST" (as co-blogger Cardinalpark avers). I'm fairly sure that he and I measure the necessities of life differently, but there is definitely something psychological about an iPod, at least if you get into the habit of using most of its functionality. In case it isn't obvious, I really miss the damned thing.

The problem is that Apple extracts a very high price for the product's addictive qualities. Not only is its price high, but it takes a huge amount of care and feeding. One commenter said that he just treats his iPod like "any other disk drive," and defrags it once a month. I'm sure that's a good idea, but only fairly conscientious people bother to defrag their computers that often. I only have so much conscientiousness to spread around, and I hadn't allocated any to my iPod.

Now here's the hard part. Through the generosity of others, I actually have a new, unopened iPod in reserve. I can toss the one I have and install the new one, and presumably then I will be up and running. But what do I do when this one crashes in a couple of months as my experience tells me it will? Do I really want to go through more hours of rage and frustration plugging through the "FAQs" at Apple support? Sad to say, I think cold turkey is preferable. Apart from wishing desperately that these iPod posts would stop, what would you guys do?


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The SOTU and the Democratic response 


I drove from York, Pennsylvania back to Princeton tonight after dinner, so I watched the SOTU on TiVo'ed delay. The blogosphere has already reacted at length, so I will confine myself to saying that I thought Bush gave an excellent speech, and Jim Webb's counterpoint was more interesting and less annoying than any such Democratic response in many years. At least insofar as I remember them.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Uh, can you say 'market top?' 

Has hedge fund mania run its course? I think the publication last fall of Hedge Funds for Dummies was the kind of indicator one might expect at the top of a bubble. But if that wasn't enough, try this one on for size: Madeline Albright is starting her own hedge fund!

No fracking lie.


Students of financial markets should recognize these ominous signs. In my mind, this is reminiscent of Lou Dobbs leaving CNN in 1999 to start space.com (only to slink back in 2001 after the dot com bubble deflated). I predict Ms. Albright's hedge fund will have a shelf life no longer than Mr. Dobbs's career as an internet entrepreneur.

(H/T Dealbreaker).

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The horrors of hyperinflation 

There really is no force as destructive to an economy as inflation. It wipes out years of savings and destroys value and wealth. Some will recall the striking stories of Germany in the 1920's, when inflation reached the point where people hauled wheelbarrows of currency around to buy their most basic needs.

Things have reached such a state in Zimbabwe, where the Mugabe regime has destroyed what was once a fairly prosperous economy. The inflation rate was more than 500% in 2005, and ballooned to more than 1200% in 2006. Numbers this large become an abstraction, and it is hard to imagine what life would be like in this type of world, but local historian Cathy Buckle writes regular postings on the situation over at African Tears for those who have an interest. They are tragic reading, but also fascinating.

Some recent excerpts:

December 9th, 2006

In the last month the basic cost of living in Zimbabwe went up by 47% percent. When you go shopping in a supermarket, everywhere you look people are carrying almost nothing. Finding sources of affordable protein is almost impossible. Meat is a luxury now - out of reach for almost all Zimbabweans. Long, long gone are the days when we would buy strips of biltong to snack on as we walked or when butchers would break off pieces of beer sticks to quieten niggling kids. Now people are buying scraps, bones and something called "shavings" which are the white crumbs which accumulate under the blade of the saws and butchery knives. Cheese is off the menu permanently; eggs and milk are very close behind. This week one single egg is selling for 200 dollars and half a litre of milk for 600 dollars (add 3 zeroes for the real cost). A cup of milk or an egg for breakfast is now the height of luxury and when you understand that, then you understand why malnutrition has increased by 35% in young children.

January 6, 2007

This New Year most Zimbabweans are not saying Happy New Year they are instead shaking their heads and asking : how much longer, is there any hope? Just a week into 2007 and everyone is reeling at the massive price increases of everything. Despite all the government pronouncements and promises of an "economic turnaround," Father Christmas did not deliver this elusive gift. Before Christmas a loaf of bread was 295 dollars, now it is 850 dollars - the bakers say its still not enough to cover their costs and more rises are imminent.. (Add three zeroes to get the real price!) Petrol, which continues to be mostly non existent, has apparently increased from 2200 to 3000 dollars a litre and transport costs are said to have gone up by 60%. Since the government announced new price controls and began arresting businessmen before Christmas, almost all basic essentials have disappeared from the shelves. It is now virtually impossible to find sugar, flour, milk, margarine, cooking oil or maize meal in supermarkets. In one large wholesaler this week there were three great long aisles just filled from floor to ceiling with salt. Fine salt, coarse salt, bulk salt - you name it, there it was, just salt. All the oil, flour, sugar and maize meal normally stacked there, had completely disappeared - turned to salt.

I stood next to a young teenage girl looking at the school writing exercise books piled on one shelf. When children go back to school in a few days time they have to provide their own writing books. Most senior school children need 15 exercise books and they are now just over 1000 dollars each. The girl next to me picked up a pack of ten books, turned it over, looked at me, shook her head and said 'eeeish' - and put the books back on the shelf. 'I don't have enough' she whispered and walked away.

January 20, 2007

Long before dawn I received a phone call with the news that an elderly man had died. For the family the pain and grief of the loss was almost immediately swamped with the horrific reality attached to dying in Zimbabwe in January 2007. Doctors have been on strike for over a month and hospital mortuaries are overflowing. The body of the deceased had to be moved, immediately. Petrol has increased in price from 2900 zim dollars a litre on Monday to 3400 dollars a litre by Friday. It was going to cost a whole month's pension for the new widow to have her late husbands body moved the few kilometres to the funeral home.

A wood fuelled cremation could be done but only in Mutare, a town 180 kilometres away. The funeral home wanted 700 000 dollars to transport the body - the same as two and half years of the woman's pension. The quoted cost for the cremation, including the transport, was the same as five years of the widow's pension.

A simple burial in a local cemetery in the least expensive coffin now costs 400 000 dollars. This is the same as six months salary for one of the doctors presently on strike.

Young and old, professionals and workers - we are all alike in this horrible reality of Zimbabwe - we cannot afford to live or to die here.

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Blind freakin' rage at my iPod 


If you don't already have an iPod, my strong recommendation is that you don't get one. It is a wonderful device, and I am addicted to mine, but it has been extremely glitchy. Mine is only five months old, but in the last couple of weeks has been crashing several times a day, even though I have added no new songs to it and have all the software up to date. Finally, it advised me to restore the system, which I did at great investment of time (or at least a vastly longer investment of time then I ever want to put in to something that plays music). Now all the music is erased (as I was advised it would be), but my system does not recognize the existence of the device so I can't reload it. After struggling to understand the hideously worthless online advice at Apple support I am giving up. Nothing is worth this rage and frustration.

Of course, if anybody at Apple reads this and wants to put some actually useful instruction into the comments, I would be most grateful. Not holding my breath, though.

Any device for playing music that cannot function in, say, ten minutes of dicking around is badly designed, no matter how well it performs when it performs. It's been years since I've even had to spend that much time messing with my Windows-based computer. Don't let it happen to you.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Bad journalism and Fitzgerald Derangement Syndrome 


You know that the "profession" of journalism is in decline when The New Yorker, a magazine known for its dedication to fact-checking, publishes an article by the dean of the nation's premier school of journalism that is this inaccurate. The subject is the Plame leak case (about which most mainstream media coverage has been extremely casual with the facts), and John Podhoretz picks apart three fairly central claims from a single paragraph. Good stuff. But then Podhoretz himself makes a bizarre claim that I do not begin to understand:

Nicholas Lemann is a journalist with a remarkable record and is, I think, an honorable person. His inability to get straight what happened in the Wilson case is another example of why the prosecution of Scooter Libby is a shameful botch.

Huh? Nicholas Lemann's inability to get the facts of the Wilson case straight explains "why the prosecution of Scooter Libby is a shameful botch"? Call me a bonehead, but I just don't see the connection. Indeed, this toss-away claim of Mr. Podhoretz is just the latest example of the FDS ("Fitzgerald Derangement Syndrome," duh!) that seems to have swept through the ranks of the NRO and its fellow travelers. Whatever one thinks of Joe Wilson -- and I believe him to be a lying weasel -- and however much schadenfreude one might feel over the Washington press corps twisting in the wind (they having called for an investigation that would, so obviously, require them to turn on their "confidential" sources), I just don't see why we are all supposed to feel sympathy for Scooter Libby.

An investigation can be both a partisan witch hunt and uncover obstruction of justice and perjury. Just ask Bill Clinton. Any meaningful distinction -- in either direction -- between the Clinton and Libby cases strikes me as very strained. They are the same damned case, yet conservatives who delighted in Clinton's troubles seem to think that there is a principled difference between his case and Libby's. Exhibit A is the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which is usually your best source for strong conservative writing. In an editorial Saturday, however, the WSJ essentially accused Pat Fitzgerald of bad faith, stitching together a weird story about Fitzgerald's supposed resentment over Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich, whom Scooter Libby had represented. Without more, the editorial is a scurrilous attack on Fitzgerald's character. Worse, it is eerily similar in tone to the equally offensive attacks against Ken Starr, which attacks I am sure the Wall Street Journal deplored circa 1998 (anybody with access to Nexis want to find the smoking editorials?). Finally, it closes with this disingenuous point:
This case is really about a political fight over the Iraq War. In talking to reporters, Mr. Libby was doing his job and attempting to defend Administration policy against political attacks. He had no evident reason to lie to the grand jury. Once Mr. Armitage had fessed up as the leaker in October 2003, a wiser prosecutor than Mr. Fitzgerald would have realized he had entered the realm of politics and gone home.

This is of a piece with the widespread conservative complaint about Fitzgerald -- that he knew that no underlying crime had occurred when took over the case at the end of 2003, and that therefore (this reasoning goes) the subsequent prosecution of Libby is ipso facto a witch hunt. Unfortunately, Scooter had already twice spoken to the FBI with his lawyer present, and twice recounted highly germane facts that subsequently turned out to be untrue (see the indictment at paragraph 26). Fitzgerald would have been derelict, under the circumstances, if he had not tried to figure out whether Libby was lying (as, I'm sure, the FBI agents believed he was). One would think that respect for intellectual honesty would require the editors of the WSJ at least to acknowledge this confusing detail in their shabby attack on Pat Fitzgerald's character.

The Wilson-Plame scandal is not that the White House set out to smear Joe Wilson, it is that Joe Wilson chose to prevaricate about his mission at the behest of the CIA. As Andy McCarthy wrote last summer, Wilson seems to be the real villain of the story. None of that explains or justifies Libby's behavior, which was at the very least deceptive, even if the jury ultimately decides that he was not intentionally so. Patrick Fitzgerald had plenty of very legitimate reasons to pursue Scooter Libby, and it is shameful to imply with no real evidence that he is motivated by some illegitimate consideration, such as resentment over Libby's representation of Marc Rich.

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The posturing of Viagra 


An "AIDS group" (that's the A.P.'s description, not mine) has sued Pfizer alleging that it has promoted Viagra for use in conjunction with crystal meth. The latter supposedly heightens sexual desire while impairing a man's ability actually to have sex, so crank afficionados take it with Viagra in a "cocktail" (again, the A.P.'s word, not mind). However asinine the plaintffs' case undoubtedly is, we can still delight in this absurd response from Pfizer:

Pfizer denied it promotes the recreational use of its blockbuster drug.

Like all sports fans, I have seen a lot of "ED" advertisements in the last few years. I don't recall ever understanding that procreation was the primary purpose of these drugs. Nor, by the way, did I ever get the impression that Viagra was especially useful in conjunction with crystal meth.

The lure and stresses of litigation and the fear that a flack's words can be tortured into probative evidence often lead litigants to make complete jackasses of themselves. First, activists decide that Pfizer should pay damages because Viagra makes it possible for drug addicts to consummate sexually and to that end claims that Pfizer is promoting crank. Then, Pfizer responds by denying that it promotes Viagra for "recreational use" when it quite obviously does within any ordinary meaning of the word. What a bunch of maroons, and what a shame on us that we allow our courts to be used in this way.

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Is Lebanon about to get hot? 


Just about everybody with two brain cells to rub together believes that last summer's war in Lebanon was inconclusive, and simply set the table for the next fight. Hezbollah is Iran's primary means for waging war against Israel, at least until it can put a nuclear warhead on the tip of a missile. Israel, for its part, knows that if it has to take overt or covert action against Iran it would be best to do so without the threat of Hezbollah on its northern border. It was therefore with great interest that I read the following two Stratfor "sitreps" this morning. The first is not really news, but it leads rather pointedly to the second:

The Hezbollah-led opposition protests in Beirut, Lebanon, are expected to escalate the week of Jan. 21. Highways will be blocked and movement to the airport and seaport will be disrupted. Labor unions have also called for a general strike Jan. 23.

There has been increased Israeli military movement in the Israeli-held Shebaa Farms in recent days, Lebanese army units stationed in southern Lebanon reported Jan. 21. Israeli troop movements, according to a Lebanese military source, exceed the normal routine of troop turnover. Armored personnel carriers have reportedly been deployed, and an increased number of tanks and self-propelled guns has been observed. The Shebaa Farms overlooks the west Bekaa Valley, a stronghold of Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah.


Commentary and speculation

Assuming the report is accurate, there are at least three possible reasons for this deployment, none of which is obviously inconsistent with the others. First, Israel has seen the increase in Hezbollah's tempo of operations within Lebanon, and might be attempting to force Hezbollah to worry about its flank (or deter Hezbollah from attacking Israel again). Second, Israel might be preparing to attack Hezbollah positions in the Bekaa preemptively. I doubt this, unless Hezbollah gives it a substantive pretext. Third, Israel may believe that negotiations with Syria will be forthcoming (perhaps because the Bush administration will push for them), and believes that its leverage in those negotiations will be improved if it has mobilized in the Golan. Regardless, Hezbollah is obviously asserting itself within Lebanon, and Israel cannot allow Lebanon to turn into another rejectionist state. The risks of war have certainly increased in recent weeks.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rosa al-Parks 


In the category of girls just wanting to have fun, a Saudi woman is arrested after driving a car 250 km.

The 25-year-old was arrested in the city, but only after having driven 250 kilometers of highway from her farm to the south. Bystanders told the newspaper that they were amazed that the rebellious woman had made it that far. The brother of the woman said she had stolen her father’s car when he wasn’t looking. He said she had psychological issues.

Yeah. She wants to be a human being.

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Da Bears! 


The "worst 13-3 team in history" just marched out the Saints to win the NFC championship. It's crow-eating time all over the country, including, by the way, throughout the mighty city of Chicago.


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Caption this! 

John Kerry blows his nose without a tissue!


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Deputizing the "Army of Davids" 


It is at least a little surprising that Glenn Reynolds, the leading advocate of a prepared and self-reliant citizenry linked together with technology, hasn't linked to this story:

Smile, you're on 911.

Catching criminals in the act these days is sometimes as easy as pressing a button on your camera phone.

Now the city is moving to simplify your ability to share telltale evidence of subway flashers, house burglars or even a suspect pothole, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday.

"If you see a crime in progress or a dangerous building condition, you'll be able to transmit images to 911 or online to nyc.gov," Bloomberg said in his State of the City address.

A few years ago a lot of people worried about (or, I suppose, celebrated) the cops putting up cameras to surveil every public place. The marriage of digital cameras and cell phones has substantially mooted that bit of hanky-twisting. Now all the cops need is an email address, a good webmaster, and a citizenry that is more pack than herd.

All prefigured here, of course.

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Cool photographs of the day 


I know that most of you are watching the Bears convert Saints fumbles into field goals, but if you can do two things at once check out these incredibly cool aerial photographs taken over the years by a Russian commercial pilot. A sample:



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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Abu Sayyaf leader declared dead 

The Caliphate just lost another general.

The Abu Sayyaf group is the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist insurgency in the Philippines:

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the group has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion in their fight for an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago with the stated goal of creating a pan-Islamic superstate across southeast Asia, spanning from east to west; the island of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, the island of Borneo (Malaysia, Indonesia), the South China Sea, and the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar).

Bad guys, for sure. The good news is that the FBI has just confirmed through DNA testing that its leader, Khaddafy Janjalani, was killed in a gun battle on September 4.
Janjalani's death was confirmed after DNA tests carried out by the FBI compared tissue samples taken from remains found buried in the jungles of southern Jolo island in December with those of Janjalani's brother, Hector, who is serving prison time, military chief of staff general, Hermogenes Esperon, said Saturday.

Had you turned Janjalani in, you would be $5 million richer.

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The perils of magazine publishing 


From the "Calendar" page of the January/February issue of The Atlantic, just arrived in my mailbox:

Also in February

Saddam's Final Hours

Saddam Hussein, convicted in November, may hang for his crimes this month. His appeals should be exhausted by mid-January, according to the chief prosecutor in the case, and the Iraqi government would then have a thirty-day window to execute him.

Talk about underpromising and overdelivering.

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Stratfor's Annual Forecast: The Middle East 

Stratfor's annual forecast is out (subscribe here), and as usual it is chock full of limb-end predictions about the future. For your Saturday evening reading (assuming, of course, that your social life is only as exciting as my own), I have fairly used a large excerpt from the section on the Middle East (for which I repeat my admonition that you subscribe for yourselves rather than going to the mall this weekend and buying lots of stuff you don't really need). Analysis may, or may not, follow in a subsequent post, so you have the chance to beat me to the punch in the comments.
Our 2006 forecast said that the United States would succeed in creating a political solution in Baghdad that would allow for a drawdown in the Sunni insurgency and the implementation of a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq. For much of the year, this forecast held true: In June 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an airstrike followed by the complete formation of the Iraqi government and an announcement by the United States that it would reduce its force in Iraq by two brigades. Al-Zarqawi’s death signaled a commitment from the Sunni bloc to the political process, and it was then up to the Shiite bloc to reciprocate.

However, we made a critical error in reading Iran’s intentions at this point. The Iranians saw an opportunity to use their militant and political assets in Iraq to delay a political resolution through a major escalation in Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence. As a result, the United States was buried deeper in Iraq, and Iran was able to strengthen its negotiating position substantially. The Iranian strategy involved activating Hezbollah, which manifested in the summer war between Hezbollah and Israel that left Israel politically and militarily paralyzed. Contrary to our prediction that the general trend for the Middle East would be toward political accommodation, the region witnessed a number of flare-ups that were largely attributed to the Iranian calculus in consolidating its gains in Iraq.

We were correct, however, in forecasting that the Iranian nuclear issue would make its way to the U.N. Security Council, but no substantive punitive measures would be taken against Iran. In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, we correctly forecast that Hamas would emerge as a major player on the Palestinian political scene in the wake of the parliamentary elections in January, and that this would lead to major internal upheaval within the Palestinian territories. However, despite the gains it made in the elections, Hamas was unable to assume control of the security forces as we anticipated. We were right in saying that the Kadima Party in Israel would win the March elections and a center-left coalition would emerge, but would not be able to make significant headway toward unilateral disengagement from the Palestinian territories.

We also anticipated that Syrian President Bashar al Assad would be able to keep his regime intact despite the blowback incurred from the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and that fledgling militant Islamist movements in Lebanon would make their presence known in the Levant, but would not be able to ignite sustainable insurgencies. Regarding the al Qaeda movement, we accurately said the group would further devolve into local insurgencies, though the group did not end up losing its grip on Iraq as we anticipated.

The U.S.-Iranian standoff over the fate of Iraq will have a profound impact on the course of geopolitical events in 2007. After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran seized the opportunity to assert itself as the regional kingmaker while the United States became increasingly paralyzed in Iraq. The United States now finds itself at a critical juncture: It no longer can afford to stay the course in Iraq and dedicate U.S. troops to an unattainable mission of securing the country solely through military force. As advocated by the Baker-Hamilton report, the time has come for the United States and Iran to stop giving each other the silent treatment and work toward a comprehensive settlement for Iraq.

But the United States is still far from its desired negotiating position, and thus will continue to shy away from the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendations until it can level the playing field against Iran. Before Washington moves forward on the diplomatic front, it will need to disprove the perception that the United States has been permanently marginalized in Iraq and ultimately will have to withdraw its forces — something that would leave Iran to pick up the pieces and project Shiite influence into the heart of the Arab world. This perception of marginalization is what has driven heightening Sunni concerns that United States no longer will be the security guarantor against an empowered Shiite bloc, led by Iran.

To shatter these expectations and demonstrate that the United States is still very much in the game, U.S. President George W. Bush announced Jan. 10 a strategy to “surge” U.S. troops in Iraq. The increase will total 21,500 troops, with a peak of 17,500 in Baghdad and another 4,000 in Anbar province. Ultimately, this looks unlikely even to bring the total level of U.S. forces to their peak strength of 160,000 — the number of troops that were in Iraq in November and December 2005, in the buildup to the general elections Dec. 15. It is likely to be accompanied by a shift in tactics to focus more specifically on counterinsurgency operations.

The forces will certainly be useful — assisting with security inside Baghdad and leaving units that would otherwise be shifted to the capital available to confront issues in their respective areas of responsibility. However, in and of itself, this new deployment will be insufficient to turn the tide in Iraq. Operation Together Forward — the failed attempt after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death to use a small surge in troop levels in Baghdad to impose security there — is a case in point. Together Forward was essentially the U.S. military’s last, best effort to secure Baghdad with the existing force structure.

Baghdad remains the key. Without stability there, there can be no Iraqi state. But the proposed surge of 21,500 troops — without a new, concerted diplomatic effort — is unlikely to succeed in effecting a political resolution in Baghdad.

However, there is a key psychological element to this strategy. The United States will spend the coming months taking an aggressive stance against Iranian operations in Iraq, including additional raids on Iranian diplomatic offices and arrests of Iranian officials in the country who are suspected of orchestrating attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces. The U.S. military will be posturing to dispel the Iranian perception that the battleground will remain within Iraq’s borders. The United States could also step up covert efforts to ramp up the militant activities of Iran’s indigenous separatist groups, such as the Ahvazi Arabs in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran. Coinciding with U.S. moves, Israel will accelerate its own psychological warfare campaign, using a variety of leaks and denials to heavily publicize Israeli military plans to strike Iranian nuclear sites. By upping the ante against Iran, the United States is placing a critical bet that the Iranians will reconsider their Iraq strategy and come to the negotiating table rather than risk a serious miscalculation.

To go along with the troop surge, the United States will focus on rearranging the Iraqi Cabinet to try to create a stronger, more functional government in Baghdad. This will involve sidelining allies of Shiite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr and bringing in a stronger Sunni presence, which will undoubtedly be a complicated and messy affair. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also could resign in as little as four months, triggering a struggle for power and a substantial flare-up in intra-Shiite frictions over his replacement. By the year’s end, Iraq’s largest and most influential Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, might be better able to solidify its position in the government.

Iraq is unlikely to split up into federal zones in the coming year, but neither will it behave as a coherent state entity. Violence will escalate on all sides: Shiite, Sunni, jihadist and even Kurdish, with the Sunni-Kurdish fault line in northern Iraq becoming active toward the end of the year, as the Kirkuk referendum issue approaches.

For its part, Iran has been keen to bring the Americans to the negotiating table on its terms. It wields the ability, through militants, to manipulate the security situation in Iraq and thus to keep an effective government from taking power in Baghdad, but it lacks the means to impose a government of its own creation there. Tehran will focus this year on increasing the political and military costs to the United States of remaining in Iraq — by lending more support to militants there, including Shiite gunmen and segments of the Sunni insurgency — but ultimately, given the limitations and uncertainties on both sides, it is possible that a political settlement of sorts, however weak and tenuous, will be forged in 2007.

Iran will also use this year to push its nuclear agenda forward. The U.N. Security Council will be unable to pressure Tehran into curtailing its nuclear program. Iran will use the U.S. distraction in Iraq to move closer to its objective of becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, which will in turn strengthen Tehran’s bargaining position on Iraq and expand its influence in the region.

The United States and Israel are militarily occupied by Iraq and Hezbollah, respectively. The logic behind Iran’s strategy is to use this window of opportunity to advance its nuclear program to the point where a nuclear Iran will have to be accepted as part of any deal the United States wants on Iraq.

All the pieces might appear to be falling into place for Iran, but a major shake-up in the Iranian regime is likely to happen this year, and it could upset Iran’s calculus in dealing with the United States on Iraq. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is terminally ill with cancer and could die this year. His death will send a shockwave through the Iranian public, which will come to doubt the Iranian government’s ability to navigate the country through this critical period. There will not, however, be a complete breakdown of the Iranian political system. There are mechanisms in place to ensure the leadership transition goes relatively smoothly.

While his health further deteriorates, Khamenei will likely position former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to lead the country. Rafsanjani is believed to be committed to Khamenei’s vision for Iraq and the ascendance of a nuclear-powered Iran, but he also is known for his pragmatic leanings and ability to negotiate more easily with the United States. Rumors are also circulating that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s days could also be numbered, and that Khamenei will make the arrangements this year to remove the firebrand president from his post. Khamenei’s health will likely dictate whether Rafsanjani receives the position as supreme leader or president before the end of the year.

The United States will keep a close eye on any potential shake-ups in Tehran to decide how to proceed in devising a diplomatic strategy. The questions surrounding the Iranian leadership will ensure that 2007 will largely be a waiting game over the fate of Iraq. Israel will make a big show of the perception that its patience is rapidly wearing thin as Iran’s nuclear ambitions develop into reality. Israel’s focus for this year will be on pulling itself back together militarily and politically following its defeat in the 2006 summer war against Hezbollah. Israel is still unlikely to follow through with threats to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities this year. Doing so unilaterally would only further compromise the U.S. position in Iraq once Iran unleashes its militant proxies in the region. Instead, Israel’s focus will turn toward Hezbollah. Iran made it clear during the summer war that it will use Hezbollah as a lever in negotiations over Iraq. Israel badly wishes to eliminate this lever, particularly since Israel has a pressing need to create conditions under which it could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites. Israel’s strategy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions begins with the crippling of Hezbollah’s militant arm. This rationale likely factored into Israel’s decision to go forth with a full-scale incursion into Lebanon this past summer, though the results surely defied Israel’s expectations.

Israel is likely to revisit its objective of crushing Hezbollah in the summer of 2007, and has already begun to justify a coming military escalation in Lebanon through public declarations that Hezbollah and/or Syria will be the one to instigate the conflict. Who ends up igniting the war is unimportant. The big question for this year will be whether Israel can develop the capability to root out Hezbollah forces in their strongholds in the Bekaa Valley. A good deal of restructuring will have to take place first, beginning with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s return to the political scene.

Israel could move indirectly to destabilize Hezbollah in Lebanon ahead of a military confrontation. Hezbollah is currently brimming with confidence, but it also must be careful to preserve its legitimacy. By provoking sectarian violence in Lebanon, Israel could pit Hezbollah fighters against fellow Lebanese, which would wear down Hezbollah’s military forces and tarnish its reputationas a nationalist movement, making the organization more vulnerable to an Israeli onslaught. The Israeli Mossad could also be engaged in attempts this year to eliminate elements of Hezbollah’s core leadership to further destabilize the party.

Though Syria will be busy building up weapons acquisitions from its defense partners in Moscow, the Syrian regime will be careful to avoid provoking a major military conflict with Israel. In elections slated for March, Syrian President Bashar al Assad will be re-elected by a wide margin, and no opposition forces will be strong enough to challenge the al Assad regime this year. Though Syria will keep the window open for talks with the United States, it will continue with its agenda to re-consolidate influence in Lebanon, which involves political intimidation — frequently in the form of assassinations. The Bush administration is unlikely to make any major overtures to Syria this coming year, knowing that Damascus falls well below Tehran in its ability to wield any real influence in Iraq. Syria will be emboldened through its alliance with Iran and could instigate a low-level insurgency in the Golan Heights through a shadowy group of militant actors on the regime’s payroll, but will play its cards carefully for fear of inviting Israeli airstrikes on its own soil.

Lebanon will become an intense battlefield for Sunni-Shiite influence, mainly played out between the Saudis on one side and the Syrians and Iranians on the other. The expiration of Lebanon’s lame-duck President Emile Lahoud’s term in office will come in September and will be preceded by intense political jockeying between Lebanon’s rival factions over his replacement. In the end, the next president will likely be a friend to the Syrians. Hezbollah will be able to expand its influence in the government by forcibly increasing the number of seats that it and its allies hold in the Lebanese Cabinet. With veto power, Hezbollah will be able to block any major legislation that harms Syrian, Iranian or Hezbollah interests, including disarmament of Hezbollah’s militant arm or any punitive measures against the Syrian regime for the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. While consolidating its political power, Hezbollah will intently focus on preparing for a military confrontation with Israel.

The Sunni Arab reaction to a rising Iran will intensify in the coming year. Though the Sunni Arab states are highly dependent on the United States to ensure their national security, they will make it clear that they are not going to sit idle while the United States fumbles around in Iraq. The Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will increase pressure on the Americans to act by strengthening the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and by showcasing plans to develop civilian nuclear programs to counter Iran. The sudden departure of Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal brought to light rifts within the Saudi regime over how to deal with Iran’s expansion at the expense of the U.S. military position in the region. Even though the kingdom has recently enacted a succession law to oversee the transfer of power, tensions over the Iraq situation could exacerbate matters. Moreover, Saudi King Abdullah has sought to bring in people from outside the royal family to fill key positions within the foreign policy establishment, which will further complicate these tensions.

Initially, King Abdullah chose advisers and strategists such as Adel al-Jubeir and Nawaf Obaid — a new crop of young, educated Saudis selected for their expertise — rather than members of the royal family. Although technocrats long ago replaced royal figures in the kingdom’s oil and economic sector, it seems the current king plans to gradually replace royals with technocrats in the foreign policy arena. An example of this was the appointment of al-Jubeir as Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington after Prince Turki abruptly resigned.

A Cabinet reshuffle could result in new oil and foreign ministers. While the Oil Ministry will continue to be managed by a technocrat, the Foreign Ministry portfolio would likely remain in the hands of the royal family. Despite disagreements within the top ruling circles on how to deal with an assertive Iran and the rise of the Shia in the region, it is unlikely that the key players within the House of Saud will allow these disagreements to lead to instability within the system — at least not while the sons of Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, remain firmly in control of the reins of power.

Egypt’s political system has also entered a period of uncertainty, as President Hosni Mubarak — given his advanced age and hence deteriorating health — could either die or become incapacitated during the course of the next year. Mubarak’s absence would have a destabilizing effect on the country’s political system, as questions would arise over his potential successor’s ability to govern as effectively. Mubarak’s probable replacement will be Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief. The stage will likely be set for Suleiman this year when Mubarak nominates him as vice president. The uncertainty surrounding Mubarak’s fate has developed into a key issue as Cairo is under domestic and, to a lesser extent, international pressure to effect political reforms. The government could conduct a referendum on the constitution and replace the emergency laws that have been in force since 1981 as a means to sustain its hold on power and counter the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest opposition group in the country.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Hamas and Fatah will continue to struggle over how to create a power-sharing agreement in the government. As long as Hamas can continue to be bankrolled by the Iranians and the Gulf Arab states, the party can avoid making any serious concessions to Fatah in reshuffling the Cabinet. Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas will not resort to calling for early elections unless he can be assured that Hamas would be marginalized in the polls — an unlikely prospect for the near future. The stalemate in the Palestinian territories will lead Hamas’ leadership to make gestures with heavy caveats toward recognizing Israel, though Israel will not take the bait. The Israeli government will work to ensure that Hamas and Fatah are prevented from coming together in an agreement; while Israel is sorting out its own issues at home, it will much prefer to have the Palestinians fighting each other than focusing their attention on attacking Israel. The impasse in the territories will prevent the Israelis and the Palestinians from engaging in any serious final-status negotiations this year.

Revise Stratfor or offer your own forecast in the comments.

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