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You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer. ~ FRANK ZAPPA
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is famous for ambitious promises, but may have outdone himself this weekend in promising not to have sex before the April 9 general election.
Berlusconi fashions himself as a hunk even at age 69, and in fact looks years younger because of plastic surgery and a hair transplant. He is quick to crack jokes with sexual inneuendos and is frequently at odds with feminists.
His wife did not comment on what she thought of the promise.
Running to the left of President George W Bush and to the right of him as well is not a feat most politicians are able to pull off. But Hillary has no alternative. And in that lies her dilemma. She has too liberal a past (and reputation) to be the Democratic right’s favoured candidate; and she’s become far too conservative in the Senate to win over the Democratic left.
After getting himself embedded as a freelance journalist with troops last year, he used his Internet blog to report on the car bombs, firefights and dead soldiers. But he also wrote descriptively about acts of compassion and heroism, small triumphs in the country's crawl toward democracy and the gritty inner workings of the military machine.
Yon's dispatches have been extolled by loyal readers as gutsy and honest reporting by a guy who's not afraid to get his hands dirty. He has been interviewed and his blog quoted by major newspapers and TV news networks, and he has drawn comparisons to Ernie Pyle, the renowned World War II correspondent who shared the trenches with fighting soldiers.
(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.)
A combination of overseas assistance and tax collection. . . . taxes — from businesses in the territories, as well as a customs tax collected by Israel and then paid to the Palestinians — account for about 40 percent of the PA budget. Donations from abroad make up the rest. The PA has run into budget trouble lately, running a massive deficit and sparking the wrath of European donors by adding thousands of people to the security service instead of cutting costs. Experts say Fatah padded its payroll with young militants to win their votes ahead of the polls, and expect the PA will be unable to pay all their salaries after the elections. Since November 2005, the European Union has withheld $42 million in aid payments to the PA as punishment for missed fiscal targets.Also interesting is who is providing overseas assistance and how much.
The relationship between the West and the Palestinian proto-state has been unnatural in that it paid or supplied most of the services that the Palestinian state ought to have provided in the first place. This not only contributed to corruption but relieved the Palestinian political parties of the burden of good governance. It was never necessary to collect garbage or build roads and the political parties were free, like teenagers supported by indulgent parents, to leave their rooms dirty while they raised hell.
Now some will argue that the Palestinian Authority was in no position to do this due to Israeli occupation. But now that they've got some territory and a government that excuse will be thin.
More is expected of America than to "do business" with the PA in the same way it does with other countries. It will not be enough to desist from invasion and to observe international usages. What is expected is to keep paying their bills.
I think the implicit expectation will be to keep the money -- a.k.a. the peace process -- flowing to Hamas. Failure to do this will be described as "punishing the Palestinians" for exercising their democratic rights. But where is it written that one country must underwrite another?
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today that many Israelis see a silver lining of a sort in the Hamas vistory.
Most people who were liberals in 1968 still are. Liberals. In 1968.
It is with those provocative words that economist and self-described former liberal Arnold King begins an essay at TCS Daily. It's well worth reading, especially if you consider yourself to have been a liberal then and still are.
(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.)
Hamas has a choice between governing and terror. Is the party more interested in making sure that the electricity and water stay on, that Palestinian boys and girls make it to school, and that these battered people finally get a state of their own? Or is it more interested in continuing its campaign to destroy Israel? If Hamas chooses the latter, it's more than likely that it will not be around for long, and rightly so.
* A nation watched as the tragedy unfolded.
* The Challenger exploded.
* The crew died instantly.
* Dangerous booster flaws were the result of meddling.
* An environmental ban led to a weaker pressure sealant.
* Political pressure forced the launch after repeated delays.
* The disaster was an unavoidable price for progress.
Reports The Guardian:
George Galloway tonight became the fourth person to be evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother house as he admitted he had failed in his aims during almost two weeks of reality TV.
The Respect [Party] MP attracted 64.7% of public vote after being nominated alongside fake celebrity Chantelle Houghton and US basketball star Dennis Rodman.
He showed little emotion as his eviction was announced by presenter Davina McCall. He hugged, kissed and shook hands with the other housemates before making for the door.
As he emerged from the house, a smiling Galloway was met with boos and cheers from the crowd who gathered for tonight's double eviction.
Donned in a smart black suit and shirt, the 51-year-old MP for Bethnal Green and Bow constituency told McCall: 'That was my last election and I lost it so hey. I thought I could get on with almost everybody, Tony Blair excepted, but I certainly could not', he said.
'I thought I could bring people together in a common cause and I failed. I thought I could live without the news and I could not. So I did learn things about myself. I also learnt some personal things', he added, though he declined to elaborate.
The upset win raises a host of questions, all of them troubling:
* What will the victory mean for the Mideast peace process?
An enormous setback followed by further turmoil.
[P]olitical participation can force a hard form of accountability. If there is a major constituency for Hamas in the territories -- which certainly there is -- perhaps to have them in the government, on the line for dealing with nuts and bolts problems of administration, on the line for delivering a better life for the Palestinians as opposed to just peddling the heroin of violence, has some advantages over having them on the outside as a paramilitary force with a de facto veto over whatever the Fatah-based government chooses to do.
Yes, yes, there's a lot of grasping for straws here. But as long as the structures of democratic government remain secure and intact -- a big 'if' -- participation in government tends to force a measure of pragmatism and accomodation.
As conundrums go, the unexpected Hamas victory is a lulu for President "Liberty Is Spreading Across the Middle East" Bush. His response this morning was to do what he and his administration reflexively resort to when confronted by uncomfy realities -- spin like hell.
Bush only obliquely acknowledged Hamas's radical underpinnings and violent history, but spoke at length about people demanding honest government. Said the prez:
The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care. And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories.That hit uncomfortably close to home -- as in the US of A, where finding good schools and affortable health care are ongoing struggles. And presumably will be issues when citizens of the oldest democracy in the world themselves go to the polls later this year to have their say about another old guard -- the one in Washington.
If George W. Bush has had no positive virtues whatever as president, he at least has taught us that things can always get worse. So too, have the Palestinian elections. It would be hard to invent a worse result than a victory for the vicious, corrupt group of murderous gangsters and hucksters who run Fatah . . . if you think that overstated—but a victory for Hamas is just that.
The ironies abound, all of them painful.
First off, it was the Israelis themselves who helped get Hamas off the ground as a potential alternative to Arafat. Second, they have shown themselves to be its most significant political supporter with their refusal to deal with the far more moderate and westernized Fatah, undercutting its ability to show anything for its public face of moderation and therefore pushing people into the arms of the relatively corruption-free, socially responsible Hamas. Third, while the reasons that the Palestinians support Hamas may have little to do with its professed desire to wipe Israel off the map—again—they genuinely provide real services and do not terrorize the population for their own material gain as does Fatah—the net result will be to give the Israeli hardliners the opportunity to further immiserate the Palestinian masses, putting off the day, even further into the future, when these almost infinitely abused people will ever be able to live their public lives with some dignity and, perhaps prosperity.
It’s encouraging to see a genuinely democratic election in the Arab world, yes. But look what you get. This is one of the too-many-to-count fallacies in the insanely counterproductive neocon strategy in the Middle East, which I’m sure will only get worse. In the meantime, the short-term winner of this election is Bibi Netanyahu, which is bad news for all humankind.
Since Kiko's House is obsessing on Iran this week, it's worth noting that there has been a possibly positive development: Russia has proposed to defuse the confrontation between Iran and the West over its worrisome nuclear program by establishing a joint venture to enrich uranium in Russia.
The devil is in the details of course, and among the unanswered questions is whether the agreement would be merely commercial, which is to say financial, or whether it also would be scientific. Russia had previously offered to produce uranium for a nuclear power plant it is building in Iran on condition that the spent fuel be returned to Russia for reprocessing.
Despite so much evidence that the jihadists are winning sympathy, America has provided no counter-story to their narrative. Rather, the president has repeatedly objected to the notion that the Iraq war is having a radicalizing effect by arguing that America was attacked before we ever stepped foot in Iraq.This, of course, is a non sequitur - douse a guttering fire in gasoline and you will get a bigger fire. A movement that was staggering after the Taliban was toppled has come back with a vengeance. Realistically, we cannot deploy a counter-narrative - one that emphasizes that we are a benign superpower - so long as our troops are in Iraq. That will make it difficult to separate moderates from extremists, as an ideological struggle requires. We must focus more on developing that story and getting out of Iraq with the least damage to our interests and less on the phony truce offers of a guileful enemy.
The new owners said in the statement that they plan to transform Sex.com into "the market-leading adult entertainment destination," which they said would include "adult dating opportunities," sex and relationship advice, erotica, video-on-demand and live chat.
The sale ranks as one of the most expensive Web domain name transfers ever and far outpaces the $7.5 million paid for business.com in 1999 at the peak of the dotcom boom.
In 1817, Marie-Henri Beyle toured the Uffizi museum. Lost in a maze of galleries, the French novelist was paralyzed by indecision. His heart raced. His breathing was shallow and labored. His mind was completely disoriented. He couldn't move. Beyle eventually wrote about his experience under his pen name, Stendahl. In 1979, Italian psychiatrist Graziella Megherini coined the phrase "Stendahl Syndrome" for people paralyzed by excessive choice. It’s a concept bedeviling supermarkets, web pages and . . . carmakers.
For example, BMW's M5 is considered the ultimate sports sedan. And yet the uber-5er faces a bewildering range of operational decisions: three suspension, shifting and e-traction levels; two horsepower options and eleven gearbox modes. While a hard-core cadre of enthusiasts embrace the Bimmer’s programmability, most newbies sit in the M5's driver’s seat and . . . freeze. After overcoming the initial shock, they rely on one or two factory settings-- or walk away thank Gott in Himmel they own something a lot less complicated.
The M5’s complexity reflects automakers’ overly literal interpretation of America’s favorite shibboleth: freedom of choice. Carmakers clearly believe that the more their products cater to each owner’s personal preferences, the better. You only have to count the number of motors underneath a [Mercedes] S-Class’ seat-- or tally-up the number of ways it can massage, heat or cool its occupant’s hindquarters-- to see the philosophy in action. And it’s not just the luxury playas kissing ass. Even a humble Hyundai Elantra offers eight-way adjustable seats. This sort of multi-variable “feature creep” is spreading through the automotive landscape like electronic kudzu.
The Army is stretched so thin by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan that it could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a Pentagon study.
Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision to begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq later this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.
As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump — missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 — and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.
"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.Krepinevich wrote that the Army is "in a race against time" to adjust to the demands of war "or risk 'breaking' the force in the form of a catastrophic decline" in recruitment and re-enlistment.
Col. Lewis Boone, spokesman for Army Forces Command, which is responsible for providing troops to war commanders, pissed on the report and said his organization has been able to fulfill every request for troops that it has received from field commanders.
The report mirrors comments made by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, who said on December 1 that the war in Iraq has left the U.S. Army "broken, worn out" and "living hand-to-mouth."
Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, 37-year Marine Corps career officer and Vietnam veteran, touched off a political firestorm in November when he called for an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.
* * * *
Meanwhile, Noah Shachtman over at defensetech.org has been keeping up with the inevitable leaks of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, and he's troubled by what he sees:
My quick, subject-to-instant-revision first impression: Rumsfeld & Co. are focusing more on China than they are on Osama.
. . . Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn’t about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won’t get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be “long.” But, apparently, it’s not important enough to make really big shifts.
The delay reflects months of internal wrangling over how to balance business interests against its distaste at having to comply with China's restrictive speech policies.It seems like that distaste wasn't as distasteful as losing out on the world's largest emerging market.
Speaking of Microsoft, the software giant said today that it would disclose and license parts of the Windows source code in an effort to quiet growing criticism from regulators. The New York Times has the story.
In short, the Assad family's grip on Syria is weakening, and this is welcome news indeed, both for the long-suffering Syrian people and for us. The Iranians are obviously desperate to keep Assad in power, and Hezbollah armed to the teeth. Should things go the other way, Iran would lose its principal ally in the war against us in Iraq. As is their wont, the Iranians have been paying others to do much of their dirtiest work, and they have awarded Assad tens of millions of dollars' worth of oil, as well as cash subsidies, to cover the costs of recruiting, training and transporting young jihadis, who move from Syria into the Iraqi battle space (and, according to Jane's, a serious publication, the Iranians have also sent some of their WMDs to Assad for safekeeping). That deadly flow has been considerably reduced in recent months, thanks to an extended campaign waged by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Anbar Province, and further along the Iraq/Syria border. The Syrians have accordingly sent radical Islamists into Lebanon, perhaps to link up with Hezbollah in a new jihad against Israel.(Hat tip to Country Bumpkin, who not coincidentally posted a well-worth-reading comment on my Iraq-Iran commentary yesterday.)
It was Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former NSA chief who is now deputy director of national intelligence, who spilled the beans amidst a big administration blitz led by King George himself to sell the once secret spying program in the run-up to mid-term elections.
Hayden stressed that the program “is not a drift net over