Tag Archives: Christian Science Monitor

Buy Your Canned Goods Now!

Associated Press:

Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February — double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January’s 0.5 percent rise.

Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

I believe that food inflation is in the midst of its greatest run-up (by one measurement of a basket of basic foodstuffs) since 1974. The lead story on Drudge reports on the most recent data.

Under the rubric of QE2, the Federal Reserve Bank is engaged in the venture of increasing the money supply with the goal of moderately increasing inflation. I fear that this venture is misguided and destructive. I believe it will result in inflation exceeding the Fed’s goal, if it has not done so already, and that the Fed will apply the brakes well after the damage has been done, as is its style.

What sayeth the Fed?

Ed Morrissey:

Scott cleverly titles his post, “Let them eat iPads.”  I’m not sure I’d draw a line between QE2 and what has happened in food and oil prices, at least not as a primary factor.  The effect of QE2 will be to weaken the dollar, which will hike the cost of imports, to be sure, and that may account for a little of the large price jump.  If it was the main factor — if the dollar had been weakened to that extent — then prices would be up across the board, especially on imports.  At least according to today’s report from the BEA on the trade deficit, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The real source of this problem is America’s continuing refusal to exploit its own energy sources.  We remain too dependent on imports for energy while deliberately sidelining at least hundreds of thousands of potential high-paying jobs by refusing to extract our own oil and natural gas.  When the unstable countries that produce oil go through political paroxysms, it spooks investors and sends commodity prices soaring on the increased risk to distribution.  Those price increases mean higher transportation costs, which impacts all goods and services that require transport to get to consumers.  It’s a multiplier factor that we have seen a number of times over the last four decades, and which our political class continues to pretend doesn’t exist.

Ron Scherer at Christian Science Monitor:

In the year ahead, expect to see the largest food price increases in the protein group: chicken, beef, and pork, as well as dairy items. One key reason: The price of corn, used as feed by ranchers and farmers, has doubled in the past year. But vegetarians won’t get off easy: Produce and orange juice are rising sharply, as well.

Higher food prices have wide economic ramifications and are being watched closely by the Federal Reserve. From a business standpoint, food producers – from agricultural giants to the corner pizza parlor – must raise prices or watch their profit margins evaporate. Many middle-class households are financially stretched to the limit, so any extra expense for such basics as milk or bread makes their life even tougher. Organizations that help the poor with food, moreover, find they can’t help as many people because their dollar doesn’t go as far.

“The more you have to spend on a loaf of bread and a pound of ground beef, the less you have to spend on everything else,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. “It’s like a tax increase, although it’s not quite as bad as rising oil prices, since at least the revenues go to US farmers, truckers, and ag-equipment manufacturers.”

The US Department of Agriculture expects the average price of food in 2011 to be 4 percent higher than last year. Some private forecasters say that, by December, prices could be as much as 6 percent higher than in December 2010.

“If food inflation comes in at 6 percent, it would be the most dramatic increase since 1982,” says William Lapp, a consumer foods economist with his own firm, Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. “We had a 10-year period, from 1972 to 1981, when annual food prices rose sharply – including a two-year period when increases averaged 8.7 percent.”

Mark Huffman at Consumer Affairs:

When you factor in crude foodstuff and feedstuff to food costs to producers, food prices rose at the fastest rate since 1974, when the U.S. economy was in the grips of what was known as “stagflation.” Prices were rising rapidly despite little or no growth in the economy.

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It All Comes Back To The Bush

Andrew Sullivan rounds up here, here and here

Jennifer Rubin:

The Obama administration needs to think long and hard about how it can convert its occasional rhetorical flourishes into concrete polices that can assist democracy advocates not only in Tunisia, but in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. If Obama wants to do some more productive “Muslim Outreach,” he should stop trying to ingratiate himself with despotic leaders and show that America is, and will continue to be, on the side of those yearning for freedom.

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient. Shouldn’t we all be in favor the freedom agenda? Criticized at the time as too Pollyannaish and too ambitious, Bush’s second inaugural address is worth reading again in full. This section is particularly apt:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty–though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Adam Serwer:

Rubin doesn’t even attempt to prove causation — eight years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and last week there was an uprising in Tunisia. Ergo Bush deserves the credit. This is deeply paternalistic — in Rubin’s version of history, the Tunisians who faced down the security forces of an autocratic regime are practically bit players in their own political upheaval.

The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq, as though the American people would ever forget that the Bush administration justified that decision by manufacturing an imminent danger in the form of WMD that were never found.

“Democracy in the Muslim World” was not the primary reason given for invading Iraq, and even as a retroactive justification it remains weak. As Matt Duss pointed out last year, the RAND Corporation did a study concluding that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” But as Donald Rumsfeld might say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so Rubin presses on:

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Perhaps the most bizarre of Republican foreign policy instincts is the belief that the President of the United States can force the foreign policy outcomes he desires through sheer force of will. This is what Matthew Yglesias has dubbed the “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.”

Dan Murphy at the Christian Science Monitor:

One question in Ms. Rubin’s column does have a clear answer however. “How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?” she asks.

Having covered Iraq and Egypt full time between 2003-2008, and having explored the question of whether the US invasion of Iraq would spur regional political change at length with academics, politicians, and average folks in and out of the region over a period of years (and talked to people in touch with current events in Tunisia the past few days) the answer to her question is clear: “Little to nothing.”

The sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, the insurgency, and the US role in combating it claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and Iraq remains unstable today. The regional view of the Iraq war was and is overwhelmingly negative, the model of Iraq something to be avoided at all costs. Before I read Rubin’s piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history.

Hawkins, whose dissertation was about Tunisia, has been coming and going from the country since the late 1980s. He recounted (unprompted) how the word “democracy” had been given a bad name among many of the Tunisian youth (the same sorts who led the uprising against Ben Ali) because of the Iraq experience, “That’s democracy,” a group of Tunisian youths said to him in 2006 of Iraq. “No thanks.”

The Obama Administration’s policies towards the Arab world, largely focused on counterterrorism cooperation and avoiding pushing hard for political reform in autocracies like Egypt, are in fact an almost straight continuation of President Bush’s approach, particularly in his second term. It’s true that Bush made a ringing call for freedom in the Middle East a centerpiece of his inaugural address, but soon came up against the hard reality that close regional allies like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia weren’t much interested in tolerating challenges to their rule.

After the Muslim Brotherhood tripled its share in Egypt’s parliament in one of the fairest (but still fraud marred) Egyptian elections in decades and the Islamist group Hamas swept free and fair Palestinian elections in 2006, the US took a big step back from Arab democracy promotion. That’s a situation that persists today.

More Rubin:

While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government.

One final note: while Muslim autocrats in the region have reason to worry, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a convincing case that regimes do not face the same threat of instability. In Jordan and Morocco, for example, the kings in those countries enjoy a “perceived legitimacy.”

Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy.

Daniel Larison:

I don’t know about “the liberal elite,” but people opposed to the Bush administration’s illegal war in Iraq and ruinous “freedom agenda” actually argued that it would be extremely difficult to construct Western-style liberal democracies in countries that had no political tradition of representative or constitutional government. This is true. It is extremely difficult, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort and resources devoted to it, and it remains a foolish thing for the U.S. to pursue as a major foreign policy goal. What we also said was that it was outrageous and wrong to invade another country, trample on its sovereignty, wreck its infrastructure, and impoverish its people. What was even worse was to claim that we had liberated it, when we were actually handing it over to the tender mercies of sectarian militias and establishing what turned out to be a repressive government that often resorts to police-state tactics. In 2003, Muslim self-rule was already a reality in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The fantasy was the idea that the U.S. could forcibly topple an authoritarian government and readily install a functioning liberal democratic government in Iraq, and that this would then lead to regional transformation. Except for the first part, none of this happened. So far, the Tunisians seem to be managing much better on their own than Iraq did under the tutelage of U.S. occupiers.

Greg Scoblete:

Rubin does raise a significant question, however, regarding U.S. policy towards Tunisia. It could be, as her source suggests, that there exists a wellspring of knowledgeable people in the U.S. federal government who understand Tunisian society and have a keen grasp of how to ensure that the country’s revolutionary tumult is channeled toward a stable, sustainable representative democracy (provided it’s not too Islamist, of course). If that is the case, telling whatever government does emerge “what we expect” makes some sense, as it presumes we know what we’re talking about.

If, however, we don’t actually know what’s best for Tunisian society going forward, outside of a general desire for it to have a representative and relatively liberal government, should we really be butting in?

More Rubin:

Now a final note: The left blogosphere seems to have wigged out over the suggestion that George W. Bush and the successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq has anything to do with all this. For starters, it is amusing to see that those voices, fresh from the smear on conservatives regarding the Arizona shooting, are now all about “causation.” But more seriously, had democracy failed in Iraq, had the country descended into chaos, and had Iraqis laboring for a secular, democratic Muslim country been killed and exiled, do we imagine this would have been good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere? Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong. And the notion that democratization and rebellion against despotic regimes do not spread regionally after a successful experiment is belied by history (e.g. Central America, Eastern Europe).

Larison responds:

Well, the country did descend into chaos, Iraqis laboring for a secular country were killed and exiled*, and that wasn’t good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere. These also happen to be the effects of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, which involved invading and devastating a country for bogus national security reasons and then trying to dress up the entire debacle as an experiment in democratization. The outward forms of democracy didn’t entirely fail in Iraq, but what those forms did was politicize ethnic and sectarian divisions and fuel years of inter-communal violence. Looking at the chaos unleashed by what war supporters kept insisting on calling “democracy,” nations throughout the region associated “democracy” with foreign occupation, civil strife, and constant violence. For that matter, there has been no “successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq.” There is an elected government with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal habits governed by sectarians pretending to be secular nationalists.

Rubin continues:

Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong.

No, Bush’s critics understood, usually better than his supporters, that Iran had some measure of constitutional and representative government before the Pahlavis, and Turkey has been gradually developing as a democratic republic since WWII. Opponents of the disastrous war and the “freedom agenda” said that democratic and representative government was alien to almost all Arab countries. Lebanon was and remains the exception. That was true. Maliki’s semi-dictatorship in Baghdad does little to change that assessment. Bush based his conviction that the U.S. should install democratic government in a predominantly Arab country on the general lack of such governments in Arab countries, which democratists concluded was a principal source of jihadism. To the extent that Bush and his allies were serious in wanting to democratize Arab countries, they were taking for granted that democratic government was alien to these countries, which is why the U.S. had to introduce it directly through active promotion. What Bush and his allies also said was that democratic government was part of a “single model of human progress,” and that therefore every society should be governed this way, and furthermore that every society was capable of governing itself this way. That was the far-fetched claim that most of Bush’s critics couldn’t accept, because it is nothing more than an ideological conviction.

Will at The League:

The analytical gymnastics Jennifer Rubin is forced to perform here to defend the invasion of Iraq are pretty impressive. If the Tunisian revolution spurs reform in neighboring countries, her line of reasoning goes, Iraq’s quasi-democratic political process must be having a similar effect in the region. I know little about the Middle East and less about Tunisia, but let me suggest one important distinction: If the “Jasmine Revolution” inspires emulation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it will have something to do with the fact that Tunisia’s political upheaval was a genuinely organic, popular movement that isn’t perceived as the result of outside meddling. Whatever the merits of Iraq’s new government, it will never enjoy that type of currency in the region, which is why overblown claims about the positive regional consequences of our invasion remain so unpersuasive.

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Filed under Africa, Foreign Affairs, Iraq

The Living History Book No More: Dan Schorr 1916-1910

Alan Greenblatt at NPR:

Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.

Schorr, who once described himself as a “living history book,” passed away Friday morning at a Washington hospital. His family did not provide a cause of death.

As a journalist, Schorr was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront.

“He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things,” said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps. “He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match.”

Schorr’s 20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from Western Europe for the Christian Science Monitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.

Schorr joined CBS News in 1953 as one of “Murrow’s boys,” the celebrated news team put together by Edward R. Murrow. He reopened the network’s Moscow bureau, which had been shuttered by Joseph Stalin in 1947. Ten years later, Schorr scored an exclusive broadcast interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. Communist Party chief — the first-ever with a Soviet leader. Schorr was barred from the U.S.S.R. later that year after repeatedly defying Soviet censors.

Michael Tomaskey at The Guardian:

Schorr comes from a time and culture, CBS News in the 1950s, when putting news on television was considered such a civic trust and responsibility that the news division didn’t even have to make a profit. He worked for Edward R. Murrow, and he reopened CBS’ Moscow bureau after it had been shuttered by Stalin in 1947. He covered the building of the Berlin Wall. I read his memoir when it came out a few years ago, and i remember that it was chock-a-block full of Iron Curtain stories of the sort one saw in spy-spoof movies of that era, the kind of just-speak-clearly-into-this-carnation tales that you didn’t think could have happened in real life.

Schorr gained his greatest notoreity, and was proudest, of being included on the infamous “enemies list” compiled by the Nixon White House of liberals of various stripe. If I’m not mistaken, he read the list on the air at CBS, including his own name. He won Emmy awards for his reporting in each of the Watergate years of 1972, 1973 and 1974.

He risked going to jail in 1976 to protect a source who’d fed him a congressional intelligence report that the panel had voted to keep secret – which is to say, these employees of the American people had conducted a thorough review of intelligence in their behalf and then voted to keep it from them. Schorr had leaked it to The Village Voice. He wouldn’t reveal his source, but the congressional panel voted 6-5 not to hold him in contempt. CBS got rid of him though.

He did a stint at CNN as it was starting up, and then in 1985 moved to National Public Radio doing reporting and commentaries. His most regular slot in recent years was right after the news in the 9:00 am hour (east coast time) of Scott Simon’s Saturday morning show, spending about four minutes commenting on the past week’s events around 9:07 am. I listened most weeks and am pretty sure he was on just this past Saturday, the trademark drollery conveying the unmissably caustic point with a friendly little ribbon on it.

I met him once, but just briefly, at an event at the Brookings Institution. The only other time I encountered him in person was about three years ago when I was in a Senate office building doing something or other. There on the sidewalk, getting out his press pass and readying himself to walk through the metal detector, was Schorr. Not bad at all, thought I – 90 years old and still pounding the pavement like that.

Rachel Sklar at Mediaite:

He remained active through the very last months of his life, gamely joining Twitter (dropping commentary and the occasional joke: “Would you call a summit over beer a ‘brew-haha’?”), and six months ago switched to composing his commentary for “All Things Considered” on a computer, rather than a typewriter. He was a fan favorite of any regular NPR listener, and clearly the staff as well.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

One of this nation’s great reporters has died. Back in 2000, the writer Rick Bragg eulogized the death of another accomplished scribbler, 92-year-old Milt Sosin, by noting that Sosin’s heart had stopped the previous Sunday. “And only then, his pen,” Bragg wrote.

Much the same can be said for Schorr, 93, who I heard just a few weeks ago discussing the latest Russian spy case on NPR. His journalistic accomplishments over a 70-year career dwarf those of entire publications. He earned himself a spot on Richard Nixon’s so-called “enemies list,” got banned from Russia after interviewing Nikita Khrushchev and became CNN’s first employee in 1979, but only after forcing Ted Turner to sign a document stating that “no demand will be made upon him that would compromise his professional ethics and responsibilities.”

Daniel Schorr at The Christian Science Monitor:

Daniel Schorr wrote his first article as a reporter for the Monitor in 1948, when he was hired to cover the Netherlands, after having worked at news agencies and contributed to other news outlets. This article from the International Court of Justice was a fulfillment of his ambition to be a foreign correspondent at the beginning of his journalism career.

[…]

United Europe Congress Opens

May 7, 1948

Two years ago a union of European countries seemed just a dream of a few visionaries. Today some 800 delegates are gathering for the first United Europe Congress – and the matter-of-fact forecast is heard that a super-national structure will emerge in the course of 1949.

For some time it is not likely to be the all-embracing union from the British Isles to the Caucasus which has stirred the imagination of pan-Europeans for generations. Russia is busy “welding together an eastern European union of its own. But this very consolidation in east Europe has given the new impetus to the West to sing age-old rivalries and national divergencies.

Great Strides

Almost every major postwar development has had the effect of pushing western European countries towards some form of unity – the deepening shadow of Russia, the pooling of resources under the Marshall Plan and the Brussels “Western Union.”

Even a year ago, when the idea of a “United Europe Congress’* was envisaged, the organizers hardly expected that such strides would have been made before the delegates gathered.

I was in The Netherlands last July when the idea of this Congress was broached. Senator Pieter A. Kerstens, head of the organizing committee, hoped it would marshal the hitherto divided forces seeking European unity. It hardly was expected that May, 1948, would find half of Europe already ripe for such unity.

In the words of Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who is here representing the European Parliamentary Union: “The tremendous boom of this idea in the past 18 months is due primarily to the policies of four statesmen – Churchill, Marshall, Bevin, and Stalin. Churchill gave Europe a common hope, Marshall a common interest, Bevin a common organization, and Stalin a common danger.”

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up

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Don’t Drink The Water, Part III: Put On Your Caps, Everybody

Henry Fountain and Liz Robbins in NYT:

Oil stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in nearly three months, as BP began testing the containment cap atop its stricken well, a critical step toward sealing the well permanently.

“I am very excited that there’s no oil in the Gulf of Mexico,” Kent Wells, a senior vice president for BP said in a teleconference on Thursday, “but we just started the test and I don’t want to create a false sense of excitement.”

Oil stopped flowing at 2:25 p.m. local time, Mr. Wells announced, when engineers closed the choke line, the final seal of the well. Engineers and scientists will now examine the results of the pressure tests every six hours to determine the pressure levels. Read the updated article on the cap.

Steve Benen:

Watching the live feed, it’s clear the oil that was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has, at least for now, stopped entirely. To put it mildly, it’s a welcome sight.

The new containment mechanism has been delayed a bit in recent days, but officials shut the various valves today as part of a long-awaited “integrity test,” and so far, so good. The “pressure test” will continue over the next 48 hours.

So, are we in the clear? Crisis over? Not yet. The seismic tests will tell us whether to the cap should stay on.

Bradford Plumer at The New Republic:

Still, the Macondo site won’t be fully and permanently plugged until BP finishes drilling a relief well. Kate Sheppard has a great piece today about some of the challenges involved there, including this useful warning: “A relief well drilled to quell last year’s Montara blowout off the coast of Australia took five tries before it succeeded—with an average of one week between them.” Now, BP claims it can bottle up the well once and for all by July 29, though do note that just happens to be the date of BP’s second-quarter shareholder meeting.

And this doesn’t mean the oil-spill disaster is over. There’s a lot of crude bobbing along in the Gulf right now: Scientists estimate that between 92 million and 182 million gallons have gushed out into the ocean since the Deepwater Horizon platform first blew up back in April. BP is still using dispersants to break up the oil and send it down to the sea floor, even though no one quite knows how the chemicals might affect marine life in the area. And note that oil’s still washing ashore, and Bobby Jindal’s artificial “barrier islands,” which were supposed to protect Louisiana, are now crumbling.

Patrik Jonsson at The Christian Science Monitor:

Six weeks ago, Robert Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, received a late-night call from an apologetic “mystery plumber.” The caller said he had a sketch for how to solve the problem at the bottom of the Gulf. It was a design for a containment cap that would fit snugly over the top of the failed blowout preventer at the heart of the Gulf oil spill.

Professor Bea, a former Shell executive and well-regarded researcher, thought the idea looked good and sent the sketches directly to the US Coast Guard and to a clearinghouse set up to glean ideas from outside sources for how to cap the stubborn Macondo well.

When Bea saw the design of the containment cap lowered onto the well last week, he marveled at its similarity to the sketches from the late-night caller, whose humble refusal to give his name at the time nearly brought Bea to tears.

“The idea was using the top flange on the blowout preventer as an attachment point and then employing an internal seal against that flange surface,” says Bea. “You can kind of see how a plumber thinks this way. That’s how they have to plumb homes for sewage.”

BP has received 300,000 ideas from around the world for how to cap the well after decades-old methods failed. Everyone from amateur inventors to engineers, Hollywood stars to hucksters, have swamped the unified command with ideas.

BP executive Doug Suttles says the new containment cap design came from weeks of trial and error. “We’ve been adding and trying new things constantly,” Mr. Suttles said last week.

The design was originally intended to increase BP’s ability to siphon oil from the well to containment ships on the surface. But in the past two weeks, it became clear to the company that the design, if it passed certain well integrity tests, could also be used to stop the flow altogether. If successful, the containment structure will be a turning point in the Gulf oil spill drama.

BP spokesman Mark Salt says, “There’s no way of finding out at the moment” whether Bea’s forwarded suggestion from the self-described “lowly plumber” made it into the design. “There’s also a good chance that this was already being designed by the time this [tip] came in.”

On the other hand, Mr. Salt adds, “I’m sure we’ve used bits and pieces of suggestions [from the outside] and have picked things out that could be used going forward.”

Tigerhawk:

The psychological impact of our inability to cap this damned hole in the bottom of the sea has been huge, and perhaps the hidden and unverifiable source of more economic damage than the actual spill. It was depressing and contributed to a wider sense that things are seemingly spinning out of control. The work is not done, but imagine the relief of those engineers, workers and executives — the unloved heroes — who have been struggling to deal with this problem for almost three months. I hope they get a few cold beers tonight, and maybe a nice steak.

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Filed under Energy, Environment

Yet Again, Life Imitates “The West Wing”

Sibylla Brodzinsky at The Christian Science Monitor:

The airport security guard’s wand squealed when it passed over the pocket of presidential candidate Antanas Mockus’s trousers as he prepared to embark on a recent campaign trip.

Puzzled, Mr. Mockus reached in and pulled out a No. 2 pencil with a metallic band around the eraser.

“They discovered my weapon,” he says, recalling the incident with an impish smile. The pencil is one of the symbols of his campaign, which emphasizes education as a tool to transform society.

A few months ago, no one thought Mockus – a mathematician, philosopher, and former mayor of Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá – had much of a chance in the elections, but his unorthodox campaign style has turned Col­ombia’s race for the presidency on its head.

Rising from a distant 3 percent in opinion polls in March, Mockus has surged over 30 percent, placing him in a dead heat with former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, considered the heir to the legacy of the famously popular president, Álvaro Uribe.

The latest Ipsos-Napoleon Franco poll gives Mr. Santos 34 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with 32 percent for Mockus. But if neither candidate secures the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright in the first round, Mockus would win a run-off with 45 percent to Santos’ 40 percent on June 20, according to the May 23 poll.

Renard Sexton:

Quite a number of observers and journalists are content in even calling Mockus the “front-runner” in the race, though the numbers point to a neck-and-neck finish in the first round of voting. If no candidate receives a majority — which at this point is the probable result — there will be a run-off second round on 20 June between the top two candidates.

Gallup’s polling from 10 days ago still puts Juan Manuel Santos on top with 37.5 percent of the vote to Antanas Mockus’ 35.4 percent. While this would give a nominal victory to Santos, he would be well short of a majority, leaving it wide open in the run-off.

Gallup polling thus far puts Mockus in command position in the event of a run-off, even as Santos pulls the most in the first round. This polling, however, does not account for politicking in the interim between first and second rounds, such as the possible alliance between Santos and fellow conservative Sanin. It could be that second round voters are already shaking out this way (Santos 19 May share in the run-off is just about the sum of Santos and Sanin in the first round), or that some Sanin voters are undecided between the two at this point. Supporters of the conservative-liberal (free market) German Vargas Lleras are more likely to split between the two major candidates.

Ipsos polling relays a slightly more detailed, and generally complementary storyline. The main difference between the data sets (both obtained from interviews with 1200 adults) is that the Gallup numbers show continued improvement for Mockus since March, whereas Ipsos indicates that Mockus peaked at the end of April, while Santos has regained ground since April, possibly from defecting Sanin voters.

The second round numbers tell a similar tale, with Mockus’ lead falling slightly since its peak at the end of last month from 13 points during the week of 26 April to 5 points when Ipsos published its last numbers on 22 May.

One major downside to the Colombian law that prevents electioneering during the final week of the campaign is that no polling numbers have been collected or published since 22 May. As a result, we do not know whether Mockus has rebounded in the run-off numbers, or if Santos has further consolidated his position at the top of the first round.

Even further, it is possible, though quite unlikely, that one candidate or another has had a major influx of undecideds or minority candidate supporters such that they will win an outright majority. Without recent enough numbers, we have to conjecture based on qualitative reports, which indicate well-consolidated support for both Santos and Mockus.

As such, we can project that neither candidate is likely to break 40 percent of the national vote, and that a Santos v. Mockus run-off on 20 June is the probable outcome. The question will be whether Santos can pull together enough of the right and center-right to win in the run-off, or if 40 to 45 percent is the ceiling for his national support, one point both Gallup and Ipsos numbers agree upon.

As the only candidate to receive 50 percent or more in any published polling of the second round (the Centro Nacional de Consultoría put his highest run-off figure at 53 percent), Antanas Mockus seems to be in a relatively strong position going into today’s voting. But the race remains wide open and we eagerly tonight’s results.

Doug J.:

It really looks like mathematician/philosopher Antanas Mock may end up as president. I may as well say up front that I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher, but he certainly sounds like a candidate we at Balloon-Juice could get behind:

As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as “Super Citizen.” But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.I don’t follow Colombian politics at all, so I have no idea who I would vote for if I lived there. Given how poorly my foreign friends understand American politics, I’m loath to express opinions about other countries’ politics. But the idea of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies has a deep, deep appeal to me. Of course, the clown who tells the truth is something of a literary cliché, but it’s a cliché that I like.

Steven Taylor:

The election this Sunday is the first step in replacing the sitting President, Álavro Uribe.  Uribe is one of the longest serving President in Colombian history and the first since Rafael Núñez in the late 1800s to be re-elected to the post to consecutive terms.  Núñez, a key historical figure in Colombia politics (considered, in many ways, to be the father of the 1886 constitution, which was in force until it was replaced in 1991), but who was not elected (or re-elected) via a popular vote process.   Alfonso López Pumarejo was the last president elected to two terms, although they were non-consecutive terms (1934-1938 and 1942-1946) and López did not serve to completion his second term.  The 1886 constitution forbad consecutive terms, while the 1991 constitution limited the president to only one term until Uribe’s allies were able to reform the document during his first term so as to allow one re-election.  As such, Uribe acquired a unique place in Colombian history for his tenure in office alone.

[…]

Uribe has had a vey successful run as president, and he and his policies do deserve credit for substantial gains on the policy-front.  However, not only are there a number of issues pertaining to transparency, corruption, and violence that his administration also has to answer for, it is a mistake to elevate Uribe to the position of the Indispensible Man (an idea that fueled his bid for a third term).   An example of this point of view can be found in the following WSJ headline:  The Man Who Saved Colombia.  The piece is quite positive and includes lines like “Mr. Uribe has salvaged democracy in a part of the world where criminality is on the rise”.  Such statements are a bit of hyperbole for a variety of reasons.

First, it reflects a tendency that is all too common (see, for example, here) that reduces governments to the chief executives alone, as if all that is good or bad about a given stretch of time is the president (or PM or whomever).  There have been others involved in Colombia governance for the past 8 years.

Second, such statements ignore Colombia’s rather long history with political violence.  Yes, the time during which Uribe took office was an especially bad period, although it was not the first such bad period and it likely will not be the last (or, based solely on historical patterns, that’s the sad safe money).  Casting Uribe as the savior ignores a few simply facts:  the current political violence can be seen as part of an unbroken legacy of conflict that dates back tot he 1940s (at least).  That is not to say is it a continuation of the exact same conflict, but rather that a) there has been some form of ongoing political violence since that time, and that b) some parts of the current violence can trace back its roots (the founder, recently deceased, of the FARC) back that far.  Other elements can have their origins traced to the 1960s (the FARC, the ELN and other small guerrilla groups that still operate) while others to the 1970s/1980s (drug cartels) or 1980s/1990s (paramilitary groups).

Third, there is no reason that the efficacious portions of the Uribe approach can’t be continued.  Indeed, both of the front-runners (Santos and Mockus) have pledged to do just that.

Fourth, we shouldn’t go too far in proclaiming Uribe a pure paragon of all things democratic.  He has demonstrated autocratic tendencies (not the least of which being his clear desire to alter the political system to allow him to stay in office a rather long time—something that is considered anathema to those who praise Uribe in the US when the exact same behavior is exhibited by Hugo Chávez).  Indeed, there were issues of vote manipulation that emerged in the amendment process that allowed the first re-election which led to the arrest and conviction on bribery charges of congresswoman Yidis Medina and some impropriety issue

Further, there are credible accusations that Uribe has had ties to paramilitary groups—certainly his family has, including his political ally and cousin, Mario Uribe, as well as his brother (via the AP:  Colombia’s President Uribe defends brother against death squad charge, blames criminals).

Aldo Civico at The Huffington Post:

The next president of Colombia will have to make sure not only that false positives and illegal wiretapping and alliances of politicians with illegal armed groups will not be tolerated, but that the cases will not be left with impunity. In these days in Washington different views and opinions are debated on the opportunity to grant to Colombia next August the certification on human rights. At stake is the continued financial support for the so-called consolidation strategy, the updated version of Plan Colombia, which has always met the convinced and almost uncritical support of both the republican as well as the democratic administrations.

It is not a secret that nobody in Washington supported and wanted a second reelection of president Uribe. A matter of principle, rather then a statement against Uribe, whose government has found in general wide and bipartisan support. And Washington has looked with sympathy at the present electoral process, at its healthy dynamic and plurality. And certainly the unexpected enthusiasm for Antanas Mockus, the eccentric former mayor of Bogota, has surprised also Washington that thought the victory of Uribe’s political heir, Juna Manuel Santos, was a done deal. But Washington has not bend towards either Santos or Mockus.

The attention of the United States will certainly increase in the upcoming weeks, as the second round approaches. Sure, in Washington Santos is not only well known, but in general also appreciated. The Obama administration and several members in Congress don’t blame him for the false positive. They are aware of his attempts to reform from within the Colombian military and to promote among the ranks a culture and a practice of human rights. They have been always supportive of the military strategy against the FARC and are deeply convinced about the consolidation strategy that was designed under Santos’ leadership. If Santos wins, Washington sees it as an opportunity to continue and to strengthen with him and his men a good collaboration. Santos is well known and will not represent any surprise.

Antanas Mockus is certainly less known, but the judgment of his mayoralty in Bogota and of Sergio Fajardo in Medellín is very positive in Washington. Washington knows that Mockus will be tough with the FARC and that he will not be shy in using the military when needed. To Washington, moreover, the message of a culture of legality is appealing and it might help lowering the tension that sometimes exists between the administration and Congress on issues related on human rights. This could have positive effects on the approval in 2011 of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (stocked in Congress) and an easy approval of the human rights certification.

In any case, Washington is aware that a president will be elected who will be a friend of the United States and that Colombia will continue to be a good partner in the region. Either with Santos or Mockus, it will be a fresh start, one that is needed to refresh the political air made heavy by the scandals. The visit of Hillary Clinton to Colombia on June 9, at a very sensitive date, will possibly offer an interesting preview of the road ahead in the dealing with an important ally in the region.

Jose DeCordoba at Wall Street Journal:

Colombia’s tough former defense minister picked up a commanding lead in the country’s presidential race, but he will have to face off in a second electoral round against the eccentric former mayor of Bogota next month.

Neither former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate of popular, outgoing President Alvaro Uribe’s Party of the U nor the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus, a bearded mathematician turned former two-term mayor of Bogota, were able to get more than 50% of the vote needed to avoid a run off election. But with 99% of the vote counted, Mr. Santos seemed almost certain to win the runoff scheduled for June 20 after picking up 47% of the vote against Mr. Mockus 21%. Seven other candidates split the rest of the vote.

Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote at a polling station in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday.

Mr. Santos did much better than predicted by the polls which said he and Mr. Mockus were in a dead heat. The election results could open a hectic, three week period of frantic campaigning and even more frenzied political horse trading as the two men left standing from the crowded nine candidate field scramble for votes.

As the two men head for the runoff, Mr. Santos, an experienced political infighter and political horse trader is likely to have an insurmountable edge over Mr. Mockus, a philosopher and mathematician turned antipolitician who has made his personal honesty and a refusal to do business as usual one of his top campaign issues.

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Harold And Kumar Are Obviously Headed To Mexico

drug_war_01

David Knowles at Politics Daily:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has signed into law a bill passed by the country’s congress last spring. The new measure decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines and heroin, setting limits for what constitutes “personal use” quantities. At the same time, it provides free treatment for those with drug addiction.

The hope is that the law will distinguish casual users from addicts. Before, those arrested for drug possession — even for small amounts — were handed long jail terms. Studies show that drug use is on the rise in Mexico, calling into question the efficacy of deterrent policies. In addition, the ongoing violent drug war against cartels, which has killed an estimated 11,000 since Calderon took office in 2006, also played an influential roll in the government’s shift from punishment to treatment.

Jacob Sullum in Reason:

The quantity limits are pretty stingy: five grams (about a fifth of an ounce) for marijuana, half a gram for cocaine, 50 milligrams for heroin, and 40 milligrams for methamphetamine. According to A.P., the cutoff for LSD is 0.015 milligram, or 15 micrograms, far less than a typical dose of 100 to 150 micrograms.

From now on, drug users who are caught with less than those amounts cannot be prosecuted. Instead, they will be offered treatment the first couple of times, after which treatment will be mandatory. A spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office tells A.P. drug users carrying such tiny amounts were almost never prosecuted anyway, but they were subject to shakedowns by the police. “The bad thing was that it was left up to the discretion of the detective,” he says, “and it could open the door to corruption or extortion.”

Mary Cuddehe:

Mexico has never been in the habit of jailing users and addicts the way we do in the States, so practically speaking the new law isn’t expected to change all that much for most people (with the possible exception of beat cops losing a source of bribes). Still, it’s considered controversial largely because of the way the United States has reacted to similar legislation in the past.

In 2006, President Fox proposed and Congress passed a legalization bill but then chucked it when Washington complained. This time around, Gil Kerlikowske has said the administration will take a “wait-and-see” approach.

DRJ at Patterico’s Pontifications:

I don’t know if this is a good or a bad idea but it seems like it would be hard to legalize one-half of a drug transaction and criminalize the other half, although it’s probably true law enforcement can’t abuse laws that don’t exist.

On the other side of the drug war in Mexico, Sara Miller Llana at The Christian Science Monitor:

The reputed head of the La Familia cartel, an increasingly notorious drug trafficking organization in Mexico, did not mince words in his threat: “If anybody attacks my father, my mother, my brothers, they’re going to have to deal with me,” Servando Gomez warned the government on local television last month.

But instead of backing down, the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who has deployed 45,000 troops throughout Mexico to clamp down on traffickers, responded this week by detaining not just Mr. Gomez’s brother, but his mother too.

It is another signal that President Calderón will not succumb to intimidation by well-armed and even-better-financed organized crime outlets. But it also raises the issue of guilt by association, and has some here concerned that targeting families could backfire. Gomez’s mother, for example, was released Wednesday, two days after her arrest, for “lack of evidence.”

Ian Bremmer in Foreign Policy:

Since he took office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has pursued a twofold strategy against organized crime. The government has deployed the military to key drug trafficking regions in the north and along the west coast to root out cartels. It has also pushed important institutional reforms through congress to help make the country’s police forces and judicial system more efficient. Nonetheless, the level of narcotrafficking violence has grown nearly threefold during Calderon’s time in office, from an average of 2,195 deaths in 2006 and 2007 to an estimated 6,000 total deaths expected in 2009. In addition, drug traffickers appear to be moving into other illicit activities like extortion rackets and kidnapping rings, as the number of such reported crimes has risen dramatically in the past two years. These rising public security problems could suggest that Mexico is heading along the same path as Colombia, but there are some important distinctions to consider.

A few factors, in particular, make Mexico’s state of affairs quite different from the situation in Colombia. First, the government still maintains control over its territory and has not ceded ground to narcotraffickers at any time. Second, although the fight against the cartels has resulted in higher rates of violence, the hostility remains largely contained in a few states and among narcotraffickers vying for improved positions within the cartels or between them. Third, Mexico’s drug trafficking violence on a per capital basis remains significantly lower than Colombia’s. Even after years of President Alvaro Uribe’s successful hard-line security policy against Colombia’s narcotraffickers, violence in this country remains quite high: There were a total of 16,000 reported homicides in 2008 in a country of 45 million people. In Mexico, in contrast, narcotrafficking related violence is expected to cause about 6,000 casualties in 2009, in a country of more than 100 million. Fourth, Mexico’s narcotraffickers have not targeted civilians in order to support a campaign of fear against the government, even if they do continue to target public officials specifically involved in the fight against them.

In Colombia, in contrast, the nation’s narcotraffickers embarked on a public fear campaign that targeted civilians and political elites, even if they had little to do with narcotrafficking or the fight against it. Finally, and most important, Mexico’s narcotraffickers have no unifying political agenda. In contrast, Colombia’s narcotraffickers — in particular, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — originated out of a drive to see their left-leaning interests represented in the nation’s political and party system, and they still claim to have such political aims. A unifying political agenda, however tenuous, helps reinforce the structural integrity and thus durability of groups when under pressure from the government.

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Is It Irresponsible To Speculate? It Would Be Irresponsible Not To.

Bananarama-I-Heard-A-Rumour-44825

The internet lit up with rumors of a Palin divorce.

Alaska Report:

AlaskaReport has learned this morning that Todd Palin and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin are to divorce. Multiple sources in Wasilla and Anchorage have confirmed the news.

A National Enquirer story exposing previous affairs on both sides led to a deterioration of their marriage and the stress from that led to Palin’s resignation as governor of Alaska.

The Palins were noticeably not speaking to each other at last Sunday’s resignation speech in Fairbanks. Sarah ditched Todd (MSNBC) right after the speech and left without him. Sarah removed her wedding ring a couple of weeks ago.

Sarah has recently purchased land in Montana and is considering moving the family there. Sarah Palin is originally from Idaho.

The Immoral Minority:

Do you remember all of that talk about her missing wedding ring during the three part going away picnics? Well it turns out that ring now sleeps with the fishes. Apparently in a fit of anger Sarah stripped the ring from her finger and tossed it into a lake. (No I did not think to ask WHICH lake so I cannot confirm if it is Lake Lucille, on which her house is located, or some other lake. I apologize for not getting clarification, but I was a little tired last night and so was my source.)

So it appears that the reason Palin has been so quiet, and has given her tweeting fingers a rest, is NOT because of any master plan, or carefully orchestrated new direction, but simply the result of the emotional stress that prevents her from communicating with her fan base or making any public appearances.

Mudflats

And before anyone out there starts looking for that frogman gear, underwater flashlight and metal detector, we don’t know exactly which lake presumably became the final resting place of the ring. No folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

Gawker:

They’re citing a Blogspot Blog, a National Enquirer story, and the tensions between Sarah and Todd at her final press conference as the basis for this report. Not exactly the most credible sources they’ve got there, but the Enquirer’s certainly been right about some things, and Alaska Report also qualifies their story by writing that they were the first to announce Palin’s candidacy for Governor and her status as the Vice Presidential nominee. So, there’s that.

If any of this turns out to be true, it would explain a great deal: Palin’s book deal signing/cashing in, all the talk about tending to her family regarding her resignation, her The-Media’s-Been-Mean media offensive, all of it. But most likely: the resignation. Which, in it of itself, is the revelation that she was telling the truth, and bearing down for what’s likely to be the hard media rain/scrutiny that’s about to be comin’.

Lewis Grossberger:

On the other hand, the story could be false and every dead city editor I ever worked for is screaming: “Irresponsible!” One of them appears to want to kick me.

I could mention that the Palin camp is denying the rumor. That would be pretty responsible of me, wouldn’t it?

On the downside, if it turns out to be false, I’ll be part of the vile liberal media that gets denounced by the right for once again picking on poor Sarah.

Oh, hell, I can live with that.

Here goes!

Whee! Blogging sure is fun.

Politico:

“Yet again, some so-called journalists have decided to make up

a story,” wrote Meg Stapleton on Palin’s Facebook page. “There is no truth to the recent ‘story’ (and story is the correct term for this type of fiction) that the Palins are divorcing. The Palins remain married, committed to each other and their family, and have not purchased land in Montana (last week it was reported to be Long Island).”

Actually, no journalists had reported the allegations. They were made on an Alaskan blog called “The Immoral Minority,” and then repeated on other blogs, including Gawker, a well-trafficked New York gossip site.

The author of “The Immoral Majority” only goes by “Gryphen” and says on his blog that he’s a 49-year-old male in Anchorage. He didn’t respond to an email message sent to the Yahoo account listed on the blog asking for his name.

By having her spokeswoman repeat the charges to rebut them in a public form, Palin effectively guaranteed coverage from the mainstream media that otherwise would not report claims attributed to unnamed sources on an anonymous blog.

Christian Science Monitor:

Word of a pending divorce between former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former First Dude Todd is gaining a lot of traction in Internet land.

“Palin divorce” is the fourth-most searched topic right now on Google Trends.

There’s only one problem with that. It’s not true. Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton is shooting down the story by an Alaskan blogger who claimed to have inside information on a split.

Dan Riehl

Just had a discussion with a source close to Sarah Palin, this is a quote from former Governor Sarah Palin:

“Divorce Todd? Have you SEEN Todd? I may be just a renegade Hockey Mom, but I’m not blind!”

Ace of Spades

Because the thing is this is the sort of story that’s spreading on the lefty blogs, and then it gets pushed into the comments of other blogs, and then it leaves a Nice Innocent Good-Intended Helluva Guy like me not knowing what to do– do I inform people of what is being claimed on the internet, but at the risk of spreading what seems to be a dubious scam? Or do I censor it, where people then debate it in the comments (they’ve all seen it) but I pretend on the main page I’m oblivious to it?

Anyway, with the denial out there, not big thing in mentioning it.

UPDATE: Dave Noon:

All of this I mention only to try to remind myself why an attitude of Zen-like detachment is vastly preferable to caring about stories like this, which — like nearly everything regarding the Palins’ private lives — is plausible enough, but holy shit, why bother anymore? I mean, there’s a guy on the teevee who eats chocolate-covered bacon and hamburgers pinned between grilled cheese sandwiches, and yet some people would rather talk about the former governor of Alaska. Weird.

UPDATE #2: James Joyner

Mainstream media sources — including Politico and including Martin (remember the way premature “John Edwards is quitting to be with his sick wife” rumors?) — report rumor and rely on anonymous sources all the time. The fact that people are talking about something is often in and of itself newsworthy. Especially when it’s about Sarah Palin.

John Cole

Without reading one story, let me guess: one random person on the internet makes something up, several others repeat it, then dozens of gravely offended right-wingers rush to defend Sarah’s honor, Palin camp denies the rumor, we spend the next two weeks talking about what a victim Sarah Palin is.

Am I getting this right?

I hope I lose my internet again.

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