Sunday, August 31, 2008
Rachel Ziemba Aug 29, 2008
German businesses aren’t that happy about the bill even though its thresholds are not necessarily that onerous in comparison to other countries. Many countries and most G10 nations have a threshold above which deals are assessed for security implications. And in many countries (the U.S. for one the barriers for scrutiny are much lower – 5-10%). Other entities assess for competition policy.
This move is reflective of a move towards greater bilateral scrutiny of foreign investment and trade, one prong of a three pronged response to sovereign wealth. With economies slowing there is on the one hand a need for capital and on the other hand asset protectionism maybe a reflex. While it is the regulatory framework financial regulation, ease of doing business and profit expectations that influence investment decisions most, concerns of protectionism could deter investment.
Thomson notes that Temasek’s bid to take over Shipping company Hapag-Lloyd might be an example of a deal that would produce more scrutiny. The Singaporean government investor is one of several bidding for the company whose workers have called on the government to block the takeover.
However, there are clearly some Germany companies seeking out capital or business from sovereign investors – including two that became public this week.
Siemens has reportedly been seeking a Middle Eastern sovereign partner to take more than 3% (the disclosure threshold in Germany). Perhaps attracted by the recent GE/Mubadala deal in which GE gained an investor and a customer (see a past post for more), Siemens might hope to acquire capital and participate in some of the large infrastructure projects planned for the Gulf. Furthermore, a large anchor investor might shield it from activist investors. At the moment the Siemens family with 6% is the only large investor. Of course, for now its not clear that any investors are stepping up to the plate.
Deutsche Bahn, the national railway company just struck a deal with the state of Qatar to build up the Emirates transportation system. The MoU recently signed between the railway and Qatari Diar, the property focused arm wholly owned by the Qatar investment authority, will cover a multi-stage consolidation of Qatar ’s railway.
Both show the increasing role such funds are having with European and American companies – as sovereign investors try to develop expertise, fast-track infrastructure development and diversify from oil.
German car companies are likely also benefiting from some of the $12 billion that the GCC and Jordan have invested in holding car races in auto companies and motor sports related advertising. Abu Dhabi is planning a Ferrari park, its stakes in SR technic and others, Bahrain has its grand prix etc. The FT noted on Sunday that such investment was but one of the ways that GCC countries were branching into sports sponsorship. Perhaps the Olympics are still on the brain. The jury remains still out on the benefits of sports sponsorship, but GCC countries are clearly hoping it will pay off.
On the whole Germany (and most of Continental Europe) has not received as much interest from sovereign investors as the UK or the US… or even Asia for that matter.
Source: Data collected by author. See: What Are GCC funds Buying?, RGE Monitor.
Yet, the Middle East is clearly a growth market for German goods and possibly a capital source too even if the corporate structure may deter. In Forbes, Oliver Drebbing writes that “management of several other large German companies were discussing ways of getting anchor investors, in part to also prevent external financial investors from getting access to technical know-how. At the moment, no German industrial giant such as BASF or BMW has managed to grab a large foreign investor, and most continue to have very a fragmented shareholder structure.”
Europe has been divided on sovereign investors. The UK (and perhaps Switzerland) has been among the most welcoming, while France and Germany have been warier. Perhaps this stems from the economic base of the country. While the UK is increasingly a services based economy and attracting capital is needed, Germans have been wary of foreign acquisitions of the industrial base and some officials even longed for a warchest to fend off unwanted suitors. The EU tried to create a coordinated response to stop member states resorting to actual or perceived protectionism. This culminated in an EU position paper that threw its support behind the IMF’s working group of sovereign funds that is trying to create a code of conduct and share best practices of sovereign wealth management. The EU sought to emphasize though that member states already possessed the ability to protect their national security if not their national industries.
Over the past year many countries, particularly those with less than clear foreign investment regimes have begun reassessing their investment regimes. Australia, Canada, the U.S., France, Germany are among the G10 countries reassessing their rules. Many Emerging markets have done so also. The U.S. has clarified and codified changes in its investment review and lawmakers are taking a closer look at many of the financial oversight and tax policy implications of the regulations. It seems unlikely that any significant tax changes could come to pass before the election – given that there are plenty of tools to block on the grounds of national security.
France has perhaps gone the farthest in Europe – and its law might not quite pass muster with the EU depending on how it is implemented. From Bloomberg: “The French government on Dec. 31 published a decree allowing it to ban foreign investment or takeovers in 11 industries, including computer-network security, casinos and manufacturing of vaccines against bio-terrorist threats.”
Yet some suggest, including the UAE’s central bank governor that barriers abroad, the perception of future barriers (and worries that we may yet to hit bottom) may deter investment – keeping more money at home. While more and more investment is taking place in the MENA region, there are limitations to absorb the capital, especially given global inflationary trends. But sovereign funds may increasingly take their capital to foreign companies that can contribute to domestic economic development – whether it be education, retail, infrastructure or sporting events.
For more on any of this see related past writings including
What Are GCC funds Buying?
GE/Mubadala and a past post
Responses to Sovereign Wealth Funds: Are 'Draconian' Measures on the Way?
Why we whine
Some clarification about just why the latest income/poverty/insurance report was so bad.
There was a significant rise in income among Americans over 65 — those who get much of their income from Social Security. In fact, they’ve been seeing income gains all through the Bush years.
But working families haven’t.
The picture above shows the median real income of households with the head of household aged 35-44. I’m using that as a proxy for working-age households in general, which the Census unfortunately doesn’t give in an easy-to-use form in its historical tables.
As you can see, income has its ups and downs, but in the past each peak was higher than the last one. That was even true, barely, in the energy-crisis-ridden 1970s. But in this decade, incomes first fell in the recession, then basically flattened out at a level well below its previous peak.
That’s really a miserable performance.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Barack Obama presently has an 8-point lead in the Gallup tracking poll, and a 4-point lead in the Rasmussen tracking poll. These are pretty numbers for Democrats to look at, but since the polls were conducted in the middle of the Democratic convention, they require a bit of a haircut.In fact, our model is designed to tell us exactly how much that penalty should be. These polls consist of interviews that were conducted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- so the median date of interviewing was Wednesday, corresponding with the third day of the Demcoratic convention. Our historial study of convention bounces tells us that, on the third day of the convention, the candidate will be experiencing an average bounce of about 3.5 points.So what we quite literally do is to subtract those 3.5 points from each of these polls -- meaning that Obama's 8-point lead in Gallup is equivalent to a non-convention lead of 4-5 points, and his 4-point lead in Rasmussen amounts to a virtual dead heat. Furthermore, the model expects that Obama's convention bounce should grow over the next couple of days, peaking at about 6 points in polls released over the weekend. So, he'll need to gain a little bit more ground to keep pace. My guess is that Obama will gain that ground, and probably will have some room to spare, but until we actually get a look at those numbers, we should probably regard this as a fairly ordinary convention bounce.Please keep the convention bounce in mind when looking at the Super Tracker over the next couple of weeks. You'll see that there are going to be some fairly big difference between the red trendline -- representing our estimate of what would happen if the election were held today -- and the orange projection line -- representing our best estimate of what will happen in November. There is little doubt that Obama would win an election held today, perhaps in a relative blow-out, but so far, the organge projection line remains about where it had been before.We also have a handful of state polls to look at:For the most part, I'm going to let the state numbers speak for themselves until we've cleared some distance from the convention bounce period. The one interesting result is probably in Florida, where Mason-Dixon has Obama ahead by one point, perhaps reflecting the presence of Joe Biden on the ticket. Florida is a state where we expected Biden to play well. It's also a state, frankly, where I'd expect Sarah Palin to play poorly, since I think seniors will probably be her worst demographic. Since Mason-Dixon has generally had a slight GOP-leaning house effect, this poll needs to be taken pretty seriously.Also, note that I have relisted the series of CNN/Time polls that were released earlier this week. CNN ran separate versions with and without third-party candidates included; our policy when these situations come up is to use the third-party version, which we had not been doing before.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
O Ministério da Justiça vai pedir a substituição das máquinas Multibanco amovíveis que estão instaladas em tribunais por "caixas encastradas na estrutura dos edifícios", anunciou hoje a tutela em comunicado.A medida, que será concretizada em articulação com entidades bancárias e proprietárias dos equipamentos, é anunciada depois de uma máquina ter sido roubada hoje de madrugada do Tribunal de Cascais, quando o segurança de serviço, pertencente a uma empresa privada, tinha já terminado o seu turno, às 24h00.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The 2007 income, poverty and health insurance numbers are out. As far as I can tell on a first read, there’s nothing deeply surprising. Still, they represent a landmark — and not in a good way.
The key point is that 2007 was the end of an economic expansion — whether or not the NBER declares a recession, the employment situation, which is what matters to most people, has deteriorated sharply this year. So 2007 was as good as it got in this cycle. Yet median household income was lower than in 2000, while both the poverty rate and the percentage of Americans without health insurance were higher.
In short, the economic policies we’ve been following just aren’t working.
Is the bad economic news all Bush’s fault? No, of course not — but remember, the key argument of the right has always been that tax cuts and deregulation would produce good news, a rising tide that raised all boats. Boy, has that not happened.
But remember, we’re just a nation of whiners.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
LMSilva Marques era professor de francês em meados do século passado; desde a primeira entrada na sala de aula, nenhum aluno seu era autorizado a falar outra língua durante as suas lições. Fora da sala de aula, as conversas com os seus alunos eram sempre em francês. Evidentemente, nos primeiros tempos os alunos não falavam francês, mas tentavam expressar-se socorrendo-se dos vocábulos e regras que progressivamente iam assimilando.
Silva Marques tinha tanto de bom pedagogo como de fanático benfiquista. Vivia só, teria naquela época cerca de quarenta anos, mas nunca tinha entrado num campo de futebol, não ouvia pela rádio os relatos de futebol, não lia os jornais desportivos, sabia da sorte do seu amado clube apenas pelos comentários dos colegas quando chegava segunda-feira de manhã à sala de professores. As suas aulas às segundas-feiras eram medonhas se o Benfica tivesse perdido, excitantes se o Benfica tivesse ganho. As exigências pedagógicas de Silva Marques enxertadas na sua anormal idolatria futebolística chegavam ao ponto de chamar aos "encarnados" "Le Bienest" e substituir os bons dias da praxe por um caloroso "Vive le Bienest!" se o Benfica tivesse arrecadado dois pontos.
Quem levou longe de mais o seu esforço de progressão de conhecimentos da língua francesa foi o Pvt, alcunha herdada do pai que era guarda da polícia de viação e trânsito, uma corporação que mais tarde viria a ser extinta por mau comportamento. O Pvt, pensando que a alusão ao glorioso no caderno diário poderia melhorar-lhe a nota de fim de período, escreveu na capa, com letras garrafais a formar um Arco Íris: Vive li Biané! Não ganhou nada com a iniciativa e teve de comprar um caderno novo. Ninguém percebeu o critério. A esta distância temporal, penso que Silva Marques tinha, pelo menos, aquela tara mas não gostava que lhe chamassem tarado.
Um amigo meu dizia-me há dias que quem não tem clube não gosta de futebol, referindo-se à minha neutralidade clubística, perante o meu espanto de o ver levantar-se de uma roda de amigos de dez em dez minutos para ouvir o resultado do Benfica-Rio Ave num rádio que tinha ligado numa sala ao lado.
LMSilva Marques era, inquestionavelmente, um caso patológico de clubite aguda. Mas prova, irrefutavelmente, que pode o fanatismo clubístico ser completamente alheio ao espectáculo desportivo que o criou e sem correlação alguma com o QI do adepto.
Inversamente, pode o espectáculo desportivo agradar a quem nasceu razoavelmente insensível ao partidarismo clubístico? Porque não?
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Each Briton uses 4,645 litres a day when hidden factors are included•
Felicity Lawrence • The Guardian, • Wednesday August 20 2008 • Article history
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Feeling the heat of food security
VIEWPOINT Peter Baker
Tomato production in the US consumes four times as many calories as the calorific value of the tomatoes created. Global development, global debt, global warming, food miles, food security, food riots, peak oil, peak water…
What's this got to do with small farmers and global food chains?
The answer is that all the issues mentioned above intersect over small farmers.
If we can't quite get a grip on what is happening to the world, we won't be able to do a good job for them, and we'll waste a lot of resources in the process.
It's perfectly reasonable to want to assist farmers to build a better life by adding value.
It's also perfectly reasonable to expect their produce to be fresh and non-toxic. And it's only natural to want to facilitate this process through aid, technical assistance, capacity building and the like.
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I had originally planned to call this article Supermarkets, Smallholders and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The Second Law is about order; the Universe is inexorably heading to increased randomness and disorder.
For practical purposes, this does not have to be a problem because we can increase order locally by hard work, by expending energy. But in the process we create greater disorder (heat and waste) elsewhere.
Higher fuel prices could eliminate two-way food journeys
If there is plenty of energy and plenty of "elsewhere", then we don't have to worry.
Indeed, for our whole existence, we largely haven't worried; in fact the whole world order, built on trade and economics, hasn't worried.
Biological systems know all about thermodynamics. All living things are highly ordered assemblies of molecules continuously battling against disorder.
Commodity chains must also obey the Second Law; in a sense, they are living things, creating highly ordered products and emitting significant waste and heat in the process.
For example, a recent study looking at Nicaraguan coffee production and processing showed that the total energy embodied in coffee exported to several countries - though not all - was not compensated by the dollar price paid for that energy.
Essentially, the conclusion was that the country is exporting subsidised energy.
It could well be that coffee is still the best way for farmers to earn a living and that the available energy could not readily be put to a better purpose. But it should at least make a country's decision-makers wonder about the long term policy, the true value of exported products and how sustainable a country's commodity chains will be in an energetically expensive future.
Look too at a modern high value vegetable chain. The orderliness required to plant, grow, harvest, process, pack, store, monitor, administer, transport, display and sell the produce in a supermarket is simply staggering, and the expended energy intense.
As an example, tomato production in the US consumes four times as many calories as the calorific value of the tomatoes created.
The point of this article may now be apparent. We are intervening, politically and normatively, in very complex systems that we only partially understand.
Waste of energy
This is not a tirade about supermarkets; no one is forcing farmers into these chains. Indeed, the retail sector has only done its job: ordering and quantifying according to its own criteria, to a state of near optimal efficiency.
It's just that the rest of us have not been able to match its brilliance.
At some point, it no longer makes any sense to simultaneously export and import food high in embodied energy
And it's not about food miles. The argument about the cost to the environment versus the gains to poor rural farmers has its pros and cons.
Instead, it's about different sorts of sustainability and the clash of very different interests.
The economic argument, revealed through agribusiness plans, may well be very strong. But these are inevitably rather short-term positions, and the funds invested may be hedged for exchange rate changes, freight costs and other risks.
When these are just stand-alone business operations then we could leave it at that - they invest their money and take their chances.
But it's no longer a matter of a few agribusiness operations in a few developing countries. With the EU's Economic Partnership Agreements now being signed, for instance, countries in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group are on course to completely open their borders to food trade, and will be encouraged to export whatever products they can to the EU.
Foreign investment will descend on certain countries and will look for good deals on infrastructure. Politicians there may feel obliged to provide subsidised water, road and other infrastructure to secure new export initiatives, and they in turn will look for donor support to carry them through.
Trade departments of development banks and other donors will examine the short-to-medium-term economic argument, but may not adequately determine whether this is sustainable into the long term.
Hence, before significant public funds are assigned to this end, we must do our utmost to ensure they are well spent.
Getting back to the Second Law; agribusiness operations in under-developed countries are highly ordered physical and information entities producing products with high embodied energy.
They exist in a landscape of increasing disorder caused by growing populations and a degrading environment.
Could locally-produced cassava flour substitute for wheat flour imports?
Trucks carrying away the produce along bumpy rural roads sometimes pass food aid trucks coming in the opposite direction. For example, some $45m (£22.5m) of food aid came from the US to Kenya last year.
Even before its sea voyage, the calorific value of US wheat is only twice the amount of calories expended to produce it. Compare this with cassava production in Tanzania where 23 times the calorific value is gained for each calorie of human energy input.
Is it energetically sound, socially advisable and economically sensible in the long term to encourage and sustain such long two-way supply chains that evolved in a low-cost energy era?
CARE International has recently declined the food aid it gets for Kenya, suggesting that it is distorting local agriculture. Are they right? How can they and donors make the right decisions?
Could it be more sustainable and cost effective for donors to pay farmers a "fair" price to develop food production for local markets - based on costs of fuel, importing food, the risk of the supply chain collapsing or moving to another country, and so on?
There are many possibilities and a large number of variables, but the most important is to find out how close to the margins of impossibility any business plan might approach.
Surely at some point, let's say between $50 and $500 per barrel of oil, it no longer makes any sense to simultaneously export and import food high in embodied energy.
But we simply lack the user-friendly models and metrics that decision-makers need to calculate such figures and project them into the future.
So private standards are fine; but there should be public standards too, or at least a set of criteria based on the most fundamental laws of physics and biology, before significant public funds are spent.
Dr Peter Baker is a commodities development specialist at CABI, a not-for-profit agricultural research organisation
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
O New York Times de sexta-feira, 15, dedicava-lhe um extenso artigo.
On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The audience seemed skeptical, even dismissive. As Roubini stepped down from the lectern after his talk, the moderator of the event quipped, “I think perhaps we will need a stiff drink after that.” People laughed — and not without reason. At the time, unemployment and inflation remained low, and the economy, while weak, was still growing, despite rising oil prices and a softening housing market. And then there was the espouser of doom himself: Roubini was known to be a perpetual pessimist, what economists call a “permabear.” When the economist Anirvan Banerji delivered his response to Roubini’s talk, he noted that Roubini’s predictions did not make use of mathematical models and dismissed his hunches as those of a career naysayer.
But Roubini was soon vindicated. In the year that followed, subprime lenders began entering bankruptcy, hedge funds began going under and the stock market plunged. There was declining employment, a deteriorating dollar, ever-increasing evidence of a huge housing bust and a growing air of panic in financial markets as the credit crisis deepened. By late summer, the Federal Reserve was rushing to the rescue, making the first of many unorthodox interventions in the economy, including cutting the lending rate by 50 basis points and buying up tens of billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities. When Roubini returned to the I.M.F. last September, he delivered a second talk, predicting a growing crisis of solvency that would infect every sector of the financial system. This time, no one laughed. “He sounded like a madman in 2006,” recalls the I.M.F. economist Prakash Loungani, who invited Roubini on both occasions. “He was a prophet when he returned in 2007.”
A 16 de Fevereiro de 2007 enviei para alguns dos blogs com mais notoriedade o texto que a seguir transcrevo e, relativamente ao qual, só posso acrescentar que a resposta foi nula.
É, portanto, com muita satisfação que vejo que a ideia fazia sentido e tudo farei para divulgar o vosso trabalho.
Devo acrescentar que as fotografias que publiquei em diversos post no blog http://aliastu.blogspot.com/ tinham sido tiradas quando o digital ainda não tinha aparecido. Tocando nelas, ampliam-se os efeitos do tempo e da falta de consciência cívica colectiva.
De qualquer modo, o album tem cerca de um milhar de fotografias que poderei dispensar se acharem interesse nisso.
E melhor sorte!
Se, como merece, o vosso blog tiver o impacto que todos desejamos, expandam o seu âmbito a Portugal. Lisboa é apenas a amostra mais alargada de um país abandonado. Não só nas cidades. Também nos campos.
QUE CADA QUAL FAÇA O QUE PODE
Há mais de seis anos (mais precisamente em Outubro de 2000) era criado um "site" chamando a atenção para as casas abandonadas de Lisboa (degradadas e devolutas). Foi, portanto, um dos primeiros na blogosfera portuguesa:
O seu autor, que na altura se encontrava a finalizar o doutoramento emfísica nos EUA, quando vinha a Lisboa deu-se ao trabalho de um levantamento fotográfico de grande parte dessas casas ao abandono. O"site", para além das fotografias ordenadas por freguesias e localização na planta topográfica, passou a conter muita informação sobre esses prédios, um fórum de discussão dos problemas relacionados com o urbanismo, e muitas ligações a outros "site" de informação geralsobre Lisboa. Mais tarde, passou a divulgar as casas, entretanto,recuperadas.
A ideia mereceu divulgação em alguma Imprensa (nomeadamente do Públicoe do Expresso) e da RTP (canal 2).
Talvez por se mostrar contrário a alguns interesses ou fosse incómodo para alguns políticos, o certo é que, passados três anos, foi vítima de vandalismo dificilmente reparável, desmotivando o autor que,entretanto tinha passado a trabalhar fora do país.
Alguns amigos do "site" continuaram ainda a tentar segurar as pontasde um tecido esfrangalhado, mas o "site" estava condenado a desaparecer. E desapareceu, recentemente, o que restava.
Vem tudo isto a propósito da recente notícia acerca da intenção do presidente da câmara municipal de Lisboa vender ou alugar cerca de 4000 prédios que se encontram devolutos. Parece, contudo, que a ideia não foi aplaudida pela oposição e vai ser criado um grupo de trabalho.O mesmo é dizer que os tais prédios vão continuar a apodrecer.
Invoca a oposição que os prédios na sua maior parte estão sem condições de habitabilidade. Trata-se de uma descoberta redundante uma vez que é precisamente por falta de condições de habitabilidade que se encontram devolutos, a apodrecer e a colapsar de vez em quando.
A questão que se coloca, então é esta: Vai a câmara recuperar os prédios e só depois vendê-los ou alugá-los? Certamente que não. Não otendo feito até agora, não é esperável que o faça no futuro. A câmara tem problemas e déficit a mais para poder dedicar-se à actividade desenhorio escrupuloso. Depois os escândalos que têm inundado a EPUL deveriam ser motivo mais que suficiente para a câmara deixar de se dedicar à construção civil.
Não sendo eu nem inquilino nem senhorio, nem nenhum dos meus filhosseja candidato a qualquer destes prédios, até porque vivem ambos no estrangeiro e não vislumbro condições que os possam atrair a voltar, apenas me movem as mesmas preocupações que levaram o autor de "Lisboa abandonada" a dedicar uma parte importante do seu tempo a chamar aatenção dos lisboetas para a cidade em que habitam ou trabalham.Também não tenho interesses directos ou indirectos em qualquer actividade de construção civil, ou outra qualquer complementar ou acessória. Nunca fui nem serei membro de qualquer partido político.
Tenho um blogue que é um entretenimento de ginástica mental. Mas tempouca visibilidade. Acerca desta causa faço nele o que posso.
Lembrei-me, pelas razões que enchem este arrazoado, de o convidar aparticipar com o seu "blogue" numa campanha bloguística que possa decididamente levar a recuperar a cidade e atrair residentes. Que tornem Lisboa uma cidade de atracção e não de repulsão para a periferia. Que obriguem a câmara a entregar a alguém que faça aquilo que ela não consegue, e talvez não deva, fazer.
Tenho comigo mais de mil fotografias. A qualidade não será a melhor.Além disso não são digitais. Mas se de algum modo entender que para o efeito servem, agradeço que me diga. Da qualidade dessas fotografias(e da falta dela) poderá ter uma ideia consultando http://aliastu.blogspot.com
We’ve been here before: The Republican attack machine at full throttle, spewing lies in best-selling books, on Fox News, on talk radio. The mainstream media reporting on the controversy, thereby giving it more air time and squeezing out the Democrats’ affirmative message. Followed by accusations by Democrats that Republicans are playing unfairly. Responded to by smiling shrugs and winks from Republicans, who say Democrats can’t take the heat or can’t enjoy a joke or are out of touch with average Americans who are concerned about whatever it is the Republicans are lying about. This ignites a furious debate among Democrats about how negative they should go against the Republican. “If we use their tactics, we’ll lose the moral high ground,” say the Democratic doves. “If we don’t, we’ll lose the war,” say the Democratic hawks. The debate is never fully resolved. The Democrats sort of fight back but don’t have the heart to do to Republicans what Republicans do to them. And so it goes. The underlying problem is that Democrats care about means as well as ends, while Republicans care almost exclusively about ends and will use any means to get there. The paradox lies deeper. For most Democrats, the means are part of the ends. We want an electoral process that eschews the lying and cheating we’ve witnessed since Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks. If we use their tactics, we undermine our own goal, violating one of the very things that distinguishes us from them. Yet if we don’t stoop to their level, how can we prevail in a system that allows – even rewards – such lying and cheating? It’s the same with governing. Right-wing Republicans detest government, so when they screw it up – failing to protect the citizens of New Orleans or returning veterans in Walter Reed hospital, or wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on non-competitive bids for the military, turning budget surpluses into massive deficits – they’re proving their own subterranean point that the public can’t trust government to do anything right. Democrats, once in power, inherit this legacy of distrust and deficit, and spend much of their time in office working their way out of it. And also inordinate time and energy promoting good governmental processes (recall Al Gore’s “making government work” crusade, which holds the record for the most arduous effort generating the least media attention).Democrats also care about the rule of law – adherence to legal norms, rules, and precedents – as an end in itself. Republican administrations view the law as a potential obstacle to achieving particular ends. Anyone trying to chronicle the Bushie’s disregard for the rule of law is quickly overwhelmed with examples, such as violating civil service laws to fill up the executive branch with political hacks; riding roughshod over constitutional laws in firing federal prosecutors; wiretapping Americans in clear violation of law; holding prisoners of war without charge, in violation of international law; using torture. Democrats, once in power, regard laws as serious constraints on that power. (When I was secretary of labor, the department’s lawyers would instruct me about what I could not do because I was unauthorized to do it, rather than how I might reinterpret or bend the laws in order that I could. The lawyers who work in the Bush administration do the opposite.)Those who are willing to do anything to achieve their ends will always have a tactical advantage over those who regard the means as ends in themselves. The question posed in this election, and, one hopes, by an Obama administration, is whether the moral authority generated by the latter position is itself enough to overcome these odds.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Al Qaeda at 20 Dead or Alive?
By Peter Bergen
Two decades after al-Qaeda was founded in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar by Osama bin Laden and a handful of veterans of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the group is more famous and feared than ever. But its grand project -- to transform the Muslim world into a militant Islamist caliphate -- has been, by any measure, a resounding failure.
In large part, that's because Osama bin Laden's strategy for arriving at this Promised Land is a fantasy. Al-Qaeda's leader prides himself on being a big-think strategist, but for all his brains, leadership skills and charisma, he has fastened on an overall strategy that is self-defeating.
Bin Laden's main goal is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the governments in Cairo and Riyadh with Taliban-style theocracies. He believes that the way to accomplish this is to attack the "far enemy" (the United States), then watch as the supposedly impious, U.S.-backed Muslim regimes he calls the "near enemy" crumble.
This might have worked if the United States had turned out to be a paper tiger that could sustain only a few blows from al-Qaeda. But it didn't. Bin Laden's analysis showed no understanding of the vital interests -- oil, Israel and regional stability -- that undergird U.S. engagement in the Middle East, let alone the intensity of American outrage that would follow the first direct attack on the continental United States since the British burned the White House in 1814.
In fact, bin Laden's plan resulted in the direct opposite of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. The United States now occupies Iraq, and NATO soldiers patrol the streets of Kandahar, the old de facto capital of bin Laden's Taliban allies. Relations between the United States and most authoritarian Arab regimes, meanwhile, are stronger than ever, based on their shared goal of defeating violent Islamists out for American blood and the regimes' power.
For most leaders, such a complete strategic failure would require a rethinking. Not for bin Laden. He could have formulated a new policy after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban in the winter of 2001, having al-Qaeda and its allies directly attack the sclerotic near-enemy regimes; he could have told his followers that, in strictly practical terms, provoking the world's only superpower would clearly interfere with al-Qaeda's goal of establishing Taliban-style rule from Indonesia to Morocco.
Instead, bin Laden continues to conceive of the United States as his main foe, as he has explained in audio- and videotapes that he has released since 2001. At the same time, al-Qaeda has fatally undermined its claim to be the true representative of all Muslims by killing thousands of them since Sept. 11, 2001. These two strategic blunders are the key reasons why bin Laden and his group will ultimately lose. But don't expect that defeat anytime soon. For now, al-Qaeda continues to gather strength, both as a terrorist/insurgent organization based along the Afghan-Pakistani border and as an ongoing model for violent Islamists around the globe.
So how strong -- or weak -- is al-Qaeda at 20? Earlier this year, a furious debate erupted in Washington between two influential counterterrorism analysts. On one side is a former CIA case officer, Marc Sageman, who says that the threat from al-Qaeda's core organization is largely over and warns that future attacks will come from the foot soldiers of a "leaderless jihad" -- self-starting, homegrown radicals with no formal connection to bin Laden's cadre. On the other side of the debate stands Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, who warns that al-Qaeda is on the march, not on the run.
This debate is hardly academic. If the global jihad has in fact become a leaderless one, terrorism will cease to be a top-tier U.S. national security problem and become a manageable, second-order threat, as it was for most of the 20th century. Leaderless organizations can't mount spectacular operations such as 9/11, which required years of planning and training. On the other hand, if al-Qaeda Central is as strong as Hoffman thinks it is, the United States will have to organize its policies in the Middle East, South Asia and at home around that threat for decades.
Sageman's view of the jihadist threat as local and leaderless is largely shared by key counterterrorism officials in Europe, who told me that they can't find any evidence of al-Qaeda operations in their countries. Baltasar Garzon, a judge who has investigated terrorist groups in Spain for the past decade, says that while bin Laden remains "a fundamental reference point for the al-Qaeda movement," he doesn't see any of the organization's fingerprints in his recent inquiries.
But this view is not shared by top counterterrorism officials in the United Kingdom and the United States. A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that al-Qaeda was growing more dangerous, not less.
Why the starkly differing views? Largely because U.S. and British officials are contending with an alarming new phenomenon, the deadly nexus developing between some militant British Muslims and al-Qaeda's new headquarters in Pakistan's lawless borderlands. The lesson of the July 2005 London subway bombings, the foiled 2006 scheme to bring down transatlantic jetliners and several other unnerving plots uncovered in the United Kingdom is that the bottom-up radicalization described by Sageman becomes really lethal only when the homegrown wannabes manage to make contact with the group that so worries Hoffman, al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan.