...Views from mid-Atlantic
30 October 2004

Americans really do take their elections seriously. The anxiety of local officials about the mechanics of voting, the endless discussion about the pros and cons of each candidate on the streets, and the careful, painstaking way many people prepare themselves to vote does them great credit. Blogger Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information seems a good example. Her analysis of the two main candidates is exemplary, and puts to shame the superficial 'I don't like him 'cause he talks funny' job being done by supposedly skilled analysts outside the US that I've read.

Jane Galt sums up her analysis this way: "Kerry's record for the first fifteen years in the senate, before he knew what he needed to say in order to get elected, is not the record of anyone I want within spitting distance of the White House war room. Combine that with his deficits on domestic policy - Kerry's health care plan would, in my opinon, kill far more people, and cost more, than the Iraq war ever will - and it's finally clear. For all the administration's screw -ups - and there have been many - I'm sticking with the devil I know. George Bush in 2004."

I think that, broadly speaking, that's the conclusion the majority of Americans will come to, and my own prediction is that George Bush will win by a wider margin than any of the major media have been leading people to expect over the last few days.

29 October 2004

This is the best read of the morning, I think. The San Francisco Chronicle asked a filing cabinetful of historians to pass judgement on the Iraq War. They got the cream of the crop to respond, including Victor Davis Hansen. I particularly liked part of the response of Richard H. Kohn, who is described as "chairman, curriculum in peace, war, and defense and professor of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill."

"Henry Kissinger," he said, "related the story of asking Chou En-lai, in one of their first meetings, apparently just to break the ice, what he thought of the French Revolution. 'Too soon to tell,' Chou replied."

I couldn't agree more with the Washington Times that herds of wild lawyers are the last thing one wants to see galloping about in the landscape of a presidential election. It's as though some last vestige of political virginity were being ripped away. I wonder if Richard Nixon understood that when he put a stop to investigations of election irregularities in the wake of his loss at the hands of John Kennedy. The Times recounts that "as New York Herald Tribune political reporter Earl Mazo recounted it years later, Nixon personally asked reporters to stop investigating charges of fraud. Mr. Mazo had already visited an empty house in Chicago that registered 56 votes for Kennedy, verified first-hand other oddities of the city's political scene under Mayor Daley and had a Pulitzer on his mind for reporting it. But Nixon implored him to stop in person, saying 'the country couldn't afford a constitutional crisis at the height of the Cold War,' as The Post retold the story in 2000. The investigations ended.

"How things have changed. These days, the lawyer brigades are quickly becoming a permanent feature of our national electoral life. The consensus emerging is the inverse of what Nixon wanted: Eternal vigilance and a routine recourse to litigation. In all likelihood, this will make unwarranted judicial intervention in the electoral process a regular feature of voting season."

Eliot Spitzer says he doesn't know where that $500 million estimate came from of the price of a Marsh & McLennan settlement of his lawsuit against them. Instead, it could be far higher, he says.

Another reinsurance giant headquartered in Bermuda has now been drawn into the fray. In a brief statement this morning, XL insurance acknowledged that its American subsidiary had also been subpoenaed by the New York Attorney General, and said it would be cooperating fully.

And in a bizarre turn of events, AIG has fired a Washington PR company, Qorvis Communications, in the wake of its involvement in an offer to pay people for attacking Eliot Spitzer and speaking up in defense of the insurance industry. It's a bit of a tangled tale, and everbody involved seems to be denying absolutely everything, but it's all here, in the New York Times.

The more information they receive, the more intrigued the Earth-bound scientists are who try to figure out what the strange information being beamed back from Titan means. Do chains of linked methane lakes mark regions of Titan's surface? Are there surface layers of slushy water ice mixed with some kind of chemical antifreeze that erupted from Titan's interior? What kind of organic molecules create the swaths of streaky clouds seen in Titan's upper atmosphere, which are driven by gentle winds blowing at barely more than 10 miles per hour?

Haaretz has as little faith as I do in the ability of the Palestinians to get across the bridge that Arafat's departure represents without blowing it up and floating away in the river. "As much as they may fight among themselves, kidnap and shoot each other, they all bow their heads before Arafat. At least publicly, none of them criticizes or attacks Arafat. There is no senior Palestinian figure who can win this respect. The consequence may be that law and order will totally collapse in the West Bank and Gaza after Arafat. The Palestinian Authority's mechanisms for rule may even crumble to the extent that outside intervention is required."

Moscow is about to do away with the public holiday commemorating the 1917 Bolshevik October revolution, a festive season once marked with full military pomp but now graced only by a few rallies attended mostly by veterans, elderly nostalgics and neo-leftists. I guess this Russian move is like the last person in the building turning out the lights before closing the door, forever.

In a report on the Canadian economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ECD says Canada is enjoying a "buoyant" expansion and should grow at a slightly faster clip this year and next than originally expected. The Paris-based OECD now expects the Canadian economy to grow at an annual rate of 3 per cent in 2004 and 3.5 per cent in 2005. However, The Globe and Mail says the organisation also urged Canada to drop its foreign ownership restrictions, saying such a move is needed to ensure healthy competition and the spread of new technologies. Canada has more "significant" restrictions on foreign ownership than almost any other country, the OECD said, and "they should be eliminated."

The strange political power-sharing formula the Syrians enjoy in Lebanon, says the Christian Science Monitor, encourages others to seek power outside official state structures. "For instance, the demographically dominant Shiite community managed to retain its militia (Hezbollah) after the settlement of the civil war. Hezbollah became popular in the 1990s because of its effective resistance against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, which ended four years ago.

"Hezbollah is still popular among the Shiites because it offers social services to their poor and articulates a political strategy for a unified Lebanon. Hezbollah is a formidable cultural and political phenomenon, not sufficiently understood by US policy makers. It is part urban tribe, part political party and part army."

28 October 2004

My bullshit detector is clanging like a fire alarm over this story in the Washington Post this morning. It has been known for a little time that CBS and the New York Times were working together on the missing 400 tons of explosive in Iraq story. Times editor Bill Keller says in the Post that they were going to run it the Sunday night before the election, more or less simultaneously, but that it "started to leak on the internet", and publication was brought forward. What leak? Somebody should press Keller on where the leak was, because I don't think there was one. It is much, much more likely that the two organisations took some PR advice, and decided that it would look so bad...so much like an anti-Bush put-up job...if the story were published on the eve of the election that CBS's credibility ratings would go through the floor. The NYT could have withstood the criticism, but not CBS. And so bringing publication of the story forward is likely to have been a straighforward business of cutting losses, and nothing to do with having to get out ahead of internet leaking.

Is it a coincidence that the Times should be running this story this morning - this apparently aimless scratching at the eyes of blogs for bullying mainstream media? Writer Jim Rutenberg gives the game away in the last paragraph when he says this:

"When '60 Minutes' reported on documents purporting to show Mr. Bush received preferential treatment in the Air National Guard, questions about the documents' authenticity originated and caught fire on the FreeRepublic and PowerLine blog Web sites; mainstream outlets followed. CBS News admitted two weeks later that it could not authenticate the documents. The NBC anchor Tom Brokaw recently likened the tone of the Internet coverage of the CBS National Guard report, presented by the anchor Dan Rather, to a 'political jihad'. In an interview last week Mr. Brokaw said CBS News had clearly made mistakes. But, he said, 'I think there were people just lying in the Internet bushes, waiting to strike, and I think that particular episode gave them a big opportunity.'"

If that's not an attempt to shift focus and blame from the mainstream media to blogs, the second leg of Keller's Washington Post defence, I spent all those years in PR in vain.

Arafat's dying, he's improving, he's unconscious, he's eating, he's sleeping, he's at prayers, he's on his way to hospital...the news media isn't exactly covering itself with glory with this story. Maybe they should stop listening to those idiots Arafat surrounds himself with. Despite the nonsense it seems clear that Arafat is seriously ill..perhaps at death's door. If he does die, the confusion over his last hours will be as nothing compared to the chaos that will result as his henchmen try to sort themselves out. I suggest a complete suspension of belief in any story from a Palestinian source for two weeks, maybe longer.

Robert Hughes recalls the contribution of US art collector Alfred Hamilton Barr in getting modern art a place on the American cultural landscape. Writing in the Guardian, he says "Barr's role in creating Moma, and working as its first director from 1929, the year its doors opened, to 1967, when he retired, was so fundamental to the direction that art-appreciation in America would take that thinking about him is a little like looking back on the career of a Henry Ford or a Thomas Edison. His work, in terms of museum practice and art education, was that basic. There was American visual culture before Barr's career, but it was nothing like what came during and after it. And the instrument of change, the megaphone of newness in the cultural sphere, and the means by which the new art was shown to be not just a weird, disjointed and rebellious episode in culture but a new and very serious canon, was Moma."

The recent arrest of several bloggers, online journalists, and Internet technicians in Iran has raised fears that the country's old guard is determined to muzzle dissent in cyberspace, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The Internet had become a refuge for liberal journalists since the hard-line judiciary closed scores of reformist publications over the past four years. Blogs allowed dissident writers to reach a mass audience with less of the expense and oversight of print media. Government efforts to curtail this new forum are seen in Tehran as linked to the ascendancy of hard-liners who wrested control of parliament from reformers earlier this year after elections that many moderates were banned from contesting.

"They [hard-liners] see all these websites, including blogs, as newspapers they haven't been able to crack down on yet," Hossein Derakhshan, a Canada-based Iranian blogger, was quoted as having told the CSM.

Those lawsuits filed by Eliot Spitzer against Marsh & McLennan and others are going to cost a bit. Reuters is saying this morning that $1 billion isn't out of the question for Marsh. They're figuring that $500 million is what it's going to cost the company to settle the Spitzer lawsuit. Nobody will comment on the record, and a settlement isn't expected for a couple of weeks, so quite where that figure came from isn't entirely clear. What is clear, though, is that whatever amount is decided upon isn't going to be the end of it. The New York Times says Marsh is going to be hit by a wave of law suits. Seven had been filed as of the middle of the week, but there are tens of thousands of potential litigants, one lawyer told the Times.

Meantime, Jeffrey W. Greenberg, Marsh's ex-CEO, exercised options to obtain 540,000 shares in his former employer, according to a filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The former CEO's options had strike prices of about $14.48 to about $20.64 each, the filing said. Shares of New York-based Marsh closed Wednesday at $28.69. The insurance broker's share price has sunk nearly 40 percent since Spitzer's bombshell announcement of a few days ago.

The largest bribery scheme in the history of the world? It's amazing, but it's true, says the Wall Street Journal. Saddam can't take all the credit for this masterpiece of mendacity, though - his friend Kofi Annan deserves a little of the spotlight as well.

"Total turnover between 1996 and 2003 was about $97 billion, or $64.2 billion in oil sales and $32.9 billion worth of food and other 'humanitarian' goods. Crucially, Saddam was able to manipulate the program largely because U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - who was given more or less complete discretion to design Oil for Food by the Security Council resolution that created it - allowed him to pick and choose the buyers of his oil and the sellers of the humanitarian goods.

"This meant the Iraq dictator could reward his friends and political allies with oil at below market prices and goods contracts at inflated ones. In the middle of the program, he also started demanding kickbacks on the contracts to add to the stream of unmonitored revenue he was already getting from oil smuggling."

See what can be done by boys from humble beginnings? If you just have a little determination, that's what does it...

But it does also help if you have friends in the right places, as Ruud Lubbers (why do I keep thinking of him as Loud Rubbers?), the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, knows so well.

Pondblog's a year old today. Happy Birthday and thanks to all who had a hand in the launch of her. I appreciate all the help I got enormously.

27 October 2004

People's Daily Online says there's a scheme afoot to "re-weave" the old Silk Road between China and Western Europe, and the paper comments tha this could further strengthen ties and economic development in China, Central Asia and Europe.

Bermuda's Kyle Lightbourne, who has had an 11-year career in Britain, playing football for Macclesfield Town, Scarborough, Walsall, Coventry City, Fulham, Swindon, Hull and Stoke, is to be Bermuda's new national football coach, according to Manchester Online. Lightbourne is quoted as having said: "I intend to do a good job and to take Bermudan football to another level. I am going to use all the experience I picked up in my time in England and try and pass that on to the players here."

Manchester Online made the comment that "With a population of just 60,000, Bermuda have exported a number of talented players to the rest of the world including former Manchester City striker Shaun Goater and Clyde Best, one of the pioneering black players of the 1970s."

Although the French are still furious over what they see as inaccurate and unjustified attempts to smear them in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal, as the Telegraph reports, they are still saying they will cooperate with Paul Volcker's official investigation. The International Herald Tribune reports that France's Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, told Volcker in a private meeting earlier this month that he would be given full access to France's oil-for-food paper trail.

Racial prejudice in Britain, according to a just-released report, is not a problem confined to urban areas, as was once was thought, but is also a problem in rural areas of the country. The Guardian quotes Neil Chakraborti, a lecturer in criminology and co-editor of the report, as having said that "We have found disturbing levels of racial prejudice and victimisation in various rural environments, and yet have encountered complacency amongst many policy makers and stakeholders in rural affairs who remain reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of racism."

It seems an odd sort of struggle for scientists at the Howard University Human Genome Center, almost a King Canute-ish attempt to stop the tide of knowledge in its tracks. But they maintain that that there is no biological or genetic basis for race. "Observed patterns of geographical differences in genetic information do not correspond to our notion of social identities, including 'race' and 'ethnicity,'" the New York Times quotes Dr. Charles N. Rotimi, acting director of the university's genome center, as having written in the current issue of Nature Genetics.

Several other geneticists writing in the same issue of the journal say this is a mistake. "The human family tree is divided into branches that correspond to the ancestral populations of each major continent, and that these branches coincide with the popular notion of race. 'The emerging picture is that populations do, generally, cluster by broad geographic regions that correspond with common racial classification (Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, Americas),' say Dr. Sarah A. Tishkoff of the University of Maryland and Dr. Kenneth K. Kidd of Yale.

"Although there is not much genetic variation between the populations of each continent, write Dr. Joanna L. Mountain and Dr. Neil Risch of Stanford University, new data 'coincide closely with groups defined by self-identified race or continental ancestry.' The data is based on DNA elements outside the genes with no bearing on the body's physical form."

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health sums up this arcane little argument. "Race still remains a proxy that has some potential value. I would love to see that ended, but we are not there yet."

"Supporters of the genome project," the Times article says, "say gene-based remedies should be tailored to genetically identifiable groups, to make sure no one is denied the benefits of genetic medicine. But linking diseases to race is an 'explosive issue,' said Dr. Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University. 'Once you enter this realm of saying some diseases are more common in this or that group, the popular imagination will ask what else is more common,' like behavioral differences, Dr. Duster suggested."

Eliot Spitzer's lightning raid on the insurance industry has created a storm of coverage in the world's press. The New York Times is fussing this morning about Marsh & McLennan's role as "a financier" of insurance companies (It's clear what is meant by that, but I'm not sure the word financier can be stretched to the meaning they give it. Any views?). They say that while that role is legal, it does give Marsh "an unusual position of enormous power in the industry."

I've mentioned before the British worry that under some circumstances, a forced break-up of the Marsh & McLennan empire could cause a portion of the London insurance market to emigrate to Bermuda, significantly weakening London's position in the industry. The Independent is reporting that John Tiner, head of Britian's Financial Services Authority, is flying today to New York to talk to Eliot Spitzer about his intentions.

The FSA will not have responsibility for regulating insurance brokers in the UK until January, but it is keen to be as fully briefed as possible about the alleged abuses committed by US insurers and brokers, and the impact of Mr Spitzer's inquiry on the UK. The Independent says "This is especially the case as the City watchdog has been accused of being 'asleep on the job' for not intervening earlier in previous crises."

Tiner is expected to highlight concern in the UK that Mr Spitzer's case could spark a global break-up of Marsh, which is one of the biggest firms in the London market, in the same way that groups of partners of Arthur Andersen splintered off to join rivals after the accountancy firm was involved in the collapse of Enron.

And in Canada, the The Globe and Mail is reporting that many corporate figures are concerned that the blood of a publicity hound runs too thickly in Eliot Spitzer's veins. "...The lean and hungry Mr. Spitzer has drawn fire yet again for setting himself up as sheriff, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Critics accuse him of being a self-promoter who routinely oversteps his bounds as the state's top law enforcement officer in order to generate headlines and prepare himself for a run at higher office."

That's criticism that will seem pretty thin as long as the man continues to get results.

As predicted, the missing explosives story was not as advertised. The Wall Street Journal has a version, the Washington Post has a version and the blogsite Belmont Club has a version. What all three agree on is that any theft occurred as Iraq was invaded, not in the relative calm of the last few months. That leaves little room for any doubt that the story was an election-driven stunt which should be a debit on John Kerry/New York Times side of the ledger, not the Bush side.

26 October 2004

There is some rumbling on blogs this morning that the claims that 380 tons of high explosive are missing in Iraq may not be all they're cracked up to be. SpaceDaily says the US Defense Department is scrambling to track down records that might indicate where 380 tons of high explosives once stored at an Iraqi warehouse near Baghdad have gone.

But the Belmont Club, a site that has been publishing some of the best Iraq War coverage on the net, says the explosive may not have been there in the first place. Belmont Club quotes an NBC report, suggesting "the RDX explosive was already gone by the time US forces arrived. Although one may retrospectively find some fault with Operation Iraqi Freedom order of battle, most of the damage had already been inflicted by the dilatory tactics of America's allies which allowed Saddam the time and space - nearly half a year and undisturbed access to Syria - necessary to prepare his resistance, transfer money abroad and disperse explosives (as confirmed first hand by reporters). Although it is both desirable and necessary to criticize the mistakes attendant to OIF, much of the really 'criminal' neglect may be laid on the diplomatic failure which gave the wily enemy this invaluable opportunity. The price of passing the 'Global Test' was very high; and having been gypped once, there are some who are still eager to be taken to the cleaners again."

It's too early to come to any real conclusion, but don't be surprised if the story doesn't turn out to be as advertised.

Jeffrey Paravano, a former senior adviser to the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, and Matthew Dolan, a former Senate tax counsel, have published an excellent summary of the US tax policies that drive corporations that do business internationally to put their headquarters in offshore financial centres like Bermuda. "US tax law," they say, "places US-based companies operating internationally at a disadvantage in two fundamental ways. First, the United States has an 'extraterritorial' tax system, that is, we tax U.S.-based businesses on their worldwide income. By contrast, many of our principal competitors — such as France, Germany and Canada — have a 'territorial' system — that is, they do not tax income that subsidiaries of domestic companies earn abroad. Second, we tax corporate income at a higher rate than most of our competitors: According to the Cato Institute, the US corporate tax rate is higher than all but three of the 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members." So passing laws that penalise companies for trying to get out from underneath this system is like putting a bandaid on a cancer.

The October 9 presidential election in Afghanistan, says the Washington Times, marks a major turning point for the country and the region. Hamid Karzai's success, the newspaper says, is just one in a series of important milestones on that country's path to democratic success.

As predicted, Jeffrey W Greenberg, chairman and CEO of the Marsh & McLennan Companies, resigned yesterday, under pressure from Eliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General. His place was taken by Michael G. Cherkasky, a former prosecutor who was Mr. Spitzer's boss in the labor-racketeering division of the Manhattan district attorney's office in the 1980's.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Spitzer says that as a result of Greenberg's reisgnation, he would not indict Marsh itself, which would be disastrous for the company, rather he would focus on criminal prosecutions against individuals. Five Marsh executives have been suspended, including the head of the company's global brokerage unit, the operation that dealt with America's biggest corporations. So far, no Marsh employee gas been charged with a crime.

In the wake of the resignation, AIG issued a statement saying it had instructed its counsel to seek a prompt resolution of outstanding issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Department of Justice." The company made no mention of the allegations Spitzer has made against it, but its statement is taken as indicative of its desire to shake loose from its legal problems as quickly as possible.

And all over the insurance industry, companies have begun doing what The Globe and Mail says Sun Life Financial Inc., Canada's second-largest insurer, is doing - reviewing their sales commission practices to make sure they're not doing anything that might attract unwanted attention from the authorities.

25 October 2004

SpaceDaily is suggesting that a little war of words erupted in London this month, between EU and US officials discussing the use of Europe's Galileo system of satellites. "The European delegates reportedly said they would not turn off or jam signals from their satellites, even if they were used in a war with the United States. A senior European delegate at the London conference said his US counterparts reacted to the EU position 'calmly'. 'They made it clear that they would attempt what they called reversible action, but, if necessary, they would use irreversible action,' the official was quoted as saying."

In plain words, US forces would try to jam the signal, but if that didn't work, they would destroy the satellites.

Benon Sevan, the head of the Iraq oil-for-food program, presided over another U.N. scandal earlier in his career in which millions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan were squandered and disappeared, according to the New York Post. "But despite UN audits that discovered widespread waste, fraud and abuse of the Afghan relief program in the late 1980s and early 1990s," the newspaper says, "the well-connected Sevan was never held accountable. Instead, according to his official UN biography, he received a series of promotions within the U.N. Secretariat after serving five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leading eventually to his longtime friend and colleague Kofi Annan naming him to head the enormous and complex Iraq oil-for-food program in 1997."

Jeffrey W Greenberg, the chairman and CEO of Marsh and McLennan, is widely expected to announce his resignation today, in the wake of the allegations made by Eliot Spitzer about corrupt payments in the insurance industry. A Wall Street Journal report, citing people familiar with the situation, said the board of the world's largest insurance-brokerage company is to meet today to discuss - and possibly approve - a new chief executive, as well as new safeguards governing behaviour at the company.

Mr. Greenberg's departure will be only the beginning of a long legal dance between Mr. Spitzer and Marsh. And if it wishes to survive that dance, according to the New York Times, "the company will have little choice but to follow Mr. Spitzer's lead...the most powerful weapon Mr. Spitzer has is the threat that he will criminally indict Marsh itself, not just individual executives. An indictment would devastate Marsh, putting its survival at risk. A conviction would probably destroy the company, just as a guilty verdict by a federal jury in 2002 caused the collapse of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm."

Spitzer is now thought to be turning his attention to Aon insurance, according to this article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. "Marsh," that paper says, "arranges the insurance coverage for about 40 percent of corporate America, and Aon handles 30 percent. Between them, they have enormous purchasing power that enables them to compel insurance companies to meet their demands or risk losing business, industry experts said. 'Anytime you have this much market power concentrated in the hands of such a small number of brokers, the pure competition that is supposed to occur in the free market is stifled,' said Paul Equale, a Washington consultant."

Bloomberg is suggesting this morning that one effect of the insurance scandal may be the creation of a US insurance regulator. The idea is gaining support in Congress and among consumer groups because at the moment, insurers, unlike banks and securities firms, lack a single regulator to impose rules, leaving oversight to 50 state commissioners. A proposed bill from Republican Representatives Michael Oxley of Ohio and Richard Baker of Louisiana calls for the establishment of a federal commission to oversee the industry. The commission would be set up to promote and coordinate uniform rules among the states. The American Insurance Association, an industry-lobbying group in Washington, supports the formation of a system that would allow companies to choose state or federal regulation.

Jane Monheit really is the "pearly-throated prodigy" rocketing the jazz standards repertoire into the 21st century that the Guardian says she is. "At 26, Monheit has been dubbed the 'Golden Girl of Jazz'...But even though Monheit is now clutching a contract with Sony Classical and is releasing her debut album for the label, Taking a Chance on Love, harsh reality is never more than a van-ride away. Despite the press plaudits, jazz remains a financially precarious niche market, and Monheit and her band accept that they must keep touring to survive. One night they might find themselves in the agreeably upholstered surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Hall...while on another they'll be crushed into a tiny rock'n'roll club with a graffiti-infested dressing room, on the outskirts of Detroit."

Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff's twice-monthly summary of good news from Iraq is published in the Wall Street Journal this morning. He says "the growing spirit of openness and engagement within Iraq's new civil society is becoming evident off campus, too. Sloan Mann, who had worked in Iraq this summer as part of a U.S. Institute of Peace conflict management training team is reporting progress in rebuilding Iraq's human capital:

"I worked to promote cooperation and understanding among Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups. Goals of a conflict-management conference included strengthening local capacity to peacefully manage the contentious issues facing society and teaching the fundamental skills facilitators need to conduct intergroup dialogues. The trainees were predominantly from Ramadi, Baghdad, Tikrit, Balad, Mosul, and Kirkuk; 17 of the 41 were women, who livened discussions by forcing the more traditional-minded men to listen to progressive perspectives...

"The trainees' sophistication, candor, and enthusiasm were impressive. In similar discussions one year ago, such nuanced understanding of the issues was absent. Participants had informed opinions on the political situation and debated the structure of planned elections. Although the trainees complained about mistakes made by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the dangerous security situation, they were generally forward-looking and wanting to contribute to the new Iraq. This is a marked change from the victim mentality I encountered immediately after the war.

"Most striking was their willingness to discuss deeply personal experiences. During one session, a participant admitted to carrying out a revenge killing (a tribal tradition still prevalent in Iraq). Another talked of regular beatings during his 15 years in an Iranian jail after he was captured in the Iran-Iraq War. A former political prisoner, accused of being too religious and a threat to the Iraqi regime, described having his toenails pulled out and nose broken repeatedly. All had harrowing tales, yet instead of retreating from public life, these people are choosing to become activists, risking their lives to work for a peaceful Iraq."

Ruth R Wisse is a professor at Harvard and a Bush supporter. That puts her at odds, sometimes dangerously, with the "herd of independent minds" that is the Harvard teaching staff. In the Wall Street Journal this morning, she says "One of the most refreshing things about President Bush is his immunity from intellectual intimidation. More than his decision to go to war in Iraq, more than the religious values I share with him (though I do not share his religion), I appreciate that, though he has to struggle for language, he expresses unapologetically his commitment to the strength of our nation. By contrast, through their opposition to the military, my clever colleagues have done everything they could to make America indefensible."

24 October 2004

DEBKAfile is suggesting this morning that Yasser Arafat is a great deal sicker than officials are letting on. "His medical advisers want him to undergo surgery to remove gall bladder stones without delay. This would mean flying him to a hospital outside the West Bank after three years of being confined to Ramallah. The nearest hospital is in Amman. So far, Israel has not been asked to grant him traveling permission. Prime Minister Sharon would not object to him leaving, but is already under American and European diplomatic pressure to make sure he is allowed his return."

US policy on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is changing. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, is quoted in the Washington Times this morning as having said that "Instead of being an impartial body that seeks to punish those who committed or ordered war crimes, the tribunal has become a vehicle by which Mrs. (Carla) Del Ponte has sought to rewrite the history of the Balkan wars. She has abused her office by issuing deeply flawed and weak indictments. The most obvious example is the bogus indictment against fugitive Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina, the commander of a 1995 military operation that effectively ended the Croatian-Serbian conflict."

The ICTY, he said, has emerged as a threat to regional stability. "There is a very real risk that the ICTY prosecutions will not resolve the situation in the Balkans," Mr. Bolton said, "but will create new animosities that lead to tensions in the future." He emphasized that the Bush administration is not suggesting war crimes cases at The Hague should be dropped, but sent back to national domestic courts.

Fears that Bermuda would benefit if Marsh & Mclennan should collapse in Britain under the weight of the scandal that has engulfed the firm in the US, have driven Marsh to hire a law firm to investigate whether its London operation has been involved in "price fixing and collusion". The Sunday Times says the law firm, Freshfields, has just 30 days to do the job.

Marsh controls a network of 30 offices throughout Britain. These generate annual revenues of $1 billion. The firm also accounts for over $4.5 billion of the annual premiums written through Lloyd's of London. "If Marsh did collapse," says the Times, "there is a fear this business could be written in Bermuda, which would have a devastating impact on the London market.

Meantime, Eliot Spitzer's star is very much on the rise in the US as a result of his crusades in the insurance industry and elsewhere. "People understand now that when he takes action, he's generally got a basis upon which to bring it and he's done his homework,'' says Jane Brady, Delaware's attorney general.

Spitzer, 45, has reportedly refused to discuss a settlement with Marsh's Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Greenberg, 53. When he announced his suit against Marsh on October 14, Spitzer said shareholders should "look long and hard" at the company's leadership.

Spitzer is a second-term Democrat who was first elected to New York state's top law enforcement position in 1998. He may, apparently, run for the post of New York governor in 2006, when his rivals could include New York Sen. Charles Schumer and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Spitzer hasn't declared his candidacy, but has formed a finance committee and raised $2 million at a fund-raiser in December.

Britain at last seems to be facing up to the realisation that the law there, in preventing householders from defending themselves against burglars, is tilted the wrong way. The Conservatives are trying to make that fact a political rallying cry.


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
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