Friday, May 29, 2009

A Smile to Set the GOP on Edge

A Smile to Set the GOP on Edge. By Eugene Robinson
WaPo, Friday, May 29, 2009

President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is a proud and accomplished Latina. This fact apparently drives some prominent Republicans to a state resembling incoherent, sputtering rage.

"White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw," former House speaker Newt Gingrich ranted Wednesday on Twitter. My first reaction was that politicians above a certain age should never be left alone in the danger-strewn landscape of social networking. My second thought was: Whoa, Newt, what's that about?

Rush Limbaugh also -- predictably -- bellowed endlessly about how Sotomayor was a "reverse racist," and how Obama was one, too. But unlike Gingrich, Limbaugh doesn't ask to be taken seriously. He just asks to be paid.

Gingrich's outburst was in reaction to a widely publicized, out-of-context quote from a 2001 speech in which Sotomayor mused about how her identity might or might not affect her decisions as a federal judge. Far from being some kind of "racist" screed, the speech was actually a meditation on Sotomayor's personal experience of a universal truth: Who we are inevitably influences what we do.

Each of us carries through life a unique set of experiences. Sotomayor's happen to be the experiences of a brilliant, high-powered Latina -- a Nuyorican who was raised in the projects of the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, edited the Yale Law Journal, worked as a Manhattan prosecutor and a corporate lawyer, and served for 17 years as a federal trial and appellate judge.

Given that kind of sterling résumé -- and given that she has, according to presidential adviser David Axelrod, more experience on the federal bench than any Supreme Court nominee in at least 100 years -- it's understandable that Republican critics would have to grasp at straws.

The charge that she's a "judicial activist" finds no basis in her voluminous record. Critics have seized on a ruling she joined in a case called Ricci v. DeStefano, involving a reverse-discrimination claim by a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn. But Sotomayor's action in that case is more properly seen as an example of judicial restraint.

What happened was that the city gave an advancement exam to firefighters, and no African Americans were deemed eligible for promotion. Fearing that it would lose ground in its effort to diversify the leadership of the fire department, and fearing a civil rights lawsuit, the city canceled the exam. The firefighters who passed did not get the promotions they had expected. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the city government had acted within the law, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit -- including Sotomayor -- agreed.

What Sotomayor's attackers either don't understand or won't acknowledge is that the issue before the court wasn't whether the city of New Haven had acted fairly in canceling the exam but whether it had acted legally. There was ample precedent indicating that the action was, in fact, legal. I thought the whole theory of judicial restraint was that we didn't want unelected judges telling our elected officials what to do. I thought the conservative idea was that judges were just supposed to "call balls and strikes" -- which is just what Sotomayor and her colleagues did.

Ah, but there's always a subtext. Like Sotomayor's 2001 speech, the New Haven case was really about identity -- and about power. In both instances, as Sotomayor's critics saw it, minorities were either claiming or obtaining some kind of advantage over white males. Never mind whether this perception has any basis in fact. The very concept seemed to be enough to light a thermonuclear fuse.

Despite the best efforts of Gingrich, Limbaugh and others, Sotomayor's confirmation process probably won't be about race. Her qualifications are impeccable, her record is moderate and her personality, according to colleagues, is winning. At her confirmation hearings, she'll have the opportunity to supply the missing context for any quote they throw at her. Absent some 11th-hour surprise, I can't imagine that her opponents in the Senate will be able to lay a glove on her.

I also can't imagine that she'll pretend to be anyone other than who she is. Sonia Sotomayor has made clear that she is proud of her identity, and she offers that pride not as an affront but as an example -- not white, not male, not Anglo, not inclined to apologize. She is the new face of America, and she has a dazzling smile.

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A. Paul Mirengoff
May 28, 2009 at 11:50 AM

The Obama administration has been relunctant to speak harshly about foreign relations. Such talk, it believes, would manifest American arrogance and be inconsistent with its twin goals of overcoming that arrogance and activating the "restart" button with the rest of the world.

But now the administration is talking tough. Unfortunately, its tough talk is directed not at Iran (which it wants to persuade), Venezuela (which it wants to engage), or North Korea (which it has wanted mainly to ignore) but at Israel.

Here's the background. The White House has made it clear that it wants Israel to halt new construction in areas outside the boundaries of its original state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to do this except with respect to construction that is part of the natural of existing settlements, e.g. the construction of new homes to accommodate population growth in a settlement.

The Israeli government asked the U.S. government to approve this exception and apparently leaked word of this request. Here is Secretary of State Clinton's response:

[President Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.

Gone at last is the administration's reluctance to boss other nations through "pre-conditions." When it comes to Israel, Obama is willing to dictate whether parents can build a nearby house for their grown children.

Why is Obama more willing to talk this way to our friends than to our enemies? There are two logical explanations. First, our enemies will throw these kinds of statements back in Obama's face, whereas our friends will listen politely, at a minimum. Second, for Obama Israel is an adversary, whereas Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. are mere annoyances.

I favor both explanations.

A third factor is also at work here, I think (whether or to what extent it is independent of the second can be debated). The U.S. wants to topple the Israeli government. Thus, it sees value in picking a fight with it.

Netanyahu, I assume, understands this. That may be why Israel leaked word of its request for permission to build in its settlements. Either the U.S. would agree to the request (most unlikely) or it would take what most Israelis probably see as an unreasonable position, thereby enabling Netanyahu to "make his record" that his problems in getting along with the U.S. are the result of Obama's inflexibility.

Through her bossy, non-empathetic public response, Hillary Clinton has, I think, created Exhibit A for Netanyahu's record, regardless of how he responds on this particular issue.

Via Jonathan Tobin.

US foots the bill for terrorists - Poor oversight of US aid programs at fault

U.S. foots the bill for terrorists. By Joel Mowbray
Poor oversight of U.S. aid programs at fault
Washington Times, Friday, May 29, 2009

If President Obama is serious about tackling the ever-elusive goal of achieving peace in the Middle East, he should start his efforts not with prodding Israel or the Palestinians, but rather a little closer to home -- Foggy Bottom.

Through either deliberate neglect or simple ineptitude, the State Department has made U.S. taxpayers complicit in perpetuating the single greatest impediment to Middle East peace: an increasingly radical Palestinian society that despises Israel and embraces terrorism.

Despite multiple government audits and several changes enacted in the law over the past few years, the department still cannot ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not enriching terrorists or underwriting terrorist propaganda in schools across the West Bank and Gaza. According to a critical report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, the State Department has fallen short overseeing aid to Palestinians through both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which administers Palestinian refugee camps.

This means in practical terms that many of the Palestinians who are consuming a steady diet of Islamist indoctrination and glorification of violence receive this brainwashing courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. It doesn't require high-level deductions to predict how badly this wounds - if not kills - any hope for Palestinian society to embrace peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state of Israel.

Given the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers have steered to the Palestinians - almost $600 million just last year - the United States has as much leverage as anyone to put a stop to this nonsense. Unfortunately, though the State Department has done a bit to improve matters, it has not done nearly enough.

The GAO report, requested in part because of congressional concerns over reporting by this journalist in The Washington Times, indicates that the State Department has dropped the ball on overseeing UNRWA. For example, existing U.S. law requires that UNRWA take "all possible measures" to prevent assistance from going to anyone who has engaged in any terrorist activity. The department, however, "has not defined the key term 'all possible measures' or defined nonconformance."

Some of GAO's recommendations are comically simple, such as "establishing criteria to evaluate UNRWA's efforts." Others are so obviously necessary that it's shocking they haven't been required all along, such as "screening the names of UNRWA contractors against lists of individuals and entities of concern to the United States."

Leading congressional efforts to prevent U.S. taxpayer money from flowing to terrorists or their propaganda has been Rep. Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey Democrat. Earlier this year, he introduced a resolution calling for UNRWA to put its textbooks on the Internet for public inspection and for the United States to screen the agency's payroll for terrorists.
His ultimate goal, he explains, is simple: "Not one penny of U.S. taxpayer dollars should go either directly or indirectly to anyone associated with Hamas or any other terrorist organization. Nor should any go to terrorist propaganda in classrooms."

Congress moved one step further in that direction earlier this month. In the supplemental appropriations bill that included an additional $119 million for UNRWA for the current fiscal year, lawmakers made it clear they are not happy with the status quo. The spending bill requires the State Department to propose a plan to increase the transparency and accountability of UNRWA. More important, it sets aside $1 million for the department's inspector general to audit USAID.

Within the next month, the House foreign aid appropriators could go even further in the spending bill for 2010. Mr. Rothman has several proposals to increase accountability and transparency for both USAID and UNRWA.

However, changing the law alone is not enough. Judging by current procedures, the State Department seems intent on not enforcing the laws passed by Congress.

Lawmakers have dictated repeatedly and explicitly that no U.S. taxpayer funds can go to any organization that has even "advocated" terrorism - meaning no money should go to groups whose leaders have declared on Al-Jazeera or elsewhere that suicide bombers are "martyrs." This is not trivial. Figures who lionize terrorists and praise evil acts poison society and ultimately help cause more terrorism.

The State Department's bar that contractors and aid recipients must clear is much lower. Even under the most thorough vetting the department conducts, essentially only people who have actively participated in terrorism would be declared ineligible. It appears the department hasn't even bothered to think of a way to determine which people trying to receive U.S. taxpayer dollars have advocated terrorism.

Considering Europe's and the United Nations' longstanding indifference to Palestinian radicalism, the United States likely is the only party that can start to drain the cultural swamp. The stakes are high. If the United States doesn't put its full efforts toward real peace, what signal does that send to Israel and the Palestinians?

Joel Mowbray is an investigative journalist living in New York City.

US plans appeal on abuse photos

U.S. plans appeal on abuse photos, by Lyle Denniston
Thursday, May 28th, 2009 9:15 pm

The Obama Administration has decided to go to the Supreme Court — if Congress does not act first — to stop public disclosure of an array of U.S. Army photos that apparently show severe abuse of terrorist detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Justice Department on Thursday asked the Second Circuit Court to put a ruling ordering release on hold because the Solicitor General has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court “absent intervening legislation.”

A motion to recall the Circuit Court mandate, along with other court papers, can be found here. This was the latest legal maneuver by the Administration since President Obama changed his mind, from agreeing to release the photos to opposition to their disclosure.

The Second Circuit ruled last September, in American Civil Liberties Union, et al., v. Department of Defense (docket 06-3140), that the photos must be released under the Freedom of Information Act. After the Circuit Court refused in March to rehear the case en banc, the Administration decided not to take the case on to the Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court issued its mandate.

The President decided this month, however, that release of the photos “would pose an unacceptable risk of danger to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.” A federal judge in New York was then advised of the switch in position. Shortly afterward, the Senate took up legislation to block the release — the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act — by changing the language of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Senate adopted that provision May 21 as part of a new government funding bill. The House version of that bill does not include the photos provision, but the Senate has asked for a conference with the House to work out the differences between the two bills — an action expected to occur early in June.

The deadline for filing a petition for review in the Supreme Court is now June 9. Under the Court’s Rules, if the Administration wanted a postponement of the filing deadline, it would have to ask for an extension ten days before the deadline — that is, in this case, by no later than this weekend.

In the motion filed in the Circuit Court Thursday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and other Justice Department officials noted that, if both houses of Congress adopt the FOIA amendment, the Defense Secretary would be allowed “to preclude release under FOIA of the photographs at issue in this case.”

“If the aforementioned bill does not become law by the deadline for seeking Supreme Court review, the United States will file a petition for a writ of certiorari,” the motion said. “Recalling the mandate would serve the important purpose of preserving the status quo pending a determination by the Supreme Court.”

To bolster its argument that disclosure of the photos would put U.S. troops abroad at risk, the papers included sworn statements to that effect by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the overall U.S. military commander for Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq. (Those statements are included, in redacted form, in the papers linked above.)

At issue in the case are 44 photos that are covered by the ACLU request for release. The Administration said in its motion, however, that the Circuit Court ruling would also apply to “a substantial number” of additional photographs.

“The potential scope of this [Circuit] Court’s ruling makes it critically important that the Supreme Court have an opportunity to address the pressing legal questions in this case,” the new filing argued.

Although the proposed legislation has not yet been enacted, the motion noted, “the Senate’s action indicates the imminent possibility of a significant change in the law that strongly reinforces the grounds for recall of the mandate.”

US Concern About Niger's Democratic Processes

U.S. Concern About Niger's Democratic Processes. By Ian Kelly
US State Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, DC
May 29, 2009

The United States is concerned about recent announcements that President Tandja plans to hold a national referendum aimed at drafting a new constitution and permitting the extension of his time in office. We believe this risks undercutting Niger’s hard won social, political, and economic gains of the past decade, and would be a set-back for democracy, based on the regular, peaceful transition of political power and faithful adherence to constitutional due-process. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Niger’s Constitutional Court have also registered concerns about this issue.

President Tandja is about to complete two consecutive five-year terms after two successful free and fair elections under Niger’s democratic constitution. During that time, he has been a good steward of Niger’s national interests, attracting international investment and launching ambitious public works against a backdrop of social and political stability.

We have shared our views with President Tandja in the interest of continuing a strong and warm relationship with the Government of Niger and the Nigerien people as they move toward the end of his constitutional term in office.

PRN: 2009/521

Obama continues to trash Bush in words — but his actions speak louder

Bush Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. By Victor Davis Hanson
Obama continues to trash Bush in words — but his actions speak louder.
National Review On-line

Last July I wrote a column entitled “Barack W. Bush” outlining how candidate Barack Obama was strangely emulating Bush policies — even as he was trashing the president.

Nearly a year later, President Obama has continued that schizophrenia, criticizing Bush while keeping in place Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols. The result of this Bush Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is that, thanks to Obama, history will soon begin reassessing George W. Bush’s presidency in a more positive light.

Why? Because the more Obama feels compelled to trash Bush, the more he draws attention to the fact that he is copying — or in some cases falling short of — his predecessor. He seems to wish to frame his presidency in terms of the Bush years, even though such constant evocation is serving his predecessor more than it is serving Obama himself.

For eight years conservatives whined — and Democrats railed — at the Bush deficits. In the aggregate over eight years they exceeded $2 trillion. The administration’s excuses — the 2000 recession; 9/11; two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq; Katrina; and two massive new programs, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Prescription Drug — fell on deaf ears.

Between 2001 and 2008 we still spoke of annual budget shortfalls in billions of dollars. But an early effect of the Obama administration is that it has already made the Bush administration’s reckless spending seem almost incidental. In the first 100 days of this government we have learned to speak of yearly red ink in terms of Obama’s trillions, not Bush’s mere billions. Indeed, compared to Obama, Bush looks like a fiscal conservative.

Another complaint was the so-called culture of corruption in the Republican Congress — and the inability, or unwillingness, of the Bush administration to address party impropriety. Jack Abramoff, Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, and Mark Foley were each involved in some sort of fiscal or moral turpitude that — according to critics — was never convincingly condemned by the Bush administration.

But compared to some of the present Democratic headline-makers, those were relatively small potatoes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slurred the CIA and accused it of habitually lying to Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel has not paid his income taxes fully, and has improperly used his influence to lobby corporations for donations; he has also violated rent-stabilization laws in New York. Sen. Chris Dodd has received discounts and gifts from shady corporate insiders in clear quid-pro-quo influence peddling. Rep. Barney Frank got campaign money from Fannie Mae before it imploded, despite the fact he was charged with regulating the quasi-governmental agency — which at one time hired his boyfriend as a top executive. Former Rep. William Jefferson, an outright crook, is about to go on trial in federal court.

As for other prominent Democrats, the sins of Blago and Eliot Spitzer bordered on buffoonery. A series of Obama cabinet nominations — Daschle, Geithner, Richardson, Solis — were marred by admissions of tax evasion and the suspicion of scandal. In other words, should either the Democratic leadership or President Obama now rail about a “Culture of Corruption” — and neither unfortunately has — the public would naturally assume a reference to Democratic misdeeds.

For the last eight years, a sort of parlor game has been played listing the various ways the Bush anti-terror policies supposedly destroyed the Constitution. Liberal opponents — prominent among them Sen. Barack Obama — railed against elements of the Patriot Act, military tribunals, rendition, wiretaps, email intercepts, and Predator drone attacks. These supposedly unnecessary measures, plus Bush’s policies in postwar Iraq, were said to be proof, on Bush’s part, of either paranoia or blatantly partisan efforts to scare us into supporting his unconstitutional agenda.

Now, thanks to President Obama, the verdict is in: All of the Bush protocols turned out to reflect a bipartisan national consensus that has kept us safe from another 9/11-style attack.

How do we know that?

Because President Obama — despite earlier opposition and current name changes and nuancing — has kept intact the entire Bush anti-terrorism program. Apparently President Obama has kept these protocols because he suspects that they help to explain why his first few months in office have been free of successful terrorist attacks — witness the foiled plot earlier this month to murder Jews in New York City and shoot down military planes in upstate New York.

There are only two exceptions to Obama’s new Bushism. Both are revealing. The president says he wishes to shut down Guantanamo in a year, after careful study. But so far no one has come up with an alternative plan for dealing with out-of-uniform terrorists caught on the battlefield plotting harm to the United States. That’s why Obama himself did not close the facility immediately upon entering office, and why the Democratic Congress has just cut off funding to close it. So we are left with the weird paradox that Obama hit hard against his predecessor for opening Guantanamo, while members of his own party are doing their best to keep it open. Obama says he opposes waterboarding and calls it torture. Many of us tend to agree. But despite the partisan rhetoric of endemic cruelty, we now learn that the tactic was used on only three extraordinarily bad detainees.

Furthermore, the administration that disclosed the once-classified technique to the public now refuses to elaborate on whether valuable information that saved lives emerged from such coerced interrogations.

Meanwhile, liberal congressional icons like Jay Rockefeller and Nancy Pelosi are on record as being briefed about the technique — and, by their apparent silence as overseers, de facto approving it. Senator Schumer, remember, all but said that we must not rule out the resort to torture in the case of terrorist suspects.

Mini-histories have already been written blasting Bush for unprecedented deficits, for being in bed with a sometimes corrupt Republican Congress, and for weakening our civil liberties. Now the historians will have to begin over again and see Bush as a mere prelude to a far more profligate, and ethically suspect, administration.

More important, President Bush bequeathed to President Obama a successful anti-terrorism template that the latter has embraced and believes will keep the nation safe for another eight years. And, oddly, we are the more certain that is what he believes, the more a now obsessive-compulsive President Obama attacks none other than former President Bush.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal and the 2008 Bradley Prize.

LaHood, Secretary of Behavior Modification

Secretary of Behavior Modification, by Randal O'Toole
Secraty LaHood
Cato at Liberty, May 28, 2009

George Will recently accused Obama’s token Republican, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of being the “Secretary for Behavior Modification” because of his support for programs designed to coerce people into driving less. Speaking before the National Press Club on May 21, LaHood pleaded guilty as charged.

In the video of LaHood’s presentation, he was asked if the administration’s “livability initiative” is really “an effort to make driving more tortuous and to coerce people out of their cars.” His answer: “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars, yeah.”

The next question was, “Some conservative groups are wary of the livable communities program, saying it’s an example of government intrusion into people’s lives. How do you respond?” His complete answer: “About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people’s lives.”

While these are certainly quotable, defenders of “livability” (code for “transportation by any mode but automobile”) would be quick to point out that all of LaHood’s examples are aimed at giving people choices other than driving: walkways, bike paths, streetcars, light rail. LaHood never mentions any actual techniques aimed at coercing people out of their cars.

Yet those coercive techniques are a major part of the livability campaign, as shown by Portland, Oregon, which LaHood touted as “the example” of a livability program. The most important of these techniques is to divert highway user fees to expensive forms of transportation that receive little use. Portland is deliberately allowing congestion to grow while it spends money collected from highway users on streetcars and light rail.

Not that Portland’s program is very successful. Despite spending more than $2 billion on rail transit since 1980, transit’s share of Portland-area commuting declined from 9.8 percent in 1980 to 6.9 percent in 2007. (The table says 6.5 percent but that includes the people who worked at home.)

Much of the money that Portland does spend on roads goes into “traffic calming,” a euphemism for “congestion building.” This consists of putting barriers in roads, speed humps, narrowing streets, and turning auto lanes into exclusive bike lanes. Portland’s official objective (see table 1.2) is to allow rush-hour traffic to grow to near-gridlock levels (”level of service F”) on most major freeways and arterials.

“People don’t like spending an hour and a half getting to work,” said LaHood. But if more congestion is a key part of “livability,” then a lot more people are going to be doing that under the administration’s plans.

Beyond not seeing anything wrong with government coercion, LaHood can’t see the difference between transportation systems that pay for themselves (such as the interstate highways) and transportation systems that require huge subsidies (such as streetcars and light rail). “If somebody wants to ride streetcars or light rail to work,” says LaHood, then it is up to the government to provide it for them.

What if someone wants to take a helicopter to work? Or a dirigible or rocketship or a personal limousine? Does LaHood really believe that, just because someone wants something, all other taxpayers should fund it?

When in Congress, LaHood was known as a “moderate Republican.” I guess that is a euphemism for “central planner in waiting.”

Is Aid Working?

Is Aid Working?, by Marian L. Tupy
This article appeared in the Financial Times on May 28, 2009.

Dambisa Moyo's book Dead Aid has reignited the simmering war of words about the effects of foreign aid on Africa. Her contribution is welcome, for scant evidence in favour of increasing aid notwithstanding, western governments seem determined to outdo one another in the extravagance of their promises to Africa.

Moyo's growing popularity has even compelled the usually taciturn Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University to join the fray. Writing on The Huffington Post, he threw ad hominem attacks against both Moyo and his long-time critic Bill Easterly of New York University. Both responded, pointing out some of the problems associated with aid. But one argument needs further discussion: the aid debate has a racist undertone.

This year marks 20 years since the end of communism. As Oleh Havrylyshyn, a former International Monetary Fund official who teaches at the University of Toronto shows, the transition of central European and Baltic countries from communism to capitalism has been largely successful. Countries that embraced more rapid and more extensive economic reforms "tended to experience higher growth rates and lower inflation and received more foreign investment. Inequality increased less among rapid reformers than among gradual reformers. The same is true with respect to poverty rates."

Baltic countries, which were among the most enthusiastic reformers, benefited greatly from increased economic freedom. Between 1995 and 2007, real incomes in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania rose by an astonishing 167 per cent, 146 per cent and 125 per cent respectively. In the eurozone, they rose by 24 per cent over the same period. Moreover, longevity, environmental quality and school enrolment rose throughout the region, while child mortality declined. The current economic troubles in CEB take some shine off the region's accomplishments, but they don't erase them.

A political consensus in favour of economic liberalization emerged soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Common people were transfixed by western cars and fresh oranges that they saw on German television. Though they disagreed about the speed and the extent of economic reforms — western European and American economic models were both popular — there was little opposition to the general direction of policy changes. One of the most vehement promoters of rapid rather than gradual change, incidentally, was a Harvard University economist — Jeffrey Sachs.

No such consensus exists in Africa. During the 1990s, I lived in both, Czechoslovakia and South Africa. In the former, people saw socialism as a massive failure. In the latter, many saw it as respectable policy alternative. In the former, it was near impossible to find a self-declared communist. In the later, communists were in the government. In CEB, people tended to see the wealth of the western world as a result of high productivity in capitalist countries, while in Africa they tended to see it as a result of colonial exploitation.

Following the collapse of communism, virtually everyone assumed that the key to future prosperity in CEB lay in economic reforms, not in foreign aid. Implicitly, almost everyone understood that the people in the region would simply have to respond to market incentives, and produce goods and services that domestic and foreign customers would want to buy. Inability to compete with the west was inconceivable. Failure was not an option.

Such a mindset is demonstrably lacking when it comes to Africa. Globalization tends to be seen as a threat and seldom as an opportunity. Local politicians fret about competition from China and Bangladesh. Non-governmental organisations caution against liberalisation lest Africans be taken advantage of by unscrupulous westerners. Musicians and movie stars urge aid, not reform, as a solution to poverty.

The result? African incomes rose by mere 26 per cent between 1995 and 2007, less if countries rich in oil and mineral resources are taken out of the calculation. Nine out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries were poorer in 2007 than in 1960. Africa failed to grow in spite or perhaps because of all the aid that had poured to Africa over the last half-a-century. Instead of reforming their economies and growing their private sectors and domestic tax revenue, African governments relied on aid to survive.

In a nutshell, there appears to be a peculiar lack of confidence in Africans to react to market incentives like everyone else does and to benefit from globalization. Africans, the consensus of aid advocates and protectionists appears to be saying, should be shielded rather than exposed to market forces. But, what does that say about the underlying assumption with regard to the ability of Africans to succeed just as the people of CEB had succeeded?

Yet, it is the opponents of aid, not its advocates, who get the short end of the stick. When ABC's John Stossel questioned Sachs about the link between corruption and aid, for example, Sachs accused Stossel of treating poor Africans as "enemies." On the contrary, Stossel responded, it is the African elites that are the enemy of both the African people and of the western taxpayer. Or, as the British economist Peter Bauer put it half-a-century ago, foreign aid is a way of "taxing poor people in rich countries and passing it on to rich people in poor countries."

While the world debates whether Africa should adopt market reforms, other regions power ahead. The concept of "global poverty" is losing its meaning everyday. Soon, poverty will be solely an "African problem." To prevent that from happening, Africans must be treated not as hopeless recipients of charity but people equal to everyone else in ability.

Waxman-Markey: What About Innovation?

Waxman-Markey: What About Innovation? By Mark Muro
Brookings, May 26, 2009

The Sotomayor Rules

The Sotomayor Rules. By Kimberley Strassel
Some were made to be broken.
WSJ, May 29, 2009

President Barack Obama has laid down his ground rules for the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The big question now is whether Republicans agree to play by rules that neither Mr. Obama nor his party have themselves followed.

Ground Rule No. 1, as decreed by the president, is that this is to be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications. The media gurus complied, with inspiring stories of how she was born to Puerto Rican immigrants, how she was raised by a single mom in a Bronx housing project, how she went on to Princeton and then Yale. In the years that followed she presumably issued a judicial opinion here or there, but whatever.

The president, after all, had taken great pains to explain that this is more than an American success story. Rather, it is Judge Sotomayor's biography that uniquely qualifies her to sit on the nation's highest bench -- that gives her the "empathy" to rule wisely. Judge Sotomayor agrees: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said in 2001.

If so, perhaps we can expect her to join in opinions with the wise and richly experienced Clarence Thomas. That would be the same Justice Thomas who lost his father, and was raised by his mother in a rural Georgia town, in a shack without running water, until he was sent to his grandfather. The same Justice Thomas who had to work every day after school, though he was not allowed to study at the Savannah Public Library because he was black. The same Justice Thomas who became the first in his family to go to college and receive a law degree from Yale.

By the president's measure, the nation couldn't find a more empathetic referee than Justice Thomas. And yet here's what Mr. Obama had to say last year when Pastor Rick Warren asked him about the Supreme Court: "I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation."

In other words, nine months ago Mr. Obama thought that the primary qualification for the High Court was the soundness of a nominee's legal thinking, or at least that's what Democrats have always stressed when working against a conservative judge. Throughout the Bush years, it was standard Democratic senatorial practice to comb through every last opinion, memo, job application and college term paper, all with an aim of creating a nominee "too extreme" or "unqualified" to sit on the federal bench.

Mr. Obama knows this, as he took part in it, joining a Senate minority who voted against both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. Mr. Obama also understands a discussion of Judge Sotomayor's legal thinking means a discussion about "judicial activism" -- a political loser. In a day when voters routinely rise up to rebuke their activist courts on issues ranging from gay marriage to property rights, few red-state Democrats want to go there. Moreover, a number of Judge Sotomayor's specific legal opinions -- whether on racial preferences, or gun restrictions -- put her to the left of most Americans.

Which brings us to Ground Rule No. 2, which is that Republicans are not allowed to criticize Judge Sotomayor, for the reason that she is the first Hispanic nominee to the High Court. The Beltway media also dutifully latched on to this White House talking point, reporting threats from leading Democrats, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who intoned that Republicans "oppose her at their peril."

This would be the same Mr. Schumer who had this to say about Miguel Estrada, President Bush's Hispanic nominee (who, by the way, came to this country as an immigrant from Honduras) to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002: Mr. Estrada "is like a Stealth missile -- with a nose cone -- coming out of the right wing's deepest silo." That would be the same Mr. Schumer who ambushed Mr. Estrada in a Senate hearing, smearing him with allegations made by unnamed former associates. That would be the same Mr. Schumer who sat on the Judiciary Committee, where leaked memos later showed that Democrats feared Mr. Estrada would use a position on the D.C. Circuit as a launching pad to become the nation's . . . first Hispanic Supreme Court judge. Two tortured years later, Mr. Estrada withdrew, after the Democrats waged seven filibusters against a confirmation vote.

Republicans will be tempted by this history to go ugly. They might instead lay down their own rules, the first being that they will not partake in the tactics of personal destruction that were waged by the left on nominees such as Mr. Thomas or Mr. Alito or Mr. Estrada. But the party could also make a rule to not be scared away from using Judge Sotomayor's nomination, or future Obama picks, as platforms for big, civil, thorough debates about the role of the courts and the risk of activist judges to American freedoms and beliefs.

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program
May 28, 2009

BAGHDAD -The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Iraq's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) today launched the Social Safety Net program nationwide aimed at providing benefits to the most vulnerable citizens of Iraq and facilitating their integration into the country's economic development.

In 2005, the Government of Iraq passed legislation to establish a Social Safety Net to complement the state-subsidized food rationing system, the largest social security spending in the country. The new system is intended to help low-income families, displaced workers, and unemployed people adjust to the ongoing restructuring and reform efforts. The initiative is an essential step in ensuring food availability, supplementing buying power, encouraging students to stay in school, and preserving access to other social services.

The USAID-funded Economic Governance Program in partnership with MoLSA provided technical support in the design of the Social Safety Net program, including upgrading the information technology system, and leveraging grants from the World Bank Trust Fund to expand coverage to 21 sites. A team of USAID advisors and their Iraqi counterparts addressed key capacity building concerns by enhancing the skills of civil service personnel in technical, operational and management techniques essential to the implementation of the program. The World Bank and USAID have invested more than $13 million for the nearly four-year project.

The Social Safety Net system has robust processes to detect and prevent operational irregularities that allow for the delivery of benefits in a standardized manner to all needy recipients. The system uses internal controls that ensure accurate identification, registration, and verification of recipients, and appropriate tracking of beneficiary records and payments. Such mechanisms are aimed at running an effective, transparent and accountable program.

The success of the 2008 pilot in Baghdad paved the way for a Memorandum of Understanding between MoLSA and USAID to expand the program nationwide. Today, nearly 673,000 people, or 2.4 percent of the population of Iraq, are receiving benefits through the Social Safety Net program. The program is expected to cover an estimated one million beneficiaries.

Since 2003, USAID has invested more than $6 billion on programs designed to stabilize communities; foster economic and agricultural growth; and build the capacity of the national, local, and provincial governments to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people