July 2007

Guaranteed not to be a regular feature, the quote of the day:  but here’s a nice one.  I have no idea where it comes from.

There was a time when the seas seemed endless and the sky vast enough to swallow any of the mistakes and errors of man.  The world used to be big and men could afford to be small.  Now the world is small and men must be big. 
                                                               –Elliot Richardson.

Note: Last week, I examined each of the eighteen benchmarks which document the effectiveness of The Surge. I then wrote an overview (part I) of the July Benchmark Report.  This post covers Six Benchmarks: numbers 1 and 2; 4 through 6; and 16.  Links for fast access to this Iraq Primer (should open in new window for reference):  Benchmarks 1-6Benchmarks 13-18

What follows is a look at July’s status on Economic Benchmarks, or, more properly, two Political-Economic Benchmarks.  I try to analyze what we should consider ‘significant progress’ in September’s report, based upon close reading and constant attention to the subject.  Quotes by Stanislaw Lec, who lived during World War II, are only meant to provide some humor and perspective.

Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.                                                           –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

The Oil Law, Benchmark Number 3:
As noted in the July Benchmark report, the oil law has made ‘unsatisfactory progress’ despite continued focus and considerable effort on the part of Iraq’s Council of Ministers.  Once it leaves this Council, (after the substantial negotiation toward an agreed format) it is submitted to the Council of Representatives.  The intricacy of the negotiations, also as noted by the report, remains somewhat opaque to onlookers, including U.S. advisors and consultants most directly involved. 

Three camps negotiating the law, two camps observing
The received opinion about passing the oil law generally falls into two extreme and irreconcilable camps.   The first, which includes the Iraq Study Group, maintains that the oil law is essential to Iraq’s progress; and a second camp believes that the U.S. should back off of this process. 

The essentialists are correct in that the oil law is  Iraq’s budget-maker; it will fund all government activities.  Oil is expected to make up 93% of Iraq’s state budget, and therefore all programs for reconstruction, social services, education, and so forth hinge upon this keynote bill for the budget.  Until this bill is passed, semi-autonomous regions, provincial governments, and even the state at large cannot plan or fund future government functions.  Furthermore, once it is passed, it sets up the conditions for future interest in the state by development banks, outside investors, and foreign states. 

Yet “the backing off” contingent has some points.  First, Iraq has money to fund programs now (that’s Benchmark 17–see below), and it is better to get this law right than to pass just any law. 

Three strikes, Sunnis out
The way this law is being discussed and framed obviates many of the roads to national unity; in particular, it fails to meet any Sunni faction demands.  1. Western Iraq, without oil, is predominantly Sunni.  2. Abolishing the national oil company removes what once was a primarily Ba’athist/Sunni institution.  3. Abolishing the oil union also removes a formerly Ba’athist/Sunni institution. 

Under the current arguments, there is little offered to the Sunni minority population (who also has the most experience in oil development).  Therefore, the oil law needs to be backed by a completed Benchmark No. 2, reform of de-Ba’athification law, which will specify who will be able to participate in oil economics; and a completed Benchmark No. 1 (constitutional reform) including Benchmark No. 16 (minority rights equal to everyone’s rights) before this can be settled with the (understandably) obstreperous Sunni legislative contingent.

Following a more natural step-progression
I would further suggest that its placement in the benchmark scheme is out of order.  Until provincial and regional governance structures are achieved (Benchmarks 4 and 5), the advocacy for this bill continues to be amorphous and theoretical in design.  Local projects are managed by local governments, and there are, as yet, no governments to administer these theoretical budgets.  That does not contradict the reality of a raging parochialism in negotiations: Kurdistan ripe with new discoveries; Southern Iraq filled with mismanaged and underinvested older fields; and thus far, no resources found in Western Iraq.  But this is again a theoretical parochialism, of a “wish list” variety, uninformed by local assessments.  While a group of provincial governors will certainly add more voices to the law’s discussion, if handled properly this will be a means to greater local representation and therefore, local satisfaction.  Provision of services and oil income around the state of Iraq will add to state unity, and the precedents and procedures for these services are best taken from the shape of Benchmarks 1, 2, 4, 5, and 16.

As far as national oil companies go, I fail to understand why the U.S. is against the formation of an Iraqi national oil company.  Virtually every supplier state on the planet has a NOC, and it does not stop oil extraction or distribution.  It complicates that activity, but it is a standard operating condition in most oil commerce around the world.

Role of U.S. consultation is unclear
Yet the “backing off” contingent fails to realize that third-party consultation or intervention in this bill is to some degree necessary in order to inject some non-sectarian ice into the flaming controversy that appears to be taking place behind closed doors.  If the U.S. was getting all that it wanted, this bill would be done by now.  Some mediation is required, and since this bill has the potential to unleash further sectarian resentment, de-stabilize the national government, and fund the future of the country, it would be irresponsible not to consult.

However, consultation should promote, rather than a U.S. commercial wish list (no national oil companies, no unions, or whatever else the U.S. is advocating) some benchmarks for a. transparency, that oil revenues are audited regularly by outside auditors, and that the funds are publicly managed; and b. that some of those funds are earmarked for future development, in education, for instance, which increases national self-help in the long term.

I would not expect this law to be in effect by September or even January.  Significant progress toward an oil bill (which is the same as a budget bill) would require that local needs be assessed and a pattern of national distribution informed by the relationship of pressing needs of each locality.   To me, progress on this bill hinges upon the completion of the other major legislative benchmarks, and a settled, meaningful policy of de-Ba’athification reform.  Progress on this bill also requires that the U.S. both stay in the process but not to the extent of driving the kinds of institutions enabled–just their transparent and unifying character.

Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
                                                                       –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Reconstruction, Benchmark Number 17:
Many of the statements above about the oil law also relate to reconstruction, but with one difference: this needs to be carried out now.  No reconciliation (Benchmark 6) or reduction in violence (Benchmarks 7, etc) can be obtained as long as the state is not carrying out some functions of economic security. 

A main problem with the July Benchmark Report is that it is another large benchmark with no staged implementation set in the benchmark framework.  The main problem for reconstruction is that all of it is undertaken under poor security conditions.  A lot of back-breaking work has been done to achieve utility service, enterprise development, and other features of economic reconstruction.  Most of this work continues to be subverted or destroyed, a dangerous, sometimes corrupt, and always disheartening and expensive result.  To just shout for reconstruction without acknowledging past efforts and current difficulties is unrealistic, and frankly, rude.  It is past time, however, to ask for staged planning within this benchmark goal.

There are clues in the Benchmark Report about what kinds of economic revitalization are working: cellular phone investment, for instance, has taken off and prospered.  And this is the clue for limitations of effectiveness as well: deciding what kinds of reconstruction will have immediate and lasting effect under current conditions.

If one looks at the character of cellular telephony, one can see the reasons that this essential service has prospered: a, it promotes security and access to information; b, it has minimal infrastructure; c, it is portable and moveable;  d, phones are easily replaceable; and e. has immediate personal use.  The task for reconstruction in this security environment then becomes, a matter of tailoring as many other required services as possible to this model.

1. The Iraqi government should create a program that allows it to disburse its long-held funds into a service provision that has an irregular locational and temporal distribution process, including to refugee populations.  2. In the meantime, they should solicit bids for other major work in areas currently less-wracked by violence, and advertise those bids.  3. Reconstruction funds should be disbursed to aid refugees in camps and set up services to non-official refugee camps in order to provide minimal services to the displaced.

However, like the oil law, reconstruction is complicated by a lack of regional and provincial officials to undertake a more nuanced assessment and program of providing social services, advertising for bids, or arranging a regular or irregular demonstration of services.  I predict that the reconstruction benchmark will still show ‘unsatisfactory progress’ in September, as security conditions will not allow the kind of distribution of reconstruction services required, and, 

because institutional methods of providing reconstruction do not answer in the security environment under which Iraq currently exists.

Progress on these two benchmarks is contingent upon the previously-examined political benchmarks, and the security benchmarks.

Next: Security benchmarks and public relations related to security

Further reading:
al-Jazeera, July 30: Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty
Reuters, July 30: UN asks for education aid for Iraq refugees

♦ In Australia, the charges against Dr. Haneef have been dropped in connection with the UK car bombings; his prosecutors were shown to have lied, possibly in order to enhance pre-election anti-terrorist credentials.
♦ China continues to crack down on governmental corruption, this time in Shanghai.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Thanks to Robert Amsterdam blog for bringing forward some new papers on EU-Russia relations.  First: an article by Mr. Lynn at Bloomberg  suggests that the EU cease trading Russian stocks when the Russian Federation expropriates assets from EU companies investing in Russia.  This tit-for-tat on the editorial side is matched by an policy analysis from the Centre for European Reform, which concludes that there are no “strategic partnerships” between the EU and Russia based on “common values” .  What with disputes over gas & oil,  missiles, and oh, yeah, plutonium and extradition, it has been kind of tough lately . . .  🙂 
♦ Yukos assets–Lot 19, worth USD 1.2 billion, is up for auction.  Starting bid: USD 300 million.  What a bargain!  But it looks like Rosneft will get the goods.  In the meantime, more claims against Yukos’ post-bankruptcy assets, these filed from a ruling in a London Court.  Uh-huh. 
♦ The U.S., always somewhat ambivalent about its strategic interests in Central Asia, is signalling more pull-out from the region.  In the meantime, more trouble at Ganci AFB in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.  Ganci relations have never been handled correctly. The Latest: the air traffic controllers are threatening a strike.

Latin America:
♦ Energy news: Mexico announced USD 76.5 million in new investment to shore up their failing oil reserves.  Their top-producing Cantarell Field offshore has hit its peak, and new investment is required.  This also has an effect on Mexico’s budget for the short-term at least: PeMex profits have paid for Mexico’s social services for years.
What U.S. Company?Boz takes a look at the double standard in Colombian-U.S. relations: accusations of aid to terrorists in Colombia by U.S. companies–not investigated by the Justice Department, and More.  Hint on the company: They must be bananas to do such a thing.  (Drawing: from VivirLatino).
♦ The IMF’s Managing Director Rodrigo Rato is on a world tour to re-establish or renew relations with member countries, with Latin American states one high priority–one issue will be giving Brazil, for instance, more voting share commensurate with their economy.  Also, Mr. Rato’s likely successor, Mr. Straus-Kahn, has started a world tour in Africa, but will swing through Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil on his way around the world.  This is all upcoming and highly important: Latin American states rejected IMF reports as inaccurate this last April, which means they also reject methods proposed by IMF based upon those reports.

Middle East:
♦ Saudi Arabia may receive up to USD 20 billion in weapons from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia gets dissed for its destabilizing influence in Iraq.  The weapons systems are to help aid Saudi Arabia as well as other Persian Gulf states who will get military enhancement a chance to counter Iran nuclear capability.  In the meantime, Secretaries Rice and Gates are making another pitch to the Saudis to aid Iraq’s government.
♦ Afghanistan: Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are reportedly weakening their commitment to ISAF, following casualties and the likelihood of more.
◊ One of the South Korean hostages has been killed.  Negotiations continue for the other 22 hostages.
◊ Some timeless principles of counter-insurgency-including individual talent-at Afghanistanica.
◊ Reuters builds a Timeline of Hostage Incidents in Afghanistan
◊ Carl Robichaud at Afghanistan Watch talks about strengthening the capabilities of the Afghanistan Police: what needs to happen and what is happening.  A must-read.

Iraq:  If you’ve stopped here at all this week, you’ll have seen a lot of analysis of the July Benchmark Report to the U.S. Congress.   First, RG has featured the benchmarks themselves, their purpose and importance, in the Iraq Primer series of posts.  Right now this blog is about halfway through an analysis of the report itself: already complete, one overview of the report’s organization, and one post on amnesty and political benchmarks.  Please keep checking back: in this effort, my own personal benchmark is to inform the debate, not choose a side.  Whoever we are and whatever we believe, we have to be ready for September’s report, with better than one-note analyses to aid us.
◊ Joshua Foust at The Conjecturer writes on the Scott Thompson debate, where a soldier recounts the sick/mean/gallows humor of the troops and the resulting firestorm, and then segues into what I would call the must-view portion: slave labor emplyed by contractors constructing the U.S. Embassy to Iraq.  The testimony on video is very convincing-and disheartening. 
◊ Biggest corruption case ever in Iraq being investigated, Major Cockerham accepts USD 9.6 billion in bribes from contractors, and the scandal is likely to radiate outward.
◊ PTSD: 116 official U.S. troop suicides reported amid Iraq-stationed troops, not counting the dozens still under investigation, and not counting the ones back home.

♦ Oil prices this week ended up, but not with the meteoric rises of the last two weeks.  Brent crude, USD 77.28; West Texas Intermediate, 76.88.  The gap between the Brent and WTx price is decreasing–no predictions here though.
♦ Shell announces 18% profit for the quarter.  That does not mean that their long-term picture looks so rosy-sweet: still Sakhalin Island problems continue to obtrude.  Shell lost half its share earlier this year, after years of investment–ostensibly for ecological infractions.  Now that Gazprom has taken those shares, the pipeline is being shut down again–for ecological infractions.
♦ Conoco lost 94 percent of its profit in second quarter due to Venezuelan expropriation of its production.

Note: This week, I examined each of the eighteen benchmarks which document the effectiveness of The Surge. I then wrote an overview (part I) of the July Benchmark Report.  This post covers Six Benchmarks: numbers 1 and 2; 4 through 6; and 16.  Links for fast access to this Iraq Primer (should open in new window for reference):  Benchmarks 1-6Benchmarks 13-18

What follows is a look at July’s status on Amnesty and Political Benchmarks, and what I believe we should consider progress in September, based upon close reading and constant attention to the subject.  Quotes by Lec are from a man who lived through World War II, and are only meant to leaven this heavy dough that we are working with. 

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. 
                                                       –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Amnesty (Benchmarks 2 and 6):
Goals are ambitious and amorphous–and have not progressed
As noted in the JBR, de-Baathification reform (B. 2) represents a significant challenge that has not yet been met. The JBR has also noted that conditions for amnesty arrangements (B. 6) cannot be concluded in the Iraq’s presently violent domestic environment.  Neither of these benchmarks were considered to have progressed.  In my judgment, we should not fairly expect “Benchmark 6: Amnesty” to have made any headway in September either.  This benchmark has an over-arching and controversial symbolism to contend with, as well as a poor security climate.  Nor should the goal be changed, but its steps could be better elucidated.

The emotional and moral issues regarding amnesty and atrocity cannot be solved by any benchmark process, but some practical details can be addressed.  Differentiating between these two aspects of amnesty would go a long way toward completion.  In effect, Benchmark 2, de-Ba’athification reform, is one of the practical steps to a more general amnesty.  The best comparison of constructive behavior for de-Ba’athification reform is European: the post-World War II rehabilitation of Nazi officials.  In this kind of reform, the law weighs the following factors:

1. that the harsh environment of Mr. Hussein’s regime caused many of its citizens to self-censor their political and moral beliefs due to fear or anxiety, consciously or unconsciously, and therefore they chose to affiliate with the Ba’ath party;
2. that on lower levels of Ba’ath Party membership, the decisions to commit atrocities and crimes against humanity were also punitively enforced on their perpetrators as well as on their victims;
3. that in order to meet the economic demands of the present, former Ba’ath party members below a certain leadership level are necessary to society as a whole;
4. and that below that leadership level, individual liability for economic and political prejudices, and for crimes against humanity, should be lifted. 

The moral question is in fact aspect 2 in the above; the reason for implementing de-Ba’athification reform is contained in aspect 3.  Iraq needs infrastructure development, economic rebirth, and a reduction in sectarian violence.  Once the level of liability is assigned, everyone beneath that level has a clear chance at buying into the new social fabric of the country.  Therefore, de-Ba’athification reform could be a step process that involves the lowest agreed to amnesty in the legislature, and then work its way up–or–the law should be written and the dispute contained to that which decides the level of responsibility.  Benchmark 2, de-Ba’athification reform, should be expected, on some level, to have reached at least minimally greater progress by September.  If not, then it should be pressed.  It is a necessary step to security and reconstruction goals.

He who limps is still walking.  –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Political Organization: (Benchmarks 1, 16, 4,  and 5):
Goals are perhaps the most well-advanced of the Benchmarks:

Benchmarks 1 and 16:
Iraq formed its Constitutional Review Committee in November 2006, (B. 1a), and under this committee the rights of minorities has been at least partly addressed (B. 16).  However, completing the constitutional review has not yet occurred.  More meetings are scheduled in August.  It’s better to get these right than to be expeditious, but: If this part of the process is not complete by the September report, it’s going to go hard with Mr. Bush and General Petraeus in September.  Both Benchmarks 1 and 16 got a passing grade in the JBR, and indeed they seem the close to fruition.  ‘Significant progress’ in September should only be defined as Completion of the Constitutional Review, with adequate provision for minority representation and rights.

Benchmark 4:
The legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions (B. 4) has already been enacted, and so the JBR has marked this as satisfactory progress.  However, the law does not take effect until April, 2008, which delays governance, social services, and other features.  U.S. efforts to shorten the lag time have not met with success.  ‘Significant progress’ should only be defined in September as a shortened window to the law’s implementation, preferably this year.  Consequences of failure in this regard are less important in itself, but tends to add to controversy if Benchmark 5, for provincial governance, is not far further down the road to completion.

Benchmark 5:
Benchmark 5 comprises four different sub-steps:  According to the JBR, only a. has been completed.  The legislation that enacts the Independent High Electoral Commission was completed around April 29, 2007. (B. 5-a).  The provincial elections law (B 5-b.) and law on provinicial council authorities (B. 5-c.) has been read in parliament, but not voted on yet.  These need to be pushed through before a date for provincial elections (B 5-d.) can be accomplished.  Therefore, B.5-a has made ‘satisfactory progress’, but overall this goal has not been met.  In September, in order for ‘satisfactory progress’ to be asserted, provinicial elections law and provinicial council authority needs to have been voted on in full, and a date for elections set, hopefully a date this year.

Other political benchmarks, or rather, political-economic benchmarks such as the Oil Law (Benchmark 3) and Reconstruction (Benchmark 17) will be greatly assisted by Regional and Provincial Advocacy, the formation of provinicial and regional budgets, and so forth. 

Next: The Oil Law, reconstruction, and beyond

Note: This week, I have examined in three separate posts, each of the eighteen benchmarks which the Bush Administration is using to document the effectiveness of The Surge, on its own terms and in its own words.  Links for fast access to this Iraq Primer (should open in new window for reference):
Benchmarks 1-6 — Benchmarks 7-12 — Benchmarks 13-18.

Part One on the July Benchmark Report:

All is in the hands of man. Therefore wash them often.
                                                                      –Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Introduction: Eight out of eighteen means nothing:
Approximately ten days ago, the July version of the Iraq Benchmark report was made available to Congress and the public.  The military and Bush 2 Administration reported eight out of eighteen benchmarks at ‘satisfactory progress’, less than half on the numerical scale.  This ratio (8/18) was taken in terms of a kind of gross percentage that, while unscientific, accurately reflects that progress is at a tipping point.  More, this ratio reflects U.S. ambivalence (or, contention) concerning what to do next.

Yet in terms of affecting outcomes, analysis on a simple ratio basis (8/18) does not reflecting the complexity or interrelation of the benchmarks themselves.  Thus, the 8/18 ratio may mask real progress—or its lack.

Further, the disposition of Iraq is not one where half-measures are stable enough to take root.  In other words, all or nearly all of the benchmarks must be met in order to shore up each other.  Amnesty and reconstruction are to a great extent requirements of security; oil law is contingent upon provincial government’s administration; and security requires legislative initiatives to clear the space for operations.  It’s not horseshoes: it’s all or none.

We looked at Benchmarks in Detail:
Previous examination of the benchmarks (Iraq Primer, 3 parts), reveals that some are so comprehensive that they require generations of trust-building (Benchmark 6), while others require a mere time amendment on a course already agreed (Benchmark 4) and should therefore be more easily obtained.  Some benchmarks have detailed steps (Benchmark 5); others do not (Benchmark 17).

Overall character of the JBR structure
Strongly acknowledges core realities:

One strength of this report is that it acknowledges an actual and political reality. An early statement in the July Benchmark Report (hereinafter JBR) is that it acknowledges a hard reality: these benchmarks should have already been met by the Iraqi government.  Therefore, the report explicitly acknowledges the failures thus far in achieving conclusive results in the areas discussed.   By extension, progress which is incomplete on any benchmarks in this report shows continued failure to conclude separate parts of Iraq’s state-building process under U.S. or Multi-National Force (MNF) aegis.  It should be noted that even those benchmarks on which there was “satisfactory progress”–are incomplete.  No benchmark is completed.

But benchmarks reflect U.S. & Iraqi confusion and disorganization
The JBR’s greatest weakness, which may help us reflect upon our own diplomatic and military leadership in Iraq, is that the benchmarks themselves are poorly organized in this document.  This is immediately surprising, because the first twelve benchmarks correlate to Iraq Study Group Report (ISGR) recommendations somewhat sequentially, and the ISGR did have good organization and nuancing from one recommendation to the next.  However, in this benchmark report, those nuances have largely disappeared.  Only the order remains, and with it, a spurious and stripped-down fidelity to the ISGR efforts.

A second sign of disorganization is that the last six benchmarks are tacked on in a poor order: the last three in particular are amplifications of previous benchmarks.  Without rhyme or reason, they are an attempt to add in some specific aspects to previous benchmarks.  In my view it appears that the ISGR nuances were stripped out, and then a few different nuances were put back in, but without integrating them as a whole.  The other possibility is that the latter benchmarks were unresolved wishes or stray ends of what ultimately is a committee effort, and that committee was not unified.  Long story short: not literature–a rush job, which for benchmarks upon which to base a campaign in Iraq and in D.C., is hardly optimal.

The benchmarks are written into Public Law 110-28 (May 25, 2007) Section 1314. on pages  121-125 (pp. 11-15 of pdf) and as such were promulgated by Congress based upon Secretary of State Rice’s agreement with the Iraqi government (Section 10, p. 12).

And have Conspicuous Omissions
A third aspect of the July report has to do with what is not included, which I will mention here and not again.  The benchmarks (and therefore the JBR) omit, by design, the regional and international requirements or benchmarks that act in concert with Iraq’s governmental behavior.  An internationally-coordinated, region-focussed approach was a particular feature of the ISGR.  It can be argued, perhaps properly, that the report was meant to focus upon Iraq alone.  In this case, the number of omissions are greatly lessened, but still obtrude.  For instance, benchmarks for Iraq’s diplomatic rapprochement with neighbors are conspicuously absent–these would include economic and political diplomacy, but also immediate regional concerns, for instance concerning aid and support to refugees.

Within these acknowledged and/or unacknowledged limits, there is still plenty to discuss under more specific headings.

Restructuring JBR to analyze its initiatives:
In view of the JBR’s organizational problems, I have restructured its goals into initiative areas.  These include the following:  a. Amnesty (Benchmarks 2 and 6); b. Governmental organization (Benchmarks 1, part of 3, and 4, 5, and 16); c. Security (Benchmarks 7, and 9 through 15) ; d. Reconstruction (part of 3, the Oil Law, and 17);  and e. Public Discourse (Benchmarks 8 and 18).

Next post: Amnesty and onward

This is the third in a three-part series.

Part 1, Benchmarks 1 through 6.
Part 2, Benchmarks 7 through 12.

In this post, I complete the list of  eighteen benchmarks given in the Iraq Surge status report of July 15 (and the more important one coming in September) and give them some background.  So you can guess that the next post I have on Iraq will be on the July report itself.  But for now, we can continue to look at those benchmarks on their own terms.  By doing so, we can see what they are supposed to do and how they should relate to Iraq’s domestic government, the Iraq Study Group report, and each other. 

That way we will not have to listen to, or buy into, such scant analysis such as “8 out of 18 benchmarks met”, as if these reports were some kind of toothpaste ad (4 out of 5 dentists) or a kind of breakfast cereal (25% of daily nutritional requirements).  Instead, we can view these Benchmark Reports as a complex set of indicators: showing how we are doing, where we are failing, and how it matters in comparison to the whole picture.

Simplifying so far in this series of benchmarks, the first set of six has to do with legislative acts (and amnesties) uncompleted that will dictate the character and lastingness of the Iraqi state with the borders as we know them. The second set of six benchmarks concentrate upon security affairs.  This third set appears somewhat repetitive, and therefore less intense than the first twelve.  Likewise, these benchmarks are less informed by the Iraq Study Group Report.

In these last six, the first three continue to privilege security matters.  (more…)

For those of us who dislike paying taxes, it’s sometimes good to reflect what the government does for us:

With added FunOn July 18th, the FDA issued a warning to consumers about various canned-meat products, especially hot dog chili made by a company who creates product for store brands as well as brand-name foods. 

That warning was expanded on July 23 to include various types of natural dog food (i.e., pet food, not sausage condiment) made by the same company.

This latter announcement ends for all time the belief that the chili sauce that goes on top of a hotdog is anything other than an insult on top of injury. 

The dog food and hot dog food are dangerous because of botulism, a toxin created by bacteria.  Symptoms of  botulin poisoning and safe disposal of botulism-contaminated foods is available at another great agency that U.S. taxpayers fund: The Center for Disease Control.

Stay safe, enjoy life–eat corn on the cob, with a little butter and salt.  Fresh peaches.  Stuff like that.  As for those of us with pets, we will definitely want to check the links above for product recalls.

See also, previous post on adulterated foods. . .

There’s more than one way to satisfy the need to see mankind’s highest and best aspirations, but one way that I most enjoy has been reading and studying poetry.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been looking at it pretty steadily, with definite purpose.  In the process, I feel happier and rested– almost a vacation from the mundane.

For decades, I’ve always have a blank book dedicated to collected-by-me poems I liked.  Since I write them all out in longhand, some favorite-but-really-long poems never get included (T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, for instance).  No portable anthology could include every poem I like, anyway. 

The first of such books, which I have taken camping, on airline flights, on car-trips, to restaurants, coffee shops, the houses of strangers and families, the post office, etc, etc. has served me well.  That anthology has been taped, re-covered, glued, and all other methods of finite, ad-hoc conservation.  The poor book finally broke beyond repair–its glue, once yellow, then orange, is now brown, and the pages are flying out one by one.  As in the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, this book is done for, except as a relic of happy life experiences. 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Yes, with few leaves still attached in the old copy, I started a new one.  And I’m almost done: this time I decided upon a semi-alphabetical order, and I’ve finally got to Yeats.

The new book I have used is a more expensive type with hand-sewn signatures, so if I don’t douse it in a Wordsworthian brook or lose it in Szymborska’s lost-and-found, I should have it for decades.  Fortunately, though expensively-made, I found this new blank book on a close-out sale.  The real expense was in the time to fill it in: slightly over 400 pages, and I am on page 360-something.  My hand hurts, but that is nothing compared to the words I have been revelling in and ‘Marvelling’ over.

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:

The old book versus the new one invites comparisons.  Handwriting: most of the time, my handwriting has devolved into a scrawl, but in this book I’ve managed to contain the careless, sprawling jot-down and come up with something decent, if somewhat more pointed than before.  But so what: what’s really interesting is that so many of the poems I thought important before still seem important to me now.

Observation No. 1: Thank you, Mrs. Reese.
Again, I am forced to acknowledge that  the stuff they forced down my throat in grade-school and high-school English class about poetic tropes like alliteration and assonance are really true.  There is nothing like copying a poem in longhand to make you realize that the word-choices that poets make are really specific and deliberate, and that they help create the engine that drives the message, the feeling, the ecstatics of the art . . .

Observation No. 2: O! Innovators!
I am newly grateful to Thomas Wyatt for bringing the sonnet to the English Language.  Three hundred years later, Walt Whitman really opened up the sphere of poetry subject matter: love, death, age, yes; but new details and new approaches to these matters, a different diction.  Again taken up by Pound, and others post-World War I, in terms of subject matter . . . . and Pound also further globalized poetry in the English language.

Observation No. 3: Time changes everything, including tastes
Though I loved Wallace Stevens much the first time, I’m finding him limited and pretentious this time around.  Though many poets got more room in the new book, he received less.  Also receiving less room: Sylvia Plath, who seems more selfish (though still tormented) at my now older perspective. 

Observation No. 4: Those that wrote the best also failed completely
Even the best poet wrote howlers, including Shakespeare.  I found a sonnet (No. 50) in which his love is evinced by the way he maltreats his horse; and a couple of dreadful soap operas in Wordsworth.  I mention these two poets in particular because they were the ones, this time, that also made me drunk on their words.  Excellent, excellent works, and some, like Wordsworth’s “Lines Written at Tintern Abbey” I’ve never been able to read all the way through before, and now want in my hand forever. 

Observation No. 5: More greatness, an expanded world
Better-discovered: Gerald Stern, Siegfried Sassoon, Mr. Coleridge, Sir Wyatt, Jane Kenyon.  Newly-discovered: Wislawa Szymborska, Sir John Harrington, Martial.  Still awe-inspiring: Philip Larkin, John Keats, John Donne, Seamus Heaney, and so many others.

Yes, it’s true love: great poems that grow with one and sustain one.  The beloved ones.  Here’s just a little bit of Tintern Abbey.  If you can, read it aloud:

The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!

Dear Mr. Wordsworth: indeed I will always remember thee.

Further reading:
Robert diYanni’s Glossary of Poetic Terms at McGraw-Hill

This is part 2 of a three-part series.

I’m one of those people that distrusts the reports until I’ve read them myself or had them summarized by a trusted intermediary–not going by newspapers alone–and I hope 1. you can find me a trusted intermediary for your own use, or 2. better yet, be inspired by this to study further, comment, or correct what’s here. 

Going through these benchmarks is an initial step for understanding what’s happening through the rest of the year in Iraq (and in D.C. about Iraq).  Once we’ve gone through these benchmarks (post 3 of 3), then I hope to be able to more properly understand and report upon the July benchmark report–something beyond “8 out of 18 benchmarks met”; “complete failure”; and “give us more time, things are looking up”.  Therefore: second of three.  What are the benchmarks? what are they supposed to do? and how do they relate to Iraq’s domestic government, the Iraq Study Group report, and each other?

Almost all of these six benchmarks (nos. 7 through 12) address the security problems on the roads, streets, and other terrain of Iraq, and the organizational talents that must be brought to bear to develop a secure, civilized, life–i.e., “civil society”.  These benchmarks require the cooperation of all branches of government, but specifically the leadership capabilities of political leaders who are willing to make a stand; the institutions of government that in many cases have yet to be properly developed or overseen; and the courageous, almost-no-reward heroism of Iraqi citizens interested in implementing security as security forces, etc.  (more…)

This is part 1 of a three-part series.

In the last couple of weeks, much ink has been spilt and plenty of warm air produced on the interim Iraq benchmark report of July 15th.  Before going into the July report itself, it’s worthwhile to look at those benchmarks without results and see what they are supposed to do.  To do this, I examine how these benchmarks should relate to Iraq’s domestic government, the Iraq Study Group Report, and each other.  Whatever sound and fury we’ve had this month in D.C. will be nothing compared to September’s crashing tidal wall of the ink and hot winds blowing, when the first official report and testimony comes forth.  Anyone who reads this primer will be in much better shape to understand what all the sound and fury is either amplifying, or masking, when September rolls around. 

The first six benchmarks all focus to a great degree on the legislative process.  Number 2 and number 6 are important to reconciliation of the old regime to the new; thus they strike at the heart of insurgent and inter-ethnic conflict.  Benchmark number 3 is the oil law controversy, which continues to be stalled.  As the primary indicator of income for Iraq’s future, it is also extremely important and tied to all other regional and provincial power-sharing.  It thus partakes of any regional agreements, which is why also that regional and provincial arrangements are not resolved.

At benchmarks 4 and 6, a distinction must be made between “regional” and “provincial” governance. An autonomous region is given a special status due to geographic differences, such as Nakhichevan in Azerbaijan, which is not contiguous with the rest of Azerbaijan, or, for ethnic or cultural factors, such as Iraqi Kurdistan.  Autonomous regions have special self-administering and self-governing powers within a state.  By contrast, a province has some provincial administration, but national/federal government has more direct governing power over the province.  (more…)

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