Iraq: Political Pullout
In public, British and U.S. officials say Britain's withdrawal of troops from southern Iraq is a sign of success. But that wasn't the private reaction when the Brits first explained their plans last year. Several officials on both sides of the Atlantic (who all declined to be named when discussing the internal debate on security issues) say there was consternation among Bush's aides about the prospect of a British withdrawal at a time when the president was planning a surge of troops. Two senior officials in Washington said the concern was about how the British draw-down would look in PR and political terms inside the Beltway.
The two sides have been running on different tracks for several months. As the Brits outlined their plans for withdrawal, in November and December of last year, the details of Bush's surge were far from settled. But after several rounds of talks, the Americans were eventually satisfied that the reduction in force was geared to the security situation on the ground and not a politically inspired cut-and-run.
In fact, the British officials concede that P.M. Tony Blair has a strong political interest in starting the endgame for his engagement in Iraq before he hands over power to his political ally Gordon Brown. Democrats in Washington, meanwhile, treated the news as a flak jacket against GOP accusations that they support a policy of retreat. "No matter how the White House tries to spin it, the British government has decided to split with President Bush," said Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Britain's force has fallen from 40,000 troops in 2003 to 7,100. Blair said the number could "possibly" drop to below 5,000 by the end of the year. One Downing Street source says it's "potentially the case" that all British troops could be out of Iraq by the end of 2008 if conditions allowed. But, he said, "we believe things are heading in that direction." That puts the Brits on the same timeline as most of the Democratic candidates who want to succeed Bush in 2009.
The Problem: It's been a tough 2007 for Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. With Islamic extremist attacks on the rise, the beleaguered prez is in desperate need of moderate allies to help him shore up his pro-Western government.
The Fix: Musharraf is reaching out to former P.M. Benazir Bhutto—who was removed from office in 1996 for alleged corruption—despite the fact that he blames his exiled foe for the country's economic and political woes, according to Western diplomats in the region who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject. Ironically, they might make a perfect match. Personal issues aside, both politicians share a liberal, secular outlook. A Musharraf-Bhutto alliance could increase political stability and energize Pakistan's moderates prior to elections later this year. Musharraf would likely hold onto the presidency, adding some democratic credentials, and Bhutto would be allowed to return home—and perhaps even play a hand in selecting the new P.M.
By the Numbers
During Chun Yun, the 40-day period straddling the Lunar New Year, China hits the road. This year, rising prosperity has resulted in more Chinese travelers than ever.
2.17: Billions of trips taken by Chinese during Chun Yun, mostly to visit relatives.
156: Millions of rail trips taken by Chinese during the holiday; 3.9 million a day on a system designed for 2.4 million
140: Millions of trips taken by Americans during the peak season between Christmas and New Year's Day.
2: Millions of Muslims who travel to the holy sites of Mecca during the Hajj.
India: White Heat
Economic overheating was supposed to be a China problem. But India is heating up, too—and fast. Overall wholesale prices are growing at their fastest rate in two years. What's more, policymakers seem unable to control the inflation—wholesale prices in India rose 7 percent in January despite rate hikes by the central bank.
The problem is India's economic exceptionalism. While most emerging markets boom on manufacturing and commodities, India is driven by a service sector with 1 million white-collar workers, and their rapidly growing salaries are raising demand for nearly every kind of consumer good.
India's protectionism, too, is a contributor to slower productivity growth. Bureaucratic red tape is rife, labor rules relatively strict and trade barriers high. Infrastructure problems are compounded by political logjams. "A big part of India's inflation problem is that it's a democracy," says Julian Jessop, chief international economist for Capital Economics in London. All this makes it harder for rate hikes to work their magic on the economy quickly, as they do in other countries. What's more, further rate hikes alone won't solve India's problems, and may well end up dampening the growth story and scaring away capital. Note to policymakers: investors may be more willing and able to ditch Indian equities than to scrap plans for a new factory in China.
The Problem: Sherlock Holmes had an encyclopedic knowledge of footprints, but that's not how it works for real detectives. Identifying footprints left at crime scenes stalls many an investigation.
The Fix: Britain's Forensic Science Service has launched a tool that may help catch criminals red-footed. It's a database of thousands of shoes, designed to help police identify marks left at crime scenes—and fast. Believed to be the first system of its kind, the Footwear Intelligence Tool will be updated daily and stores details from thousands of patterns—from shoe type, color and branding to distinguishing scuffs. British authorities hope the program, which has already noted 1,000 unique marks on Nike training shoes, will link suspects to unsolved crimes; it may even connect crimes carried out by the same person. It may also help identify what type of shoes are preferred by different criminals, via "Cinderella analysis," which examines footfall angles and weight distribution.
Therapy: The Price of Caring
We know thousands of the troops returning from Iraq will need help to fend off the nightmares they've lived through there. But so, too, may many of the therapists who have experienced those traumas secondhand. A study of civilian social workers in the journal Social Work by Brian Bride, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, shows 15 percent experience posttraumatic stress disorder in their lifetimes, compared with just 7.8 percent of the general population. Forty percent of participants reported thinking about their traumatized clients repeatedly and unintentionally; 28 percent reported difficulty concentrating and 26 percent felt emotionally numb. This "secondary traumatic stress" could reduce the quality of care social workers provide and may be responsible for driving people from the profession, says Bride.
A Vital Deadline
America's endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, outlawed activities likely to harm endangered animals. Banning development on private land—which is home to 90 percent of endangered beasts—was one new measure expected to boost the animals' chances of survival.
It doesn't appear to have worked. A recent study of private land by a group of economists led by John List at the University of Chicago reveals that when landowners hear that U.S. wildlife authorities plan to add an animal to the endangered list, they tend to cash in on their investment by building on their property while they still can, damaging a precious potential habitat. They have bureaucracy to thank: the lag time between the publication of new maps locating endangered species and the area's official designation as a no-development zone can last more than a year, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, giving landowners time to rush development into the works. This is exactly what happened in Arizona, where landowners pushed forward construction projects after the government released a map of the proposed conservation zone for the endangered pygmy owl. "We're pretty much in a backlog for everything we do, just because of the amount of work we have coming in," says Valerie Fellows, a media liaison for the wildlife authority. "We're not always able to make those deadlines." The delays will continue unless Congress passes new legislation. Until then, such delays will remain one reason that of the more than 1,300 species officially listed since 1973, only 18 are no longer considered endangered.
Hybrid cars may be more dangerous than previously assumed. The U.S. National Federation of the Blind is requesting that automakers redesign hybrids to make more noise—because they're too quiet for blind pedestrians to hear. The NFB wants a device to be built into the axle that would make noise as the wheels rotate. Of course, noise-pollution activists might have something to say about that.