Thursday, July 31, 2003

Discussion: Unified Front Crumbling?

The futures market on terrorism? I was going to add this one to my Roth until it blew up in the press.
Discussion: Gingrich In Depth

Just a brief reply, and then I suggest we let this issue rest, as there really are more interesting matters to discuss. My main point previously was to suggest that Gingrich's essay raises some very interesting questions about how "disciplined" the State Dept or other areas of the executive branch should be to the president. I am by no means putting Gingrich on a pedestal, but I was intrigued by his main argument. Like many argumentative articles in FP, this was not meant to be an in depth analysis of the issue from all sides. We will have to wait for replies in the "Letters to the Editor" section of the next issue (and I'm sure there will be many). There is a certain danger, I think, in quickly dismissing someone simply because of disagreements on a few other statements that were a small part of the article. While the article would have been better written without such comments, there are nonetheless intriguing questions raised by Gingrich's main point. In particular, just how much power and control should the president have over the executive branch? Does our president, in general, hold too much sway over domestic and international issues? Has the amount of "power" (not yet defined) of the presidency changed over time and how?

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Discussion: Unified Front Crumbling?

Adding fuel to my theories that the tight coupling between the political elements (ie Rove and his people) and the neo-con power center of the adminstration are not on the best speaking terms has been the recent incident over the market on terror. The program, as I understand it, had some merit, and I don't doubt that Rove could have sold it. But it is obvious that nobody with an ounce of political cluefulness was aware of its existence. It is unclear how aware the upper tier of the neo-con leadership was of the program, but it was proposed by John Poindexter, one of their favorite sons, and as a part of the TIA, one of their pet projects.

The basic idea was sound. DARPA was to hand-pick 1000 people to participate, presumably middle-east experts, terror experts, and other knowledgeable folk, and allow them to put their money where their mouth was. It seems a useful manner in which to sort out the wide variety of opinions on issues of great importance to the country, providing DARPA with a constantly updated reading not only on the opinions of the community of experts, but also on their confidence level in those opinions.

While the idea was fine, the political handling of it was a complete disaster. It was kept secret from everyone, including Congress, and, by all reports, most of the administration, despite the fact that it required the participation of 1000 people not directly affiliated with the government. They had to know that someone would leak the existence of the project. By allowing this to happen without first publicly spinning the program themselves they allowed their political enemies to brand it however they wished. Which they did quite effectively. Once this hit the public the goals and mechanisms of the system were completely lost and most people were left scratching their heads over the absurdity of the idea. In the /. discussion of it most people seemed to think it was a honeypot, designed to lure terrorists into trying to make money from their attacks. They thought DARPA would watch for sudden influxes of money into particular attack predictions and use this to first thwart the attack, then track down where the money came from and apprehend the terrorists.

If someone who were politically shrewd (ie Rove) had been aware of the program the results could have been quite different. First thing would be to remove the direct use of money on the market. Allocate some bogus bucks to the participants then come up with a system to reward the winning players with prestige or government grants for their research. The idea of people directly profiting from disastrous attacks on the US is simply too perverse to survive public scrutiny. The next thing would be to present it to the public on their own terms, spinning it not as a "market on terror", but as an interactive system by which to mine the talent and expertise of the American academics and intellectuals. It could even serve as an answer to the common criticism of the administration as being too closetted and isolated. Certainly there would still be those who would have tried to brand it as a market on terror, but the administration has shown a great talent for branding, and I think their sales pitch would have stuck.

In any case this serves to reinforce my perception that the neo-cons have tired of sharing power. As I stated previously, the presence of Rove and Powell and the non-neoconservative elements of the administration has served a vital role in allowing the neo-cons to do what they want. But the neo-cons have always, even from their modern inception during Bush I's term, fought against the reins of political pragmatism. In 1992, while serving in the George HW Bush administration Paul Wolfowitz drafted a Defense Planning Guildance document, which later served as the core of PNAC's mission. It was quickly quashed by the administration for being too radical, although not before causing a bit on an international incident. They made a marriage of necessity in order to sweep into power with George Bush in 2001, sharing power with more moderate and politically-minded elements of the administration, and for some time have operated within those confines. But with egos inflated from the perceived victories in the war on terror, it seems as if they are fighting those constraints as they try to run Powell out of office and launch their own programs without so much as a by-your-leave from the rest of the administration. If a divide is growing between these two factions, with the neo-cons holding this upper hand, this may offer the best chance yet to see Bush defeated in 2004. It has been those outside the neo-con camp who have done a masterful job of spinning and selling the eminently questional policies the neo-cons have implemented. If they abandon these allies they may find themselves in a heap of trouble, as they did in this instance.

Again, it's hard to figure any of this to any reasonable degree of certainty due to the intense secrecy maintained by the administration, but in any case it's fun to speculate..
Discussion: Congressional Committee Records

I had found the C-SPAN archive yesterday, but passed it over as it is only available in RealAudio, and I consider Real to be a very shady business and refuse to download their software. Additionally it is 3 hours long. I have time to scan through a transcript, but an audio/video recording of the event is not of much value to me. Thomas I also searched yesterday. It doesn't contain records of committee meetings. However, it does link to the homepages of the committees. And the Foreign Relations Committee site has been updated since yesterday to have transcripts of most of the hearing.
Discussion: Congressional Committee Records maintains an audio and video library, and I found the entire hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the reconstruction of Iraq here. It may also be posted in the Congressional Record, which may be accessed here.
Discussion: Gingrich In Depth

Taking this from the top. Gingrich criticizes the State Department's lack of outrage regarding the US's removal from the UN Human Rights committee. They lost in a vote against Sweden. At the time the administration was cozying up to the likes of China, Isreal, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Pakistan, the Northern Alliance, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all in the name of the war on terror. All well publicized human rights offenders. They were fresh off torpedoeing the ICC, the UN biological weapons treaty, the UN land mine treaty. Not to mention the job they were doing on civil rights here in the US. Was it really in the US's interest to turn this into a big public battle? Given the circumstances it is pretty hard to argue that Sweden was not a better choice for the committee and a fight on the part of the US would have resulted in everything I just mentioned being publicly thrown in our faces. Devoid of any of this context, Gingrich's outrage appears well founded. But context is precisely what I count on FP Mag to have, and why I refer to it as more academic.

Gingrich further asserts that this is the reason that France contested the US's drive for war with Iraq in the UN. He offers no evidence. It is a fairly bizarre assertion. I've read many accounts of France's reasons for their actions, and have some opinions of my own. Never have I seen this connection made before, and barring any further argument it is hard to regard it as anything more than rhetorical hot air.

Passing over Ginrich's main thrust regarding the poor bureaucratic structure of the State Department (which I'll return to later), he attacks the department for a report by their intelligence wing that contradicted a statement of Bush's regarding the spread of democracy in Iraq. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated in a report, leaked in March: "“liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq] . . . . Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements.” The truth of this statement seems obvious to me, and I believe that events that have come to pass since that time bear it out. Gingrich makes no effort to contest the accuracy of the statement, only that it is not in tune with the neo-con chorus line. Does he believe the State Department's Intelligence and Research group should serve as a PR arm of the government rather than, say, trying to come up with the most accurate intelligence and research assessments it can? I'll grant that the State Department ought to serve some role in evangelizing the policies of the administration, but I think the research department is not the place for that. Is not the evangelical roles played by intel groups exactly the reason that Bush and Blair now find themselves in such a pickle over the WMD's?

He further rips into the department's diplomats for their opinion that "they are profoundly worried about what they describe as the [Bush] administration’s arrogance or indifference to world public opinion, which they fear has wiped out, in less than two years, decades of effort to build goodwill toward the United States.” The job of the State Department is to represent US interest in international matters. Should they not have opinions on how this is done? Should they not attempt to be in tune with the reactions of other nations and their people to US actions? Again, the accuracy of the statement appears difficult to dispute. Numerous polls and statements by foreign politicians bear it out. This feeling on the part of the State Department merely indicates that they are, in fact, doing the job they are assigned to do. Again it seems the State Department is guilty of nothing more than failing to toe the neo-conservative line.

Gingrich takes a brief break from attacking the state department to lambast the left wing media, NGO's, and academics for inciting opposition to the US which the State Department must counter. Again the evidence is completely absent, save a throw-away statement that "some observers" felt the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war was little different from Al-Jazeera's, a statement which I, as a regular reading of the BBC, find to be utterly unbelievable. The left wing media is largely of myth of the past. That time has come and gone, and Gingrich's invoking it does little to improve his credibility. And NGO's contribute considerable human and financial resources that should be a tremendous boon to US foreign policy. They provide a devoted and compassionate side to US foreign policy that is desperately needed in these days. To blame them for US's ills in foreign perception is folly.

Gingrich goes on to state that direct interactions with other states are obsolete, and that the US needs to change to a broadcast format for foreign policy, making minor adjustments for each region. In other words he wants to adopt the Clear Channel radio model for foreign policy. I'm sure other nations will greatly appreciate having even less consideration from, and interaction with, the US than they get now. Again, any reasoning or justification for this change is completely absent.

I'm beginning to tire at this point, so I'll skip the remainder and get back to Gingrich's main point. I, frankly, can't speak to the bureaucratic systems of the State Department and their efficiency in serving the President, other than to say that, based on the issues Gingrich raises, they seem to be doing a good job. He does indeed cite a couple of relevant reports in this area to back up his position. However, he completely fails to provide any counterpoint or perspective from the State Department. In any serious discussion, I expect, I demand, to see this. Getting only one very opinionated side of the story is what I expect of Limbaugh or O'Reilly, hence my comment. The best Gingrich does is to quote the State Department in saying that some reorganization proposal is “too disruptive and distracts too much energy for ongoing operations,” and conlcude based on that statement that "the State Department is far too busy being ineffective to bother fixing its internal structures in order to become more effective." Clearly this is not the whole story. He is arguing against a straw man. And given the weakness of the rest of his argument, and given what I know if his background and previous statements I find this aspect of his position to be quite lacking in credibility. I feel no qualms in dismissing it out of hand. I am at this point a bit curious to know exactly what those reports said and what the full response of the state department was. But on their own, I find Gingrich's arguments worthless.

Credibility is currency. You have to earn it before you spend it. If you've earned credibility I will give you the benefit of the doubt when you make assertions that are less than fully supported. If you haven't, I won't. Gingrich clearly hasn't. Gingrich had little to offer when he was Speaker of the House, and has changed little since then. At the time he was a captain of the vicious and petty party politics that, from his time on, characterized the Clinton Presidency. He was enough to make me a big fan of Bob Dole, his contemporary counterpart in the Senate, who despite disagreeing with almost all of my political positions, at least had the merit of being thoughful and gentlemanly. Now, holding no power, Gingrich has been reduced to serving as a right-wing attack dog.

There are many serious issues to discuss regarding US foreign policy and the perceptions of that policy by other nations and their peoples. There have been many interesting and insightful pieces written on the matter in recent years, and FP Mag has hosted a good number of them. Gingrich completely disregards all of those discussions in foisting his politically driven screed on his readers. He does not even acknowledge the effect of US policies, past actions, or the US's position in the world on foreign opinion, nor the internal conflicts, contradictions, and complications that those issues present to the State Department and its mission. As far as his essay is concerned they don't exist. Only the State Department, by itself, and void of any context, is responsible for the poor global perception the US carries. He ignores all previous serious discussion of the topic on which he writes in order to launch a half-baked attack that finds the State Department guilty of being something other than a simple PR organ for the neo-con leadership, something it was never intended to be in the first place. I find his essay to be of little intellectual value, and frankly somewhat insulting. But then again, as a great man once said, that's just my opinion.
Discussion: Congressional Committee Records

Driving home today I heard a report on the Senate Foriegn Policy Committee holding a hearing with Paul Wolfowitz on the subject of Iraq. Based on their description and the audio clips in the story, it seems Wolfowitz got a pretty good reaming out. I thought it would be interesting to see the whole story, so I went in search of a transcript of the hearing. To my amazement I have not been able to find it anywhere, save here, where they charge $50+ for access. Did I just miss it somewhere? I suppose it possible that it hasn't been entered into some website yet since it's still the same day of the hearing. But if that is not the case, I will be mightily dissappointed with the government and our media news outlets. In this day and age of instant access to information it should be a given that something as important as Senate hearings is released for free in its full form to the internet. The other surprising part of this is that aside from NPR's report, this story doesn't seem to be covered by any other media outlets that I can find. I guess they're too busy filling us in on the Kobe Bryant story... Maybe you guys will have better luck finding this than I did.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Article: Who Gave You Another 15 Minutes?

Joe, I have to admit that I am suprised that you find the Gingrich article in FP sensational and non-academic. While I don't agree with all of Gingrich's arguments, I do think he has valid arguments. While you seem to imply that the article is an attack on the Rogue Powell rather than the rogue State Department, Gingrich's arguments raise bigger questions about the role of the State Dept. Should the State Dept be exactly in line with the President's policies in an obligatory sense? If so, is this truly the best path to a successful international diplomacy? If you see Gingrich's article as an attack on Powell, then perhaps he is right. If you were running the country, would you want your appointees countering your policies and beliefs openly in the press? Wouldn't this undermine the ability of a president to instill confidence in the public and carry out policy? While discussion is clearly important, open contradiction is likely to be counterproductive. The exception to this, of course, is when no discussion occurs in the first place (as with Johnson and the Joint Chiefs prior to Vietnam).

I think you also missed the real criticism of the article, which Gingrich himself alludes to. He quotes a Los Angeles Times article about diplomats who "said they are profoundly worried about what they describe as the administration's arrogance or indifference to world public opinion, which they fear has wiped out, in less than two years, decades of effort to build goodwill toward the United States". Gingrich quickly dismisses this as simply being out of line with the Bush vision. However, this is another (more) plausible argument for the failure of the State Dept. In short, I contend that this administration's policies are so out of step with world views and processes that no restructuring of the State Dept would have solved our "image problem". Gingrich's failure to seriously address this point is a major limitation of the article. On the other hand, why hasn't the State Dept restructured according to the suggestions of the US Commission on National Security?

Monday, July 28, 2003

Article: Do These Guys Do Standup?

While US and British intelligence agencies are being raked across the coals for their bad information on Iraq's weapons stockpiles, in a bizarre twist of black comedy, the Israeli Knesset, according to this TIME article, is throwing a fit at the Mossad for not having come up with the same bogus intel. It seems the Mossad was never able to find any good evidence on the weapons, but the Knesset (and possibly the Mossad themselves) have quite effectively convinced themselves that they exist contrary to their own evidence. Now they're pissed that Mossad has never come up with data to back up their assumptions. I've often suspected that the Israeli government is living in some paranoid alternate dimension, but this takes the cake. Look, guys, your intel got it right. Be happy.
Article: Passing the Stink Test

Here's an interesting effort to overcome the information failure issue mentioned a couple weeks ago. An MIT student has put together a corporate ethics geiger counter. You scan a UPC symbol, and it spits out its opinions on the company. It's awfully primitive, but has a lot of potential. The quality and completeness of the data the devices uses don't appear to be very good at this point. It was suggested on /. that this thing should come configurable, such that you could take a quiz or fill out a preference form, and the device would weight its results based on your ethical preferences. It's an idea with a lot of merit, but still leaves us with the issue of who maintains the data and how trustworthy they are. Particularly once the system is automated (so users have no direct interaction with the data) and is directly attached to consumers' purchase decisions (driving up the ante for companies), capture may be a real concern.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Discussion: To Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

While I'm at the FP Mag stuff, there's another one from the new issue arguing that governments should drop out of space exploration and let wealthy folks take it over. I strongly disagree with Rees's conclusions. His reasoning is largely based on the conclusion that individuals better represent humanity than nations and that nations chicken out too quickly when things go wrong. Going by historic events neither of those points appear to hold much weight. When a test of the Apollo 1 module went up in flames, killing three astronauts the program barely paused to offer condolences. Even in recent days with the media endlessly replaying footage and milking the tragedy for every sentimental, sensationalist buck they could get, there has been a strong consensus in the public that the show must go on. The general feeling is that the best way to honor the fallen is to support the cause for which they died. And who watched the first moon landing and did not feel a sense of pride for mankind?

There are other criticisms, some of space exploration in general. Rees states that putting people in space accomplishes very little, and that probes and other automated systems could do the job as well, cheaper and with less risk. He mentions the bureaucratic overhead and PR obligations of the space programs. He cites the viability of private interests to continue the mission of space exploration. In a sense these are all good criticisms. It is true that the manned missions to space have been of little value for a good 20 years now. It is true that NASA has developed serious bureaucratic problems, and that it needs to keep up the manned missions just to retain their profile and bring in funding. It is true that private groups will soon be able to put people in space (check this out for some details on that).

I agree with those criticisms. But I don't see private pursuit of space exploration as the answer. Many of the ills that have befallen NASA are not inevitable (as NASA's accomplishments of the 60's and 70's would attest), but are symptomatic of the program being discarded and maligned by political leaders of both parties for the past two and a half decades. This is corrected not by closing down NASA, but by reprioritizing and revitalizing it.

My feeling is that space exploration is a tremendous opportunity for mankind, and scientific research is only one facet of that. Space is mankind's new manifest destiny and has been for 50 years now. Progress in space transcends the petty politics that bedevil us on the ground. It can help change our perspective on the whole mess of humanity. It puts on proud display the most noble aspects of man: courage, teamwork, creativity, intelligence, curosity, devotion. Ultimately, learning about our universe is most useful for what it teaches us about ourselves.

And I supremely doubt the viability of private explorers and adventurers to do this on their own. They will reach space soon, but then what? By current estimates the X Prize groups will likely succeed for a cost of a few times the prize money ($50m or less). Something on this scale can likely be funded by philanthropy and space tourism. And the placing of probes and satellites in orbit is already funded by private enterprise. But to establish a real permanent presence in space (and the pathetic space station they have now does not count) or to go to Mars will cost many billions of dollars. No adventurer will foot that cost. There is no viable reason for industry to do it either. Will the cost some day come down to where rich adventurers can do it? Maybe, maybe not. Do we want to wait many decades to find out. Certainly not. When the US went to the moon the program spun off innumerable new technologies that went into consumer and industry use. Why did they produce these things when industry did not? They had the brainpower, the funding, and the will to do it. Private industry may have developed some of these technologies eventually, some they probably would never have come up with. The space program gave scientists and engineers the freedom to imagine and the resources to make their dreams into reality. If we waited private industry to develop all of the things needed to make a moon trip, we'd probably still be waiting.

And when a worthy permanent space station is created, will it better represent mankind as a club for rich adventurers or as a public enterprise open to anyone who works their way up through the space program? Contrary to Rees, my contention is the latter. In either case few people will probably make the trip, but I would feel better to know that those are selected by merit, not by riches.

It still blows my mind every time that I think about the fact that we made it to the moon with 1960's technology. Were it not a fact, I would swear it impossible. What could we accomplish now if governments around the world (but especially here in the US) dedicated 10% or 20% of their military budgets to space exploration? The mind boggles.
Article: Who Gave You Another 15 Minutes?

I'm sure you Foreign Policy Mag subscribers have already seen this article by Newt Gingrich blaming the State Department for making people hate the US. Apparently they haven't been cruel and arrogant enough for his tastes. Now that I've stopped laughing and wiped the tears from my eyes enough to actually read the article, I really have to say that it's one of the most pathetic pieces of literature I've ever read. I'm a bit disappointed that FP would this run as cover story. It's clearly intended (as have been all of Gingrich's recent statements) to be in the Rush Limbaugh/Bill O'Reilly vein of inflamatory, far-right pedagoguery. FP Mag usually tries to keep things on a more academic level... Apparently they're not immune from senationalism. That aside, I find these Gingrich statements to be most interesting in regards to the insight they give to the conservative machine. I recall that when he came out and blasted the State Dept a month or two ago it was widely rumored that he was doing so with the blessing or even at the request of many of the neo-cons in the administration.

I think it will be very interesting to hear, years from now, if ever, the inside story of what went on in this administration. There clearly have to be some different factions there, but I can never figure out exactly how they interact and who's really driving. I strongly suspect that the Powell State Department was one of the Rove's more clever moves. It's clear they never meant to let him have any real power in things. Right from the start, just a few months into the term, they very publicly humiliated him on the CO2 issue, and never let up from there. His presence has been useful from a political perspective, to take heat from the rest of the administration and have a moderate multilateral face that they can use when it suits their purposes. He has clashed frequently with the neo-cons, but they always win. It seems strange to me that they would use Gingrich to attack him so strongly and to lobby for a neo-con housecleaning of the State Department. Powell is a useful tool for their cause. I think Rove sees this, and apparently he has convinced the President as well. Given the dedication of the administration to presenting a unified front, is surprises me that they haven't been able to get the neo-con club on board with this. There has to be some sort of internal conflict in progress, but it's hard to figure exactly who the sides are or what they hope to accomplish.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Discussion: Circling the Drain

There is another story on /. regarding the impending demise of the IT industry in America. I find this endlessly fascinating. Stories like this used to pop up once a year, but now they're hitting almost once a month. There was a distinct current of denial in it for a while. There were a lot of chest-thumping "only inferior coders need to worry about this, not uber-mensch like me" posts in the early days. Now a sort of resignation is taking over. It doesn't matter if you're good when a company can get 8 decent coders somewhere else for the price of you. This reality is only recently starting to cut through the arrogance and bravado of the American IT community. This was not supposed to happen to highly skilled white-collar workers. We're suffering the same fate as car manufacturers in the 70's and 80's and we can see it coming. Some people are trying to jump ship and find a new line of work entirely, some are trying finding niches that will survive the exodus of jobs, many others are just hanging on for dear life. It's quite a thing to see..

Monday, July 14, 2003

Article: Information Failure

This editorial from CSM discusses labelling and the information failure facing consumers trying to accurately pursue their market objectives. This is another of our frequent topics, and the author raises a lot of good questions in the beginning of the article, many of which I don't think are adequately answered by the author's proposed labelling regime. Other possible solutions we've discussed before are pushing the decision process out of the marketplace to a situation where the consumer can more completely access and study the relevant details, or installing some certification process. The practical limitations on consumers' abililty to be properly informed about the vast number of every-day choices they make is a crucial behavioural problem.

Also on CSM today, this article, indicating that the end is near. I've always said, if a person wanted to be really wealthy they'd start marketing a consumer version of the M1A1 Abrams tank. That statement apparently is not as satirical as I'd hoped it would be...

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Article: It's That Time Again

The Presidential primary season is starting to heat up. There was a story today on /. regarding Lawrence Lessig having Howard Dean guest host his blog while he's gone on vacation. That is an endorsement that scores big points with me. Also I found a link to this web opinion survey which matches up your political opinions with the stated positions of the 2004 candidates. I was a 100% match with the green party. After that, Howard Dean edged out Kucinich by one point. However, after reading through each of their position pages, I think I favor Kucinich a bit over Dean. I was particularly impressed by this quote: "Among the first actions of a Kucinich Administration will be withdrawal from NAFTA and the WTO—to be replaced by fair trade agreements." Of course, by all reports Kucinich is likely going to get his ass handed to him. But it can't hurt to support him until that happens..

Friday, July 11, 2003

Odds'n'Ends: Quote of the Week

Brewers manager Ned Yost's reaction to the sausage bopping incident:

"I just looked over and saw our wieners in a wad. That's the extent of my knowledge."
Article: Paging Oliver North

In the past 24 hours both Condi Rice and George Bush have fully dumped responsibility for the uranium gaffe on the CIA. Now they just need to find some party loyalist within the CIA to fall on his sword for this and they'll have cleared that hurdle. This should not prove too difficult given that the CIA is still claiming that those trucks were bio-warfare labs despite findings by other British and US government officials that the trucks were most likely used to pump weather balloons. Bush is all lacquered up in his teflon coating.

And here's your regularly scheduled episode of "The Iranian People Want A Liberal Democracy".

Update: Ask and ye shall receive. George Tenet accepts blame for the uranium mess.
Article: In More Important News

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon "bopped" the italian sausage with his bat during the race between the meats during the seventh inning stretch at Miller Park on Wednesday. See this slide show on the New York Times website, and this video clip from the ESPN website. Simon was arrested after the game, but charges have been reduced to disorderly conduct and he was released with a fine.
Discussion: Coming Back to Life
(I upgrade this from random spewage)

I wanted to get my two cents in before we left for our two-week trip to Vermont, where I hope to do a more throrough background check into this Dean fellow. For the record, I have not placed my allegiance behind anyone quite yet, but I still think Dean is worth keeping an eye on for the time being. His position on the death penalty is a little disappointing, but what interests me most about him is that he was most certainly the most vociferous anti-war candidate, and that puts him in the best position to call for an independent commission to investigate the evidence (or lack thereof) used to justify the war. By the way, Dean has recently called for the resignation of Rumsfeld and other administration officials who misled the nation about the war (see here). This may be a little premature, but at least he is not letting the issue slip away.

I think that President Bush is dead in the water from the WMD issue. It may be just wishful thinking, but President H.W. Bush was unable to capitalize on the 1991 Gulf War, and that was without the level of controversy that President Bush finds himself swimming in. And I think there will be more to follow. For instance, tomorrow the BBC is conducting an interview with Ron Manley, who oversaw the elimination of Iraq's chemical weapons program following the 1991 Gulf War and who is expected to argue that Iraq posed no significant military threat. is also planning to publish an article about Ron Manley.

I have little to add to Joe's interesting commentary on the current situation in Europe, other than to note that Foreign Policy magazine had an interesting article in this month's issue about how US-European relations may be affected by the decline in the US dollar. It notes all the potential upside to a weakened dollar, but fails to discuss how this might be a bad thing. Call me a pessimist if you must.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Article: The Lost Art of Journalism

There's a well written piece from Brent Cunningham, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, describing the history of "objective" journalism and how things got to the sorry state they're now in. He does a very nice job of analyzing a number of historical trends that have led up to the gutless press-release journalism popular now.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Random Spewage: Coming Back to Life

So We've all had a nice three week break, I think it's time to kick a little life back into this thing... I'll try to fire off enough random topics here that one of them will have to stick =).

First of all, in the news: European political leaders are idiots too. I guess we always knew Berlusconi was scum, so his latest round of Nazi insults should not come as any great surprise. I forget... didn't Italy take some part in WWII as well? Anyhow, not to be shown up, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder has come up with the perfect solution for all of Germany's economic woes: a major tax cut. Germany is already in trouble with the EU for running too large a deficit, now Shroeder want to further ignore EU rulings to make it even larger. I would guess that EU dictates being ignored by one of the Union's most significant members will not be good for its general health and cohesiveness. And to think George Bush doesn't like this guy..

On to the always popular WMD issue.. Having attempted and largely failed to shift the focus from WMD's to humanitarian motivations for the war, Rumsfeld has decided that maybe the terrorist angle will play. After all it's worked for every other issue the administration has run into resistance on. But, as I said, I still think Bush will emerge from this mess with little damage. Ceci has been running through the American President series on DVD (it's a really good documentary, btw), and we just saw the Reagan one. It covered the Iran Contra scandal in some depth. The guy secretly sold weapons to Iran, then illegally funnelled the procedes to the Contras and went to considerable effort to cover the whole thing up. He lied about it on national television and to a congressional investigation. In the end he emerged with barely a scratch and many of his cohorts in the project are now working for the current administration. Bush has reminded me of Reagan in many respects, and I rather think he'll pull this stunt off as well. His administration keeps such a tight rein on information I just don't see anything blatantly incriminating slipping out. I see a lot of little inconsistencies hitting the news, but no cum-stained dress. If Bush is to be beat in the upcoming election it will have to be on mess in Iraq or on the economy.

And speaking of the economy.. I was part of a discussion over the 4th with my venerable Grandpa Martin. He is a very sharp guy, and a political wonk if ever there was one (I think I've told you guys about him in the past). He strongly shares my opinion that the US economy is in for a very rough ride for the foreseeable future due to globalization effects. I found that to be very interesting, because he is generally a fairly establishment-type Democrat. I guess these ideas are starting to get wider audience. It's an issue worth addressing, and one I'm not sure we've really discussed much. One of the reasons this really disgusts me is the general unfair trade situation. As I've said previously I see this less as America's high wealth concentration being dispersed into other markets, and more of a vertical shift of wealth from the middle class (who are losing their jobs in droves) to the upper management and ownership classes (who are exploiting the situation). However, even if this is corrected, wealth would likely flee the US simply because the concentration is so high here compared to the rest of the world. On the surface, from a utilitarian standpoint that would seem good, but I'm not sure I'd really be happy if that happened. For one thing I'm an American, and having the local economy stuck in an extended depression would probably suck on a personal level. Additionally if first world economies are devastated in the process of promoting fair trade, I'm not sure that will really have a net good impact on developing economies. I have to admit I have seen no research on the issue and I haven't thought it through to a level that satisfies me.. Is there some middle road here? Some way to put a very quick end to the exploitative nature of the current trade system, but take a gradual (or even somewhat regressive) approach to trade liberalization in general, with a specific eye towards global economic stability? Or am I just being selfish?

Finally, I'm having some doubt about Howard Dean, although he did get my vote in the moveon primary. By most reports he was fairly moderate as a governor, but is now taking a far-left position as a candidate. And his position on Israel would give Wolfowitz or Lieberman a run for their money. I can't help but wonder, who is the real Howard Dean? I know, Barry, you are a big proponent of his, maybe you can offer some defense.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Discussion: Weapons of Mass Compunction

The BBC, the Independent, and the Guardian have news stories (see BBC here, the Independent here, and the Guardian here) covering the report released by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Also, former ambassador Wilson stated on Sunday's Meet the Press (see the transcript here) that he investigated the issue whether Iraq purchased uranium from Niger over a year ago and found it was unfounded--and told the Bush administration as much. The Christian Science Monitor published this commentary on the issue over a month ago, and CNN had this interview today. Check out Mr. Wilson's op-ed in the New York Times, entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa"
Commentary: Did Someone Say Quagmire?

There's another story today about a couple more US soldiers killed in Iraq. If this keeps up I may have to retract my predictions of a W second term. I always figured Iraq would eventually descend into chaos, given the general success of Western nations in building democracy in developing nations. But I was sort of expecting that the administration could pull the same sort of snow job with Iraq that they did with Afghanistan. But as long as there are reports of dead GI's in the news every night Bush is not going to get far pretending the nation building mission has been a smashing success. And if the war goes south, he isn't left with much to hang his hat on. Of course, I still tend to think he'll skate on the WMD issue..