Tuesday, December 28, 2004


The scale of destruction by the recent earthquake/tsunami in southeast Asia is quite mindboggling. Death toll estimates continue to climb, now placed at over 25,000 people. The Wash. Post has a graphic that illustrates the path and the toll of the tsunami quite well. The question has of course arisen: was the death toll preventable? The Pacific Ocean countries have in place the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific, which is capable of delivering information regarding tsunami potential in as little as 20 minutes after an earthquake. Such a system obviously needs to be set up/extended in the Indian Ocean area and elsewhere.

Also, if anyone out there is interested in donating to relief agencies involved with this crisis, CSM has a nice listing here.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


Larry Lessig posted a notice on his blog of a brand new blog that he helped set up, featuring weekly discussions between two University of Chicago professors: 7th Circuit judge Richard Posner, and Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker. This week's inaugural topic: preventive war.

Re: You Spent $10b for What?!

Yeah, and if that wasn't enough, the original projected cost for the satellite was $5 billion. What's another $5 billion among friends?

You Spent $10b for What?!

Apparently a full quarter of the proposed $40 billion intelligence budget is for a stealth spy satellite to be launched sometime in the "next five years". Did we need this? Did someone not get these guys the memo that we've got a half a trillion dollar budget deficit? Says the CIA (paraphrased): it's classified, we can't talk about it. If you want $10b for a fricken satellite, I think you'd be obligated to at least explain why you'd need such a thing. This isn't lunch money we're talking about here...

Monday, December 06, 2004

When the Truth Just Isn't Good Enough

The Washington Post has a great two-part account of the death of Pat Tillman (part I, part II). It was not quite the way the army told it back in April... What's sad is that Tillman's actions were no less courageous than previously made out, and the army lied about what happened, not in order to make Tillman look better, but to cover up their own failure. It's also sad that Tillman and Jessica Lynch were the two most widely told and celebrated individual stories of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and both were apparently fallacious propaganda tales.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Teaching Family Values

The Washington Post has an editorial on abstinence only sex ed programs, based mostly on data provided by Rep. Henry Waxman. The editorial criticizes these programs for presenting students with false and misleading information. I just had to post this particular example:

Another offers a fable of a pushy princess who's dumped for a village maiden: "Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."

...now get back in that kitchen and bake me a pie!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Sweet Logic and Reason!

Amen and Hallelujah! The Deptartment of Defense's Defense Science Board released a report last week on Strategic Communication that contains some of the most incisive and cogent analysis of the War on Terror produced by any part of the government to date. The report is 111 pages long and is a remarkable work. The Christian Science Monitor has a roundup of coverage, you can find the actual report here. I have to restrain myself from blockquoting the entire thing, but here are some tasty excerpts (and these are from the beginning of the paper, I haven't finished reading it yet):

"To succeed, we must understand the United States is engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West and Islam. It is more than a war against the tactic of terrorism. We must think in terms of global networks, both government and non-government. If we continue to concentrate primarily on states (...), we will fail."


"Policies, diplomacy, military operations, and strategic communication should not be managed separately. Good strategic communication cannot build support for policies viewed unfavorably by large populations. Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility and underlying message authority."


"A year and a half after going to war in Iraq, Arab/Muslim anger has intensified. Data from Zogby International in July 2004, for example, show that the U.S. is viewed unfavorably by overwhelming majorities in Egypt (98 percent), Saudi Arabia (94 percent), Morocco (88 percent), and Jordan (78 percent). The war has increased mistrust of America in Europe, weakened support for the war on terrorism, and undermined U.S. credibility worldwide. ... Negative attitudes and the conditions that create them are the underlying sources of threats to America’s national security and reduced ability to leverage diplomatic


"There is consensus in these reports that U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis. Missing are strong leadership, strategic direction, adequate coordination, sufficient resources, and a culture of measurement and evaluation. ... The number and depth of these reports indicate widespread concern among influential observers that something must be done about public diplomacy. But so far these concerns have produced no real change. The White House has paid little attention. Congressional actions have been limited to informational hearings and funding for Middle East broadcasting initiatives, Radio Sawa and Al Hurra.


"Frames simplify and help to communicate complex events. But like the Cold War frame, the terrorism frame marginalizes other significant issues and problems... Often the terrorism frame directs attention to tactics not strategy. The focus is more on capturing and killing terrorists than attitudinal, political, and economic forces that are the underlying source of threats and opportunities in national security.


"Information saturation means attention, not information, becomes a scarce resource. Power flows to credible messengers. Asymmetrical credibility matters. What's around information is critical. Reputations count. Brands are important. Editors, filters, and cue givers are influential. Fifty years ago political struggles were about the ability to control and transmit scarce information. Today, political struggles are about the creation and destruction of credibility."


Update: Holy crap, IT GETS BETTER. I'm reading Chapter 2 - The New Strategic Environment, and my jaw is on the floor. Great Scott, man, who wrote this thing?!!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

More Questions on the Dollar Decline

There is a fascinating article on Asia Times by W Joseph Stroupe predicting doom for the dollar. I'm not sure who the guy is, and his web site looks pretty sketchy. But he throws out a ton of data, I just wish he would have cited his sources. Some of the interesting bits apparently come from this Japan Times story, but even there are only cited back to Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Roach. So, while I take little of this at face value, the article suggests a number of interesting points to investigate.

  • Stroupe asserts that the Fed is printing $1.5 trillion per year. This seems like an absurd amount of money. Is it true? How much does this vary from traditional levels?
  • Stroupe adds $44 trillion in obligations to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government spending to the existing $7 trillion national debt to come up with a "total national debt" of $51 trillion. He cites this number to Fortune magazine. I posted a story here some time back about a treasury department study (initiated by Paul O'Neill, before he got the boot) which found that the US had $44 trillion in unfunded obligations over the next four decades or so, which is probably where the $44 trillion comes from. This is a frightening number, but it strikes me as unfair to count long term obligations directly as existing debt.
  • The article states that including off-budget items the current federal deficit is nearly $1 trillion per year. That sounds high to me. My impression has been that this number would be somewhere in the $500-700 billion area.
  • Mentions heavy investment ($180 trillion) in derivatives as unstable investments. I have no idea what he's talking about here, but I'd like to find out.
  • The article states that US consumer debt is $8 trillion. I was searching for this number myself a couple weeks back, without success. I'm curious where he got it.. Also what is the level of US commercial and business debt?
  • Then there's the quote from Stephen Roach stating that the US currently has $38 trillion in debts. What exactly is being counted in this number?
  • The article states that Warren Buffet has mostly pulled out of the US stock market. I know that he published an article a couple years back explaining, in great depth, why he was for the first time investing outside the US, citing many of these concerns about debt and the trade deficit. But has he really pulled out all of his US investments?
  • One of the best parts of the article was the discussion of Russian economic policy. Here he talks about the possibility (which has been discussed here before) that the global oil market may shift from dollars to euros, with disatrous effects on the value of the dollar. Stroupe makes assertions about statements by Vladimir Putin hinting that this change is imminent. I should certainly like to see those statements. He also asserts that Russia has substantially shifted their currency reserves out of dollars. It would also be nice to verify that..

Anyway.. there are some very powerful numbers and assertions here, and if this guy is not a complete nut (which it's quite possible he is), disaster may be nearer than I expected.. There are also numbers published in another Asia Times story showing US personal savings as a percentage of income dropping over 15 years from about 7% to 0.2% (again without any cited source). Consumer spending may have kept our economy afloat so far, but that ride looks to be nearing its limit. We live in interesting times...

Update: I went hunting for more info on Stephen Roach's $38 trillion figure, and while I didn't find it, I did find an insightful recent column by Roach analyzing the economic prospects for the Bush administration's second term.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Body Politic Has Got A Cancer

It's amazing that there's still so much resistance to serious campaign finance reform. The case for spending limits and public financing seems obvious and critical. Particularly when you have a Senator like Fritz Hollings commenting in this Time Magazine interview:

"The body politic has got a cancer of money. I ran in 1998, and I raised $8.5 million. That's about $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. If I missed Christmas and New Year's weeks, I'm $100,000 in the hole. So the race begins the next day [after your election]. We're collecting for six years out. That means we don't work on Monday. We don't work on Friday. I've got to get money, money, money, money. And I only listen to the people who give me money. With the shortage of time and everything else, you've got to listen to the $1,000 givers. I mean, no individual is corrupt, but the body has been corrupted."

"...Money, money. That's got to be excised. I don't have any time for the people. I don't have any time for the Senators. I just got time for money. Hurry up and get the money so I can get on that TV to get re-elected."

And we wonder why they vote on bills without taking the time to read them...

Re: Spending Addicts

I was not surprised at the news Congress was raising the debt ceiling, as that was a necessary consequence of the policies the Bush administration and the Republican Congress agreed to long ago (and it was not the first time in the last four years we had to raise the debt ceiling). What concerns me more is the fatalism with which most politicians approach the spending glut.

The notion that Democrats are the tax-and-spend party should be laid to rest--unless one is making the point that when Democrats spend, at least they have the courtesy of taxing to pay for it.

Michael Kinsey of the Washington Post crunched some numbers a few months back to explode the myth that Democrats are the bigger spending party.

I also came across this graph showing the national debt across presidential terms. I have no idea whether the data is reliable.

Glad to see a post from you, Ryan!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Iranians: Evil, or Smart?

Richard Cohen has a brilliant column on Iran's quest for nukes in the Washington Post. When I say brilliant, what I mean is that he writes what I've been saying since IAEA first started to be concerned about Iran's nuclear facilities :). From Iran's perspective it's the obvious and rational thing to do...

Monday, November 22, 2004

With Arafat Gone, Hamas Ready To Go Political

As the Palestinians prepare for new elections, Hamas plans to run candidates for municipal and legislative positions. This is the best news for the prospects of peace in Israel in a long time...

re: Spending Addicts

By the way, Ryan, nice to have you back! Robert Samuelson has a Washington Post column discussing the possibility of precipitous drop in the dollar. He absurdly dismisses the impact of budget deficits, and focuses purely on the $665b trade deficit (he still ends up with a scenario not so different from those theorized on at Boys' Weekends). When you consider that somewhere around half the $500b budget deficit is being financed by foreign investors (not to mention commercial and private debts), we're dumping nearly a trillion dollars (10% of GDP) onto the global markets each year. That is just unbelievable. Meanwhile, Bush claims he is going to fight for a strong dollar, not surprisingly the currency markets think he's full of shit.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bad Advice

The Washinton Post has a column on attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales's work writing execution summaries for review by George Bush when they were in Texas. Author Alan Berlow is not exactly impressed by Gonzales's efforts.

Election Over, We Can Stop Pretending...

...that we care about Sudan. A Washington Post editorial takes the Bush administration to task for "shrugg[ing] its shoulders last week at the genocide". The U.S. led a special meeting of the U.N. security council to a toothless and largely meaningless resolution, then held press conferences to declare victory.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

About Scott Castle

Since this came up in an offline conversation today, here's a little background on Scott Castle, former General Counsel for the CPA in Iraq (and former UVA grad). The article, written back in June, also mentions Brett McGurk, who is an adjunct professor at UVA right now, and who was also at the lunch session last week (although he didn't have as much to say).

Friday, November 19, 2004

Spending addicts

I am now convinced that the whole of Congress needs to be admitted to a rehabilitation program for spending addicts. They have just agreed to raise the debt limit for the government by another $800 billion, making the total allowable debt a whopping $8.18 trillion. Meanwhile, Mr. Greenspan is warning that the continuing trade deficit is likely to have dire consequences for the US economy and recommends reducing the federal budget deficit as a key component in stabilizing the economy. Not that his opinion matters; he is only the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Interestingly, the Democrats now appear to be taking up the cause of fiscal responsibility in asking for pay-go rules.
Apparently all of this extra spending is necessary to secure the American people in the war against terrorism. It looks like economic security has been left out of the equation.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Insurgent and the Aid Worker

Slate is running a well-written piece by Owen West and Phillip Carter defending the actions of the now famous marine in Fallujah who executed an apparently defenseless insurgent. Their arguments are sound, and I agree with them that the case for charging and convicting this marine is far from clear. They move on from there to draw comparisons to brutal killing of Margaret Hassan. Again they reach some valid and important conclusions. Margaret Hassan was a noncombatant aid worker. The man shot by the marine appears to have been an insurgent combatant. The insurgents kill indiscriminately, the U.S. takes care to try and limit civilian deaths. The American soldiers are generally honorable. The insurgents are not.

These are good points. And yet I can't help but feel that something is lost in this discussion. The arguments advanced by Carter and West feel very familiar from the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians go out and intentionally kill score of civilians. The Israeli military is only trying to engage militants, and if a few civilians are collaterally killed, well they tried their best to avoid it. But at the end of the day, everybody is just as dead as everybody else. And at the end of the day there are more than twice as many dead Palestinians (approximately half of them noncombatants) as there are Israelis, and orders of magnitude more dead Iraqis than Westerners. When some Israeli kid shoots somebody in self defense who turns out to be a noncombatant, surely his action is more morally defensible than the action of a Palestinian suicide bomber. But who sent a scared 18 year-old into a Palestinian neighborhood armed with the most powerful weaponry money can buy? Can Westerners disavow the impact of widespread slaughter of civilians with the defense that our military personnel try to conduct themselves honorably? Is there no moral culpability for manufacturing a situation where it is highly probable that innocent civilians will be gunned down? And isn't it a bit trite to hold comparisons of the honorable conduct of the world's mightiest military against the conduct of desperate rag-tag insurgents? Honor is a luxury afforded by superior firepower. Did we expect them to line up in formation like a Napoleonic army so that we can massacre them with a single daisy cutter? Of course they use stealth and blend in the population. Of course they like to attack soft targets. How could we have expected otherwise?

None of this is to attempt to draw a conclusion that the Iraqi insurgents are morally equivalent to the U.S. occupiers, or even to the Palestinian militants for that matter. Clearly no good would come of the Iraqi insurgents prevailing against the occupation. The U.S., however ham-handed the effort has been, is really trying to create a functional democracy and improve the lot of Iraqis. Ultimately (not passing judgment on the decision to invade in the first place), the U.S. has the right of this conflict. But that's not my point. The point is that it is foolish to view this conflict and actors in the conflict by falling back on these notions of honorable conduct to justify and defend U.S. actions and to prove our moral superiority. These terms miss the point of what is happening on the ground and wall-paper over decisions which predictably lead to the deaths of many innocent civilians. And it causes us to see events in a distinctly different light than they are seen by Iraqis and other arabs. They are painfully aware of what we are not: that we made the choice to put thousands of scared soldiers with itchy trigger fingers into the places where they live, where they work, where their children go to school. Until we can see things from this perspective we will be forever perplexed by how our actions are being interpreted by the Iraqi public.

This perspective sheer hurts us by leaving the U.S. unable to effectively communicate a meaningful response to Iraqis when an event occurs like the killing in Fallujah. The arguments advanced by West and Carter probably resonate strongly with Americans, but, I think, much less so with Iraqis. What they want to hear is that we understand what a burden it is for them to have all these troops wandering around blowing things up, the checkpoints, the nighttime raids, the airstrikes, the mass detentions. They want to know that we feel their pain and are doing everything in our power to put an end to the chaos, give them a functional country, and get the hell out. The point is not that the marine was probably justified in shooting the insurgent, the point is that it's regrettable that the marine had to be there in the first place.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Democrats Learning Yet? Of Course Not...

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was defeated in his reelection campaign largely because he was torn between the conservative tendencies of his South Dakota constituency and the liberal demands of party leadership. He tried to take a middle line and failed on both counts. How did the Democrats respond to this loss? By nominating another conservative senator from a red state to serve as the new minority leader. Brilliant.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

November 2004, Quote of the Month

It's old, but so worthy:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

--H.L. Menken

Just What We Needed

I really don't have the time nor energy to give this a proper response, but this is one of the most absurd and stupid things I've seen on the Washington Post for some time (probably since the last time they ran a Krauthammer column). Why, why, why? Do we need to spend a crapload of money and open up an ugly diplomatic can of worms in order to blow shit up better? Isn't that the only thing we're really, really good at as is? I mean, is this really our problem in the war on terrorism, we can't blow stuff up well enough? So stupid...

The Man of the Hour

Introducing James "If I go down, I'm taking the Republican party with me" Dobson. Leader of the religious right, instigator of the effort to block Arlen Spector from taking over the judiciary committee, crusader against gays everywhere. Democrats need to shine a spotlight on this guy and not take it off until he has driven all moderates from the Republican party or forced Bush to divorce religious right. As long as he sticks to his values, and there is every indication he will, he can only hurt the Republicans.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Had Enough

Let the speculation end, Colin Powell is out. Looks like damned near the entire cabinet is being replaced.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My Job Here Is Done

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his resignation today, declaring: "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." Whew! Good job! Speculation has Ashcroft planning to end global warming and cure cancer as an encore.

Re: Securing Their Gains

I've heard the claim all too frequently over the last week that President Bush received "the largest number of votes ever received for president," and I am disappointed to see it echoed by Newt in his article. As Josh Marshall notes, John Kerry got the second larges number of votes in history, followed by Ronald Reagan and Al Gore. It has nothing to do with popularity but has everything to do with population. A better measure of "mandate" is the number of electoral votes, and in that department, according to this post (again, Josh Marshall), President Bush obtained the lowest number of those since Woodrow Wilson beat out Chales Evans Hughes (a lifetime member -- dikaia upotheke).

I agree that health care reform presents one of the biggest challenges this country faces on the domestic front, and if Republicans are perceived as making strides that will help in the mid-terms. But health savings accounts alone will accomplish squat. Those who can already afford decent health coverage have the funds to take advantage of such a program, while the rest will be left to fight over the HMO scraps. Only a fundamental restructuring of America's health industry will cause real change -- and that just won't happen under Republican leadership (especially with Frist running things at the Senate).

In my view, the lasting Republican control depends more upon what happens outside the Republican party. The Democrats is adrift so I don't expect much from them until they can straighten up their act. The biggest immediate challenge comes from the growing discontent among fiscal conservatives that may lead to a formation of a viable independent or libertarian candidate in '08.

Some are waiting to see whether President Bush tries to reach out to the moderates to secure a lasting Republican legacy. I predict the only "reaching out" will be with fear -- fear of terrorists and fear of those who are different from the "mainstream" America. That agenda will succeed or fail depending on whether any other party presents a better message. A message of hope rather than despair.

Securing Their Gains

Newt Gingrich has an interesting column in the Washington Post laying out his strategy to extend Republican dominance.

Let the Good Times Roll

Good to see that Bush isn't going soft in his second term. Here and I was worried that reality might start to intrude on his fantasy land...

Monday, November 01, 2004

Experts to Investors: Dump Your Dollars

It has been a while since we've heard anything on this front, but The Christian Science Monitor has an article advising investors to buy up foreign currency, citing higher interest rates and declining dollar values. Here I was worried about foreigners not wanting dollars any more. We may beat them to it.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dropping A Bomb

British medical journal The Lancet is publishing a report issued by a group of American and Iraqi researchers led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in which they claim that more than 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since in the US invasion. This . story . is being . covered . all over . the . place. Prior to this, most media sources have been using iraqbodycount.net as their reference as to how many civilians have been killed. While iraqbodycount only puts the count at 17,000, Scott Lipscomb, an associate professor at Northwestern who works on that project, says that they only count deaths specifically reported on in the media and that they've "always maintained that the actual count must be much higher." The reaction seems to be split between complete skepticism based on the sheer size of the number, and some level of deference to general credibility of Lancet and Johns Hopkins. I'm sure the spinners are already spinning, and the fallout will probably last about until, oh, next Wednesday, at which point nobody will give a crap.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Just the One-Fingered Victory Salute"

Check it out. (Quicktime)

The Russians Took 'Em!

So says "Mr. Shaw," according to this FT story. "Mr. Shaw" reportedly heads "the Pentagon's international armament and technology trade directorate."

Larry Di Rita, the official Pentagon spokesperson, was none too pleased. “I am unaware of any particular information on that point.... I would be careful about information that has been asserted because I don't know how accurate it might be.”

Good advice, Larry. I have known for some time not to trust anything coming from the Pentagon -- or the Bush administration generally. But it always helps when people get the word out.

Did Anyone Think of Asking the Iraqis What Happened to the Explosives?

Well, AFP did. According to Mohammed al-Sharaa, who (according to AFP) heads the Iraqi science ministry's site-monitoring department, "[i]t is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall."

"The officials that were inside this facility [Al-Qaqaa] beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of."

Just to be sure you caught that, "which the US-led coalition was aware of."

Now, I don't know whether this guy is a crook or what, but don't you think other outlets should share what the Iraqi government has to say?

(Thanks again for the great coverage, Josh Marshall)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

101st Airborne Commander Confirms They Did Not Search Al-Qaqaa

As noted on TPM (Talking Points Memo), NYT reports in this story to be featured in tomorrow's paper that they did not look for any explosives at Al-Qaqaa:

"We happened to stumble on it," he said. "I didn't know what the place was supposed to be. We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad. The plan was to leave that very same day. The plan was not to go in there and start searching. It looked like all the other ammunition supply points we had seen already."
* * *
"I had given instructions, 'Don't mess around with those. It looks like they are bunkers; we're not messing around with those things. That's not what were here for,' " he said. "I thought we would be there for a few hours and move on. We ended up staying overnight."

More on Cirincione in Salon

So I took a closer look at that Salon article I mentioned in the last post, and lo and behold -- Cirincione addresses some of the questions I posed. He contends the administration knew all along that the explosives were there, but they did not do anything about it because of arrogance and because they held a disdain for the IAEA: "The administration didn't like the inspection reports they were getting out of the IAEA before the war, and they were determined to punish and humiliate them." Cirincione continues:

The administration knew it was there. Why didn't they do anything about it? It was arrogance. I think you have to say that this is not incompetence as much as it is arrogance. They simply did not believe that they were going to have an insurgent or terrorist problem after taking the country. Even when the insurgency began, apparently there was no effort to try to go back and secure these materials.

Later in the article, he identifies what to him is the question to ask from this:

A key question here is, Have U.S. officials known all along that these were the explosives that they were dealing with? People need to go back to Bush officials and start asking some hard questions about what kinds of explosives have been used.

Update on Al-Qaqaa Fiasco

There are two news articles that, in my view, give a good description of the story as it now stands.

First, MSNBC has this story explaining that at most, there is a three-week period where the explosives--all 770,000 pounds of them--could have been taken from the site. That story quotes one of NBC's journalists who was embedded with the 101st Airborne when they arrived at the site. Lai Ling Jew describes the scene and explains that “there wasn’t a search.... The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us."

Second, CSM provides this summary of various news coverage on the topic. In a Salon article that CSM references, Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is quoted as saying: "This is thousands and thousands of potential terrorist attacks.... It's like they knocked off the Fort Knox of explosives."

The media coverage is missing what I find to be the most important question here. If troops did search the Al-Qaqaa facility in Spring of 2003 and discovered that the explosives were gone, why did the US Government not report that to the IAEA? And how does that fit with the Bush Administration's position that the Pentagon did not learn of these missing explosives until after October 15, when the IAEA passed along the information it learned from the interim Iraqi government?

Of course, other questions remain unanswered too. For instance, what did the 3rd Infantry find when they got there on April 4th? According to this AP report, the troops found the explosives still under IAEA seal. And of course, where are the explosives now? Have they been used in the insurgency? And last, doesn't this demonstrate that there were not enough troops on the ground at the time of the invasion?

Disappointed With Slate

How in the hell did this story on Bush's tax cuts get past their fact checkers? The guy says nothing about where his numbers come from and they run absolutely contrary to those posted by the Congressional Budget Office. That report shows the tax rates on the top quintile dropping more on than any others, and that nobody's tax rate has fallen more than 11%. As a share of total tax revenues, the top quintile has dropped over the last 4 years, everybody else's share has increased to take up the slack. The Slate story is compete bullshit and they should be embarrassed to lend their (rapidly diminishing) credibility to it.

Eliot Spitzer - Super-Prosecutor

Slate has a nice profile on Eliot Spitzer. Not mentioned here, Spitzer also recently made news when it came out that his office is involved in a serious investigation of payola in the radio business, more news to follow. This is maybe not as critical as some of his other work, but it is a situation certainly worthy of attention and should be popular with the public.

Not Learning the Lesson

Apparently, back in March, even as the Abu Ghraib story was breaking, and even as the administration was trying to distance itself from the Justice Department's prior statements that international laws on torture didn't apply to the US, the Office of Legal Counsel was hard at work releasing an opinion stating that the CIA could remove prisoners from Iraq in contravention of the Geneva Convention, even as they acknowledge that this action constitutes a grave breach and a war crime under the terms of the convention. The Post article cites international law experts as calling the reasoning in the memo "unconventional and disturbing". These guys just don't take a hint...

Oh, Well That's Just Fine Then

I love the statement by VP Cheney quoted in story on Wired:

"If our troops had not gone into Iraq, that is 400,000 tonnes of weapons and explosives that would be in the hands of (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein..."

Well, who cares that Islamic militants and Al Qaeda affiliates have hundreds tons of high explosives, because otherwise Saddam would have them, and it's Saddam we're fighting here, not Al Qaeda. Right?

CNN Reports that NBC Reports that Troops Report that Explosives Already Gone

CNN's story discusses the comments made on NBC News TV last night that there was an embedded reporter with the 101st Airborne on April 10, 2003 when troops arrived at Al-QaQaa. And those troops reportedly found no HMX or RDX -- the nasty explosives that have now been declared missing.

Several points. First, I am really impressed that NBC has trained its reporters to recognize HMX and RDX -- for they must have been trained in order for them to vouch for what the troops found. Second, there is no story on MSNBC confirming what those NBC reporters did in fact see. Third, if that story is true, that means the troops (and hence, the DOD, knew the weapons were missing in the Spring of 2003 -- why didn't they do anything about it (like tell the IAEA) until October 2004? Fourth, that 101st Airborne visit on April 10, 2003 was not the first U.S. visit to that site post-invasion: According to this AP story of April 5, 2003, the 3rd Infantry Division had been to the site.

I hope the media keeps the pressure on so that we will get a straight story. And if we do get the straight story, I expect we will learn that there are some really crooked "folks" involved.

Monday, October 25, 2004

This Story Is Too Much Fun

The Bush campaign, citing an NBC news report from April 2003, said Monday night that the explosives were already missing from the depot when U.S. troops arrived there one day after the fall of Baghdad. "John Kerry's attacks today were baseless," Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "He said American troops did not secure the explosives when the explosives were already missing."

Pentagon Endeavors to Keep Its Story Straight

I'm confused.

AP story this morning:
At the Pentagon, an official who monitors developments in Iraq said U.S.-led coalition troops had searched Al-Qaqaa in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 invasion and confirmed that the explosives, under IAEA seal since 1991, were intact. Thereafter, the site was not secured by U.S. forces, the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

AP story this evening (same author):
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said U.S.-led forces searched the Al-Qaqaa facility after the invasion. "Coalition forces were present in the vicinity at various times during and after major combat operations," he said. "The forces searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility, but found no indicators of WMD (weapons of mass destruction)."

And there's this story, from AFP this afteroon:
A Pentagon spokesman said it was unclear whether 380 tons of high explosives reported missing from a weapons facility in Iraq disappeared before or after it fell under control of US forces.
* * *
"This is a first report. We do not know when -- if those weapons did exist at that facility -- they were last seen, and under whose control they were last in," Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said. "It's very possible -- certainly it's plausible -- that it was the Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) regime that last had control of these things," he told AFP.

DiRita said US forces visited the Al-Qaqaa site several times after the US invasion of Iraq as part of a US-led search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related material. But he said it is unclear whether the missing explosives were at the site during those visits. "The forces searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility. Some explosive material was discovered, none of it carried IAEA seals. They did find stuff there. They probably secured it or destroyed it," he said.

DiRita said Iraq was swimming in weapons and ammunition after the war. More than 500 weapons sites were identified after the war, and some 200,000 tons of ammunition have been destroyed by US forces. "I'm told they (US forces) made several visits to that facility looking for WMD related (material), and obviously we need to learn more about exactly what it is they saw there," he said. "There have been these reports that there is evidence this place has been looted. But I think that's something to be very careful about. That place was not in anybody's control but Saddam Hussein's from the beginning of the war until sometime in April," he said.

"It's just really difficult to say with any kind of certainty what happened to those weapons, and who were the last people who had control of them. But I think it's at least arguable that the last person who had control of them was the Saddam Hussein regime," he said.

Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) notes the discrepancy too.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq

Here's the NYT story.

Fire Sale on Explosives

Josh Marshall, one of my favorite bloggers, has this post on his blog, Talking Points Memo, forecasting what he thinks will be a big news item to break soon. Apparently, an insider's newsletter called The Nelson Report reveals that over 350 tons of really nasty explosives were taken in the early days of the United States' invasion of Iraq. What makes things interesting is that, according to the portions of the Nelson Report quoted by Marshall, the DOD has been trying to keep the mishap a secret from the IAEA. Apparently United States Defense officials put pressure on the Iraqi interim government not to disclose anything to the IAEA, and the issue was kept under wraps until recently, when Iraqi officials disclosed the missing explosives.

The post also suggests that the stolen explosives have been used in many of the suicide bombings plaguing Iraq. Although the story alludes to the fact that the stolen explosives may be used in the triggering process for a nuclear weapon, that fact alone does not seem to make this an IAEA issue. I bet there is a lot of legs on this story, and it may have important consequences for the election. It is certainly worth paying attention to it to see what develops.

UPDATE: The Drudge Report claims that the New York Times is working on a front-page story about "terrorists and explosives." I take everything on that site with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it seems to corroborate Marshall's post.

More on Jon Stewart, Comedian Extraodinaire

You might think this post is about Jon Stuart Leibowitz's appearance on 60 minutes tonight (CBS News). Nope -- although it was fairly entertaining (Stewart said the slogan for 60 Minutes should be: "May Cause Drowsiness"). Rather, I am curious whether someone can tell me what the heck "hitler massaging" means. Cordry made a reference to it in a funny sketch that can be viewed here (check out the "Let It Fly" video, compliments of Comedy Central).

My best guess is that to "hitler massage" means to compare one's opponent to the most infamous villain of our time. Maybe Cordry will let us in on his own private joke soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Kurtz on Stewart

Howard Kurtz, one of Big Media's best analysts (over at WP), has this to say on Jon Stewart, one of Big Media's best critics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Speaking Kerry-ese

There's funny column on Slate comparing prepared script with with what he actually says on his campaign stops. An example:

Kerry's Script: I will work with Republicans and Democrats on this health care plan, and we will pass it.

Actual Kerry: I will work with Republicans and Democrats across the aisle, openly, not with an ideological, driven, fixed, rigid concept, but much like Franklin Roosevelt said, I don't care whether a good idea is a Republican idea or a Democrat idea. I just care whether or not it's gonna work for Americans and help make our country stronger. And we will pass this bill. I'll tell you a little bit about it in a minute, and I'll tell you why we'll pass it, because it's different from anything we've ever done before, despite what the Republicans want to try to tell you.

Forgetting the Facts

Howard Kurtz has a great story in the Washington Post about the state of campaign advertising. He argues that the Bush and Kerry campaigns are pushing the limits or propriety by advertising against positions that they say their opponents hold, but actually don't. As Kurtz writes, it's nothing new to exaggerate the positions of one's political opponent to cast them in a bad light, but these go beyond that. They are the advertising equivalent of push-polling, disingenuously seeking to pin the opponent with blatantly false labels. Kurtz argues that there are two critical factors as to why this is happening. First is that the media sucks at calling the campaigns to task and embarrassing them for this behavior. Second, even when the media does, the campaigns are able to out-shout them through sheer volume of advertisements. It presents a strong argument in favor of strict campaign funding controls when the amount of money in the system overrides the ability of the media to serve as a watchdog for the public. And it certainly supports the arguments of media critics, like, oh, say Jon Stewart, that there is something seriously wrong with the way the media does their job.

Eliot Spitzer: Still Kicking Ass, Still Taking Names

Under the gun this month: insurance brokers. Spitzer is charging that a number of insurance brokers (including Marsh & McLennan, the world's largest such company) have been taking money under the table and rigging bids for insurance companies. I've always been of the opinion that if you looked carefully into any major investing/corporate accounting/money management sector you could find pervasive corruption and white collar crime. The old boys' network and the culture of entitlement just breeds it like flies on shit. It will probably take more than Eliot Spitzer to solve the problem, but he's done a pretty remarkable job so far.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Re: Shooting Gallery

Among the storm of blog and big media coverage of Jon Stewart's Crossfire appearance, I found this metacoverage of the story interesting. Apparently there were more downloads of the show just from IFilm than there are viewers for an average episode of Crossfire. That's not to mention the 1,100 Bit Torrent seeds, some of which have climbed to the top of the charts on torrent sites. Wow. The internet is neat. It is sort of amusing that the guy in the article doesn't know why CNN isn't distributing the clip themselves. Has he actually seen the show?

Friday, October 15, 2004

"F.C.C. Clears Internet Access by Power Lines"

This news story (NYT) discusses teh newest entry into the high speed internet world, Broadband Power Line ("BPL"). I have never heard of this before, but if consumers are indeed able to get 1 to 3 megabits per second of data over power lines, that will facilitate broadband access in rural marketplaces and help put competitive pressure on cable and DSL.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Dodgeball: It's More Than Just A Crappy Movie

The Washington Post has an editorial pointing out how Kerry and Bush ducked the hard questions in the final debate. It continues to amaze me how easily these guys get away with offering no plans on balancing the budget and addressing the social security/medicare crisis, which are really the most pressing issues facing our federal government. It's appalling.

The Fourth Debate: The Candidates on Slashdot

A few weeks back slashdot, in coordination with the New Voters Project solicited questions, and, through the slashdot moderation system, rated them. These were submitted to President Bush, John Kerry and Ralph Nader. The responses are in. Suffice it to say, Bush and Kerry probably didn't type these out and a lot of the answers are pretty bogus, but it's interesting nonetheless. My favorite answer:

Q: When is it appropriate for a leader to change their opinion? Both sides have been accused of flip-flopping on important issues - President Bush on establishing the Dept. of Homeland Security and steel tariffs, Senator Kerry on the Iraq war. But changing opinion due to thoughtful reconsideration ought not to be derided as flip-flopping. Tell us about a time when you had an honest change of opinion on a topic of national importance.

President George Bush Responds:

President Bush declined to answer this question. - Editor

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Economists Love GWB (ok, not really)

A group of 169 business-school professors, including two Nobel laureates, have sent George Bush a letter criticizing his economic policies. Similarly a poll taken by The Economist of 100 academics shows Kerry winning in nearly every issue polled.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Bush "Forgets" His Manners

Here (thanks to Oliver Willis's blog, Like Kryponite to Stupid) is a clip of President Bush at his less-than-best moment of the debate.

Bush "Forgets" Tree Company

Yes Mr. President, I would like to buy some lumber. According to Factcheck.org (the same site that Vice President Cheney tried to refer to at the Tuesday debate), President Bush owns part interest in "LSTF, LLC, a limited liability company organized for the purpose of the production of trees for commercial sales." According to Factcheck.org and demonstrated by President Bush's own financial disclosures, Kerry was entirely correct to suggest that under President Bush's definition of "small business" is so broad that the President himself qualifies.

Afghans -- Are You Ready for Democracy?

Scott Baldauf of CSM asks that question in this piece. Baldauf also describes the concern of the United Nations that there are multiple registrations and safety issues that call into question the legitimacy of today's elections before they have even taken place. According to United Nations figures cited in the article, there are only 9.8 eligible voters in the country, yet as President Bush and Vice President Cheney have observed in the debates there are over 10 million Afghans registered to vote.

BBC News reports this morning that there were some additional problems with the election. Beside general concern for safety, 15 candidates claimed to be boycotting the election because of voting irregularities. To avoid multiple voting, election officials put ink on the thumb of each voter after he had cast his vote. In some cases the ink was washable.

The BBC article reports that only two candidates beside Hamid Karzai did not participate in the boycott--but they "stood down in [Karzai's] favour on the last day of the campaign."

Bremer Begs Forgiveness

Bremer authored this op-ed in yesterday's NYT. My favorite graf:

It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know.

Re: Athiesm Gets a Facelift -- Its Future Looks Bright

I'm not sure how far Dennett's movement is going to get. He and Richard Dawkins and others have been preaching these same ideas for many years without gaining much traction. Ultimately I don't think they need to. The trend-line of popular belief has been going in their direction since the dawn of empiricism, and while it has moved painfully slowly, we'll get there eventually. As Dennett points out, the numbers are growing significant, and politicians are, if nothing else, well aware of demographics. I don't think we'll be seeing a repeat of George H. W. Bush's statement that "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots" statement any time soon.

On to the Roger Wright stuff. Wright's arguments seem to suffer from the ex post flaws of any other design argument. His grand triumph over Dennett was to get Dennett to admit that there was a probabilistic tendency for modern society to develop in the universe. He concludes that the universe was therefore designed to create that result. He seems, like other design advocates, to be working backwards from the feeling that modern human society is really neat and therefore must have been the "goal" of the universe. He plays fast and loose with his terminology in the whole discussion and dresses it up a lot, but that's the basic jist of it. At times he speaks of the design as being evolution ("the 'designer' was natural selection"). Later he comes back and refers to evolution as evidence of a design ("to the extent that evolution exhibits directionality of the kind I've just described, there is at least some evidence of design"). It's all very convoluted and he ends up chasing his tail.

What I think comes out of the interview is that Wright is arguing that evolution is directional and leads to modern human society (which I believe Dennett supports to the extent that evolution tends towards the most competitively successful organisms, which, to date, is us) and that the laws of the universe are such as to allow for evolution, therefore the universe was designed to create us. This is really no different from the basic design argument as it has been argued by post-Darwin theists. This argument has been well addressed by Dawkins and others

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Athiesm Gets a Facelift -- Its Future Looks Bright

This is a rather old op-ed piece by Daniel Dennett, originally published in the NYT on July 12, 2003. It's worth taking a peak at the Brights' homepage too. (I don't remember whether they have come up here before, but even if they have it is worth the reminder.)

Author/Philosopher Robert Wright offers this response (Beliefnet) to Dennett. Beliefnet also has video of Wright interviewing/debating Dennett on whether evolution has a purpose (and it also has some video teachings by the Dalai Lama, although I have not yet watched them myself).

The Next Bloated Lobbyist-Feed Bill

The Washington Post editorial board put on their pork police hats for this editorial against the corporate tax bill, which follows in the grand tradition of the energy and medicare bills of handing out many billions of dollars to corporate allies while accomplishing little or nothing of any value. If I recall correctly, there is also a similar transportation uber-bill also winding its way through congress...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on X-Prize

Here's a great quote from Rutan, as reported in this Seattle Post-Intelligencer story:

"I was thinking about how they're feeling, that other space agency ... the Boeings and the Lockheeds ... I think they're looking at each other now and saying, 'We're screwed.' "

Bremer Criticizes Administration

The WP has this story. It won't be long now before we see a headline that reads, "Bremer Banished from Island."

From Good Cop to Bad Cop

Spencer Ackerman of The New Republic spots a new poll of Iraqis that shows a majority of respondents no longer support the authority of the Iraqi police. As Ackerman notes, this is a major shift from earlier polls. (Today's Papers on Slate cued me in to this post.)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Up and Away

Some happy news today, on the 47th anniversary of Sputnik touching off the space race, Team Rutan's SpaceShipOne successfully returned to space for second time in a week, winning the X Prize. The next objective for private spaceketeers: the $50 million American Space Prize for the first team to send a craft into orbit.

And the Punishment for Illegally Selling Nuclear Technology Is...

Weapons for everybody! Slate reports that Pakistan is to be rewarded with $1.5 billion in shiny new American weapons. That'll teach that dog Musharraf to sell nukes behind our back.

A Waste of Time

Since the early days of the War On Terror, when Camp X-Ray was created at Guantanamo Bay, many charges have been leveled that the conduct there violates humans rights standards and many American and international legal standards. The Bush administration has consistently answered such charges in the press and in the courtroom by claiming that the actions they have taken are a necessity in their efforts to make the world secure from terrorism. Now Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, a military intelligence officer, is claiming in a new book by David Rose, that the interrogations held at Guantanamo Bay have yielded no useful intelligence. Christino states that not a "single terrorist attack" has been prevented by these interrogations.

Information Failure

This Annenberg Center study on the impact of late night shows on political awareness has already been mentioned here. It was also mentioned in the slashdot discussion discussed below. There an astute reader pointed out just how bleak the data from the study is. They asked participants six simple (one might say blindingly obvious) questions relating to Bush and Kerry. They were:

'Who wants to privatize Social Security?'
'Which one doesn't like assault weapons?'
'What is the cutoff income for Kerry's tax increases?' (50k, 100k, 200k, or 500k)
'Who is a former prosecutor?'
'Who favors making the recent tax cuts permanent?'
'Who wants to make it easier for labor unions to organize?'

Note that for 5 of the questions there are two possible answers (Bush or Kerry), and for the tax question there are four. If, then, you selected answers completely at random you should get 2.75 questions correct. The controls in the survey were people who did not watch late night comedy shows. On average they scored 2.6 correct answers. In other words, their responses were worse than random. It may now be said in all honesty and candor that a monkey could score better in a quiz on American politics than the average America. This coincides with another study posted here which found that more a person watches Fox News, the more likely they were to answer a quiz on the Iraq war incorrectly. Is it any wonder that the results of our political elections seem absurd to any informed observer? I say again that failures of the press are just as dangerous to this nation as failures by the CIA or any other part of our government. Our media cannot be regarded as simply another industry competing for market share.

Re: On Tubes and Niger

This story has hit slashdot, and in 6-7 years of regularly reading that site, I don't think I've ever seen this many comments on an article.

Bush Foreign Policy In Perspective

There is an interesting Think Again feature on Foreign Policy Magazine's web site (which I think has been there a while) by UVA professor Melvyn Leffler on Bush's foreign policy. Much of it strikes me as wrong-headed, but this article, as well as an interview I found with Leffler with the Council On Foreign Relations provide some insight in recasting the issue with a focus on the Cold War. I'll take up a few points from the Think Again.

Leffler argues that Bush's policy is not revolutionary, but rather a continuation of the policies of presidents Jefferson, Wilson, (Franklin) Roosevelt, and Kennedy. I find little value in the comparison to Jefferson (how is reviving 200 year old imperialist policies not radical?), and on the others, even if some objectives remain the same, the shift in context is such that Bush's implementation remains new and adventurous. Certainly the US's Cold War policies, particularly early on, sought an America with a global influence and presence to push back against the communist threat. However, the differences between JFK's vision and the neo-con plan are as striking as the similarities. Kennedy stated in as many words that what he pursued was "not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war". While the neo-cons hope to achieve the same spread of American ideals that Kennedy did, in their realpolitik version American military force provides the impetus for the spread of American values. Wilson championed the League of Nations, Roosevelt the UN. To assert this trio of presidents as role-models for Bush's unilateralism seems to miss the mark.

Next Leffler cites Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida and Teddy Roosevelt's incursions and the Monroe doctrine as examples of preemptive war doctrine. They smack more of imperialism and power politics to me. Spanish Florida, Cuba, and the other Latin American nations posed no true threat to the security of the US (in this perhaps they were a good precedent for Bush). Leffler also raises FDR's World War II policies as an example of preemptive actions. This seems absurd given that WWII is consistently the top example employed to illustrate the danger of not acting preemptively. Finally, as before, Leffler mentions US actions during the Cold War, which I think do serve his purpose. The US initiated many interventions in order to slow or halt the spread of communism, which was certainly considered a threat to the security of the nation.

Leffler refers to charges that Bush's policies are a departure from Clinton's as "lovely nostalgia". For this he cites statements by Clinton that he would take unilateral action if necessary. That is a far cry from choosing unilateral actions when the threat is not clear and other options exist. Clinton's measured foreign policy demonstrates that he considered such actions to be the option of last resort. Clinton generally upheld the policies established by Bush I of wielding the US's new found power through the mechanisms of multilateral authority. That Clinton would have employed unilateral military force if necessary does not change the fact that the broad sweep of his policy clashes with the policy implemented by Bush.

Relying on campaign statements by Condi Rice and statements of pre-war hype by Don Rumsfeld, Leffler concludes that Bush's foreign policy was transformed by 9/11. I would argue that the principles of the policy were only mildly affected, and rather it was the change in the domestic political atmosphere which gave rise to Bush's aggressive post-9/11 action. Bush had clearly established a belligerent unilateral foreign policy prior to 9/11 through rejecting Kyoto, the ICC, the ABM treaty, and various other multilateral initiatives. Moreover various administration insiders have disclosed that Bush was maneuvering towards military action against Iraq even prior to 9/11. Most of the prominent features of the post-9/11 foreign policy had already been established before the attack.

Where Leffler is most interesting is in his comparisons with Reagan and Cold War policy. At the end of the Think Again article, Leffler finds that Bush attempts to emulate Reagan's exercise of "moral clarity and military power". As mentioned he also draws parallels in Bush's preemptive strategies and unilateralism to Cold War policies. It's also notable that most of the neo-con group were prominent Cold War hawks. Even Condi Rice was formerly a Soviet Union specialist. Bush's policies can aptly be viewed as the right-wing Reaganesque Cold War policies updated for a world without an Evil Empire. All of the key elements are present: the grand idealistic moralism juxtaposed with realpolitik callousness, the focus on military might, the domestic promotion of nationalism. It is a good framework from which to view the Bush foreign policy. That these tactics seem poorly suited for the new context I'll leave for another essay...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

On Tubes and Niger

NYT has phenomenally comprehensive coverage of the case the Bush administration made for war, and Vice President Cheney does not look so good. What a shame -- and right before the debates!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

My take on the debate

"John Kerry went in with a credibility gap, and came out with a credibility canyon."

Ok -- that's not my take. But I bet we'll hear a lot on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Candidate That Could Have Been

New Republic editor Peter Beinhart has a column in this week's Time Magazine speculating how the election may have gone if Howard Dean were the candidate. He reaches many of the same conclusions I did a week ago...

Liberals and Democrats

Nice column on the Christian Science Monitor contrasting Garrison Keillor's idea of liberalism with the modern Democratic party.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Numbers on Campaign Coverage

Ok, so I'm beating this one like a drum lately, but here's a website (posted in a /. discussion) from the University of Missouri-Columbia providing a load of data on just how bad coverage has become. My favorite part are the discussions on the "horse race" reporting (polls, campaign funds, etc). As of 2000, 78% of stories during the primaries and 70% during the general election were on the horse race aspects.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Sad State of Debates

Great editorial from the Christian Science Monitor on the rapidly declining value of debates as a tool for voters to learn about the candidates.

Moving Past the Fluff: Health Care

The Washington Post has another column from Robert Samuelson, part of what appears to be a series, shedding non-partisan light on the bullshit campaign rhetoric of our presidential candidates. Up this time: health care policy. Samuelson has, through these columns, done better than anyone else I've seen in covering the election the way it ought to be covered.

An Unlikely Ally On Patents

Slashdotters have long decried the US sytem of software patents, which are often absurdly broad and with little technical merit, and which clearly stifle innovation, particularly among developers without deep pockets or a legal deptartment (ie open source developers). As Europeans (who so far have resisted awarding software patents) explore the topic, PriceWaterhouseCoopers has jumped into the fray on the side of the techies, warning that software patents may threaten the European software industry.

A Foregone Conclusion

George Will has a surprisingly good column in the Washington Post essentially acknowledging what everybody else knows and doesn't want to say: Iran is going to go nuclear, and there's not a thing that anyone can do about it. Extra points for pointing out that the occupation of Iraq both motivates Iran and ties our hands from taking any action.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Paging Cass Sunstein

Time Magazine has a column from James Pniewozik discussing the frustration and animosity of Americans, each of whom have an entire portfolio of news sources telling them they're right about everything, but who have to live in reality where there are unfortunately folks who don't agree with them, some of whom occupy positions of considerable power...

Democrats Slow On the Uptake

A Michael Tomasky column in The American Prospect considers the reasons why, despite being supported by significant majorities on most key issues, the Democrats still get their asses handed to them by Republicans. He does a good job of identifying the Karl Rove genius: it's all about perception, and public perception is surprisingly easily malleable through the use of very simple tactics. Democrats frequently fall victim to relying on the public to support them for their superior policy positions, and fall victim to astute manipulation of public perception by folks like Rove.

Nowhere can this be more clear than John Kerry, who was chosen precisely along the lines of this sort of thinking. Democrats felt they had a slam dunk on the issues and wanted the safest and dryest candidate to get them there. They were simply after the guy who was least vulnerable to attack, so that they wouldn't blow their big opportunity. They failed to recognize that there is no such candidate who is safe from attack, and that if they don't aggressively act to set the agenda, Karl Rove will be more than happy to do it for them, and the issues that they want to talk about will not be on that agenda. This thought seems to be suddenly occurring to them, and now trying to make an about face, but Kerry is just not the man for this job. Case in point:

Yesterday John Kerry finally decided to take a stand on Iraq stating:

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell, but that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

George Bush needed only to roll out Kerry's comments regarding Howard Dean's statement that the capture of Saddam did not make the US safer:

"I couldn't disagree more. And not so long ago, so did my opponent. Last December, he said this: "Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be President or the credibility to be elected President." I could not have said it better."

Could we make it any easier for him? Am I still bitter about Dean losing? Damn right I am. What a stupid, stupid mistake. It still galls me every time I see Kerry speak. Dean was defining the agenda from the moment he came onto the scene. He could speak in simple, strong terms about what he believed in and wanted to achieve. And he was not shy about launching direct attacks against mistakes made by the Bush administration, something Kerry has only now realized he needs to be doing. He was the man that Democrats now wish Kerry was. Playing it safe isn't good enough when the other side is playing for keeps.

Once More, With Feeling: Democracy Is Hard

Voicing one of my recurring blog themes, Fred Hiatt had a Washington Post column detailing the shift in opinion on the inevitability of the spread of democracy. I still believe that democracy (or representative democracy in any case) is a superior form of government that will continue to spread. It's just not as easy as some folks (particularly neo-con folks) would have us believe. There is a requirement for cultural buy-in which is not understood or considered to nearly the degree which it ought to be, and which impedes outside efforts to impose democratic processes on non-democratic nations.

The Story of Superstar CEO's

First up, a nice story on CSM detailing the rise and (hopefully) fall of the superstar CEO cult of personality in business. I think that it has been an important and detrimental influence in business culture that can be easily related to the shift in corporate values which begot the recent spate of corprorate malfeasance disasters.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Offend Packers Fans At Your Own Risk

Could the presidential election turn on the votes of pissed of Packer fans? The Washington Post reports that John Kerry has slipped 8 points in the battleground state of Wisconsin after refering to Lambeau Field as Lambert Field. I'm sure the picture in the article, which appears to be Kerry knocked on the ground by a high school football player (and smiling all the while), doesn't help either...

Monday, September 13, 2004

Putin To Scrap Democracy In Russia

Vladimir Putin has for some time held nearly supreme power in Russia, controlling the executive, the legislature, and the press. In the aftermath of the school attack, he has decided to drop the facade of democracy and just take power outright. He announced a plan today to eliminate the elections of governors and parliament members stating the country must be unified to deal with the terrorist threat. Putin himself would name the governors, and the parliament members would be appointed by the political parties. This plan will need to be passed by the parliament, but as they are already in his pocket, this is not viewed as a major obstacle.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

From Global Warming to Acid Oceans

So, it turns out that the oceans can absorb huge amounts of CO2 and will moderate global warming. Yay! But in so doing they will become acidic and marine life may start to die off. Boo!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Cheney: Vote For Us... Or Die

Dick Cheney on the campaign trail argues that if Kerry and Edwards win, America will probably be attacked again "in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States". That man has a talent for subtlety. Meanwhile, George Bush notes that John Kerry, recognizing the fact that voters still don't have a clue what he represents, is trying to make himself Howard Dean. A pity that our candidate has to pretend to be Howard Dean instead of, well... being Howard Dean.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Slashdot Does Politics

Slashdot today announced a new section of their site dedicated to political news. They draw from a pretty wide swath of political opinions, including a significant number of internationals, and the slashdot moderation system should work well with these topics. It should be nice addition to their site.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Just Visiting

I was checking in on Larry Lessig's blog and noticed that a couple weeks ago he had Judge Posner guest blogging for him. He obviously really got into it. There are interesting posts on topics ranging from IP law to the 9/11 report and bioterrorism to global warming to The Matrix. I haven't nearly had time to read through it yet, but it looks like good stuff.

What's the Deal With Chechnya?

Slate has an excellent background article on the conflict between Russia and Chechnya. It's fairly short and succinct, and it's remarkable that after years of following this conflict I've never seen it described in as much depth before. It's a phenomenally sordid tale, from start to end. But then, that's true of most Russian history...

Re: Doh, Our Bad

The Washington Post has picked up the story with an editorial today asking what in the hell is going on here. They don't say it, but I think they're wondering (and I'm wondering if they're not), will Ashcroft get tagged in this? As if we didn't have enough high level investigations of conduct in the executive branch under way already. Thank you, George Bush, for restoring "honor and dignity to the White House".

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

DOJ: Doh, Our Bad

The Department of Justice says it is calling for new trials and dropping terrorism charges against three already convicted sleeper cell suspects after an internal investigation finds that in the initial trial prosecutors concealed key evidence from discovery, going so far as to release documents "with misleading inferences that such material did not exist". Oops.

Jobs For Everybody

On a related topic, RJ Samuelson continues his crusade against bogus and meaningless campaign issues in a Washington Post column today that tackles the job loss/creation debate. Samuelson points out that the candidates spend endless amounts of time decrying one another's jobs policies and demonstrating the value of their own jobs plans. The reality of the situation is that neither one is likely to overcome the impact of market cycles, technological changes, and other factors beyond their control. The president simply does not have that degree of control over the economy. Ironic then that the economy is the single most consistent and important issue from one election to another.

The Media Sucks

Thanks to Howard Kurtz for once again pointing out how much the media's campaign coverage sucks. Talk about your easy jobs, Kurtz, ya bum. He notes a phenomenon that has been amusing me the past week or so: that all of the news sources who two weeks ago were proclaiming that the election was "John Kerry's to lose" (based, of course on some stupid opinion poll) are now writing about how Kerry is in disarray and it's Bush's race to lose (based, once again, on some stupid opinion poll). I'm just glad that these news sources have been able to push aside wasteful coverage of substantive issues in order to bring us these invaluable reports.

To be honest it reminds me a lot of Wall Street reporting, where you see these reporters come on CNN and say, "yeah the Dow index went up 56 points today due to speculation on the price of rubber in the Philippines during the rainy season". My ass. Hundreds of millions of shares were traded to produce that end result, by many thousands of people and organizations. You don't know what the hell caused it. Don't pretend it means anything. The daily ticks of the stock market don't mean anything and neither do the daily opinion polls of the presidential race. Stop wasting our time.

Slashdot Discusses Monetary Policy

Someone managed to sneak a Mises Institute article into a slashdot topic today. Unfortunately not that many posts were able to get past the novelty of the Gilligan's Island example used in the article, but nonetheless the discussions among those who did manage to grasp the topic were interesting.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Put on your tin hats, fellas.

Laura Rozen at War and Piece has this breaking coverage of the alleged Pentagon consultant/Israeli spy story. There is a lot of grumbling online that this is related to the niger uranium forged documents, which also might be connected with the Plame investigation. And all signs point to the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon. This is certainly one to watch over the next week (I wonder if it will detract from the convention).

Friday, August 27, 2004

Campaigns and Money

In view of the Swift Boats Vets and 527 group controversies there is clearly an immediate need to reopen discussions about campaign finance and reform. It was, after all, the McCain-Feingold bill that has created the current environment for political advertising. President Bush has started to make some noise about filing a suit against the FEC and supporting further legislation, both in the interest of regulating the 527 groups. This seems a laudable objective, although the details aren't yet clear, and Bush's lofty rhetoric often belies less than lofty actions. There are a couple of noteworthy columns I've read recently on this issue. The first is a Washington Post column by R.J. Samuelson asserting that in general, campaign reform laws are a First Amendment breach, and that in particular, the current regulations are broken and silly in addition to restricting free speech. The second is a column in the Christian Science Monitor by reformer Derek Cressman arguing that there is a difference between free speech and paid speech. Of the two, I come down more nearly on the side of Cressman.

I think it is important on this issue to fall back to fundamentals and intents. Primarily, what is the purpose of free speech and why is it so prominently enshrined in our government's structure? There is the potential for a sticky conflict between those who hold rights such as free speech to be moral imperatives and pragmatists who see it as a critical element of a functional deliberative democracy. For the latter group, of whom I would count myself one, the issues are more straightforward. For the former it's complicated, but my intuition is that you end up in the same place eventually.

It seems clear to me that any meaningful right to free speech has to extend beyond the simple definition of being able to make noise without restriction. If we put five people in a small room to discuss an issue, but one of them has a bullhorn and shouts into it incessantly, the free speech of the others is not being restricted, but nor is it doing them any good. If free speech is intended to produce healthy discourse and deliberation, this approach to it, which as Samuelson accurately points out seems to be in keeping with the First Amendment such as it's written, fails to meet its objective.

In our campaign environment big money advertising is the bullhorn. People, candidates, and organizations with piles of money effectively can shout out those without. Interpreting free speech to mean that no regulation whatsoever should effect parties' speech does not seem to me to be accomplishing the desired effect. Further complicating the issue is the connection of the flow of this money with access and influence, creating the "appearance of corruption" remarked on by the Supreme Court in their McCain-Feingold ruling. Not only does money in politics act in a manner that negatively impacts on democratic deliberation, but it does so in the interest of giving disproportional political influence to those people who foot the bill. It's a double-whammy that I think clearly demands action from the government.

Regulation on this issue is clearly difficult and problematic. It is unlikely that we can create (and certainly questionable whether it would be desirable to create) a situation where everyone's voice is heard in exactly equal proportions. In many ways allowing people to aggregate their opinions through political parties and organizations is desirable, and clearly this implies that these parties and organizations will, or ought to, have a greater voice than individuals. This does not seem necessarily undemocratic or against the ideals of free speech. The current situation, however, gives the power of influence to these parties and organizations not in proportion to the number of people who support them, but rather by how much money those people have to contribute. That is problematic. This suggests some basic guidelines (ie that people ought to be more important than money), but still leaves the issue difficult to formulate. In some regards regulations will have to be somewhat arbitrary, and no doubt will give rise to certain situations that strike people as odd, as Samuelson protests in his column. I think it should be noted that these things will happen, but that they don't invalidate the importance of the cause nor indicate that we shouldn't make our best effort to address the problem.

Before closing, I want to raise one other angle from which this issue should be considered. That is marketing, TV marketing in particular. Marketing has developed into a science, a soft science to be sure, but it is a huge industry with reams of research data, including no small amount of psychological and behavioral study. The entire point of the exercise is to translate money into actions taken by people who would not have otherwise taken those actions. And they are very good at it. Good enough that the US annual ad revenue is in the neighborhood of $200 billion. Furthermore, while I haven't the time nor data on hand to make this case, I am willing to assert that much of their success comes not from logically reasoning with their audience, but through manipulation of emotional responses. This does not represent, to me, a good means through which to hold democratic deliberations. Inasmuch as campaign regulation is regulating television advertising, I think the bar ought to be lowered as to what is allowed in terms of regulating speech.

In essence, not all speech is equal in terms of its value in promoting discussion and a thoughful exchange of ideas and positions. Some speech, in fact, runs counter to those objectives. If this type of speech becomes the dominant form of political discourse, it stands to reason that it poses a threat to a form of government that relies upon healthy discussion, and presents a danger which must be addressed. In a conflict between a strictly literal interpretation of free speech and democratic principles, I find myself on the democratic side. It stands to reason that if democracy collapses, free speech will follow not far behind, and in fighting for the purist free speech position, you stand to lose both speech and democracy. It has already been demonstrated that free speech can be regulated for the purposes of public safety and the promotion of artistic and scientific interests without complete abridgement of speech rights, and I don't see why an equitable system cannot be worked out to also promote the social goal of healthy democratic discourse.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Oil Prices, Another Important Issue Trivialized

David Ignatius has a good column in the Washington Post about rapidly increasing prices of oil. He discusses the fact that most experts expect the prices rises to continue to increase and don't anticipate them dropping anytime soon. He goes on to discuss how silly the handling of the issues has been by the Kerry and Bush campaigns. He concludes with a paragraph strikingly similar to things I and RJ Samuelson have written previously:

"The non-debate over energy illustrates what's depressing about this campaign. The country is in serious trouble -- with record-high oil prices and the threat of a new energy crisis just one example of our global problems. But rather than the serious debate the country needs, we're hearing platitudes. George Bush and John Kerry evidently would rather play it safe and avoid politically controversial proposals, which in today's world is downright dangerous."

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Oh, the Pain

It's one thing to agree with President Bush, but it really hurts to agree with Douglas Feith, or as Gen. Tommy Franks fondly refers to him, "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth". But, as Feith makes the argument for military redeployment in the Washington Post today, it makes a lot of sense. I think that if this plan had not come when it did (campaign season) and from who it did, the reactions to it would be a lot different.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Troop Withdrawal

I'm going to have to come right out and say this: I agree with President Bush. Reducing our overseas troop commitments is a good idea. I've wondered for a while now why we still have so many troops in Germany and other Cold War hotspots. They're not hot anymore. Our defense spending is outlandish and much of it is still geared towards massive conventional warfare, something that is simply not as relevant now as it used to be. We need to make cuts and reductions, and this plan was as good as any I've seen.

John Kerry's objections, covered here in the Washington Post, just don't seem very objectionable. His protest on South Korea just doesn't make sense. If we decide we need to deal with North Korea militarily, we'll need far more manpower than the 30,000 troops now stationed there. And if North Korea were to stage an attack on the South, the difference between us having 20,000 or 30,000 troops is nil. In either case they would get steamrolled by the North Korean military. Their purpose there is not to be able to stop an invasion. Our troop strength there is not even close to that level. They're there to up the ante, so that if North Korea invades, a bunch of American kids will get killed, and we will be obligated to go in there and kick some ass.

Likewise I disagree with Kerry's assertion that this plan "does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror" or reduce strain on the military. How can bringing home 70,000 troops from foreign commitments not increase the flexibility of military staffing and troop rotation? It doesn't make any sense.

Our military spending it totally out of control and we need to find ways to get more for our money. That means we need to take a good hard look at where that money is going and not be afraid to make hard cuts where we can. I applaud this decision by the Bush administration.

Supporting the Iraq Invasion

Fareed Zakaria (one of my favorite middle east policy commentators) has a column in the Washington Post that provides by far the most compelling argument in favor of invading Iraq that I've seen to date. In discussing John Kerry's statement that given what we know now he would still support attacking Iraq, Zakaria makes the case that the policy of sanctions against Iraq with a large military force stationed in Saudia Arabia was untenable. The sanctions were being circumvented by Hussein and were creating massive suffering for common Iraqis, meanwhile stationing troops in Saudia Arabia was expensive and was one of the primary grievances motivating Al Qaeda. Given these circumstances the US had the choice of either walking away or forcing an endgame. It is apparent now (see Kenneth Pollack's Atlantic Monthly article for more details) that Saddam was merely biding his time waiting for the sanctions to be lifted so that he could resume his WMD programs. Walking away would not have been a great idea. So really there were not many options.

This is a very strong argument. Unfortunate that it comes almost two years too late (the pre-war hype started in September '02) and from someone completely unconnected with the Bush administration. Zakaria goes on the point out the many flaws in Bush's execution of the war and that neither he (Zakaria) nor Kerry support all aspects of the war.

I think this is an appropriate point to note that despite my vehement distaste for Democrats who voted for the war resolution, my position on the matter is not entirely out of line with Zakaria's. I was offended not with the whole concept of an Iraq war, but rather with the disingenuousness with which the administration cloaked their true motivations for the war, the arrogance and callous stupidity of those motivations themselves (and the whole neocon philosophy), their complete disregard for international institutions, opinions, and support, their complete refusal to consider the costs (including opportunity costs) of the operation, and the lack of a sound plan for what to do when the shooting stops, and the sheer spitefulness of the administration towards anyone who raised any of the issues I just mentioned. Kudos to Zakaria for successfully making the case that has eluded so many politicians and pundits these past two years.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Second Thoughts on McCain

Mary Lynn Jones has a column in American Prospect questioning liberal support for John McCain. She writes that for all that Democrats have favored McCain and pandered to him and tried to trump up their connections to him, he is still the enemy.

I can understand her wariness towards the party trying to embrace him in any official sense as he is clearly committed to his party and not interested in abandoning or betraying it, but I can't agree with her overall thesis. While I am quite dissappointed by the degree to which he has allowed himself to be whored out to the Bush campaign, John McCain is still a rare figure in national politics.

McCain is a man of great character and integrity. Appreciation for him should and does cross party lines. His efforts to attack pork-barrel politics and preserve the integrity of the political system against the invasive influence of campaign funding, and his rejection of base partisanship to productively engage the opposite party make him a valuable asset to the entire nation. It is well that Democrats recognize this and talk about him during their campaigns. It demonstrates that they also value (or at least play at valuing) the healthy approach to policy that McCain embodies. I will admit that it did get a bit silly during the primaries when candidates were competing to see who really was best friends with McCain. But it would be sad for me to think that even someone of McCain's quality should need to be regarded more by their party label than their personal qualities.