Saturday, July 31, 2004

Outsourcing Holy Mass

A Holy Mass at the St Joseph Catholic church in Kochi is being conducted.
The language is Malayalam, but the intentions are dedicated to a departed
soul in Germany.
At the end of the mass, the Catholic parish that conducted it
will be richer by 50 euros because it was a memorial service that a German
couple had 'outsourced' for their son who died of cancer two
years ago.
Welcome to religious outsourcing!

Also reported here and in

The best rate I could find to book a mass on line was at another St Josephs

I couldn't figure what currency the prices ahem "offerings" are expected to be.
Murphy's law

Eschaton's comments aren't working so I post a comment on this here.

Reading JIM MURPHY, executive producer, ""CBS Evening News with Dan Rather": The entire staff of the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather" was pretty miffed after reading Paul Krugman's column today that claimed not a SINGLE issues piece has aired on the big newscasts in the past two months."

I almost popped over to to see the Krugman op-ed which I had somehow missed (even though is my browsers initial page). Only when I read Greg Mitchell's response did I realise that Murphy claimed to be referring to this op-ed. The distortion of Krugman's claim was so extreme, that I honestly assumed that, no matter how dishonest Murphy might be, he must have been writing about another collumn.

New Murphy's law. If Murphy can be wrong Murphy will be wrong. If Murphy can't be that wrong Murphy will be wronger.
Douglas Jehl of the New York Times finally picks up Michael Isikoff's story about Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi,Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. You could also have read it here a month ago. It is still news in that few seem to have noticed the Newsweek story.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Getting here from there

It is well known that the public spending on health care per capita is higher in the USA than in any other country, in spite of the fact that tens of millions of Americans don't have health insurance.    It is particularly galling that the French manage to provide high quality health care to all while spending less.  However, a less ambitious goal came to my mind: Italy (where I live).  Italy spends very little money while providing extremely inconvenient and unpleasant health care to all.  This doesn't cost the state much partly because upper middle class Italians get private health care to avoid lines etc. 

I want to top Phill Gramm, who said Clinton care meant replacing the best health care system in the world with a system modelled on the post office.  I propose supplementing the most expensive health care system in the world with one modelled on the Italian public health care system.

The idea is how about public walk in clinics to provide ambulatory care for a nominal fee with no restrictions on eligibility whatsoever.   There are already public clinics in medically underserved areas, but this proposal is to have them roughly everywhere.    The aim would be to give people who use the emergency room as the family doctor someplace closer to home, less huge, less unpleasant and less expensive.  

This proposal is partly inspired by Ed Meese, who responded to the observation that more people were going to food pantries and soup kitchens in 1982 than had been in 1979, by noting that there was no means test for soup kitchens, taht is,  as paraphrased by indignant commentators, that anyone who wanted to could wait in line to get an baloney sandwich.   Exactly.  Middle class people are not going to burden the public free clinics.  

What's the problem ?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Concern about electronic voting fraud and the absence of a paper trail
has officially moved from the category "tin foil hat paranoid" to "shrill"
I hope it won't take decades before it gets to "well established fact", that is, that
it will pass "known crisis" and go straight to "of purely historical interest". 

Update:  Moving quickly.  From tin foil hat to Paul Krugman to gray lady -- the first page of the NY Times web page.   By Grey Lady I refer to the reputation of the NYT, in general,  I am not speculating about Ms Goodnaugh's hair color nor am I refering either to Deborah Clark's hair color or my monitor.
Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them
down if they do not respond per [General Arnold].”

9/11 commission report page 42

The attentive reader will note that I am reading the chapters out of order. 

I strongly suspect that Cheney gave that order on his own (non) authority, although he,  Bush and Rice deny this. 

Cheney claims
that he called the president around 10:00 AM to discuss the issue and the president authorised fighters to shoot down hijacked planes that would not divert.  Oddly, unlike other calls, this call was not logged.  Nor does it appear in the notes taken by Lynn Cheney or Scooter Libby.  Most oddly of all, Joshua Bolton asked Cheney to call Bush to confirm the order after Cheney had authorised shooting down airliners. 

I think the following quote from pages 39 and 40 of the report make it obvious (in case we didn't know already) who was running things then.

The Vice Preesident remembered placing a call to the President just after
entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence about
when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room.We have concluded,
from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room
shortly before 10:00,perhaps at 9:58.The Vice President recalled being told, just
after his arrival, that the Air Force was trying to establish a combat air patrol
over Washington.213
The Vice President stated that he called the President to discuss the rules of
engagement for the CAP. He recalled feeling that it did no good to establish
the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized
to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the President signed off on that
concept. The President said he remembered such a conversation, and that it
reminded him of when he had been an interceptor pilot.The President emphasized
to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft.214
The Vice President’s military aide told us he believed the Vice President
spoke to the President just after entering the conference room, but he did not
hear what they said. Rice, who entered the room shortly after the Vice President
and sat next to him, remembered hearing him inform the President,“Sir,
the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.” Then she
recalled hearing him say,“Yes sir.” She believed this conversation occurred a
few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room.215
We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15.
Among the sources that reflect other important events of that morning, there is no documentary evidence for this call, but the relevant sources are incomplete.  Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the Vice President’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note a call between the President and Vice President immediately after the Vice President entered the conference room.216
At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from
the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft—presumably hijacked—heading
toward Washington.That aircraft was United 93.The Secret Service was getting
this information directly from the FAA.The FAA may have been tracking
the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to
Washington, not its actual radar return.Thus, the Secret Service was relying on
projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania.217
At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice President
and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was
asked for authority to engage the aircraft.218 His reaction was described by
Scooter Libby as quick and decisive, “in about the time it takes a batter to
decide to swing.” The Vice President authorized fighter aircraft to engage the
inbound plane.
He told us he based this authorization on his earlier conversation
with the President.The military aide returned a few minutes later, probably
between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft was 60 miles out. He again
asked for authorization to engage.The Vice President again said yes.219
At the conference room table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff
Joshua Bolten. Bolten watched the exchanges and, after what he called “a quiet
moment,”suggested that the Vice President get in touch with the President and
confirm the engage order
. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the President
was told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had
not heard any prior discussion on the subject with the President
The Vice President was logged calling the President at 10:18 for a two minute
conversation that obtained the confirmation. On Air Force One, the
President’s press secretary was taking notes; Ari Fleischer recorded that at
10:20, the President told him that he had authorized a shootdown of aircraft
if necessary.

Monday, July 26, 2004

What went right in Chile ?

Now we learn that Augusto Pinochet was not just a fascist mass murderer but also a crook so why did not only per capita GDP but even the physical quality of life improve so much in Chile from 1973 to 1990 ? The mass murder was public.  The crookedness is, sad to say, demonstrated by the corruption of my mom's bank -- Riggs -- the first bank I ever saw, which seems mainly to have specialised in money laundering.  The claim that Chile has done well by the Chileans is based on the work of the noted righties Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze (Dreze Jr is lefty enough to  make Sen look like Milton Friedman).

I really should know the answer, but I would like to hazard a guess.   The timing of Pinochet's coup and the association with the CIA's destabilisation of the Allende administration made Chile an international pariah.  I wonder if that wasn't the secret to sustained growth.   More particularly, money center banks might have been relatively reluctant to loan to Chile because of the bad publicity.  In contrast, they were eagerly investing in the Brazilian economic miracle (dated 1966-1973) and generally reclycling OPEC money to the rest of Latin America with crumbs for Africa. 

Then, surprise suprise, there was a debt crisis.   Who ever would have thought ? Well Charles Kindleberger for one who predicted it in the edition of Manias, Bubbles and Crashes which I read.

I wonder to what extent the secret of success is a cold shoulder from the lords of the world economy.  I think of recent international financial crises: Argentina, Russia, East Asia, and Mexico.  Each victim had recently been the darling of the money center banks and pro-market commentators.   I honestly suspect that the affection of the money center banks is the kiss of death for a developing economy.

It is certainly true that mainstream pro market commentators on economics (including leading economists) always seem to discover anti market policies in crisis hit countries whose success  last decade had been evidence that they were right. 
Clarke part L

Well that was quick.  Page 212-3 of the report convinces me that "Against all Enemies" contains a not at all  trivial factual error.

In my post below I said there was no remaining issue on which I was convinced that Clarke wrote something false.  Now I will, among other things, show what it takes to convince me.  I have read up to the 9/11 commissions report on the September 4th principals meeting on counter terrorism and al Qaeda.  Clarke described Rumsfeld as looking bored in that meeting and making some comment about state sponsorship or Iraq or the low value of al Qaeda training camps as real estate (I don't have the book with me and am vaguely paraphrasing from memory).  The Bush administration claims that Rumsfeld was not present. 

Showing I really really don't trust them, I was unconvinced, although a lie about who was at a principals meeting would be easy to catch.  Now I am convinced that Clarke was wrong, since I accept the 9/11 commissions view on this simple matter of fact.

At the September 4 meeting, the principals approved the draft presidential
directive with little discussion.
The Defense Department favored strong action. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz
questioned the United States’ ability to deliver Bin Ladin and bring him
to justice. He favored going after Bin Ladin as part of a larger air strike, similar
to what had been done in the 1986 U.S. strike against Libya.
The defence department was represented by the Deputy Secretary, so I am convinced that the secretary was not at the meeting.

I noted below that the 9/11 commission is so polite that they wouldn't take sides in the disagreement between Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah over whether Khalid Sheik Mohammad was an original strategist of terror.  However, even  the 9/11 commission is only polite to people who respect certain limits and Ashcroft clearly crossed them by declassifying an memo in order to falsely attack a commissioner.  Let's role the tape.

Pickard appealed for more counterterrorism
enhancements, an appeal the attorney general denied on September 10.233
Ashcroft had also inherited an ongoing debate on whether and how to
modify the 1995 procedures governing intelligence sharing between the FBI
and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. But in August 2001,Ashcroft’s
deputy, Larry Thompson, issued a memorandum reaffirming the 1995 procedures
with the clarification that evidence of “any federal felony” was to be
immediately reported by the FBI to the Criminal Division.The 1995 procedures
remained in effect until after 9/11.
still, even in this extreme case, they did not use the word perjury which would certainly have been appropriate.
Clarke part XLIX

When Richard Clarke's book appeared, his claims were subject to, shall we say, unusual scrutiny.  For example his claim that Bush asked him 3 times whether there was a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 on 9/12 was contested until the Bush administration realised that it was supported by 4 eyewitnesses.   One of the very few errors that seemed (to me) to have been found in the book or in his various interviews (or testimony) was the date of the first deputies meeting which discussed al Qaeda.  He wrote that it was on April 30th.  The Bush administration claimed that it was on March 7th.  Since the issue was foot dragging this is important.  In his sworn testimony Clarke seemed to me to be hedging.  Thus I considered it an error conceded and not a totally trivial one.  Now the 9-11 commission explains the discrepancy

Hadley convened an informal Deputies Committee meeting on March 7,
when some of the deputies had not yet been confirmed. For the first time,
Clarke’s various proposals—for aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks
and for Predator missions—went before the group that, in the Bush NSC,
would do most of the policy work [snip].

The full Deputies Committee discussed al Qaeda on April 30.

Clarke brought up the April 30th meeting not to stress the late date but to quote Wolfowitz arguing that al Qaeda must have had state support probably from Iraq (the hypothesis of Laurie Mylroie).   I assume that Wolfowitz had not yet been confirmed on March 7th (I could and should check but I won't).

The non Clarke obsessed rest of humanity will not be interested, but I stress this was the only point on which I was convinced Clarke had misstated the facts.  Now it's down to zero (but note the word convinced).

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The towering intellect of Condoleeza Rice

is the subject of this post.  How did I choose this topic ? Well as I have mentioned I use
google as a spell chekcer for proper names (<- notice I reelly nede a spel checker).

I searched for Condoleeza Rice (the sister of NSA Condoleezza Rice) and found the following
utterly awesome site.  I hasten to add that, having once been the google certified leading expert on Gulbudin Hekmatyar, I am not snearing.  I don't know who this rotten guy is, but it is well worth pruning the url at least to this

The Condoleeza Rice Bio (headlined Condoleezza Rice) includes the imortal but, alas, no longer unique sentence "However, the only time you're likely to see "towering intellect" and "Condoleeza Rice" in the same sentence is... well, you just read it. "  Being a bit rotten myself, I couldn't resist making that sentence false. 

Also I think that Dr Rice is really smart.  Consider her experience with the 9-11 committee. 
First, it was tentatively agreed that she was covered  by executive priviledge and she was interviewed privately and not under oath.  Then there was a hoo ha and she had to testify publicly under oath.  At least 4 commissioners (the Dems other than the bipartisan and unanimous Lee Hamilton) were very eager to press her on points where they had found her claims other than convincing.  If she repeated her claims she faced criminal liability.  If she refused to repeat them, the amicable discussions about the content of the unanimous bipartisan report would have to be based on the assumption that she had lied.  This is changing the rules in the middle of the game.  Besides the game was she was defending the Bush administration which is impossible.

The result was she came off as cool calm collected and polite while 3 of the 4 abovementioned Democrats came off as rude, aggressive and pushy, because they tried to keep her from running down the clock by taking a full minute to answer a yes or no question with "I don't recall".  In noted contrast, Kerrey mistook her for Richard Clarke.

In particular she and Ben Veniste played the game of he can't quote the August 6th PDB but he can ask her leading questions (leading as in Furher is leader in German).  Dancing on the edge of perjury, she refused to be lead.  Then the ever downwardly loyal Bush administration published the damn thing showing that Ben Veniste's questions were close to reading excerpts a classified document after the words "did the August 6th PDB say. "   That is, again the rules of the game were changed. 

Now I use the words perjury and Condoleezza in the same sentence all the time, but I'm afraid she stayed on this side of the line.  I conclude that Dr Rice is an intellect.  As for towering, just look at her towering over Dick Cheney.

I also liked the bio of George Tenet especially

Tenet performed such important duties as coordinating directives on priorities and directing the oversight of negotiations, not to mention preparing reports on such oversight and indeed coordinating oversight activities, not to mention coordinating the oversight of legislative statutory reporting requirements.
You can clearly see how all this experience would prepare a man for intelligence work. The only active verb to be found anywhere on Tenet's resume was "kiss" and the only subject for that verb was "ass." This particular specialty would, in the final analysis, vault him to the top. 

I don't want to be accusative but I think the author meant "the only direct object for that verb."

9-11 commission niceness

Below, I forgot to mention one of the very novel features of the 9-11 commission report. 
It is true that much of the raw information was already available in staff reports and in public hearings, but some is information of a type that is new to me.  I mentioned the President's
comments, which are certainly unusual since he had a vic-interviewee to keep him from saying much too much.  The other new thing is that we humble readers now have access to information acquired through torture ahem aggressive interrogation techniques. 

I just read (with great interest) insights contributed by Khalid Sheik Mohammad who was water boarded.  Does this make me complicit ?   It seems he got his entrĂ© into al Qaeda because he could handle computers.  Small world eh ? To me the most striking thing is the diplomatic delicacy with which the commission reports contradictory claims without criticizing anyone or, heaven forfend, saying anyone is lying.
KSM appears to have been popular among the al Qaeda rank and file. He
was reportedly regarded as an effective leader, especially after the 9/11 attacks.
Co-workers describe him as an intelligent, efficient, and even-tempered manager
who approached his projects with a single-minded dedication that he
expected his colleagues to share. Al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah has
expressed more qualified admiration for KSM’s innate creativity, emphasizing
instead his ability to incorporate the improvements suggested by others.
Nashiri has been similarly measured, observing that although KSM floated
many general ideas for attacks, he rarely conceived a specific operation himself.
19 Perhaps these estimates reflect a touch of jealousy;

The report is so bipartisan and unanimous that it would never take sides in the Khalid Sheik Mohammad Abu Zubaydah debate about who was the more creative terrorist.  Kind of puts the reluctance to use the names George Tenet and/or  Condoleezza Rice and the word perjury in the same sentence in a whole new light doesn't it?


Darkness at Noon in the Land of the Midnight Sun

Craig Whitlock reports on page A1 of the Washington Post that there is Snow on the slippery slope. 
I have long since ceased to be surprised that the US co-operates with friendly governments which use torture.  I had expected better of the Swedes.
David E. Sanger and Douglas Jehl  will get no turkee

I didn't know you were still allowed to write on page A1 of the NYT that the White House is lying.  I stress this, since my one blogging hit was a criticism of a sentence written by  Andrea Elliot and Douglas Jehl  

Now that the unanimous bipartisan 9-11 committee has finished arguing over what to write in their report, they are arguing over what they wrote in their report.  That is, since the report is both monstrously long and a compromise, spin is all.  Sanger and Jehl make their view very very clear.  shorter Sanger and Jehl

The White House says the CIA sold Bush a bill of goods.
"But" ...
"Mr Lehman concluded. 'He was just like all new presidents'

I didn't know the NYT style sheet allowed reporters to start a sentence with But, which, given the usual standards, can, I think be interpreted as being an abreviation for "but they are clearly lying" or "but he can't possibly really believe that".

Some actual news is in the article including hints of the bitter partisan debate inside the bipartisan unanimous commission

Aug. 6 briefing of Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice have described that briefing, which has now been made public, as "historical" in nature. But the commission report obliquely challenged that view, noting that "two C.I.A. analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed that it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a bin Laden attack in the United States remained both current and serious."
Those analysts were reinterviewed by some commission members just last week, as the final touches were being put on the report, in a last-minute effort to reassess the administration's performance.

So it seems that the unanimous bipartisan commission fought on that one down to the last minute, even thought the title of the briefing should have cleared up the issue.

Also I get the first hints of what Bush said (presumably with Cheney kicking his shins as hard as he could). 

Mr. Bush told the commission, the report said, that "if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it." Three pages later the report notes that Richard A. Clarke, the former N.S.C. counterterrorism chief who is now regarded as a pariah at the White House, told Ms. Rice "at least twice that Al Qaeda sleeper cells were likely in the United States. In January 2001, Clarke forwarded a strategy paper to Rice warning that Al Qaeda had a presence in the United States."


Ouch, but I'm sure it would have been worse if Cheney hadn't been there to mind him.  

Now I suspect that the unanimous committee had some discussions about style and layout.  That is, I wonder why there are three pages between two statements about the topic of who was told what when about al Qaeda cells in the USA.  For some reason, the observation that Clarke told Rice is reported on page 263 under the heading "Government Response to Threats" while Bush's claims that Rice did not tell him is reported on page 260 under "The Calm Before the Storm". 

I suspect that if Sanger and Jehl had edited the report it would have read

"He [Bush] said that if his advisers had told him there
was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That
never happened. But Clarke mentioned to National Security Advisor Rice at least twice that al
Qaeda sleeper cells were likely in the United States."


Update:  You can't say that on page A1.  The story is buried.


Saturday, July 24, 2004

The 9-11 committee report is quite clear on some issues which were once very controversial.  It is very clear that Clinton authorised the CIA to kill Bin Laden.  

Page 130-2

Early drafts of this highly sensitive document emphasized that it authorized
only a capture operation.The tribals were to be paid only if they captured Bin
Ladin, not if they killed him. Officials throughout the government approved
this draft. But on December 21, the day after principals decided not to launch
the cruise missile strike against Kandahar, the CIA’s leaders urged strengthening
the language to allow the tribals to be paid whether Bin Ladin was captured
or killed. Berger and Tenet then worked together to take this line of
thought even further.122

They finally agreed, as Berger reported to President Clinton, that an
extraordinary step was necessary. The new memorandum would allow the
killing of Bin Ladin if the CIA and the tribals judged that capture was not feasible
(a judgment it already seemed clear they had reached). The Justice
Department lawyer who worked on the draft told us that what was envisioned
was a group of tribals assaulting a location, leading to a shoot-out. Bin Ladin
and others would be captured if possible, but probably would be killed.The
administration’s position was that under the law of armed conflict, killing a
person who posed an imminent threat to the United States would be an act
of self-defense, not an assassination.On Christmas Eve 1998, Berger sent a final
draft to President Clinton, with an explanatory memo. The President
approved the document.123
Because the White House considered this operation highly sensitive, only a
tiny number of people knew about this Memorandum of Notification. Berger
arranged for the NSC’s legal adviser to inform Albright, Cohen, Shelton, and
Reno.None was allowed to keep a copy. Congressional leaders were briefed, as
required by law. Attorney General Reno had sent a letter to the President
expressing her concern: she warned of possible retaliation, including the targeting
of U.S. officials. She did not pose any legal objection.A copy of the final
document, along with the carefully crafted instructions that were to be sent to
the tribals,was given to Tenet.124
A message from Tenet to CIA field agents directed them to communicate
to the tribals the instructions authorized by the President: the United States
preferred that Bin Ladin and his lieutenants be captured,but if a successful capture
operation was not feasible, the tribals were permitted to kill them.The
instructions added that the tribals must avoid killing others unnecessarily and
must not kill or abuse Bin Ladin or his lieutenants if they surrendered. Finally,
the tribals would not be paid if this set of requirements was not met.125
The field officer passed these instructions to the tribals word for word. But
he prefaced the directions with a message:“From the American President down
to the average man in the street,we want him [Bin Ladin] stopped.” If the tribals
captured Bin Ladin, the officer assured them that he would receive a fair
trial under U.S. law and be treated humanely. The CIA officer reported that
the tribals said they “fully understand the contents, implications and the spirit
of the message” and that that their response was,“We will try our best to capture
Bin Ladin alive and will have no intention of killing or harming him on
purpose.”The tribals explained that they wanted to prove that their standards
of behavior were more civilized than those of Bin Ladin and his band of terrorists.
In an additional note addressed to Schroen, the tribals noted that if they
were to adopt Bin Ladin’s ethics,“we would have finished the job long before,”
but they had been limited by their abilities and “by our beliefs and laws we
have to respect.”126
Schroen and “Mike”were impressed by the tribals’ reaction. Schroen cabled
that the tribals were not in it for the money but as an investment in the future
of Afghanistan. “Mike” agreed that the tribals’ reluctance to kill was not a
“showstopper.” “From our view,” he wrote, “that seems in character and fair
Policymakers in the Clinton administration, including the President and his
national security advisor, told us that the President’s intent regarding covert
action against Bin Ladin was clear: he wanted him dead.  This intent was never
well communicated or understood within the CIA.Tenet told the Commission
that except in one specific case (discussed later), the CIA was authorized
to kill Bin Ladin only in the context of a capture operation.

The committee is very polite, however, it is hard for me to imagine how they managed to avoid using the word "perjury" when discussing Tenet's testimony and I won't even mention Ashcroft who claimed that a strike team would have needed a legal contingent to know what they were and were't authorised to do. 
Recall from the hearings (Ashcroft testifying) that committee members considered the matter resolved only when they received documents among the 9,000 some odd pages released by the national archives (with approval from a representative of Clinton) but not transmitted by the committee by the Bush administration because they were "redundant".
Update:  I've arrived at page 142 and what appears to be the case where Tenet agrees that Clinton authorised a deliberate attempt to kill Bin Laden "  The President reportedly also authorized a covert
action under carefully limited circumstances which, if successful, would have
resulted in Bin Ladin’s death."    That is very clear except for "reportedly."

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Hugh Freshell may or may not be the name of the blogger
at who was so pleased to be on my blogroll that he linked to this blog when noting it. He's back on the blogroll out of gratitude.

Update:  Hugh's last name is Hyatt

Monday, July 19, 2004

Hatch, Bond Roberts psycho watch continues

There is more evidence of psychosis in the "additional views" of Chairman Pat Roberts Joined by Sentator Christopher S. Bond and Senator Orrin Hatch.

Now it is clear that the estemed Senators have a difficult task trying to find some good news for Bush given the facts. However, I think that there are arguments so feeble that it is better to remain silent and hope than to prove that one has no sound arguments.

For example, they acknowledge that in the Niger Uranium dossier "the names and dates were not correct". then they argue absurdly "Of note, the names and dates in the documents that the IAEA found to be incorrect were not names or dates included in the CIA reports." That is, the CIA did not incorrectly inform Bush that Allele Habibou was the Nigerien foreign minister in 2000 (I sudder to imagine what Bush would have done if he had been so misled). However, they did not clearly say that the dossier, which was the basis of their accusations and those of the French and Italians, was an obvious fraud. I apologise to Mr Habibou, but no one cares about him (if he had any doubts the story of the dossier would end them).

It's like someone forged a check with the name Robert Waldman on it and I shouldn't mind because my bank corrected the name to Robert Waldmann before debiting it from my account.

More insanity on "pressure". The committee and the three note that the internal CIA review (report of the Kerr commission) contained the sentence "creating significant pressure on the Intelligence Community to find evidence that supported a connection" in the interoduction to the section on "Iraq's Links to Al-Qaida". Speaking of sping, I read that Kerr had concluded that the analysts were not pressed, when in fact, the Kerr commission clearly concluded that they were. I haven't read the Kerr commission report. I wonder if any journalist has.

Anyway the three conclude that it was just sloppy writing by the Kerro commission since Kerr "told staff that he was actually referring to the questioning experienced by analysts on whether there was a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda". That is, to the three, it is not improper pressure unless say Cheney explicitly says what he wants the analyst to conclude, even though it is obvious given his public statements.

This is totally absurd, in the case of alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda the idea that the pressure was neutral, pressure to look harder but to look equally for evidence of such links and evidence against such links. There can't be evidence of no links. The state of play when the non pressure was applied is that there was no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda or plotting with al-Qaeda. The CIA said we haven't found anything. The Bush administration said look harder. This is interpreted by the three as meaning that the Bush administration was interested in the truth not in a particular conclusion. I concluded that either the person who wrote the further comments is an idiot or he correctly assumes that only the headline conclusions of the report (or additional views) matters as almost no one will read the arguments and see how absurd they are.
Matthew Yglesias is in top form today

I am going to expound on the least brilliant of his posts "Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?". Briefly

Richard Stevenson and David Johnston of the New York Times write

It [the ssci report] cited a statement by a French official to the State Department in late 2002 that France, which was resisting Mr. Bush's efforts to make an urgent case for war, "believed the reporting was true that Iraq had made a procurement attempt for uranium from Niger."
Matthew Yglesias writes

Now if I were writing this story, I would think it might be relevant to point out that the French official's statement was based on the same forged documents from Italy.

I write
Amen Matt.

I also wonder a few things. First, since the same point came to my mind when I read the same article, why didn't I blog it ?

Second, how exactly do I know that the French were relying on the Italians who were relying on the obviously forged dossier ? I think that I got the infor from Josh Marshall, but how does he know ? Ah it says so on page 69 of the SSCI report "There on page 69 the report says ...'March 4, 2003, the U.S. Government learned that the French had based their initial assessment that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger on the same documents that the U.S. had provided to the [IAEA].'"

Come on press corps, Josh Marshall is willing to do your job for you, you just have to read his blog. It doesn't take long.

Third, how could anyone take that dossier seriously for an hour ? As pointed out by Hersh the errors were glaring and obvious, so obvious that I find it impossible to believe that the forgers wanted to convince anyone. Rule 1 of forgery is that the signature has to look right. Rule zero is that the forged name has to be the right name. I sure hope that Moslems will be more alert if they find a forged document proposing an evil crusade against Islam dated 2004 and signed by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Fourth, do we really want more international intelligence cooperation in the war on terror ?
In this case, a clearly forged dossier seems to have convinced the CIA, the French and, in part, the English all because SISMI shared the product without doing elementary checking. Sharing of conclusions without sharing sources seems to have helped Curveball pump up the mobile biological weapons laboratories story, after hiding his links to the INC by presenting himself as a refugee in Germany. The BundesBonds might have done a good job vetting curveball, but they can't be expected to check if curveball happened to the the brother of the top INC aid with the same last name, nor could they know that Curveball suddenly popped up with an answer to a question which Ritter had just asked Chalabi.

I really don't know what to do about this. Clearly we do want intelligence cooperation and clearly the identities of sources must be shared on an absolutely need to know basis. I guess the only thing to do is to remember the INC and to be suspicious when a lot of intelligence services get scoops on a matter which is not their main focus.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Are Orin Hatch and Kit Bond nutcases ?

Part 2.

Also is Chairman Roberts who should know something about the committee procedures a nut case (part 1)

Joeseph Wilson IV quotes from "Sens. Roberts, Bond
and Hatch's additional comments to the Senate Select Intelligence
Committee's Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar
Assessment on Iraq."

"The 'additional
comments' also assert: 'The Committee found that, for most analysts,
the former ambassador's report lent more credibility, not less, to the
reported Niger-Iraq uranium deal.'"

This shows either that the authors of the additional comments are
insane, or that they assume that the report and the additonal comments
will not be read by reporters who rely on their aids for spin.
"Additonal Comments" is a very polite way of saying "Things the
majority of the committee refused to say in the main report". For
three (3) senators to claim the authority to decleare what the
committee did and did not find shows complete insanity, severe
innumeracy or a cynical understanding that obviously false claims by
Senators count for more than plain facts.

The NYT finally get's it up.

It, of course, is the level of political analysis.
This article raises delicate constitutional issues. Mel Carnahan
beat the crisco kid in spite of the disadvantage of being dead (sorry I
mean resspiratorily challenged.) Take that
vivocentrists. So why shouldn't Homer Simpson run for Senator
from Illinois. He certainly has more credibility than any other
proposed opponent of Barak Obama.

Ah long to see the Obama Simpson debates in the land of the Lincoln Douglas debates.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

That poor poor man plowed through the SSCI report so I don't have to.

He even read "the appendices called "Additional Notes", where commissioners express their personal opinions on the subject and conclusions of the report."

I particularly liked the poor man's shorter Senator Warner

5. Warner (R) - The committee did a super job, and we shouldn’t come down too hard on the intelligence community, because they’re pretty super, too, and it’s just a few bad apples.

Howver, his summary with quotations, edited down, seems to reveal an alarming truth

1. Roberts, Bond, Hatch (R) - [snip]

Not only did we find no such "pressure," we found quite the opposite. Intelligence officials across the Community told Members and staff that their assessments were solely the product of their own analyses and judgments. They related to Committee staff in interview after interview their strong belief that the only "pressure" they felt was to get it right. …


3. Chambliss, Hatch, Lott, Hagel, Bond (R) -

The Ombudsman stated that he interviewed a number of analysts during an inquiry subsequent to a complaint about the production of a specific intelligence report. During his inquiry, the issue of pressure came up. Several of the analysts he interviewed mentioned "pressure from the Administration" and implied that it was in the form of repeated questioning. Some of these analysts felt that the questioning was unreasonable, while others stated that they felt it was not unreasonable. The Ombudsman also interviewed members of the CIA's Policy Support Staff as part of his inquiry, and they explained that the CIA's initial answers to the Administration's questions were unsatisfactory, and therefore merited the repeated questions.

I'm afraid that we can only conclude that Senators Bond and Hatch are psychotic. There was no "pressure" although there was "pressure".

Given that Hatch and Bond don't seem to have read their own assertions, it is not surprising that they didn't notice that their lies are exposed by by Durbin

8. Durbin (D) - ... an analyst is quoted saying that Administration rhetoric informed the analyses that went into the NIE:

I would also say that this NIE was written -- the going-in assumption was we were going to war, so this NIE was to be written with that in mind.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

This blog as been promoted from slimy mollusc

to flippery fish

in the TLB ecosystem. I am pleased but regret that I don't have a better fish picture.
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

from the WaPo
President ... says war was element of 3-part peace strategy.

He sure has both ignorance and strength. 2 out of 3 ain't good.
Is this constitutional ?
The NYT reports that the SSCI is negotiating with the CIA and NSA about what it can tell the American people.

"In early June, the agency [CIA] had approved for release only about half of the document, Mr. Roberts said last week, and relented only after long negotiations with the committee staff."

Why is a committee of the US Senate negotiating with an agency of the executive branch about what it can write ? I thought that according to the US constitution the Senate was regulated only by itself. I can see the CIA pleading with the SSCI to not reveal sources and methods but what is this "long negotiations" nonsense ?
Water purification is relevant to the policy debate
for two reasons. Water purification is a very excellent policy and it is about to become a very clumsy metaphor.

Just below I ask why the policy debated does not include proposals to make the tax system more progressive. Upon reflection, I honestly think that this is because it would be costly to all opinion leaders.
Now I don't imagine that people are so selfish that they consider only their personal interest when deciding which policy to support. However, I suspect that in a discussion among people who all have the same personal interest that interest powerfully affects the conclusion. If an opinion leader proposes increasing the top marginal tax rate to another opinion leader, the second opinion leader will wince, perhaps supporting the proposal or perhaps opposing it but knowing that it would cost him or her more than a bright new shiny car. This bias against progressive taxes is weak in each singly conversation but it always presses in the same direction.

This makes me think of Cesium ions disolved in water in an ultracentrifuge. Maybe I could remember back to junior high when we visited the Great Falls water purification plant. This was amazing. It took filthy water from the Potomac and you could see the filth falling out of the water which went in brown and came out blue.

How did they do it ? It is simple just gravity pulled the filth to the bottom. But why didn't that work in the Potomac (then still an open sewer) ? Well gravity is very weak compared to the buffeting of water molecules so sedimentation is very very slow. They added a gell which stuck the bits of filth together so that the pull of gravity (same for all) beat the Brownian buffeting (different for each). I think discussion is like this. It sticks opinions together so that the pull of economic interest (same for all opinion leaders) beats temprement, reason and original thought (different for all opinion leaders).

The only problem is that instead of drinking the pure water which doesn't stick together, we eat the filth at the bottom of the tank.
Payroll Tax Reform

is a link between various topics on which Brad Delong and Kevin Drum partly agree and partly disagree (see below). What do Barbara Ehrenreich and the minimum wage have to do with payroll tax reform ?

Issues are how can we help the working poor and reduce inequality ? How can we make the left more active, how can we make liberals less completely inactive and how can the Democratic party win elections.

Roughly the two debates are about policy and persuasion. The problem is that it is hard for wonks to convince non-wonks to take policy analysis seriously because it is dry and dull. Anecdotes are much more striking than statistics.

I think an excellent policy would be to replace the regressive payroll tax with a progressive tax. I think it would be a good idea to unite the payroll tax and the income tax very roughly by eliminating the payroll tax and increasing income tax rates enough to replace the payroll tax and balance the budget.

I think this would be an enormously popular policy. People are not completely selfish, but I think that a policy which cut the taxes of 80 or 90 percent of households would be a vote winner. I don't pay FICA (I pay much higher Italian taxes) so I am a disinterested observer.

What is wrong with this idea ?
1) it is "class war".
I asked what was wrong with it. Tell me something bad that will happen if, say, Kerry proposes this. Pundits will (almost) unanimously denounce him as a class warrior and traitor to his class. Remember how quickly the career of the last traitor to his class ended. Also the Republicans started the class war (to their credit).
2) it goes against the idea of social insurance. The payroll tax supports the fiction that social security is not welfare but is just like a savings plan.
I think it is generally and in the abstract better to speak the truth. I think if the vast majority of Americans were forced to face the fact that they are net beneficiaries of the social welfare system (at the cost of the top 5%) that it would be a good thing. Might even bring AFDC back from the dead.

So why doesn't any candidate propose it ? One theory is that people really believe that excessively progressive taxes are bad for the economy. I don't see how this believe can be so persistent with so little empirical support. Another (I heard this from Brad DeLong who got it from someone else) is that candidates need seed money which comes from rich people and means the soak the rick campaign never gets started. So ? there are no politicians who make promises then break them ? My proposal was to propose it now, not to propose it when proposing to Teresa.

What is wrong with the idea either as policy or politics. I really don't have a clue and want help.

Monday, July 12, 2004

There must be a pundit on the right who is worth reading.

I just glanced at the headline of a William Safire op-ed "Kofigate gets going" and winced. Surely they can do better. How about the insidious traitor Robert Novak or the always ethical psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer or Ahmed Chalabi spokesman Jim Hoagland or, well, someone. I'm not going to read them anyway, but I wish I thought I was missing something.
Muhammad Al-Zubaidi a particularly absurd ex-INC leader who briefly declared himself to be mayor of Baghdad is talking about INC efforts to pump up stories about Iraqi WMD and alleged ties to al Qaeda. He is, shall we say, not a very credible source although he is sharing his handwritten notes. The bit in the NYT article which I found most interesing, has nothing to do with Al-Zubaidi

On Sept. 20, 2001, with the Pentagon hallways still reeking of smoke and disaster, Mr. Chalabi met with the Defense Policy Board, a group of private citizens that advises the secretary of defense. The clear consensus was that Mr. Hussein had to be removed from power in Iraq, in the interests of stabilizing the region and thwarting his support for terrorists, according to Mr. Brooke, who accompanied Mr. Chalabi to the Pentagon.

So, over at the Pentagon, minds were made up by September 20 2001. This is obviously true, but had been denied when Clarke made the claim. Notice the odd attitude towards evidence. It is not that they are trying to decide what to do, so they need evidence. It is that they have decided what to do, so they need evidence to convince others.

I also like "Their purpose, Mr. Brooke said, was to put the defector at ease before interviews with a reporter from The Times and a freelance television journalist who had worked occasionally for the I.N.C. but was filming Mr. Saeed for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation." I wonder if Judith Miller is now the reporter who must not be named. Noticed that l'inominato/a is interviewing along with a "reporter" who had worked for the INC.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Best is the Enemy of the Good

This is a stray bit from the two posts below (see them for links).
Brad DeLong vs Barbara Ehrenreich argues in effect that
the best is the enemy of the good. She prefered Nader to Gore but insisting on Nader or Bush she (marginally) helped Bush.
Brad DeLong vs Robert Waldmann might argue that
the best is the enemy of the good. I prefer payroll tax reform to an increase in the minimum wage, but insisting on payroll tax reform or nothing I would marginally increase the chance of getting nothing for the working poor (if anyone were reading this).

We must compromise if we seek the left wing of the possible which has moved right since 1965 and if we seek decent policy not based solely on politics.

I think a good policy proposal can easily lead to bad policy. Consider welfare reform. As originally proposed by the Clinton administration it might have been a good policy. The compromise between Clinton and congress was not good policy. How about Sharon's Wall ? There once was a proposal to build a wall on the 1948 cease fire line. This would have been a good wall. However, the current wall is just as tall but somewhere else. When making a policy proposal, one has to try to imagine what will emerge from the political process. Proposing a good policy can be a very bad proposition.
Yesterday Kevin Drum agreed with Brad DeLong and I disagreed with both of them (see immediately below). I accused Brad of allowing political considerations to affect his consideration of what would be an optimal policy.

Today Kevin Drum disagrees with Brad DeLong accusing him of being interested only in policy and not in politics. I agree with both of them.

Brad writes "let's let Barbara Ehrenreich speak for herself, in her command to all correctly-thinking people to vote for Ralph Nader that she made four years ago" [article by Ehrenrich copied in full by Brad, who never quotes out of context, because he has no clue how slowly normal people read] "If you want other examples of Ehrenreich's "left-wing" politics as an infantile disorder, I can provide them."

I agree. The quoted article demonstrates that Ehrenreich is guilty of objectively pro-Bush left deviationism. By the way, how many people noted that Brad was paraphrasing Lenin's critique of Bukharin and, I think, Radek, or am I confused ?

Kevin Drum argues
Ehrenreich has polemics and persuasion in abundance, but without good policy this simply produces a mess.

In other words, like it or not, they need each other. Exhorting us to do better, even if not always in sensible ways, is a valuable service.

Well yes, in the abstract, but exhorting us to vote for Nader on the grounds that Gore is just about as bad as Bush was not so valuable a service. Still Drum's argument is not that we should follow Ehrenreich but that it is a good thing that she has a NYT Op-Ed collumn. First in true mugwump fashion he argues that, in a healthy national debate, the views of the left should be heard. I add that to me mugwump is high praise. Second (as in the quote) he says that Ehrenreich's specific proposals (fire your nanny and vote for Gore) can be ignored while the inspiration (or guilt) that she gives us moves us to sensible action. Third he notes that she is subbing for Alan Friedman.

The last is a clincher but I want to argue that she would be useful, even if she were substituting,say, Brad of Kevin Drum.

The reason is that lefties make liberals look moderate. Where would Bush be without the openly lunatic fringe of the Republican party which made his barely hidden lunacy look like moderation ? I think Ehrenreich is useful not because she inspires but because she makes, say, Krugman look like the pro-market pro-globalisation apoligist for international capitalism that he is.

Now I strongly suspect that Brad understands this perfectly and is dumping on Ehrenreich partly to renew his lapsed membership in the club of reasonable people who reason together.

But Brad, if you are going to present yourself as a moderate (which you are) why are you quoting Lenin ?

I hereby challenge Brad Delong to explain why an increase in the minimum wage is better than a payroll tax reform reducing the lowest tax rate so that full time (or less) minimum wage workers have the same take home pay as with a minimum wage increase and paying for it by removing the cap (and maybe shudder even making the top marginal payroll tax rate higher than the standard rate).

The incidence is different. My plan hammers high wage workers the minimum wage consumers especially hamburger eaters who are poorer. I don't see why my proposal adds any administrative costs.

The EITC is complicated and expensive to administer because congress wants to send the money to people who need it. If you are willing to send money to working teenagers, there is no need to make their employers supply it. The effects on employment of the minimum wage seem to have been grossly overestimated. However most (all but one ?) point estimates show negative effects. Why make employers pay ? I mean except to hide the cost off budget of course.

balance things at the margin only works if you are close to an optimum which our fiscal system sure isn't.

p.s. I better get on doing something useful before the day of wrath.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Dan Bartlett AWOL ?

The AWOL Bush story just reappeared as the microfilmed records which were going to resolve the issue suddenly were accidentally destroyed in 1996 or 1997. No hint of this problem appeared before the AP FOIA lawsuit. I really don't care if Bush was AWOL in 1972 and/or 1973. I am, however, amazed by the following sentence from Ralpph Blumenthal's article in the New York Times

Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director who has said that the released records confirmed the president's fulfillment of his National Guard commitment, did not return two calls for a response.

The White House communications director did not return two calls from the New York Times clearly seeking his views on the hypothesis that the executive branch was destroying evidence to cover up the President's criminal behavior (when he was young and irresponsible)? Is he allowed to do that ? Was he having his teeth examined ?

I'm pretty sure no one who would vote for Bush after all he has done, simlutaneously cares if he was AWOL in 1972 and is willing to believe that he was AWOL because of the complete mysterious absence of any evidence of service (except for Calhoun's obvious lies). Still a White House communications director hiding from the press must be big news no ?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Antibody directed antidotes

Some doctor/scientists especially my father Thomas Waldmann (who also takes nice photos which no one is viewing) use antibodies to cancer specific antigens to direct toxins or, in practice, alpha and low energy beta emitting radionuclides to tumours or leukemias. A problem with non radioactive toxins is that they last too long with a half life as long as or longer than the half life of the attachment to the antibody. Thus they end up harming healthy organs e.g. the liver. I just had a thought. Antibody antigen complexes can be very very tight. Toxins can be inactivated essentially forever by appropriate anti-toxin antibodies. How about directing the anti-toxin to the healthy organ which is damaged by the therapy ? If you can get the victim organ decorated by anti-toxin, you maybe could protect it. This would require a bifunctional antibody fusing the anti-toxin with an antibody specific for a surface antigen of the organ at risk. The surface antigen has to be one which uhm stays on the surface and doesn’t cycle into lysosomes or something. The bifunctional antibody would have to have a partly deleted fc so that it doesn’t fix complement or act as a signal for antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity.

Why not ?

Actually, antibody directed anti-toxins could be more generally useful. Standard chemotheraputic agents kill cells as they divide. Thus they kill cancerous cells, bone marrow, the lining of the digestive system and hair follicles. I wonder if it is possible to make a bifunctional antibody with one bit that binds to bone marrow stem cells and the other which binds irreversibly to, say, methotrexate. Thus any methotrexate which found it’s way into the bone marrow would be inactivated one hopes until it is excreted/processed in the liver.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I don't use spam filters. I find spam amusing. However, I recently received a fiendishly clever bit of spam which tricked me into clicking (I swear I haven't fallen for one in years).

It claimed to be citbank informing me that it had transferred money into a bank account I had never heard of. Enough to get me to click on a strange fiendishly unclever URL which took me to nowhere. Being a bit unclever myself I cut out the odd URL which mainly informed me that I am the 727th person to fall for the trick and which gave an e-mail address which should definitely not be used for retaliatory spam.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Beyond F-you gate

Vice President Richard Cheney appears to have gone completely nuts

Dana Milbank writes

Countering the staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, which found no "collaborative relationship" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda, Cheney renewed his accusation that they had "long-established ties." He listed several examples and stated: "In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bombmaking and document forgery."

Senior intelligence officials said yesterday that they had no knowledge of this.

Not good to get called that quick, but why did he think anyone would buy it. I've read "Plan of Attack," I know Mr Cheney has trouble with the concept of chain of command (as in the President conducts foreign policy with the advice and consent of the Senate and the Vice President does not). Still he must know that brigadier generals don't train people in bombmaking and document forgery. Hell there aren't many brigadier generals who know how to make bombs or forge documents with their own hands. Those skill s are more likely to be found in lower pay grades.

It's sounds to me like he can't keep two stories straight. First, it is generally known that an Iraqi general talked to Osama Bin Laden in Sudan in the early 90s. It is not so clear if he went beyond asking Bin Laden to stop supporting anti Ba'athists in Iraq There is no evidence Iraq gave al Qaeda anything in exchange, and it is clear that Bin Laden requests were not granted. Second, it is also true that, faced with "aggressive interrogations techniques" one Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi claimed
that Iraq had offered "chemical or biological weapons training to al Qaeda. However "he "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. "It's not clear which version is correct. We are still sorting this out." Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear."

Saturday, July 03, 2004

I have put the beautiful photographs produced over decades with no digital techniques whatsoever by Tom Waldmann (my dad) on the web