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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Good news from Iraq in a buried lede

The Headline was nice enough "Chalabi Lacks Votes Needed to Win Spot in Iraqi Assembly"

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 27, 2005; Page A18

The thought of how Jim Hoagland will discuss this on the op ed page was briefly amusing until I realised that he will just drop Chalabi and move on to the next error.

However, I think the article contains fairly important very good news.

The deal-making has led to meetings among rivals at opposite extremes of Iraqi politics to feel out any possible alliance. On Saturday, the effort brought Saleh Mutlak -- a Sunni politician previously derided by Shiites as a front for insurgents -- together with Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party whose militia Sunnis accuse of running anti-Sunni death squads. Both sides confirmed the meeting Monday.

"We have agreed that we should form a government of national unity without suggesting any names," Mutlak said. "And they've agreed on the principle and were very positive about it." He said there were "no results for these talks yet, but all expectations show that we are on the right track to solve the problem."

The deal-making has led to meetings among rivals at opposite extremes of Iraqi politics to feel out any possible alliance. On Saturday, the effort brought Saleh Mutlak -- a Sunni politician previously derided by Shiites as a front for insurgents -- together with Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party whose militia Sunnis accuse of running anti-Sunni death squads. Both sides confirmed the meeting Monday.

"We have agreed that we should form a government of national unity without suggesting any names," Mutlak said. "And they've agreed on the principle and were very positive about it." He said there were "no results for these talks yet, but all expectations show that we are on the right track to solve the problem."

Before reading this, I was reduced to hoping that the complaints about election fraud were just part of the bargaining process. Now it is clear. The election results were not ideal because the current majority was in a position to mantain power without compromising with the Sunni's. However, it seems Al Hakim is sensible enough to understand that votes are not key at the moment. I'm not sure how much his determination to find a compromise with the Sunni's is based on pressure from Bush and I don't care.

One possible outcome in Iraq is civil war, the other is a coordinated assault on the treasury by all of the greedy politicians in Iraq. The chances for the second look much better than they did yesterday.

Now I wonder if the Shi'ite bargaining strategy (and especially the truly weird negotiations of al Hakim and Mutlak) is to make it clear that they have to reach agreement with at least one Sunni party but they don't care which one millionth as much as the two Sunni partys want to be that one.

Monday, December 26, 2005

"The're a lot of pages in this book" -Jonathan Thomas Waldmann age 25 months and precocious.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I'm all in favor of a special prosecutor to investigate the NSA leaks

Some (no links) have suggested that the same people who are wildly enthusiastic about the Plame investigation should be in favor of a special prosecutor charged with deciding if a crime was committed and, if so, by whom, when the NSA mass interception program was leaked. I'd love it if Bush appointed Ken Starr himself. Let's see how far he would get with attempts to get judges to hold the journalists who reported the story in contempt if they don't reveal their sources. How about trying to prosecute someone for reporting a crime ?

The cases are rather different. The fact that Plame worked for the CIA was irrelevant to the public debate. No one has even been able to decide if the leakers really thought they could cast doubt on Wilson's credibility or if they were trying to punish his wife for his misdeed. Release of that fact damaged US anti proliferation efforts. The fact was very specifically described as the sort of fact which must not be released even if Plame's latest posting was a few months late for the release to be a crime under the IIPA.

In contrast describing the NSA program is the sort of leak which is specifically protected by Whistle blower statutes. It is central to a national debate. In particular one side of that debate is the claim that the president is above the law. No more important debate is possible and the fact that the Bush administration has made this claim in other contexts and no one noticed makes it more important that it be debated. The New York Times suppressed did not report details of the program until today. Thus the original story did not tell al Qaeda anything useful to them. They don't care about warranted vs warrantless wire taps.

The latest story reports that there is something new and different about the program which makes it unlike pre FISA domestic spying. This story explains why the Bush administration did not just ask the FISA court for retroactive permission, since they were technically spying on everyone in order to find patterns in order to decide which communications to intercept. While the content of the latest story has been widely guessed in blogs, it might constitute a damaging release of information.

I think it is obvious that the New York Times is reporting details which it has had for years now and only now, because the Bush adminstration asked them to reveal at least enough to make it clear that their violation of the law was not completely pointless. If anyone is guilty of damaging national security, it is the person who caused the Times to adjust the level of detail which it released. I for one have no idea cough cough Karl Rove cough cough who that might be.

I doubt the courts will be very receptive to the idea that it is a crime to report classified information to inform the public of a crime but perfectly ok to report much more sensitive classified information to help the criminals justify their actions. I really wish that people who have a counterargument not tell it to me but rather tell it to the judge.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

From the Truth Laid Bear rankings of blogs by traffic.

17) Athletics Nation :: An Oakland A's Blog 53521 visits/day (4654)
18) Red Reporter :: A Cincinnati Reds Blog 53521 visits/day (5030)
19) Bruins Nation :: A UCLA Bruins weblog 53521 visits/day (6684)
20) Camden Chat :: A Baltimore Orioles Blog 53521 visits/day (10348)
21) South Side Sox :: A Chicago White Sox Blog 53521 visits/day (9996)
22) Lone Star Ball :: A Texas Rangers Blog 53521 visits/day (9079)
23) Let's Go Tribe :: A Cleveland Indians Blog 53521 visits/day (9999)
24) Burnt Orange Nation :: A Texas Longhorns Blog 53521 visits/day (5143)
25) Royals Review :: A Kansas City Royals Blog 52699 visits/day (11599)
26) Sactown Royalty :: A Sacramento Kings Blog 52699 visits/day (12193)
27) Pounding The Rock :: A San Antonio Spurs Blog 52699 visits/day (14132)

Do we think maybe these rankings are being puffed up by bot visits ? Personally I think it was real clever to make 53521 visits to 8 of the blogs and only 52699 to the other 3. I'm sure that N.Z. Bear will be completely snowed by that sly trick.
Did the NSA program consist of normal wire taps which would have been approved by FISA if Bush hadn't been determined to place himself above the law ?

update: no

I don't understand these paragraphs in the New York Times

But many questions remain about the secret program, including some Mr. Aid said were raised pointedly by his contacts at the agency:


After all, officials who have been granted anonymity in describing the program because it is classified say the agency's recent domestic eavesdropping is focused on a limited group of people. Americans come to the program's attention only if they have received a call or e-mail message from a person overseas who is already suspected to be a member of certain terrorist groups or linked somehow to a member of such groups. And the agency still gets a warrant to intercept their calls or e-mail messages to other people in the United States.

Now does "recent domestic eavesdropping" refer to "the program" in which communications of U.S. persons were intercepted without a warrant ? Or does "recent domestic eavesdropping" refer to warranted taps of communications that do not cross the border ? I think that the sentence could have been written "After all, officials who have been granted anonymity in describing the program because it is classified say the program is focused on a limited group of people" and a stylistic aversion to repetiting a phrase created confusion. This is a rule of Italian style rigidly followed by Italian Newspapers which are almost incomprehensible as a result.

I have always thought that it is idiotic, since clarity is more important than elegance. I will assume that this is what happened. The alternative is that the article is deliberately misleading switching suddenly from one topic to another without making the shift clear.

Now if "the program" involved a limited number of people whose possible link to al Qaueda could be described after the intercept, I see no reason not to go to the FISA court. The defence of the Bush administration depends on the idea that they are using some new technique not envisioned in current laws and unguessed by al Qaeda so they can't have a debate in congress about it without tipping al Qaeda off. The logic of this defence is that to bypass FISA without a compelling reason would be not only a crime but a mistake.

I don't see why an idiotic decision to break the law for no good reason is considered unlikely. This is the administration of the guy who was totally stumped when asked to name a limit on his authority.
Monument Bites Man Biting Dog

Bush attacks the Washington Times. The Washington Post springs to the defence of its sister paper. The storied but recently passive Post seems to have sipped some Kickapoo joy juice.

Glenn Kessler writes that

President Bush asserted this week that the news media published a U.S. government leak in 1998 about Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, alerting the al Qaeda leader to government monitoring and prompting him to abandon the device.

The story of the vicious leak that destroyed a valuable intelligence operation was first reported by a best-selling book, validated by the Sept. 11 commission and then repeated by the president.

But it appears to be an urban myth.

Then he wins the award for cautious inference with the following considered consideration.

Causal effects are hard to prove, but other factors could have persuaded bin Laden to turn off his satellite phone in August 1998. A day earlier, the United States had fired dozens of cruise missiles at his training camps, missing him by hours.

naaaaah I'm sure he didn't even notice the cruise missiles as he was reading his morning Washington Times.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Daughter Kathy Waldmann (age 8) and Microsoft Word

I open word and she starts typing.

I say "this is word you know what to do." She replies in a bored sing song voice "save while I am typing." Kids learn fast these days. This reminded me of a post by Brad.

Later she says "dad come here why is word doing this ?" She points at the document where each line begins with a capital letter. "This (first line) is because it is the beginning and this (second) is because the sentence ended just above, but now word is doing it to every line." I just learn that one of the evil word tricks is to notice that two lines being with capitals and decide that, therefore, every line must begin with a capital. I decide to answer the question later and just delete and replace with lower case. fortunately Word's idiotic time saving simplifying tricks don't take much time or effort to reverse.

K "Word says that 'diplodicus' is miss spelled"
R "Word doesn't know how to spell diplodicus"
K "Well they could have read about dinosaurs."

Here actually word is innocent, since she was writing in Italian and "diplodicus" is English or Latin but they are called diplodoci in Italian. The conversation was in Italian but I remember it in English.

Final product here

I dinosauri vissero circa 60 milioni di anni fa.
Il dinosauro più grande del mondo è diplodicus
lungo 26 m della quale sono stati trovati pochi
fossili ma ben conservati .
invece il composnatus è il dinosauro più piccolo del
mondo lungo 60 cm della quale sonno statti trovati
pochi fossili ma ben conservati.

OK so comsognathus is really not spelled composnatus but hey.

Ah back to the question. Why does Word do those stupid automatic list tricks which would save a second if you were doing what Word thinks you should be doing and instead are just a total pain ?

Microsoft has a monopoly on the standard operating system, word processor, spread sheet and power point (that one they actually invented no?). So it gets tons of money and hires lots of smart energetic people who amuse themselves by trying to teach computers how to do things (like read minds) which are too hard for computers to do. Thus from mechanical simplicity they create stupidity.

The absurdity of my story caused great amusement so I guess microsoft isn't a total loss.
Totally Outclased by My Advisor Larry Katz

Monday I did some relatively intensive last week before Xmas advising of PhD students. Due to my scheduling genius I was talking to four at the same time. I didn't do as bad as I might expect at multi tasking, but I am just not at the same level as my advisors Larry Summers and Larry Katz. In particular Larry Katz totally showed me up on Monday.

I report some e-mail correspondence with considerable editing.

From: Robert Waldmann Mailed-By:
Date: Dec 19, 2005 3:49 PM
Subject: competing risks

competing risks [snip] and worried a lot about correlation between the effect of unobserved heterogeneity on one and the other. By amazing coincidence I am advising a student (Dario Sciulli) who has exactly the same problem. [snip]

I would guess that Heckman has something with mass points for a general competing risk model. It would be very nice if such a thing has been implemented in STATA. [snip]

From: Lawrence F. Katz Mailed-By:
To: Robert Waldmann
Date: Dec 19, 2005 3:54 PM
Subject: Re: competing risks


[snip] there has been some recent practical work on how to do
implement competing risks models and to allow for correlation across the
risks by Adriana Lleras-Muney and Bo Honore of Princeton. They would be
the people to contact on this issue. A recent versio of their paper is
available from Adriana's web site at

OK so no big. Larry Katz knows the latest (October 2005) on correlated effects of unobserved heterogeneity in competing risk duration models, but look at the headers.

3:54 pm minus 3:49 pm is five (5) minutes. This is a totally cold e-mail after years with no correspondence and he sent back a URL five minutes after I ask him.
This is a topic on which he hasn't worked in about fifteen (15) years.

Now I made a big mistake. I sent the e-mail and checked for the reply with four (4) advisees watching me. Now they will expect the same kind of service from me, with follow up for twenty (20) years.

Very dumb move.
OK I am going to call this one. The huge outpouring of support for Dan Froomkin at has convinced the respectable White House reporters at The Washington Post to emulate him.

Below I notice that Washington Post White House Correspondents Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei seem to have run into a lot of people who are appalled by Bush yesterday.

Now I notice here that someone named Baker threw Bush a hard ball high and inside

At today's press conference, someone named "Baker" asked an excellent question:

Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

That wouldn't be Washington Post White House correspondent Peter Baker by any chance would it ?

If not, I look silly as usual. If so, I am being unfair to Mr Baker who is doing an excellent job lately.

Update: Yes it was Peter Baker and Bush was completely stumped on what limits he recognises to his power.

Washington Post reporter Peter Baker's question was the only one that really appeared to rattle the president:

"Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

"THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of "unchecked power."

"Q Well --

"THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time, and on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

"This is an awesome responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people, and I understand that, Peter. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor programs such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States. To say 'unchecked power' basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the President, which I strongly reject.

"Q What limits do you --

"THE PRESIDENT: I just described limits on this particular program, Peter. And that's what's important for the American people to understand. I am doing what you expect me to do, and at the same time, safeguarding the civil liberties of the country."

Then Bush called on someone else
Orrin Kerr writes

The final argument is that Article II of the Constitution gives the President inherent authority to conduct such monitoring. The Administration introduced this theory in a supplemental brief filed in the FISA Court of Review:

The President Has Inherent Authoritv to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Protect National Security from Foreign Threats.

In considering the constitutionality of the amended FISA, it is important to understand that FISA is not required by the Constitution. Rather, the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority. Both before and after the enactment of FISA, courts have recognized the President's inherent authority to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance. See, e.g., Butenko, 494 F.2d at 608 (grounding exception to warrant requirement in the President's Commander-in-chief and foreign-affairs powers; noting that the country's self-defense needs weigh on the side of reasonableness); Truong, 629 F.2d at 914 (citing the President's foreign affairs power as justifying an exception to the warrant requirement); cf. United States v. United States District Court (Keith), 407 U.S. 297, 308 (1972)(reserving the question whether the President's foreign-affairs powers justify exception from warrant requirement).

So the argument, as I understand it, is that Congress has no power to legislate in a way that inteferes with the President's Commander-in-Chief power, a judgment made, I suppose, by the President himself.

I have been unable to find any caselaw in support of this argument. Further, the argument has no support from the cases cited in the government's brief. In all three of those cases — Butenko, Truong, and Keith - the Courts were talking about whether the President's interest in conducting foreign intelligence monitoring creates an exception to the Warrant Requirement of the Fourth Amendment. In other words, the issue in those case was whether the Constitution bars warrantless surveillance absent Congressional action, not whether Congressional prohibitons in this area cannot bind the Executive branch.

If I understand correctly, Kerr is making a very strong claim. The struggles over the interpretation of the US Constitution have not always concerned penumbrae. For example, I believe, the courts applied the Sedition act which made it a crime to "rail against any just act of congress." The act was clearly an attempt to repeal the first amendment (except the parts about religion) by statute. Nonetheless it was applied. The history of US jurisprudence is long and judges have written the most astounding things.

I would not have imagined that I would live to see an administration make an argument so utterly monstrous and nonsensical that an emminent legal scholar could not find any case law in support of it.

This totally aside from the fact that the appalling idea was considered and very explicitly rejected by all justices on the Supreme court whose first name did not begin with C.
Bush And Cheney Doing OK with People whose names start with B or C

Clash Is Latest Chapter in Bush Effort to Widen Executive Power

By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers

Which is presented (correctly) as news not as analysis or commentary hammers Bush and Cheney as hard as Dan Froomkin ever did. I would like to think that the amazing outpouring of support for Froomkin have convinced Baker VandeHei and John F. Harris that distorting reality to balance truth and nonsense is not obligatory.

Cheney supplies the nonsense

Speaking with reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force Two to Oman, Cheney said the period after the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War proved to be "the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy" and harmed the chief executive's ability to lead in a complicated, dangerous era. "But I do think that to some extent now we've been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency."

I fear that Baker and VandeHei looked low and lower for someone who would agree with Cheney. They seem to have tried and tried and finally succeeded.

Maybe "Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and Reagan administration official" ?

nah he said "He's living in a time warp,"

John Sununu Jr son of the notoriously power hungry chief of staff of Bush sr ?

uh uh he said "The vice president may be the only person I know of that believes the executive has somehow lost power over the last 30 years."

(ok I know JS Jr is filibustering the patriot act. I first thought it was his dad).

OK have to go to a partisan hack ideologue how about David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union "The problem is, where do you stop rebalancing the power and go too far in the other direction? I think in some instances [Bush] has gone too far."

Bush has lost George Will and the American Conservative Union. He is in trouble.

He does get support from himself, Cheney, William P. Barr and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

I guess that tomorrow they will try everyone under D and E in the phone book.
Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest

Jurist Concerned Bush Order Tainted Work of Secret Panel

By Carol D. Leonnig and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 21, 2005; Page A01

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

It seems that Robertson is not going to denounce Bush publicly. Clearly even if he keeps his outrage in, his act shows how appalling the Bush administrations actions are. The article also includes a wonderful struggle between Scott McClellan and the English language which I would like to make even more obvious by a little further editing (oops my mistake it is absolutely perfect as it is)

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked to explain why Bush last year said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." McClellan said the quote referred only to the USA Patriot Act.

Obviously McClellan doesn't mind telling obvious lies. I think he still hopes that they will remain in the briefing room, that is, the text of the question which makes it obvious that his answer is a lie will be edited out so the lying answer becomes a sound bite liberated from specific meaning and therefore falsehood by editors who are determined not to let viewers and readers see how totally absolutely shamelessly dishonest the Bush administration is.
King Kong and Kant.

Andrea Knutson wrote in a comment on Brad's blog.

I am not sure what the benighted 100 million think that they are saying when that "Homo sapiens was created directly by God, rather than gradually by evolution. " They may only be saying what I learned at St. Thomas Elementary; the body can evolve the the soul was directly created.
If you reply that you do not believe in souls. I would pose the question of whether legal responsibility evolves or happens in a discontinuous burst.
For example: If a male gorilla kills his mates children by another we say - good work - more resources for your kids.
If a human kills his stepchildren we put him in prison.
Is there a missing link? How would we treat the missing link?

I would not say of " a male gorilla kills his mates children by another we " - good work - more resources for your kids" and in fact, I think, no one does. You are presenting a very common misunderstanding of Darwinism in which "fitness" is given a normative significance as in it is good to be fit. This was [Goodwin's law violation deleted] Herbert Spencer's view but it was never Darwin's view and it is a misunderstanding of science to imagine that a positive theory has automatic normative implications.

The identification of the all powerful (God to the religious -- natural laws to an atheist) and the good (God to the religious -- moral laws to an atheist) is a appropriate for the religious and idiotic for the atheist (I think I can at least politely name Trotsky as such a moral idiot).

Now do I think the action of the male Gorilla is imoral ? I sure do. I think that what the Tsunami did was morally wrong. That is, I personally have no problem judging things which clearly have neither a mind nor a soul. It is absurd for the moral law to preach to a Tsunami which has no ears. It is absurd for it to preach to us as it has no voice.

To me the reason to punish humans who kill is twofold. People, being unusually un reliant on instinct, are very diverse. Some are much more willing to kill other humans than others. Locking them up makes us safer. A Lion who acts as all lions do does not show he is particularly dangerous.

Also people are real smart, not compared how smart we think we are, but compared to gorillas. People can therefore understand laws and be deterred.

Of course many people train animals. One does not have to believe that they have souls or some mysterious free will which is some kind of exception to the laws physics to do so. To me deterence is the same thing.

That is there is a wholly utilitarian view of crime and punishment which guides my personal views of what is a just justice. You claim that my view is impossible. I assure you, it is how I view things. This is why I absolutely reject retribution as a justification for punishment. I think punishment is sometimes useful but never good in itself. Your apparent claim that I can not possibly believe in continuity of apes and men is based on your further claim that I can not possibly believe what I definitely do believe about why we hold people responsible and when and how we should.

Given the comment was to a post about how many people are "ignorant, stupid or insane, or wicked." I hasten to add that I don't consider Andrea's belief in the existence of a soul to have anything to do with any of the above. The facts will not tell us if we have souls and the differences in our beliefs on this question do not imply either of us has made any kind of intellectual lapse.

Andrea does not, I think, know that people like me exist, that is, people who have thought about the issues she raises and definitely definitely disagree. Thus she is not omniscient, but hey no one can know everything and the thought of Robert Waldmann is, perhaps, the least important and interesting topic of all.
Kahneman Twersky and My 7th grade class trip

For some reason I was recalling my 7th grade class trip. The bureaucracy was informal as the finances were handled in the form of checks made out to my 7th grade teacher Dale Allen. One student who will remain nameless and is a wonderful person and a friend of mine objected. Dale (progressive education you know) asked the one who shall not be named "can you find someone who is willing to take 25 teenagers on a week end trip for room and board?:"

So I thought what is my reservation wage for such a task. First question do I have liability insurance (except for really gross negligence say). If so $5,000 if not $10,00. Now the difference really is very large even given the extraordinary ability of teenagers to harm themselves (of which I personally have no experience). This however is not the reason I bring up K and T.

The reason is that if I were in a position where I had to do this monster task or pay someone to do it, I wouldn't pay someone $5,000. I am happy to note that we are not at the moment liquidity constrained and $5,000 is not huge compared to our financial wealth (but note we don't own a house and are trying to buy).

Turning down a chance to make $5000 is OK to me. I would feel like an idiot to pay someone $5000 for a week end of work no matter how horrible. This is irrational. There is an asymmetry between gains and losses even with liability insurance. The irrationality strongly reminds me of loss aversion. Down one trip with teenagers, I am willing to gamble that the horrors of managing them will turn out to be less painful than the loss of $5000 something like double or nothing. With the oportunity to deal with kids for kash I decline to stay safe.

Oh and thanks Dale for giving us what I now consider to be $5000 of extra service for nothing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mark Kleiman is unthrilled by the Iraqi election results.

He asks "What are we going to do if the new government politely asks us to make sure the door doesn't hit us in the ass on our way out?"

I'd say we should make sure the door doesn't hit us in the ass on our way out.

I'm pretty sure a hasty US withdrawal would be bad for Iraq, but I'm really really eager to get out and I'm not even personally there.

At least we know where Iraq stands. We can hope that the Shi'ite fundamentalists and the Sunni fundamentalists can work together to bring Iraq back into the middle ages, but we must fear that they will fight a religious war over minor theological quibbles and major personal ambitions.

It is a bit of a shock when Moqtada al Sadr is an advocate of compromise.

some changes could very well pass, since there is new openness on the side of the Shi’ites too to renegotiate at least some features of the constitutional framework as indicated by Moqtada al Sadr’s so-called “Pact of Honor” (Gilbert Achkar in Informed Comment December 9) as well as Kanan Makiya’s recent op ed in the NY Times (“Present at the Disintegration” December 11) both of which are willing to suspend the plans for ethnically based regional “federalism.”

Needless to say people less reasonable that Moqtada are likely to prevail.
Oh nooooooo

We are trying to buy a house, something which tends to involve getting a loan from a bank and today of all days Pajamas Media links to me. Now no one who ever wants to see one centessimo of their money back will have anything to do with me.
The largest Sunni Arab party in Iraq has said results of the Baghdad vote in last week's national election were fraudulent

reports Al Jazeera

Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic party , called on Tuesday for an immediate revision of the figures.
"They should ... immediately revise the figures. The ball is now in the court of the IECI," He said

Uh oh. I think that the formation of a broad coalition including at least some Sunni party is very important for Iraq. After the vote and before the counting there were some promising signs from both Shi'ites and Sunnis. This sounds very bad. For all I know accusations of fraud are just part of the bargaining process, but it is hard for me to imagine people accusing each other of fraud and forming a coalition at the same time.

update: has caught up with al Jazeera on this story. Things do not look good at all.

Saleh Mutlak, ... said: ...

"This election is completely false. It insults democracy everywhere. Everything was based on fraud, cheating, frightening people and using religion to frighten the people," he said. "It is terrorism more than democracy."

Mutlak IIRC is a secular Sunni and the most prominent politician in Iraq who refrains from criticizing the Ba'ath. He seems to be claiming that the islamist Sunnis hammered him partly because of fraud in spite of the fact that they were in far oposition before the election. He is unimportant politically and clearly considers a poor result for his party ipso facto fraud. I won't claim that he is used to having his party win 99.9999 % of the vote, because that would be to tar him with the B word. Still I wish I said what he said except for the unsupported claims of fraud as in "This election ... insults democracy everywhere. Everything was based on ... frightening people and using religion to frighten the people."

Needless to say, I am not thinking of the Iraqi election.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

And They Doubt That There is a War on Christmas

Straight from the nerve center of the enemy a campaign of slander against Santa himself entitled "Drunken Santas on the Rampage"

"Santas entered a store and carried off beer and soft drinks.

Changa Manakynda, the shop owner, said: "They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves."

A likely story. Where's a reliable fact checker like Bill O'Reilly when you need him ?
Ah So that's what they mean by extra chromosome conservatives

I am only now reading "The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs" prepared for the indispensible congressman Henry Waxman (press release, big pdf file of the report)

"Another curriculum states that "Twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and Twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual"
In the post below, and direct one to the same page This is really weird, because at they claim "Making long URLs useable! More than 13 million of them."

I assumed that the tinyurls were case sensitive. The five letters come after a / so they can be a UNIX file and, one of the reasons i HATE unix is that it is case sensitive.

But no, it seems that tinyurls are identified by 5 case insensitive symbols. This is weird because 26 to the fifth is only 11,881,376 < 13,000,000.

Oh I see most tinyurls contain letters and digits and 36 to the fifth is 60,466,176
giving tinyurl a few options left before their urls have to become slightly less tiny.

I was puzzled because I got one of the probability (26/36)^5 = 19.65% all letter urls.

Never mind.

Josh Marshall notes
that as of December 31 2002 the FISA court had never ever denied an application for a warrant for a wire tap.

So what explanation is there for why "President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night."?

Brad DeLong predicts out of sample. His blog isn't opening but he said the only reason Bush would do this is that the Bush administration knew they were going to want to wiretaps in the future which the FISA court would not approve. Indeed, as Josh Marshall notes, a report notes that, in 2003 the FISA court denied 4 applications and
"made substantive modifications to the government's proposed orders" in 79 applications out of 1727 applications made and 1724 approved.


In 2004, the number of approved warrants with "substantive modifications" was 94 out of a total of 1758.

Before the year 2000 modifications were seldom if ever made. In 2000, there was one; in 2001, two; and in 2002, there were two applications modified but those modifications were later reversed..

2003 is where the change comes.

Of course, by then the change didn't matter, since Bush had told the NSA to ignore the FISA court. Before reading Marshall, I assumed that they broke the law just because it was there and they find obeying the law humiliating for The President Who Talks to God.

My personal guess is that the anticipated difficulty was the retirement of Royce Lamberth as FISA judge. Hmm who is Royce Lamberth. Well he has a bit part in the 9/11 committee report as the guy who really built the wall between FISA investigations and the FBI. He also appears to have become very defferential to the White House when Bush entered it. Finally Royce had a very, very different view of executive priviledge when the chief executive was named Clinton, as this google search of "Royce" "Lamberth" AND "Lewinsky" shows.

All in all a stellar performance. I have long wondered why no one ever mentioned that one reason old Royce might have not had time to reconsider restrictions on investigations of al Qaeda was that he was too busy fighting fellatio.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Compromise Reached at

Senate Deals Setback to Bush on Patriot Act
Proposal to extend expiring provisions enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks is blocked by the Senate in a 52-47 vote.
– Charles Babington
• Post's Vandehei | Congress Votes Database
• Analysis: Sen. McCain Leads in Awkward Dance
• OPINION: Froomkin on McCain v. Cheney

As per the request of the PRint Post, Froomkin's column is clearly marked opinion. This distinguishes it from the "analysis" by Peter Baker.

This makes it easy for non cognoscenti to learn the difference between analysis which is ok for reporters and opinion which is not. For example, in opinion you can write that the president is lying, but in analysis you have to write that "most everywhere in Washington outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" thinks the President was lying when he claims that a defeat is a victory. I guess one might imagine someone who wasn't sure that Mr Baker counts himself among "most everyone."

As punishment for being liberal and being thought to be a Post White House reporter by Patrick Ruffini and a liberal to be named later, Froomkin gets moved from the lower left hand corner of the web page where to see his name you have to scroll (or buy a huge monitor) up to front and center.

Now if I were Jim Brady I would have thrown a hissy fit and stood on principle. Brady, being a wimp, just makes the people who attacked Froomkin wish they had never mentioned his name. Kudos.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Interesting Statistical Analysis

John Aravosis leavens his outstanding blogging and activism with a little bit of very odd statistical analysis.

Gosh, straight couples have a 50% divorce rate, and religious-right couples divorce at the highest rate of all Christians (this was from a study done a few years back). So the religious right divorces around 50% and gays divorce around 1%.


From the VT Times Argus:

But from July 1, 2000, through the end of 2004, according to the Vermont Office of Vital Records, 7,549 couples have filed for civil unions in Vermont and there have been 78 dissolutions.

I'm glad to say that 15098 people who formed civil unions in Vermont are still alive. The correct comparison is with divorce before the end of 2004 of couples married since July 1 2000. I think 1% is still low but not totally different from the straight split rate.

Now I do like Aravosis's effort to come up with a practical application of the discovery. I think the divorce rate would be lower if straight Americans had to fight for millenia for the right to marry. Worth doing ? nah but well worth proposing to see O'Reilly's reaction.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw a marriage ending in divorce isn't so bad when you consider the alternative. The sad fact is that half of American marriages are ended by death.
Welcome Clickers on Brad DeLong's week old link.

Sitemeter told me that the Prankster was up to something. It seems that He has deleted the last 6 days of posts. I can only assume that Patrick Ruffini threatened to cut off His access.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Washington Post or the Bush White House ? Same difference for John F. Harris

Asked about "the Post", Harris responds as if he had been asked about the Bush White House. Remember John, the Post is the one that pays your salary, you know, the one your supposed to work for. I mean officially of course.

Dudley, Tex.: Reading The Post one gets the impression that being against the Iraq war and thinking Bush lied to get us in there is an outside the mainstream point of view. But a majority of Americans answer yes to both (and a majority of Americans before the war thought we should go in only with U.N. support). When will your coverage treat that like a legitimate viewpoint, not a crank viewpoint?

John F. Harris: By no means do I think that is a crank viewpoint.

The Washington Post poll, like most national polls, shows that a very strong majority of Americans think the Iraq war was a mistake. The numbers are high, though not as high, on the question of whether Bush deliberately distorted information in making the case for war.

I would doubt that anyone at the Bush White House would honestly say this is a crank view. The fact that they know these attitudes are pervasive is amon the biggest political challenges the president faces right now. That's why he's been making a series of speeches trying to bolster his support.

Peter Baker wrote a very good and clear-eyed analysis on this in today's paper.

I'd call that a Kinsleyian gaffe. Harris revealed that he see's his job as refuting criticisms of "the Bush White House"
John F. Harris on line with my comments

Des Moines, Iowa: Is there a reason that your concerns about Dan Froomkin's column surfaced now after it has been running for (I believe) over two years?

John F. Harris: Good morning, folks. There are TONS of questions on this topic, as I knew there would be. It's been boiling on blogs in recent days, and some comments I made there have been a big part of the conversation.

To be honest, I'm only going to answer a couple on this, for two reasons:

--I've addressed it in other forums, and the whole matter has been diverting me from other work.

Evidently he is referring to his interview in PresThink with Jay Rosen (see below). In addressing the issue he made a claim that Froomkin has a slant which is too liberal (or has not been careful enough to avoid the appearance of such a slant) to be appropriate in a White House beat reporter. In addressing the issue Harris was unable to present either a single example or any statistical analysis. Instead he directed the reader to Patrick Ruffini, eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee, identifying him only as a conservative blogger. Harris claimed that anonymous complainers (a new catagory ) believed that Froomkin was a reporter not a commentator and that this had something to do with the title of his column (which includes the words White House which belong to Mr Harris). Harris counted both Ruffini and a source who handles campaigns. He should at least be prepared to swear under oath that these two people who complained confusion are not one and the same. He claimed that there were many such people. He has not named one nor given any reason why the anonymity of people who choose to press the Post to change editorial decisions should be protected.

--More important, the uproar on blogs has made what is by agreement of everyone at the paper and website a pretty narrow issue seem like a huge deal. It's not, and I'm eager to cool it down.

Given that the affair shows Harris being willing to make accusations and unable to support them with facts and willing to present a political operative as an independent analyst, I'm sure he wants it to cool down. When interviewed by Brad Delong, he claimed that " I've promised people I won't respond" and "I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this." Oddly his explanation today contains no reference to such a promise or such people. I guess that he was telling the truth then and is trying to hide something (like an order to shut up from Leonard Downie) from readers of now

The narrow issue is how labels Dan Froomkin's popular White House Briefing column, and whether enough is done to make clear that he is a commentator but not a Washington Post news reporter. The Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, wrote a column saying more should be done to clarify that, and I was quoted agreeing with her.Harris is trying to shift responsibility to Howell. She wrote that reporters were displeased. In order to avoid responsibility for the controversy, Harris is claiming it started with her, that is, that she lied. It is not possible for the claims of both Harris and Howell about the origen of the debate to be true. One is attempting to deceive the readers of the Washington Post. I guess that one is Harris An uproar ensued in some places, getting the issue all tangled up in controversies about the war and journalism generally. As if we needed a reminder, these are emotional times.

For those who are actually interested in the details, Jay Rosen's site "pressthink" did a full and responsible airing of this relatively minor issue, and I said everything I need to say (and a little more)on that.
This is really special. Harris says that the details are in an interview in which he omitted the interesting detail that the only source of specific criticism of Froomkin he could think of is a Republican operative. In the interview with DeLong he revealed that he knew this (no surprise) and argued that Ruffini was not an operative the day he wrote his criticisms (of course you have to read both interviews).
For all its interesting and useful features, some things I don't like about the on-line crankosphere are its frequent humorlessness and tendency to blow issues way out of proportion.

not to mention its tendency to respond to arguments with insulting words

After I popped off on some of these issues, some colleagues gently suggested I might be flirting with these traits myself. (They are liars and no longer my friends.)


I did get irked by one thing Dan had said on-line, which I took to be suggesting that Post reporters don't work hard to hold the White House accountable. He later quite graciously made clear this was not at all what he intended, and I felt bad about responding hotly. I like Dan and his column.
This is a very decent apology, but does not do justice either to the heat of the hotly or the paranoia of the taking to be suggesting. Froomkin definitely implied that some reporters somewhere do not always hold the Bush administration accountable, since he links to other sources there was no implication that any of these reporters are employees of the Post. Harris's reaction was, as Harris notes, unreasonable. Such sensitivity does not imply a guilty concience.
It just goes to show what my mother always said about counting to ten before speaking in anger. Unfortunately, we've fallen out, since she apparently loves Osama and Saddam more than America.

Northampton, Mass.: With the revelations about Miller, Woodward, and Viveca Novack the public is naturally concerned about the too-cozy relationship between the Washington press corps and their official sources. How, in your view, can we combat this problem and build a stronger and more independent fourth estate?

John F. Harris: I don't ever wish to be complacent about these issues. I can only tell you from my vantage point, as the person who edits the White House coverage, that coziness between the Bush White House and the Post reporters who cover that place aggressively and fairly has not been a problem.

I call Yalta. Is Harris saying that coziness is not a problem among the subset of Post reporters who cover the White House who also cover that place aggressively and fairly ? This is a tautology. Or am I to assume that he included the definite article "the" by mistake, because (like me) he has trouble with English grammar and he meant to assert that all Post reporters cover the White House aggressively and fairly or (most likely) did he add the qualifiers "aggressively and fairly" just to get the words out without thinking about what a qualifier does ?
In addition, as we have seen in recent years, there are more voices holding not just public officials but the media accountable than ever before. All for the good.l


John F. Harris: Knowing how literal-minded some people are, maybe I should hasten to add I was just kidding about my mom. I stop rolling on the floor laughing my ass off and wonder why Harris thinks idiots are reading (probably solid evidence)


Miami, Fla.: What is the breakdown of questions you are receiving this morning in terms of from the left or the right? Is your aim to choose questions to answer based on the popularity of theme or on your interest in the subject?

John F. Harris: These things really vary depending on the news. Today, there's many more coming from what I'm supposing is probably the left, but that's because of the matter I mentioned in my first question.

Some days, conservatives are worked up on something and we can expect a lot of questions.

In general, I'd say the balance of these chats is pretty even. Many and probably most of the questions or comments are not identifiably tilting in any direction.


Miami, Fla.: With the advent of the Internet age, what are some of the ways The Post can maintain its identity as an objective source of news. Is there anything you like about the Internet?

John F. Harris: The Internet is an overwhelming net positive, of course.

The ease of finding information, the diversity of voices are all great things.

From the Post perspective, since our paper version is a local newspaper and not nationally distributed, it's great knowing we are reaching readers all over the country and the world. That's by far the most satisfying change for me professionally over the past decade.

I also like doing these chats, as do all the reporters on the political staff.

yeah right I'm sure he's having fun today


Dudley, Tex.: Reading The Post one gets the impression that being against the Iraq war and thinking Bush lied to get us in there is an outside the mainstream point of view. But a majority of Americans answer yes to both (and a majority of Americans before the war thought we should go in only with U.N. support). When will your coverage treat that like a legitimate viewpoint, not a crank viewpoint?

John F. Harris: By no means do I think that is a crank viewpoint.

The Washington Post poll, like most national polls, shows that a very strong majority of Americans think the Iraq war was a mistake. The numbers are high, though not as high, on the question of whether Bush deliberately distorted information in making the case for war.

I would doubt that anyone at the Bush White House would honestly say this is a crank view. The fact that they know these attitudes are pervasive is amon the biggest political challenges the president faces right now. That's why he's been making a series of speeches trying to bolster his support.

Peter Baker wrote a very good and clear-eyed analysis on this in today's paper.

omigod did I just read that ? Harris was asked something about the view at the Washington Post and he slipped and wrote "Bush White House" instead of "Washington Post" and this on the day when he has to prove he works for the Post not the White House and knows the difference. The guy is under pressure. This has to have a post of its own.


Arlington, Va.: How do you see the immigration issue affecting next year's congressional races? Do you see it as an issue that can fracture the GOP's control of Congress?

John F. Harris: Many Republicans expect this to be a large and growing issue, in 2006 and 2008. There are divisions in both parties, but I think they are especially consequential on the Republican side. We've written quite a lot about that, including a story by Jeff Birnbaum on how the GOP's business supporters are estranged from the Hill leadership on this issue.


Washington, D.C.: Now that President Bush has broken with his usual practice of avoiding direct comment on pending criminal investigations to express his faith in Mr. DeLay (in a Fox News interview), will your White House reporters press him or his Press Secretary to comment on the Plame investigation?

John F. Harris: I agree: that apparent contradiction seems like a reasonable thing for the White House to be pressed on.


Portland, Maine: I read today that Bob Novak believes Bush knows the source of the leak, and suggests the press start asking Bush to reveal the source. Can Bush do that without dragging himself into the Fitzgerald probe?

John F. Harris: I'm sure he won't take Novak up on his invitation to say what he knows.

To be honest, I've always regarded the "can't comment, under investigation" as a transparent dodge. But every politician uses it. As journalists, we should (and pretty often do) keep pressing even when we know the answer is likely to be no comment.

_______________________ In Four Speeches, Two Answers on War's End, (Post, Dec. 15, 2005)


Birmingham, Ala.: How effective will the Republican latest tactic to try to show that Abramoff was/is as shady with the Dems as the Repubs?

John F. Harris: I can't predict. The lobbyist culture and the ethical questions raised by it is bipartisan. But the Abramoff-Scanlon matter is overwhelmingly focused on Republicans, and that's a problem of still-unknown size for the congressional GOP.

K street project what K street project ? By limiting his statement about partisan association of lobbyists to Delay's former spokesman and a college Republican, Harris obscures an extremely important issue. He explicitly asserts that the eithical issues related to lobbyists remain bipartisan, which stongly suggests that bribery and near bribery are roughly balanced. In fact, ignoring Abramoff and Scanlon, recent corruption is overwhelmingly Republican. Harris either is a Republican partisan or he feels the need to balance the obviously accurate observation about Ambramoff and Scanlon with a vague and misleading assertino. I'd actually guess the second, that he considers it a rule of proper writing that clauses should be balanced and not unbalanced politically

_______________________ Immigration Pushes Apart GOP, Chamber, (Post, Dec. 14, 2005)


Pittsburgh, Pa.: What are your least favorite catchphrases used by journalists/broadcasters these days. Mine are "on the ground" (as opposed to "in the trees?"),if you will (what if I won't, buddy?), and "at the end of the day" (as opposed to mid-afternoon?). Just curious. Thanks for your work and these chats. I like both you and Froomkin.

John F. Harris: These do seem like cliches, and I'll try to remember to take them out of reporters copy when I'm editing it.

My favorite new word is "truthstigious" invented by respected journalist Stephen Colbert, who says his show is the most trustworthy and prestigious on television.


Silver Spring, Md.: I was wondering, to the best of your knowledge, can you tell me when was the last time The Washington Post endorsed a Republican candidate for President, or either local elections for Senate or Governor?

Thank you very much.

John F. Harris: I don't know, but it's been a while.

This is a good time to remind people that as the Post's political editor, I work for the news side of the paper, not the editorial side.

I do recall that the Democratic-leaning (but pretty hawkish) editorial page made no endorsement at all in 1988, because they did not think Michael Dukakis was suffiently strong on foreign policy and national security issues.


New York, N.Y.: How does The Post determine which stories the chief political editor edits? Do you just edit all stories by particular reporters or is there some editorial process which assigns particular stories to you to edit? For instance do you edit Dana Milbank's column? Or is his column outside your purview? Any insight into how the political editorial process operates at the post would be welcome.


John F. Harris: Glad to do it. The Post's White House reporters Harris claims that his issue with Froomkin is over identification of the 3 White House beat reporters and here he again refrains from naming them. This proves that his claim about his issue with Froomkin is a lie. If the issue was who is and who is not a Post White House reporter, Harris would take every opportunity to name them. Instead he has avoided two such opportunities in a row. Dishonest and not too bright.and our purely political reporters--people like Dan Balz and Tom Edsall--work directly with me.

Dana Milbank, as it happens, is edited by my colleague Maralee Schwartz, one of the Post's most graceful and skilled editors. (She used to improve my work often when I was a White House reporter.)I sure would want to know exactly how that happened. Milbank was a target of Bush administration wrath long before Froomkin. Milbank is clearly a political reporter. Was Harris ever Milbank's editor ? If so how was the decision made to remove him from the role ? Does the questioner from New York know something I don't or does he or she just guess what I guess ?

But these are not strict lines. Sometimes I'll edit congressional stories, even though usually that's done by congressional editor Eric Pianin. We often end up kind of winging it, especially on busy days.


Curious: Is Bush on the rebound? Fox News recently ran a comparison of other second term President's approval ratings at around this time, and Bush's were comparatively HIGH. Other Presidents were in the twenties or low thirties. Is there misreporting, or is Fox playing games with stats?

John F. Harris: I'm quite eager to see the next Washington Post poll on this subject (and am not sure exactly when polling director Rich Morin is in the field next, but I imagine its soon.)

Bush's numbers--both overall approval and specific issues, including Iraq and general trustworthiness--were really bad in our most recent poll. It's going to be interesting to see what the trendlines are.

Well I have to admit that I admire someone who can respond politely to someone who takes Fox News seriously.

I guess the main thing is that Harris mixed up the Washington Post and The Bush White House.
Detainee Cleared for Release Is in Limbo at Guantanamo

The case is beyond belief.

"U.S. forces freed Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani from a Taliban prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2001 [snip] sent him to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002 according to U.S. lawyers who represent him.

Nearly four years later, Turkistani remains there, despite being cleared for release early this year"

It raises two policy questions. First what should be done with Turkistani and 8 others cleared for release but still held because there is no where to send them ?
Second, should congress complete the effort to prevent Habeus Corpus petitions like Turkistani's ?

The extended voluntary departure program was designed exactly for the cases of people in US jurisdiction who can not be deprted because they risk persecution. I see no reason why it has not been applied in these cases. The fact that the nine were brought to US controlled territory against their will would seem to strengthen their case for extended voluntary departure status. The fact that the Bush administration claimed that Guantanamo does not count as US territory has been irrelevant since the supreme court decided against the Bush administration.

The fact that a habeus corpus petition was clearly necessary but not yet sufficient to address this absolutely astounding injustice should convince Lindsey Graham to find some other way to balance his opposition to torture.

I guess there are two other issues.

The article by Josh White and Robin Wright is totally biased. No arguments in favor of the current policy of holding the 9 are presented at all. Does John F. Harris know about this breach of journalistic standards ?

Finally various administration officials have assured the public that prisoners in Guantanamo are the worst of the worst and must not be guaranteed any legal rights at all. One such prisoner is there because he was tortured into falsely confessing that he had conspired to kill Osama Bin Laden. I'd say the officials who assured us that he was one of the worst of the worst should be fired. Such an outrageous claim is not a crime. Holding a person against his will for 3 and one half years without any reason is. I think the depraved criminals who did this should have a fair trial and be released on their own recognisance during that trial. Of course two will have to be impeached first (remember impeach Cheney first).
Jim Marshall pro torture wing of the Democratic Party

Voting against it [specific language proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government.] were 121 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.).

Big tent sure. Big enough for advocates of cruel inhuman or degrading treatment ?

Also the Washington Pos is biased against torture. The article quotes supporters of the resolution but does not present the arguments for torture. Does John F. Harris know about this gross breach of journalistic standards ?

update: Bush abandons Marshall. The Bush administration appears to have surrendered to McCain. Interrogation will follow the field manual (which is being revised). Torture will be allowed only by allied dictatorships after rendition (no deal on that ). McCain's chances of becoming President increase. Still a very good thing.

update 2: There appears to be a specific agreement on what is in the field manual too. That is McCain clearly claims that he has closed that particular loophole, because the agreement includes agreement about the text of the manual "This agreement basically does two things: One, puts into the Army Field Manual the specific procedures for interrogations. And two, it prohibits cruel, inhumane -- or torture."

The agreement does not re-establish rules against rendition to countries that torture. Also the restrictions on Habeus Corpus petitions by Guantanamo detainees which are being considered might make this and all law unenforceable.

Finally I was displeased that this might lead to President McCain. On reflecting I thought that might not be such a bad thing. On reflecting further I recall he wants to send more US troops to Iraq. I do admire the man.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Good thing John F. Harris doesn't mix objective reporting and expression of opinions


Of course that might be a John F. Harris other than the objective editor who happens to be involved with the Washington Post in a completely different and incompatible way.

Donning my tinfoil hat I wonder if he might be the Carlyle group's CFO.

Reading his interview with Brad DeLong and noting the prominent placement of this story I wonder if he is they guy who communicates with Mayan hieroglyphics
The Invisible Hand Meets the Anonymous Source


Karl Rove Meets Tom Sawyer

Many people have noted that exchanging anonymity or, much worse, a favorable slant for access is bad for journalism. They contrast such an exchange made for information which would otherwise remain hidden with the current practice of making it in order to be the one who gets to report the latest talking point. Access to, say, the White House does not serve the public interest. The White House wants to get its talking points out and will do so in exchange for nothing if it has to. However, the private interest of the reporter and his or her employer is served by such an exchange. People like me want to know what the White House line of the day is and, therefore, read the favored channels.

Often selfish actions serve the public good. For example a publisher who just wants to sell papers will hire an editorial staff which reports matters of public interest. A reporter who is interested only in professional success will attempt to uncover important news. The widespread interest in arguments which will certainly be made public somewhere somehow separates the private interest of reporters and newspapers from the public interest.

The argument "if I don't do this someone else will" is not generally considered to be public spirited, but in this case it is the thought which separates the reporter who serves the public even when dealing with spinners and the reporter who damages the public interest. It doesn't matter if Rove leaks via one reporter or another. It is very important that as few reporters as possible slant the news to please Rove. In practice Murdoch/Moon journalists will, but it is possible for some newspapers to refuse to compromise in exchange for access. The American people will get their spin in any case.

I never believed that bit about Tom Sawyer getting people to pay him for the priviledge of whitewashing a fence until I saw journalists begging for a chance to Whitewash the worst administration ever.
RP asks TPM a good question about the Dan Froomkin Debate at the Washington Post

"If this whole thing is only about having differences over the name of the column, why is then this not being talked over internally? WHy do they have to discuss this so public?"

I think the answer is clear. is independent of The Washington Post. Editorial decisions for are made by its executive editor Jim Brady. Washington Post exective editor Leonard Downie Jr. can ask Brady to make editorial changes, but can't just quitly make them.

I am sure that if Dan Froomkin wrote for the printed Washington Post, this would have been handled quietly and internally. Republicans would have complained and Downie would have made changes and no embarassing public debate would occur.

In fact I find it impossible to doubt that such problems have been handled quietly in the past. I think the public debate only occured as a result of Republican amazement that the Post hasn't followed the standard operating procedure of changing its editorial policy in response to their complaints.

Thus I find it impossible to doubt that Leonard Downie Jr. should be fired immediately.
Just Links and Quotes

PressThink "To the extent that some people believe Dan represents the voice and values of the Washington Post newsroom, that seems to me to be leading with our chin. [snip]

This issue is really the heart of it. I would agree with Dan that his words in response to the ombudsman—about demanding answers, crying foul on “disingenous talking points,” and so on—do not represent ideological values. They would seem to me to represent basic journalistic values, and democratic values. This is probably why my comments caused such a stir: People bridled at what they interpreted as my view that challenging the White House on evasions, misstatements, or contradictions is evidence of “liberalism.” By no means is that my view.

So my reservations about “White House Briefing” are not in theory but in practice.

John Harris

"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion,"

Leonard Downie Jr.

Lawrence, Kan.: Did Jim VandeHei misspeak on Hardball when he attributed Rove's knowledge of Valerie Plame to Hadley?

Peter Baker: Thanks for the question. Jim informs me he did misspeak. He meant to say chatter between Rove and Libby, not Hadley.

The Fix Takes Questions
New York, N.Y.: In your recent corruption roundup, you set up some ground rules that you'll only deal with current members of Congress or governors. Yet, you broke your own rules by including Rep Frank Ballance (D) who resigned in June, 2004. You omitted Connecticut Governor John Rowland (R) who also resigned in June, 2004. Why break your own rules for one but not the other?

The only thing I can think of is that you made a list and found that there are a lot more Republicans than Democrats on the list. So in an effort to appeared unbiased, you had to find another Democrat.

Cillizza: This was an editorial mixup. In my original post, Ballance was not included since, as you rightly point out, he is not a sitting member of Congress. After an edit, Ballance was unnecessarily included for, frankly, balance. I did not read the final edit and therefore was unaware that Ballance had been added to the list. I apologize for my editor's error (he's been flogged). And let no man (or woman) say The Fix opposes full disclosure.

It's clear that Froomkin's work is inconsistent with the editorial standards of the Washington Post and
Dan Froomkin is the center of a controversy.

His brother Michael has links here and here.

The alleged issue is that Washington Post White House reporters consider Froomkin to be an opinion columnist and claim that the title "White House Briefing" creates the impression that he is one of them.

Since reporters write articles and a briefing is, by definition, a summary of information which was previously available, this argument seems to me to be total nonsense.

I think part of the problem is that print journalists resent the competition from and have noticed that many bloggers criticise them, praise Froomkin and say his column is one of the few redeeming features of the Post. That is, this is partly a turf war and partly over the status associated with the phrase "White House". I think that most of the problem is that someone in the White House has said that he will leak to another paper unless Froomkin is leashed.

This is more or less openly confessed by Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., in an interview in Editor and Publisher when he almost forgot about the readers "We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too." Downie clearly said that the opinions honest or more likely otherwise of peopl in the White House should be a factor in Washington Post editorial decisions.
I think that he now has only one honorable option -- to resign.

Also astonishing is the interview of John Harris, national politics editor of the Washington Post at "Press Think." As noted by Jay Rosen at Press Think and Brad DeLong, Harris cites the stated opinion of a political operative in response to a question about Froomkin's column. Harris does not tell "Press Think" that the person he cites is an operative. Harris calls him a "conservative blogger". To me this casts an interesting light on's effort to add a conservative blogger. I hope that executive editor Jim Brady is unlike Harris in that he knows the difference between an independent conservative and a Republican party operative.

I was also amazed that neither Harris nor Downie named any of the people who complained about Froomkin. Harris didn't even mention their party affiliation. Nor does he seem to have even considered the possibility that someone might be other than totally frank and honest with him. He claims that he demonstrates the incorrect belief that Froomkin is a WaPo White House reporter by the fact that an un named campaign manager brought up Froomkin when arguing that the post was biased. I will go out on a limb and hazard the wild guess that the campaign was managed on behalf of a Republican. here's the quote " I don’t keep a running log, but I regularly run across people who think Dan is one of our White House reporters. One of them was a very news-saavy source of mine who actually runs campaigns. That tells me there is a large chunk of readers—I’m not saying most but a lot—who are not clear who he is and that he is writing as a commentator and not a White House reporter.

The ombudsman says she regularly gets comments on the theme of how can you pretend to objectivity when your White House reporter writes “insert Froomkin quote here.”"
It appears that Harris believes that assertions of bias from political operatives can only be the expression of sincere opinions. He doesn't seem to be able to grasp the possibility that operatives complain of bias because they are working the refs. Now, of course, Harris is not that stupid, but he seems to hope that readers of "Press Think" are.

To me the extent of grants of anonymity is striking. There has been a lot of discussion of whether reporters should grant anonymity in exchange for quotable opinions as opposed to verifiable facts. Harris grants anonymity to people who complain about the Post. What possible useful purpose could be served by such a practice ?

I personally don't like MSM bashing. It is an old prejudice. Obviously it is impossible to defend Downie or Harris.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Atheist Theological Disputation

I totally disagree with this post at The Road to Surfdom

is the reason to be jolly

If you haven't read Sam Harris's book The End of Faith, then this article is a reasonable introduction to his argument. I mean, it obviously can't be as complete an approach to the topic of religious intolerance and the problems of faith as the book, but it does touch on some of his main themes. It also has some interesting links. Here's his bottom line:

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

Which reminds me, one of the most interesting thing in the Power of Nightmares doco that SBS is currently running, is the cynical way in which religion has been exploited by the American right. Okay, we all know they do it, but it's interesting to see the likes Irving Kristol (I think it was) basically admitting it. More about that show after I watch the final part (and on which subject, check this out).

Posted by Tim Dunlop at December 8, 2005 09:44 AM

I am an atheist and I disagree with the view presented above of what atheism is.
I have two problems with "Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing." First it declares itself to be intellectually dishonest. There is and can be no evidence that "One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence." Yet that statement is made with great conviction. I am sure that Dunlop and the people he quotes are sincere and sincerely wrong about the nature of intellectual honesty. They should realise that any claim about what one should or shouldn't believe is inherently self referential and check that it is not self contradictory. Their belief (falsely) declares itself to be dishonest. It is clearly wrong. It might or might not be possible for someone to have beliefs that are based only on evidence, that person would certainly not consider such lack of faith the way things should be, because that person could not have any opinions on should and shouldn't.

This is my more strongly felt objection to the view presented above. If one’s convictions were proportional to one’s evidence, one would have no opinions in ethics, no conviction that, say, other things equal peace is better than war or that torturing all living people would not be a good action. Evidence is useful in evaluating positive theories. The only evidence we can have about whether something is good or bad is evidence on our feelings. I can know that I don't like torture, that I my feelings about the statement that torture is ok and the statement that the earth is flat are vaguely similar etc. However I have and can have no evidence that it is a fact that torture not good in and of itself. The goodness or badness of an action, in itself, leaves no traces. If my convictions on right and wrong were only as strong as the evidence, my feelings about torture would be like my feelings about anchovies. I don't like either.

I recognise that I should fight torture and tolerate anchovies. There is no more evidence for the claim that torture is wrong than for the claim that anchovies taste bad. My conviction is not based on evidence. I think that is a very good thing, intellectually honest and consistent with my atheism.

Update: I am having an epistemelogical crisis because I just ate anchovies and they tasted great. They were prepared by my colleague Amalia Donia Sofia with pine nuts, rasins, bread crumbs salt pepper and sugar. Now I understand that my criticism of The Road to Surfdom was completely invalid.

The difference between my hatred of torture and my hatred of anchovies is operational not ontological. I hate torture even when it is served with pine nuts and raisins.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shocking Story by Douglas Jehl in the NYTimes
where have I heard something like that ? Here ?

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
This is Brilliant (Via Brad DeLong)

Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation's foremost proponent of ID. No, Wise isn't getting ready to testify on behalf of the school board in Dover, PA. Rather, he advocates for a different version of the acronym: "incompetent design."

Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence.

Wise has some good points. The advocate of intelligent design is forced to resort to weird arguments along the line of the devil planting fossiles to deceive us. This is a serious problem for fundamentalist Christians. However, it is not a problem at all for Manicheans. Manicheans came up with the idea of the devil. The devil played a major role in Manichean thought. Roughly he created the physical universe, which is the relm of Shaitan. Evidently he did it while God was not looking.

You see the problems with intelligent design are based on the joint hypothesis that the designer is intelligent and that the designer is not principally motivated by a sick sense of humor.

Frankly, I find the sick sense of humor theory very attractive. I try to cling to my atheism but I ask myself "can the creation of Richard Cheney be due to bad luck alone ?"

My own theory is idiocy design. Attempting to deduce the aim of the Creator from His Creation, I can only conclude that he was attempting to plumb the ultimate abyss of idiocy. This means that once we achieve ultimate idiocy we will have fulfilled our purpose. Perhaps the Universe will come to an end.

This theory makes me very nervous every time I turn on a TV.

Update: The end is near. In fact, after reading this, I fear the end is here and doubt I will have time to post this.

If outsourcing the playing of video games is not the ultimate abyss of idiocy, I don't want to find out what is. Well we survived Tamagochi sitters so I guess we must have the potential to be even more moronic.

update: It's much much worse than I thought. The Onion reports, you decide.

Also welcome delongians.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

La Repubblica

Nigergate, Rome Reopens the Investigation

Decision of the prosecutor after the revelations about the false dossier

Rome - After the announcement of a new investigation by the FBI of the false dossier concerning Nigerien uranium sold to Saddam Hussein, the procura of the Republic in Rome opened an investigation. The prosecutors want to understand Nigergate and take testimony from the ex number 2 of French counterintelligence, Alain Chouet, who revealed to La Repubblica that the ex-informant of Italian intelligence [SISMI ndr]
Rocco Martino, *after* having given the false dossier to the CIA [via Elisabetta Burba ndr]attemted to sell the forged documents to French intelligence. Bush admits errors in Iraw :"But we can't leave"

Ballance Balance

Shocking news from the Washington Post reported by Josh Marshall.
Amazingly no one had written a stupid pun yet.

update Delay delays

Tobin Tacks fortunes at trial keep changing directions.

Conrad Burns Abramoff or tries to.

I am ever more impressed with Marshall's self discipline.

Although you can find an obvious pun if you follow this link in this post.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I loan this space to the eminent Biologist Hertrude Gimmelfarb from the Ilse of Langerhans

I wish to write about the origin of the modern welfare state so that people who are so recklessly dismantling it can understand the admirable heroes who created it first of all Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt was anything but an ideologue and, when he invented social security he didn't aim to transform humanity. That is he was as far from Lenin as he was from scrooge rejecting both the communist dream of making a new man and the sadistic eagerness to humiliate poor people in the name of incentives.

Instead his simple genius was to note "The very rich, like you and me, are different from the poor. We have more money. We should give them some money."

The rest is history, that is everyone knows it, so there is no need to look it up.

Now advocates of New Deal ideas like social security do not completely reject the earlier notion that the poor are divided into the worthy poor and the unworthy poor. They recognised that, in our personal life, we will find some poor people more likeable than others and that this is perfectly normal. However, they also recognise that social insurance must be based on rights which are equal for everyone (that is why Roosevelt fought segregation in, for example, the armed forces).

Thus any impressions we might have of different poor people can not, under the rule of law, allow us to discriminate in favor of those we find more appealing or worthy. The distinction is important because the appalling sadism advocated by Scrooge and Gingrich and thoroughly objectively and accurately documented by Dickens (the only person you need to read to understand Victorian England) was justified by the sense that it was morally acceptable to indulge a distinction between the worthy poor and the unworthy poor.

Also Calvinism and social Darwinism had something to do with it.

Thank you professor Porphyrin. I'm sure that Gertrude Himmelfarb will appreciate your insignts.

update: Uh oh someone found my blog searching for "worthy poor". They might come to this post and take it seriously. It is a deliberate parody of what happens when people pontificate outside of their field of expertise. The rest of my blog is not deliberately such a parody. I have changed the name of the biologist to Hertrude Gimmelfarb to make it clear that she is a parody of Gertrude Himmelfarb. The views expressed by Hertrude are meant to be 1) blatantly ignorant of history and 2) offensive to Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Monday, December 05, 2005

More MSM fluffing

I loved the Washington Post's Response to DOJ Patriot Act Letter. Total total smack down.

I note it is odd, because it is an editors note which is not an apology, correction, retraction or qualification. The editor is saying the Post had it right the first time and that the DOJs complaints are absurd.

I mention the note, because it shows why the MSM uses the he said she said format. The utter humiliation of the poor author(s) of the DOJ letter is largely based on the fact that he(she they) was required to claim that assertions in the Post article were false, when, in almost all of the contested assertions, the Post was simply quoting DOJ officials and official documents. The editor does not even have to discuss the merits of the controversy, since it is trivially easy to prove that the debate is between the DOJ and the DOJ not between the DOJ and the Post.

The reluctance of reputably reporters to use their own voice can be very irritating and means that they must work very hard (finding documented facts and getting quotes) to avoid being spun. However, it can lead to a finished product which can not be contested without humiliating absurdity.

Does this mean that all the he says she says is worth it ? No but it was a fun read.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Spam From Santa

The internet has achieved a new low !

In my hotmailbox a spam with the subject "Custom Personalized Letters from Santa "

Saturday, December 03, 2005

George Bush always said that he didn't talk to pollsters during the White House Policy development process. iraq_national_strategy_20051130.pdf makes it clear that he doesn't talk to them, because he doesn't want to distract them while they are formulating the policy. Scott Shane notes that the principal author of the strategy for victory is public opinion researcher Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June.. You can see this by downloading
iraq_national_strategy_20051130.pdf, opening it, holding down the control key and typing d. I did so and, as promisted by Shane I saw "Author: feaver_p."

I must say I am surprised and disappointed, not because the strategy is a pr strategy (that was obvious) nor because political calculations come first at the White House, nor even because demonstrates computer illiteracy again, but by Mr Shane's affiliation. He is a reporter at the New York Times who, by rights ought to be shmoozing sources and misplacing his loyalty. How can it be that I learned about this gem in plain (cntrl d) view from a MSM reporter and not from a blogger ?

Shane explains

The 35-page document released this week by the White House before President Bush's speech at the United States Naval Academy is called "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." But a more immediate goal appeared to be victory at home, in the latest of numerous attempts by the administration to turn around flagging public support for the war.

While White House officials said the National Security Council document contained contributions from many federal departments, its creation and presentation strongly reflected the public opinion research of Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June.

Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented to administration officials their analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believe it would ultimately succeed.


This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency," said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver's colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion."


The role of Dr. Feaver in preparing the strategy document came to light through a quirk of technology. In a portion of the document usually hidden from public view but accessible with a few keystrokes, the plan posted on the White House Web site showed the document's originator, or "author" in the software's designation, to be "feaver-p."

According to Matt Rozen, a spokesman for Adobe Systems, which makes the Acrobat software used to prepare the document, that entry indicated that Dr. Feaver created the original document that, with additions and editing, was eventually posted on the Web. There is no way to know from the text how much he wrote.