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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Time Decides to Hand Over Notes of Reporter Facing Prison

The decision by a major news organization to declare its confidential sources appears to be without precedent in living memory.

I agree that Fox News is not a news organization.

Fox did, of course, reveal that Richard Clarke was a confidential source as noted here here and here.

or was that OK because Clarke had betrayed the family ?

Elapsed time googling 10 seconds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Many people will be suprised that, just because they kidnapped Hassan Osama Nasr in Milan on February 17 2003 13 CIA agents are wanted for arrest in Italy. I mean people know that, in theory, kidnapping by secret agents working for an allied country is a crime, but many people count on one thing being true in theory and another being true in Italy. 13 of these people are going to have to run up ridiculous expence accounts somewhere else, because they didn't understand that Italian judiciary is independent in Italy as well as in theory. I found it hard to believe myself. The Parliament is working to remove this trange anomaly.

I assume that, even under pressure from the Bush administration, the CIA remembered to ask someone if it was OK before breaking Italian law. I would be very described if they hadn't checked with the executive and, in particular, with a minister and with SISMI (the Italian analogue of the CIA). I like to imagine that the response was "sure no problem we regularly break the law and none of us has done any serious jail time" (a lie but, sigh, pazienza, you can't expect these people to admit every embarrassing little fact). Almost seriously, counting on such assurances would be totally idiotic. The Prime Minister has managed to keep his personal posterior out of prison so far, but that required constantly changing laws to make his most recently discovered crime un prosecutable. If he could control magistrates in Milan he wouldn't have had to rub his countrymen's noses in his arrogance and criminality so openly. I mean asking him for assurances that there would be no trouble with Milanese prosecutors is like using a ouiji board to ask the dear departed for the secret to imortality.

OK so how independent is the Italian judiciary. First, as noted below, the judiciary or Magistratura includes prosecutors as well as judges. Each is supposed to be equally independent from political pressure. In Italy, making prosecutors subordinate to elected officials is considered roughly equivalent to abolition of the rule of law. A controversial aspect of the system is that the magistratura is one body. People become magistrates and then switch back and forth from prosecutor to judge during their career. Defence attornies, needless to say, don't like this.

To become a magistrate one has to demonstrate knowledge of the law (and ability to write in Italian) on a written exam. The exam papers are numbered and, in theory, the magistrates who grade the exams don't know who they are grading. The exams are ranked. The people with the top N scores get to be magistrates, where N is the number of vacancies chosen in some obscure process where different offices have to convincingly claim that they are even more appallingly understaffed than others. The person with the highest score decides which vacancy to fill, then so on down the line. Thus the initial assignment of people to offices depends on anonymous grading and individual choice.

Now one might wonder if this system works as claimed. I think it does. I find this amazing, but the evidence is strong. Sometimes it is clear what the magistratura wants. For example, they clearly hated the red brigades (who were killing magistrates). Thus one may assume that, if anyone would be the victim of fraud in this system it would be a member of the organisation widely suspected by magistrates of being, more or less, the legal wing of the red brigades. This suspicion is now expressed in final sentences and the former head of that organisation is now in prison. I happen to personally vaguely know a magistrate who was, at the time he became a magistrate a member of that organisation. Notice I haven't named any names, because I'm not sure I have permission to blog about this (not that it is a secret or anything). I consider this very strong evidence that, strange as it may seem, the system actually really works in practice as it is supposed to work in theory.

Promitions and transfers have a lot to do with seniority. Aside from that, they are decided by the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura (CSM). The majority of commissioners in the CSM are elected by, you guessed it, magistrates. Thus, in principle, the magistratura is completely independent from politicians. It is a self selecting and self regulating body. Some might consider this undemocratice.

A result of all this is that people with wildly differnt political views find themselves working together in the same courts.

For the 13 CIA agents the relevant issue is that no one who is not a magistrate can promise immunity from criminal prosecution. Magistrates have police working under them implementing their orders. They conduct investigations. It is not possible to force them to close an investigation. The absolute priority of the current majority is to get magistrates to stop investigating the Prime Minister and his buddies. They haven't managed that.
Guido Salvini

A strang twist in the case of Nasr Osama Mostafa Hassam occured when Guido Salvini ordered the arrest of Nasr Osama Mostafa Hassam who is currently in a prison in Egypt. Salvini explains that the provision also protects the individual and protects, in the first place, the right of the Italian state to prevent the removal of people subject to its juristiction and to avoid situations which are out of judicial control "Il provvedimento tutela anche l’individuo e tutela in primo luogo il diritto dello Stato italiano di impedire la sottrazione di soggetti sottoposti alla sua giustizia e di evitare situazioni giuridicamente incontrollabili".

Now, one wonders, why issue this order on the day another GIP was ordering the arrest of 13 CIA agents ? It wouldn't be that Dr Salvini is an insane publicity hound who can't stand other magistrates getting their name in the papers along with the acronym CIA ?

It sure would. Until recently Salvini was a giudice istruttore handling a case from before the reform. In that capacity he reported as known facts a considerable fraction of the paranoid semi rumors about the CIA that circulate in Italy.

In particular, he is convinced that a US Navy officer named Capt. David Carret was involved in the bombing of Piazza Fontana, the act of terror which opened the years of terror in Italy. Dr Salvini was not able to convince the trial judges of this theory. In fact, they are not convinced that there is or was such a US Navy officer named "Carret o Garret". Their sentenza says more research is needed on "Carret o Garret".

All I can personally say is that google was stumped. With all due respect, I'd say it should have been possible to find out if the US Navy employed a Captain David Garret or a Captain David Carret in Italy in 1970.

On the other hand googling Guido Salvini yields an embarassment of riches given his obligation to be discrete and communicate through official acts.
Armando Spataro lead the investigation into the kidnapping of Hassan Osama Nasr in Milan on February 17 2003 and requested that 19 CIA agents be arrested for the crime. On the 23rd of June the Italian GIP Chiara Nobile issued 13 arrest warrents for CIA agents who participated in the kidnapping. Dr Spataro is not a friend of the many enemies of the CIA. In fact, people on the Italian far left hate him passionately.

Here Spataro is accused of attempting to prosecute members of the armed left for crimes which have been cancelled by the statute of limitations.

Adriano Sofri specifically complained that Spataro has asserted that Sofri is guilty even though Spataro was not involved in the case and shouldn't discuss it. "magistrati milanesi che, senza essere entrati personalmente nei nostri processi, hanno manifestato opinioni colpevoliste e parlato di riscontri - penso per esempio ad Armando Spataro, che l'ha fatto ripetutamente"

Any attempt to claim that Spataro is grandstanding for radical chic applause is absurd. He clearly has no problem with the hatred and contempt of the left -- he even seems to seek it. In the case of Hassan Osama Nasr he is clearly just implementing the law.

Adriano Sofri is much more interesting than Armando Spataro.

Sofri was leader of a left wing disorganisation called lotta continua. Elisabetta Addis says that this demonstrates the impossibility of anarchism. In theory Lotta Continua was a group of people who agreed on important things and spontaneously acted together. There was no official structure or hierarchy. In practice, she says, this means that Lotta Continua was Adriano Sofri and people who treated his every word as gospel. The absolute absence of any official structure meant that Sofri felt as free to say whatever he thought as anyone.

This disorganised splinter left group was based in large part in rejection of the Italian Communist party for being too moderate and, above all, to bureaucratic.
Lotta Continua is important because many of its alumni are in important positions. In fact, you can find them pretty much everywhere except in the parties into which the Italian Communist Party split. As far as I know all but one Lotta Continua alumni remain supporters of Adriano Sofri.

I'm not able to judge, but I'm not sure that any living person is able to use the Italian language better than Sofri. He is now a journalist. The range of topics which he covers is limited by the fact that he is in prison.

Sofri was convicted of ordering the murder of a police official. The conviction is based entirely on the testimony of the one Lotta Continua alumnus mentioned above. As I mention below, it takes a very long time to reach a final verdict in Italy. Sofri has had one first level trial, three second level trials, four of five appeals to the highest criminal court and a "revisione" del processo. The second verdict was an acquital overturned on appeal for technical reasons. The others are convictions.

I find the verdicts mysterious, because, although it is impossible to prove a negative, I think it has been proven beyond all doubt that the testimony against Sofri is a mass of lies. I mean he might be guilty, but his accuser definitely wouldn't know about that, because he is clearly lying and also totally clueless.

I don't see how any person of normal intelligence could possibly doubt this.

Oddly, my view is shared by almost all of the Italian elite. The left might semi sympathise with the far left (many of them went overboard in the 70s too) and the right discovered a passionate devotion to defendents and their rights somewhere between the very first indictment and the long ago first trial of their leader (he was convicted).

Anger over this case is a major factor in blocking an alliance of the enemies of Berlusconi in the name of an independent judiciary.
Procura di Milano
The Reform of the Judicial Order

The independence of Italian prosecutors was strikingly demonstrated by the order to arrest 13 CIA agents. Foreigners shouldn't imagine that the Italian Parliament accepts the absurd situation in which laws are actually enforced.

Parliament is working on a reform of the judicial order. The Senate has just passed a bill which will no go to the Chamber of Deputies. I'm sure that there is someone who believes that the aim is not to increase poltical influence on magistrates (judges and prosecutors). However, I personally have not met this person.
Italian Criminal Justice

This is an effort to explain the Italian judiciary and, in particular, the Italian criminal justice system to people who don't read Italian (better if they don't care too much about English spelling). I am ignorant and writing from memory so caveat lector. I will focus on how the Italian system is different from the US system (but I don't know too much about that either). My Italian spelling is not reliable (extraordinary in Italy) and my guesses as to the genders of words is approximately random.

The small part of this that is relevant to the 13 unfortuate CIA agents who will have to vaction somewhere else on the public dollar is here.

The point is that, in Italy, the judiciary is really genuinely independent.

There is a key figure in the Italian crimminal justice system which does not correspond to anyone in the US system the "sostituto procuratore" (SP) usually translated prosecutor. This is probably the best translation, but it elides a large number of crucial differences. Most importantly the SP is a magistrate and, thus, part of the judiciary not the executive. The Italian consitution makes it very clear that magistrates including SPs are totally independent from elected officials.

Another difference is that the SP becomes involved in crimminal investigations at a much earlier stage than is normal for prosecutors in English speaking countries. To a great extent, the police work under the supervision of magistrates. My understanding (based on "Law and Order" I confess) is that, in English speaking countries, the police investigate on their own until they reach a conclusion which they present to prosecutors who decide whether to seak charges or not. In Italy, long investigations are joint SP, police investigations with many police officers working under direct orders from the SPs (anyone who reads Simenon will recognise the system).

One way to think of this is that in Italy it is as if there were always tens of thousands of grand juries empanelled and prosecutors had the power and flexibility and ability to take the initiative that a grand jury gives US attornies. This analogy is, of course, imperfect. The main difference is that the Italian analog of a grand jury the "giudice degl'indagine perliminari" or GIP is harder to lead around by his or her nose. That is, the Italian analog of a grand jury is another magistrate who knows the law and doesn't automatically do whatever the SP requests. Permission of the GIP is required for phone taps and wire taps. Search and seisure can be authorised directly by the SP.

Like a grand jury, the GIP has to decide whether to rinviare a giudizio (indict) suspects. This is a necessary step for all prosecution in Italy. The GIP becomes a giudice dell'udienza perliminaria (GUP) and, after a hearing which is usually brief, decides is there is enough evidence for a trial.

The Italian system is actually pretty new, that is the current system is the result of a recent reform finalised in the early 90s. Unfortunately that is not recent enough for me to have been able to read Italian at the time. I just remember that the reform was universally called the "Perry Mason" and that the idea was to increase the importance of the trial compared to the pre trial investigation. Previously the analog of the SP was called a "giudice istruttore". My understanding is that, in the actual trial, the giudice istruttore was not treated as the equal of the defence attornies but more as a trial judge. The idea of the reform was to make the prosecution and the defence equal in front of judges who were separate from both (third or terzo). As far as I can tell, the reform changed form more than substance and further reform is the subject of furious debate. In particular, in the current system, the same person often switches back and forth from prosecutor to judge to prosecutor in his or her career. Defence attornies are unanimous in the view that judges treat prosecutors as colleagues (which they do) and not as equals of defence attornies. The current majority strongly supports defendants rights because they support the current Prime Minister, silvio berlusconi, who has been more or less continuously on trial for his many blatant crimes for almost a decade.

OK enough polemic. The next step in the long long road to a final verdict is the "processo di primo grado" (first level trial). Depending on the severity of the accusation, there may or may not be a jury. For relatively minor crimes, the verdict is decided by a panel of three judges, for extremely serious crimes there is a jury mostly made up of ordinary people although a magistrate is present in the jury room for the reason explained immediately below. In either case it is required (by the constitution) that the reasoning behind the verdict be explained in the "motivazione della sentenza" (explanaiton fo the verdict). A strange feature of the system is that, if the verdict is reached by a jury, a magistrate must explain their reasoning.

This is just the first trial. Both the defence and the prosecution can appeal the sentence if they wish. It is not necessary to claim that there were any procedural errors in the first trial to obtain a second trial. Even for relatively minor crimes, there is a jury of ordinary people at the second trial.

After two convictions, in theory, the defendant no longer has the right to argue the facts of the case. The final appeal to the corte suprema di cassazione (highest criminal court which is really many courts because it is divided into many sections) requires procedural grounds. However, "absence of illogicalness of the explanation of the sentence" is a legitimate procedural ground. This means that, in effect the cassazione regularly reconsiders the merits of cases.

One other twist. In Italy civil suits related to criminal trials are merged with the trial. Aggrieved parties can make themselves "parte civile" and have lawyers representing them and advancing their claims for damages in the same procedure as the criminal trial.

The reader will notice that the whole procedure is likely to be highly time consuming. Italian journalists (trying to find something nice to say) stressed the amazing speed of the O.J. Simpson trial. Actually the incredible slowness of Italian trials is also caused by the fact that hearings are intermittent as the judges are following many cases at the same time. Also the main activity of Italian defence attornies seems to me to be to seek delay. Until the cassazione has spoken, the accused is officially to be considered innocent.

The citizens are safe however, since pretrial detention is relatively easy for people accused of violent crimes. This (along with sentences which are a small fraction of the ferocious US sentences) means that most people in Italian prisons are presumed innocent. For less serious crimes such as corruption etc, the defendants can not be locked up without a conviction for a significant period of time. Therefore, they are free and presumed innocent even after they have been tried and convicted once or twice.

Finally the key to the functioning of the whole system is prescrizione (the statute of limitations). This cancels all crimes alleged to have been committed N years in the past where N is a function of the sentence for the crime (I think roughly twice the theoretical sentence). Given the slowness of the system and the numerous options for delay, it is generally possible for someone whose corruption is beyond doubt to obtain prescrizione. For example there is a still current finding of fact that the current Prime Minister silvio berlusconi bribed then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi. Berlusconi was convicted in primo grado then the appeal was not held because the statute of limitations had run out. Berlusconi could waive the statute of limiations and seak to clear his name, but since the proof of his guilt is overwhelming he hasn't chosen to do so.
A Post which was twitty even for me has been temporarily supressed here.

Oddly I have some traffic as a reporter on Italy based on my reading US papers on the web while in Italy. I was really honestly planning to write a series of posts including info not simultaneously available at 3 different top Newspapers.

Now I fear I will have to actually do it.
I'm back in the Sistani fan club.

Ayatollah Sistani just argued in favor of provincial lists for future parliaments as opposed to a national list. This would mean that predominantly Sunni areas will be represented proportional to population even if turnout was low. I argued that, of course, the election of the constitutional assembly should have been on a provincial basis. So, I just learned did Ayatollah Sistani. Unfortunately the crack UN elections team considered the national system easier to set up and the rest is in the daily papers.

I have had some doubts about whether the provincial system will guarantee reasonable representation for Sunni's. In the election of the assembly, so few Sunni Arabs voted that the main Shi'ite party, the United Iraqi List blessed by Sistani, won most of the votes even in predominately Sunni areas. Incentives will be different with a provincial system, and, I think Sunni Arab Iraqis have noticed that boycotting elections is not a sharp move.

Oddly, in the same article, Sabina Tavernise repeats the line that Sistani's efforts have been focused on maximizing power of Shi'ites. "The logic of this is that Sistani had the crazy idea that Democracy involves elections. Since Shi'ite Arabs are the majority, this exposed him to claims that he wanted absolute power of the majority. The evidence is that he opposed fake Democracy in which Paul Bremer would appoint the people who appointed the people who elected the people who would claim to represent The People.

The latest evidence would tend to undermine this theory, since Sistani is advocating a change to an equally Democratic system which would give Shi'ites less overwhelming power. One could argue that this is a new concession given the force of the insurgency. In fact, Tavernise manages to argue this immediately after presenting the proof that this is not a new concession.

The statements by Ayatollah Sistani are the latest foray into Iraqi politics by the Shiite leader. Pressure from him was a major factor in establishing an accelerated timetable for the elections in January. That pace, however, largely dictated the election's countrywide system, because United Nations organizers considered it the simplest and quickest way to organize the vote.

When United Nations officials met with the ayatollah in March, he chastised them for choosing the system, and said he favored setting assembly seats aside district by district, a preference he reiterated Monday. Mr. Yasiri, the Shiite politician, said Ayatollah Sistani had characterized the January election as flawed.

In the past, the ayatollah has reserved his efforts to pushing for measures, like nationwide elections, that were likely to enhance the power of Iraq's Shiite majority.

Try to make sense of that quote. In particular try really hard not to notice that the last two sentences directly contradict each other. I am correct that "March" is currently "in the past". Weird. Also the idea that it is Sistani's fault that after the CPA stalled for months the UN organizers had to rush and so needed to make a national list because ... they "considered it the simplest and quickest way to organize the vote." Odd I thought the problem was the census not ballots and such.

Unhappy is the country that needs heroes. Especially the country that needs foreign born, reclusive clerical heroes with bad hearts.

Still I say buy that man some Caspian Sturgeon Caviar (and remind him who explained that it is halal).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hassan Osama Nasr was kidnapped in Milan on February 17 2003. On the 23rd of June the Italian GIP Chiara Nobile issued 13 arrest warrents for CIA agents who participated in the kidnapping. I have no special information on the case and have just read articles in The New York Tims, The Washington post and two in the Los Angeles Times.

The articles make it clear that police and magistrates in Italy are furious with the CIA and the Bush administration. They are not allowed to talk to reporters, but they have clearly decided to ignore this rule pushing stories on the three papers simultaneously. It is clear that the person doing this (cough Armando cough Spataro) knows that he or she will not be able to bring the agents to trial and is determined convince the court of public opinion to inflict as much punishment as possible. The campaign of leaks strikes me as brilliant and likely to be devastating. In particular the leakers are not relying on opposition to torture or respect for Italian law or Italian sovereignty. They are stressing that the CIA has sabotaged the war against terror and that the CIA agents are totally incompetent and self indulgent.

Thus their campaign might influence Americans who don't care about human rights (too many) and who have no respect for the institutions and authority of the Republic of Italy (all of us but at least I admit it).

Some key nuggets from the stories

"The abduction of Abu Omar forced Italian authorities to abort an extensive case they were building against him. His arrest had been imminent, they said, and formal charges against him are pending."


"Abu Omar's disappearance angered several officials who thought they had always cooperated fully with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, only to be trampled on in this operation.

"Kidnapping Abu Omar was not only a crime against the state of Italy, but also it did great damage to the war on terrorism," said Spataro, the prosecutor. "We could have continued the investigation and found evidence on other people. He would be on trial by now instead of missing.""


"Most experts, including former intelligence officers, said it was unlikely that the CIA would mount such an operation without some level of approval from the host nation.

Berlusconi considers himself the most loyal supporter of the Iraq war among leaders in continental Europe.

"It is impossible that they did this without Italian cooperation, but we found no evidence," an Italian law enforcement official said." Tracy Wilkinson I

Clearly Spataro is going for blood. He also clearly understands which arguments are effective in convincing people in the US who are not convinced already.

The next day, anonymous sources open a new line of attack. The CIA agents were incompetent and corrupt. "MILAN, Italy — They ran up tabs of thousands of dollars at some of Milan's best hotels and restaurants. They chatted easily on their cellular telephones and gave out passport, frequent-flier and driver's license numbers when booking flights or renting cars.

And now they are fugitives.

If Italian authorities are right, they have exposed a CIA operation here that on some levels was brazen and perhaps reckless, even as it successfully spirited away a notorious Egyptian imam." Tracy Wilkinson II

Evil, stupid and ridiculous. Kevin Drum doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. I don't know which response is more deadly.

The fact that there is a campaign to convince the US public is made clear by the identical leaks to Craig Whitlock at the Washington Post

For 19 American intelligence operatives assigned to apprehend a radical Islamic preacher in Milan two years ago, the mission was equal parts James Bond and taxpayer-financed Italian holiday, according to an Italian investigation of the man's disappearance.

The Americans stayed at some of the finest hotels in Milan, sometimes for as long as six weeks, ringing up tabs of as much as $500 a day on Diners Club accounts created to match their recently forged identities, according to Italian court documents and other records. Then, after abducting their target and flying him to Cairo under the noses of Italian police, some of them rounded out their European trip with long weekends in Venice and Florence before leaving the country, the records show.

And all on the tab of US taxpayers.

Finally, in the New York Times Stephen Grey and Don Von Natta have been listening to (presumably) the same angry Italians who are clearly determined to get the message across.

On Feb. 17, 2003, Mr. Nasr disappeared.

When the Italians began investigating, they said, they were startled to find evidence that some of the C.I.A. officers who had been helping them investigate Mr. Nasr were involved in his abduction.

"We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city," a senior Italian investigator said. "We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network."

He and other senior Italian officials in Milan's police and prosecutor's office were angry enough to answer detailed questions about the case, but insisted on anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Again the key argument that the kidnapping was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.
Notice that it is a crime for officials in the prosecutorìs office to talk to the press (it is like revealing grand jury testimony). They are angry enough not to mind the NY Times reporting the detail that people both with the police and at the procura are talking.

The claim that the kidnapping disrupted a very broad investigation is proven in the New York Times article based on access to theoretically secret court records

According to court records, this exchange occurred in one eavesdropped conversation at a Milan mosque, recorded by the Italian secret police:

Unidentified speaker: "We must find money because our objective is to form an Islamic army, which will be known as Force 9."

Mr. Nasr: "How are things going in Germany?"

Unidentified speaker: "We can't complain. There are already 10 of us, and we are also concentrating our efforts on Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Egypt and Turkey. But the hub of the organization remains London."

Thus the Italians can prove that they had leads useful for an investigation of an international network and can convincingly argue that this investigation was sacrificed for a chance to torture the one key player who had been identified and placed under surveilance but seems not to have known that he wa giving the Italian police invaluable information until the CIA ruined everything by kidnapping him.

Notice that the Italians insist that the kept the CIA informed so, if the CIA team had not been a gang of total idiots, they would have understood that a kidnapping would be an idiotic crime for the same reason that an arrest would have been a mistake.

update: I am working on posts on The Italian Judiciary, the current assault on the independence of the Italian judiciary, The procura di Milano, Armando Spataro and Guido Salvini. If you keep visiting this site, they will grow before your eyes.


Thanks Brad, Max and Charles at Mercury Rising for the links
It is weird that I basically blog only on things I read in other blogs, guarnteeing that no sensible person will waste time reading this blog. In spite of this general rule, I can't help commenting on the arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents for the kidnapping of Hassan Osama Nasr (Abu Omar) from Milan to Cairo which were recently issued on the request of Armando Spataro. This is too much for me to ignore, so I am going to blog a lot about the case, the Italian criminal justice system, the procura di Milano, Armando Spataro, Guido Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.

Update: I Thank Thomas Nephew for explaining to me that Max Sawicky is sending people to this page and that the home tag doesn't work. The topics on which I actually blogged with cool clickable links are
The Italian Judiciary, "Reform" of the Italian judiciary, CIA trouble with Technology, News reports of the kidnapping and arrest warrents, Italian criminal justice, Armando Spataro and Guido Salvini.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Double plus ungood thain of liege lord of larceny slips into newspeak

Think progress notes that Steve Vassel who moved from Abramoff's gang to the staff of Senator Burns and back has been caught cooking the books. They have a a facsimile of him writing "I cut Drapeaux hours and rightfully so and have plus upped others where I could ..."

I knew they used 1984 as an operations manual but I didn't know that they actually communicate in newspeak. Th memos seem to have been saved from the memory hole and there is hope that Mr Vassel will do double plus hard time.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Woman's Work is Never Done

I agree with Bill Frist and disagree with Crooks and Liars

Abu Aardvaark
via Kevin Drum says that Al Jazeera is not quoting Senator Richard Durbin except for one standard little story about the fuss the Republicans are making.

This means that Crooks and Liars is (are ?) wrong to say that "The GOP website is just like Al-Jazerra". In fact, according to the distorted logic of the GOP in which discussion of abuse of prisoners and not the abuse itself is the problem, the GOP website is creating much more risk for US servicepeople than is Al-Jazeera.

Abu Aardvaark concludes "I can say with some degree of confidence that Condi Rice's remarks in Egypt about reform has received far more attention on al-Jazeera than has Durbin's remarks about Guantanamo."

So why do I agree with Bill Frist ? His spokesman said "Well, when you say something that appears all over Al Jazeera, you have a lot of work to do."

Secretary Rice is trying to maintain the illusion that the US has a foreign policy, while she is surrounded by depraved idiots who care only about partisan advantage, and does indeed have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A sudden improvement at MSNBC explained

Brad DeLong is pleased by this.

• June 20, 2005 | 7:22 p.m. ET
The White House spin cycle (David Shuster)


n Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said criticism of the handling of the war isn't justified because "The administration, I think, has said to the American people that it is a generational commitment to Iraq." What? That was said... but it came from Senators pouring cold water on the administration's optimistic pre-war predictions. What were those predictions? Vice President Cheney (March 16, 2003) said, "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators... I think it will go relatively quickly... in weeks rather than months." Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on Feb. 7, 2003 said, "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." Former Budget director Mitch Daniels (March 28, 2003) stated, "The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid."

So am I but I am more pleased by this post by Judd at thinkprogress

Rice Says Administration Told Americans Iraq Would Be A “Generational Commitment”

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked if “the Bush administration fairly [can] be criticized for failing to level with the American people about how long and difficult this commitment will be?” Rice responded:

[T]he administration, I think, has said to the American people that it is a generational commitment to Iraq.

That’s not true. To build support for the war the administration told the American people that the conflict in Iraq will be short and affordable.

Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/16/03:

[M]y belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly. . . (in) weeks rather than months

Donald Rumsfeld, 2/7/03:

It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.

Former Budget Director Mitch Daniels, 3/28/03:

The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid…

Posted by Judd June 19, 2005 12:42 pm
Permalink | Comment (101)
Filed Under: Iraq

I wonder how much Mr Shuster is paid to change punctuation a bit and note that some Senators did say Iraq would be a generational commitment.
Aggressive Pacifism vs passive aggression

I don't totally agree with Armando at the daily Kos, although I agree with Atrios and Harold Myerson.

The orginal point is that opposition to the war in Iraq is very widespread partly because opponents or the war have not offended the silent majority with extreme rhetoric as did opponents of US involvement in the war in Vietnam. I think this is a very good point. The desperate efforts of Republicans to make an issue about Richard Durbin's absolutely reasonable comment on the FBI agent's description of cruel inhumane and degrating treatment in Guantanamo shows how much they miss Hanoi Jane.

Armando makes the more general point that Democrats by sticking to criticism of Republicans keep the focus on Republicans. Given what people see when they focuses on them, this is a great strategy. Also he stresses the advantage of not showing one's hand 18 months before an election. I agree with all of that. The incessant whining of the Bush administration about how the Democrats should present alternative proposals shows just how good this strategy is.

However, I disagree with the final thing Armando says. Maybe I disagree with my confused interpretation. He is discussing two issues I think. First he argues that it is wise for Democrats and lefty bloggers to keep their rhetoric moderate and focusing on facts. This is very convincing to me. Second he argues that Democrats and bloggers should stick to criticism and not make alternative proposals just yet. This is a quite different issue and I half agree. My one objection, which might be an objection to my own missunderstanding, is that I think the second argument applies only to Democrat elected officials and candidates.

I think either I was careless when I read or Armando was careless when he wrote

Keep that in mind when we want to trumpet an issue. Passive Aggression. The Politics of Contrast. Not drowning out your message about the Republicans. Find the right approach.

This lesson applies to use here at the blogs as well. If DSM had been about Impeachment, it would have been DOA. but the folks who created were smart. They didn't make it about impeachment. They made it about Bush's Lies. Leave a Small Target for attack. It's true for the Dem Party and true for the Lefty Blogs.

I agree that talk about impreachment would be counter productive. However, I think discussion of policy by bloggers, columnists and pundits would be very useful. I mean, for one thing, politics aside, it is a good thing for people to try to find improved policy. For another the bloggers can run things up the flag pole and see who salutes. A policy proposal made by a non politician can be useful to the politicians because, if people hate it, the politician can neglect to mention the fact that he thought it was a good idea.

I think that an example of this is Paul Krugman's discussion of health care in America. It is less useful than it might be, because many people would express outrage if Krugman claimed 2+2=4. However, the discussion at, say, Political Animal seems to me to have been useful and not just for policy wonks.

Here this reminds me of something I read somewhere. The left blogosphere is divided between the frontal lobe of moderate wonks (Drum again, Yglesias, Marshall, Kleiman, Clemons, DeLong etc) and the temporal lobe of (mostly) further left activists (Kos of course, Pandagon, Oliver Willis, Billmon, Digby, the daily Howler, Aravosis, J C Christian and don't even mention the Rude pundit) with Atrios the only tenuous link between the two lefty quadrispheres. The wonks are not hurting the Democratic party.

The Republicans could get some milage out of the rude pundit if the could find five printable words in a row. On the other hand just the thought of a Repub oppo researcher forced to search his rudeness for the most inflamatory bits makes it all worth it.

p.s. can anyone explain the concept of "track back spam" to me ?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bolton Blogging

This is weird. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times discuss the vote on the motion of cloture ending debate on confirmation of the nomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN without mentioning a clearly relevant fact. Both present the issue in strictly partisan terms -- the Democrats demand information from the Bush administration before they will allow a vote while the Republicans say the Senate has enough information

The Post runs the AP story by Liz Sidoti
The relevant passage is
Should Bush decide against that, he could withdraw the nomination or authorize further concessions to Democrats who are demanding access to information, some of it classified, about Bolton before they stop stalling.

Earlier the Post had an article on a possible recess appointment which, like the ap story, presents the information request as a purely partisan matter
Democrats say they want to check a list of 36 U.S. officials against names _ initially blacked out _ that Bolton requested and received from national security intercepts he reviewed. They rejected a list of seven names offered last week by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rice, in Jerusalem, said Roberts "has already spoken to the issue of the nature of those inquiries."

Note no mention of the fact that Democrats have agreed to submit a list of names asking if they are among the 36 and that Roberts came up with his own list of 5 names which clearly are not among the 36 because they are Washington based intelligence analysts (including Rexon Ryu IIRC) and one which Steve Clemons had already deduced was not. Not as if Rice presumes that the Democrats should be satisfied now that it is confirmed that none of the seven dwarfs is on the list, but, with all due respect for the brave intelligence analysts who battled Bolton, the lists are about equally relevant.

David Stout in The New York Times has a farily long story on the vote which similarly presents the request for information as a purely Democratic idea

The Democrats are pushing for information about Mr. Bolton's request, while he was under secretary, to review the names of Americans mentioned in communications intercepted by the National Security Agency and identified in highly classified intelligence reports. Republicans say senators already have all the information they need to decide.

This is a rather clear statement about the view of Republican Senators on the relevance of the requested information. There is only one little problem. The information request was made (in April) by the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) might now say that the information is irrelevant, but he chose to request it. Since the information includes top secret NSA intercepts, he should not have lightly requested the information if it is, indeed, not needed for a decision. I may be ignorant, but I do not recall him saying that this information is not needed. Of course he did vote for cloture, but, as far as I know, he has not withdrawn his request for information. The Bush administrations refusal to give information requested by a committee considering confirmation is extraordinary. The acquiescence of the AP, the Washington Post and the New York Times in the dishonest false redefinition of a bipartisan request as a purely partisan issue is shocking to me (OK I'm naive).

Now the Post also mentioned that arms control efforts are suddenly progressing now that Bolton is off the case, so I guess they felt they had to suppress the relevant fact for balance. I'd say they just have to accept that they will have to choose between reporting and being balanced for a while, since the facts are reliably biased against the Republicans (why do the facts hate America ?).

Do what is weird ? Well why the hell do I have an opinion about Bolton when I live in Italy and am almost completely ignorant about, say, the referendum changing the law on fertility treatment. I was worrying about that already when I found to my shock that google lists this blog as the third leading source of information on "rexon ryu"
I was only moderately alarmed, since I was fairly confident that I had miss spelled "rexon" or "ryu" so I searched for "ryu" then ryu and bolton and found his first name spelled Rexon in the Washington Post . This forced me to confront my web dependence and news habit. It also shakes my faith in google. they are Smart and to be cAse senSitive is dumb no ?

However, the search for Ryu did lead me to this and this which is work safe except if you work for James Dobson or something
Seven Dwarfs indeed hmf.

This made me think of a solution. Why don't the Republicans forget about this Bolton guy and send Ryu to turtle bay. Now that would be forceful diplomacy in favor of radical reform of the UN. Hell Ryu wouldn't just dream about the UN building losing its top 15 stories, he would knock them off with one kick.

I mean jeez you think those third worldists and Europeans are scared of a mustache ?

update: The first Ryu image was chosen by google for some reason I don't understand. Clearly it is not Rexon, since Rexon is a man (and I will say this for Bolton he has guts; I would think twice before trying to end that guys career). The photograph has nothing to do with the Bolton nomination and is not I repeat not a veiled (oops I mean unveiled) reference to Plato's Retreat, which, as far as I know, has nothing to do with Bolton, although I'm sure was a wonderful place and I don't mean to criticize it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

George Bush never ceases to amaze me.

I suppose it is inevitable that he will ignore the discomfort of European foreigners caused by his defence of Guantanamo and John Bolton. That domestic debates are more important than foreign dignitaries is a given in the USA. However I can't believe that he "defended U.S. actions in Guantanamo Bay," by saying (NYTimes quotation marks)

"Look at all the facts. That's all I ask people to do," Bush said, noting that many of the suspects are not traditional war prisoners. "The fundamental question facing our government is what do you do with these people?"

OK now how are we supposed to look at all the facts when he is keeping almost all of the facts secret ?
Could he really have said anything honestly paraphrased as "*many* of the suspects are not traditional war prisoners" ? If so, he is a confessed war criminal, since he is denying *all* of the prisoners in Guantanamo Geneva convention rights of POWs.

I mean you have to be careful with statements which are confessions of a crime if taken literally. Of course the word "many" is not a direct quote.

Update: Suspecting the NYTimes paraphrase, I checked the quote on

and I found that the New York Times did indeed distort the meaning of the President's statement with its paraphrase. The actual quote is much more shocking than the paraphrase. The President said

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, I appreciate that question, and I understand we -- those of us who espouse freedom have an obligation, and those who espouse human rights have an obligation to live that to those -- live up to those words. And I believe we are, in Guantanamo. I mean, after all, there's 24 hour inspections by the International Red Cross. You're welcome to go down yourself -- maybe you have -- and taking a look at the conditions. I urge members of our press corps to go down to Guantanamo and see how they're treated and to see -- and to see -- and to look at the facts. That's all I ask people to do. There have been, I think, about 800 or so that have been detained there. These are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan. They weren't wearing uniforms, they weren't state sponsored, but they were there to kill.

And so the fundamental question facing our government was, what do you do with these people? And so we said that they don't apply under the Geneva Convention, but they'll be treated in accord with the Geneva Convention.

And so I would urge you to go down and take a look at Guantanamo. About 200 or so have been released back to their countries. There needs to be a way forward on the other 500 that are there. We're now waiting for a federal court to decide whether or not they can be tried in a military court, where they'll have rights, of course, or in the civilian courts. We're just waiting for our judicial process to move -- to move the process along.

Make no mistake, however, that many of those folks being detained -- in humane conditions, I might add -- are dangerous people. Some have been released to their previous countries, and they got out and they went on to the battlefield again. And I have an obligation, as do all of us who are holding office, to protect our people. That's a solemn obligation we all have. And I believe we're meeting that obligation in a humane way.

As well, as we've got some in custody -- Khalid Shaykh Muhammad is a classic example, the mastermind of the September the 11th attack that killed over 3,000 of our citizens. And he is being detained because we think he could possibly give us information that might not only protect us, but protect citizens in Europe. And at some point in time, he'll be dealt with, but right now, we think it's best that he be -- he be kept in custody.

We want to learn as much as we can in this new kind of war about the intention, and about the methods, and about how these people operate. And they're dangerous, and they're still around, and they'll kill in a moment's notice.

In the long run, the best way to protect ourselves is to spread freedom and human rights and democracy. And -- but if you've got questions about Guantanamo, I seriously suggest you go down there and take a look. And -- seriously, take an objective look as to how these folks are treated, and what has happened to them in the past, and when the courts make the decision they make, we'll act accordingly.

Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you all very much for coming.

I quote the full response to make sure I am not deleting necessary context.

The President still claims prisoners in Guantanamo are treated in accord with the Geneva convention. He also argues that they must be held to obtain information not limited, I think, to name rank and serial number. The Geneva convention bans any punishment for refusing to tell more. It does not explicitly ban keeping people chained until the defecate on themselves as reported by a (typically pinko) FBI agent.

He argues that "many" of the prisoners are dangerous and so he has a "solemn duty" his phrase for authority as commander in chief. Then he lists one prisoner. His logic is that if it is justified to hold any one of the prisoners, it is justified to hold all of them. This has nothing to do with law of any kind. What if he decided that I was dangerous ? Would he have a solemn duty to hold me as an enemy combatant ? His absolute refusal to allow any review of the reasons for holding prisoners by anyone not under his command does not suggest he is confident that he can prove that the prisoners should be prisoners.

The legally relevant claim, clearly misquoted by the Times, is
"These are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan. They weren't wearing uniforms, they weren't state sponsored, but they were there to kill." This is clearly a claim about all prisoners in Guantanamò not about many prisoners. Thus it is not a confession of a war crime. It is also, of course, a lie. Many prisoners in Guantanamo were Taliban officers. As such they were sponsored by a state. Certainly the Taliban regime was one of the more repulsive states that there has ever been, but that is irrelevant for the purposes of the Geneva convention. Taliban soldiers wore a uniform, a black and white checkered turban, the fact that deserting soldiers threw it in the dust to signal that they had switched sides makes it clear it was a uniform. Is the president claiming that no prisoners in Guantanamo were wearing such a turban when seized ? I think it is known that many weren't even taken prisoner by US forces (clearly I don't know because I am too lazy to check the evidence).

I wonder if the President's invitation to journalists will be interpreted as an invitation to all journalists and whether, maybe, they will be allowed to interveiw prisoners with no guards present. Somehow I doubt it.
Good Ideas in Economics: A Classification
"A short classification. But what there is of it is choice"
said Brad DeLong.
Also he has readers so, when posted on his old blog, this got comments

My belated appreciation of one of Tilman Ehrbeck’s good ideas makes me think of the general topic of good ideas in economics. I think they can be classified as follows:

1. Good ideas which you can find if you read The Wealth of Nations carefully. The whole idea that this is a worthwhile field of inquiry has a lot to do with the fact that one of the first books in the field was brilliant.
2. Good ideas which you can find in Marshall’s Principles.
3. Good ideas which are roughly implied by the work of Walras.
4. Good ideas which you can find if you can translate [Keynes's] General Theory into economic theory.
5. Good ideas which you can find if you can translate Schumpeter into economic theory.
6. F. A. Hayek is a reactionary but he had some interesting things to say.
7. This is an implication of standard neoclassical theory, that is, maximization under constraint. Therefore it is to be found in the collected writings of Paul Samuelson.
8. Milton Friendman mentioned it in passing while reflecting on the wonders of the quantity theory of money.
9. This has something to do with game theory. Von Neuman mentioned it to Morgenstern, but it was formalised by Nash.
10. This has something to do with asymmetric information, so check the collected writings of Joseph Stiglitz. He has published five to ten papers based on this idea.
11. Read the collected writings of Robert Solow. As a Spencer Tracy character said of a Katherine Hepburn character “there aint much of it but every bit is choice”.
12. This isn’t really economics, it is sociology, Akerlof thought of it.
13. This isn’t really economics, it is psychology, Kahenman, Tversky or Herrnstein (see point 6 above) thought of it.
14. This idea is not found in any of the writings of the authors listed above. It is an excellent idea in economics. Clearly Kenneth Arrow thought of it. You can only hope that he never bothered to write it down.

Posted by DeLong at January 27, 2005 01:32 PM
Comments with replies

Where does land value taxation fit in? Maybe (1)?
hmm I would guess Walras or maybe Ricardo (see below). Pollution tax however is really due to Richard Musgrave

Posted by: liberal at January 27, 2005 03:26 PM

15. If Karl Marx thought of it it can't be a good idea.

His refutation of the labor fund theory of wages (Wage Labor and Capital pp 1- early) is definitely sound. His analysis of the neoclassical growth model is sound although probably not original. I mean Marx has a close to perfect record of being wrong about economics, but no one is perfect.

Posted by: ogmb at January 27, 2005 04:07 PM

Or alternatively: If Karl Marx thought of it, either it was a bad idea or a deradicalized version of it appears as a new subfield a few generations down the road.
Marx anticipated a lot of things which were formalized later, but most were in writings of other classical economists before Marx. Recall I am talking about economics. Other fields like sociology and political science seem to me to have a whole lot of deradicalized Marx (and plenty of 200 proof Karl)
Posted by: Kieran Healy at January 27, 2005 05:00 PM

(9) is wrong because Morgenstern, von Neumann and Nash didn't extend game theory to the dynamics - you've got to put one of the evolutionary people there (Gintis, maybe?).

I would say Maynard Smith (who amusingly adds no names to the list). He is the biologist who came up with the idea of an evolutionarily stable strategy. Oh and it's obvious that evolutionary biology has something to say to game theorists. I mean I said that when I was an undergraduate (Brad came up with Grossman-Hart when he was in high school).
Posted by: derrida derider at January 27, 2005 05:39 PM

16. Good ideas which turned out to be special cases of general findings in biology and ecology. [division of labor; comparative advantage; institutions; almost anything salvageable from #6] see above for evolutionary game theory. On Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom" is brilliant. It presents a hypothesis which has since been rejected by the data, but it is brilliant. Of course it is deradicalized Marx standing on his head and not economics. I was thinking of delocalisation of information.

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold at January 27, 2005 05:56 PM

15. This really isn't economics; it's a theory about economic history; Karl Marx thought of it.

I was classifying good ideas

Posted by: Randolph Fritz at January 27, 2005 07:35 PM

6.a What Thorstein Veblen would have written if he had been around to review Road to Serfdom.

Posted by: Paul G. Brown at January 27, 2005 10:56 PM

ah if only

How could we forget!

15. What Ricardo said.

Posted by: Paul G. Brown at January 27, 2005 11:01 PM

good point

16. You think that this is just a proverb, or one of those things that has always been around, but actually JK Galbraith said it first.

Posted by: dsquared at January 27, 2005 11:36 PM

As Paul Samuelson pointed out Galbraith understood that economics is too important to leave up to the economists. Actually I have recently been fascinated by Galbraith's thoughts on bloated corporate bureaucracies (search for "amateur economist" in this blog

You think you have a brilliant, original idea -
Peter Diamond already had it!

Posted by: kevin quinn at January 28, 2005 09:10 AM

Second point conceded.

17. This idea is important in a fascinating way, but nobody alive today cared about it until it was blogged.

Posted by: sampo at January 28, 2005 03:34 PM

"16. Good ideas which turned out to be special cases of general findings in biology and ecology."
- Lee A. Arnold
that gets my vote for best addition to the list (it subsumes my suggestion anyway). 'cept maybe add engineering to biology and ecology.

Posted by: derrida derider at January 29, 2005 01:59 AM

"16. Good ideas which turned out to be special cases of general findings in biology and ecology."
- Lee A. Arnold
that gets my vote for best addition to the list (it subsumes my suggestion anyway). 'cept maybe add engineering to biology and ecology.

Yeah, except that a great deal of both ecology and biology learned it from economics...

Oh come now, your not suggesting that Darwin though of evolution by natural selection while reading Malthus or something are you ?

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones at January 29, 2005 10:59 AM

1. Glaringest omission that economists would agree with:

Ricardo! The fellow who gave us the law of "comparative advantage" that Larry Summers (whom you STILL haven't mentioned. AMAZING!!!) invoked to prove (sic) that discrimination could not exist in the market for academic jobs.

Ricardo conceded above

2. Glaringest omission that economists would not notice:


That would probably be Joan Robinson, imperfect competition and price stickiness (also Adolf Berle). I got a PhD in Cambridge MA in 1989 and price stickiness makes me ill
3. Query: If Stiglitz gets credit for the idea of "asymmetrical information" why the heck did Akerlof win the BS Prize?

I said was to be found 5 to 10 times in the work of Stiglitz, not that it was published nowhere before. Akerloff gets the brilliantly open minded prize for finding a pony somwhere in the sociology literature

Posted by: df at January 31, 2005 03:03 PM

Oh good idea in History of Economic Thought "There is nothing new under the sun ... except for game theory" by Murray Milgate.

Actually the comments are alarming. My list was a joke, but the number of good ideas which I failed to mention which were pointed out in comments is alarmingly few

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I agree with Steve Soto (via Josh Marshall of course).

I too am delighted that the GOP won't fold its losing hand. In particular I agree with raising the FICA ceiling

Democrats should be able to argue that it is far preferable to address the system’s solvency within the current program through a more politically-popular increase in the tax withholding ceiling, than it would be to funnel surpluses that are already being misused towards Wall Street.

Soto doesn't discuss the Democrats' prefered Metternichian strategy "change nothing and watch." Given the suicidal Republicans, there is little political difference between "raise the ceiling" and "change nothing and watch," but, like Soto, I think the first would work even better. My guess is that the reason the Dems haven't tried it is that they have an agreed strategy and any proposed new strategy might threaten their unity. It is also possible that they believe that, whatever people say in polls, the Republicans will be able to attack them effectively if they propose any tax increase.
The Poor Man is, well, poor.

His site shuts down for excessive band width. I do not like this, because he is also very funny. Fortunately you can help me stay amused by supporting the Poor Man.

I would suggest visiting "The poor man rips you off chumps"

I especially recommend the Shrill Shirt.

Believe me, you don't want me to try to supply my humor habit here.
You have been warned.
Kevin Drum very politely disagrees with Arnold Kling who wrote

There is no actual evidence that the elderly [under Medicare] receive better care, or more cost-effective care, or more egalitarian care than people under 65.

I am astounded by Kling's claim. One has to be very expert in a field to know what is nowhere in the literature. The doubt that medicare is more egalitarian than the mixture of insurance plans and no insurance for people under 65 seems to me to be absurd on its face. I would like to suggest some readings for Kling which are the results of 15 minutes devoted to beginning to try to check his claim. The first few appear to show that some people have actually devoted great effort to carefully planned studies which provide evidence that lack of health insurance is bad for one's health. The studies generally rely on natural experiments and so don't address the exact issue mentioned by Kling, but indirect evidence is evidence. I think it is safe to say very few claims in economics is a solidly proven false as Kling's claim about medical care.

I suggest the followingn readings which are the results of 15 minutes spent searching pubmed.

Search uninsured quality of care

Search Medicar cost effective

Search medicare quality of care

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Newsday via the Carpetbagger tells me that Tom DeLay owns $50,000 of Exxon-mobil stock

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay owns stock worth more than $50,000 in ExxonMobil, according to financial disclosure reports, while at the same time he is one of the driving forces behind legislation that would shield that company and other manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE from lawsuits that could cost them millions.

Hmm Tom DeLay MBTE. Haven't I heard about that once or twice ? Google has heard of that pair about 8,590 times.

In the fierce competition between my native country and my adoptive country over who has the most crooked politician the honorable Thomas DeLay seems to be besting that frigging Frimigoni.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I am pleased by the CBS News/NY Times Poll
discussed by Robin Toner and Marjorie Connelly

Increasingly pessimistic about Iraq and skeptical about President Bush's plan for Social Security, Americans are in a season of political discontent, giving Mr. Bush one of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and Congress one of its lowest rating in years, according to the New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Forty-two percent of those polled said they approved of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job,

However, Toner and Connelly seem to need to balance the views expressed in the polls with a few comments in their own voices supporting Bush. Balance is nice, but on each point Toner and Connelly are wrong.

Mr. Bush faces a very resistant public when it comes to his Social Security proposals. He recently embraced a solvency plan that would cushion the lowest-income workers from any benefit cuts, but a majority in the survey said they still believed Mr. Bush's general plan would benefit high-income people the most.

Here Toner and Connelly don't say that the majority in the survey are wrong, but they strongly suggest that they are prejudiced against Bush. Obviously, the guess that if Bush proposes something then it would favor the rich is not paranoia. Only someone who has been on the moon for the past five years can have failed to notice the pattern. Indeed Bush's secret plan is best for high income people. The reason has been explained from time to time by Brad DeLong. The secret plan deducts money put in personal accounts from the guaranteed benefit charging interest of 3% plus inflation. This would imply a negative guaranteed benefit for rich people. There is no plan to charge them this negative guaranteed benefit, so, as guessed the majority in the survey, the Bush secret plan would be best for the rich.

The president has spent months trying to explain the virtues of private investment accounts, but public opinion on them remains very divided. Forty-five percent said those accounts were a good idea, 50 percent a bad idea, the same breakdown found in the survey in January.

Really shouldn't it be "The president has spent months promoting private investment accounts". Taken literally the word "explain" implies that he understands and is honest and that the benighted public just doesn't get it. It is normal for politicians to claim that their propaganda is an explanation. It should not be normal for reporters.

I skip a paragraph to which I do not object.

Americans also recognized that Mr. Bush has a Social Security plan and the Democrats in Congress do not.

Just a few lines ago Bush was explaining, hence presumably honest, now Toner and Connelly bluntly (and accurately) say that he is a liar. Bush has refused to release the details of his plan and actually claims that he is still working on it (using the feedback from his town hall meetings coached supporters I guess). Of course the reason the plan is secret is that the more people learn about it the less they like it. Of course the Democrats do have a plan which is to change nothing until they have a majority. Like most Americans, I prefer this plan to Bush's.

I was not joking about the perceived need to balance the negative views in the poll. I think the balance reflex has gotten that strong. Hmmm Krugman said that if Bush said the Earth was flat the headline would read "opinions about shape of earth differ". I think it's gotten to the point that if a reporter feels the need to mention his or her jet lag, he or she would feel the need to add "but I really enjoyed reading Friedman's new book on the plane."

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Kevin Drum is pleased to find himself in the Wikipedia.
I didn't hope to find myself so I looked for my father Thomas Waldmann, the immunologist (he is fairly famous in immunology circles).

I got this

The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of wiki software. Please see the individual products' articles for further information. This article is not all-inclusive or necessarily up-to-date.



Basic general information about the distributions: creator/company, license/price etc.

[snip 4 entries]

MoinMoin Jürgen Hermann, Thomas Waldmann, ... July 28, 2000 PikiPiki 1.3.4 Free GPL Corporate, Public, Private.

It looks like some other Thomas Waldmann is a pioneer of wiki software. Also Hans Waldmann was a WWII German flying ace. Sad to say there is just a Wiki heading with no Waldmann disease which is much more likely to be related to me that a wiki program or a WWII fighter plane.
Good news from Iraq reported by John Burns and Terence Neilan in the New York Times

Sunni Arabs reached agreement today with the major Shiite alliance over increased Sunni representation on the committee that will draft the Iraqi constitution.
Negotiators were jubilant. "I think today everyone is happy," said Bahaa al-Aaraji, a senior Shiite member on the committee and one of those who negotiated the deal. "Everything is good now. We agreed."


The American military, meanwhile, said today that coalition forces had captured the leader of Al Qaeda in the Mosul region, in northern Iraq, on Tuesday. He was described as the most trusted operations agent in all of Iraq of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

On such a day only a total twit would quibble. I am that total twit.
Burns and Neilan write "the United Iraqi Alliance, made up of the leading Shiite parties, which holds 48 percent of seats in the National Assembly."

Not quite. The United Iraqi Alliance received 48% of the votes in the national assembly election. However, even with proportional representation the division of seats is not exactly equal to the division of votes as microscopic parties whose votes correspond to less than one half seat are excluded. The United Iraqi alliance won 51% of the seats in the National Assembly not 48% (there have been some defections from the alliance so they hold less than 51% but still more than 48%).
Paul would not like this. Why do guys who like strange rules like to take the mean of logs then go back ? What is the source of the strange charm of that kind of mean ? Why do guys try and try to solve things when they know it can not be done ? Why ask why.

This post sure sounds dumb, but just try to write "geometric mean" with words of just one syllable.
The Hollow Man

Mistah Kurtz - He Read ?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dan Eggen and Julie Tate are very hard on the Bush administration here in the Washington Post. Basically they claim that the Justice Department has been inflating the number of terrorism prosecutions by tricks like counting 20 prosecutions of truck drivers who got licences without passing truck drivers ed (not kidding see post below).

However, the Justice Department does have a few scalps on their belt. They got Abdurahman Alamoudi

Sabin, the Justice Department's counterterrorism chief, said he could not discuss the specifics of most cases because of restrictions posed by ongoing criminal proceedings. But he said one case in particular illustrates the government's strategy: the conviction of Abdurahman Alamoudi, who admitted to taking $1 million from Libya and using it to pay conspirators in a scheme to kill Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

and they are hot on the trail of Grover Norquist.

Next a harder challenge. Have they caught any terrorists who haven't employed Grover Norquist ?
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

And right now it is clearly blowing against Bush. 43% approval here and the
Washington Post getting hostile here, here and here

The last is "the terrorism case that wasn't and still is" by Jerry Markon which concludes

It's unconscionable. It's a lie. This is not a terrorism case under any rational definition," said lawyer William Swor, who represented Samir Almazaal of Georgia. "If I get up in the morning and look outside to see if it's snowing, does that make me a weatherman?"

Am I dreaming or do the Republicans have a snowflakes chance in Alabama in 2006 ?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bigotry and Stupidity in my home county from the N.Y. Times

Last month in Montgomery County, Md., a parents' group, alarmed because revisions to a health education course for 8th and 10th grades included a discussion of homosexuality and a video that demonstrated how to use a condom, went into federal court and gained a restraining order to halt them. The county school board then voted 7 to 1 to eliminate the amended program, six months after unanimously approving it.

That's Montgomery County Maryland (not Montgomery Alabama). I grew up there and am shocked to find it first on the list of religious right efforts against pro gay rights activities in public schools. I hope and believe that that key issue was the video. I personally am very very strongly opposed to squeamishness about condoms. I would be willing to perform in such a video (although the uhm prop would look incredibly small to those who see such things on film only via porn).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

If you think those people at Human Events who think Darwin Wrote "Origen of The Species" are ignorant, look at the titles at the Humane Events list of the 10 mot damaging books in the 19th and 20th centuries.

HUMANE EVENTS ONLINE :: Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries:

* The Communist Mephisto (the Devil made 'em do it)
* Mine Camp (for those hard to discipline teens)
* Quotations from Chairman Meow (cat bloggers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your links)
* The Kinsley Report (AKA the L.A. Times Editorial Page)
* Democracy and Education (clearly they have no more time for the second than for the first)
* Diss Kapital (that dead White hoe I mean White ho (via Atrios) Karl Marx advises his readers to disrespect an essential factor of production)
* The Feminine Mystic (Wiccan propaganda; good thing it's banned by Cale Bradford)
* The Course of Positive Thinking (by Auguste Vincent Peale)
* Beyond Good to Evil (By Anakin Skywalker)
* The General Theory of Interesting Employments of Money (Shoppers guide by John Maynard Keen)

several updates hereby confessed

Saturday, June 04, 2005

For some of us, the sun never sets on Okrent day. I can't help wondering what Daniel Okrent will say in his new job as The Economist's public editor.

Okrent's one critique of Krugman not blasted out of the water by Krugman at the original site of the debate (or Brad DeLong here when Krugman didn't bother) was

5. Some other examples of Krugmania that popped out of my copious files:

His 1/27/04 assertion that the cost of unemployment insurance “automatically” adds to the federal deficit. This two-fer misrepresents a pair of facts: that unemployment insurance is largely borne by the states, and that major federal contributions to the states come about only because of an act of Congress, which is hardly automatic.

Bad Paul claimed (correctly) that federal transfers to states for the UI program are partly automatic (Mark schmitt also know as The Decembrist explains in a comment to Brad's post that such transfers are automatic loans and. Schmitt doesn't say if they are counted in the official deficit as they should be, but this is not relevant to the substantive point about automatic stabilizers.

Now Paul has confused the Krugmanian Economist which writes "Federal programmes act as automatic fiscal stabilisers, siphoning off tax revenues from booming areas and transferring them to ailing regions as unemployment insurance or ..."

via Brad who quotes a bit outside the subscription wall.

I guess the Economist must be written by Krugman acolytes. Recall this was the least absurd example in Okrent's list.
This very depressing article about Iraq contains a very depressing retronym

An unattended car bomb exploded in western Baghdad as an American convoy passed by, injuring three Iraqis and damaging nearby shops. In the northern city of Tikrit, Mr. Hussein's hometown, a suicide car bomb detonated at an Iraqi army checkpoint, wounding seven Iraqi soldiers and two civilians.

It is not good news when Edward Wong of the New York Times feels the need to specify that a bomber did not choose to die in order to kill.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Great article by Douglas Jehl
via Steve Soto
via Josh Marshall

I have a warm spot for Jehl since a nitpic of an article co-authored by him is my one blogging hit so far. The point is this article is that anonymous sources say the White House is refusing to release the NSA intercepts because they name US corporations which did business with countries under sanctions including China and perhaps Libya and Cuba.

I wonder if one of those companies happens to Halliburton ?

No reason to think so and it is irresponsible to speculate.
Great article here on corruption in the US congress by Art Levine. Those guys (and gal) sure are getting blatant about it. I have little to add to these points on nepotism (or exploiting daughters to cash in) "Daughter Karen’s political-consulting business may best illustrate this savvy blending of political and ?nancial interests. Karen Waters blandly assured the Los Angeles Times that “Maxine Waters is one of my clients,”" and "In Washington, nepotism can be just another way to cash in political favors. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Karen Weldon, a novice 30-year-old publicist with little experience in foreign policy, had won handsome PR and consulting contracts worth $1 million from at least three foreign clients -- all of whom have been aided by her father, Curt Weldon,." I would just like to ask Mr Levine what babe named Karen done him wrong ?
The amateur economist

OK I'm not really an amateur because I am technically an economics professor, but this post is so amateurish that writing it is not doing my job but procrastinating.

Something odd has happened to US employment or rather something odd hasn't happened. After decades of amazing growth it has, more or less, stagnated since the last recession. This is very odd. Now economists shouldn't have ideas on such important topics at 3 in the morning but I've been doing other stuff you know.

The simplest neoclassical model of labor demand implies that employment should have shot up especially fast since productivity growth has been extraordinary and real wages have not kept up.

I have a very silly model (which is probably inconsistent with the data). Let's assume that managers don't do anything useful and that top managers know this and always have. Imagine if management is and has always been rent sharing, a full employment program for the over educated middle class (quoting J. Q. Wilson but for some reason he applied the phrase to theminiscule federal civil service). Now it is a fact that part of the productivity speed up was due to downsizing, delayering etc, that is, laying off lots of middle managers.

This caused a reduction in unit labor costs. However if top managers always believed that middle management was all about giving cushy jobs to people like them, this would have no effect on their estimates of marginal cost. If middle management is a luxury not a cost, reduced layers of management do not imply production should be increased.

Another way of describing this fantasy is what if top managers always assumed that they could increase production without hiring more middle managers. Middle managers salaries would be a fixed cost and should not have any effect on production decisions. A decline in the ratio of middle management to output would not imply a reduction in marginal cost. Thus if labor saving is concentrated in pointless labor, huge productivity increases and stable real wages are consistent with normally slow output growth.

Now I am perfectly willing to believe that lots of layers of managers are semi parasites on production workers (not as parasitic as me but still not needed for production). I am more reluctant to believe that top managers are clear on the concept of marginal cost, but, hey, anything is possible.

Notice that even to the extent that productivity growth is due to technology the new technology (like blogger) doesn't have much to do with actually making things, and more to do with blah blahing more efficiently.

Now another way to tell this story is that CEOs discovered that they can steal as much money as they want from shareholders. Thus they realized that beds were being feathered with the down payment for their new mansion not with dividends. Thus they got much tougher about sharing rents. In all cases working for shareholders, working to get rents to share or working to get another hundred million, CEOs might have made rational decisions but always counted jobs for the boys as part of profits not costs. Thus a change in their choices about what to do with economic profits causes a huge productivity speed up but no GDP growth speed up.

Needless to say, this "model" is more or less a joke. I am sad to admit that there are data on production workers vs non production workers and that I won't even look at them, because I have no doubt that they prove that my silly model is silly.

update: I wish Blogger didn't hide comments. I understand that comments automatically up here would create problems for, say, Atrios, but I have so few comments that I wish they were all as visible as possible.

Econgeek asks why now ?

"Im not competent to judge if the model is silly or not (and have an eversion to actually looking at the data, so I wont) but it seems to be rely fairly heavily on the idea that something changed in the minds of upper management in this last recesion; in particular all of a sudden they realized that they could keep the rents in more direct ways than before. i dont understand what causes this change in their expectation. In other words; even if I buy the story: why now?

the more general idea of middle management as class parasites to be appeased however is extremly entertaining and could perhaps find a home in some other model.
# posted by econgeek : 5:24 AM"

I actually have an answer to that one. To me the event is downsizing which caused the productivity speed up. The break is in the mid 90s not now. It is only the last recession and current slow growth that made it clear that the speed up was a genuine break in a trend and not a temporary effect of an overheated economy.

The story is about the 80s with an overvalued dollar, Japan as number one and takeovers. The idea that there are too many layers of managers in the US is based partly on comparing large US firms to large Japanese firms, that is, Toyota showed that a huge firm can do just fine with about half as much corporate bureaucracy as GM. Given foreign competition, some firms had no rents to share and had to get efficient. Also corporate predators forced managers to maximize shareholder value.

Then the pressure let up in the 90s, because the dollar came back to a sensible level, Japan imploded and the takeover wave ended when Drexel Burnham Lamber and the shady S&Ls which financed it went under. However, once top managers had bitten the bullet and laid off white collar workers, they decided to try to take the rents in cash and discovered they could get away with just about anything and are now as ruthless from greed as they had been from fear.

The result of this fear and greed is a productivity miracle.

I don't believe any of this, but I find the story amusing.

The only problem is that I am an economics professor, so I really shouldn't blog about economics without casting discredit on my allegedly serious work. Maybe I should use a pseudonym.