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Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Would a Patriot Buy ?

I have gone commercial and put a link to google adsense. Since selling out, I have built up a big big balance of 25 cents.

Recently google ads choice of links was seriously amusing. There was an add for Patriotic US made patiotic refrigerator magnets. Not allowing my economic interests to bias my blogging, I won't tell you the link (also I don't know what it was) but I was surprised that the all knowing google system thought I was a flag waver.

The I understood. It was because of these two posts on "How Would a Patriot Act" which you can pre order here.

Hey if I'm going to include advertisements at least they can be for a product which I am sure is excellent (even though I haven't read it yet).
Finally A Really Important Waldman

I have noticed that, while I am the only blogging Waldmann of whom I am aware, there are at least 3 blogging Waldman's more prominent than me. Also Michael Waldman is a definitely more prominent economist and Amy Waldman can singTilted edge suggested that my problem might be the spellling of my name and that I consider changing it to Waldmann.

Now I discover a really important Waldman.

In a story on the intersection of the K-Street Project and the mafia. Schmidt and Cillizza (who between the two of them have quite a few more excess consonants between them than I do) report that Jack Abramoff (not Abramof, Abramoff) had two (not one two) partners in his effort to gain control of the Sun Cruz nautical casino company.

"Ney's involvement with the cruise line took place in 2000, when Abramoff and partners Kidan and Ben Waldman were in difficult negotiations to buy SunCruz Casinos from Fort Lauderdale businessman Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis."

Oh and by the way Tilted, I'm now thinking of changing my name to Waldmannn.
The Second Time As Farce

The Italian Senate is still trying to elect its president. To preside over the Senate a senator must win an absolute majority of the votes. The center left currently has a majority of one among elected senators and the support of one elected independent (elected in South America of course but that is another story). The two living former presidents of the Republic are also senators and there are Senators appointed for their lifetime as a huge honor (like being in the house of lords) which has suddenly become a real political factor.

The naive or very young might imagine that the center left will just elect their candidate Franco Marini (a former trade union leader and minister of labor whose most brilliant contribution to the national discussion occurs whenever he keeps his mouth shut). The center right is supporting Giulio Andreotti, 7 times prime minister, now a senator for life, who has served the Republic every parliament since it was founded and who, according to an official court verdict and finding of fact, stopped serving the mafia in 1980 and therefore does not belong in jail.

There is also a senator Giulio Marini. who has not been mentioned as a compromise candidate, but who played a very key role in the second second ballot for president of the Senate.

La Repubblica reports

La differenza tra Franco e Francesco ha tolto per soli tre voti a Franco Marini la presidenza del Senato. Su tre delle 162 schede che gli erano state attribuite nella seconda votazione, infatti, c'era scritto Francesco. Ma Marini si chiama Franco, anche all'anagrafe. Pertanto la seconda votazione è stata annullata dal presidente provvisorio Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, e ripetuta, tra le contestazioni, alle 22. Ma anche dopo mezzanotte, al termine della seconda votazione 'bis', il responso per il candidato del centrosinistra è stato negativo: ha ottenuto infatti 161 voti, dal momento che una scheda, sulla quale c'era scritto solo Marini, non poteva essere considerata valida, essendoci un altro senatore con lo stesso cognome, Giulio Marini, di Forza Italia.

Su un'altra era scritto, per l'ennesima volta, Francesco Marini.

that is

The difference between "Franco" and "Francesco" took from Franco Marini the presidency of the senate for only three votes. "Francesco", in fact, was written on three of the 162 ballots which were [unofficially] attributed to him in the second vote. But Marini's legal name is Franco. Therefore the second vote was annulled by the provisory president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and repeated, with objections, at 10 PM.
But also after midnight, at the end of vote 2b, the response for the candidate of the center left was negative. He obtained 161 votes, since one ballot, on which only "Marini" was written, could not be considered valid there being another senator with the same last name, Giulio Marini of Forza Italia.

Francesco Marini was written for the n'th time on another.

The extremely naive and electors of Palm beach county Florida, might be forgiven for imagining that Italian Senators can not manage the mechanics of voting. My immediate reaction was as follows "Why does Clemente Mastella want the world to laugh at the Italian Senate?"

I have neither proof nor doubt that the apparent mistakes were made by the senators for the UDEur lead by Clemente Mastella. This is a party of people elected with the center right in 1996 which switched sides and elected Massimo D'Alema prime minister when the still comunists withdrew support and made the Prodi goverment fall. Sadly the center left did not cut them adrift in 2001 and lost anyway. I thought at the time that at least the election might have served for sending Mastella back to Berlusconi or, even better, causing the UDEur to win no seats, which has been the end of many Italian parties. Thus the UDEur is still around, still part of the center left (at least for now) and with a big big delegation of three a necessary component of the center left majority in the senate. The absurd errors on ballots serve to keep the voting open and to remind people of how narrow the majority is.

I think there is a strategic reason to cast incorrectly marked ballots as opposed to blank ballots. Life Senators often cast blank ballots out of respect for democracy. No one can imagine that the senators who wrote "Francesco Marini" or "Marini" are burdened by such weaknesses. They are saying that they have not yet been paid the price for their votes. They may be hinting that they are prepared to sell to the highest bidder.

Of course I don't really know that the three spelling impaired senotors are the three UDEur senators. As I said I have neither evidence nor doubt.

Elisabetta Addis says that from now on she will refer to one of them as Inclemente Mastella.

I guess that tommorrow Clemintine Mastella will vote for Franco Andreotti.
Strange Google Referal of the Day

Someone in Romania is interested in Curio Pintus, the only person who has ever even hinted that he might some day consider suing me for allegedly defamatory statements on this blog.
A Specter is Haunting Washington

Kevin Drum notes

Arlen Specter claims that he's so frustrated over the Bush administration's refusal to answer questions about the NSA's domestic spying program that he might actually do something about it:

In a warning to the White House, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he planned to introduce legislation that would cut off funds for the surveillance program, which he described as a threat to civil liberties and a violation of domestic espionage laws.

...."What's the use of passing another statute if the president won't pay any attention to it?" Specter said. "When you talk about withholding funds, there you're talking about a real authority."

I imagine that, as usual, someone from the White House will coo soothing words in Specter's ears and he'll back down, but who knows? Maybe this time he'll demonstrate some spine and do what's right. A few supportive calls and emails couldn't hurt. Contact info is here.

I fear that Sen Specter remains confused about the administration he threatens to confront, or, more likely, is pretending that he remains confused. What makes him think that witholding funds has any real authority that the FISA act which provides for a penalty of up to 10 years in prison does not have ? The Bush administration already made it clear that it feels it has the authority to spend money in ways not appropriated by congress when it transfered funds from the war in Afganistan to preparation for invasion of Iraq as noted by the Congressional Research Service Jonathan Weisman via Matthew Yglesias

Specter should (actually probably does) understand that the Bush administration considers the constitution obsolete. Specifically forbidding spending on warrentless wiretaps would not prevent warrentless wiretaps anymore than FISA did. Specifically forbidding spending on any wiretaps would be extreme and would not prevent warrentless wiretaps anymore than FISA did.

Congress has two weapons left in its arsenal impeachment and prayer. Specter can pray that God tells Bush to obey the constitution, he can pray that the house impeaches Bush or he can (and will) hope that things will just work out and his play acting will win applause.

Still supportive e-mails without any reference to my doubts about his sincerity can't hurt and contact information remains here.

update: My letter to Senator Specter. I hope I am right in assuming that he doesn't read this blog

Dear Senator Specter

Thank you for standing up for the Constitution by threatening to block funding for the clearly illegal NSA domestic warrentless evesdropping program. I was very pleased and impressed by your statement.

I personally have no hope at all that your warning will cause the Bush administration to seriously consider the obeying the laws passed in congress including FISA and the Patriot Act which President Bush was for while he was violating it . I think it will probably be necessary to cut off funding even to get the administrations attention. This will involve voting with Democrats and your life will be made very unpleasant, but your place in history will be assured.

You have guessed perhaps that you and I do not belong to the same party, however you also clearly understand that the issue far transends party and normal policy debate. It is sad that so few Senators of either party understand what is at stake. Almost all Republicans seem to have forgotten about their oversight responsibilities while most Democrats seem interested mainly in whether the issue is a political winner or loser. The founding father's understood the issue even though they didn't know what a telephone was.

I am glad that at least one Senator understands how important it is that the goverment of the United States of America remains a government of laws and not of men.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Italian Senate is electing it's President

The Senate is almost equally divided between center left and center right. One very very odd feature of the Senate is that it has unelected members including former presidents of the Republic and "Senatori a vita" that is Senators for life. To be named a senator for life has typically been similar to being named a peer in England.
However, now the senatori a vita can decide votes. It was argued when it seemed that they might be necessary to give Prodi a majority that this is undemocratic. Now the same people support a Giulio Andreotti a senatore a vita as President of the Senate (and another Senatore a Vita who was honored for running Fiat into the ground declared that he voted for Andreotti). The center right is voting for Andreotti. This is mainly an effort to show how very thin Prodi's majority is as a first step to getting to new elections.

One important particular has not been mentioned in the extensive debate. Andreotti has been found by an Italian court to have been an ally of the mafia up untill 1980 (when the Corleonese seized control from the Palermitani). This did not imply a conviction for any crime, since the statue of limitations had run out. Andreotti could have asked for a trial on the merits to be conducted by the highest court of appeal. He chose not to.

For some totally mysterious reason, the sentence with the official finding that Andreotti has been an ally of the mafia was treated as a vindication and he is now being considered for a high office, officially the second highest office in the Republic after the President of the Republic.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

If You Are All So Smart Why Are We The Minority ?

Democrats propose "legislation that would put a moratorium on the Federal gasoline tax for at least 60-days to provide consumers immediate relief at the pump,” but would also "chop oil company tax benefits and burden refineries with unwarranted reporting requirements, making it unable to win enough support in Congress to have even a remote chance of passing."

ohn Whitehead, at the Environmental Economics blog, calls it "silly plus stupid (i.e., "inefficient" to an economist)" and Brad DeLong chimes in labeling the initiative an example of "stupidity."

Matthew Yglesias argues that proposing the amendment is smart since it "accomplishes the political goal of making the Republicans unpopular -- siding with their corporate masters to defeat a plan to lower the price of gasoline -- while also accomplishing the policy goal of not making gasoline prices lower. That, to me, deserves the label 'smart.'"

Atrios agrees with Yglesias
Smart Posturing

What Yglesias says. Sometimes our wonkier types just need to keep their traps shut. Plenty of bad ideas, especially when they're both relatively harmless and unlikely to pass, make for good political theater. The party out of power can't actually do policy, so relax and let them do some politics.

By the way, I guessed that Brad was at least one of the wonks gently chided by Atrios before clicking the link, which shows I am brilliantly stupid enough to spend huge amounts of time reading blogs which attempt to convince me of that which I already believe.

I agree with Yglesias that the Democrats are being smart. I do fear that they will blow it by being against gas taxes before they were for them. Posturing can be risky if you are not willing to actually implement bad policies. The only way to posture without appearing hypocritical is to be firmly, resolutely and consistently hypocritical. The Republicans have no problem with that, Democrats have been known to flinch. Still I basically trust them to not sacrifice electability for principle if it comes to that.

I also think that Whitehad and DeLong are being smart, very smart. By denouncing the Democrats' posturing they semi effectively buff their credentials as call em as they see em straight shooting non partisan policy intellectuals. This makes them more useful to the party. I stress that I am guessing as to their motives. I have never met Whitehead and have not discussed the issue with DeLong.

Finally I think Yglesias and Atrios are being smart, very very smart. By chiding Whitehead and DeLong they signal to political strategists that they understand politics and are willing to let their policy intellectual credibility take one for the team. By criticising Whitehead and DeLong they very effectively buff Whitehead and DeLong's as call em as they see em straight shooting non partisan policy intellectuals, which makes all four of them more useful to the party.

The whole "debate" strikes me as blogospheric Kabuki in which debate serves the debaters. Or as Robert Barro once said "sometimes a critical site is more valuable that a favorable site ... I mean I'm just speaking from casual empricism." (I hasten to add that cutting out the middle man by explaining in footnotes why the argument in the main body of the text is nonsense strikes me as a suboptimal strategy for developing intellectual credibility).

So my question is if they are all so smart why can't Democrats win ?


Have you ever looked at a map of gas prices in the United Stated based on county? Have you compared it to the results of a presidential election based on a county winner map? Here are a couple links what do you see?

Posted by JasonSpalding to Robert's Stochastic thoughts at 4/28/2006 12:46:12 AM
I'm not suggesting that Glenn Greenwald plagiarised 1984 to write "How Would a Patriot Act?". It seems that way, but I'm sure there's an innocent explanation.
Do you think that Glenn Greenwald is the reincarnation of George Orwell ?

Just asking.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mary McCarthy update MCCXXXVI

There seems to be much less than meets the eye to the case of Mary McCarthy, the CIA officer fired for talking to Dana Priest. First, I am glad to say, that she will not be taking me up on the offer of helping fund her retirement as the CIA is still going to pay her pension. In fact, the total penalty seems to be ten days' salary as reported by R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post

"[Ty] Cobb said ... that her firing 10 days before she was to retire"


the senior intelligence official confirmed that McCarthy was preparing to retire and said she will retain her government pension despite the agency's decision.

The motives for the dismissal are still more interesting. McCarthy denies that she revealed classified information. More to the point

The statement by Ty Cobb, a lawyer in the Washington office of Hogan & Hartson who said he was speaking for McCarthy, came on the same day that a senior intelligence official said the agency is not asserting that McCarthy was a key source of Priest's award-winning articles last year disclosing the agency's secret prisons.

(yes her lawyers name is Ty Cobb who sure aint gonna hurt his batting average in fact I consider his fee in this case a steal. Quite "the group" they make).

McCarthy denies having told Priest about the secret prisons. She would not have known operational details.

Cobb said that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general's office, "did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking," namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Having unreported media contacts is not unheard of at the CIA but is a violation of the agency's rules.

The existence of prisons in secret locations was, of course, universally known to anyone who followed the news. In 2004, the Bush administration constantly repeated (and exagerated) the number of top Al Qaeda operatives who had been captured. The location of the prisoners was not made public. Thus they were being kept in secret prisons. The existence of secret prisons was as secret as the design of the US flag. Never has there been a more open secret.

Ah yess open secrets. The instant that McCarthy was fired with pension 10 days before her retirement, the world new she had donated money to John Kerry (takes about 5 clicks to get here)

Given the almost complete absence of any other reason to fire her, might the firing be the CIAs effort to show they are not soft on Democrats ? Recall

The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.

via many.

It seems that Smith and Linzer placed that key fact at the end of their older article because they are still investigating the issue. The more recent article is calling foul as loud as news reporters are allowed to scream.

I wonder if John Collinge and Alvin Krongard are worried. Ellen Hemmindinge is already safely retired.

And notice that only 5 people who donated in 2002 or 2004 list their employment as the Central Intelligence Agency. Come on guys you can't all be covert.

hmmm 3 more in 1998 or 2000
and Krongard is probably not pleased that I keep mentioning him.

3 more in 1994 or 1996

One more in 1990 or 1992 (and she has the same last name as the candidate)

update: Hope I haven't gotten Alvin Krongard in trouble. Someone came here after google blog searching "Krongard". I do hope the evil opponents of CIA agents who are active citizens aren't using google -- the idea of Big Brother googling is scary.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do Pregnant Women Quit Smoking ? Do women start quiting before they are pregnant ?
Look Ma You're a Secular Whackjob
Atheist Theological Disputation part N

P Z Myers caught a live one -- Melinda Barton denouncing atheists on
Raw Story

Barton is rude and Myers seems to have demolished her arguments pretty thoroughly. I am actually just going to quote him partly quoting her, because my main aim is to engage him in Atheist Theological disputation.

You know, I'm a fairly extremist atheist myself, and I just find her assertions daffy.

Outrageous claim number 1: Atheism is based on evidence and reason and is philosophically provable or proven. Atheism is a matter of thought not belief. In other words, atheism is true; religion is false.

Well, yes, I believe religion is false; that's no more a damning trait than the fact that Melinda Barton believes religion is true. But this claim that atheism is proven is bizarre; who says such things? She tries to quote a writer for the Atheist Foundation of Australia who defines atheism as "the acceptance that there is no credible, scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a God, god/s or the supernatural"…tell me, where is the claim of provability there? She goes on to argue that both the presence and absence of a deity are matters of belief, setting up a false equivalence in which she tries to argue that both are therefore matters of faith. What nonsense; the absence of faith is not faith, any more than the absence of a sandwich is also a kind of tasty snack between two slices of bread.

Barton is very odd. She seems to see a fundamental difference between believing something and thinking that it is true. This seems to me to be inconsistent with the English dictionary. Now one can hold beliefs without certainty and therefore not be certain that they are true, but I don't see any difference between "I believe x" and "I think x is true". I have reached mutual non comprehension with many people on this topic and have learned to drop it as soon as it arises.

More to the point, Barton and Myers both seem to me to underestimate the role of faith in thought. In particular, I think to arrive at a conclusion using reason and evidence one must have faith, at least, in some method of reasoning such as the scientific method. Thus even if the scientific method forced everyone who applied it honesty and ably to conclude that there is no God, the resulting atheism would be based on faith. No reasoning is possible without assumptions and no one would bother to reason without at least some faith in the assumptions. Again, certainty is not required, but something prior to evidence is or one would just stare at the world and never infer anything. I believe David Hume agreed with me on this point. Myers is witty with the sandwich analogy, but he doesn't address the question of whether or not he has faith in the scientific method. Sad to say, I think the scientific method goes on to ask "do you have any priors" and if you answer no the scientific method sighs and says it can't help you, that is, one leap of faith is not enough to get you anywhere useful

Outrageous claim number 2: Since the natural is all that we have or can scientifically observe and/or measure, it is all that exists.

Now we get into some real craziness. This basic claim of metaphysical naturalism, which is a reasonable interpretation of the absence of evidence, is called a blatant logical fallacy and scientifically inaccurate by Ms Barton.

She claims it is a logical fallacy because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That's an extravagant misuse of the aphorism, I'm afraid. Absence of evidence is a legitimate argument for the absence of a phenomenon. If I claim there is a unicorn living in my backyard, but repeated attempts to observe and record it, or to find indirect evidence such as footprints or unicorn scat all fail, it is perfectly reasonable to provisionally suggest that the claim is false, and to insist that any further consideration of the idea will require positive evidence from the claimant.

Here I absolutely disagree with Myers and agree with Barton. I am an atheist but I believe in objective moral truth -- That some actions are right and others are wrong and that this rightness or wrongness is separate from my feelings and beliefs and is unchanged since before any living thing existed. Obviously there can be no evidence for the existence of objective right or wrong (as opposed to beliefs about right and wrong and moral sentiments and conciences and such like). Thus I do not accept Occam's razor, or rather, I think it guides us well except for when we ask if there is a moral law. Embarassing to have to use "except" when discusing epistemology, but that's what I think.

Now consider Myers' analogy. There is a difference in that, if I believed there was a unicorn in my back yard, I would assign positive probability to seeing it. I do believe that there is the moral law in my back yard, but I also think it is invisible. My failure to see it does not imply a posterior probability that it is there lower than my prior probability. Similarly it is weightless and hoofless so I learn nothing by finding no moral law prints. Finally the moral law does not defecate - no shit. Absence of evidence of something which could produce evidence of its existence is evidence of absence. Perhaps weak evidence of absence but certainly evidence of absence. Absence of evidence of something which could not produce evidence is not evidence of absence.

God's not like that, by definition God is omnipotent and has inentions (being benevolent). That implies lots of predictions many of which seem to me to be false. Even if it is possible to reconcile the existence of God with all the horrible things in the world, faith in God must be challenged by the enormous intellectual effort required. This is clearly evidence of the absence of God, at least if God is defined as being omnipotent and benevolent.

As for her claim that metaphysical naturalism is scientifically inaccurate…her defense consists of abusing quantum physics. I'm thinking there ought to be an exam and some kind of licensing requirement before people are allowed to use The Argument From Quantum Physics in public.

Here I agree entirely with Myers (noting that he is joking and not really proposing a revision to the first amendment). I think there should be an established norm that if someone brings up quantum physics, they should normally be quizzed on the subject to either show they know what they are talking about or humiliate them. I think that questions whose answers are known because they are reproducible experimental results found in the peer reviewed literature would do. That is 99% of abuse of quantum mechanics could be eliminated by humiliating people who don't know the relevant facts without even testing their understanding of current theories.

Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.

Again, a straw man, and she has got to know it. She reaches for the usual extremist examples with which atheists are typically beaten, the anarchists and communists, and says that they believe "the total eradication of religion is an essential but not sufficient step in the creation of an atheist utopia." The statement of her religious claim and her recitation of an example follow one after another; are we to believe that she doesn't understand what the phrase "but not sufficient" means? Possibly. She's not exactly dazzling us with her clarity of thought here.

Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.

Just a rhetorical tip to Ms Barton: it's a bad idea to end a list of arguments for your position with the weakest, lamest, most pathetic claim you can think of, and also to immediately admit that it's unsupportable. You know, like this:

I tried to find an "official" source for this hasty generalization with no luck, but chose to include it here based on personal experience.

Jebus. Never mind. Do we even need to try to rebut this kind of nonsense?

Heh indeed. How is it possible that Raw Story published such nonsense ? This is a serious question. I can think of three explanations.

One is that left of center people have noticed that we keep losing elections because we are seen by many voters to be hostile to religion. Thus they are desperate enough to find some way of partly agreeing with those voters to resort to intellectual dishonesty based on outrageous straw men.

Another is that current standards of tollerance are inconsistent with logic. This is very much true of religious tollerance. It is considered intollerant to say that one thinks one's beliefs are true and that logically inconstent beliefs are false. Clear thought can not survive under such ground rules.

Finally, I suspect that religious people who attempt to reason with atheists either become atheist, become agnostic or drive themselves crazy.

update: spelling corrected thanks to Sarah's anonymous father.

Update 2: Further spelling corrections thanks to Sarah's anonymous and persistent father (or maybe some other kind anonymous soul). I have also learned that when I try to search this page with firefox it doesn't look in this box (where I am typing) so I get "Meyers" not found when "Meyers" appears repeatedly. Odd that I never learned that till now.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I think that Mary McCarthy did the right thing when she told Dana Priest about the secret CIA prison system and that the CIA did the right thing when it fired Mary McCarthy. Finally I think the Pulitzer committee did the right thing when it awarded Priest a Pulitzer prize.

[see update, recantation and flip flop below]

Now firing is not the worst possible punishment, but it is very painful and costly to McCarthy. How can I think that someone should be fired for doing the right thing ? I agree with the action of revealing this particular secret, because I think that, in this case, it is necessary for the public to know what is being done in our name for us to recognise the threats to our principles. However, allowing the act to go un punished amounts to official sanction and establishes a precedent. I think that breaking the rules when there is a compelling reason to do so is right, but that establishing a new rule that the rules can be broken if it serves the public interest implies establishing a rule that the rules can be broken if a plausible case can be made that the public interest was served. This would lead either to an end of secrecy, which would be costly, or more likely, a crackdown which would involve arbitrary punishment.

Now the current law protects whistle blowers, that is, the classification system can not be used to hide crimes and people can not be punished for revealing crimes. However, as far as I know, the establishment of the secret prison system did not violate US law (torture of prisoners in the system certainly does violate US law). The system violated European Union law, but the CIA violates foreign laws all the time and we want it that way. Thus according to current law and rules, McCarthy should be fired (and can be prosecuted).

The different consequences of breaking the rules and allowing a known rule breaker to go un punished makes it possible that it is good to punish a good action. It is unpleasant but not logically inconsistent.

Also, since journalists should report newsworthy truths without considering whether it is good for us to know such truths, Priest's action was not only socially useful, but typical of socially desirable conduct by journalists. Thus I see no contradiction in thinking she should be rewarded while her partner in truth telling should be punished.

I do think that, if the prize has a monetary component, she should help McCarthy out with her new private sector retirement plan. I'd be willing to chip in a bit myself, since hope in disintrested actions by strangers has never led anyone into a life of crime.

Update: I now think I was wrong when I thought the CIA did the right thing when it fired McCarthy. The key issue related to Federal government firing policy is whether the activities she revealed were criminal. If so, she is a whistle blower and should nto be fired. Glenn Greenwald explains that they were (and are) criminal. One key point is that McCarthy revealed torture, which was clearly against US law, and in particular the international convention against torture )which has been ratified by the Senate and is the law of the land). The Bush administration made a plainly absurd argument that the ratification added nothing to the restrictions in the US Constitution (which only applies inside the USA) but an argument presented by the allegedly guilty party does not make a crime other than a crime unless and until it is accepted by a judge.

The passage in the article (which I forgot as it wasn't news to me) was "et CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding,""

Furthermore secret prisons are themselves forbidden by the Geneva conventions (also the law of the land) and captured people can be declared illigitimate combatants not covered by the conventions only after a hearing (none of which have been completed so far). Thus holding captured people in secret prisons inside or outside of the US is a crime under US ratified treaties which the Constitution clearly states have the force of law.

Finally the fact that the US held people in secret prisons was not, itself, really secret. The capture of, for example, Khalid Sheik Mohammad was made extremely public. His location was never described and was clearly not Guantanamo, therefore it was tacitly made clear that he was being held in a secret prison. To me, McCarthy's leak was barely a leak (since was already sure of the content).

The point is that she clearly denounced criminal actions. The fact that the President is one of the criminals does not change her whistle blower status, and she should not be fired.

I repeat my offer to chip in a bit (not much sorry I'm stingy) for her retirement (see also Mark Kleiman). I also think she should sue demanding her job back. I'd say there are a fair number of judges who would be willing to express a binding view on who is guilty here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ramesh Ponnuru thinks that people don't know how well the economy is doing just as they didn't know how well it was doing as it was falling into the great depression.

He is alarmingly ignorant and too arrogant to, say, glance at an encyclopedia or high school history textbook *and* he is quoting someone equally clueless

hey aren't going to change their minds about the economy, either. People have not yet adjusted their mental picture of the economy to fit today's dynamism. "The average person sees high gas prices and bankrupt airlines and GM layoffs and it doesn’t fit in their minds that this can be going on during a good economy. There are some ways in which it’s analogous to . . . say, 1880 to 1930. . . . The reality was you were creating unprecedented amounts of wealth and moving people out of agrarian poverty into what we started to call the working class. But the commentary was almost uniformly negative. People just didn’t understand it. Nobody was saying, Gosh, this is great, people are moving off the crummy farms and into cities."

I guess maybe the key point is that he means up to January 1 1930 at which point the depression was inevitable but people didn't know. Ponnuru seems to think that people in the 1920s thought the economy was going poorly. I am really shocked at such ignorance.

Also I got there via Atrios and TBogg and neither found the odd view of the US economy in the 20s and in 1930 (or on January 1 1930 if you insist) remarkable.
Is this par for the course for the corner ? I'm certainly not going to waste my time and raise my blood pressure checking.
Elisabetta Addis (the woman with whom I am married) sent me an e-mail which I quote in full
Atrios Atrios himself asks for my opinion.

"I'm curious if any people a bit closer to the action on the ground have a sense of how the Italian population is reacting to Silvio's shenanigans"

I live in Rome. The Italians I know are disgusted but not surprised by Berlusconi's antics. A refusal to reject the legitimacy of anyone who disagrees with him, including the majority of voters in this case, is typical. He is beyond Bush in arrogant denial of reality. This is the second time he has questioned the validity of counted votes. The other time he said his own internal exit polls (which showed him winning as always) were more reliable.

The problem is that I have almost never met anyone who admits to voting for Berlusconi (I work at a University but still ...). Somehow he has won two national elections with almost 0 confessed supporters.

Oddly I got a glimpse of pro Berlusconi views in a cab on election night (I waited at center left headquarters untill the victory speach at 3:00 AM and all public transportation was long closed).

The cab driver was not pleased at the results but mainly hoped that tons more money wouldn't be wasted on another vote. He said Prodi's plan to reintroduce the inheritance tax was unfair to working class Italians. He said corrupt politicians should just leave public life. His example of corruption was Massimo D'Alema who, gasp, once rented an apartment without paying a rent higher than the absurdly low legal maximum (this is due to an insane national rent control law eliminated by the center left last time they were in power).

There are Berlusconi supporters (half of the population) but few talk to me and their perception of the facts is more bizarre than Glenn Reynolds'. The explanation can be found back on election day, when the center left put on Murdoch owned Sky TV for a relatively fair and balanced report on what was happening (Berlusconi owned and Berlusconi controlled public TV had reported projections that Berlusconi had won).
Josh Marshall Translates Daniel Davies into Polite English

asking "Can you think of any policy-decision or action President Bush has taken in his five-plus years in office that didn't enjoy its greatest popularity on day one and then become more or less consistently less popular over time?"

It is interesting that it has taken over 3 years for the question to move from a Shrill hit and run to a sober serious bleg. I hope it doesn't take 3 more for it to be asked on TV.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Steve Barnes e-mailed me asking me to link to his new blog. Sure, I'll even blogroll empires fall. Warning, he is not as gentle with Bush as I am.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Taylor Marsh quotes two different Waldman's in
successive posts. Hey how about quoting a Waldmann ?

Tilted Edge has written the first authentic non spam comment, since I started moderating comments.

Tilted Edge has left a new comment on your post "4/17/2006 03:16:00 AM":

It would be easier to change your name to Waldman.

Ahhh Tilted how naive. I live in Italy and am employed by Lo Stato Italiano. Said Stato only allows names to be changed for good cause (typically if your name is an obscenity you can remove a letter or two so it is still funny and obviously obscene but not correctly spelled).

Waldmann is hard to spell, but not obscene. I can drop the second n only if I am willing to give up a very very cushy job.
Brad DeLong quotes Henry Farrel accusing The Economist of Leninism.

He adds that they have a worse problem with the delusion that Silvio Berlusconi is a pro market reformer (like mistaking Lenin for a fundamentalist Hindu). I agree and recall

Ahhh I remember circa 1980 when someone named Brad DeLong told me "the theory of historical materialims (or maybe it was dialectical materialism) is now believed only by The London Economist" My witty reply "Which economist in London". That is to say, Brad has been pushing this line since before I knew what "The Economist" was.

His claim was based on their silly prediction that South Korea and Taiwan were destined to be Democracies because of economic development. A Marxist argument indeed. Makes me wonder if Karl had a point there.

Sad to say, the Marxists at the Economist have lost touch with objective conditions. I never imagined that anyone who has access to TV not controlled by Berlusconi could think for a second that Silvio Berlusconi has anything to do with market oriented reform . Silvio wouln't recognise a market if one bit his butt.

Fortunately, this is now more likely now that he is no longer able to e.g. make it impossible to prosecute people who falsify corporate accounts.

In contrast, the last time they were in power, the center left pushed through a radically pro market program which included a law essentially similar to that recently rejected by the French (not being idiots they made it apply to new jobs for everyone not just the young). It might be a coincidence that employment suddenly started growing (after two decades of stagnation) after the Treu reform (Treu was labor minister of the very very ex communist Massimo D'Alema). They also privatized, liberalised licencing restrictions which prevented people from opening new shops and reformed (more or less to nonexistence) the national rent control law which guaranteed that only unprotected foreigners (such as myself) could rent in Italy.

Being somewhat nostalgic for the old paternalistic policies of old Europe, I was not enthusiastic, but I have to admit that the radically pro market program of the Italian center left worked. Berlusconi's program of mainly changing laws which he is known ot have broken, has not been so succesful.

Look at the policies not the labels. The Italian center left's claim to have something to do with the European Socialist tradition is as fraudulent as Berlusconi's claim to believe in market capitalism.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Howell's Howler III

OK still the same appalling column, but this time I have something to say that is not stolen from Americablog.

The passage in the Post editorial that sent war critics round the bend was this one: " . . . Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

[five paragraphs of platitudes before she addresses the point are deleted here]

The "supported" in the editorial refers to Wilson's report that there was a trade meeting between officials of Iraq and Niger. Though news accounts have said there was no talk of uranium, the meeting was seen as corroboration that the Iraqis were seeking uranium, because that's mostly what Niger has to export.

Howell does not explain what gives her this impression. She does not mention that Wilsonìs report was verbal and that the only record, a memo written by his CIA debriefer is classified. How does the Washington Post editorial board know what is written in this classified memo ? How could any possible contrast between what is written there and what Wilson claims prove Wilson (and not his debriefer) twisted the truth ? More importantly, doesn't the Washington Post editorial board know that this evidence of contact between Iraq and Niger was well known months before Wilson's trip ?

In fact, the claim (with explanation) that "his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium" (the "supported" in the editorial refers to Wilson's report that there was a trade meeting between officials of Iraq and Niger) is demonstrably false. The reason is that the trade mission was not a secret and was well known before Wilson went to Niger.

Let's hear what Wilson has to say on the subject in an interview with Josh Marshall (TPM)

TPM: Now, as you've described your report--and a number of administration figures latched onto this one comment--and my recollection is that in speaking to one of the former government ministers, this person discussed that there was an earlier time when there seemed to be a feeler from the Iraqis about restarting trade relations. And since this country doesn't have a lot of prized goods for international trade, that this may have been a feeler about a potential uranium sale. [snip]

WILSON: [lot of talk which is not a response deleted] The Iraqis had sent an emissary there, a guy by the name of Wisam al Zahawi, a fellow that I actually knew pretty well. American-educated, he was ambassador to the Vatican, [snip] He was sent down there to Niger--

TPM: When was this? Roughly?

WILSON: It was either '98 or '99. Our former ambassador who was in place at that time told me that the embassy had fully reported that visit. That report was reported by the government in the press. There was nothing clandestine about his visit, nothing untoward. The people that I talked to in the government at that time, said that uranium had not yet come up in discussions,

That's it. He reported a non clandestine meeting which had been fully reported when it happened. He, and others, speculated that the Iraqi emissary might have been thinking about Uranium although there is no direct evidence (such as, you know, saying the word uranium) to that effect.

As far as I know, Wilson's claim that the mission was reported when it happened has never been contested.

Also the mission was known to a western intelligence agency (which was very active in promoting the alleged Nigerien connection) before it took place. The one valid bit of the forged Nigerien Uranium dossier was an intercept of a telex setting up the meeting (intercepted in 1999). From a story on the origen of the dossier

Infila quindi, come primo documento del fascicolo che offre, il telex 003/99/ABNI/Rome, indirizzato al ministero degli Affari esteri del Niger. Si legge: "Ho l'onore di portare a vostra conoscenza che l'ambasciata irachena presso la Santa Sede, mi informa che sua Eccellenza Wissam Al Zahawie, ambasciatore iracheno presso la Santa Sede, effettuerà una missione ufficiale nel nostro Paese in qualità di rappresentante di Saddam, presidente della Repubblica irachena. Sua Eccellenza Zahawie arriverà a Niamey...".

Questo telex (intercettato) è già nel "dossier Niger" di Forte Braschi.

That is

He therefore placed, as the first document in the file for sale, the telex 003/99/ABNI/Rome [note 99 two years before Wilson's mission] addressed to the foreign ministry of Niger. It reads "U hgave the honor to inform you that the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, will make an official mission in our country as representative of Saddam, President of the Republic of Iraq. His excellence Zahawie will arrive in Niamey ..."

This telext (intercepted) is already in the "Niger dossier" of Forte Braschi [headquarters of SISMI, that is, Italian military intelligence].

Reports from SISMI piqued the interest of Cheney (according to Cheney on TV and thus on videotape) leading to Wilson's mission. Thus the only support Wilson is alleged to have provided was confirmation of a long known fact.

Wilson's failure to mention this non discovery in his 700 word op-ed is held, by someone on the Washington Post's editorial board, to mean that he twisted the truth. How would they like it if their failure to mention a very very minor fact in an editorial were held to be proof of dishonesty. It is unlikely that this will ever happen, since there are so many falsehoods in Washington Post editorials that even their fiercest critics will not bother with the sort of feeble cheap shots they used against Wilson.

By the way, Howell does not quote a source on the editorial board on this topic, although in the next lines of her column, she starts quoting Hiatt. I think it odd that an ombudsman seems to rely on anonymous sources at her own paper.
Howell's Howler's II

Deborah Howell is at it again. In attempting to defend the outrageous editorial "A Good Leak" Deborah Howell choses to point to an equally factually challenged editorial on Iran.

She writes

Some readers think it's a scandal when two parts of the newspaper appear to be in conflict with each other, but it's not that unusual that reporting -- particularly in news and editorial -- will depend on different sources. It happened again last week when an editorial and a story gave different estimates for how long it might take Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

This would be an excellent point, if her aim had been to prove that the Washington Post editorial board's contempt for facts is scandalous. However she argues the contrary. The example she chose proves that her explanation is nonsense. The different estimates for how long it might take Iran to build a nuclear bomb were based on the exact same source, which was correctly quoted on the news pages and incorrectly quoted in the editorial.

The editorial wrote "Some in Washington cite a U.S. intelligence estimate that an Iranian bomb is 10 years away. In fact the low end of that same estimate is five years, " This is totally absolutely false. The editorial board did not rely on a different source than the news article. They made a demonstrably false claim about an official document as John in DC demonstrates by quoting, you guessed it, the Washington Post. This shows (again) that the people who write editorials at the Post don't bother getting the facts right.

If Howell wishes to prove that this pattern of gross error is not proof of total irresponsibility at the Washington Post, she should find examples from other newspapers. No the Wall Street Journal doesn't count, unless she aims to prove that he editorial board of the Post has managed to equal the irresponsibility and dishonesty of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

As Mark Kleiman says. They have the right to their own opionions but not the right to their own facts.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Still Thinking of what I should have said during my 15 seconds on the Air in Piazza SS Apostoli at 2 AM Tuesday morning. Actually my daughter Marina explained it to me.
I wish I had said I don't fear NEXUS (as I did) then sung

Avanti Pieopoli alla riscossa
Cravatta Rossa, Cravatta Rossa
Cravatta Rossa va triomferà
Cravatta Rossa va triomferà

I coulda been a star. In fact maybe my daughter two acquaintances and I could have gotten a chorus going every time the projections appeared.

Recall based on partial returns there were two forecasts one by a berlusconi friendly firm NEXUS which predicted Berlusconi would win and one by a guy named Piepoli who appeared on the relatively unbiased Murdoch owned sky TV and predicted Prodi would win.

NEXUS had the contract to provide predictions on Berlusconi controlled Italian public TV. The center left Vjays switched to Murdoch TV to give their supporters something to cheer about. Piepoli's final prediction was Prodi by 0.2%, Prodi won by 0.1 % Marina told me to contact Piepoli as our song would make him happy. I said I think he is plenty happy already.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Strange Victory
Put out more banners.

Not even recuperated from the victory celebration, I find myself getting cynical. Actually I got cynical at the victory celebration.

The post below left off just as the victory of the center left became fairly definite. I am reported what I saw last night in Piazza SS Apostoli at the victory celebration of the center left alliance.

The TV channel switched to via dell botteghe oscure (headquarters of the ex communist DS -- the largest party in the winning coalition) where a victory announcement was promised. After considerable delay, the DS secretary Piero Fassino announced victory.

This is always very strange as Fassino always looks miserable and, at about 3 in the morning he looked very miserable. It is also (as chearfully noted by the Berlusconi employed announcer) a sign of trouble in the victorious coalition. Other party leaders were down in a tent in Piazza SS Apostoli waiting to emerge on stage and declare victory. Fassino insisted on announcing it first in his capacity as leader of the biggest party in the alliance, hence not in the capacity of member of the winning team headed by Romano Prodi.

Immediately after Fassino's declaration, Prodi et al emerged on stage. The crowd of politicians notably included Franceso Rutelli (former radical head of the daisy alliance with former Christian Democrats and Lamberto Dini formerly of the IMF). Rutelli looked genuinely happy, extremely happy. Either he is a good actor or he doesn't mind that the center left wins when Prodi is the candidate and lost when he was the candidate. Prodi said (pointedly ?) that he was waiting for Fassino to arrive to give his speach.

Fassino arrived and hugged Prodi and stood next to him (towering over him because Fassino is very tall) as Prodi announced victory. I have mentioned that Prodi seemed a little too cheerful during the debates. That was nothing.

Breaking with protocol, Prodi did make one little mention of policy. He said one aim of the center left was to get job security for young people (an issue hear as in France). Oddly no one has mentioned that young people in Italy do not have job security because of the Treu reform passed under the center left (this is also probably not coincidentally a break point in the trend of Italian employment which had stagnated for two decades then suddenly started growing). Prodi also explicitely noted that he had won because of the votes of people aged 18 through 24 (who can vote for the lower house and not for the Senate where the center right won the popular vote).

The crowd chanted unity unity (an order not a hope). Prodi thanked us. The crowd chanting unity waved an amazing variety of banners. The largest flag on the tallest poll (often appearing on TV with Prodi) was a red flag, which is, of course, not the image the center left wants to project.

The politicians on stage displayed an Italian flag. This may or may not show that they are moderate, patriotic and eager to unite Italy. It definitely shows that none of the innumerable flags of parties and alliances of parties is acceptable to all of them.

Prodi said that he wanted to be the Prime minister of all Italians (he might have mentioned the closely divided vote). Two young men standing next to me simultaneously said "no send them to jail." They were, of course, referring to convincted criminals and I agree with them.

Then they began shouting "Fausto" for Fausto Bertinotti head of the still communists. They wanted him to come to the front of the crowd of politicians on stage so they could applaud him. He did not appear. I think he wasn't there but was over at his party headquarters or something. I thought the calls for unity were a desperate wish not a hope.

Finally Prodi appeared on stage alone waving two flags, the Italian flag and the European flag. When even flag waving has become complicated, politics will be interesting.
Watching TV in Piazza SS Apostoli

Last night at this hour I was standing in Piazza Santissimi Apostoli, the headquarters of the center left alliance, listening to Romano Prodi's victory speech. By the time I got home, I was too tired to post much. Mainly I slept. When I woke up, I learned that the Italians abroad had given Prodi et al the majority in the Senate as well as the Camera (lower house).

I have never gone to a political victory rally before (probably wise since the last time I supported the victors was almost 10 years ago and Clinton's re-election was foregone and the Republicans kept the House so it wasn't much of a victory).

This one was interesting. The rally was in a fairly small square in Rome. The original plan was to then walk to a bigger rally in a bigger square. Since the voters and the vote counters conspired to keep the result uncertain until 2:30 AM, this did not work out. There was a truck used as a stage (as seen say in the photo in US newspapers of Prodi waving 2 flags). There was also a tent where Prodi and colleagues had some privacy. At some time about 1 AM Prodi appeared alone on stage to apologise for not respecting the schedule for giving his victory speech and to complain about the slowness of vote counting.

The crowd was tense. Also most people were young (a larger and larger proportion as it got later and later). The many components of the center left alliance all brought their own banners so the crowd represented the DS (symbol oak tree ex communist), the olive tree alliance of the oak tree and the daisy alliance (symbol a close up of an olive tree so as not to be confused with the oak tree) rifondazione communista (still communist), greens (symbol a smiling sun the rival rainbow greens no longer exist but there was a rainbow flag with the word pace on it which at the moment mainly communicates opposition to the invasion of Iraq), Italian flags, a huge red flag, two European flags (support for Prodi ex president of the European commission and general europhillia).

Aside from that we just watched TV on the megascreen above the stage. Since TV is a key issue in Berluscaland this was highly educational.

The crowd got tenser when Italian public TV (Berlusconi controlled) put up projections by NEXUS a firm which mainly consists of former Berlusconi pollsters. They predicted victory for Berlusconi. I assured various allarmed center lefties that they always predict victory for Berlusconi, and have never been right before. They weren't convinced. Also I don't think I was the only person who began to be a little paranoid given the delay in counting the votes, the fact that Italy is using a new electronic vote counting system (not Deibold I think) and the fact that the center left had clearly won the exit polls but was now projected to lose the actual election.

The center left guy with the TV remote switched to Italian Sky TV to get a less biased report !!! To me this is shows just how desperately Italy needed to vote out Berlusconi. The center left opposition tuned to Murdoch TV to get a less biased view of what was happening. Believe it. I was there.

There they had two competing projections NEXUS predicting that Berlusconi would win by half a percent and one (represented in the studio by the head of the agency a guy named Piepoli who had a very loud tie) predicting Prodi by 0.5%.

There were numerous reporters trying to find ordinary activists to interview, since politicians, aids and flaks were not commenting. It got so bad that a radio populare reporter interviewed me. She asked what I thought of the delay counting the votes. I said "what ?" She asked again. I said "I don't know about the delay counting the votes, but I don't trust NEXUS since they projected that Berlusconi was winning the regional elections (in which he was crushed) so I am hopeful (I think I might have also suggested that I was female because I have trouble with getting the gender of words right). Then the instant she had turned off the microphone, I thought of what I should have said and said "delay hah you are spoiled in 2000 WE had to wait 2 months" given my accent there was not need to explain who "we" are.

One irritating thing about one of the Italian talking head shows is that it featured Alan Friedman, who is considered an expert on everything, because he speaks Italian with a strong American accent. I complained about this injustice to the fairly patient radio journalist.

Another irritating thing is that the TV commenters were not willing to talk about the actual election. They are there to fill in time between the dribs and drabs of official results and no one who didn't have to wanted to predict the outcome. Thus they talked about whether the center left parties would merge to form the proposed "partito democratico" or "Democratic Party". Actually the maximum plausible merger would be of the two largest parties the ex communists and the ex all sorts of fragments semi fused daisy alliance of radical IMF former Christian Democrats. This gave the impression that the Italina political elite see mere elections as interruptions of the serious business of political deal making. As far as I recall, no one mentioned public policy on TV on election night.

The TV offerings also included La 7 which is a very minor network. It is a very minor network, because although they were granted the licence to broadcast on certain freequencies, Channel 4 (the most appalling servile of Berlusconi's channels) just kept broadcasting in the face of court orders until the Berlusconi controlled parliament reassigned the frequencies.

The most amusing was when they put TG5 (Berlusconi owned) up on the big screen, then TG5 showed the Piazza (so one saw a talking head on the big screen, then a little image of the talking head on the image of the big screen over his shoulder, then maybe a tiny tiny image of an image of the big screen over the image of the image of the shoulder). The announcer proudly announced that they were on the big screen. The conductor in the studio (Mentana formerly anchorman of TG5 but I thought purged for insufficient servility) smiled and said he noticed because he heard the whistles (Euro boos). This caused a huge explosion of whistling and booing. He praised dissinterested activists as the soul of democracy. Later he commented that someone was being "irrradiated" to us and was not being whistled (more boos). Finally he got irritated and said we were just whistling ourselves. This was very fun. I have never had the experience of the TV responding to me.

In the studio Mentana had the loathsome minister Scajola, who once explained why he had not provided police protection to the most recent victim of the new red brigades by saying he was just a pest who wanted his consulting contract renewed (he used the figure of speach "rompescatolle" or "breaker of boxes" for pest -- the boxes in question are a barely euphemistic euphemism for testicles -- the obsession of the Italian right). He also had the formerly neo fascist semi reformed street thug in a suit minister Alemanno and the transvestite (transexual ?) candidate for the left Vladimir Luxuria who has been mentioned more often then say education in right wing rallies. This showed total monstrous bias, since Luxoria is ten times as intelligent as the two idiot ministers one on top of the other (perish the thought).

AT 2:30 am On another channel they finally got down to 54 precints not reporting with a center left lead of 26,000 (0.07%) and the also appalling minister of justice Castelli said "hanno vinto" that is "they have won" the guest representing the still communists was invited by the host to express caution and the guy replied "with special pleasure because the event is so rare, I am delighted to say that I agree completely with Castelli." Oddly the crowd had gotten so enthusiastic about booing and whistling that they drowned out Castelli's concession but I was close to a loudspeaker and heard it.

Ah yes one last thought. during commercial breaks, the center left TVjay put out pop music with a monster thumpa thumpa beat. This made the hours of waiting seem like years. Get some decent music or I'm not coming back for the next victory celebration (the "canzone populare ..." canzone was OK and appropriately themed how about more like that). My personal suggestion is a rousing updated rendition of bandiera rossa "Avanti Piepoli alla Riscossa
bandiera Rossa, Tricolore, verde, Blu, Verde Scuro, Chartreuse,...
bandiera Rossa, Tricolore, verde, Blu, Verde Scuro, Chartreuse"

update: I'm still working on the colors. The red flag was just that, a red flag with no party symbols. The tricolore is the Italian flag, the DS has a mostly green flag, the blue flag is not for forza Italia but for the European Union, Dark green is the olive tree alliance flag. Finally the flag of the greens is chartreuse. I guess it's something that, as NEXUS declared that the left had been defeated, there were no white flags in Piazza SS Apostoli (which is an odd spot to wave the red flag).
Mark Kleiman allows comments !

My first "same facts" comment which comments on this post.

My second comment to this post is also repeated below. It is about how the Italiani al 'estero gave Prodi a majority in the Senate too. I meant to copy my first comment (in case it is not approved) but I copied it, then copied the link and then didn't have it to paste. Very computer illiterate of me.

What is especially wonderful is how the strange new representation of Italians abroad introduced by the center right completed the defeat of Berlusconi.

The post-neo-fascist Allianza Nazionale has been agitating for votes for Italians abroad for years (decades maybe but no one paid attention to them before Berlusconi allied with them). They seem to have assumed that emigrants (and children of emigrants) who want to vote in Italian elections will be loony nationalists.

My personal reading of the 5-1 result (which surprised analysts who expected a 3-3 split) is that anyone who gets news from any source other than Berluscavision TV knows that he is a crook and a buffoon.
The Daily Double

Monday was a very good day in Italy. Not only did Italian voters (with some help from Italians overseas) dump Berlusconi, but Italian police caught Bernardo Provenzano who is believed to be the capo di tutti i capi of the mafia or, as they say in Italy, the "boss of bosses."

The way in which he was caught is just too wonderful. It seems that, being a traditional Italian man, he just won't do his own laundry. In fact, he is so traditional that he only wears clothes laundered by Mrs Provenzano (who was not a fugitive). The police followed a package of perfectly ironed shirts to the hide out.
Anyone who has seen me wearing an ironable shirt (cioè una camicia) will understand why I am ecstatic. Anyone who may have seen me wearing an ironed shirt will reflect on the word "omerta."

So how is Italy going to manage the trifecta ? My first thought was to cancel porta a porta and stop broadcasting Bruno Vespa, but I suppose that effectively preventing Tele4 (and Emilio Fede) from broadcasting on frequencies assigned to La7 would be a more appropriate sign of the, no doubt, temporary victory of legality.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The left wins the Senate too.

Evidently, because of surprising support among Italians overseas, the former oppositoin has a majority in the Senate as well as the Camera dei deputati.

The near final results showed that Mr. Prodi and his allies won 158 votes to 156 for Mr. Berlusconi's center-right coalition in the Senate. In the lower chamber of Parliament, the margin in votes was tight: 49.8 percent of the votes for Mr. Prodi, and 49.7 percent for Mr. Berlusconi.

By Italian elections law, changed last year by Mr. Berlusconi's government, the winner in the lower chamber automatically receives 340 of 630 seats, with 277 going to the runners- up.
Nexus and the Olive Tree III

Both Berlusconi owned TV and Italian state TV relies on a firm called Nexus to conduct exit polls and project the outcome of elections based on partial vote counts. The public TV contract with Nexus was controversial, because NEXUS was perceived as being biased in favor of Berlusconi, who, as prime minister, was not supposed to meddle with public TV (as of course he did).

This suspcion was strengthened when NEXUS projected better results for Berlusconi in elections to the European Parliament than actually occured when the votes were counted (the blogger archive is messed up click and search for nexus). It was strengthened again when, as noted here, when NEXUS projected that the regional elections of 2004 would be won by the center right. In fact, the center left won a crushing victory.

As a result I was not very allarmed when NEXUS projected a center right victory again tonight. I was down at piazza SS apostoli where Romani Prodi had to wait till 3 AM to declare victory, trying to assure anxious center left voters that NEXUS was unreliable.

In the event it turned out that NEXUS had done it again. This time they have the excuse that the vote was really close (and they only predicted that the center right would win by 0.5%). Still, I'd say, three strikes and they're out.

Of course, even if they had correctly predicted the outcome, they would be out, since they only got the contract, because they used to work for Berlusconi.
0.07 Licenced to Thrill

OK so declaring victory based on exit polls was premature (again). But by 2:30 AM it was clear that the center left had won the election for the camera dei deputati (lower house). By 3:15 AM definitive results showed the center left had won by the big big margin of 27,224 votes or 0.07% (actually 0.066 %). Given the electoral law passed by the center right thinking it would help them, this implies a solid majority in the camera with the center left getting at least 341 out of 640 seats Votes for 12 deputies of "Italians abroad" are still being counted.

This is a majority even excluding the 10 deputies of the U.D.Eur-Populari some of whom have been known to switch sides between elections (between 1996 and 2001). I think this means that the only possible next Prime Minister of Italy is Romano Prodi. The posts below note that many people have placed bets and will, eventually, collect if and when he becomes prime minister. The betting took place in England where the prime minister is known on election night.

In Italy the prime minister must have the confidence of both the camera dei deputati and the Senate.

In the Senate the result is quite different. The center right is ahead 155 seats to 154. All six seats for Italians overseas are not yet decided. It is predicted that they will split 3 for each. Thus the center left will not have a majority of elected Senators. However, there are also senators for life. These include two ex Presidents of the Republic and various eminent citizens named Senator for life as an honor. Many strange things have happened in Italian politics but this would be (probably will be) the first time the votes of senators for life matter (traditionally they don't vote). Even if they vote confidence in Prodi, he will need the support of Senators elected for the center right to govern.

My guess is that the UDC (a fragment of the Christian Democrats) will perform the traditional Italian role of "ago del bilancio" and will exercise power totally out of proportion with the votes they won.

The different results in the camera and the senate have two explanations. Within alliances there are many different parties and, for the camera, the two largest parties on the center left presented a common list. People irritated with the large number of egotistical party leaders may have voted for that list but not voted for any party in the senate. More importantly, only people aged 25 and over can vote for senators. The most likely explanation of the different results is that slightly more young people voted for the center left than for the center right. This also means that, aside from parliamentary arithmetic, the result for the Camera is considered more democratic and therefore more important.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Compagni dissi che per cento mila perigli siete giunti all'occidente
a questa tanto picciola vigilia dello spoglio che è nel rimanente
non vogliate negare l'esperienza di retro del sole e di Schifani senza sorriso
non dimenticate le vostre frequenze
fatti non foste a viver come bruti ma per votare come veri coglioni.
20 minutes to showtime update

Looks to me like people betting in London don't know anythiing I don't know. Maybe someone is betting using inside information on exit polls, but, if so, they are quite restrained because the odds are similar to last nights odds


Prodi pays 1.19
Berlusconi pays 6.2
Any other pays 50

corresponding to a probability that Prodi wins if betfair were actuarily fair of
Prodi wins with probability 84%
Berlusconi wins with probability 16%
Someone else wins with probability 2%

betfair is thus keeping 2% of money bet. Corrected probabilities for this and assuming Prodi or Berlusconi wins implies

Prodi wins with probability 84%
Berlusconi wins with probability 16%

(that was easy).

I'd say that, if anyone is betting on inside information, he or she is betting somewhere else.

update: 10 minutes to show time. Other sites have blacked out Italy (maybe because I have an Italian IP address). I haven't found any other quotes. I may have to wait for the exit polls. Gonna be a long 10 minutes.
Someone In Saudi Arabia googled "working as a journalist is a callenge" and got sent to this blog. Isn't Arabic google cool ?

I might add that it is especially callenging for people like me who kan't spel.
Who Wanted What January 24th 2003 Document Declassified ?

Emptywheel Quotes from Fitzgerald's latest filing and comments

Defendant testified in the grand jury that he understood that even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller, other key officials – including Cabinet level officials – were not made aware of the earlier declassification even as those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the NIE, the report about Wilson’s trip and another classified document dated January 24, 2003.

I've got a really good idea about what that document is. I'm betting it's a draft of Bush's State of the Union address, dated after the time when Bush's speechwriter took out damaging references to Niger and amounts of yellowcake.

I would like to mention another possibility. Recall from the Gellman Linzer article in the Washington Post

The [national intelligence] council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

Could the January 24th document be the memo from the national intelligence council. the timing is roughly correct. Of course the White House would not press anyone to declassify the memo, but note Fitzgerald's use of the passive voice "those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification." Perhaps they were being pressed by the CIA which was eager to prove that they were not to blame for the 16 words in the State of the Union Address. If someone from the CIA did so so, he was told "Sorry George that document can not be released because it is too sensitive" and it just would not do for that person (who happens to be of cabinet rank) to know that the President had suddenly leaked, sorry declassified, lies about the exact same issue in the equally sensitive national intelligence estimate would it ?

My guess is that the document that someone was pressed to declassify in July 2003 was the memo which said the Niger story was baseless.

Emptywheel also has a great quote of Rice basically admitting that the White House had been so informed before the state of the union address.

in a botched comment in a press gaggle on July 11 in Africa, Condi admitted the following:

Q If I could just follow up. On that sentence, you said that the CIA changed the -- that things were done to accommodate the CIA. What was done?

DR. RICE: Some specifics about amount and place were taken out.

Q -- taken out then?

DR. RICE: Some specifics about amount and place were taken out.

Q Was "place" Niger?

Q You won't say what place --

DR. RICE: No, there are several -- there are several African countries noted. And if you say -- if you notice, it says "Africa," it doesn't say "Niger."

Rice is clearly wrong footed. She is usually quite good at misleading without lying, but in this case she says something about an early draft of the state of the union address, then attempts to retract that statement by discussing the final version delivered by Bush. Clearly she realised that she had said too much about communication about Niger from the intelligence community to the White House in January 2003.

Finally click on the link already and wonder if Robert Joseph and Alan Foley committed perjury in their testimony before the SSCI.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

current odds Prodi pays 1.2 Berlusconi 5.4 which implies corrected probabilities
(1/1.2)/(1/1.2+1/5.4) = Prodi wins with probability 81.8%. Extremely active betting is ongoing, but the odds are changing slowly.
Shorter Think Progress

This refutes this.

Someone please take up a collection to buy a subscription to The Washington Post for the Washington Post editorial board ?
Josh Marshall convincingly argues that the latest Times of London article on the
Nigerien Uranium forgeries is the official Italian cover story for an official Italian scam.

"The basic argument is that the Niger forgeries were the work of two employees at the Nigerien embassy in Rome, the consul, Adam Maiga Zakariaou and Laura Montini, his assistant. And the motive was money."

He explains why this version is nonsense, but he neglects to mention one very convincing piece of evidence for his claim. The dossier was obviously forged because the Nigerien foreign minister whose signature appeared on a document, Allele Habibou, had retired long before the date on the document. Now the Nigerien consul in Rome may or may not be a crook, but we can be fairly sure he knows who his boss is. Thus he can't be the forger.
24 hours until polls close update

Prodi 0.25/1 Berlusconi 3.52/1

That is Prodi wins "probability" 80% Berlusconi 28.4%
betfair is not so fair taking 8.4% of money bet

Prodi/(prodi+berlusconi) = 73.8%
Odds update

The betting odds on the upcoming Italian election (which starts later today) are still being updated.

Best Bet has odds from bookmakers and a parimutual market

The bookies give Prodi 1/4 Berlusconi 5/2
ignoring the bookies cut that would mean Prodi wins with probability 0.8 and Berlusconi with probability 0.286. the probabilities add up to more than 1 because the bookies gotta eat. Prodi/(prodi+berlusconi) = 74%.

The parimutual odds are almost exactly actuarially fair
Prodi 0.26/1 Berlusconi 3.7/1 corresponding to
Prodi wins with probability 0.794 Berlusconi wins with probability 0.213
Prodi/(prodi+berlusconi) = 78.8%

I wonder why anyone bets with bookies ? Maybe betfair is a scam and they take your money and don't give you any if you win.
More Positive Proof that Bush Lied

from Barton Gelman and Dafne Linzer assisted by Julie Tate at The Washington Post

I'd say that given the tone and content of the article, they will be seated on the press plane next to Dana Milbank, Warren Strobel, Ron Hutcheson and the luggage.

Still they do bury the lede.

the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

Bush put his prestige behind the uranium story in his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address.

That's it. The White House was informed that the 16 words were false. The intelligence community expressed no doubt on the issue. Four U.S. officials with direct knowledge are talking and it sure sounds like they were saying that the White House was informed before the State of the Union address.

If it depends on what the meaning of the word "as" is, then someone is misleading either the journalists or the reader so extremely as to be lying.

Also amazing, but, by now, not important, Libby was still lying about the evidence in July 2003

July 8, 2003. He spoke again to Miller [snip] on July 12.

At Cheney's instruction, Libby testified, he told Miller that the uranium story was a "key judgment" of the intelligence estimate, a term of art indicating there was consensus on a question of central importance.

In fact, the alleged effort to buy uranium was not among the estimate's key judgments

Bush was told that the alleged evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear program was controversial to unequivocally baseless.

Murray Waas recently reported that the one page executive summary of the National Intelligence Estimate informed Bush that the DOE was unconvinced that the Aluminum tubes were gas centrifuges for Uranium enrichment. The intelligence community didn't make it clear that the intersection of the set of people who believed the tubes were gas centrifuges and the set of people who had any expertise at all on gas centrifuges was one guy at the CIA, but they gave Bush vital information which he hid from the American people.

Now we know that, as long claimed by Wilson, the intelligence community made it totally clear to the Bush administration that they believed that there was nothing to the allegations about Nigerien Uranium.

It is now definitely proven that Bush lied to the American people in order to trick the USA into invading Iraq. The terminally naive American people seem to think he can be impeached for doing so. (search for Zogby). Sorry folks. To impeach you need high crimes or misdemenors and, above all, Democrats in congress.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Scomettiamo che

Odds on the election. Odds as quoted by online betting sites and corresponding probablity of winning. The probabilities add up to more than one, because the sites are profit making and don't offer actuarily fair odds.


Romano Prodi (2/9), Silvio Berlusconi (11/4)

that is Prodi wins with "probability" 81.8% and
Berlusconi wins with "probability" 26.7 %

So betting suckers lose 8.5% of what they bet.

Correcting for house odds by dividing prodi/(prodi+berlusconi) gets prob prodi wins


Prodi, Romano 1.20 Berlusconi, Silvio 3.60

that is Prodi wins with "probability" 83.3%
Berlusconi wins with "probability" 27.8%

And betting suckers had better go to oddschecker because at unibet they lose 11.1% of what they bet

Probabilities corrected by dividing prodi/(prodi+berlusconi) gives prodi wins prob 75%

Looks to me like the two sites are charging the same pool of betters to different fees. Unibet explains things in Italian and seems to be charging a rather high fee for the translation.

Bestodds looks for the best odds on other sites. I think they live off of advertising. Do make it hard to beat the market though.

They have two kinds of betting with bookies and parimutual

With bookies Prodi 1/4 Berlusconi 11/4
so Prodi wins with "probability" 80% Berlusconi with "probability" 26.7%
the odds are, as promised, less unfavorable to betters than at the sites above.
The corrected probability that Prodi wins is 75 %

Parimutual they have Prodi 0.3/1 Berlusconi 3.7/1
so "probabilities" Prodi 76.92% Berlusconi 21.28% ...

hey that adds up to less than 100% so what gives ? They are both at "betfair" which seems more than fair !?!

Political betting has the same weird odds.

update: Now I understand. Betfair also takes bets on "any other" that is that someone other than Prodi or Berlusconi will be the next prime minister. any other is paying $ 48 per dollar bet. This means that, given the odds listed above, back then if Prodi or berlusconi won, the winners would take away more money than had been bet on Prodi and berlusconi, but less than had been bet on Prodi Berlusconi or any other and thus leaving some money for the relatively fair but not more than fair betfair.

current odds Prodi pays 1.21 Berlusconi 5.3 which implies corrected probabilities
(1/1.21)/(1/1.21+1/5.3) = Prodi wins with probability 81.4%. Extremely active betting is ongoing, but the odds are changing slowly.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ

Suzanne Gamboa of the ap gives equal time to the senator who say no means no Durbin and the senator who says no means yes (Specter). The failure of a vote to block amendments implies that the senate will not pass an immigration bill before the Easter break.

The Senate sidetracked sweeping immigration legislation Friday, leaving in doubt prospects for passing a bill offering the hope of citizenship to millions of men, women and children living in the United States illegally.

A carefully crafted compromise that supporters had claimed could win an overwhelming majority received only 38 of the 60 votes necessary to protect it from weakening amendments by opponents.

Republicans were united in the 38-60 parliamentary vote but Democrats, who have insisted on no amendments, lost six votes from their members.

Gamboa is not explicit but arithmetic says all the Republicans voted no and thus, according to the opening paragraph, sidetracked the legislation.

This does not prevent Gamboa from giving equal time to the claim that Democrats blocked the bill

"It's not gone forward because there's a political advantage for Democrats not to have an immigration bill," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.


Democrats blamed Republicans for insisting on amendments that would weaken a compromise that Senate leaders in both parties had celebrated Thursday.

"This opportunity is slipping through our hands like grains of sand," said assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Actually not quite equal time as no named Democrat is quoted blaming Republicans.

I guess that Specter's theory is that Democrats had to make the Republicans vote to allow amendments to a compromise bill after their effort to obtain obstructionist cloture failed.

Matthew Yglesias laments the fact that US Republicans have not achieved the same level of absurdity as the Italian right. Specter seems to have taken up the challenge.

final warning. No one in Italy has heard of the Mirror story and I can't find anything about it in Italian with google. I fear that mr Pisa may have sent an April fools article which his editor published on April 4th because you know how those English can't manage Italian levels of punctuality.