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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Sunday, August 31, 2003



No, No, No, It's WAG The Dog!

Am I the hundredth caller?


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In The News

From the very interesting NY Times piece about the author of "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?":

...his conclusion is anything but fictional: that Pakistan's military secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, widely known as I.S.I., is deeply involved with both the Islamic fundamentalist groups responsible for Mr. Pearl's death and with Al Qaeda.

From TIME magazine, about the interrogation by the US of captured Al Qaeda biggie Zubaydah:

Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden "personally" told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high-ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (isi), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was "blessed by the Saudis."

And from Josh Marshall:

Now it appears that Iran's rapid progress toward a nuclear weapons capacity came thanks to substantial assistance from Pakistan. Add that to the fact that we now know that North Korea's progress along the uranium-enrichment track (as opposed to plutonium) was similarly the product of key assistance from Pakistan. If we're looking for the unstable Islamist-leaning state which has nuclear weapons and is the chief proliferator of nuclear technology to other unstable rogue regimes, we've found it: Pakistan. The urgent question to be answered is whether such assistance is continuing. If it's ended, when did it end?

As a very minor point - the NY Times reported that we are trying to add non-US troops into Iraq, particularly Muslim troops:

The top American commander for Iraq [Gen. John P. Abizaid] said today there was no need for more American troops there, but he encouraged Muslim allies like Turkey and Pakistan to send peacekeepers and said accelerating the training of a new Iraqi army should be considered.

OK, Turkey once occupied Iraq as part of the Ottoman Empire. Whether their troops would be welcome in a return engagement I leave to the bright lights and sensitive souls at the Pentagon and the State Dept.

Pakistan had troops in Somalia as part of Black Hawk Down, and apparently has been involved in 25 UN peacekeeping missions. But given the grim connections noted above, could someone explain to me, slowly, as if I were a complete idiot, why we want Pakistani troops in Iraq?


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I'm Sure I Am Over-Simplifying

Ian Buruma, writing in the NY Times magazine, explains to us "How to Talk About Israel". My take-away - we went to war with Iraq because a bunch of black schoolboys beat up a nerdy Jewish kid.

I need to concentrate.

MORE: OK, let's add a "Disingenuity Alert". The author is noting, and debunking, the widespread notion that a "Jewish cabal" dominates US foreign policy. I agree with his conclusion, but find this unconvincing:

There are several myths to be considered. The first is the idea that the American or the British government is dominated or manipulated by Jews. In fact, none of President Bush's cabinet members are Jewish, and the last time individual Jews played a prominent part in any British government was under John Major.

OK, if reaching all the way back to John Major is allowed, maybe he should mention that under Bill Clinton, we had Robert Rubin at Treasury, Madeleine Albright at State, and William Cohen at Defense. I include Mr. Cohen because I suspect that fans of Jewish conspiracies will look at his name and suspect (correctly, it turns out) that he has Jewish roots.

STILL MORE: A serious, and seriously vexed, response. The Judd Bro fits this into a Grand Unified Theory, and informs us that Jewish men are like, well, women.

For the non-motivated, this chap should convince you of my seriousness, and save lots of reading. And let's put Daniel Urman of Oxblog in the mix.


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Crazy Like A Fox

From the LA Times:

...U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have launched a major effort to determine if they were victims of bogus Iraqi defectors who planted disinformation to mislead the West before the war.

...Hussein's motives for such a deliberate disinformation scheme may have been to bluff his enemies abroad, from Washington to Tehran, by sending false signals of his military might. Experts also say the dictator's defiance of the West, and its fear of his purported weapons of mass destruction, boosted his prestige at home and was a critical part of his power base in the Arab world.

Hussein also may have gambled that the failure of United Nations weapons inspectors to find specific evidence identified by bogus defectors ultimately would force the Security Council to lift sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. U.S. officials now believe Hussein hoped to then covertly reconstitute his weapons programs.


Well, the scheme was evidently not as carefully calibrated as Saddam might have hoped, since we invaded anyway. So, was Saddam just crazy? Who knows? My candidate for "crazy like a fox" is Jeff Hauser, who aired the "he was bluffing" theory back in early June. Yesterday's wild leap is today's CW.

MORE: I have never before heard of the Power and Interest News Report, but this is on topic.



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Saturday, August 30, 2003



Getting Ready For The Man On A Horse

The Wesley Clark for President buzz is picking up.

Here is the General on "Meet The Press", June 15; and on "Crossfire", June 24. Here is an article trying to sort out his position of gays in the military: "Let's hope he gets his story straight - and his position gay."

So, with "Clark for President" as an excuse, I will now channel the conventional wisdom on the various candidates.

First, this idea that the Democrats need more candidates is silly - several of the current crop have admirable resumes, and appear to be perfectly Presidential. What is really happening is that the Democrats are trying to conjure up a candidate who can appeal to their base and sneak past the rest of us. A track record is a burden for this exercise; hence, the current muttering for new faces.

As to the individual candidates, Sharpton, Moseley-Braun, and Kuchinich will not be affected by a Clark candidacy, because their campaigns are not reality-oriented.

Graham has apparently said he will be the Presidential nominee, or retire. I believe he will not run as a "ticket-balancer" - better to reign as an elderly Senator than serve as an elderly VP. Therefore, Clark's entry will not affect his already-neglible chances.

Edwards is running for the VP slot this year, as an escape route from a 2004 Senate race he might well lose. Clark would be a more compelling VP pick than Edwards, who is almost as politically inexperienced as Clark, and has a less impressive background. We assume here that Clark, as a military type, will have Southern appeal. Edwards' strategy must now be to oppose tort reform, and prepare to re-enter the practice of law in 2005.

Gephardt is a fellow I have never had a feel for. I think he has no hope of gaining the nomination, and no appeal as a VP pick. Clark's entry doesn't help him, so it must hurt.

Lieberman at this point believes his mission is to preserve the credibility of his party on the subject of national security. Clark's entry would help Lieberman on this score. As to getting himself nominated, Lieberman may be entertaining the fantasy that, if we find WMDs and Saddam, his positions will merit a second look. We will, they won't.

Kerry has already begun his death spiral. The rest of us will be thankful if a Clark candidacy means that Kerry does not mention his Viet Nam service every three minutes, but one wonders what else Big John might offer. Self-financing of his campaign is out; eighteen years of distinguished public service, during which he annoyed us with his arrogance and issue-straddling, will count for little.

Dean will not lose one of his current supporters to Clark. However, Dean needs to pick up support amongst the Democrats who need a fresh face with whom to fall in love, and have so far resisted his charms. Clark will hurt here. Also, the fickle media will have a back-to-school crush on Clark, dumping Dean like an old newspaper. Still, on balance, a Clark candidacy hurts Kerry much more than it hurts Dean, so we score this as a plus for the eventual Democratic nominee.

Wild cards? Al Gore stepped aside last year, thinking primarily of his own situation. Now, he will listen to folks tell him that the party is on the brink of disaster, and only he can unite it, deliver the message, defeat Bush, and end the madness. It is not about Al anymore, this one's for all humanity! Gore in the balance! Groan. He may fall for this rubbish, put personal considerations aside, and give Dean even more stature when Dean steamrollers him.

Folks who remember McCarthy v. Kennedy will know what sort of resentment I am picturing if Big Al joins the hunt. Al ran a screwed up campaign in 2000, he has been damn near AWOL in opposing the war, and if he thinks he can waltz in at this late date to pick a position and claim the prize.... well, that is what Dean's folks will be thinking. And saying.

And Hillary? Hillary! versus Dean would be the brawl to settle it all, and we would pay extra to see it. Although her current ploy is to sit this one out, we remain convinced that, unlike her hubby, she will not duck the draft.

OK, dream ticket - Dean-Clark? The fiscally responsible / socially irresponsible Governor, the General, two guys that gun nuts could love - why not?

We will no doubt think of reasons as the day approaches.


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Friday, August 29, 2003



Good Catch By The Cal Pundit

Kevin Drum presents a vivid example of misleading reporting by Reuters. However, we aren't sure he appreciates his own discovery:

POSTSCRIPT: The more I think about Rumsfeld's recent comments [Reuters link], the more they piss me off. Here's what he said three days ago:

"There are some recommending that more U.S. forces go in. I can tell you that if Gen. Abizaid recommended it, it would happen in a minute. But he has not recommended it."

Technically that's true: Abizaid doesn't want more U.S. forces. But he does want more forces.

Crikey. Can you trust a thing these guys say without parsing every single phoneme to within an inch of its life?


Hmm. I fear that by "these guys", the estimable Cal Pundit might actually mean Bush, Rumsfeld, and company.

But he should have targetted Reuters. Let's go the to transcript:

Rumsfeld: My position is that we ought to have as many forces in the Middle East as is appropriate. And if we're going to make an error, we ought to have too many, rather than too few. And that is the position of the president. It's the position of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff completely, all of them, and the combatant commander. John Abizaid's the combatant commander. He has indicated that he has the level of forces there, U.S. forces, that he believes is appropriate at the present time --

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: -- for the tasks that he has.

He has also said that we need to increase the coalition forces. And we've been working to do that, and they're flowing in now, in larger numbers.

But most important, he and the Coalition Provisional Authority have been working very hard to increase the number of Iraqi forces. So the Iraqi forces in the police, the army, the militia, the border patrol have all been growing at very rapid clip. And I don't know the number at the moment -- it changes from time to time -- but the last time I looked, it was something in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 thousand Iraqis are now either trained or in training and on the job, armed, to contribute, to provide security in the country.

If you think about it, if you had a choice between foreign presence for security and Iraqi presence for security, with an Iraqi face on it, clearly the latter is preferable. It is, in the last analysis, the responsibility of the Iraqi people to take control of their country and to provide the kind of security and stabilities and an environment that's hospitable to economic recovery and political recovery.

The -- there are some recommending that more U.S. forces go in. I can tell you that if General Abizaid recommended it, it would happen in a minute. But he has not recommended it, and we are putting a full court press on trying to increase the number of Iraqis.


From which Reuters extracted the quote above, thereby irking sunny Southern Cal.

Trust, and verify. But with Reuters, skip directly to "verify".


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A Little "Flypaper" Rally

Don Rumsfeld, speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 25:

"In Iraq moreover we’re dealing not just with regime remnants but also with tens of thousands of criminals that were released from the jails by the regime before it fell, as well as terrorists and foreign fighters who have entered the country over the borders to try to oppose the Coalition. They pose a challenge to be sure but they also pose an opportunity because Coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States."

If Rumsfeld is describing a flexible adaptation to a difficult situation, fine. We are big supporters of "when life hands you lemons, make vodka-tonics". However, his remarks are a long way from saying it was the initial plan.

With that caveat, and however we got here, Rumsfeld is certainly suggesting that "flypaper" is sticking around.



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Reflexive Bush-Bashing Drives P. Krugman Insane (We Tried To Warn You)

The first prominent victim was TAPPED. Now, Prof. Krugman has succumbed, joining the calls for a larger military.

TIME has more.



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Thursday, August 28, 2003



The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Paul Krugman

De Broglie, as you recall, enunciated the view that matter could be characterized as both a particle and a wave. Apparently, wave-like behavior is most easily detectable amongst smaller particles, such as electrons, and leads to puzzling results - because the wave is (or at least, can be thought of as) a probability distribution, an electron can appear to be in two positions simultaneously, and has some (albeit small) probability of being anywhere.

Yes, these ruminations have taken us somewhat afield, and no, we are not prepping for a Star Trek convention. Rather, we are attempting to connect the physical sciences with the social sciences, and especially the dismal science.

The Man Without Particle Accelerator has recently discovered the astonishing shrinking HDP Krugman. With the help of Don Luskin and Matt Hoy, we also observe that the newer, smaller HDP K is able to appear nearly simultaneously in two very different positions on the matter of California's fiscal health.

We are fascinated. What other insights has physics to offer? Onward to the frontier!

UPDATE: The Man Without Conflicting Opinions finds P. Krugman is everywhere, but always gloomy:

Nationally, state and local taxes are highly regressive, and have become considerably more regressive over time. California's system is regressive, too, but not as much so as the national average.

versus:

What is true is that California's taxes are highly inequitable: thanks to Proposition 13, some people pay ridiculously low property taxes.

So, taxes are highly inequitable in California, and really, really deplorable elsewhere. Well, we don't like 'em either.



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I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good

The Chinese (YES, all one billion of them) are making very encouraging noises about North Korea: "China Says N.Korea Wants Nuclear-Free Peninsula".

And over at the UN, we see this: "U.S. Now Signals It Might Consider U.N. Force in Iraq".

Critics of the Bush Administration foreign policy effort may soon have to contend with the fact that, by luck or design, we may see multilateral (and, God bless us, successful) efforts in both North Korea and Iraq.

It will be all very well to assert that Bush and Compnay would never have staggered to the correct course without the goading of their critics, but that may prove to be a tough sell come the election.

Josh Marshall is right - painfully so.


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The Old Black Magic Is Working At The Crow

Harrison Ford is annoying us.

MORE: This is a very funny discussion of liberal politics in Hollywood. The panelists are Rob Long and Harry Shearer.

Orrin Judd has argued repeatedly that all comedy is conservative. In this discussion, we learn that Hollywood drama is conservative as well.

Can I count on you to follow the link and find it (and to skip the rebuttal)? Here's the excerpt:

Harry Shearer: ...if you look at the--the vast majority of--of pictures that Hollywood likes to crank out, are intensely conservative in their world view. It's an individual, a sole individual who embodies, a--a--an eternal sense of right and wrong that's not relativistic in any sense, a raid against a very threatening world, and, you know, he'll cooperate to a limited degree, but in the full knowledge that most of those he'll cooperate with will either will betray him or be killed, and he'll be standing alone as the lone hero at the end of the film.

The sort of role that Harrison Ford would take.


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Wesley Clark - We Narrow Down His Timing

Will he, or won't he, and when? First, we have no doubt that he will enter the Presidential sweepstakes.

Now, about the timing. The NY Times provides an interesting detail:

"More than likely, General Clark would wait until sometime after Sept. 15, a financial reporting date for presidential contenders. If he announces before then, he would have to reveal how much money he raised in the third quarter of the year, which pales beside the millions generated by Dr. Dean, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and other leading Democratic candidates."


However, we also have this:

"...the retired army general told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday that he would decide whether he will be a candidate by the time he speaks at the University of Iowa on Sept. 19."

We note that "deciding" and "announcing" are two different things. The General could certainly use this speech, and the media speculation it would attract, as an opportunity to announce a decison made previously.

Campaign strategists will agonize over whether to announce in Iowa, New Hampshire, or elsewhere. I could see the benefits of a Clark double-play; stage an announcement in New Hampshire, which the bored press will eagerly attend; then give the big fopo speech in Iowa, and get more press coverage.

There's my two cents - where's the change?

MORE: From the Times, we see that the subject of the speech is "The American Leadership Role in a Changing World." Historians will have to suggest a time in the last century when such a subject might have been inappropriate.







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Wednesday, August 27, 2003



Rich Lowry At NRO Is Taking Wesley Clark Seriously

Seriously enough to give him a swift smack in the nose. We invite rebuttals.

UPDATE: This does not exactly count. We were hoping, perhaps unreasonably, for new facts, or an explanation, or some boring stuff like that.

MORE: Here we go. Links to the world! But only a few addressing the specific question of his competence as a leader in the Kosovo campaign.


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CNN Is Fair And Balanced

Jesse thinks that might be a mistake. We agree, and share his lack of surprise.


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Howard Dean And The Four Pillars Of Fire

Howard Dean has found the magic, so we will try a bit of a Harry Potter thing today. First, a big sloppy kiss on the front page of the Times - he's the front runner, he's energetic, he gets rock-star crowds - Go, Howard!

The Times also mentions this Zogby poll, which is a bit of a breath-taker:

Zogby International, an independent firm, is scheduled to release Wednesday a poll showing Dr. Dean leading in New Hampshire with 38 percent of the vote to 17 percent for Senator John Kerry; in early July Senator Kerry had 25 percent to Dr. Dean's 22 percent. The poll has a margin of sampling error of 4.5 percentage points.

Smokin'!

OK, the bad news:

...the presidential-style trip could increase the risk of Dr. Dean peaking too early — and revealed other potential pitfalls. Holding oceans of blue Dean placards at every stop were nearly all white hands, a homogeneity the campaign tried to counter with a rainbow of supporters on stage, which only drew more attention to the lack of diversity in the audience. The feisty crowds were filled with Birkenstock liberals whose loudest ovations always followed Dr. Dean's antiwar riff — there were few union members, African-Americans, or immigrants.

Now, last week TAPPED noted an absence of women amongst Dean's supporters. This puts Dean in the odd position of completing a Democratic Quadrefecta, since he is not supported by any of Donna Brazile's famous Four Pillars.

And, since we love his wordplay, we will pitch in some commentray by Al Sharptongue:

"No one has even asked about the fact that [Dean's] surge of support has been really one-dimensional," Mr. Sharpton said.

In addition, Mr. Sharpton said he is often asked about how he can hope to lure white voters in key early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, while Mr. Dean is never pressed on how he will appeal to minorities.

"When I come to Iowa, they ask 'How can Sharpton get the white vote?' " the minister said. "I've run [for governor] in New York and gotten more white votes in my races than he's gotten black votes in Vermont. Why aren't we talking about that?"


The Dean response is described, mercifully briefly, in the Times article:

...while the people introducing him included Hispanic teachers and black preachers, the people buying the "Doctor is in" buttons were mostly aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation.

"We're working really hard to change that," Dr. Dean said. At the union convention yesterday in Chicago — where the undecided audience offered mainly polite claps for the zingers that had delighted the devoted — he tried one of his newer lines: "When white people and brown people and black people vote together, that's when we make social progress in this country."


Oh, hold the front page, that line ranks up with "I have a dream". Just extend the list to include "and women, and union folks, and gays, and lesbians..." and you have a Saturday Night Live skit right there. [Jane Galt has more.]

Now, the sports metaphor of choice in this story is the marathon. However, I suggest folks think of a prize-fight - it can go twelve rounds, or it can end in ninety seconds. Dean is going to put some of his opponents out of their (and our) misery very soon.

Dean also is doing a nice job of shifting to a defensible position on Iraq and Afghanistan - the President is an idiot, but we have to finish the job.

Last tidbit - the reporter for this story is Jodi Wilgoren. Who? I don't know either, but if she is the Girl on the Bus with the Dean campaign, her reporting may suffer from a bit of the Helsinki syndrome.

UPDATE: Yes, it was a big sloppy kiss. Compare it to this story, where they can't shovel dirt on John Kerry's grave fast enough. If Wesley Clark's entrance into the race will force Kerry to speak about something else, go Wesley!

MORE: The Tough Democrat is, well, tough on Ms. Wilgoren of the Times. (BTW, my ears, and hit counter, are burning)

David Adesnik thinks the Times is marginalizing Dean's supporters, and has a follow-up.

If the Dean crowd is unhappy with the story, their criticism is pretty subtle.



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Tom Friedman Throws Down The Gauntlet To Brad DeLong!

Today Tom Friedman repeats an aphorism that we liked the first time:

'I have to repeat the dictum of Harvard's president, Larry Summers: "In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car." '

As Prof. DeLong's readers demonstrated, it was wrong then, and it is still wrong. WRONG! Check the calendar - Summers is nearly over.

Boola, boola.



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Valerie Plame Wilson - Breaking Developments

Via Mark Kleiman, we learn that an enterprising blogger went to Congressman Inslee's Iraq-war presentation that included, as a panelist, Ambassador Wilson.

Although it has been totally ignored by the press, apparently the video includes these comments by the Ambassador on the prospects of a criminal investigation (stolen from Mr. Kleiman):

"I have confidence at the professional level that whatever they think is doable will be done." He acknowledged some uncertainty about whether public discussion might inhibit the investigation rather than forwarding it.

Then he opened up:

At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.


Now, he had alluded to a suspicion about White House political operatives back on August 10, as reported in the must-read St. Petersburg Times:

He said he believes that political operatives in the White House gave his wife's name to Novak, and he thinks he knows who they are. But he's "not ready, yet" to name them. He hopes an investigation - by the FBI, Congress or both - will take care of that.

Mr. Kleiman, ever the optimist, says this:

Now that Rove has been accused, it's for him to respond. It's a simple yes or no: Did he talk to Novak about Plame, or instruct anyone else to do so? I hope that some credentially journalists will be asking him that question.

Well, in my role as permanently damp blanket, I will point out that Karl Rove is unlikely to respond to a charge that the entire press community has ignored. Look at the Seattle PI - they had a breathless eidtorial about Wilson on Aug. 10, ran an AP story before the event which noted the Plame controversy, and then ran a follow-up AP story (different reporter) on the Inslee meeting, which ignored the Rove quote. Who dropped the ball? One wonders how many other suggestions of Bush aides led away in handcuffs were made - even my nose for news might have twitched at that.

Frankly, it is a puzzle that this was overlooked. But knowing our Ambassador, I expect he will try again. He is meant to be on Nightline on Tuesday night.

And I may try again too. E-mail the Seattle PI editors at: editpage@seattlepi.com

For our man in St. Petersburg, David Ballingrud, who ought to be interested in this follow-up: national@sptimes.com



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Tuesday, August 26, 2003



Reader Revolt At The NY Times

Interesting reader revolt in the letters to the NY Times. The subject is the recent parole of Kathy Boudin, the former 1960's militant who took part in a robbery two decades ago that left two police officers and a security guard dead.

First, an embittered 60's radical offers his thoughts:

To the Editor:

Re "As Ex-Radical Nears Release, Old Wounds Are Reopened" (news article, Aug. 22):

Prof. Todd Gitlin's characterization of Kathy Boudin's case as representative of a "cultural conflict" appears to rationalize and dignify the elitist arrogance of the Weather Underground movement in the late 1960's into the 1980's.

I, like Mr. Gitlin, participated in the antiwar movement. I was a regional organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society.

The S.D.S. movement was kidnapped by deluded, self-important people like Ms. Boudin, who lived out a revolutionary fantasy that was spawned while she lived a life of upper-middle-class privilege.

The deaths of the police officers and the suffering of their families were tragic. The actions of Ms. Boudin were criminal and socially irrelevant.
FRANK MIATA
Brooklyn, Aug. 22, 2003


And my theory about the second letter is that the Times couldn't dredge up anyone to provide this quote on the record, so they printed this instead:

To the Editor:

Re "Parole Officers Won't Appeal Decision to Free Kathy Boudin" (news article, Aug. 23):

Kathy Boudin participated in the murder of three persons. Her motive, according to her testimony before the parole board reported in your article, was a desire to play Robin Hood, stealing from whites to give to blacks, because of guilt over the white color of her skin.

The commissioners who granted her parole and who are black "did not explain their reasoning." Their sympathy with her state of mind, although understandable, is deplorable.
BARRY FREEDMAN
Los Angeles, Aug. 24, 2003


The key paragraphs that prompted that observation would seem to be:

...Ms. Boudin, who is white, was a passenger in a rented getaway van the police stopped. One guard was killed during the robbery at the mall, and two police officers died in a shootout with the robbers, who leaped from the back of the van.

...The commissioners who granted her parole, Daizzee D. Bouey and Vernon C. Manley, did not explain their reasoning, but in questioning Ms. Boudin, they seemed to express understanding about what she described as her confused state of mind at the time of the crime, her deep feelings of guilt for being white, and her deep desire to prove that she was committed to helping blacks.

The commissioners, who are black, sometimes finished her sentences or tried to sum up her testimony, according to the transcript. At one point, as she described the kinship she had felt with Civil War abolitionists, Commissioner Bouey interrupted, "You should write a book, or write something."


The system works!



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I Rally To The Support Of Doc Drezner

However, I may be obliged to substitute conviction for evidence.

The good doctor violated the Hippocratic Oath, rasing blood pressure and causing heart attacks with this:

...in the Afghanistan war, ...skeptics questioned the wisdom of attacking so soon after 9/11, and called for more boots on the ground when the initial bombing campaign seemed to produce meager results.

His meaning seemed clear to me, but Atrios chipped in with this:

Lately I've seen a lot of people implying that after 9/11 there was substantial opposition to the campaign in Afghanistan.

... there were of course some who questioned the wisdom of winning the hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan by bombing the shit out of them, but on what planet was there "considerable public criticism?"


First, as to the matter of George Bush standing tall and staying the course, here are three ABC News polls from Oct., Nov., and Dec of 2001. This is the era of the 90% approval rating, so the poll evidence of serious public skepticsm is not conclusive (well, it is, but I am in denial).

So ignore the polls! I vividly remember the "Afghanistan quagmire" story by Johnny Apple on the front page of the NY Times from Nov 2001. (Ooops, it was a Happy Halloween story). And now I am having too much fun - here is timely, yet timeless wisdom from Ms. Dowd!

I recall, as I presume Dr. D does, that there was a stretch in early November where people questioned whether the bombing could be effective (more troops!), whether we could bomb during Ramadan (Nov 16 to Dec 16), and whether we would be bogged down until spring. However, the dam burst, so for flavor, here is a John Leo "quagmire backlash" piece from Nov. 19.

Comparable pundit angst resurfaced during the second week of the war in Iraq, when we clearly had too few troops, our supply lines were hopelessly over-extended, Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker was reaching for a towel suitable for throwing in, and Josh Marshall was publishing a letter wondering if his readers could spell "Dunkirk".

Last April, as in Nov. 2001, polls did not capture the fickle mood of the commentariat. Only the experts were smart enough to panic - fortunately, Bush, Rumsfeld, and the rest of us were stupid. And still are!

However, in a bit of a change of direction, please join me in gawking for a moment at the Dec 20 poll - where the heck was the Christmas spirit?

I excerpt:

Dec. 20 — Despite the collapse of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, most Americans believe the toughest work in the war on terrorism is yet to come. And most set a high standard for success: They want not only Osama bin Laden's capture, but the toppling of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

...it doesn't end there — 61 percent also say the war won't be a success unless the United States ousts Saddam, long a bugaboo in U.S. public opinion. More, 72 percent, support U.S. military action against Iraq to achieve that aim.


Looks like the public was not exactly waiting for the "16 words".


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A Saucy Find By Jane

Condolences to Jay.


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Conspiracy Theories, Anti-anti American Frenchmen, Poetry, And More

All at the Brothers Judd.


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Sunday, August 24, 2003



Now TAPPED Agrees With SC Justice Scalia

TAPPED:

JUDGE NOT. Roy Moore is unfit to be a judge. That's the only conclusion we can draw from this New York Times article, in which Moore seems to believe that when civil laws -- and his oath to uphold them -- conflict with his religious beliefs, the latter should win. Tapped has no problem with people believing there's a higher law than human law. But if you're a judge, you need to enforce the latter. And if he can't do so in good conscience, as Moore says, he should resign immediately.

Antonin Scalia:

I pause here to emphasize the point that in my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty—and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.

Resign and run for Governor, Roy. In this case, less is Moore.

Oh, a photo of Roy's Rock.


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The NY Times Is Fair And Balanced?

Maybe the regular editors are on vacation. Maybe the critics (yes, I am one) have been wrong about media bias at the Times.

OK, I am backing the "vacation" theory. But the front page of the Sunday Dead Tree Times has me in a Twilight Zone.

The center picture connects to a very encouraging story about the occupation of Iraq, as noted below.

On the left, we have a story titled "New Kind of Electricity Market Strains Old Wires Beyond Limits", which tells us, starting in the second paragraph, that:

No single authority is in charge of the grid, and few have an incentive to invest the money needed to improve its reliability. Deregulation increased the vulnerability of the grid to failure, regulators and industry executives broadly concur.

Deregulation is actually a misnomer for the restructuring of the power industry, because only the generation of electricity was freed from strict government controls, beginning in 1992. Companies were allowed to charge market-based rates for generating electricity, creating the financial incentive to build more power plants.

But the transmission of electricity over high-voltage lines and the distribution into homes and buildings remained regulated. Power companies received only a relatively low, government-set return on their investment in the grid, so they allocated far less money to improving transmission reliability than to building power plants.

As a result, much more electricity is moving over virtually the same transmission wires, pushing them to carry loads they were not built to handle, according to many regulators and experts.


My goodness. Deregulation not the exclusive problem? I am agog.

And my "agogagolity" continues over on the upper right, with "Rumsfeld Seeking to Bolster Force Without New G.I.'s".

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, seeking to increase the nation's combat power without hiring more troops, is poised to order a sweeping review of Pentagon policies, officials say. It will include everything from wartime mobilization and peacekeeping commitments, to reservist training and incentives for extended duty.

The story actually describes Rumsfeld as in charge, and making sense. For example:

Another approach is asking allies to help shoulder the burden. Officials say 3,000 Germans now stand guard at United States bases in Germany, replacing Americans sent to Iraq. Before Mr. Rumsfeld asked Germany to provide those patrols, thousands of reservists were almost mobilized for the mission.

Say it with me, Times readers - "D'uh!". Germans on guard in Germany - works for me. And, in the same story, we see kind words for privatization of some administrative services currently performmed by uniformed troops. Disorienting - don't they read Paul Krugman?

Now, I happen to think that the Times has sensibly realized that, in the long run, a larger military is not how they want to see our nations resources expended. Don't anyone tell TAPPED, though.


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Hope Is A Good Thing, Maybe The Best Thing

And no good thing ever dies. Oh, you knew that was Stephen King, originally from "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", on which the movie was based.

Our source of inspiration this morning is Dexter Filkins, featured on the front page of the NY Times with this very encouraging story from the rest of Iraq.

Do check the photo and caption, which was front and center on the Times - no one can complain that they are burying this one.

A few excerpts, but I am wasting your time - go read the whole thing.

DIWANIYA, Iraq, Aug. 19 — As the area around Baghdad endured a week of repeated violence, a happier scene unfolded in this city, a two-hour drive to the south.

American soldiers, without helmets or flak jackets, attended graduation ceremonies of the Diwaniya University Medical School. At ease with the Iraqi students and their parents, the American marines laughed, joked and posed in photographs. One by one, the students walked up to thank them, for Marine doctors had taught classes in surgery and gynecology and helped draw up the final exams.

We like the Americans very much here," said Zainab Khaledy, 22, who received her medical degree last Sunday. "We feel better than under the old regime. We have problems, like security, but everything is getting better."


Words from a Marine Colonel:

The marines are even able to go beyond immediate postwar needs and move toward strengthening the civil society. They are supervising construction of a women's shelter here, and they make regular deliveries to a local nursing home. They have even set up a Rotary Club.

"We are in lock-sync with the Iraqis," Colonel Malay said. "We want what they want."


It is worth remembering that our differences with "the Iraqis" (who are far from monolithic) are not irreconcilable. We want out, they want us out, and the sticking point seems to be, what kind of society and government will we leave behind. Not at all hopeless.

However, this chap has discouraging words for free-marketeers:

Hassan Naji, a records clerk at the Diwaniya children's hospital, is critical of recent changes but only up to a point. Like many at the hospital, he is convinced that newborns are dying needlessly because the hospital lacks the electricity to run its sterile ward for premature babies. Before the war, an emergency line kept the electricity flowing.

Mr. Naji could produce few records on the recent infant deaths, attributing the inability to the new freedom brought by the Americans.

"Democracy has ruined this hospital," he said, sifting through uncollated notes and jottings. "In the past, people really worked at their jobs, if only because they were terrified of their supervisors. We kept the most accurate records. We had weekly meetings on the worst cases.

"Now, with all this freedom, no one cares anymore," he said. "We don't keep records anymore."


However:

For all that, Mr. Naji said, he would not pine for the days of Saddam Hussein. "Never," he said. "The Americans did a great thing when they got rid of that tyrant. Things could even get worse here and I would still feel that way."

"Believe me," Mr. Naji added, "most of the people in Diwaniya would feel that way."


The story also glosses over some apparent OSHA and minimum wage violations. However, we are heartened.

Buried inside, the Times also reports on three British soldiers killed in Basra, and riots in the Kirkuk area.

Faux links to story, picture.

UPDATE: "in reality there is no situation in Iraq...". So I AM just dreaming this NY Times story! Actually, it makes more sense when he says it.



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Saturday, August 23, 2003



This Seems Especially Poignant A Year Later

From the time vault, we reprint Nathan Newman's "California: Where Democrats Can Be Democrats".

And, we deplore all injuries and loss of life due to "blue on blue" incidents, but Ann Coulter's thoughts on the California experiment are a natural bookend to Mr. Newman's.

UPDATE: We stroll down Nathan's lane for a frank response.


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The "Do Not Call" Brawl

Don't you hate it when you make a snide comment about someone behind their back, and it turns out they are listening? I know I do.

The CalPundit has some links to Jonah Goldberg's angst, so let's put him in the mix, too.


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Friday, August 22, 2003



Orrin Judd - NOT A Lawyer!

OK, I'm confused too.


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Great Moments In Mixed Messages

Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, Martin Sheen, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty, Susan Sarandon, Al Franken, Ed Asner, Mike Farrell and Rob Reiner all agree - people should not take actor-turned candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger seriously.

Good to know.


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The Terminator Without Qualities Tracks Prof. Krugman

To paraphrase our President, "Enough with the fuzzy math, already!"


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Flypaper

Daniel Drezner is doubtful, the Cal Pundit more so.

We were non-buyers of this theory back on July 9, as was Mr. Belgravitas, who follows up here.

Now, a bit of a puzzle: Donald Rumsfeld's war objectives, as of March 21, included (third of eight):

"to search for, capture, drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq."

So, would flypaper devotees care to explain whether Rumsfeld was lying then? Or have our objectives quietly changed, and why have the American people not been told?

Or, have we been told? I haven't checked every transcript of every Sunday talk show.

IF the switcheroo has not been announced, I don't think "strategic deception" will be persuasive, BTW. I'm only guessing, but I doubt that a few words from Rumsfeld to Russert explaining that the Administration views this influx of terrorists as a golden opportunity would prompt the jihadist equivalent of "D'oh", followed by a rapid retreat by same.

Although if pacifying the country were that easy, it might be worth a try.

UPDATE: By "pacifying the country", I meant Iraq! Unrest struck other cities too, as this on-the scene report confirms.


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Campus Diversity

The Cal Pundit tackles campus diversity:

CONSERVATIVES IN THE ACADEMY

...What I'm interested in is whether it's really true that there are cases of conservatives/Republicans who have been denied tenure solely because they are conservatives/Republicans.


Here is the case of Jim Miller of Smith College, denied tenure in part because of an article he wrote for NRO decrying political correctness on America's campuses. (More here, short reg. req'd.).

Well, there is an example for Kevin. Can we go home now?

Not so fast. Kevin linked to the pseudonymous John Lemon, who explained his need for a secret identity thusly:

With a secret identity, I can parade around in tights and a really cool cape while battling evildoers, especially lefty ones.

NO, he didn't say that; however, John Lemon is a "Scrappleface" fan, so I thought I would join the fun.

What he did say was:

I was once warned that no Republican would ever get tenure in this department -- I assume that can be generalized to all sorts of other unpleasantries.

Hence, Kevin's question.

Well, there may be two ideas running together here - do faculties discriminate against conservative academics, and do they discriminate against academics who are also conservative?

If a group of marxist economics honestly don't take seriously the work of a free-marketeer, well, that may not be discrimination - it may simply be disagreement. Or, if a group of deconstructionists in the English Department simply can't see the point of hiring some expert in dead white European authors, well, its their department, and if they want to run it into the ground, good for them. There is a technical term for that sort of behavior, which is "Duke". No, not John Wayne! The University. The Duke was not a deconstructionist! My goodness. Anyway, my buddy Emma takes this tack - it's not discrimination, conservatives are just wrong. Thanks for clearing that up!

So, fine, conservative academics may have a bit of a rum go, depending on the department. But John Lemon is complaining about discrimination against academics who are also conservative. By this I mean, the actual job performance, i.e., the teaching and publishing, does not have an unavoidable poltical tilt (I infer, or how is he publishing?). And the discrimination would be of the form, "love your paper, your students rave about you, but I saw a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on your car, I heard you say you want us to drill in ANWR, good-bye".

If discrimination of this type is happening, that would be bad. OTOH, as some of Kevin's commenters helpfully explain, conservatives are basically greedy and annoying anyway (also stupid), so what's the problem?

The point is this - many of the same folks who are sure that there is no anti-conservative tilt in our universities routinely decry the vast right wing conspiracy ("VRWC"), in which think tanks play a major role.

TAP has a fascinating history of the VRWC, from which we take this excerpt:

When William Simon, U.S. treasury secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford, took over one of the four sisters, the John M. Olin Foundation, he was appalled at corporate giving patterns and took the lead in organizing corporate allies. Simon urged business to "cease the mindless subsidizing of colleges and universities whose departments of economy, government, politics, and history are hostile to capitalism" and to move funds from "the media which serve as megaphones for anti-capitalist opinion" to more "pro-freedom" and "pro-business" media. While there are no available statistics for corporate support of conservative media, the Alliance for Justice reports that corporation funding still provides the core of support for conservative public interest law firms.

Preception drives reality.

And we have a bit from the PFAW on how the conservative foundations attempt to level the academic playing field:

Olin fellowships are an academic haven for academics who support Reaganite economic and social policies. According to the Nation, the foundation's 1988 annual report shows that $55 million in grants were distributed, primarily to underwrite university programs "intended to strengthen the economic, political and cultural institutions upon which...private enterprise is based."

...One of Olin's chief program areas is "Law and Economics," an interest of the foundation for almost 30 years. Under this program, the foundation first established a seat at the University of Chicago in the 1960s for the purpose of teaching "free market economics" as it applies to law.[155] According to an Alliance for Justice report, the Chicago School emphasizes "'economic efficiency' and 'wealth maximization' as the conceptual cornerstones" for judicial opinions.

...Subsequently, the foundation has funded a number of conservative "Law and Economics" programs at a number of otherwise mainstream institutions of distinction, as well as conservative history, business, and political science programs.


Now, obviously any proper lefty deplores this. However, would this have been happening if conservatives felt that the normal channels of advancement were open at our nation's universities? According to TAP, this took off in the 60's and 70's - was there a certain anti-war, anti-Nixon, anti-Republican tilt on campuses back then? Was there an anti-Reagan tilt in the 80's? Am I seriously asking this?

OK, put differently, did conservatives only become sinister and sly in the 70's? Why weren't corporations funding these right wing think tanks and right wing university programs in the 30's, or the 50's? Surely big business wanted to exploit the little guy back then.
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Thursday, August 21, 2003



Maureen Dowd "Dowdifies" Josh Marshall

If only she used her creative ellipsis on his recent post, she would produce Mr. Marshall informing us that:

...if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we'd... say... this was in fact... a positive development.

Why does he hate America?

Oh, come on, it's Friday afternoon, and the post is actually quite sensible.

I see from Matthew Yglesias' site that there is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes.

I went along with the idea that bombings in Bali, rather than Berlin, or Boise, were a sign of Al-Qaeda weakness. However, I concur that this latest spin on the Baghdad UN bombing is a bit much.

I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed.

...So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ...


Very reasonable. And for now, my response is to duck and cover. Eventually, we hope to dredge up some cryptic comments about building a better Iraq. Probably available here.

And we definitely want to avoid the rhetorical trap of accepting the notion that war advocates (Iraqi liberation advocates? Human rights advocates? National security advocates?) are monolithic in their views. Here we see that Dan Drezner is not stuck on "flypaper."

[Mini-update: Someone was kind enough to recommend this blog to me as one I should read more carefully. The author made the same point as Mr. Marshall, albeit at greater length, back on July 9.]

We also note his preceding post, which tells us that the Saudi jihadists entering Iraq are being pushed by a Saudi crackdown, as much as pulled by a burning, unquenchable desire to burn the flesh and break the bones of the hated Amercian infidels..., oh, whatever.

I have a strong feeling that this development will be spun as good news by the war advocates. (Hey, I am one!). Flypaper Plus! Which is hardly responsive to Mr. Marshall's request for clarity in goal setting.

UPDATE: The ever-popular "Eight Steps" - Donald Rumsfeld's war objectives. We note the third:

"to search for, capture, drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq."

Bit of a sticky wicket for the flypaper theorists - why was Rumsfeld lying to us?

UPDATE: A response to Josh Marshall.


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We Are Thinking Big Here - SoBig, In Fact

A Big Idea: inspired by the now-defunct "Futures on Terror", someone should attempt to set up a "Futures on Software Terror".

The goal will be to create a market predicting the activity of computer viruses. Contracts predict the OS to be attacked, the software to be attacked, and other such techie info. Participants can be anyone - college kids, system administrators across the country, hackers who want to bet on their own success and score a big payday when their virus hits, engineers at Microsoft or Symantec who want to earn a bit on the side (OK, that could be troubling). Anonymous participation would encourage more evil-doers into the market, which would be a good thing (some caveats below).

If participation were broad, the prices would probably provide useful information about what might be targeted next. It also would provide (weird) incentives on both sides of the aisle - hackers could target longshot vulnerabilities in hopes of a big score; system defenders watching the price and volume of the various contracts might get useful clues as to where the next attack is coming from. And some talented amateurs might decide to profit by engaging in "good guy" hackery, if there is a way for them to bet against a successful attack and then thwart it, perhaps by tipping the right folks at Microsoft.

So, the prices in this market really could reflect tacit knowledge, and provide useful signals (and incentives) for future activity.

That's it - the futures on software terror! There are obvious problems:

- The underlying activity may be illegal, and not all participants will want to get involved.

- Contract specifications could be difficult - what is a successful virus triggering a payoff, and who judges?

- As noted, the prices will themselves encourage activity. Some of this is good, but if the new market increases the quantity and quality of "black hats" developing viruses and betting on their own success, then I think we will say this was a bad idea. Right now the payoff to unleashing viruses seems to be bragging rights (and PC capture for spamming!) - why add cash to the mix? Offsetting that, if the good guys have better info, and amteur good guys emerge, the trade-off might be worth it.

Problems, problems. I bet they could be solved.


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The Futures On Terror, And A Big Idea - SoBig, In Fact

Prof. DeLong resurfaces the "futures on terror" question with a fascinating post, which we excerpt thusly:

I've been thinking about this argument by Daniel Davies for nearly two weeks now. I've concluded that it is either a brilliant innovative analysis, or utterly barking mad. Unfortunately, I don't know which:

Crooked Timber: Hayekian markets reconsidered : A week late and a couple of dollars short, here are my thoughts on the now defunct Policy Analysis Market....


Mr. Davies then presents a long argument which I am reluctant to excerpt or summarize for fear of dropping a key piece. That said, fools rush in:

...I do want to comment on the fact that a number of bloggers analysed it in terms of Hayek’s concept of tacit knowledge and markets as information-creating social entities.... I'm not inclined to take seriously those critiques based on bubbles or based on supposed inefficiencies of market behaviour, at least not unless they have some explanation of why these are particular flaws of market behaviour, rather than general organisational pathologies of groups of homo sapiens.

...I don't believe that Hayek’s discussion of "tacit knowledge" is relevant to the question of a Policy Analysis Market. The defining characteristics of Hayekian tacit knowledge is that it’s practical, non-propositional and local in time and space. I actually think it’s something approaching a category-mistake to suppose that anyone could be in a position to have tacit knowledge relevant to the question "Is the chance greater than 22% that the government of Saudi Arabia face a coup attempt this year?".

...Why does this matter? Well, it suggests that the prices struck in a market will be informative only if the market is well stocked with buyers and sellers operating on the basis of their own tacit knowledge.

...in order to be an efficient information-creating entity, a market has to have both hedgers or [sic - I think "and" belongs here] speculators. Although speculators are vital to the functioning of the market, you can’t have a market with nothing but speculators. And if you think about it, all the really successful "speculative" markets are ones in which the speculative activity clearly takes place in the context of a two-way market between hedgers. Commodities markets have structural demand from manufacturers and structural supply from primary producers. The stock market has structural demand (for stock) from people who want to save, and structural supply (of stock) from companies who want to raise money. The money market has structural demand from borrowers and structural supply from lenders.

There is nobody (to a reasonable first approximation) who has structural demand for more terrorism. The only people who have tacit knowledge of terrorists and would be considered to be on the long side of the market, are terrorists, who would presumably not be material participants.


If you hate that summary, blame me, and follow the links.

Now, first thought in rebuttal - what about sports betting? The folks with a natural long or short position would be players, managers, and owners. Other than a prospective "Pete Rose exception", these people are barred from betting. Hence almost all of the action is speculative. In fact, the price action does not, as best I know, actually guide any social activity - for example, higher coffee prices encourage production and substitution, and discourage use. What does a higher spread on the Giants game this weekend affect? I think the value is personal entertainment, and little else.

That said, I suspect that tests have been done to see whether betting lines are useful predictors of final outcomes. If they are, then it would suggest that a purely speculative market motivated by personal entertainment can still provide useful predictions.

However, how does one evaluate the accuracy of these predictions? I note that TradeSports has two propositions on the Kobe Bryant legal situation - will the case go to trial, and will a jury find him guilty.

I doubt that court insiders are driving the prices of either proposition. Currently, there are 247 contracts outstanding on the "guilty" question (and about a 35% probability that he will be found guilty, in which case, barring new evidence, I will be outraged). At $10 per contract, the total payout will be, IMHO, small (OK, I got out the calculator - $2,470).

So, the consensus of folks who read the papers and have both too much free time and too much free money is that there is a 35% probability that Mr. Bryant will be convicted. As interesting factoids go, I like it. As a quick quantification of the (cash based) conventional wisdom, I like it. However, how would one back test it, to see if this type of probability assessment is "accurate"? There are plenty of football games to backtest; this trial is, we hope, somewhat unique.

The best one could do is test similar predictions in similar situations, and see if any patterns emerge. Good luck finding useful data. Hmm, can I bet against such a study succeeding?

And how does this connect to the "Futures on Terror"? With "Coup in Saudi Arabia", we are going to have essentially one trial. If "the market" says there is a 20% probability of a coup by year-end 2003, we don't learn a lot come January 2004 whether there was a coup or not. If there is no coup, it may still have been the case that 20% was wildy optimistic, or pessimistic, as of August 2003 - we have very little against which to compare it.

The idea for PAM seems to be, markets work where there is lots of data and feedback, so they should work with very little data or feedback. Well, they might, but how would we know, either ex post or ex ante?

OK, sidebar, and the promised SoBig idea. First, as a PR ploy, if I were on Mr. Bryant's payroll (but not as a lawyer), I would drive down the prices on those two propositions, and whisper to my friends in the press that they should check this objective, market based measure to see how absurd folks really think these charges are. Is that hopelessly evil, cynical, and manipulative? No, I think I am serious - if I really believed in my client's innocence, why not punish the speculators betting against him? However, it might be interesting to see whose sense of ethics is offended by this notion of engaging in manipulation of an unregulated market of dubious legality and credibility, in order to help one's client.

Now, finally, the big idea. The theme is this - set up a futures market in computer viruses. Contracts predict the OS to be attacked, the software to be attacked, and other such techie info. Participants can be anyone - college kids, system administrators across the country, hackers who want to bet on their own success and score a big payday when their virus hits, engineers at Microsoft or Symantec who want to earn a bit on the side (OK, that could be troubling). Anonymous participation would encourage more evil-doers into the market, which would be a good thing.

Sorry, bait and switch - the big idea is continued in the post directly above. Think of it as my uncharacteristic attempt to unbury the lede.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2003



Dan Drezner On The UN Attack In Baghdad

He has lots of links, and says this:

So the question is, what group is nihilistic enough to see victory in the mass immiseration of fellow Arabs and the destruction of international support agencies?

While the B'aathists are contemptible, while in power they were always clever enough to play the United Nations off the U.S. and Great Britain. This attack has the feel of someone incapable of making such distinctions yet willing to hit soft targets. In other words, an Al Qaeda subsidiary. So, my money's on Ansar al-Islam.


I'll back that.

And how should the US respond?

From "No Time to Lose in Iraq", by Tom Friedman:

Everyone has advice now for the U.S.: bring in U.N. peacekeepers, bring in the French. They're all wrong. There are only two things we need: more Americans out back and more Iraqis out front. President Bush needs to give the U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer III, more resources to get basic services here running and Iraqis in charge as fast as we can. This is not Germany 1945. America is much more radioactive in this region. We don't have infinite time.

Which is also why we need Iraqis out front — fast. They need to be seen to be solving their own problems. They need to be manning the checkpoints because only they know who the good guys and bad guys are, and they need to be increasingly running the show so attacks on Iraq's infrastructure are seen and understood as attacks on Iraqis, not on us.

And, most important, we need them out front because the Iraqi silent majority is our only potential friend in this whole neighborhood. Everyone else wants America to fail. But we have not empowered that Iraqi silent majority enough, and it has been too timid and divided to step forward yet.


And Jessica Stern, in a gloomier assesment, reaches a similar conclusion:

...the best way to fight [the terrorists] is to ensure that they are rejected by the broader population. Terrorists and guerrillas rely on getting at least some popular support. America's task will be to restore public safety in Iraq and put in place effective governing institutions that are run by Iraqis. It would also help if we involved more troops from other countries, to make clear that the war wasn't an American plot to steal Iraq's oil and denigrate Islam, as the extremists argue.

The goal of creating a better Iraq is a noble one, but a first step will be making sure that ordinary Iraqis find America's ideals and assistance more appealing than Al Qaeda's.


UPDATE: Thanks very much to Doc. Drezner, who honors me with the company in which he puts me.





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Tuesday, August 19, 2003



Prof. Krugman Explains How Regulated Companies Operate

We are starting to worry a bit about the Earnest Professor's morale - with recent columns titled "Twilight Zone Economics" and "The Road To Ruin", it occurs to us that his brow may be furrowed over the arc of his professional reputation.

OK, that ends my moment of sensitivity (for 2003!). Today's theme is the recent blackout, and Prof. Krugman delivers a bold new view of how regulated and deregulated companies operate:

...energy experts have long warned that deregulation would lead to neglect of the grid. Under the old regulatory system, power companies had strong incentives to ensure the integrity of power transmission — they would catch the flak if something went wrong.

They would catch flak! Some of us may have thought that companies would review investment plans with the regulator, negotiate some fair return on investment, and upgrade their capacity as appropriate. The incentive was the opportunity to earn the regulated return on investment. Evidently not - it's all about the flak. But there is more:

But those incentives went away with deregulation: because effective competition in transmission wasn't possible, the companies providing transmission still had to be regulated. But because regulation limited their profits, they had little financial incentive to invest in maintaining and upgrading the system. And because of deregulation elsewhere, responsibility was diffused: nobody had a strong stake in keeping the system reliable. The result was a failure not just to add capacity, but to maintain and upgrade capacity that already existed.

In this new economic model, "responsibility was diffused" means "no one catches flak". The opportunity for profit, regulated or otherwise, no longer drives business decisions; rather, investment is targeted to minimize incoming flak.

In some outmoded alternative view, even regulated companies respond to profit opportunities. If more transmission capacity was needed, regulators would (one hopes) agree to an expansion of the rate base. Capacity would be added, prices would be adjusted, life would be good, and the (regulated) profits available to the transmission companies on their new capacity would be acceptable to all.

Now, I understand that this has not happened. However, I am not prepared to discard profit-oriented models in favor of "flak-catching" theories just yet.

The explanation may lie in the fact that the transition from one set of market rules to another can be perilous. If neither regulators nor the transmission companies can predict the future regulatory framework, an investment freeze may occur, regardless of the potential for flak.

Lynn Kiesling has lots more: at Reason, and her blog.

Notes: Prof. Krugman quotes Paul Joskow of M.I.T, whose full comments are here. Despite the scare quote, Paul Jaskow's point was as Prof. Krugman described it: "These experts didn't necessarily oppose deregulation; their point was that deregulation could lead to disaster unless accompanied by policies not just to keep the grid reliable, but to expand it."

UPDATE: The Man Without Peer pulls the plug on the Prof.

MORE: In a vivid display of this phenomenon, Don Luskin presents the Faux Krugmans. I'll pick David Hogberg and John Primmer. And hey, I need to get in there - I have too much free time, too!

MORE: Recovering Krugmaniac Mark Byron takes just one sip. Careful!


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Valerie Plame Wilson - The Curious Incident Of the Big Dogs In The Press

Mark Kleiman posts on the David Corn article we noted (in a sneaky update) last Friday.

Mr. Kleiman closes in frustration, as we stare at the stonewall of this non-advancing story:

...It's a little puzzling to me why we aren't hearing more public outrage from retired CIA officers and from the larger world of people not in the government, or no longer in the government, with credentials to make a fuss about what seems to have been an illegal, politically-inspired act damaging to the national security.

I'm thinking about people like Sam Nunn, Warren Rudman, Stansfield Turner, Anthony Zinni, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and William Cohen. ...But there's also a semi-official CIA alumni group. So far, the only prominent folks who have spoken out have been those with partisan reasons for doing so. If that doesn't change, it's likely that Team Bush will be able to bury this scandal.


Emphasis added. Now, August is a difficult time to advance a story like this - Congressmen and staffers have fled for the recess, and Washington is on vacation.

However, another explanation for the ongoing indifference comes to mind, suggested by the silence of the big dogs - maybe what "seems to have been" a scandal really is not.

Mr. Kleiman, although critical of the right half of the blogosphere for ignoring this story, has not exactly trumpeted the questions we have raised about Ambassador Wilson's own credibility challenges. We also noted, with characteristic absence of brevity, that the Ambassador's initial account of his trip to Niger was incomplete - he told the CIA, but not the Times, that he had also picked up information that Saddam was attempting to purchase uranium.

Other than Ambassador Wilson's dramatic but carefully phrased "hypotheticals", we just don't know anything about his wife's status (Yes, I read Newsday, but under the statute, part of "covert" includes an overseas posting - the CIA doesn't do domestic), or whether her disclosure really harmed national security. The NY Times and several Senators have kicked this story around, but, as Mr. Kleiman notes, many others have not.

Is this lack of interest evidence of a successful stonewall? Well, it is consistent with that, yes. But it is also consistent with a similar theory about Oakland - there is no "there" there. It is possible that folks have quietly concluded that Ambassador Wilson is not someone to whom they want to hitch their wagon.

At this point, I am balancing four non-exclusive (and probably not exhaustive) possibilities: the stonewall, the slow news month, the "no 'there' there", and "the press protects sources, it does not arrest them".

The action, or lack thereof, when Congress comes back will be revealing. Current soundtrack for this story - See You In September.

TIMELINE of Scandal

UPDATE: We will have an Ambassador Wilson sighting on Thurs., Aug 21, at a forum hosted by (anti-war) Congressman Jay Inslee. The Seattle PI has written on Wilson before, so they may break news.


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Monday, August 18, 2003



This May Take A Little Explaining

Dan "The Man" Drezner wonders why Anna Kournikova is sexy. This could be one of those moments where a picture is worth a thousand words. And he has some!


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Sunday, August 17, 2003



"Let's Put On A Show" Is Still Brilliant

Mickey was born to cover the California recall. And I mean that in a good way!


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Courtesy Over Accuracy

Via Glenn, we learn that Eric Olsen considers Maureen Dowd's latest column to be "churlish piffle.

He is too kind.

Mr. Olsen properly trounces Ms. Dowd's bizarre conclusion:

This has got to be giving terrorists ideas as they watch from their caves. Osama may be plotting on his laptop right now, tapping into the cascading effect of an army of new terrorists signing up every time we kill or arrest a terrorist.

We join with Mr. Olsen in rejecting her suggestion that we should not arrest terrorists.

However, he slides past this weird bit of class warfare:

...unplugged Gothamites, busy using cigarette lighters to find their way out of subways, had no TV's on which to hear the tips. (Except the paranoid rich, who partied in Westchester with backup generators. Once, private jets were chic; now you must have private juice.)

Paranoid? Well, even paranoids have real blackouts, I suppose. And as evidence that not all preparation is paranoia I would offer the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared!", but they are anti-gay, so I suppose that won't do.

Nor does Mr. Olsen pounce on this absurdity:

But all Dick Cheney's secret meetings with unnamed energy officials were, sadly, not about saving us from this day. The White House has been too busy ensuring that Halliburton has no competitors for rebuilding Iraq to worry about rebuilding our own threadbare grid.

Really? Then why did USA Today summarize the Cheney energy plan thusly:

Among Cheney's proposals:

• Increased domestic production of crude oil.

• Stepped-up construction of natural gas pipelines.

Massive expansion of the electrical power grid.

• Renewed construction of nuclear, hydroelectric, oil- and coal-fired power plants.

Cheney, a former oil services company executive, called alternative fuels such as ethanol or solar power promising but still "years down the road."


Why did a group critical of Cheney's plan summarize it as follows:

The following are some of the practical highlights of the National Energy Policy:

- Oil and natural gas: [ ]

- Coal: [ ]

- Nuclear power: [ ]

- Electric power plants: [ ]

- Infrastructure: New natural gas and electricity transmission lines would be encouraged by granting rights of way on federal lands and by new "legislation to grant rights-of-way for electricity transmission lines, with the goal of creating a national transmission grid." This would create federal power to acquire land for interstate commerce on a basis similar to current law for natural gas pipelines (pp. 7-7 and 7-8).


And why am I asking these silly rhetorical questions? Of course Ms. Dowd is utterly unaware of the contents of the Cheney energy plan, just as she is virtually conent-free on the politics of energy reform. She just knows it is a bad plan, made by bad, bad men. Men!

MORE: "One numbingly stupid ditz." Well, I wouldn't say it, but you don't hear me arguing, either. And surprise! I may have found a less reliable service than "Blogger", since these archive links aren't clicking. Look for, well, "numbingly stupid ditz" on Aug. 17.

The MaHa blog links to Ms. Dowd as a source for the anti-deregulation argument. Somewhat diminishes the credibility of what looks like a fine blog, although we applaud their sense of humor. The post is Aug. 17, and it looks like their time-stamps have me stumped, too.

BlogLeft also seems to take Ms. Dowd seriously on the "Cheney fiddled while the grid burned" meme. I am delighted to see Ms. Dowd has so many followers, and will be sure to put more effort into future trouncings of her.

Matthew Yglesias says Ms. Dowd is "definitely wrong" about tech failures, since the phones were working. Can we get Matthew up to "stone stupid"? Doubtful. But he does suspect a Jayson Blair scenario:

If Dowd had actually been, you know, in New York during the relevant period in time she would know that the still-working equipment was an odd mix of high- and low-tech.

Scandal and malfeasance work for me!



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Tom Friedman On Iraq Today

End the mind control! The InstaMan excerpts my favorite bit. And the CalPundit has a problem with a "libido" metaphor employed by Mr. Friedman - he wonders about its veracity, and thinks Mr. Friedman may have sexed up his reporting.

Matthew Yglesias is also suspicious.

But no one links to the new on-line newspaper started by local Iraqis!

Hassan Fattah is a young Iraqi-American journalist who has returned to Baghdad to start a terrific newspaper called Iraq Today (www.iraq-today.com).

C'mon, let's see how their servers are doing on a Sunday afternoon.

UPDATE: Depends on the meaning of "no one" - how about "none of them"? Sean LaFreniere unburies the lede; and the optimists at the Irish Eagle like Tom Friedman's spirit. But what is up with that slogan, "Life without Baseball"? Are they Mets fans?



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Saturday, August 16, 2003



I See The Mean, But Where Is The Variance?

Sports Saturday turns to statistics, with a NY Times piece titled "Statistics-Minded Executives Put a Lower Value on Bunting". The theme is that bunting as a tactic is overrated, and this is offered:

According to Baseball Prospectus, which analyzes statistics, teams with a runner on first base and no outs scored an average of 0.896 runs an inning last year. Teams with a runner on second and one out scored an average of 0.682 runs, meaning their chances of scoring decreased if they sacrificed the runner ahead.

But what is the variance? If it is the ninth inning of a tied game, I don't need to save an out and hope for a five run rally.

It may be the case that the scenario with a runner on second with one out averages .682 runs, but results in zero runs only 35% of the time. Maybe the "man on first, no out" scenario produces zero runs 40% of the time, but also produces more big innings. If this is the case, then bunting is the play.

Incredibly, considering the depths to which it has already been plumbed, we need more statistics. I know the Markov transition matrices are out there.

Time for Michael Lewis.

UPDATE: Last night, I saw a whole new reality about bunting when the Yanks battled the Orioles in extra innings.

With Nick Johnson on first and nobody out in the twelfth inning, Jeter fouled off a bunt attempt - strike one.

Then, Jeter failed to make contact on a hit and run - strike two, and Johnson is picked off in the ensuing run-down.

Finally, Jeter completes his exhibition of prowess by striking out.

However, with two outs and no one on, the O's pitch to Giambi, who crushes a home run. The announcers commented that, if the situation had been Johnson at second with one out, Giambi would have been walked to set up a double play.

So go figure.

BTW, The game-ending play will be on #1 on Sports Center: briefly, with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth, trailing by one run and a man on first, an Oriole doubles to right. The runner on first takes a big turn at third - is he going to try and score to tie the game? NO, he is going to hold up, skid, and fall down. Soriano (Yankee second baseman) throws to third to catch him coming back. A rundown ensues, and oh my goodness, no one is covering home plate!

However, our hapless Oriole decides this would be a good time to fall a second time, and does so, allowing himself to be tagged out just a few feet from home plate. Friends don't let friends drink and play major league ball.



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