Sunday, October 30, 2005

Why We Went To War

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers nails it:
Speaking of sand in people's eyes, check your own. How on God's green earth, after all that's been made public, can you still write "I have yet to be even nearly convinced that Plamegate reveals some massive conspiracy to deceive the public in advance about the rationale for the Iraq war"?

Read Barton Gellman's piece in the WaPo this morning, "A Leak, Then a Deluge." Can you honestly say after reading this that the issue of the Niger yellowcake was the fault of the intelligence community? Show me where you make that case.

Every single fact points to the American intelligence community (and others) fighting to establish the falsity of the yellowcake claims, and to the administration's insistence on including those claims despite repeated clear indications that they were false.

Why would they do that? Are they that stupid? No. They knew the reports were bogus. Same as the aluminum tubes. Same as the Iraq-al Qeada connection. But they were good enough: in the fog of events, they would serve the purpose. Get the country into war, and then justify the war by 1) success, and 2) holding up whatever old WMD they found still remaining from 1991. In the blazing glory of that Roman triumph, all those inconvenient prewar details would be forgotten. Only, it didn't turn out that way, did it? There has been no success -- at least, no clear-cut glorious victory. There were no old stockpiles of WMD. Shock. Dismay. Why do you think they spent umpty-odd bazillion dollars searching for those old WMD, yet could not manage to secure known ammo dumps? Priorities.

Andrew, face it: they conned us into this war. Maybe the war was worth fighting. Saddam was a bastard. But that's not the issue. The issue is our democracy. The issue is America. We cannot run this country on lies, secrecy and manipulation. Fitzgerald just made the most eloquent argument for truth as the basis of our justice system, and therefore the gravity and necessity of indictments on perjury and obstruction. Apply his arguments to our political system. They are exactly the same. Without truth we are done for. We're on the long slide down into darkness."
Kudos to Andrew for posting this, even though his own response (not included above) is near worthless.

"Plamegate" update, post "Fitzmas"

I thought I had a good grasp of this whole "Plamegate" affair, but I just learned two things that threw me for a loop:
  1. Turns out that Libby & Co. did not out a covert agent, in spite of repeated such claims by Larry Johnson (mostly here) and other ex-CIA people. According to blogger Steve quoted by Kevin Drum the law has very specific definiton of covert:
    A present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency...whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.
    So, since Valerie Plame moved back to the US in 1997 her outing was not technically covered. The Limbaugh-style conservative punditry was right and liberals like me were wrong. Luckily there's still obstruction and perjury of course, as the Bill Clinton impeachment trials showed those can be two powerful sticks to use when humiliating a president.

  2. Turns out that all the grandstanding by the NYT and WaPo over Judith Millers stint in prison was rather pointless as well. I support freedom of the press as much as the next liberal, but as Matthew Yglesias points out this wasn't about the right to protect the identity of sources. Rather, what happened was that "Libby himself described to investigators the contents of discussions he'd had with some journalists. Fitzgerald had doubts about the accuracy of that description, hence his desire to hear testimony from journalists." That puts the whole case in an entirely different perspective. Matt sums it up well:
    The principle that journalists should be able to acquire information from sources while keeping the identity of the sources confidential is an important one. The alleged principle that journalists should be able to keep the content of what their sources tell them secret is silly. That's not a principle at all. The whole point of having sources is to relay what they told you. A source who's already outed himself as your source can't have any reasonable expectation that you'll conceal what he told you. That doesn't make any sense.
    And as this case shows, it certainly isn't in the interest of the public.
UPDATE: A "what now, Valerie" story from WaPo.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Weblog Top Ten Design Mistakes

A useful list of suggestions, summarized here. I'm going to try to implement them.
  1. No author biography (a lack of a descriptive ?About? page)
  2. No author photo
  3. Nondescript posting titles (no microcontent)
  4. Links don?t say where they go (link text such as ?here? or ?there?)
  5. Classic hits are buried (no chance for newcomers to find popular posts)
  6. The calendar is the only navigation (no categories)
  7. Irregular publishing frequency
  8. Mixing topics (not becoming a niche blogger and expert of a chosen field)
  9. Forgetting that you write for your future boss (flames/ rants don?t look too good once your prospective employer googles you)
  10. Having a domain name owned by a weblog service

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gruber of MIT: Religion is Good for You

Via Andrew Sullivan, a post quoting a paper by MIT professor Jonathan Gruber that looks at the number of religious people around you to find out if you'll be "better off":
"People living in an area with a higher density of co-religionists have higher incomes, they are less likely to be high school dropouts, and more likely to have a college degree."
His new findings about religion seem both provocative and common-sensical at the same time. It reminds me of how I felt in Labor Economics class back at MIT when he presented this question about higher education: Do people actually learn anything in college, or are college degrees simply a "filtering mechanism" - a way to distinguish those with ability and good backgrounds from everybody else?

Now here's a thought: Perhaps Americans get through religion what Europeans get through shared ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This "togetherness" might serve Europeans in ways similar to how Gruber thinks religion serves Americans:
Although this paper does not investigate the mechanism through which religiosity creates these results, Gruber suggests four possibilities: that religious attendance increases the number of social interactions in a way peculiar to religious settings; that religious institutions provide financial and emotional "insurance" that help people mitigate their losses when setbacks occur; that attendance at religious schools may be an advantage; and, finally, that religious faith may simply improve well-being directly by enabling the faithful to be "less stressed out" by the problems of every day life.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Norway's New Center-Right Cabinet 47% Female

Here is a picture series with bios. 9 of the 19 ministers are women. Four members are from the rural/farming oriented Center Party, five are from the Socialist Party, including the Finance Minister. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the remaining ministers are from the social-democratic Labor Party.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lessons from Vietnam

Three scary lessons:
In Vietnam we learned after it was over that about one third of those we armed and trained were actually in the Viet Cong Army. This meant surprise operations were impossible and a significant part of our force was actually on the other side. There is every reason to believe that this is true now in Iraq.
In Vietnam, another roughly one third of the trainees in the Republic of Vietnam's army (ARVN) would quickly take the weapons they were given and sell them on the black market. In Iraq we again see signs of the same thing with large desertion levels and US weapons showing up in insurgency hands.
The remaining ARVN troops, neither secretly the enemy or ready to desert and sell what they had been given, were in it for the pay and for the prestige and the opportunity to plunder. It was no wonder that despite years of training and the provision of equipment far superior to the enemy the ARVN was never capable of winning either the guerrilla war or the full scale battles that marked the final stages of the conflict. This was not for lack of training but for lack of commitment.

Take that, George F. Will!

Matt is in rare form:
America's private sector welfare state is, indeed, breaking down. But our public sector one isn't breaking down. It's being bankrupted as a matter of deliberate public policy by officials who want to wreck it in order to better afford tax cuts for extremely wealthy individuals. This is also destroying our car industry and it's all very outrageous. But to pretend that nefarious 'globalization' is responsible for it all is absurd. Universal health care is a staple of much more trade-dependent countries than the United States. Nothing is stopping us from doing it except the George Wills of the world.
Found a nice chart that shows how America is overpaying for its healthcare (click to enlarge):

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New design

I finally got around to changing the default blogspot template.  More content updates and a new “mission statement” soon to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Clark in Alabama

Looks like my man Clark is getting serious about the South:
"It comes down to a common morality," Clark said. "We believe in helping people. We believe in lifting people up. What does the other side believe in? They want to tell you that morality is only about sex, so they talk about gays. They talk about abortion. And they tell us, 'Greed is good.'"

Amid growing applause, he continued, "They stand for bettering individuals at the expense of everybody else. In the Democratic Party, we stand for the common good. Those are values Americans and Alabamians can understand."
Looks like he's spent the last year honing his presentation skills. He should be a serious contender for 2008.

Monday, October 10, 2005

GOP Successes Explained

There's a great discussion at Washington Monthly started by Kevin. It features a pair of guest bloggers who wrote Off Center. From the initial post:
we think a central source of GOP success lies in the unprecedented (within the contours of modern American politics) capacity of conservative elites to coordinate their activities and operate in a unified fashion.

In a political system that was specifically designed to prevent unified action, coordination is an enormous political advantage, helping the GOP to get the maximum value out of many of the advantages mentioned in Friday’s discussion. It makes it far easier to control the agenda (which is crucial in politics), to stay on message, to use legislative procedure (as well as even more obscure elements of policymaking) to pursue off-center goals while presenting a more moderate face to the public, to divide opponents, and to protect potentially vulnerable Republicans from exposure—as well as shower them with cash if all else fails. The capacity to work in an unusually unified way allows GOP elites to provide what we call backlash insurance—a variety of protections to politicians who might otherwise feel a need to be more responsive to public opinion.
Check back with them later in the week too.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Life in Georgia

The AJC points out that Governor Sonny Perdue's decision to close the schools when Rita struck may have been influenced by oil and farm industry lobbyists. And how do the people of Georgia respond? With overwhelming support for the Governor of course. Commenter Scott, for instance, thinks we should go even further:
I applaud Sonny’s decision and think he did what was best for the state of Georgia and set an example of how states can help the country during this time of crisis. Too many people are trying to make too much out of this. Personally, I think we need to go ahead and add two hours to each school day and switch to a four day school week. That will not only save gas but it will also save on heating all those school buildings this winter and after listening to WSB Radio’s report this morning on rising natural gas prices will also help the state and the country.
Of course, some people are always out to spoile the fun:
The Governor is clueless, the President is blank, our tanks are on empty, and Georgia’s educational system is at the bottom of the barrel. I can’t wait for my children to hurry up and graduate (from private school) so that I can finally leave this backward state.

Any way you slice this mess, right or wrong, Republicans will blindly justify, anything, to protect their beloved party. It is scarey to think that the differences between terriorists abroad with their one mind mindset, justification of everything in the name of religion is pretty similar to the tactics that the Republicans are using here. I used to really respect Republicans for their sense of fairness, personal and financial responsibility.
Luckily, the "patriots" know how to stand up for themselves:
If you don’t like this “backward” state, GET OUT! No one is begging you to stay. Who do you think you are? We don’t need people like you here anyway. Anyone who compares the Republican Party to terrorists is sick. I am proud to be a Georgian. We should want to support the Governor and his decision in this time of crisis. Thank you to our farmers for working so hard and rarely getting any recognition or support from its citizens.
What's not to love about Georgia??

Monday, October 03, 2005

Liberal-Conservative Scale: RIP

I guess I should write something about Harriet Miers but I have absolutely nothing to say. So instead I'll say something about "scales" - specifically, the scale which has liberal on one side and conservative on the other. It occurred to me, as I was reading about Andrew Sullivan being labelled a "prominent liberal", that Bush has rendered the liberal-conservative scale completely meaningless. As Andrew says:
As to the term "prominent liberal," well, I think it tells you more about what has happened to conservatism than what has happened to me. I am now and long have been for small government, low taxes, a balanced budget, welfare reform, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, a flat tax, states' rights, and an increase in defense spending. I believe abortion and affirmative action are immoral and would have voted in dissent on Roe vs Wade. I'm a believing Christian. Right now, that makes you a "prominent liberal."
I propose we forget about the whole liberal-conservative thing and judging politicians as either "idealistic" or "pragmatic", where idealistic means you want to improve things and pragmatic means you don't care about anything but your own survival and legacy. A staunchly anti-government Republican who wants to abolish K-street and a young Democrat who wants to end world hunger would both be idealists, whereas Bush, Rove and most corporate executives and business lobbyists would be pragmatists.

Of course, then you have people like candidate Rudy Giuliani who, unlike Bush, has a reputation for being competent. So maybe the pragmatist is really at the middle of the scale, and the incompetent and feudal-lord-ish Bush is really a crony capitalist at the extreme end of the scale.

Clearly this new scale needs some more work. But I really think I'm onto something here. You just know that Bush Jr. would never, ever, in a million years set up something like the Clinton Global Initiative. But Bush Sr., James Baker and John McCain might. So what is the quality that separates people like Bush Jr., Karl Rove and Tom DeLay from people like Clinton, Bush Sr. and James Baker? It is certainly much more important than whether somebody is liberal or conservative. I'll take a competent conservative president over an incompetent and cronyist liberal equivalent to George Bush Jr. any day. And I suspect many other moderate liberals feel the same way.