Friday, October 10, 2003

The best get-rich-quick cyberscam yet

I'm sure everyone who reads this blog has received an e-mail message from a Nigerian lawyer claiming -- in the strictest confidence, of course -- that s/he represents an ousted Nigerian despot and needs some bank account information so s/he can transfer lots of money to your account. I've also received Filipino versions of this cyberscam.

The latest permutation just landed in my inbox:

Dear Sir,

I am Barrister Al Mohammed El Said, Former Legal Adviser to the ousted Iraqi President General Saddam Hussein. I was Tortured and Incarncerated for speaking out against the Devilish and Inhumane actions of his son Uday Hussein.

While I was working with the former President, I was entrusted with many assets and Fund which I was kept safe for the family. Upon my release from Prison, all the assets and fund in my possession were all retrieved except a certain Fund amounting to the tune of $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five Million United States Dollars) which is proceeds from Crude Oil sales of one of his
numerous Oil Companies and I am the only person who knows about this Fund and also have all the necessary informations and documents about the account which I am ready to disclose to you if you are willing to cooperate with me.

The money is presently in a private security Vault in London and I have been asked to present an account into which the money will be sent. Note that I cannot operating (sic) an account here in the United Kingdom to prevent traces of my stay in the UK.

It is in view of the above facts that I am contacting you as a foreigner to help in transferring this Money abroad into your account pending when the ban on travelling and other restrictions is lifted on me by my host.

It was only possible for me to escape from Iraq to United Kingdom from where I am currently contacting you. Should you be willing to assist me, we are going to sign a Binding agreement of Trust to make sure that none of the parties involved will be cheated in this transaction. Also, I will be ready to travel along with my family to any country of your choice for sharing and Investments as soon as everything is set for me to do so.

After the successful transfer of the fund into your account, I accept to share the money with you as follows:

You will be given 35% of the Total Fund for your services, 60% will be for me while the remaining 5% will be for any expenses incurred in the course of the transaction.

I look forward to your positive and co-operative response.

Yours truely (sic),

Barrister Al Mohammed El Said

I am so going to write this guy back.

posted by Dan at 09:16 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

My oh-so-lazy Fridays

Little work is being done today, because my son's day care center closed at noon, so I have him for the rest of the day. Such are the occasional inconveniences of modern parenting.

I mention this only as an excuse to quote the last few grafs from this very funny post from Laura McK**** at Apartment 11D:

There are certain parts of raising kids that I love. Walking around the park. Treating them to ice-cream. Reading stories. But there's also aspects of the job that I didn't sign on for. Like watching other people's kids at the playground. And figuring out a four square dinner day after day.

Also putting valves in sippy cups, keeping track of milk consumption, watching the Wiggles, wiping bums, rinsing out shampoo, shopping at Target, transporting to pre-school, buckling car seats, curbing tantrums. Sometime I feel like saying, That's not my job. If I could delegate those jobs to a lacky or a graduate student, I would. But then I would miss out on ice cream in the park, too. (emphasis in original)

Actually, I think Laura might be overstating things a bit. Of course I signed on for the unpleasant or annoying parts of parenting -- it's just that before one has children, the mundane tasks are never the aspects of parenthood that one visualizes.

I also enjoy shopping at Target.

posted by Dan at 03:00 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

A step up for the Nobel Peace Prize

I defended last year's decision by the Nobel committee to award its Peace Proze to Jimmy Carter. That said, this year's recipient -- Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi -- is a decided improvement. Here's her official Nobel bio, and the official announcement. The key grafs:

Her principal arena is the struggle for basic human rights, and no society deserves to be labelled civilized unless the rights of women and children are respected. In an era of violence, she has consistently supported non-violence. It is fundamental to her view that the supreme political power in a community must be built on democratic elections. She favours enlightenment and dialogue as the best path to changing attitudes and resolving conflict.

Ebadi is a conscious Moslem. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. It is important to her that the dialogue between the different cultures and religions of the world should take as its point of departure their shared values. It is a pleasure for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to a woman who is part of the Moslem world, and of whom that world can be proud - along with all who fight for human rights wherever they live.

Patrick Belton has a host of links up about her over at OxBlog.

Here's the terse announcement over at the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Meanwhile another IRNA story suggests that Iran is warming up its relations with that other exemplar of human rights, Cuba.

UPDATE: Slate has a nice explanation of the decision-making process behind the Nobel Peace Prize.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hey, what do you know, George W. Bush and Kofi Annan agree on the merits of the winner!

posted by Dan at 12:24 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (6)

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Yet another plea to media professionals

The traffic on the blog has been pretty high as of late, so here's another plea to those who work in the media -- please take five minutes out of your busy schedule to answer five simple survey questions that are a curcial part of a joint project on the power and politics of blogs.

Pretty please.

To date, I've received 80 proper responses, including reporters, producers, and editors who work for The New Republic, Economist, Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Associated Press, ABC News, CNN, and Foreign Affairs. I'm gunning for an N > 100. You, Mr. or Ms. Media Professional, could be the one that pushes the response number to three digits!!

Let me also note that there are an awful lot of important media institutions not on this aforementioned list -- Slate, The American Prospect, Weekly Standard, National Review, Washington Post (Howard Kurtz, I'm looking in your direction), USA Today, NBC, CBS, and Fox News.

Shame, shame -- no links to you!! [Oh, yeah, they're quaking in their boots.--ed. Shhh... you're blowing the illusion!] Particularly for CBS News -- if you guys are going to reprint my TNR Online columns, at least answer the survey questions!!

UPDATE: OK, The Weekly Standard is back in my good graces.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Criticizing and defending Krugman

In Tech Central Station, Arnold Kling has an interesting critique of Paul Krugman's critiques of the Bush administration (link via Lynne Kiesling). The key grafs:

: Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

In this example [on the minimum wage], the type C argument says that the consequences of eliminating the minimum wage would not be those that I expect and desire. We can have a constructive discussion of the Type C argument -- I can cite theory and evidence that contradicts Krueger and Card -- and eventually one of us could change his mind, based on the facts.

Type M arguments deny the legitimacy of one's opponents to even state their case. Type M arguments do not give rise to constructive discussion. They are almost impossible to test empirically....

Paul, your columns consist primarily of type M arguments. Either you do not see the difference between type C arguments and type M arguments, or you do not care....

Another consequence is to lower the prestige and impact of economists. We are trained to make type C arguments. Instead, you are teaching by example that making speculative assessments of one's opponent's motives is more important than thinking through the consequences of policy options. If everyone were to use such speculative assessments as the basis for forming their opinions, then there would be no room for economics in public policy discussions.

You could express your point of view using type C arguments and still take strong stands for what you believe is right. In fact, you might find that doing so would make you more effective. Even if that is not the case, even if there is a sort of media version of Gresham's Law in which specious reasoning drives out careful analysis, then that is a challenge for all of us who are trained as economists. I believe that we have a professional duty to try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Now, although this blog is not in the habit of defending Paul Krugman, I'd say that Kling is overstating the case a bit. Krugman uses both types of arguments. If you take a look at his NYT Magazine article on taxes, for example, Krugman does marshall consequential arguments to support his argument -- but he uses motivational ones as well.

Krugman, although not yet a Nobel winner, ain't a dumb bunny when it comes to economics or methodology. I'd posit that he slides from Type C to type M arguments under two sets of circumstances -- which happen to mirror the two flaws I identified last December in his op-ed columns. First, he'll switch to type M when he's run out of ways to reiterate the type C argument about an issue. Second, and more disturbingly, he'll use type M arguments more in areas where his economics expertise is of less use -- namely, politics and foreign policy.

This, by the way, is Peter Beinert's conclusion at the end of his NYT book review of Krugman's The Great Unraveling:

Krugman tries to harness his columns into one overarching argument about the Bush presidency. In the introduction, he calls the administration a ''revolutionary power'' -- a term he takes from Henry Kissinger's analysis of France under Robespierre and Napoleon -- that wants to replace the post-New Deal order with an undiluted plutocracy. But to make his case, Krugman has to do more than merely dissect the administration's policies; he has to explain its motives and culture. And here Krugman's unconventional background becomes a liability. He criticizes Washington reporters for being prisoners of their sources, and the dinner-party-going ''commentariat'' for succumbing to groupthink. But guest lists that cross ideological lines can help liberals understand the conservatives they write about. And many Washington conservatives genuinely don't see the Bush administration as radical: they see it as having ratified a big-spending, culturally liberal status quo. Krugman assumes a revolutionary consciousness that may not actually exist on the ground.

Krugman's assumptions about the administration's motives are most problematic on foreign policy. He understands the Iraq war by analogy to the Bush tax cuts, as if rewarding corporate friends with military contracts via the Carlyle Group was a driving force behind the decision to depose Saddam Hussein. He wonders whether the Bush administration will ''start threatening already democratic countries with military force.'' And he dismisses suggestions that President Bush's aggressive foreign policy was a genuine reaction to Sept. 11, writing that ''we knew there were people out there who wanted to hurt us; it wasn't that much of a surprise when they finally scored a hit.''

Note that this is a type T argument -- theoretical supposition -- with only a small dose of type C support.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes such a good comment that I'm linking to it here. Chris is completely correct that type M arguments are a valid form of social science. Perhaps the refinement would be to suggest that Krugman's type C arguments are at their weakest when used in support of type M hypotheses.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong weighs in with some cogent points.

posted by Dan at 12:54 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

To repeat: no coherent narrative

Given the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, it's going to be easy to claim that the place -- and U.S. policy -- is an abject disaster. And there are certainly some problems besides violent attacks in the U.S. administration of Iraq.

However, consistent with my no coherent narrative meme, there is also some good news. The New York Times reports that it should be very easy to fulfill Iraq's aid needs for the next year -- about $6 billion -- in part because it will take some time for the country to have the necessary institutional infrastructure to absorb even more aid. Some cheering grafs:

A month ago, administration officials said they would have a difficult time raising more than $1 billion for Iraq for 2004 at Madrid. Now officials say Japan itself is considering roughly $1 billion for next year and several billion in later years.

"The Japanese are talking in the billions," said a senior administration official. "The Europeans are revisiting their earlier numbers. They're all beginning to look at this as a security issue, not a development issue, and they're scrounging for money from other places in their budgets."

Administration and international aid officials say that after intense American pressure, the initial European pledge of $230 million could expand to several hundred million dollars. If that happens, one official said, the administration will press the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia "to make sure they are not left behind," one official said.

Even more heartwarming is this Chicago Tribune story on the effects that U.S. aid are having on the Iraqi people. The highlights:

BALAD, Iraq -- In the dusty towns of central Iraq, she is known as Grandma Jones, a rifle-toting, ever-smiling American soldier.

Capt. Arthurine Jones of Matteson, Ill., coaxes Iraqi children to cheer and chant in English, melts the hearts of schoolteachers with a photo of her granddaughter and cajoles contractors to build schools and bridges on time and within budget.

"Every time we go out and meet people we make an impact," said Jones, a member of the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, a suburban Chicago unit of Army Reservists.

When crowds of Iraqis gather around these soldiers, it is not to attack them but to embrace them for the humanitarian work they are doing....

Those at Balad have endured frequent mortar attacks, though most of the shells landed harmlessly. One of the unit's Humvees was destroyed in a roadside bombing.

Despite the danger, the soldiers are leaving tangible evidence of their accomplishments.

They already have supervised the reconstruction of about 40 schools, 250 wells, eight water-treatment facilities, a police station, a town hall and stretches of road and bridges across the Tigris River. Soon, most of the unit is expected to move on to Baghdad.

Traveling recently with several members of the 308th Brigade along rolling desert scenery in the hot griddle of central Iraq, the atmosphere was anything but tense. Riding into towns, the soldiers were swarmed by children. One on an ox-cart handed a soldier a flower as they rode side by side.

Some villagers stopped and stared at the troops. Others smiled and waved.

At a school opening in the village of Abu-Hassam, soldiers were greeted warmly and stayed after the dedication ceremony to eat lunch with local tribal chiefs. Little girls wearing head coverings gathered near Sgt. Kirstin Frederickson, 28, of Hoffman Estates, Ill., captivated by the sight of the blue-eyed, blond soldier dressed in military fatigues and carrying an M-16 rifle.

"We see the immediate gratification of what is going on here," said Frederickson, a supervisor for a prescription drug management company.

Really, you need to read the entire article.

One new and potentially intriguing part of the Iraqi coverage is that the Bush administration recognizes it needs to get more of the positive stories coming from Iraq into the media. [Why does this matter beyond the 2004 election?--ed. Because if the American people become convinced that Iraq is a miserable failure, then they're going to start demanding a withdrawal, which would be catastrophic for regional stability] This Chicago Tribune story on Condi Rice's latest speech suggests a new White House plan on this front:

White House officials said Rice's speech was the beginning of a public-relations campaign to counter growing doubts about Bush's rationale for the war and his handling of postwar Iraq. Public opinion polls indicate declining confidence in Bush's foreign policy and overall job performance, and the administration's $87 billion spending request for Iraq and Afghanistan faces heavy Democratic opposition.

Bush himself plans speeches in New Hampshire, Vice President Dick Cheney will speak on the issue in Washington, Cabinet secretaries will go to Iraq to point up areas of progress, and the president will give interviews to regional journalists, all in an attempt to bypass the Washington press corps, officials said.

Rice's speech set the tone for the campaign, arguing that Bush was right to attack Iraq and that the reconstruction there is going well but that Americans should be prepared for a long-term commitment.

Still developing...

posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Tom Maguire gets results from Newsweek!!

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball provide some interesting support for Tom Maguire's "oops!" theory of the Plame game. The highlights:

No matter how voluminous the evidence to the contrary, the Bush White House likes to convey the impression of unflagging infallibility. But the prospect that a “senior administration official” goofed big time is gaining fast currency among those familiar with the events in the current Washington leak controversy, sources close to the case tell NEWSWEEK.

The error, moreover, was no small thing: by confusing the timing of phone calls by made by White House officials attempting to discredit former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, the anonymous official stoked the scandal, mistakenly portraying what was a crass case of political hardball into one of potential criminality....

New evidence for this view emerged today from a surprising source: Wilson himself. The former ambassador, who originally called for Bush’s top political director Karl Rove to be “frog-marched” out of the White House, acknowledged to NEWSWEEK that he got no calls from any reporters asking about his wife until he heard from Novak. If he had, he said, he would have vividly remembered it. One reporter, he said, did call him and say “watch out, they’re coming after you”—but that journalist is uncertain whether any reference was made to Wilson’s wife’s employment at the CIA.

But after the Novak column ran, Wilson says, he got plenty of calls.... Rep. John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday wrote Rove a letter asking for his resignation, saying that Rove’s comments as reported by NEWSWEEK were “morally indefensible” and an indication that he was part of “an orchestrated campaign to smear and intimidate truth-telling critics.” (White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about Rove’s conversation with Matthews.) But even Conyers acknowledges that pointing to reporters to an already published newspaper column is hardly a federal crime. And if all the White House attempts to promote stories about Wilson’s wife took place after July 14, most of the records being turned over to Justice Department investigators may lead to nothing but a prosecutorial dry hole.

That still leaves open the question of Novak’s original source—and at this point, White House statements are more carefully hedged than most of the public probably realizes.... White House spokesman McClellan has denied only that three senior officials—Libby, Rove or National Security Council official Elliot Abrams—leaked any “classified” information to Novak. One possible translation: whatever they may or may not have said to Novak, nobody passed along anything they knew to be classified at the time. (emphasis added)

Josh Marshall also picks up on the careful parsing of the White House denials.

There's one other reason this version of events makes sense -- the "senior administration official" who leaked the original Post story has not come forward with any more blockbuster leaks to advance the story. Maybe this is because the original leak served its purpose -- I don't know.

Does this excuse Bush's lackluster statements about pursuing the leak? Yes and no. If the Maguire theory holds and Bush knows this as true, then it may explain why he's not exercised about the issue -- he knows that there was no criminal intent. However, as Maguire and I have pointed out repeatedly, Plame's NOC status means that even if there was no criminal action, this was a serious breach of ethical boundaries, not to mention a threat to intelligence operations. For someone who's supposed to bring honor and integrity back into the White House, Bush's approach remains cavalier.

[So do you think the left half of the blogosphere, like, just overhyped this?--ed. Not necessarily. First, the Newsweek theory of events rests crucially on the notion that the official who leaked the story to the Post made an important mistake. If you still accept the Post story as 100% correct, outrage is still justified. Second, Bush's lackadaisical response to the damage that has emanated from the leak has opened him up to justifiable criticisms -- proving once again that the response to the scandal is always more damaging than the scandal itself. So does this mean you're going to switch parties?--ed. No, in the sense that the original Washington Post story erred in asserting that the original Plame leak was widely shopped around, intentional, and therefore malicious. If this version of events turns out to be accurate, the post-leak White House behavior qualifies as nasty, partisan, and inept, but not malevolent. On policy grounds, well, let's just say that Noah Shachtman might need to give me a call.]


UPDATE: Mark Kleiman finds this theory "hard to swallow," but does not dismiss it out of hand. Tom Maguire also weighs in. Glenn Reynolds, as usual, has tons of links. Atrios alertly points to one piece of contradictory information.

posted by Dan at 10:35 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (4)

The Democratic primary gets ugly

I thought the "puke politics" of the California gubernatorial election were bad -- that's nothing compared to the accusations flying between the Dean and Kerry camps:

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is again challenging presidential rival Howard Dean's allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

With Boston preparing to face archrival New York in the American League Championship Series, Kerry said Tuesday that if New York beats Boston in the best-of-seven series that begins Wednesday, he'll send New England clam chowder to Dean's campaign. He wants Manhattan chowder from Dean if Boston wins.

Kerry last month accused Dean, the former Vermont governor and current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, of being a Yankees fan.

Dean, a New York native, called the accusation insulting, and insisted he backs Boston.

"Howard Dean has a relationship with the Yankees that goes way back so we hope he is willing to put some chowder behind his childhood team," Kerry spokeswoman Kelley Benander said.

OK, mostly I think this is amusing, but a semi-serious question -- what does it say about the state of Kerry's campaign that he's perfectly willing to piss off millions of Democrats who root for the Yankees, just to get a leg up in New Hampshire?

posted by Dan at 06:19 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Capital market liberalization and publishing

My latest Tech Central Station column is up. It's on how economic liberalization beyond trade politics can and should be proceeding. Go check it out.

Oh, and for those interested in whether blogging can lead to writing as a career, Maureen Ryan has a story in the Chicago Tribune on the possibilities and pitfalls of such a trajectory. Various bloggers are quoted.

posted by Dan at 03:14 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Level of outrage rising rapidly

On Monday, President Bush sounded tough on the Plame Game:

President Bush said Monday that the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover CIA officer's identity was a "very serious matter" and "a criminal action" as the White House announced that 500 of its 2,000 employees had responded to a Justice Department demand for documents as part of an investigation into the source of the leak.

The announcements reflected a tougher public approach by the White House to the leak, which has prompted criticism from Democrats for not treating the disclosure of the classified information more forcefully.

"This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously," Bush said at a news conference with President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.

Bush urged the person who disclosed the information to come forward.

"I'd like to know who leaked [the name], and if anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find the leaker," he said.

On Tuesday, Bush took both feet and shoved them straight into his mouth:

I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.

Link via Josh Marshall. The most generous thing I can say about this statement is that it's factually correct. All Bush is saying is what Jack Shafer said last week about the likelihood of finding leakers.

The thing is, Shafer's just a reporter -- Bush is the boss of whoever leaked the story. Exactly what kind of message does Bush send to that person in saying this to the press? Basically, that you'll never get caught. What does this message say to the FBI investigators? Chill out, we don't expect you to find anything.

Developing... and not in a way that I like.

UPDATE: In a lot of the comments on my Plame Game posts, there's a suggestion that Bush could find out who the leaker was with a thorough grilling of his senior staff. Mark Kleiman (who's moved off blogspot, I see) makes a similar suggestion).

Eugene Volokh provides a straightforward reason why this is not likely to be the case. Note that Eugene's post assumes that the leaker did violate the law. If Tom Maguire's "colossal but unintentional blunder" theory were true, Volokh's logic is slightly weakened (the leaker may be convinced that even if he did not violate the law, he'd get railroaded given the press attention this has received).

Note that this does not excuse Bush's statements from yesterday, however. The leaker's incentive structure doesn't matter -- Bush should be making clear what his preferences are on this issue. And yesterday's statement indicates that he's not all that worked up about it. Shame on him.

posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (94) | Trackbacks (7)

Tightening the reins?

Here's one indication that the White House has decided that it may be tolerating too much "creative tension" among the key bureaucracies when it comes to Iraq. From Knight-Ridder: President Bush has tapped national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to chair a new Iraq Stabilization Group amid increasing Democratic criticism of administration fumbling in postwar Iraq, congressional questioning of the president's proposed $87 billion Iraq spending package and the chaotic postwar situation in Iraq's effect on his approval ratings.

"Some might see this as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said one senior administration official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, "But it is a serious attempt to make the National Security Council more functional and remove some of the elements that have made it dysfunctional."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, has long run roughshod over the NSC, the State Department, the CIA and other government agencies, and at times even the wishes of the president himself.

"With this new system you can control and dampen some of that and make it much more apparent when someone is meddling with policy," the official said, adding, "That way the White House can run policy instead of this unholy alliance."

Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story as well.

One sign that bureaucratic politics have spun out of control -- when cabinet-level officials talk about "unholy alliances."

UPDATE: Another sign is the following from the Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he was not told in advance about a reorganization of the Iraq reconstruction, which he heads. He said he still does not know the reason for the shake-up.

Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organizations that he did not learn of the new Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a classified memo about it from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.

Rumsfeld was asked several times why the changes were necessary. "I think you have to ask Condi that question," he said, according to a transcript posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.

posted by Dan at 10:11 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

The merits of faculty retreats

Michael Froomkin and Eric Muller are having an amusing debate on the relative merits of faculty retreats. Michael votes thumbs down [UPDATE -- Froomkin contests this description], while Eric believes them to be the epitome of Habermasian discourse.

I gotta go with Michael on this one. The idea of a faculty retreat sounded good the first time I heard it -- probably because I thought it would be held at some secluded lake somewhere with generous coffee breaks. In actuality, the retreats I've attended (all before I was at the U of C) were day-long marathons of bad pizza, bad flourescent lighting, and bad pontificating.

This gets to the nub of why I'm pessimistic about retreats. It's not that I don't respect my colleagues -- I respect and admire the erudition they all bring to the table. However, at the risk of destroying the glass structure that houses this blog, academics as a group are prone to liking the sound of their own voices way too much.

[Cue sound of glass tinkling!! Most of your colleagues aren't so egotistical as to have pontificating blogs!--ed. Yes, but reading my blog is optional for Internet users. Listening to colleagues at an all-day retreat is usually mandatory.]

UPDATE: Of course, as Kristin from Mad Pony points out, there are other forms of turture in academia.... like being compared to Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World.

posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (2)

The post-war debate about the pre-war justifications

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on this topic and on the efforts by all sides to frame the pre-war debate in the manner most favorable to them. The money quote

The casus belli was not proof of Saddam's existing weapons, but proof of his refusal to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors or account fully for his WMD research. Nothing we have discovered after the war has debunked or undermined any of these reasons. And the moral reason for getting rid of an unconscionably evil regime has actually gotten stronger now we see the full extent of his terror-state. But the anti-war left sees a real advantage in stripping down the claims in people's receding memories to ones that were not made but which can now be debunked. It's propaganda, to which the media in particular seems alarmingly prone to parroting. We have tor esist it at every stop - because this war has not yet been won, and the really crucial battle, now as before, is at home.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (79) | Trackbacks (1)

Oh, right, there's an election today

I believe that Californians are voting on some governor thing.

Clearly, I'm not up on all the details. However, Robert Tagorda appears to be channeling all of his frustrations with the Dodgers into a non-stop blogathon about the election today, so go check him out.

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Hey, we can do statebuilding

The Chicago Tribune has a good story on successful U.S. efforts to rebuild the state in Afghanistan, one town at a time. The key grafs:

GARDEZ, Afghanistan -- A remarkable transformation has taken place in recent weeks in this once-troubled provincial capital, now bustling with new businesses, new relief projects and a new optimism about the future.

The warlords have been driven away one by one.

In the past three months, the central government, with the help of U.S. forces based in the town, has succeeded in replacing all of them with police and army professionals, answerable solely to the government in Kabul....

But Gardez is only one town, a model rather than a trend, and extending its successes to the rest of the country won't be easy.

The U.S. military chose Gardez, a three-hour drive southeast of Kabul, as the pilot for its first Provincial Reconstruction Team, a concept the U.S. military hopes will restore stability and bolster reconstruction efforts across the country.

The team is made up of about 60 military and civil affairs officers doing mostly humanitarian work. But their presence was an undoubted deterrence to any thoughts of resistance the warlords may have had, said Asadullah Wafa, the governor of Paktia province. "Without the Americans, this would be very difficult," he said. "They are helping us a lot."

There are now only three other reconstruction teams, and although there are plans for four more, most towns and provinces won't benefit from the presence of U.S. forces.

Go read the entire article for an excellent account of warlord politics in Afghanistan, and the need to eradicate as many of them as possible before elections planned for 2004. The Guardian reports that the U.S. plans on sending troops to support another PRT to Kunduz.

Here's an idle thought -- why doesn't NATO create even more Provincial Reconstruction Teams? This is definitely an area where other countries can contribute -- indeed, this is an area where our allies may have a comparative advantage. New Zealand is already taking over one PRT. According to the Miami Herald, however, there is a problem with the European members of the coalition:

Some European members of NATO have been reluctant to put their soldiers in harm's way. "They're scared," said [country director for the aid agency] Mercy Corps' [Diane] Johnson. "I think they know they're going to get a lot of potshots. It all boils down to political will." (emphasis added)

Indeed. [But why should the Europeans help us? Aren't we too belligerent for their tastes?--ed. This ain't Iraq, it's Afghanistan. This is the country for which NATO invoked Article V and for which the Security Council unanimously approved force. So our interests coincide in Afghanistan. From a purely self-interested perspective, however, our European allies have a strong incentive to demonstrate the utility of their armed forces to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. The more useful their military units, the greater demand for their services. The greater the demand for their services, the more leverage they have in affecting American foreign policy.]

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, October 6, 2003

I'm sorry

No blogging until after sundown Monday night. Right now, it is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The ten days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur are the Days of Awe, during which we are supposed to repent our myriad sins from the past year.

It is particularly important that we apologize and forgive our fellow man. On the Day of Atonement God always forgives one’s sins against the Almighty. However, God cannot forgive the transgressions committed against other human beings -- only those people can.

Because of the immediacy of blogging, and the frequently anonymous exchanges that take place on the World Wide Web, my various flaws are on full display every day on this site for all to read. So, to all readers, as well as those I’ve written about – let me apologize for the displays of pride, pettiness, slander, belligerency, cruelty, and offensiveness – be they intentional or not.

Wow, that feels good.

posted by Dan at 12:37 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, October 5, 2003

A point worth making again

I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals -- Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman -- have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat on this for 11 weeks without taking any action, which I agree would be pretty damning.

Brad DeLong was kind enough to comment on this post:

I would be very surprised if the late-July communications from CIA to Justice about the leak were not noted by the White House, and were not explicitly brought to Condi Rice's attention by George Tenet.

Let's break this down into the two possible mechanisms -- that the (non-leaking) White House senior staff finds out via Justice or via Tenet.

I doubt Justice contacted the White House in July. The first thing they did when they received the CIA request was to go back to the CIA for more information, as was the proper procedure. Furthermore, it's telling that according to the New York Times, the first place the FBI decided to ask questions was -- again -- the CIA. Perhaps someone at Justice gave a heads-up to the White House about the investigation. However, Justice's standard operating procedure suggests that until they were convinced of the need to open a proper investigation, there was no contact.

Now we go to Tenet. I actually thought this to be a decent assumption on Brtad's part -- until I read today's New York Times story on Tenet. Two salient sections. The first one comes at the end:

Mr. Tenet was aware of the Novak column, and was not pleased, the C.I.A. official said. As required by law, the agency notified the Justice Department in late July that there had been a release of classified information; it is a felony for any official with access to such information to disclose the identity of a covert American officer. It is unclear when Mr. Tenet became aware of the referral, but when he did, he supported it, the C.I.A. official said, even though it was clearly going to cause problems for the White House. "I don't think he lost any sleep over it," the official said.

Nothing in there about Tenet formally notifying the White House. The Washington Post story on Tenet today takes this a step further:

Sources close to Tenet say the director himself was not responsible for initiating the leak investigation. They say lawyers in the agency's general counsel's office referred the matter to the Justice Department in July -- without consulting the CIA director -- as part of the routine way of responding to the disclosure of classified information.

Now, take a look at this section of the NYT story:

At a few minutes before eight on Thursday morning, George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, was parked in his usual chair just outside the Oval Office waiting to brief his chief patron, the president of the United States.

The morning newspapers were full of developments in what amounted to a war between the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House, and a Justice Department investigation that was barely 48 hours old into whether administration officials had illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer....

But after President Bush told his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that he was ready to see Mr. Tenet — "O.K., George, let's go," Mr. Card called out to the intelligence chief — Mr. Tenet, a rare holdover from the Clinton administration and a politically savvy survivor, did not even bring up the issue that was roiling his agency, Mr. Card said in an interview.

Instead, Mr. Tenet briefed the president on the latest intelligence reports, as he always does, and left it to the White House to make the first move about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame.

"I think I was the one who initiated it," Mr. Card recalled. The subsequent conversation between the president and Mr. Tenet about the investigation, he added, did not consume "any significant amount of time or discussion or angst. It was basically, `We're cooperating, you're cooperating, I'm glad to see the process is moving forward the way it should.'"

If Tenet didn't raise the Plame Game with Bush this Thursday, what makes anyone think that Tenet raised it with anyone else in the White House in July?

There are a lot of disturbing implications about the Plame Game and its ensuing fallout, and this is only one dimension to this issue, but it's an important one -- the extent to which Bush and his chief subordinates sat on the issue back in July. Many on the liberal side of the spectrum believe there was an eleven week pattern of malevolence that only became public in late September.

They could be proven correct, but at this point I don't see any facts to support this assertion.

UPDATE: Time's cover story this week provides an excellent summary of events to date. Oh, and Newsday has a good piece today as well.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has a post today that does an excellent job of constructing the proper timeline. I have one quibble with it, and two areas of agreement. The quibble is minor -- Kleiman neglects to say that Time's follow-up to the Novak story was only in its online version. It never appeared in print.

However, Kleiman's version of events otherwise seems pretty accurate, and the comments below suggest that McClellan was briefed when facing the press on July 22nd. So I'll concede there's a high probability that Bush's senior aides knew about this in July. As for Bush himself, Kleiman acknowledges that he's got no evidence either way. Given Tenet's behavior cited above, I'm inclined to think he didn't know.

posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (118) | Trackbacks (0)