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12/31/2003

Last Post of 2003 

As the year ends, I thought I'd write about some bloggers I've enjoyed over 2003.

* Dale Franks - my Blogfather. It was his blog that introduced me to the blogosphere, and I've learned a great deal from him. I recommend his blog very highly. Good writer, sharp wit, broad-ranging intellect, nice fellow.

* Instapundit - A valuable resource. Not sure how he keeps up the pace, but Instapundit is Grand Central Station in the blogosphere.

* IMAO - Frank J is funny. Very funny. One of the funniest writers I've ever met. A little experience under his belt, an editor and a break and he'll be as big as Dave Barry one day.

* Econopundit - Steve Antler appreciates economics and John Locke.....so I like him. Also, his blog is full of useful information.

* Pejmanesque - Another early blog-read for me, and one of the most dedicated, witty bloggers out there. Also, he blogrolled me and that was a very kind thing to do to a new blogger.

* Lileks - If Lileks said it, he probably said it best. Heck, I enjoy reading his daily updates even when they're about Target, his computer and architecture.

* Oxblog - Good writing from intelligent fellows.

* JustOneMinute - He's been absent lately, but Tom Maguire has consistently been one of the most fairminded, interesting investigative bloggers I've read.

* Balloon-Juice - Found John Cole more recently, but he's exactly the sort of blogger I'd like to be. Good writer, good research, good myth-busting.

* Hobbsonline - He's another blogger I read early on. Not sure how I found him initially, but he's a great source. (the link goes to his new domain, which begins Jan 1st, 2004)

* Cointelpro Tool - Bill Herbert does good debunking. He doesn't blog every day....but I check in, just in case. When he does, it's worth it. His McKinneySucks blog is full of good myth-busting, too.

* The Belgravia Dispatch - Gregory Djerejian finds good international news commentary that I wouldn't see otherwise. Useful blog and he's been kind enough to link QandO on a couple occassions, too.

* Captain's Quarters - Cap'n Ed has started blogging with a bang and catches a lot of good stories. Plus, he's been quite nice to me, so....bonus points all around.

* Jen, Susie and Dana - Three (coincidentally female) bloggers who blogrolled QandO from the beginning, and have been kind to this new blogger. I usually spend my time on the political/news oriented blogs, but theirs have kept me coming back.

* John Hawkins, Dean Esmay, Donald Sensing, Donald Luskin, Robert Prather, Robert Musil, Tyler Cowen, Daniel Drezner, Dodd Harris, the ChicagoBoyz, Joe Kelley, Matthew Yglesias, Emperor Misha, Josh Marshall, WizBangBlog, Meryl Yourish, CroooowBlog, Heretical Ideas, Right-Thinking, Cold Fury, John Rogers, Rocket Jones, the Commissar.....all thoroughly interesting bloggers. I've enjoyed all of them over this past year.

I wish I had the time to mention everybody on my blogroll. I've spent time at every site and I'm glad I've read them all. More to the point, I appreciate you all. For reading, for blogging, for emailing, for commenting...thank you. It's been a nice year.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

Everywhere a cow hurts, it's probably Bush's fault... 

(Via Pejman) Professor Bainbridge jumps all over Howard Deans assertion that the Mad Cow incident "shows the complete lack of foresight by the Bush administration once again. This is something that easily could be predicted and was predicted."
Let's check the facts. BSE was initially recognized in cattle in the UK in 1986. During the period 1986-2003, Governor Dean's party controlled the Presidency for 8 years. It controlled the Senate from 1987 to 1995, and most of 2001 to 2003. The Democrats controlled the House from 1986-1995. Even if you take the relevant time period as having begun on March 21, 1996, when the UK announced that 10 people may have become infected with the BSE agent through exposure to beef, Dean's party still controlled both the Presidency from 1996-2000 and the Senate for most of 2001-03.
This just shows the complete lack of foresight by the Dean campaign once again. This was something thay could be remembered and was remembered.

Luskin scores a hit 

Donald Luskin has the goods on Paul Krugman. In response to Krugmans assertion that "an unusually large number of people have given up looking for work", Luskin digs around and finds....well, it's just not true.
To begin with, the number of what the DOL calls "discouraged" workers is a tiny fraction of the total workforce (where the total workforce is the sum of employed, unemployed and what the DOL calls "marginal" workers) -- well under 1%. It is currently nowhere near its highest levels of the last decade. And during the last recession, it failed to track the rising pattern of overall unemployment -- it has done better. In absolutely no sense is this number "unusually large."
He's got a handy chart, too, if you're the visual learning type. Good work, Don.

Questions for Dean.... 

Rich Lowry has a largely juvenile collection of questions for Howard Dean, but some of them are worth passing along....

* -- The U.N. Security Council in November 2002 unanimously passed Resolution 1441, giving Saddam Hussein "a final opportunity to comply." How do you interpret the phrase "final opportunity"?

* -- You routinely say that the Berlin Wall came down without a shot. You mean without a shot excluding Korea, Vietnam and small wars throughout Latin America and Africa during four decades, right?

* -- You say the United States shouldn't have fought the Iraq War because Saddam did not present "an imminent threat" to the United States. Yet you supported wars in the 1990s in Bosnia and Kosovo. How exactly did Slobodan Milosevic pose an imminent threat to the United States?

* -- You say that Republicans want to end public education. Education spending under Bush has increased 65 percent. How is that consistent with the alleged goal of ending public education?

* -- In the North Korean crisis, the Bush administration is engaging in intense multilateral diplomacy to make North Korea's neighbors part of any settlement. You advocate that the United States instead cut out other countries to engage in direct talks with Pyongyang. What explains your burst of unilateralism?


However, Dodd at Ipse Dixit has a few far more interesting questions......

* You said you'd lift the (exceptionally long) seal on your gubernatorial records if President Bush would "unseal his." Since President Bush's Texas papers are in fact already unsealed, when can we expect to see yours?
...
* Last year you gave the green light to Entergy Corp's purchase of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant - a deal that consigned VT consumers to paying higher rates for the next decade while generating millions in profits for the utilities - within hours after receiving a large campaign donation from utility officials. Apart from the donations, how did this deal differ from the similar one you rejected the year before?
...
* Speaking of energy, what exactly did happen in those secret energy task force meetings of yours? Would those transcripts shed some light on the previous question, by any chance? (JON: As Dodd points out, this is relevant, because Dean questions Cheney's secret energy task force meetings)
...
* You recently referred to the Democratic Leadership Council as "the Republican wing of the Democratic Party". Yet, you also claim to want to "take back the party of F.D.R., Harry Truman and Bill Clinton." You have further said that you have "great respect and admiration for President Clinton and what he accomplished as president, and any suggestion to the contrary is nonsense." So, which is it Governor? Is President Clinton - one of the founders of the DLC - a member of "the Republican wing of the Democratic Party" or not?

These questions should be asked of all Howard Dean supporters. It would be instructive to see how they react to the same sort of questions their candidate asks of President Bush.

NeoCon overextension.... 

I consider the NeoCons to be closely related to the Realists...just more willing to be "forward engaged". My foreign policy fear with the NeoCons is not with their actions so far, which have (largely) been consistent with advancing American interests and security, but with the prospect that they might over-extend. The danger in advancing the interests of the State is this....."when are the interest of the State satisfied?"

I've the impression that NeoCons think that line is quite a bit further than do the Realists. That worries me, and this does not help...

President George W Bush was sent a public manifesto yesterday by Washington's hawks, demanding regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.

The manifesto, presented as a "manual for victory" in the war on terror, also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies.

The manifesto is contained in a new book by Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and "intellectual guru" of the hardline neo-conservative movement, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. They give warning of a faltering of the "will to win" in Washington.
....
The book demands that any talks with North Korea require the complete and immediate abandonment of its nuclear programme.

As North Korea will probably refuse such terms, the book urges a Cuba-style military blockade and overt preparations for war, including the rapid pullback of US forces from the inter-Korean border so that they move out of range of North Korean artillery.
....
The authoritarian rule of Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, should also be ended, encouraged by shutting oil supplies from Iraq, seizing arms he buys from Iran, and raids into Syria to hunt terrorists.
That's an awful lot to do. Frankly, it's not only too much, it's far too much. While each one of those goals may be laudable, in theory....in practice, they would probably be very counter-productive, as the unintended consequences mounted. My mother called it "biting off more than you can chew". It's also worth pointing out that there remain good alternatives for resolving each of those situations, before resorting to extreme measures.

So, from a Realist standpoint, that's just a scary game plan. Perle and Frum have seen a Hail Mary work, and now they want to try it on every play. And they don't just want to try it against our avowed enemies, either...

The book calls for tough action against France and its dreams of offsetting US power. "We should force European governments to choose between Paris and Washington," it states.
That's just begging for it. France may not be much of an ally, but they're not our enemy. We certainly don't need to turn them into one. So, why do I still support the Bush administrations foreign policy? I do so, because I don't think that Bush is really a NeoCon.
Such officials prevailed over invading Afghanistan and Iraq, but have been seen as on the back foot since the autumn as their post-war visions of building a secular, free-market Iraq were scaled back in favour of compromise and a swift handover of power next June.
Decisions like that indicate to me that Bush has a Realist streak in him. Good thing, too. If we signed onto the agenda advanced in that book, I'd be voting against Bush, too.

(Link via Atrios, who says "bye-bye Seoul". Suprisingly, I would agree with him here)

DNC blog 

John Hawkins has a nice round-up of the most risible comments from DemocraticUnderground (Potential Motto"putting a stop to intolerance and everything else we can't tolerate"). In that spirit, I wandered into the commen section at the official Democratic Party blog to see what passes for discourse there.

In a section devoted to the "Worst GOP Outrages of 2003", there are only 30 comments. Kinda suprising, considering the comments to any given post usually number in the hundreds. And they had solicited comments to this one. Odd, since I know those guys aren't exactly short of slights, real or imagined.

At any rate, here are a few of the comments....

Americans everywhere are afraid to speak critically of Bush or of Republican policies for fear of being labeled traitors or worse.
Presumably, this person has already been "dealt with" by the Administration for their public criticism. Also, presumably, the New York Times, all 3 Networks, and most major newspapers have been shut down for public criticism. It goes without saying that NPR is being defunded as we speak, right?

No? Then, let's all ponder the irony of his criticism for a moment. It's like the Democrats don't even listen to their own criticism. How else to explain their belief that people are "too afraid to criticize"? Next quote:

The worst republican outrage of 2003 was the administration taking the time and resources away from the hunt for bin laden to invade Iraq.
Ooooohhh, really? "....let me just give you the numerical facts. On the day combat operations started in Iraq, the 19th of March of this year, we had about 9,500 Americans involved in operations in Afghanistan. On the day operations ceased, or major military operations ceased, in Iraq, on the first of May, we had about 9,500 Americans in Afghanistan. The intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, focus, command and control that was required for work in Afghanistan never changed, never varied. And to this day, has not changed or varied?with this exception: there is greater participation in Afghanistan today by the international community than there was when the war in Iraq started." - General Tommy Franks
Next quote:

Perhaps instead of going on about why we are or should be angry, how about we concentrate on WHY voting Democratic is the only rational choice?
Give that man a cigar! And then put him in charge of the Democratic Party.
I am outraged that more people aren't outraged. How could they not be?
Boy, how many times could we have read the exact same statement during the 90s? News flash, guys: maybe they're not all outraged like you, because they're not getting their information from the Democratic Party website?
2) Bush not attending even one single funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq. He just doesn't care.
John Cole has dealt with that extensively. Presidents just don't go to individual funerals during wars. Doesn't happen. No, not even Clinton.
And finally, we end with a little class....

I have one word for the current rulers of the former United States of Amerika - NAZIS
Note: I don't blame these comments on the Democratic Party. They may encourage this sort of thinking with their misleading posts, and they may allow it to stay on their website, but.....

Well.


UPDATE: In a slightly related post, Jesse Taylor points out that hate works both ways...and Republicans seem to be more guilty of it than Democrats, sometimes. (ie: There are more "Hillary-haters" than "Bush-haters".
Fair point. Thought it was worth passing along.

Jobless claims... 

I'm sure readers will find the story over at the DNC blog in no time, but I thought I'd give you a heads up at QandO, too....
New claims for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly three years, a sign that America’s businesses are feeling more confident that the economic recovery is genuine.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance dropped by a seasonally adjusted 15,000 to 339,000 for the week ending Dec. 27. Last week’s drop marked the third week in a row that claims went down and left claims at their lowest level since Jan. 20, 2001.
Paul Krugman is being painted into a smaller and smaller corner. Eventually, he's going to have to stop talking about the state of the actual economy, and start talking about our potential future economic problems.....which he just began noticing around January 20th, 2001.

Ah, Dennis.... 

Dennis Kucinich is opposed to hysterical, useless scaremongering....
The Bush administration is using elevated terror alerts for political gain while confusing Americans and accomplishing little, Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich said.
Except when Dennis Kucinich, you know, gets hysterical and scared....
He said when Congress returns, he intends to introduce legislation that will:
* Prohibit meat from downer cattle from entering the human food supply;
* Test all downer cattle using modern rapid quick tests (estimates range from 190,000 to 970,000 cattle);
One cow gets Mad Cow disease, and Kucinich decides it's time to test every cow with a broken leg in the country. Yeah, that's way better than telling the US population that you've alerted law enforcement agencies to be on alert for terrorism.

Not that this will shut them up.... 

Halliburton critics will have to find a new target....
Just weeks after a Pentagon audit questioned whether Halliburton overcharged the U.S. government in a contract to bring fuel into Iraq, the Department of Defense has replaced the Army Corps of Engineers in overseeing that mission, officials said Tuesday.

The Corps will be replaced by the Defense Energy Support Center, the energy procurement agent for the Defense Department. That group will take over the mission and open the contract for new bids.

The Army Corps of Engineers had subcontracted a division of Halliburton -- the oil services company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney -- to fill that contract, which involved bringing fuel into war-torn Iraq from Kuwait.
Of course, moonbats will immediately claim "the pressure got too much for the Bush administration, so they had to make a change".

Uh huh. The pressure was "too great" just two days after the New York Times had concluded that Halliburton was not "profiteering".

Anyway, affix this story to your Clue-Bat and begin wailing away.

Patriot Act II  

I've seen this story making the rounds, lately....
The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies tucked away these new executive powers in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, a legislative behemoth that funds all the intelligence activities of the federal government. The Act included a simple, yet insidious, redefinition of "financial institution," which previously referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and any other business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters."
I've little enough patience with many criticisms of the Patriot Act. No, it does not allow the government to detain US citizens without counsel....that section only deals with "aliens". No, it does not create new abilities to "sneak and peek" or access your library records....those existed long before the Patriot Act.

But, this story alleges that the Authorization Act had redefined "financial institutions", even calling it "insidious". Really? Here's what the Act says....

`(c) For purposes of this section, the term `financial institution' has the same meaning as in section 5312(a)(2) of title 31, United States Code, except that, for purposes of this section, such term shall include only such a financial institution any part of which is located inside any State or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, or the United States Virgin Islands.'.
So, far from "redefining" the term, it is simply applying the same definition as has long been used for financial oversight of monetary transactions.

In other words, counterterrorism efforts now have to play by the same rules as those governing financial transactions. Is this bad? And if so, why no fuss about the rules governing financial transactions?

Blog ads 

A reader brings the blogspot ads to my attention...
Did you know that the Blogspot adspace at the top of your blog had the
following ads this morning:

Howard Dean for President (linked to www.deanforamerica.com)
"We have the power to take the White House back in 2004."

John Kerry for President (linked to www.johnkerry.com)
The Real Deal End Bush's Raw Deal- Change America
Yeah, I've seen em, as they rotate through occassionally. I can only plead apathy. I've been meaning to work on getting my own domain for a bit - and switch to MovableType, but haven't had the time to figure out how to get the whole thing set up. (I can be very selectively lazy)

Also, I suspect I do enough to disincline the readers of QandO from voting for those fellows anyway.

12/30/2003

The Sarcasm Meter is pegging at Reuters... 

Great headline at Reuters today....
'Great Satan' Sends 'Axis of Evil' Member Iran Aid
We still get to be the Great Satan, right? We worked hard to be great.

Sky divin' buddies.... 

Here's an important story....
More people would rather skydive with Homer Simpson that with George W Bush, suggests a year-end poll conducted for a British disability charity.

Twenty percent of respondents said they would trust a tandem skydive with the daft cartoon dad, compared with eight percent for the US president, according to the poll for the Leonard Cheshire organisation.
Ok, amusing human interest stuff. And, according to the Google news search engine, it's carried by four media sources. News24, the Scotsman, the Sydney Morning Herald, and Ananova. All four of which are non-US based media.

Meanwhile, here in the US, a survey indicates that Bush is considered the "Most Admired Man" for the 3rd consecutive year.

I question the judgement of everybody involved, both foreign and domestic...but it's interesting, isn't it, to note who reports which story. At this writing, only News24 had picked up the "admired" story, along with the "sky-diving" story. Playing to the prejudices of their audience? Perhaps.


UPDATE: Trump suggests a cartoon character might make a good jumping mate. They never seem to get hurt. Especially a rather large bellied fellow like Homer. And this line made me laugh...
hmmmmm, jelly bellies....drooool

We're winning (pt.183) 

Remember when they were going to rise up against the Imperialist US crusaders, and turn the whole thing into a quagmire? Neither do I.....
Influential spiritual leaders from Saddam Hussein's hometown - a bastion of anti-American sentiment - are joining forces to persuade Iraqis to abandon the violent insurgency, one of the leaders said Monday.

The effort marks a new, open willingness to cooperate with U.S. forces - a shift in the thinking of at least some key members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which lost political dominance with the fall of Saddam and has largely formed the most outspoken and violent opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.
These aren't the Shiites and Kurds who were predisposed to like anybody who got rid of Saddam. These are the Sunnis. Warnings against "forcing democracy on Iraqi's" were not only wrong...they were patronizing. The Iraqis want it.

Tuesday Krugmania 

The economy is doing well, with every indicator pointing sharply up. So, what does that mean? Of course! It's time for Paul Krugman to explain to us why the economy is so bad! His column has already been ably excoriated by Econopundit, Hoystory, and others. I'll add a few comments. Krugman writes....
It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.

Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right.
Note the explicit assumption here? The higher end stores did better while the lower end stores did worse....that must mean the people who shop at Wal-Mart couldn't afford to buy very much. Right? Uh, ok.

Alternately, it could mean that the people who shopped at Wal-Mart were doing well enough that they could afford to shop at Sharper Image for Christmas. (Ahhh! It doesn't fit with our conclusion! Dive! Dive!)

Commerce Department figures reveal a startling disconnect between overall economic growth, which has been impressive since last spring, and the incomes of a great majority of Americans. In the third quarter of 2003, as everyone knows, real G.D.P. rose at an annual rate of 8.2 percent. But wage and salary income, adjusted for inflation, rose at an annual rate of only 0.8 percent. More recent data don't change the picture: in the six months that ended in November, income from wages rose only 0.65 percent after inflation.
Well, that's a funny comparison. Does your boss give out the raises while you're beginning to recover from a slow period, or does he give you a raise when the business is firmly on its feet again? Income growth is a lagging indicator - it will follow. It always does.

But, let's look more deeply at the numbers. While disposable personal consumptions have stayed about the same, disposable personal income has risen sharply of late. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis....

Real Disposable Personal Income and Real Personal Consumption Expenditures: Percent Change From Month One Year Ago

Month - - Disposable personal income
Apr 03 - - 1.6
May 03- - 1.8
Jun 03 - - 1.8
Jul 03 - - 3.4
Aug 03- - 4.2
Sep 03 - - 2.9
Oct 03 - - 3.1
Nov 03p- - 3.6

So, disposable income is rising sharply, as the year drags on. How about income in November, as compared to October? The BEA, again....
Private wage and salary disbursements increased $16.0 billion in November, compared with an
increase of $8.2 billion in October.
So, that's up sharply, too. Good thing Krugman got this column out of his system now. He won't be able to write it in a month or so.

And, of course, he doesn't begin to explain that the current employment scenario is largely the result of the late 90s bubble and resulting overcapacity.

An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed.
I'm no economist, but doesn't the "isn't that high by historical standards" sort of mitigate the rest of his point? So, an unusually large number of people have given up looking for work? Really? Did they not give up looking during previous recessions? Is this a new phenomenon? Could it somehow be related to the extension of unemployment benefits, which lessen the incentive to find work?

In fact, a large part of this column consists of Krugman admitting "it's true that"....followed by the sort of economic data parsing out of which partisan economists can make careers. I'll provide updates, as others weigh in.....


UPDATE: Luskin, reliably, is on the job. He points out that this sort of analysis had been criticised some years back by a fellow by the name of.....Paul Krugman. D'oh!

UPDATE II: Dale Franks weighs in, too...
So, payroll growth has remained slow. What does that tell us? Not much.

Businesses do not invest in new jobs until they are sure that they have enough profit growth and/or increased production to make such long-term investments. Jobs are the last sector to show improvement.

Krugman has to know that jobs are a lagging indicator. So unless he's arguing that job growth will continue to be slow, and, interestingly, he isn't, then it's difficult to see what his point is.

(snip a lot of first class dressing down)

Jebus, this torks me off! This is why I simply can't read Krugman regularly. A man like Krugman can't be making mistakes about this stuff. It simply has to be intellectual dishonesty. I don't know whether he's deliberately distorting the facts, or he's so blinded by Bush Hatred that he can't think straight, but it's just dishonest to the core.
Krugman has an extremely partisan agenda, and it's not exactly hidden. One has to wonder why in the world the New York Times would consider that an acceptable on their Op-Ed page.

C'mon guys. Fake it. Do a "FoxNews". Pretend you're fair and balanced.


UPDATE III: Steverino adds this in the comment section....

Hmmm...other retail outlets did better this year, while Wal-Mart did worse. Which means Wal-Mart's market share is decreasing. Which is good for America, because someone recently wrote a column arguing that Wal-Mart's low prices were bad for America.
I'll await the loud applause from the Left side of the theatre. And waiting. And waiting.

Dodd adds....
As for 5.9% not being "that high by historical standards," here's some very illuminating perspective: In January, 1996, unemployment was... 5.8%.
Egads! It was the Clinton administrations failed economic policies!

War for ooooiiiiilllllll! 

Remember when we were invading Iraq to steal their oil for ourself? Well......
Russia's second-biggest oil company is poised to revive a multibillion-dollar deal to develop an Iraqi oilfield after President Vladimir Putin agreed to write off more than half of Iraq's debt to Moscow.
Get this, though. This is actually a contract that had already been cancelled by the Hussein regime. Far from shifting the oil benefits to ourselves, we're allowing the Iraqis to contract with whomever they think best....even the nations who opposed the war, and had done previous business with Saddam.

Turns out, the protesters were right....kinda. There was "no war for oil".

We're winning (pt 182) 

Iraq is not Vietnam. It's not even close. Here's another example....after rebels detonated a roadside bomb, killing an Iraqi, this is how an Iraqi reacted....
"They've not killed any Americans, just Iraqis as usual. We consider it terrorism," said Karim Abbas, a shopkeeper in the Karrada neighborhood.
The Iraqi people are NOT on the side of the insurgents.....and the insurgents on not on the side of the Iraqis.

Halliburton 

From the New York Times report on the Halliburton issue.....
"The rebuilding of Iraq's oil industry has been characterized in the months since by increasing costs and scant public explanation. An examination of what has grown into a multibillion-dollar contract to restore Iraq's oil infrastructure shows no evidence of profiteering by Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services company, but it does demonstrate a struggle between price controls and the uncertainties of war, with price controls frequently losing."
In other words, war is hell.....on the pocketbook, too. You've gotta know the NYTimes was dying for a story...a scandal about Halliburton. If even they couldn't find it, one might suppose that means it doesn't exist. One can reasonably assume that the it's unlikely Counterpunch and Indymedia know something the New York Times doesn't know.

One more point: The New York Times finally gets around to noting something QandO pointed out two months ago......
"So far this year, Halliburton's profits from Iraq have been minimal. The company's latest report to the Securities and Exchange Commission shows $1.3 billion in revenues from work in Iraq and $46 million in pretax profits for the first nine months of 2003."
Well, welcome to the party, guys. Wish you'd pointed this out a few months ago, before your own columnists had sipped of that conspiracy kool-aid.

(link via Drezner on Andrewsullivan)

Self-referential blogger stuff 

Well, the blogosphere will be showing its narcissistic side today over this story....
They used to be known as the boys on the bus: the big-name columnists, network TV producers and reporters for large-circulation newspapers who had the power to make or break a presidential candidate's reputation. Now they've got competition.
In the 2004 election, the boys (and girls) on the bus have been joined by a new class of political arbiters: the geeks on their laptops. They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.
There follows a fairly elementary story about the blogosphere, containing little of news to the people who participate....but, hopefully, a good introduction to people who have yet to find blogs.

The article does point out an interesting disparity between the reactions of the Dean and Bush campaigns to the blogosphere. Both seem to miss the mark, but in opposite directions.

The Dean campaign "gets ideas from blogs". Dean campaign communications director Tricia Enright says "It is literally like an instant focus group. It does change the way you do things."

On the other hand, Bush campaign spokesman TerryHolt says "To read this stuff is to drink politics from a fire hose. There's so much of it that it's hard to process."

One campaign lets the blogosphere "change the way you do things". The other campaign says it's "too hard to process". Both may be right, to some limited degree....but each are missing something important. The blogosphere is largely made up of intensely partisan people, extremely filtered news and a far far higher degree of attentiveness than your typical voter.

If Howard Dean thinks the blogosphere is representative of the general population, he's in for a suprise. Most people can't even name three members of the Presidents cabinet. They're certainly not as opinionated and informed as bloggers and blog-readers. Things just play differently here.

On the other hand, Bush's blog seems to be missing the boat entirely. The Democrats are far more organized in the hyperactive online community. I wouldn't tailor my campaign around their feedback, but they are opinion-makers. Bush is not exactly taking advantage of that resource.

It will be interesting to see how each approach hurts the candidate. I suspect Deans approach will hurt him moreso than that of Bush. After all, you can be hurt far more by what you do, than what you don't do.

Lileks, on the conspiracy kooks.... 

For all the facts and data I dig up to debunk conspiracy theorists, I can never put it as convincingly as does Lileks....
What I found fascinating was the assertion – stated as a common fact, known to all – that the US emptied Iraq’s museums, and glugs Iraqi crude into Texaco tankers as we speak. As Mark Twain so memorably said: it’s not what people know that gets them in trouble, it’s what they pick up from the comments section of indymedia sites. It took me about 45 seconds of googling to come up with a long, boring press release from the IMF about the disposition of Iraqi oil revenues. They’re audited by the international community in accord with a UN resolution. How did that happen? How did a Unilateralist Cowboy War for Oil fumble the ball at the goal line? Perhaps the UN threatened to deploy Crack French Bureaucrats who'd unleash the indifferent shrug and the chastening frown. No! Not the lowered eyebrows! Anything but that! Here – take the oil money, all of it! Anything but a facial manifestation of Gallic disapproval!
We all operate partially on assumptions. It's necessary. Unfortunately, too often, people place higher value on their assumptions than on evidence....
My point? Simple: we live in an era of non-contiguous information streams. I believe one thing; someone else believes another – and the bedrock assumptions are utterly contradictory. This is what drives me nuts about discussing current events with some people. It’s like discussing the Apollo program with people who think it was all faked, or discussing archeology with those who believe the world is six thousand years old. I think the Iraq Campaign was part of a broad war against Islamicist fascism and the states that enable it; others think it’s all about oil and Halliburton jerking the strings of a Jeebus puppet. No. Middle. Ground.
Whole thing is worthwhile. I expect it will be making the internet discussion group rounds in no time.

Infinite value... 

The Angry Economist explains why we'll never need to worry about running out of natural resources.
What economists know, and what many people seem not to know, is that value is not intrinsic to the item, but is instead an attribute that each person applies to the item. This insight, although seemingly simple and perhaps even obvious, explains many things previously thought paradoxical.

Everyone has likely had the experience of going grocery shopping before dinner. Everything on the shelves looks so good. Doing the same shopping after dinner will produce different results, and yet the groceries haven't changed. You have, so you place different values on the foods. If food had an intrinsic value, you would purchase the same food before or after dinner.

Free markets are easily explained by the fact that parties trade for things that they value more. If I'm buying milk at the store, the store values my money more than their milk, and I value their milk more than my money. That's why they bothered to keep their store open and pay cashiers, and that's why I bothered to drive to the store. Sometimes I've traded a dollar for a dollar, because I had a bill and wanted four quarters. I valued the one form of a dollar higher than the other form, and the other party was indifferent to the form but desires the intrinsic pleasure of being helpful.
So, why does this relative value mean we'll never run out of natural resources? Simple....
Infinite value is an inevitable result of relative value. Let's say that you were using natural resources at a certain rate, and you were increasing the relative value of these resources faster than you used them. Specifically, let's say that you produced a certain amount of value out of consuming the first half of a resource. You were able to double the value of a specific unit of the resource, so that you could consume half of the remaining resource and produce the same value. Like Zeno's paradox, the resource continues to produce value forever.

In the real world, you reach the atomic level sooner or later, and effectively run out of the resource. Does this invalidate the idea of infinite value? No, because in time, the substitutes for a resource become cheaper than the resource, and people will switch to those substitutes. What this means, though, is that people can consume resources as if they were infinite.
Of course, the sun will explode one day. Still, that leaves us with about 5 billion years to work something out. And to listen to environmentalists talk of our impending doom.

12/29/2003

Media observation 

Handy media tip....
Anchor: "...and it was caught on tape"

Translation: "We interrupt what little news we have, to show you this neat tape that the guys have been watching today. It has no news value, and it's from a place you've never heard of, but it piques your interest....so, we'll play it coming up."

Another handy media tip.....
Anchor: "...coming up"

Translation: "Next. Or not. Definitely after we've dragged you through a few commercials. We may even tease it again later the same way. At any rate, so long as time continues to move in the same direction, it will definitely be 'coming up'. Count on it."


UPDATE: Reader "Gee" adds this...
My media pet peeve? "And now we go to Blah Blah, live from the airport where a security concern caused a lockdown for an hour today" Why are we live at the aiport at 10:00 tonight looking at an emply concourse to talk about something that happened at the airport 12 hours ago?! We see more live shots of parking lots and empty streets than shots of actual news. Do they have to show so many "on location" minutes of film per newscast? Or is this a Dallas phenomenum?
Nope. It's not just Dallas.

The Al Qaeda Weekly..... 

They have a MAGAZINE?!?!
For the past several months, Al-Qa'ida operatives have been debating the organization's attacks in Saudi Arabia. There has been no dispute over striking American or Western targets around the world - only regarding attacks within the kingdom. Furthermore, while some favor striking only at "Crusader" – namely American – targets in Saudi Arabia, others are willing to include the Saudi regime and security forces as targets.

The opposition to attacks inside Saudi Arabia, and specifically against the country's regime and security forces, is not based on religious considerations. The arguments against these attacks focuses on tactical matters, such as the importance of Saudi society's identification with and funding of Al-Qa'ida – and the implications of such attacks on the potential of recruiting new members from Saudi Arabia. The following are excerpts from recent editions of the Al-Qa'ida magazine, The Voice of Jihad
A magazine? I'm no expert on intelligence methods, but shouldn't we, I don't know, maybe look into a getting a subscription?

At any rate, high ranking Al Qaeda member Abu Hajer says.....

Some said we must attack the invading forces that defile the land of the two holy places [i.e. the Arabian Peninsula], and must cause the Americans to become preoccupied with themselves and their bases so they won't leave them to crush the countries and lands of the Muslims, country by country.

"Others said we had to preserve the security of this base and of this country [i.e. Saudi Arabia], from which we recruit the armies, from which we take out the young people, and from which we receive [financial] backing. It must therefore remain safe.
Simple plan. Al Qaeda is divided between attacking the US in Iraq, or rebuilding so they can attack the US in the US. And they specifically identify Saudi Arabia as their "base". He even goes so far as to say that Saudi Arabia is "the primary source of funds for most Jihad movements, and it has some degree of security and freedom of movement."

So, that clears it up, right? We have to take on Saudi Arabia to get to Al Qaeda. Except, it's not so simple. Al Qaeda doesn't much care for the Saudi regime, either.

"Perhaps the aim of the Mujahideen is to refrain from toppling the regime because the treasonous cover provided by the Saudi regime prevents America from striking a powerful blow to the entire country. That is one of the ideas that led the Mujahideen [to prefer] first of all neutralizing America, or paralyzing it, and only afterward turning to this regime and its ilk. I say this, even though I maintain that eliminating some members of the regime would be very useful and would make things easier for the Mujahideen without causing the regime's downfall."
The Saudi royal family is far from monolithic. Factions exist. Al Qaeda clearly recognizes this, and the speaker makes mention of their desire to, eh, selectively weed out the family for their benefit. In fact, they call Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd Al-Aziz "an agent and slave of the Americans".

The US has similar interests, if not similar approaches. There are factions within the royal family that are not anti-American. We are interested in seeing to it that they are the dominant faction. However, an attack on Saudi Arabia - whether military, or economic - would have two effects.
1: It would immediately unify the royal factions against a mutual enemy....the US.
2: It would lessen their interest in opposing Al Qaeda.

Clearly, a US policy of more open opposition to Saudi Arabia - as Howard Dean has suggested - might have unproductive ramifications. Right now, Al Qaeda and the US follow similar strategies with respect to Saudi Arabia: Pick your fights elsewhere; work on your leverage within the royal family; don't escalate too soon; cover your rear.

So, what is Al Qaeda's ultimate plan?

The world order must be removed from the region and defeated, first of all militarily. Then, the Islamic state must be reestablished, in accordance with the Islamic regime.
...
No political program has a chance of succeeding if we do not defeat the West, militarily and culturally, and remove it from Muslim countries. Then, it will not be difficult for the nation, with the help of its tremendous resources, to rebuild life according to religious Islamic principles. We will become the masters of the world, as the world's economic fate depends on us because we have the resources the world needs and all the elements of controlling the world are in our hands. What we are lacking is to live free and to rule ourselves by ourselves, cut off from the West and its agents."
Simple, you see. They just want to get rid of the Western influence in the Middle East, and replace it with an Islamic theocracy....then, they want to do the same thing everywhere else, too.

One final point of interest, and perhaps a point in our favor, too. Al Qaeda is most vocal against the US, but they should have few friends among the Mid-Eastern nations....

"Expelling the colonialists from the Muslim lands means simply eradicating the borders and all types of nation-states created by the West. The significance of this is that when the Jihad goes into action in Iraq, for example, it will not stop at the colonialist borders; it will not stop in Jordan and recognize it as an entity, because in Islamic concepts this country called Jordan has no [right to] exist. The Jihad movement in the Arabian Peninsula will not be stopped by the borders of the so-called Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because the entity called by this name is an artificial entity that has no religious foundation. There is no religious consideration that prevents, for example, the transfer of Jihad outside this entity to Yemen or to the countries called the Gulf States. All these types of nation-states have no significance, and they have no [religious] protection preventing their removal when the Jihad goes into action."
This could be our best defense against Al Qaeda. We must impress upon the Arab world that they are not just a danger to the US...they are a danger to the very States that harbor them. Statements like the one made above should be repeated, ad nasueum, until the regimes in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and others decide it's time to fight the enemy within.

Bush AWOL 

Helpful reminder for those of us who spend our time skeet-shooting tinfoil theories. Bill Hobbs has a handy post that references each of his "Bush AWOL" debunkings. Meme-busting like that deserves attention.

Mad Donkey Disease 

Hoystory has a nice primer on the Stages of Mad Cow Disease, with helpful graphics. Now, which Democrats gets "Hoof and Mouth" disease?

The earthquake 

MSNBC has a slideshow of images from Iran. Devastating. In particular, I'd draw your attention to two photos.

* In one, a man sits beside the wrapped body of....somebody, as their body awaits burial. His hand rests lightly on the body.
* In another, a man carries the bodies of two young children, as their older brother cries.

Horror. There, but for the grace of god, go we......

I bet Bono has debt-forgiveness envy.... 

James Baker is a god. That, or he's got naked pictures of world leaders with various farm animals. There must be some explanation for this.....
Providing a critical boost to the U.S. campaign to win debt relief for Iraq, major creditor Japan pledged Monday to forgive "the vast majority" of its Iraqi debt if other Paris Club nations do the same. China later said it would consider the idea.
So, add them to the list: France, Germany, Russia.....now Japan and possibly China. Of course, it's entirely possible Baker is just finding the natural charity of these nations, their belief in the importance of a successful Iraq.

But I'm not entirely dismissing the possibility of photographic evidence of Jacques Chirac in a compromising position with an unusually cooperative weasel. A warmonger can dream, can't I?

The Church just continues to be wrong.... 

Maybe they should stick with religion.....
Two British church leaders blasted Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday for going to war in Iraq, with one bishop saying he and US President George W Bush had acted like "a bunch of white vigilantes."
Note: Doesn't that seem like an odd place to interject race? I'd call it racism, but it just seems so nonsensical that I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's just invective. Not that it's much of an improvement.
The Archbishop of York, David Hope, who is the Church of England's second most senior churchman, said Blair had displayed "a real lack of listening" over Iraq and his claims of fallen dictator Saddam Hussein's arms capability remained unproven.
Oh, does it? Please produce the evidence of a god. I'll wait. In the meantime, trying reading the Kay report.

There follows this confusing bit.....

"Undoubtedly a very wicked leader has been removed, but there are wicked leaders in other parts of the world," he added in an interview with The Times newspaper.
Uh, so which side did you say you were on? Do you mean to say we shouldn't hold them to different standards, and if others get to stay, then Saddam should, as well? And what do you suppose Jesus would think of that? "If one person goes to hell, you've all got to go. Sorry, but fair's fair."

Alternately, what position do you suppose he had on the child molesting scandal in the Catholic church? "Undoubtedly, a very wicked molester has been removed, but there are wicked child molesters in other churches". Does that make the Catholics "a bunch of religious vigilantes"?

Never fear, it gets worse....

"For Bush and Blair to go into Iraq together was like a bunch of white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug-dealing. This is not to deny there's a problem to be sorted, just that they are not credible people to deal with it," he told The Independent newspaper.

"The world now needs a UN army in the way that Britain 200 years ago needed to turn its bands of militia in each town into a national police force."
Let me restate his position: "Bush and Blair have no right to act on their own to stop a problem. That right belongs to the appropriate authorities. Uh, I wish we had appropriate authorities."

One might also point out the irony of a Church of England official demanding we obey a centralized absolute authority. Didn't you guys split off the Catholic Church because that sort of thing was unacceptable? Hey, if centralized power is so great, why not just be Catholic?

(note: Work out your own Church of England "Weapons of MASS Destruction" joke here)

Where do you suppose he got that?  

Interesting story on Saddams billions....
Saddam Hussein has acknowledged depositing billions of dollars abroad before his ouster and has given interrogators the names of people who know where the money is, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said in remarks published Monday.

The U.S.-appointed council estimates that the Iraqi dictator seized $40 billion while in power and is now searching for that amount deposited in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries, Iyad Allawi told the London-based Arab newspapers Al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat.
From where do you suppose that money came? I was under the impression that the oil-for-food program had "sharply limited his ability to rebuild", by preventing him from getting that sort of money.

Don't tell me the UN was impotent! Will wonders never cease!
Equally interesting.....
``Saddam has started to give information on money that has been looted from Iraq and deposited abroad,'' Allawi told Asharq al-Awsat. ``Investigation is now concentrated on his relationship with terrorist organizations and on the money paid to elements outside Iraq.''
Hmm....that could be an interesting investigation. I wonder whether we would use information publicly or privately? One might assume we'd make findings public, as it could reinforce our case for war....and add public pressure to reform.

On the other hand, private use of embarrassing information would give us a great deal of diplomatic leverage. In some cases (ie: Saudi Arabia) it may be more productive to force them into proactive reform, rather than reactive crisis management.

The BlogCommie writes a letter to President Bush 

The Commissar has as good an idea as I've heard for finding Bin Laden....
Dear Mr. Bush,

Although you are Criminal Reactionary Primate of first order, I offer you small advice this holiday season.

You having bolshoi trouble finding archenemy Osama bin Laden, da? He too smart for your smart bombs, smart advisors, and smart-y pants? Hiding in Waziristan, border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Surrounded and protected by millions of Muslims who prefer good Muslim like him to infidel like you?
...
Osama declare jihad. No problem. You declare him zhid. Da. Have Rummy go on TV, say "We have solid intelligence that Osama bin Laden working with Mossad. He is Zionist agent." Talk about Muslims killed in WTC. And killed in Saudi Arabia bombings. And killed in Istanbul.

Arab Street say "Muslim could not do this." Fine. have it their way. Osama is Zionist agent; he did it. And reward for finding him? Forget $25 million. Try 72 virgins. Is better offer to them, even though, for your depraved, decadent, bourgeous country, may be easier to come up with tens of millions of dollars, rather than few dozen chaste women.
...
Two, three months and you will have him.
Why not?

Lord of the Box Office... 

One movie to rule them all, and in the theatre bind them....
The final installment of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy continued to reign at the box office despite a handful of new openings as Hollywood had its best Christmas weekend.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" pulled in $51.2 million in ticket sales for a total of $224 million since opening two weeks ago, according to studio estimates released yesterday.
I saw the movie Friday. (a birthday present from my wife) Short review: Fantastic. Amazing. Masterpiece.

With the glow portion of the review out of the way, I do have a couple criticisms. (warning: possible spoilers)

* What was up with the last 20 minutes of the movie? Never mind the false endings...I didn't mind that. Never mind the drawn our denouement, either. That was an integral part of the book. What, specifically, was he thinking with the slow-motion stuff? The scene in which Frodo awoke and saw his friends.....that was Peter Jackson's LOTR equivalent of the romance movie standard in which two lovers run across a field in slow motion, while sappy music plays them into an embrace. Cheese. The same applies to the drawn out goodbye at the dock following that.

* Weren't there times you wanted to say..."Hey. Gandalf. What's up with the sword? Aren't you a wizard, or something?"

* If I hadn't read the books, I suspect the sudden entrance of the Eagles would have been a bit baffling. Very little context was given regarding their size, until they actually picked up Frodo and Sam.


The movie was 3.5 hours long, but I never noticed the length. When the longer directors cut is released on DVD, I suspect the previously omitted parts will only enhance the movie, rather than drag it out. All in all, this has easily replaced the initial Star Wars trilogy as my favorite movie series. The LOTR movies are everything that movies aspire to be.

Dean flanks himself.... 

This should take this issue off the table....
Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean has demanded release of secret deliberations of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. But as Vermont governor, Dean had an energy task force that met in secret and angered state lawmakers.

Dean's group held one public hearing and after-the-fact volunteered the names of industry executives and liberal advocates it consulted in private, but the Vermont governor refused to open the task force's closed-door deliberations.

In 1999, Dean offered the same argument the Bush administration uses today for keeping deliberations of a policy task force secret.

"The governor needs to receive advice from time to time in closed session. As every person in government knows, sometimes you get more open discussion when it's not public," Dean was quoted as saying.
Dean defends this by saying that he did disclose the names of the participants and he'd invited more diverse input. But, it's not the names and diversity that's really in question in Cheney's energy meetings....it's the content. As the story points out....
The parallels between the Cheney and Dean task forces are many.

Both declined to open their deliberations, even under pressure from legislators. Both received input from the energy industry in private meetings, and released the names of task force members publicly.
And, of course, Dean has sealed his Gubernatorial records for 10 years. Far longer than is usual for a governor. Why? Because he wants to prevent "anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor." That's not my interpretation...those are his words.

If this keeps up, what will Howard Dean have left with which to attack Bush? He's losing his credibility in areas in which Bush is vulnerable.



Note: I'm perfectly willing to accept his explanation as reasonable. I just point it out to note the hypocrisy of holding a different standard to the opposing party. Dean is not guilty of public dishonesty...he's guilty of intellectual dishonesty.

(link via Pejman)

Fight or die.... 

Dale Franks, on pacifism....
Frankly, I reject the idea that pacifism, as a philosophy has any claim whatsoever to moral supremacy. Actually, I'll even go farther than that.

Pacifism, as a philosophy, is inherently evil. At the very least it is a knowing enabler of evil.
Along those lines, Donald Sensing had a very interesting discussion of the real meaning of "turn the other cheek" a bit back. Excerpt....
Jesus' advice to turn the other, or left, cheek to be struck is loaded with symbolic meaning. It is certainly not advice to be submissive to evil. It has at least two loaded meanings:

* I deny that I am inferior to you and I demand you acknowledge me as your equal by striking me a forehand blow, and

* as your equal, I have the right to strike you back.

Turning the other cheek actually could well have been Jesus' admonishment to the people under oppression by the Romans and class structures to stop being passive and start resisting, but never to be the aggressor and to provide an opportunity for the oppressor to ponder the evil of his ways.
His interpretation makes sense, in context. Jesus certainly resisted, at times. (ie: the moneychangers in the temple)

Dale Franks concludes....

The only thing required for evil to win is, as the famous aphorism goes, for good men to do nothing. Pacifism is good men doing nothing writ large.
It seems to me that pacifism is also an interesting evolutionary device. Natural selection weeds out the organisms incapable of competing. Yet, pacifism occurs among organisms that are capable of competing....they just choose not to do so. And so, nature culls the herd of those with no motivation to survive.

Buh-bye. Don't expect the rest of us to go along with that.
I'm certainly not spending my weekends at protest marches, demanding my "right to extinction".

Here we go again.... 

You know, I don't believe in blaming the victim, but sometimes it's hard to resist....
FORMER Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, on trial before the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, was elected to the Serbian parliament today, but would not sit in the assembly, officials said.
They voted him in. Again. If ever "they were asking for it" was appropriate, this is it.

What sort of competition must he have had. Jeez, in America, we can bury a candidate for cheating on his wife. Can you imagine the campaign ads we'd have against a Milosevic? In Serbia, though, one can be forgiven a little ethnic cleansing.

12/27/2003

Blog Rolling... 

Back from the Birthday.....
----------------------------------------------------

* Pejman is not a fan of Reality television.

And what if you are the object of affections in the BBAJ shows? Sure, maybe it's fun to sample the buffet before settling down with the repas de vie, but how exactly do you explain to the kids--assuming that you both make it that far--how Mommy and Daddy met and fell in love? Well dear, Daddy was just better in the hot tub than the nine other guys who shared me with him for a period of time determined entirely by TV producers. I liked his pectoral muscles, his bright smile, his choice of wines, and . . . well . . . other parts of the body about which you will learn once you get to 7th grade biology. So we decided to get married.

It ain't the stuff of fairy tales, is it? Indeed, there is no charm to this whatsoever. You almost wish the relationship would fall apart if only to save the couple from the embarrassment of having to explain it.
Screw them...they deserve all the shame they get. I'm embarrassed that I sometimes end up watching those pathetic fame-seekers.
------------------------------------------------------

* Anybody else notice that The Corner has essentially devolved into "office chat" and advertisements for their books? There is the occassional good bit of information there, but most of the time it's just Derbyshire's morning routine, Goldberg's traffic problems, and Rich Lowry's new book. Is that really all you guys have to write about?

It's like standing around the water cooler at the AMWAY office. If they're not boring you, they're trying to sell you something. (of course, it's free...and I don't have to go there)

--------------------------------------------------------

* Bill Quick writes...

Simply because I have concluded that there is no alternative to voting for George W. Bush for President the next time around, primarily on the grounds of national security, that does not preclude my calling him every kind of blankety-blank f**kwad whenever I think he is screwing up - which is just about every single time when it comes to issues of national finance and the wilful expansion of big government.
I agree, Bill. I believe the fiscal irresponsibility can and will be fixed, or moderated, in time. The threat of terrorism must either be won or lost now. We can't take a 4 year pass on that war.
--------------------------------------------------------

* John Eddy, over at Dean Esmay's blog, on the conspiracy theorists...

I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories. They're silly on their face and I always find myself looking at motivation- that's where all of these things usually fall apart. Big Mysterious All Powerful Shadow Government is manipulating this that or the other thing in order to - what? It seems to me that the major motivation is to give the tinfoil hat brigades something to froth at the mouth over, and little else.
It's amazing, the mental gymnastics that conspiracy theorists will go through to explain their conspiracy. Sure, they've heard of Occam's Razor, but they want no truck with it.
--------------------------------------------------------

* Alex Tabarrok makes an excellent point.....

Brad DeLong writes that "the core problem of modern liberalism" is "how can one support the idea of an activist government when half the time that government will be run by malevolent or incompetent Republicans?

I agree with but the change of one word. "Republicans" should be replaced with "politicians." Change that one word and you move from a naive, partisan view of the world to a principled, non-partisan and correct view. Note that it is not necessary to believe that every politician is a knave or even that half of them are. The core problem is that knaves can do much more harm than angels can do benefit.
I think this Billy Beck comment is worth mention again....
They're punks, who would feed your ass into a shredder for "society", as soon as they got their hands on the machine that they've just woken up to whining about since January of 2001.
It's not the people in charge....it's the nature of the fact that people can be "in charge".
-----------------------------------------------------------

* Atrios, as is his wont, waxes idiotic on the judicial confirmations. Noting an old George Will column on recess appointments, Atrios writes....

Ah, the good old days, when Will was a big fan of advise and consent.
Advise and consent, Atrios? Do tell, what has Congress advised with respect to those judicial nominees? What's this? Nothing? Why ever not? Ahh....because the Democrats are preventing the nominees from ever getting TO Congress, so that Congress can excercise its responsibility to advise and consent.

Do preach on, Brother Atrios, about the value of "advise and consent". For starters, pretend you want it to happen.

-----------------------------------------------------------

* I think he sort of misses the point of the quote he cites, but otherwise this Yglesias post is right on....

Life is tough, and it requires tough choices. One of the most annoying things about the newfound non-realist right, however, has been its refusal to concede that these choices really exist. Realism -- screw the Koreans! -- sounds like a crappy, morally bankrupt worldview. Certainly, it doesn't lend itself to grand rhetoric and feel-good spechifying. On the other hand, idealism requires behavior that is quite contrary to the national interest. We're talking about the risk of nuclear war, artillery bombardment of Seoul, the devastation of the global economy, etc. It's a very ugly path and a very ugly choice, but moral posturing is not a real answer. So, yes, it's fun to poke a finger in the eye of human rights advocates who seem to only criticize the USA, but this is not a policy. If folks are advocating war for the liberation of Korea they ought to say so and face forthrightly the awful consequences of this course of actions. If not they need to shut up.
Short realist version: The possible downsides to invading Iraq were unlikely and outweighed by the more probable upsides. That situation is reversed with North Korea. I'd love to see Kim Jong-Il's head on a pike, but I don't think the price would be worth it, at this point. Maybe later, but not now. We have too many alternatives remaining.
------------------------------------------------------

* Tim Blair has a round up of the best quotes of the year. It's quite a lot of reading, and worth every bit of it.
------------------------------------------------------

* The Age of Irony is alive and well, guys. Thanks for the photographic evidence.
------------------------------------------------------

* Stephen den Beste.....

OK, let me get this straight. Seven men on an American terrorist watch list were all found to have purchased tickets on the same Air France flight from Paris to Los Angeles. Our people alerted the French, who cancelled the flight, took them all into custody, and after briefly questioning them released them all. French action was big and showy and will have the effect of convincing those men and their friends to make their next attempt against us from somewhere else.

France is safe. We are not.
Lovely.
-------------------------------------------------------

* Christmas was wonderful. If you think life hasn't improved for everybody in the last 20 years, compare the average Christmas of your youth to the Christmas haul your kids get. Life is good. I'm glad my child is is able to experience such a wonderful world.

12/24/2003

Merry Christmas 

I plan to spend Christmas exactly as you might expect....enjoying the company of my family. Something happens to Christmas when you have a kid. (My son is 21 months) Suddenly, the day seems so much more important....magical, even. I've no idea what I'll be getting tomorrow, but I'm sure it can't compare to watching Alex having a good time. He won't really comprehend this whole "christmas" thing, but he'll be sky high at the prospect of all those new toys. Especially the RC dune buggy I got for....uh, him.

At any rate, Christmas day is followed immediately by my birthday. Yep, I'm a December 26th baby. No, that doesn't mean I only get half as many gifts, but they often cost half as much. Anyway, I got over that years ago, when I stopped asking for anything at all. Pleasant company, and low stress....that's all I ask.

Heck, you stop by QandO often. I'm pleasantly suprised by that gift. Thank you.

All that to say....Merry Christmas. I hope you enjoy yours as much as I will mine.

More on Krugmania 

Paul Krugman, in the New York Book of Reviews, wrote that we had returned to "Gilded Age levels" of income inequality. The Straight Dope takes him on and nails him.

Short version: Krugman wasn't exactly "flat wrong", but he stretched the definition of "Gilded Age" out of recognition to make his point, and he still couldn't get the data to match his claim.

Howard Dean, Suicide Bomber 

Slate has an interesting look at Howard Deans self-immolation.....
Either all this stuff from the Dean campaign about the establishment is an attack on the Clintonian center, or it's the usual meaningless blather that politicians toss to crowds to make themselves look nonpolitical. Either way, it's fake. I think it's blather, but the more Dean talks about it and applies it to various issues, the more it looks like an attack on the center.
As I'd blogged before, this is the crux (well, one of them anyway) of Deans problem. He cannot win a general election by running to the far left...but he can't run to the center without alienating his core supporters. Of course, he only needs those core supporters until he gets the Democratic nomination. After that, they'll have very little choice but to support him in a general election. So, he wins, right? Best of both worlds, ma!

Maybe not. Not only is he compiling quite an impressive record of damaging statements - statements which will be used against him in a general election - but he's also picking up an impressive array of fanatics. People who will cast quite the unsavory image on Howard Dean among the rest of the voters. That may not be an impression he can lose, after the primaries.

Slate also points out the problem with Howard Deans "clear alternative to Bush" approach....

...far from freeing you, the "clear alternative" approach makes you a slave. If you insist on being different about everything, you let your opponent define you by defining himself. He's for war, so you're against it. He's for tax cuts, so you're against them. Pretty soon, you're against Mom and apple pie.
Lots more. Read it all. Dean is an interesting problem in the elections, but I suspect the problems are more his than Bush's.

An NPR suprise..... 

Notoriously left-wing broadcaster NPR has had a suprisingly fair look at the Halliburton contract these last few days. Excerpts from their online reports...
According to KBR's latest quarterly report, the profit margin on military services is 3.8 percent. (Typical defense contracts yield profit margins of 7 percent.)
In the 2nd part of that report, the reporter points to "defense-contracting experts" who say that Halliburton likely did not win their deal due to any connection with Cheney. In fact, the reporter points out that Cheney didn't make many friends in the oil industry, and oil industry insiders scoff at the idea that Cheney would secure contracts for "his friends at Halliburton", because he doesn't actually have any friends remaining at Halliburton.

Yesterdays report also maintained that Halliburton was doing very good and important work in Iraq, and for a relatively low profit margin. All in all, a suprisingly rational, fair story from NPR. Color me impressed.

Krugman correction update..... 

I recently wrote about a Krugman column in which he claimed Halliburton was profiteering....just pages away from the NYTimes story which said "The officials said Halliburton did not appear to have profited from overcharging for fuel, but had instead paid a subcontractor too much for the gasoline in the first place."

I pointed out the obvious disconnect, and indicated I would write to Daniel Okrent about a correction. I did so, and received a reply today......

Dear Mr. Henke,

I'm afraid I can be of little help here -- what I see is, simply put, a
disagreement. Mr. Krugman, as a columnist, is entitled to his opinion (in
this case the opinion that Pentagon officials are wrong) and readers are
entitled to agree with him or disagree with him.

Thanks for writing,
Yours sincerely,

Daniel Okrent
Public Editor
He responded and he's polite. I appreciate that respect.

But.....there's still the matter of the unsubstantiated claim made by Krugman. Sure, he's entitled to the opinion, even if it's got no factual basis and is contradicted by evidence. But, is that the standard? Would the NYTimes be similarly patient if a columnist wrote that Halliburton had not overcharged at all? I mean, it's "just a disagreement with the Pentagon officials", isn't it?

In fact, there's no factual issue on which somebody could not simply "disagree". Doesn't that mean all editorial standards are out the window? Columnists can now write anything, regardless of the facts....so long as they disagree. "The US has a thriving colony on the moon! I know they deny it, but I disagree, so I can make any assertion I damned well please!"

If facts are now simply "a matter of opinion", it strikes me that asking for an op-ed correction from the New York Times will be a fairly useless task.

Economic predictions largely positive.... 

Inasmuch as you can trust economic predictions, this is good news from a field that has become understandably cautious....
MSNBC.com asked seven Wall Street and academic economists for their 2004 forecasts. On average, they expect GDP to grow 4.5 percent, which would be the best performance since 1997.
What's more, they seem united in seeing structural strength in the economy, rather than short term stimulus....
"We think this next year could be one of the best years of the decade," said Gary Thayer, chief economist for A.G. Edwards. "We're seeing a lot of very positive things right now that we haven't seen line up this way in quite some time."

Not everyone goes quite so far, and certainly nobody is calling for a repeat of the stunning 8.2 percent GDP growth posted in the third quarter -- the fastest pace in 20 years. But the seven panelists we polled are virtually unanimous in declaring that the U.S. economy has reached a turning point and should see above-average growth and rising employment for at least the next several quarters.
Serious issues remain....inflation/deflation, unemployment, and the role of the Fed in the coming year. Those issues, however, seem largely focused on the remaining economic overcapacity. Of the 3 million jobs lost, 2.8 million have been lost in the manufacturing industry....an industry that is simultaneously experiencing huge productivity gains and unused capacity. That's not likely to lead to job gains, but it's not necessarily a bad thing for the economy. (after all, we all want low cost goods, right?)

More to the point, that overcapacity, and resulting unemployment, is not the product of poor Bush administration economic policy. It's the result of the bubble of the late 90s - in short, malinvestment. If the Presidential election had taken place in 2002, instead of 2000, the same job losses would have occurred and Republicans would be blaming them on Clinton. They'd be wrong, but that's the way politics works.

The good news....for whatever it's worth, economists agree: we're on the upswing in the cycle.

We're winning.... 

I've been saying for quite some time. We're not losing. We suffer difficulties, even setbacks, but nothing in Iraq is preventing us from achieving our mission. The New York Times (really!) has an excellent story to emphasize that point....
When Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, a 50-year-old Briton, arrived in June to lead the mainly European force controlling southeastern Iraq, he was skeptical, he said. He felt that "this is going to be a lot more difficult than we realized."

But as General Lamb prepared to hand his command to another British general, he said at a news conference here on Tuesday that Saddam Hussein's capture and other changes, including progress in restoring oil installations, power stations and running water, as well as the Iraqis' fast-rising prosperity, had fostered a new confidence that the American-led occupation force can eventually hand a politically stable Iraq back to its people.

"Is this do-able?" he said. "You'd better believe it."

The British officer described himself as neither optimist nor pessimist but "a hard-boiled realist," then offered an upbeat assessment that matched that of American generals: "I think we're in great shape."
Note: He didn't just say it was do-able. He didn't just say we could be in great shape. He said we ARE in great shape.

Why? What are his metrics? Well, a combination, apparently. He points to the capture of Saddam Hussein...

"We've just buried that nail in the coffin," General Lamb said. "He's not coming back."

For the insurgents, this removed a figurehead, if not a cause; for other Iraqis, particularly Shiites, the country's largest single group, it lifted a widespread fear of Mr. Hussein's restoration that had acted as a drag on the allied forces' prospects. "These are difficult waters that those who are against us swim in," the general said.
He also points to more than 1000 repair and rebuilding projects currently going on in Iraq, but also points out the nature of some discontent in Iraq.....
Part of the frustrations expressed by Iraqis over the occupation, he suggested, arose because some had exaggerated expectations.

He said civic leaders had approached him claiming that "before the war, everybody in Basra had running water," and that many had lost it as a result of allied bombing. But he said he had produced Water Department charts showing that a third of the city never had pipes to carry water in the first place, typical in areas not favored by Mr. Hussein. Pipes were being installed, he said.
Interesting, for two reasons.
1: It explains why this is so much more expensive that we had assumed it might be. Not only do we have to rebuild what was destroyed....in many cases, we have to create infrastructure in the first place.

2: The Iraqi people apparently had a very high estimation of us. They didn't just believe we'd come in and make improvements, they believed we'd come in and "make everything better". Interesting, that they could have gotten that impression, after decades under the propaganda of Saddam.

The General dismisses the notion that we can guage our progress by the number of daily attacks as "slightly simplistic", but this can certainly be called good news...

In November there were an average of 40 a day across Iraq, and as many as 55, with more than 80 American soldiers killed, half of them when their helicopters were downed.
...
After the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended a month ago, the attacks fell to an average that American commanders have put at slightly fewer than 20 a day.

One American officer at General Lamb's news conference said the attacks had declined still further since the arrest of Mr. Hussein, with only six reported on Monday, which the officer described as "the lowest level since May."
That's not an anomaly.....that's a trend. Finally, there was this elbow to the media ribs.....
He took a jab at the press. Western reporters, he implied, had come to an early conclusion that the allied undertaking in Iraq would not succeed, and had failed to adjust. He compared this with criticism that greeted allied forces in the first stages of the spring invasion, when resistance stalled the drive to Baghdad.

The plan provided for 125 days to take Baghdad, and it was accomplished in 23 days, he noted. But, he told reporters, "you had us dead and buried in seven days."
"Buried in seven days"....but we came back to life and rolled away Iraq. An appropriate remark for this time of year, don't you think?

12/23/2003

Agreed Framework: Lessons learned, applied. 

The recent Libya capitulation brings to mind a similar situation. In 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze work on its nuclear weapons program, in exchange for concessions from the United States and regional countries. Despite this agreement, we have since learned that North Korea had been covertly developing their nuclear program since 1997.

Needless to say, the Agreed Framework was not the success we'd hoped it would be. In the end, it amounted to a deal whereby our side agreed to provide North Korea with sizable concessions, while North Korea agreed to pretend they weren't working on a nuclear weapons program.

Fortunately, we appear to have learned from the Agreed Framework. The deal with Libya succeeds in exactly the places where the Agreed Framework proved a failure. I'll list each stipulation, problem, and fix.

----------------------
***STIPULATION: The Agreed Framework committed the United States to "move toward normalizing economic and political relations", as well as an obligation on the US to "provide formal assurances not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against North Korea".

PROBLEM: This proved an almost impossible task, as the North Korean regime continued to be secretive, uncooperative and, in fact, in violation of the agreement. Thus, the US was expected to befriend, even provide assurances that we would not attack, a Rogue nation which was actively pursuing nuclear weapons.

FIX: Unlike the Agreed Framework, in which the US had corresponding obligations, the Libya deal puts no obligation on the United States. Libya is disarming, in the hope that we will drop sanctions....not simultaneously with the removal of sanctions. As Reuters reports "Libya is moving 'in the right direction' by promising to abandon weapons of mass destruction but it is too early to say when and if the United States will lift sanctions." Thus, we're under no obligation to drop sanctions until our security vis a vis Libya is assured.

In addition, we have added the war on terror to Libya's obligations, saying..."Libya must also fully engage in the war against terror."
---------------------

*** STIPULATION: The Agreed Framework committed the United States (and regional nations) to very large concessions, totalling billions of dollars, for "heavy oil" and the construction of two 1,000-megawatt light-water nuclear power reactors.

PROBLEM: This amounted to an incentive for North Korea to continue to break their promises. Far from being pushed to reform, North Korea had simply discovered that the US would capitulate to blackmail.

FIX: Unlike the Agreed Framework, the Libya deal puts no concurrent obligation on the United States and offers Libya no concurrent benefit. Libya only gets the carrot once they have fulfilled their end of the bargain. There is no incentive for them to back out.
---------------

*** STIPULATION: The Agreed Framework required North Korea to submit to IAEA safeguards...but not until "a significant portion of the LWR project is completed, but before delivery of key nuclear components".

PROBLEM: This allowed North Korea to operate their nuclear program without IAEA inspection and oversight for many years.

FIX: Unlike the Agreed Framework, "the play is the thing" in the Libya deal. North Korea was never actually required to demonstrate its disarmament, whereas Libya has explicity agreed to "Allow immediate inspections and monitoring to verify all of these actions".
----------------

*** STIPULATION: Under the Agreed Framework, the "U.S. and DPRK will cooperated in finding a method to store safely the spent fuel from the 5 MW(e) experimental reactor during the construction of the LWR project, and to dispose of the fuel in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing in the DPRK."

PROBLEM: The Agreed Framework contained this caveat: "At the other set of talks, experts will discuss specific arrangements for spent fuel storage and ultimate disposition". In other words, the Framework never actually required North Korea to rid itself of the spent fuel. It remained in North Korea and could be re-processed into weapons-grade plutonium at any time.

FIX: Unlike the Agreed Framework, the Libya deal requires Libya to "Eliminate all elements of its chemical and nuclear weapons programs". There is no chance to rebuild it when "all elements" have been eliminated.
---------------


The most important differences are these:
The Libya deal allows for....
* The elimination of WMDs and WMD programs, not merely the idling...
* Full and immediate inspections to confirm.
* No concessions; no bribery.

The Agreed Framework failed in each of those areas. That is not to say that the Agreed Framework was a mistake. It was probably the best available option, at the time. But it was not a solution. It was a band-aid.

The Libya deal, on the other hand, is a solution. We have learned from our failures.

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