Sunday, September 30, 2007

On Top of the Story

Despite having ended the subscription wall for its Op-Ed columnists last week or so, the NYT is still advertising them:

Love the Op-Ed columnists? Try TimesSelect free for 14-days.

Cliff Jumping

When GWB took office, the dollar was worth about 1.20 Euros. It's now down to about 0.70.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

China and the US are the power couple of the modern economics, but there are some clouds on the marital horizon. Michael Pettis, filling in on Brad Setser's Blog takes a look at the immediate future of this co-dependent relationship:

It is hard to overestimate the importance to China's near-term and longer-term prospects of the 17th Plenum in two weeks. These meetings, held every five years, are the main events of China’s political cycles and it is during these meetings that the big promotions to senior positions within the Party and, juiciest of all, membership in the Standing Committee of the Politburo are made. The Standing Committee consists of the nine men (previously seven, and there are not completely credible rumors that it may be reduced to seven again – the decision has everything to do with factional fighting) who are the ultimate source of power in China today, and is headed by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Although the deliberations are secret, the months leading to the congress are rife with factional infighting, sweetheart deals, attacks on frontrunners, corruption scandals, and the all-important maneuvering for promotion. Unfortunately, on the assumption that that any serious contender must at all costs avoid doing anything that may give rise to criticism before the promotions are decided, the period before the meetings tends to be a time in which very little, no matter how urgent, gets done. For this reason, although the government is watching with terror China's rising inflation, after the last interest rate move little has been done except to freeze a number of prices, and this latter is rumored to have been done almost solely to prevent rising prices from ruining the feel-good ambience that is always required to permeate the national congress meetings.

Some suspect that the imbalances of the relationship, which require China to take, take, take American debt while the US takes, takes, takes Chinese trade good are unsustainable. The monetary consequences of this asymnmetric flow, which is maintained by China's artificial peg of the RMB to the dollar seem finally to be resulting in the long predicted inflation.

China based Pettis has a not-quite an insider's look at how it could play out and some of the pitfalls involved.

Color of Despair

Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, has an update on Bush-Cheney plans for attack on Iran. There is a slow motion feel of inevitability about the whole thing, like watching the approach of a comet that will destroy the planet, looking on helplessly as this great disaster unfolds. Having utterly failed in Iraq, and having clearly strengthened both Iran and terrorism in the process, Bush and Cheney want only to dig faster and deeper.

A snippet:

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”

That perception may be one reason that Democrats are unwilling to speak out against the oncoming attack, or, like Hillary, even vote for a resolution (Kyl-Lieberman) that enables it. Meanwhile, Republicans, having already sold their souls to this devil, or at least drunk deeply of the poisoned kool-aid, see little choice but to go down with the ship.

The other likelyhood is that Bush, in his "advice" to Hillary, has claimed that he needs this threat to intimidate Iran. Were could we have seen that device before?

“They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,” one recently retired C.I.A. official said. “They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s just like the fall of 2002”—the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency. He added, “The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react, and the Administration has not thought it all the way through.”

That theme was echoed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser, who said that he had heard discussions of the White House’s more limited bombing plans for Iran. Brzezinski said that Iran would likely react to an American attack “by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, their neighbors, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will be stuck in a regional war for twenty years.”

Why do they think it would end in twenty years? Far more likely, to me, is that Americans turn so decisively against the war that we flee in defeat, or, if we do win a long destructive war, wind up as a broken, exhausted nation, like Britain after WW II. Except that there won't be any US to offer a Marshall Program.

How can we hope to avoid it, if even Hillary and Obama refuse to speak out against it.?

Better Villains!

A good story need a some thoroughly despicable villains. Somebody like Bellatrix Lestrange who takes real delight from evil and cruelty.

George Bush hardly seems to fit the bill - he is evil, all right, but in such an addled and dimwitted way that it's hard to get any real satisfaction from our contempt.

Bill Kristol, though, shows some real promise. He looks the part with those vestiges of preppy good looks and that slithery smile. Steve Benen of TPM catches him in form on Fox News:

"[W]henever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea. I'm happy that the President's willing to do something bad for the kids."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Inflaton

OK, I'm not talking about the string theory scalar here, but about the forces pushing up prices in the US. Daniel Gross says that its already here, but the Fed just won't admit it.

Imagine that a cardiologist told you that aside from the irregular heartbeat, the stratospheric cholesterol count, and a little blockage in your aorta, your core heart functions are just fine. That's precisely what the government's cardiologist—Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve—has just done. The central bank is supposed to make sure the economy grows fast enough to create jobs and make everybody richer, but not so fast that it produces inflation, which makes everybody poorer. "Readings on core inflation have improved modestly this year," the Federal Open Market Committee said in justifying its 50-basis-point interest-rate cut last month, while conceding that "some inflation risks remain."

Catch that bit about "core inflation"? That's Fedspeak for: Inflation is under control, unless you look at the costs of things that are going up. The core rate excludes the prices of food and energy, which can be volatile from month to month. Factor them in, and inflation is about as moderate as Newt Gingrich. In the first eight months of 2007, the consumer price index—the main gauge of inflation—rose at a 3.7 percent annual rate. That's more than 50 percent higher than the mild 2.3 percent core rate. The prices of energy and food are soaring, at 12.7 percent and 5.6 percent annual rates, respectively, and have been doing so for years. As a result, the CPI—including food and energy—has risen 12.6 percent since July 2003, for a compound rate of about 3 percent.

Pessimists, like yours truly, have predicted this forever. The only plausible way to get out from under a huge deficit (if you are too badly governed to control it), is to inflate your way out. Gross is pointing out the signs that that process has begun.

The Fed, I suspect, doesn't believe that it's really inflation until wages start climbing.

In any case, its hard for me to believe that the world will continue to lend us money cheap forever, without some evidence that we can pay it back - but I could be wrong.


Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written a memoir, and if this story by Robert Barnes, Michael A. Fletcher and Kevin Merida in the Washington Post is fair, he seems every bit the spiritually crippled bundle of resentments I have always imagined.

His character was shaped by his grandfather, a harsh and unbending man who hardly seems to deserve the devotion Thomas gives him:

Thomas writes of the hard lessons doled out by his grandfather, Myers Anderson, who raised him after his father abandoned the family and his mother was unable to care for her boys in Pin Point, Ga. "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son," Thomas writes, hence the title of the memoir.

Thomas's depiction of his grandfather is of a man unsparingly tough. Anderson wouldn't let him play on sports teams or join the Cub Scouts.

When Thomas informed the family that he was dropping out of the seminary, against the wishes of his grandfather, he learned, to his surprise, that Anderson had retreated to his garage and cried. Then his grandfather kicked him out of the house, telling him: "I'm finished helping you. You'll have to figure it out yourself. You'll probably end up like your no-good daddy or those other no-good Pinpoint Negroes."

At or near the core of his resentments is his confirmation hearing, most of which I watched. He lost me in his response to Anita Hill's testimony describing him as sexual harasser.

Thomas writes that he did not watch Hill's televised testimony against him at his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and so he does not respond in detail to her charges except to call them lies.

When I saw him testify that he did not watch her testimony, I was certain that he was lying. This guy was a lawyer and a judge, and a witness is incriminating him - how could he not watch and prepare his rebuttal? Only, I think, if he knew very well that what she said was true and incriminating. The campaign of lies and calumny subsequently mounted against Hill, (and later described in detail by one of the men who led it) lends additional discredit to Thomas and his backers.

The truth, I suppose, will never be fully known, but the cramped and bitter Thomas of the memoir seems (to me) to be a lot more fitted to the role of guilty man who got off than innocent man cleared.

Rendezvous with a Berliner*

While gazing lovingly at a jelly doughnut the other morning, I had a thought about the paradox of self-discipline.

One part of my brain is screaming: "Fat!" "Sugar!" "Fruit flavor elements traditionally diagnostic of vitamins!" "WTF are you waiting for!"

Meanwhile, a more dispassionate but immensely weaker voice is softly mumbling: "Like you need more fat?" "Or you think you have a sugar deficiency? That's really a an insulin excess, you dope!" "The flavor elements are a lie, a cunning, capitalist, bakeriest, confectionery lie. There are no essential nutrients here." and "Have the blankety-blank celery instead."

The higher intellectual functions are intended to mediate this type of dispute between immediate gratification and more sensible deferral, I suppose.

Relative prosperity means that more of us are faced with this kind of choice than were in our hunter-gatherer days. Libertarians, so I imagine, are cool with this, since it comes down to individual choice.

Similar choices confront us collectively. Living in a society dictates that society overrules some individual choices. No, you can't drive on any side of the road you want, you have to drive on the same side everybody else does. All laws are essentially restrictions on individual choice.

Global warming and other ecological threats confront us with the jelly doughnut problem writ large. As individuals, we love our air conditioning, big families, SUVs, and all those other things that make life worth living and destroy the planet's future.

Most global warming denial seems to stem more from opposition to its implication for collective action than from any serious analysis of the evidence. For the Libertarian, or the diehard disciple of Hayek, the necessity of collective action, especially collective action that limits the freedom of indviduals or nations, is anathema. It strikes at the core of their religion of market worship.

Very few, though, are willing to make the case purely in those terms. Instead, they come up with fanciful arguments intended to cast doubt on the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming, or cherry pick the evidence for chances that AGW might not really be serious. Hey, how could that little jelly doughnut really be bad for big old me?

Hint: if making the case for your philosophy requires ignoring facts and evidence, that philosophy might be bullshit.

Economists have a valid point when they say that dealing with anthropogenic global warming requires hard choices which have consequences that must be considered. When they invoke fanciful theories to deny what is happening, they have left science for magical thinking.

I wonder about the cake doughnuts. Are they as bad for me as the glazed and jelly filled ones?

-- CIP on parole

*Incidentally, there is a notion, popular in English speaking countries, that JFK, in his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech was actually calling himself "a jelly doughnut." That is bullshit, and probably an early product of the Republican lying stupidity machine. See the link for details.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tragic Irony #43587

From Huffpost:

A recently-unearthed video from 1992 shows Vice President Dick Cheney predicting the mess that occupying Iraq would create:

If you get into the business of committing U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, to occupy the place, my guess is I'd probably still have people there today instead of having been able to bring them home...The bottom line question for me was: How many additional American lives is Saddam Hussein worth? The answer: not very damn many.

So how did he get so stupid in the meantime?

-- Crazy Frank


Since several of our more astute commenters took exception to the *D*I*S*R*E*S*P*E*C*T* post, I decided to take another look at the subject. Feynman's disrespect in two of his illustrations was fairly minor: he told the dancer in Albuquerque that since she wasn't going to his room with him, she should pay for the sandwich he bought her, and told the sex-workers in Las Vegas that they had to pay for their own drinks. Mystery, by contrast, made a point of telling the candidates that they could not disrespect the dancers they were trying to pick up.

I think that there might be more than one phenomenon going on here. The exotic dancers see the customers as marks and targets for their seductive charms, and the prospective pick up artist can't make progress without breaking through that barrier. That requires being unimpressed with the seduction (by negating or disrespecting the tactic) and connecting on personal level - while still appearing to be an attractive partner themselves.

The situation with the drop dead beautiful model type is slightly more complex. That person knows that she is high status and expects special attention and special treatment.

From time to time the New York Times runs a story on the unfortunate plight of the successful young woman in the city. The latest episode notes that a lot more women than men graduate from college these days, and in the cities at least, wind up making more money than their male contemporaries. Is this an issue? It seems that it is. The successful chicks hate it if the poorer guy lets them pick up the check and they hate it if he takes them on cheap dates. Women seem to be programmed to be attracted to higher or at least equal status men. There aren't so many sex-reversed (or financial status reversed) Miss Elisabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy couples in literature.

Back to our semi-hypothetical model, who sees herself, so I imagine, as higher status than random men she meets. Ignoring her, or sending her a few negative messages, undermines her sense of status and her sense of superiority to the candidate PUA. This has the seemingly paradoxical effect of making him look more attractive to him. Naturally, this can easily be carried too far. She will eventually tire of being ignored, so the sensitive PUA, carefully attuned to the conscious and unconscious signals she is sending, will throw her enough crumbs to let her know that he might be interested, if she is willing to make the effort.

Supposedly, this often works. HTH.

-- Slow Eddie

Status Report

I visited CIP in the rubber room. Although apparently whacked out on whatever they use instead of thorazine these days, he seemed almost normal, except for incessant singing of snatches of "Welcome to the Hotel California." He also occassionally mumbled something about "Ertel Potential Vorticity." What's up with that?

The nurses had warned me not to mention politics, so I brought out my chess stuff and played him a little five-minute. He couldn't handle either side of my Sicilian Defense, but had a bit better luck with the French.

Go was sorrier. He gave me 3 stones on a 13x13 board and still cleaned up.

He claims to be writing The Great American Novel, but refused to show me any of it.

-- Slow Eddie

Disgusted and Appalled

Clinton, Obama, Edwards - what a disgusting, spineless bunch. I'm not that big a fan of Richardson, but at least he is forthrightly against the war.

Clinton has managed to transform herself into the Stepford candidate. Obama looks like he spending too much time worrying about making a mistake - so far he been the biggest disappointment of the campaign for me.

I might be forced to vote for Nader - and I hate Nader.

-- Even Crazier Frank

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hum Ho

Another debate, another chance for leading dems to distance themselves from the war - and they didn't. Will the troops be home by 2013? Couldn't say.

Will you attack Iran? Umm, well, couldn't really say.

What are they afraid of? The mainstream press? Karl Rove? The IL?

CIP didn't do me any favors by letting me get caught in the blast of his exploding political brain.

-- Crazy Frank

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


If you are a rockstar, NBA basketball player, or billionaire, getting girls is pretty much not a problem. For the average young guy, though, it can be a major life challenge. So what hope is there for such?

One popular story from Feynman's autobiographical Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman concerns what he learned about seduction in an Albuquerque night club. After repeatedly striking out, he asked for advice from the MC and his girlfriend. "You have to disrepect the girls," they said. Feynman tried it, so he said, and it worked like a charm.

I read this long ago and have never had any inclination to try it, but it always seemed a bit too simple. It turns out that there is a community of umm, whatever, who have turned the art of attraction and seduction into a technology. I learned about it from a reality series called "The Next Master Pick Up Artist." Mr. E., or Mystery as he styles himself, is the MC, mastermind, and central figure of the show. It turns out that he makes a very nice living travelling around teaching men how to pick up attractive women.

The premise of the show is that they start with eight hopeless nerds, teach them the tricks of the trade, and eliminate one loser per week. The winner gets some cash and the title, plus some kind of role as apprentice instructor.

Now guys, if you are an RFC (regular frustrated chump - the technology comes with an elaborate vocabulary), or have ever been one, you can recognize yourself in these nerds as they bumble around the bar, look nervous, and get shot down in appalling flames. Release a PUA (pick up artist) into these self-same waters, and in minutes he is surrounded by eager, laughing beauties.

Their stuff does work. It's based on a careful study of female psychology and its manifestations in looks, tics, and gestures - that and an elaborate act designed to demonstrate that the PUA is a high-value person. The skill consists of mastering some fairly simple elements and recognizing the clues to their successful application. Overall, it looks to be not a lot harder than riding a bicycle.

Pattern recognition is vital. It's like a game of chess. To the beginner, that enemy bishop at c4 is a meaningless random fact, but to the player, it's a dagger aimed at your King's critical f7, even if there a couple of pieces in between. The PUA sees a hand flicking at her hair as an IOI (indication of interest) - other gestures, mostly involuntary, as positives or negatives and reacts accordingly. Disrespect, or "negging" in PUA lingo, has it's own role. If the target is very confident of her own looks and status - a model or a stripper, for example, she needs to be taken down a peg - gently (I love your nails - are they real?). Almost always, the true target should be mostly ignored - the idea is to get her to want into the conversation, so talk to her friend, or another guy in the group.

There is a lot of interesting primitive brain psychology going on here, but essentially the PUA is a saleman, selling himself. Naturally, I only caught a little bit of what's going on. I'm not interested in this skill for myself, and I don't quite approve of it - it doesn't really seem ethical. Nonetheless, some of it is mastering basic human psychology, and a lot of it is learning to pay attention to the signals others, and you yourself, are sending out.

Overall, it seems both more solidly based and more ethical than Feynman's "disrespect" principle.

-- Slow Eddie


CIP's politicial brain exploded today, after hearing of the latest Democratic treacheries. The most egregious was backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. Clinton and Biden joined in and Obama skipped the vote. What it involved was voting to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization, thus permitting Bush, under the Imperial powers against terrorism act, to commit any goddamn war crimes he likes. In other news, the Senate Dems also advanced the nomination of vote fraud Republican Hans von Spasovsky to the Federal Elections Commission. Spassovsky is recently resigned from the Justice Department and was otherwise destined to play stock villains in little theatre productions.

The fragments of CIP's PB somehow embedded themselves in the otherwise apolitical carcasses of a couple of characters named Crazy Frank (yours truly) and Slow Eddie. CF has a night job as a janitor at the local University, and SE spends his time frittering away his inheritance by losing five-minute chess games to local sharks.

We will hold down the fort here for a bit.

-- Crazy Frank

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More S&M with M&W

Mort Zuckerman is a billionaire real estate mogul and media magnate, and a strong supporter of Israeli and international Jewish causes. In this Huffpost article, he takes issue with Mearsheimer and Walt's new book about the Israel Lobby - of which Zuckerman, need it be said, is pretty much a charter member.

Unfortunately, like previous critics, he winds up long on accusation and short on facts. Let's consider just one paragraph:

Some of their policy allegations are nothing short of startling. Did you know for starters, that the Iraq War was not the work of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice, as we all thought but of "The Israel Lobby"?

Zuckerman doesn't address the substance of the claims M&S make, becuase he prefers the lest honest indirect attack. M&S say:

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.

I'm not sure I would endorse this statement - after all, Bush was the decider, but M&S assemble an impressive case that the architects of the war included the Israeli government and the neo-cons closely aligned with with right-wing Israeli politics.

The case for war with Iraq was first put forward by The Project for a New American Century, the members of which constitute a who's who of neo-cons: Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bill Kristol, Robert Zoellick, Cheney. Most of these wound up in key policy positions in the Bush administration. Even more firmly in the Israel Lobby camp is the Jewish Institute of for National Security Affairs: Cheney, Feith, Ledeen, Perle, Bolton. JINSA advocates overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia, and others.

Note that not all those associated with the Israel Lobby are are Jewish. Some, like Bolton, Gary Bauer and Tom Delay are Christian Zionists, trying to set in motion the end times. Cheney and Rumsfeld are ciphers to me, but involved at every level and surrounding themselves with these guys.

Doubtless the vast majority of American Jews support Israel. Relatively few, however, support the full Israel Lobby program, which is driven by right wing ideologues who want a greater Israel, no compromise, and war as the answer. American Jews, for example, were less likely to support the Iraq war than other Americans. Nonetheless, when the Charles Krauthammers and Bill Kristols start talking about "existential threats" to Israel, many are easily stampeded.

It's not necessary to agree with every argument of M&S. Unfortunately, the critics don't seem to have even read them. The short version is free online here.

A relevant excerpt:

Israel and the Iraq War
Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element. Some Americans believe that this was a “war for oil,” but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. According to Philip Zelikow, a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (2001‐2003), executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and now Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the “real threat” from Iraq was not a threat to the United States.139 The “unstated threat” was the “threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a University of Virginia audience in September 2002, noting further that “the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”

On August 16, 2002, eleven days before Vice President Cheney kicked off the campaign for war with a hard‐line speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Post reported that “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.”140 By this point, according to Sharon, strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S. had reached “unprecedented dimensions,” and Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq’s WMD programs.141 As one retired Israeli general later put it, “Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq’s non‐conventional capabilities.”142

Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when President Bush decided to seek U.N. Security Council authorization for war in September, and even more worried when Saddam agreed to let U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, because these developments seemed to reduce the likelihood of war. Foreign Minister Shimon 30
Peres told reporters in September 2002 that “the campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must. Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors.”143

At the same time, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote a New York Times op‐ed warning that “the greatest risk now lies in inaction.”144 His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, published a similar piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.”145 Netanyahu declared, “Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do,” adding that “I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre‐emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” Or as Ha’aretz reported in February 2003: “The [Israeli] military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.”146erwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre‐emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” Or as Ha’aretz reported in February 2003: “The [Israeli] military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.”146

But as Netanyahu suggests, the desire for war was not confined to Israel’s leaders. Apart from Kuwait, which Saddam conquered in 1990, Israel was the only country in the world where both the politicians and the public enthusiastically favored war.147 As journalist Gideon Levy observed at the time, “Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.”148 In fact, Israelis were so gung‐ho for war that their allies in America told them to damp down their hawkish rhetoric, lest it look like the war was for Israel.149

The Lobby and the Iraq War

Within the United States, the main driving force behind the Iraq war was a small band of neoconservatives, many with close ties to Israel’s Likud Party.150 In addition, key leaders of the Lobby’s major organizations lent their voices to the campaign for war.151 According to the Forward, “As President Bush attempted to sell the . . . war in Iraq, America’s most important Jewish organizations rallied as one to his defense. In statement after statement community leaders stressed the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.”152 The editorial goes on to say that “concern for Israel’s safety rightfully factored into the deliberations of the main Jewish groups.”

Although neoconservatives and other Lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not.153 In fact, Samuel Freedman reported just after the war started that “a compilation of nationwide opinion polls by the Pew Research Center shows that Jews are less supportive of the Iraq war than the population at large, 52% to 62%.”154 Thus, it would be wrong to 31
blame the war in Iraq on “Jewish influence.”

Rather, the war was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neoconservatives within it.
The neoconservatives were already determined to topple Saddam before Bush became President.155 They caused a stir in early 1998 by publishing two open letters to President Clinton calling for Saddam’s removal from power.156 The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro‐Israel groups like JINSA or WINEP, and whose ranks included Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had little trouble convincing the Clinton Administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam.157

But the neoconservatives were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. Nor were they able to generate much enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months of the Bush Administration.158 As important as the neoconservatives were for making the Iraq war happen, they needed help to achieve their aim.

That help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that fateful day led Bush and Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war to topple Saddam. Neoconservatives in the Lobby—most notably Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and Princeton historian Bernard Lewis—played especially critical roles in persuading the President and Vice‐President to favor war.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Decadent Perversity

Via Brad DeLong, Sidney Blumenthal has an answer of sorts for the question I tried to address a couple of posts ago: Does Bush understand that he is one of the "evil ones?"

Briefly put, I think Blumenthal's answer is no, not really. Reading Robert Draper's Bush Biography, Dead Certain, Blumenthal arrives at an analysis that I found both convincing and frightening. There is a lot there to reinforce an old stereotype: Bush the bully, and another I was less aware of - Bush the cultivator of servile flattery.

Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket."
. . .
When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room be locked.
. . .
At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!"
. . .
Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity.
. . .
Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today."

There is more of course. Blumenthal draws a picture of a President clinging to his delusions as they spiral ever further from reality.

Bush grasps at the straws of his own disinformation as he casts himself deeper into the abyss. The more profound and compounded his blunders, and the more he redoubles his certainty in ultimate victory, the greater his indifference to failure. He has entered a phase of decadent perversity, where he accelerates his errors to vindicate his folly. As the sands of time run down, he has decided that no matter what he does, history will finally judge him as heroic.

The greater the chaos, the more he reinforces and rigidifies his views. The more havoc he wreaks, the more he insists he is succeeding. His intensified struggle for self-control is matched by his increased denial of responsibility. Hence Petraeus.
. . .
Bush's ever-inflating self-confidence hides his gaping fear of failure. His obsession with deference demands exercises of humiliation that never satisfy him. His unwavering resolve is maintained by his adamant refusal to wade into the waters of ambiguity. "You can't talk me out of thinking freedom's a good thing!" he protests to his biographer. For Bush, even when he is long out of office, presiding at his planned library's Freedom Institute -- "I would like to build a Hoover Institute" -- victory will always be just around the corner.

More Cornelius Fudge than Lord Voldemort. The supreme hazard is that in his recklessness and desperation, he will attack Iran. I wonder if a bi-partisan delegation from Congress promising impeachment if he did would help?

Mukasey Stinks

Well we now know what Bush likes about Michael Mukasey. He is a pro-torture, racist stinker with no judicial temperment. Which means he is probably the AG we will get:

The 21-year-old Jordanian immigrant was in shackles when he was brought into the courtroom of Judge Michael B. Mukasey in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

It was Oct. 2, 2001, and the prisoner, Osama Awadallah, then a college student in San Diego with no criminal record, was one of dozens of Arab men detained around the country in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks as potential witnesses in the terrorism investigation.

Before the hearing, Mr. Awadallah told his lawyer that he had been beaten in the federal detention center in Manhattan, producing bruises that were hidden beneath his orange prison jumpsuit. But when his lawyer told this to Judge Mukasey, the judge seemed little concerned. “As far as the claim that he was beaten, I will tell you that he looks fine to me,” said Judge Mukasey, who was nominated by President Bush last week to be his third attorney general and is now facing Senate confirmation hearings. “You want to have him examined, you can make an application. If you want to file a lawsuit, you can file a civil lawsuit.”

Even though Mr. Awadallah was not charged at the time with any crime and had friends and family in San Diego who would vouch that he had no terrorist ties, Judge Mukasey ordered that he be held indefinitely, a ruling he made in the cases of several other so-called material witnesses in the Sept. 11 investigations. A prison medical examination later identified the bruises across his body . . .

Five years later, Awadallah was acquitted.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bee Still My Heart

Don't miss Bee's latest contribution to the mathematical description of the universe.

Bad Boys

Intent is always hard to prove, but best-selling author (and lawyer) John Grisham figures the Bushies to be "bad people with evil intent." I agree.

There is plenty of evidence of this in all areas, even if we neglect the war. Most egregious were the Bushies role in the destruction of New Orleans and their deliberate corruption of the justice department.

War, though, is the ultimate evil, and those who start unjustified agressive wars deserve the harshest punishment. If the UN were more useful, it would automatically expel any country engaging in it, with the expulsion to last until the perpetrators were brought to justice in a neutral court.

Grisham had a comment on the war too:

The war is an immoral abomination that we'll pay for for decades to come...


The Israeli attack on Syria, which reputedly offed a bunch of North Koreans as well as Syrians, has been mainly flying beneath my radar. As Kevin Drum noted Friday:

The whole thing is still murky, since everyone seems to agree that it doesn't really make sense, but it's now pretty hard to ignore. Either someone is dead serious about planting some disinformation about a Syria-North Korea nuclear connection in the press, or else there really is such a connection. I don't know what to think about it myself, but it's now officially a story to follow.

Today sees a new entry in the puzzle from The Sunday Times. Now I try never to venture in to Murdoch territory without some protection, so, having armed myself with a crucifix and some garlic, I ventured into the story.

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean.

Real or more neo-con Mystifix? I don't suppose we shall know until long after the attack on Iran. That plan is apparently called "Checkmate."

Commenter Simon Hughs notes that:

An attack on Iran will be disasterous for America and the West. It will open a Pandora's box of incredible proportions.
Iran is far from stupid. They are prepared to respond in unorthodox but extremely effective ways,
Remember, they invented Chess.

The Wicked

Every wicked man is right in his own heart.

So says the Russell Crowe character in 3:10 to Yuma, and he attributes it to the Bible. Well, maybe, but I can't find it. Still, it's an interesting idea, and who better to apply it to than G. W. Bush. Bush was recently asked how he can keep his spirits up in the face of all the adversity and criticism he receives. "Because I know I'm right."

It's relatively easy to be cocky when things go well, but it takes a true virtuoso of cockyness to maintain his spirits when the whole world has seen that he has been right less often than a stopped clock. Selective or drug addled memory can play a role: that C- in economics becomes a B. Even so, in his heart, if any, can he really have any doubt as to which team he is playing for?

Hannah Arendt famously looked at the "banality of evil." Perpetrators of the most monstrous deeds learn to think of themselves as just doing a dirty job. We look into the heart of darkness and see, what? Resentment and envy, maybe, but mostly just incompetence and dimwittedness. It's a disappointment, I suppose. We want Voldemort to be larger than life and he turns out to be smaller.

Proverbs 28:16

The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that
hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.

I can't say that I find Adam Clarke's commentary on Proverbs 28:16 to be particularly literal, but he does nail Bush:

The prince that wanteth understanding ] A weak prince will generally have wicked
ministers, for his weakness prevents him from making a proper choice; and he is
apt to prefer them who flatter him, and minister most to his pleasures. The
quantum of the king's intellect may be always appreciated by the mildness or oppressiveness of his government.

He who plunges his people into expensive wars, to support which they are burdened with taxes, is a prince without understanding. He does not know his own interest, and does not regard that of his people.

UPDATE: Perhaps 21:2 was the verse in question:

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

MoveOn Already

I've beaten this dead horse plenty already, but this bit is too dead on. I'm hardly a fan of Joe Scarborough, but he gets this one right:

This week's dust-up reminded me of that time when we Republicans led with our hearts and got pounded in our faces. We loved bathing in self-righteous indignation. Our base loved it too. But the practical results were always the same: we scared little children, household pets and crossover voters. It was a really great way to alienate the voters we needed the most.

Whoever dreamed up the ad questioning the loyalty of Iraq's top soldier would have fit in great with those of us who drove the political agenda in 1995 -- and guaranteed Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996. While I'm sure Move On's ad locked down the base in Manhattan and Madison, Democrats need to be more concerned with wooing voters in Tampa and Toledo.

To quote Joe's post one more time:

How many times do we charge up the hill and run straight into enemy fire before we figure this shit out?

It depends, I suppose, on whether your goal is to "speak truth to power" or to end the war. So far, MoveOn, and the Dems, are choosing to posture.

Just wondering...

Ordinary Americans are pretty steamed about the Dem's humiliating September crumble on the war. I wonder what Congressional leaders were hearing from AIPAC?


Chris Weigant asks Why are Democrats so lame on basic PR?.

My guesses: native stupidity - 35%, being in the pockets of the same crooks - 35%, waiting until next year - 30%.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Area 51

Some of our neo-con friends and now Rudy Giuliani endorse the idea of inducting Israel into NATO. Of course many NATO countries like this like they like a poke in the eye, but it would have the following putative advantages:

1)It would demo our committment to fight all of Israel's wars no matter what.

2)It would scare the bejeesus out of Iran and Syria.

3)It would piss off Muslims everywhere.

I fear this represents a failure of imagination on the neo-cons' part. Why not just go directly to proto-con William Safire's idea of annexing Israel as the fifty-first State? It would have all the above advantages plus:

4)We could save the three billion plus we send to Israel every year and tax them instead.

5)The Palestinians could be classed as Native Americans and receive all the privileges and perks consequent thereon - cushy reservations, trading post booze, the BIA to guard their money, tourist traps, National months, weeks or days, etc., etc.

6)Americans could go the the Holy Land without getting passports.

7)We could abandon that mess in Iraq and retreat to bases in our own Middle Eastern State.

8)We wouldn't need to worry about Israeli spies anymore - the Cossacks would work for the Czar.

9)There would be more jobs for bilingual teachers.

10)That way Israel would have only two Senators, like the rest of us, instead of fifty.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friendly Fire

We are now mostly through that big September where the surge results were to be evaluated and Republican support for the war was supposed to collapse. It didn't happen, and we will now get at least another Friedman Unit or so of war, regardless. A bunch of the blame goes to the ineptitude of the Democrat's and other's anti-war strategy. It would be hard to count all the ways that they sabotaged the case against the war, but let me mention two:

When the Democrats in the House and Senate questioned Petraeus and Crocker, they were long on oratory and short on tough questions. Barbara Boxer, the Britney Spears of politics, was a tragicomic exemplifier. After wasting her question time on idiotic oratory, she fumbled her chance at a question so ineptly that she rated feature play on The Daily Show.

More damaging was Moveon's idiotic ad equating Petraeus and "Betray us." As I predicted, that ad guaranteed that the conversation would be about Moveon rather than the war - to the point that even a majority of Democrats felt oblidged to condemn the ad in a (truly moronic) Senate resolution.

Thanks a lot, you grandstanding morons.

Moveon's excuse is probably testosterone and stupidity, but the Congress's case is possibly worse. Either they are helpless to obstruct Bush or they hope to keep the war going to until the 2008 elections - mainly for political reasons.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oh Shit! Scary Movie II

As widely predicted, the cheerleading for a war against Iran is getting louder. Thomas B Edsall takes a look in this HuffPost article.

The drumbeat for a military assault on Iran is getting louder at some conservative think tanks, in the offices of hawks on the Bush and Cheney staffs, and among ground forces in Iraq dealing with weapons and explosives constructed in Iran.

Administration calls for aggressive action to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and to cut off its funneling of arms and training to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, have featured increasingly tough rhetoric.

In his September 13 televised speech, President Bush pointedly warned of the threat from Iran:

"If we were to be driven out of Iraq,...Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply."

There is unanimous agreement on both sides of the ideological aisle that talk of a strike against Tehran and other sites in Iran has escalated sharply in recent weeks.

Much of the public discussion of military action is designed to serve as a trial balloon to test reaction to such proposals among Congressional leaders and other key players. The subject has, however, also become a publicly discussed issue in the Republican primary conte

Most worrisome is the news that the US Military in Iraq is joining the club. Democrats and level-headed Republicans had better not let this happen.

Senior Moments

Alan Greenspan is 81 years old, I think, so he's probably entitled to a senior moment or two. Which is good, since his recent claim that Saddam Hussein was a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz doesn't pass the geographic laugh test.

John McCain is a dozen years younger, but he had a whole flock of either "senior moments" or maybe just dishonesty moments on Meet the Press last Sunday. Josh Marshall has the video goods on those, too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Confession for the Soul

Alan Greenspan, so far as I know, is not a Catholic, which is just as well, since his recent confessions are far too calculated and self-serving to earn the reward of sincere repentence. I'm thinking of his attempt to evade responsibility for his role in the Bush tax cuts and resulting deficits. Kevin Drum takes a look, here. Paul Krugman penetrates the sophistry and exposes the deception with a well placed shiv:

If anyone had doubts about Mr. Greenspan's determination not to inconvenience the Bush administration, those doubts were resolved two years later, when the administration proposed another round of tax cuts, even though the budget was now deep in deficit. And guess what? The former high priest of fiscal responsibility did not object. And in 2004 he expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent — remember, these are the tax cuts he now says he didn't endorse — and argued that the budget should be balanced with cuts in entitlement spending, including Social Security benefits, instead. Of course, back in 2001 he specifically assured Congress that cutting taxes would not threaten Social Security

Sic semper hypocritical bullshit.

Weak Coupling

One of the puzzles of the recent liquidity crisis is whether it was the result of a scam or just a bubble. It's not quite clear where the dividing line is, I suppose, but some of those who assembled the various exotic SIV's made a lot of money from the suckers that bought them. On the other hand, much the same crowd seems to contain many of the victims. Meanwhile, economists wander around muttering imprecations like "fat tails" and "opacity" - or maybe it's really "lack of transparency."

Opacity, of course, is friend of the highwayman, the swindler, and every other thief in the night. Still, I wonder if there might not be more to the whole question.

The kinds of problems we know how to solve in physics are mostly characterized by locality and weak coupling to the external domain. If the Twentieth Century had any economic lesson it was that the command economy is clumsy and inefficient. One reason, I think, is that it violates weak coupling and locality.

One effect of free markets is to move decisions down to a local level - when decisions are made by individuals and individual enterprises there are strong incentives not to overproduce or underproduce goods.

Economic development requires a supply of capital - capital that can be assembled by pooling mechanisms or accumulation in the hands of the few. Modern financial technology consists in large part in assembling pooling mechanisms of great sophistication and complexity. In an attempt to leverage or conversely, to insure against risk, many of these mechanisms have complicated feedback processes. The result is that weak coupling is violated, and a relatively small butterfly quake in California triggers a magmatic meltdown in London financial markets.

Badges, Stinking, We Don't Need No

Cheney's mercenaries shot up a bunch of Iraqis recently, and Iraq is not best pleased. The government responded by suspending Blackwater's license and ordering them out of the country. Larry Johnson is betting that Blackwater don't need no stinking license.

Depending on whether the Blackwater security firm stays in Iraq will inform us whether Prime Minister Maliki has any power or is just a U.S. puppet. My money is on the puppet. Over the weekend Blackwater contractors escorting a State Department/US Embassy Baghdad convoy got into a shoot out.

One problem is that if Blackwater and the Iraqi Army were to get busy, BW would probably kick ass:

The Iraqi government has zero power to enforce a decision to oust a firm like Blackwater. For starters, Blackwater has a bigger air force and more armored vehicles then the Iraqi Army and police put together. As Spencer Ackerman reported, Blackwater’s little bird helicopter (an aircraft normally used by U.S. special operations forces) that was firing mini guns at Iraqi targets on the ground this past weekend.

I can only imagine how Americans would react if there were Russian, Chinese, Mexican, or French security firms running around the United States and getting into firefights in tough neighborhoods, such as South Central Los Angeles. We would just shrug our shoulders and say nothing. Right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. This incident will enrage Iraqis and their subsequent realization that they are impotent to do anything about it will do little to support the fantasy that the surge is working. There are some Iraqis who genuinely want to run their own country. But we are not about to give them the keys to the car. Blackwater is staying.

I'm pretty sure that mercenary armies violate the Geneva Conventions. Their creation and funding on a massive scale will probably not be remembered as one of the lesser Bush-Cheney war crimes. I suspect that they will prove a continuing danger to the United States and other nations.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Madam Ambassador

Esther, the shiksa* also and formerly known as "Madonna," has proclaimed herself an "Ambassador for Judaism." No word yet on her first diplomatic posting.

*Flagged as some regard the word as perjorative, possibly due to the following putative entymology:

Shiksa (Yiddish: שיקסע) or "Shikse," is a Yiddish word that has moved into English usage, mostly in North American Jewish culture and is sometimes used as a pejorative or mock-pejorative term for a Gentile (or non-Jewish) woman. Discretion in use of the term is called for, as it is still regarded as offensive by some. However, as the many examples from popular culture below show, it is generally used in a humorous way.

The word could be derived from the Hebrew term sheketz, which means either "abomination"[1], "detestable", "loathed" or "blemish," depending on the translator. It can be used to refer to any female gentile.

Sorry Esther, and good luck in your diplomacy.


Prompted by Cynthia, let me just say a word about Greenspan's new memoir - which I haven't read, so I'm just going by press reports. Greenspan merely said what was obvious: that Iraq was about the oil. (He also said that Bush and the Republicrooks sold out their principles for politics and graft, but that's not news either.) Even though it's not news that Iraq was (at least in part) about oil, it's nice of him to note that. Even before the war was underway, though, some commentator claimed Iraq was about Oil, Israel, and Logistics - OK, the last one is lame, but he wanted the acronymn to be OIL, and the neo-cons did want a logistical platform from which to attack Iran. That's about oil (and Israel) too, so maybe we should just summarize - OI, as in oi vey.

I do think that oil and Israel were what caused Cheney and his neo-con allies to want the Iraq attack, and that those two factors are the reason they want to stay. Since the American people were not likely to buy into OI as a casus belli, the war had to be sold under false pretenses - a job for which Bush, Cheney, and Rice were admirably suited.

Those lies they told proved less harmless than they doubtless hoped, and played their own part in the catastrophe that unfolded. Like every other Bush-Cheney enterprise, disastrous miscalculation and collosal strategic blunders followed, and a war of lies and treachery developed its own dynamics of destruction.

John Kerry was on Meet the Pinhead Press this morning, and was pretty clear in his analysis: The line about it requiring more time to train the Iraqi military has long outlived any credibility. It takes months to train an American soldier, and we created an army almost from scratch in WW II - so how can it be that four years later we don't have an Iraqi Army. That reason is that politically the Iraqi leaders find it more convenient for us to be there and take casualties.

We need a political strategy. We have potentially tremendous leverage over all the Iraqi parties, leverage that we don't use because our President is pursuing absurd fantasies and refusing to acknowledge reality.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Population Implosion

Daniel Engber writes in Slate about the putative environmental benefits of cutting the human population. He points out that bringing a child into the world is nearly as environmentally hostile an act as owning a private jet:

Our other green lifestyle choices can't even begin to offset the cost of adding a brand-new CO2-emitter to the population. When I ran my own numbers through Al Gore's carbon calculator, I discovered that a switch to 100 percent wind and solar power would reduce my emissions by just 1.3 tons per year. That's not even enough to account for one quarter of today's average American. Meanwhile, I'd have to do quite a bit of driving around in a Hummer H3 to mimic the environmental impact of creating another version of me. Not to mention the fact that my children might eventually decide to have their own children, who would emit even more carbon dioxide down the line.

Engber calls the Chinese experiment in radical population control a failure in both moral and practical respects, but despite its moral shortcomings and despite the fact that the Chinese fell well short of their one child goal, the policy has to be counted one of the greatest revolutions ever. Moreover, it has been an enormous economic success.

The economic explosion that followed the precipitous drop in the Chinese fertility rate has been perhaps the most dramatic in history. Twenty plus years of double digit economic growth has taken the Chinese from one of the per capita poorest countries in the world to a role as the worlds leading industrial producer. China will soon be the number two economy in the world, and the average increase in per capita income has been huge.

Those who doubt the causal relationship need to take a look at the statistics for other countries. There is very close correlation between drops in fertility and economic progress, and the opposite is equally dramatic - countries with high fertility rates don't make economic progress.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bush Speech III

Dan Froomkin rounds up some commentary and adds his own in It Came From Planet Bush:

In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech last night.

Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.

There is much, much more, but a common theme is alternate reality. Bush and his Republican allies are now trapped in the web of lies they have woven. They can't face reality without enraging the deluded 30% who still support them.

Bush Speech II: No Tears from Me

Andrew Sullivan watched Bush and felt some pity:

He seemed almost broken to me. His voice raspy, his eyes watery, his affect exhausted, his facial expression almost bewildered. I thought I would feel angry; but I found myself verging toward pity. The case was so weak, the argument so thin, the evidence for optimism so obviously strained that one wondered whom he thought he was persuading. And the way he framed his case was still divorced from the reality we see in front of our nose . . .

One million dead - no tears from me for this crocodile.

The president's stunning detachment from this reality tragically endures - whether out of cynicism or delusion or, more worryingly, a simple intellectual inability to understand the country he is determined that the United States occupy for the rest of our lives.

The low-point was his almost desperate recitation of a poignant email that posited that this war is one between "good" and "evil".

There is enough evil to go around, but let's remember the source of that evil - Bush's war and the folly with which he, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney waged it.

And to reduce the immense complexity of Iraq to such a binary moralism is a sign of a president reaching for comfortable, Manichean abstractions as a replacement for strategic judgment and knowledge. The American people deserve better from a war-president: more honesty, more candor, more realism. Even now; even in the face of the horror we have witnessed for four years; even in the face of the failure that is still staring at us, he still cannot see what he has done or what is still unfolding in the Mesopotamian

Another worthwhile read - painful, but worthwhile.

Bush War

Bush's war has now killed about one million Iraqis plus another four million driven from their homes. This puts him and his fellow thugs in a class with Idi Amin, Attaturk, and other major genocidal murderers, if still trailing a bit behind Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Bush Speech

Josh Marshall was less than impressed:

Let's start by stipulating that the arguments for our Iraq policy have been a pretty big crock for a really long time . . .

But as we saw in President Bush's speech last night things have gotten to a point where the White House spinmeisters hardly seem even to have their heart in it anymore. And the president just seems to be living in some sort of alternative universe populated by the failed gods of his narcissism and vainglory . . .

Anyone watching what's happening can see that what the president is talking about bears no relation to what's actually happening in Iraq -- a fact well confirmed by the fact that polls show no change in the public's take on what's happening in response to the president's speech. Primitive animals will sometimes keep chattering or twitching their muscles even after their heads have been cut off . . .

But best read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bush Speak

I can't decide whether George W Bush is just a particularly inept liar or completely out of touch with reality. Maybe both.

Rhyme Scheme Rhetoric

Jane Hamsher is usually a smart lady, but she has a ridiculous defense of the "betray us" fiasco.

The MoveOn ad said what Democrats could not and survive politically -- Petraeus is acting as a politician, doing a politician's job of spinning and his actions are not above criticism just because he's got a bunch of ribbons on his chest that George Bush would like to hide behind. And it traveled.

Well no, Jane, that's not what the Petraeus - betray us ad said. It said GEN Petraeus is a traitor. There is a pretty big difference in a lot of people's eyes.
One of her testoserone pumped commenters (carefulcautius) expressed it more precisely:

Anytime you can knock down a General a peg or two, we make the REAL America stronger.

These blustering morons think that just because most Americans have turned against the war they have become like them - fire breathing leftists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Polls show that the institution Americans trust is the military. Tactics that alienate most Americans only help convince them that anti-war libs can't be trusted. Perhaps 20% of Americans are hard core anti-military types. Another 40% are basically pro-military but are hostile to what Bush is doing. Another 15% support the President but are getting very antsy. Most of the latter two groups are deeply offended by the Petraeus ad - they, and I, see it as attack on us as well as the general.

In the first place the charge is absurd. Petraeus is not a traitor. At worst he is a political general fighting for his plan. Secondly, it's childish - rhetoric by rhyme scheme, suitable only for the gradeschool playgound. Third, it insults and alienates many of the people whose support is needed to end the war. Finally, it detracts from the actual content of the moveon message, that the figures Petraeus was giving were dodgy.

During the Vietnam war - and yes, I remember - kids chanted "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today." It was a much more apposite message, but it didn't shorten the war by one second or save one American or Vietnamese. It did piss off those with the power to end the war, and that war dragged on for many more long years, with 25,000 more American and countless Vietnamese killed.

Success in Iraq

Josh Marshall links to this New York Times article to discuss how Bush's corruption is torpedoing the war effort. The short version: A major factor in collapsing a deal on oil revenues has been a Kurdish deal with Dallas oilman and Bush buddy Ray L. Hunt.
Josh Marshall:

But remember, Hunt, in addition to being the son of legendary Texas John
Birch Society extremist H.L. Hunt, is also
a pal of the president's. Indeed, President Bush has twice appointed Hunt to his
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. So while the president is striving to get
the Iraqis to meet these benchmarks one of his own pals -- and more importantly,
political appointees -- is busy helping to tear the whole thing apart.

Congress really needs to investigate this. And begin impeachment hearings.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


John Stewart had a nice takedown of Petraeus's testimony last night. First he showed Petraeus talking about writing every little word himself - then he showed how many phrases were lifted only slightly changed from Bush talking points. Coincidence? Or just great military thinkers thinking alike?

We (John and I, that is) report, you decide.

Applications of Physical Cosmology

When I read this, I thought that the long sought transition of cosmology to an applied science might finally be happening:

Russia has tested the world's most powerful vacuum bomb, which unleashes a destructive shockwave with the power of a nuclear blast, the military said on Tuesday, dubbing it the "father of all bombs".

Finally a practical use for all that vacuum energy cluttering up the universe, I thought.

The facts are a bit more mundane, though not a lot more cheerful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sanctimonious S***head Award

A very competitive award to be sure, even with Joe Lieberman retired for lifetime achievement. Today's nominee: Ted Koppel, for his crap spouted on NPR today about how we can't leave Iraq until "we clean up the mess we created."

I very much doubt that we have any hope of cleaning up the mess George Bush created as long as he remains President, nor has anyone come up with a good suggestion for how it might be done.

I give Koppel props for sounding sactimonious even if he's just recommending a hamburger joint, but he really shows his world class chops when he spouts the pius bullshit that passes for conventional widom inside the beltway.

American Men's Number One Fear

A President who has to stop to ask directions.

Hell, GW wouldn't do that even if he was riding over a cliff. A manly man a man can respect. Presidential material.

More Stupid

Tuned into the radio on the way to work to listen to the Senate hearings. Instead of asking questions, some blowhard, AKA, Senator Blowhard Biden, was giving a stupid speech. What an idiot. Of course the representatives - I only heard Republicans yesterday - did the same thing. What a bunch of morons.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stupid Stupid Stupid

My heart sank when I listened to Cokie Roberts describing the ad in the NYT this morning. What adolescent stupidity inspired them to write the Petraeus - Betray us equation? I could hardly imagine a more perfectly timed Morgul knife thrust into the anti-war movement. When contacted, they defended their "facts." Too bad that they had already ensured that no one would read them.

I am tempted to suspect the work of some Rovian fifth columnist, but I suppose stupidity is the more economical explanation.

Thanks a lot guys - you just guaranteed us another 18 months of war. You also probably made yourselves poison to every potential Democratic candidate.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Nouriel Roubini sees recession coming:

The probability of a US economic hard landing (either a likely outright recession and/or an almost certain “growth recession”) was already significant even before the severe turmoil and volatility in financial markets during this summer. But the recent financial turmoil - that has manifested itself as a severe liquidity and credit crunch - now makes the likelihood of such a hard landing even greater. There is now a vicious circle where a weakening US economy is making the financial markets’ crunch more severe and where the worsening financial markets and tightening of credit conditions will further weaken the economy via further falls of residential investment and further slowdowns of private consumption and of capital spending by the corporate sector.

Roubini isn't usually Mr. Sunshine, but he paints an interesting picture. I recommend reading the whole post.

Why Liberals Are Smarter

The LA Times has an article on a new study comparing the way liberal and conservative brains process information. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that liberals are more open to new experiences and more flexible in their thinking. OK, that's not quite the same as "smarter," but I'll take it. The current experiment compared what happened when students were presented with a very simple task: recognizing the letter M vs. W. Subjects were conditioned to expect a higher frequency of one letter than of the other, and when the frequency changed, conservatives made more mistakes and learned the new pattern more slowly.

It certainly seems to fit a lot of conservatives I know - once they get an idea they become more or less impervious to fact.

WH Internal Debate

A large cast of Washington Post writers has a must-read story on the internal debate about "the surge" this morning. It has a good picture of the points of contention, apparently from the perspective of some of the minor figures involved. Cheney is all but invisible in the story, but I did notice my forehead scar hurting at some points.

Central Command Chief Admiral William J. Fallon seems to be a principal sceptic:

Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders' intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. "He's been saying from Day One, 'This isn't working,' " said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term "long war" -- a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

Iraqi leaders' intentions are the real point, aren't they? What reason is their to think that Maliki, or any other plausible Iraqi leader is interested in what we could call success?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Certainly Mr. Bush

Slate has a three part excerpt from Robert Draper's Dead Certain. Draper had unprecedented access to Bush and most of the excerpts consist of interview. I felt that there was a certain pathos to the Bush that emerged. The famously upbeat Bush who seems to be so out of touch with reality seems to be partly a pose put on to keep up others spirits and his own:

"And part of being a leader is: people watch you. I walk in that hall, I say to those commanders—well, guess what would happen if I walk in and say, 'Well, maybe it's not worth it.' When I'm out in the public"—and now he was fully animated, yanked out of his slouch and his eyes clenched like little blue fists—"I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me.

"The other thing is that you can't fake it. You have to believe it. And I believe it. I believe we'll succeed."

More upsetting, and more pathetic, is the man who understands that a President needs a strategic vision, a man who claims to read history by the bucketfull, but when trying to articulate that stategic vision can't get beyond muddled slogans:

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought...

If nothing else, a good argument against legacy admits.

Their Boy Osama

Osama bin Laden's latest tape consists of the rantings of a mass murderer sworn to kill Americans, but it is calculated, in its lame way, to attempt to turn Americans against each other. Naturally, David Brooks and the usual morons are happy to cooperate. Steve Benen has the story at TPM.

What a piece of work these guys are - always ready to sell out America for partisan advantage.

Friday, September 07, 2007


There is absolutely no point to a draw down of five thousand troops in January, or 25,000 next April. We have already seen this stupid movie in 2003 and 2004. What we need is a coherent strategy with a plausibly achievable goal. There are few options and they are all bad.

A. We can get the heck out as fast as possible and let the devil take the hindmost - or at least the Iraqis. This risks genocide, regional war, and facilitates Iranian dominance. It does get our troops out of harm's way as quickly as possible.

B. We can replace the dysfunctional government of Iraq and try to reconstruct it on a more rational basis. This will involve overthrowing a democratically elected government, provoke much greater Iraqi enmity, and require at least twice as many American troops - probably requiring doubling or tripling the size of the Army. Costs will be astronomical, the commitment multi-generational, and prospects dim.

C. We can pull most of our troops out, leaving strike forces in Kuwait, Kurdistan and Basra, possibly encourage partition, and use air power to suppress large scale warfare. Large scale slaughter is nonetheless likely.

D. We can continue on the present course, bleeding and paying with no prospective end in sight, and little or no hope of resolution.

Each of these would be bad or more likely terrible. The bad and terrible stuff would not be a result of the path chosen today, but of the path chosen in 2003.

Anybody have any bright ideas?

Seriously Pissed

Dan Froomkin titles his latest column Bush Wins Again. He cites the building consensus among the chattering classes of Washington that the Dems are about to fold, big time, on Iraq.

Despite everything, President Bush continues to be able to set the terms of the debate in Washington.

Consider how the talk now is mostly about when to end the "surge" -- not when to end the war. How did that happen?


Now, however, the big news is that Bush's commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, is willing to contemplate a possible drawdown of one brigade early next year -- if the circumstances are right. That's one combat brigade out of the five that make up the surge; one out of 20 such brigades in country in total; or less than 5,000 of the 168,000 troops currently in Iraq.

I hope that Democratic leaders realize how seriously pissed off the most active Democratic voters will be if this kind of fold happens. Many of us will be convinced that it is more urgent to rid our Party of traitors and Republican lackeys than it is to get rid of the Republicans. If the only difference between the the Parties is the lies they tell to get elected, maybe we are wasting our time supporting these SOBs.

Two for the Road

One more visit with Mearsheimer and Walt, this one prompted by a new review linked by Arun: Walt-Mearsheimer's Best Seller: Why the Hysteria? by M J Rosenberg. Another important review is The New York Times review by William Grimes. Grimes (or his headline writer) calls the book a "A Prosecutorial Brief Against Israel and Its Supporters." I don't believe his review supports this title:

Slowly, deliberately and dispassionately Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt lay out the case for a ruthlessly realistic Middle East policy that would make Israel nothing more than one of many countries in the region. On those occasions when Israel’s interests coincide with America’s, it should count on American support, but otherwise not. What Americans fail to understand, the authors argue, is that most of the time the two countries’ interests are opposed...

The reason they do not realize this, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt insist, can be explained quite simply: The Israel lobby makes sure of it...

There is nothing underhanded or devious about this, the authors say. Like the National Rifle Association or the AARP, the Israel lobby relies on the traditional political weapons available to any special-interest group in pressing its agenda. It just happens to be unusually skillful and effective...

Grimes concludes the M&W don't make their case:

The general tone of hostility to Israel grates on the nerves, however, along with an unignorable impression that hardheaded political realism can be subject to its own peculiar fantasies. Israel is not simply one country among many, for example, just as Britain is not. Americans feel strong ties of history, religion, culture and, yes, sentiment, that the authors recognize, but only in an airy, abstract way.

It's a balanced review, hostile to M&W but not hysterical. Rosenberg likes M&W a lot more. He goes beyond M&W to argue that the Israel Lobby, in its current incarnation, is hazardous to Israel as well as to the US. I am somewhat sympathetic to this notion myself. I don't think Israel is morally equivalent to Iran or Syria, but I do think American leaders need to put US interests first, and I'm very suspicious of lobbying on behalf of any foreign power, even Israel and Britain.

A lively debate breaks out in the comments section of Rosenberg's article. After a dozen or so comments, somebody congratulates everybody in not calling each other anti-semites. Naturally, the very next comment calls everybody on the other side anti-semitic! And so it goes.

Climate Forcings

Stephen E. Schwartz of Brookhaven and co-authors have a Nature comment.
I got the link from Lubos Motl who explained that it had something to do with the GDP of Cuba and the relative length of Gavin's (Schmidt?) hands, but I had trouble following the advanced math, so I was forced to read the original article - which seemed rather clear.

Schwartz and co-authors note an oddity: The estimated uncertainty in anthropogenic forcing has a much larger range (0.6 to 2.4 W/m^2) than the uncertainty in the model predictions of temperature range as a result of anthropogenic forcings (0.5C to 1.0C). This, he says, looks strange.

First, how could this happen? Schwartz does not say so explicitly, but he seems to think that the forcings are an input parameter for the models. I’m no modeler, but I doubt that that is the case – the input parameters, I suspect, are the things that drive the forcings: CO2 concentration, aerosol, etc. Physically, the forcings *are* the things that drive the climate, but in the models, the things that can be measured easily are not the forcings, but the drivers of the forcings. The forcings are deduced, I suspect, from models that capture some elements of the global climate models. In effect, the forcings become sort of a second order product of the models, calculated from model output differences. This has the effect of amplifying the uncertainties, in a way vaguely analogous to the way that errors in position measurements are compounded when one uses those measurements to compute velocities.

In other words, I think that the models get surface temperatures from drivers (CO2, aerosol, etc) and then a sort of reverse model gets forcings from something like surface temperatures. If the process introduces the same error at each stage, the error for forcings should be larger - maybe twice as large - as the temperature error.

Of course if it's this simple, why did Nature bother to publish the comment? Maybe Eli or Belette can explain.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Conversation with Thucydides

I had that green chile cheeseburger for dinner, very good, but sometimes a mistake anyway...

We were sitting on stone benches on a rocky hillside, with olive trees in the distance.

Me: So how could we bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to Iraq?

Thucydides: I don't do prosperity - I'm not an economist - might check with Brad DeLong on that . . .

[I notice that his English is flawless - hardly unexpected in one who mastered Classical Greek as an infant, I suppose.]

Thu: . . . Peace and freedom, though, are simpler, though intrinsically temporary at best. Kill all the Iraqi men, sell the women and children into slavery, then import colonists from some freedom loving people - from Athens, for example.

Me: I don't think we want to get into genocide...

Thu: Well, there are other means. You've pretty well blown your chance to play Alexander or Caesar - bright lads they were. Maybe you should imitate Coronado and Pizarro.

Me: I'm not sure that smallpox and measles would devastate Iraqis, and they would spread.

Thu: Well, the important thing is to combine brutal repression with forced religious conversion and intermarriage. You need to disarm the locals and install compliant puppets with loyalty only to you and power only through you. Large numbers of missionary warrior colonists will be needed to first learn and then extirpate the local culture and tradition.

Me: So how long should that take?

Thu: I think it took about 400 years in Mexico, though they might not be quite done yet.

Me: And how can you call that freedom?

Thu: You may have a problem . . .

At which point my wife woke me up and told me to stop moaning in my sleep. A Pepsid AC took care of me till morning.


How a conservative think tank became a right-wing stink tank.

Shorter version: Assume supine position, extend hand, palm up, spread [wallet].

Straight Talk

John McCain has brought back his old bus, AKA The Straight Talk Express. In its new incarnation it will be called The Demagogic Lies Express.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Neutrino tipped me to a nice NOVA program on global dimming. There is now pretty solid evidence that dimming due to pollutants has substantially ameliorated warming due to greenhouse gases. So far, so good, right?

Not exactly. The pollution has become severe enough to kill as many as millions every year in India and China, so that they are now preparing aggressive steps to curb pollution, just as the advanced countries did decades ago. The likely result: less pollution, healthier air, and less dimming - and considerably more warming.

The show suggested that we might see three or more degrees C by mid-century, a temperature which produced sea levels 25 meters higher the last time it happened, 2 million years or so ago. Say goodbye to most coastal cities, Florida and Louisiana, Holland, and Bangladesh.

Not out of the question over the next century or two are the truly catastrophic temperatures last seen 50 million years ago - think mass extinction event.

None of this will impress the legions of the clueless. I guess they are expecting the end of days before that anyway.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Oh Goody!

Iran's president Ahmadinejad has proof that the US won't attack Iran.

God, and his calculations told him so.

"I tell them: 'I am an engineer and I am a master in calculation and tabulation.

"I draw up tables. For hours, I write out different hypotheses. I reject, I reason. I reason with planning and I make a conclusion. They cannot make problems for Iran.'"

Ahmadinejad has long expressed pride in his academic prowess. He holds a PhD on transport engineering and planning from Tehran's Science and Technology University and is the author several of scientific papers.

The deeply religious president said his second reason was: "I believe in what God says."

"God says that those who walk in the path of righteousness will be victorious. What reason can you have for believing God will not keep this promise."

Two religious nuts getting ready to start the slaughter. Just what we need.

He's the One

OK, this seals it. I'm voting Obama.

Rock Stars We have Known

Lumo hints that he may be featured in Physics World next month. If so, I hope they mention what he's up to these days - he has been a bit closed mouthed on the subject - either that or I missed it.

He also has a note on nuking the landscape - seems like a good idea.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Rove-ing with the Press

There is a small cadre of Americans who, despite ample evidence of Karl Rove's general incompetence, despicable character and disastrous effect on the nation and the Republican Party, still worship him. The most visible element of that cadre consists mainly of the Washington punditocracy. That tale is the theme of Glenn Greenwald's riff on Gloria Borger's assession to the Faux News liar's club - AKA their Sunday news panel. I suspect that he may not be a fan:

Gloria Borger of U.S. News and World Report is perfectly representative of the establishment media pundit. She possesses in great abundance the most common attribute which defines them -- namely, there is never an original thought that comes out of her mouth. Instead, she never does anything other than recite Beltway conventional wisdom and GOP talking points (typically the same thing) with complete fealty. For that reason, Borger last week made her exciting debut as a panelist on Fox News' Sunday Show.

Also worth noting is Greenwald's previous post on Traditional Marriage, Republican style: One Man, several Women culminating in the Trophy Wife.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

This and That

Wolfgang has up an eclectic bunch of interesting new posts. It's pretty hard to pick out a favorite, but this one wins the prize in the exotic humor category.

The others range from the War to Groethendieck and Category theory linked from Aaron Bergmann's temporary post impersonating Chad Orzel.

I think I first started reading Aaron's stuff when he was like a college freshman. He seems to have learned quite a lot in the intervening decade or so.


We are at what is very near the peak of the normal Atlantic Hurricane season, and so far, the ocean has been relatively quiet, with only one hurricane, although that was a powerful category five. Tropical storm Felix has entered the Carribean and looks to become a hurricane later tonight. As of now, it is projected to take a path very much like that of Hurricane Dean, only slightly farther south. That more southerly track, and less time to intensify will probably keep it to lower intensities, but it is too early to say that we are off the hook.

Where the Boys Are

Sister Mary Loretta was my third grade teacher, and I expect that if there was anything to that theology she taught me, she is now ensconced as a principal lieutenant to Satan himself, joyfully dishing out punishment to the deserving. At least that's the way I remember third grade, with Leon H., Judy B., and me at the head of the list of the then deserving. In those days, her punishments consisted mainly of chalk and eraser throwing, hair pulling, ear twisting, and shoulder shaking intended to separate the brain stem from the spinal column.

I am reminded of those good old days by a new study that shows that student accomplishment appears to vary inversely with the number of boys in the classroom. There have been previous studies showing that girls in single sex schools do better than those in co-ed schools, but this one looked at random assortment producing different proportions of students in various classrooms. Not only girls but also boys did better in the mostly girl classrooms.

They also tried to figure out why this might be so. I'm pretty sure that the results wouldn't surprise any elementary school teacher, or perhaps any parent who gets out a little.

An examination of the underlying mechanisms of the gender peer effects shows that a higher proportion of girls in the classroom lowers the level of classroom disruption and violence, and
improves inter-student and teacher-student relationships as well as students’ satisfaction with school. It also significantly alters teaching methods and lessens teachers’ fatigue and feelings of burnout . . .

Clearly, we need more women in Physics.

via this Slate story