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11/20/2004

Evolution II

"Intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo."

No Agreement on IC Reforms

Despite high hopes, Congress is going home without passing an intelligence reform bill. It was blocked by Duncan Hunter (R-California) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), who wanted accelerated deportation provisions. [AP]

Actually, I set aside links to wire stories reporting the reform was "dead" around 6:00PM EST - but now that I've gone back to compose the post, all the stories have changed, now reporting that there is a possibility that Congress might return to DC to consider the bill sometime next month. This is probably just a face saving measure by Republicans.

Reuters: (Recasts with deal dead, new throughout)

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A plan to overhaul U.S. spy agencies died on Saturday in the face of opposition from key Republicans just hours after congressional negotiators thought they had clinched a deal backed by the White House on the post-Sept. 11 reforms.

Putting a brave face on Congress' failure to approve reforms recommended by the Sept. 11 Commission, House Speaker Dennis Hastert promised to continue negotiations with the Senate and to bring lawmakers back in December before the 108th Congress is finished if another deal is reached.

But negotiators said that was unlikely, and that lawmakers would have to start all over in January when the new 109th Congress convenes.

"It's not over until it is over, (but) I don't right now see a process whereby we get this done in the next few weeks," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who led the negotiations with the Senate.

Bolton Again

John Bolton's name seems to be popping up all over the place. He's leading the hardliners against Iran: "John Bolton, under-secretary of state for arms control, has been pushing for a tougher line and is said to believe that Iran should have been referred to the UN Security Council a year ago." Some unsolicited advice to the American diplomatic corp: get the agreement, then use the verification and inspection procedures to test your intelligence. I understand that this tactic didn't work so well in Iraq, but that was in large part due to the kneejerk conserative rejection of verification and inspection procedures. Regardless, cynically leaking dubious intelligence is not the way to go.

The other front, of course, are the rumors that Bolton will be elevated deputy Secretary of State. Remember, some conservatives actually wanted Bolton to replace Powell. Now people are looking to the administration's treatment of Bolton for signals on Rice - whether she'll create moderate positions or continue to serve as a cipher for OVP and DoD. "Many Europeans" think that if Bolton is elevated "the next four years will be even worse than the last four years." Ah, those zany, ever hopeful Europeans...

Update, 11/20/04, 7:58 PM EST: Get the naive conventional "wisdom" in David Sanger's Week in Review piece:

The first test may come in her selection of a deputy. Mr. Cheney's wing is pressing for someone like John R. Bolton, an acolyte of the vice president who runs the State Department's proliferation office. A very different choice would be someone like Arnold Kanter, a former State Department official who now works with Brent Scowcroft, who was the first President Bush's national security adviser. Mr. Scowcroft was Ms. Rice's mentor until the two differed over the Iraq invasion. Choosing Mr. Kanter to run the daily operations of the State Department could signal a shift toward something more like the first President Bush's approach to the world.
Look, there is no evidence that Rice has ever had an independent thought about the Middle East. She has never parted from the administration line. She might be a great person, but those who think she's suddenly going to depart from OVP orthodoxy are delusional.

Daschle Farewell Speech

The GOP didn't bother to show up to hear Daschle's final call for bipartisanship. Daschle is a painfully decent man.

"Refusal Clause" in Omnibus Spending Bill

Yesterday we heard about the anti-environment riders attached to the massive spending bill being negotiated in Congress. Today, it's reproductive rights under assault:

House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year...

The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such "conscience protection" to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.
The measure, which has long been supported by the Catholic Church (see also the Protection of Conscience Project and the "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act"), distorts protection for individual conscience into protection for corporate pharmacies, hospitals, insurers, and health care providers [Coopting Conscience - PDF]. The NYT reporting on the issue is quite poor, as there is a clear rhetorical struggle underway, with advocates of the clause calling it "conscience protection" and opponents a "refusal clause" - but the NYT refers to it as the former.

Here is the egregious state of the nation, according to Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-California):
Under current law, an individual who has a religious or moral objection to providing a service can refuse to offer it, but the law recognizes certain differences between an individual and an institution. Institutions do not have the same rights, nor should they. Health care facilities exist to provide services. It should be extremely rare when such a facility can deny anyone access to care. Even so, there are only minimal obligations on hospitals and other facilities. Under title X, they only have to tell someone what their choices are and where they can go to receive these services. And under Medicaid, hospitals and clinics will only be obligated to provide an abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
Update, 11/20/04, 4:28 AM EST: The Washington Post has more details on the provision, as well as on the anti-environment riders. The Water Resources Development Act was kept out of the final legislation, as was the effort to eliminate a pending regulation requiring nation of origin labeling for meat. The disposition of the other riders was unknown when the Post went to press - the AP reports that the bill wasn't finalized until after midnight.

Scowcroft

Al Kamen reminds us of our history:

There's a kind of deja vu all over again with the move of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice over to the State Department. If memory serves, then-Secretary of State William P. Rogers, undercut regularly by President Richard M. Nixon's foreign policy adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, left after Nixon's reelection in 1972. He was replaced by Kissinger.

Kissinger held both jobs for two years, which deftly put an end to that unseemly and annoying policy bickering over Vietnam and other matters in the first Nixon term. His then-deputy at the National Security Council, Brent Scowcroft, moved up, and everyone sang from the same hymnal.
Scowcroft was a mentor for Condeleeza Rice. But it appears times have really changed - his consulting group recently hired James Pavitt, the former CIA official accused of undermining the administration.

11/19/2004

Richard Lawless & Taiwan

Richard Lawless is a candidate for chief of clandestine services. He is former CIA, and has significant business ties with Jeb.

A sample of his work: Arms Control Today 11/04:

n April 2001, President George W. Bush offered to sell Taiwan four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers, eight diesel-powered submarines (even though the United States has not built a conventional submarine since 1959), and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Since then, the administration also has prodded Taiwan to acquire Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors to protect itself against China’s ever-growing number of short-range ballistic missiles aimed across the 160-kilometer-wide strait. The Pentagon estimated this summer that 500 Chinese missiles sit opposite Taiwan.

The high cost of the U.S. arms, differences over the proper mix of weapons to buy, problems finding an appropriate submarine design and builder, and concerns about upsetting China have all combined to delay a final decision by Taipei. After narrowly winning re-election as president in March, Chen revived the push for the arms package.

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province that should be under the mainland’s control, has vehemently objected to the pending U.S. deal. Although generally opposed to any foreign arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing is particularly agitated about the prospect of Taiwan importing advanced weapons with Chen at the helm because he has been a long-time proponent of Taiwanese independence.

Making matters worse from Beijing’s perspective is the perceived meddling of some U.S. officials, such as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless, exhorting Taiwan to stop its dallying and buy U.S. arms. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan said Oct. 11 that such comments cause China “strong indignation.”

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan rankle Beijing so much that over the past two years it has reportedly floated a vague tradeoff involving a freeze or withdrawal of Chinese missile deployments targeting Taiwan for Washington turning off its arms pipeline to Taipei. Neither Taiwan nor the United States showed interest.
BBC 10/27/04:
For starters, there is no guarantee that after the US presidential election, Washington will honour the existing arms package on offer.

And some US officials appear to be losing patience with Taiwan.

US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, Richard Lawless, said this month that the island would be viewed as a liability rather than a partner if lawmakers did not approve the arms package.

Taiwan's Foreign Minister, Mark Chen, is also concerned about the impact on ties with the US if the arms budget is not passed.

"The basic message that could be interpreted by our American friends is that we are not really willing to defend Taiwan by ourselves," he said.

"Our mutual interactions may be discounted in some way; and that's something I don't want to see that happen. "

Muslim Scholars Association

46 groups, mostly Sunni, are boycotting the Iraq election, in large part because of Fallujah - the Muslim Scholars Association, the largest Sunni religious group, included. Sunnis will not be electorally legitimating leadership anytime soon. The US has, of course, cracked down on the Muslim Scholars, raiding mosques and arresting clerics.

Ironically, a crackdown may be just what the situation calls for. The unique intractability of the insurgency is its decentralization - we don't know with whom to negotiate a cease fire, or how to split a headless mass from the Zarqawi foreign fighters. Imperial crackdowns, especially those accompanied by fiery denunciations and showy explosions, lionize the victims - if the MSA is the best we can get, then lets engage in a little political theater.

Iraq War Costing $6 Billion Per Month

Via Salon - UPI is reporting that the Iraq war is costing $6 billion a month, rather than the $4 billion estimate that's been used for over a year (note that UPI confuses millions with billions in the text of its report).

Does anyone want to revisit the "factchecks" of John Kerry's $200 billion dollar price tag?

Troop Levels

The Christian Science Monitor has the most recent details on the plans to increase troop levels in the run-up to the Iraqi elections. The plan is still to keep as many as 20,000-30,000 troops currently deployed in Iraq after school to create an overlap window. The need for more troops is clearer than ever, as Iraqi security forces have been infiltrated and intimidated to the point that they are as much a risk to American forces as a help. Whenever you read or hear about Americans working with Iraqi forces, it is almost invariably the case that the Iraqis are Kurdish peshmerga.

The assault on Fallujah has also managed to disseminate insurgents throughout the country - we've "smoked 'em out," I guess, and now we have to "hunt 'em down." (Though it looks like Zarqawi "divided his time mainly between Baghdad and Ramadi"...) Unfortunately, we're hunting too many foxes with too few dogs.

The overlap strategy is self-defeating. The more we use it, the longer the recovery times between redeployment, and the lower troop levels get. If the Bush-Rumsfeld team had the potential for foresight, I would assume that they intend to declare victory in June or so, and then seriously draw down troop levels (to get ready for the August 2006 Iran invasion). Given that they always fuck up, even when choosing the wrong option, they will probably continue to yo-yo our troops back and forth, just enough to ensure that we don't have numbers to stabilize the country, while still ruining morale, readiness, and lives.

Update 11/20/04, 1:42 AM EST: Thursday's NYT noted a "classified report prepared by intelligence officers in the First Marine Expeditionary Force" that "warn[ed] that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say."

Update 11/20/04 3:29 AM EST: The BBC says that US decisions on troop levels will depend on the security situation in Fallujah.

Evolution

Paul Waldman at The Gadflyer posts recent Gallup poll results on American beliefs about evolution. They are, of course, depressing, as 45% of Americans appear to believe that humans have existed for fewer than 10,000 years. But by far the most encouraging result is for Catholics: 46% of Catholics believe in evolution, a higher percentage than Democrats (coming in at a paltry 38%). Evolution is a wedge issue - we can use it to divide Republicans from their base, knock Catholics off the fence, and shore up our support among the educated (a statistic I would have liked Gallup to produce: the voter turnout of creationists v. the voter turnout of people that believe in science).

Paul also points to Chris Mooney's blog for more on the topic, which I heartily second.

The Leaker

Laura Rozen wonders who told the CIA about the Iraqi Iranian nuclear missile plans. I stumbled across a photo, but can't quite see through the disguise:




Or maybe:




James L. Pavitt

Bill Geertz, in the Washington Times piece cited below, speculates:

Opposition to the internal reorganization appears to be led by James L. Pavitt, the top clandestine service officer who recently left the agency.

Mr. Pavitt told The Washington Post last month that he hoped the new leadership did not carry out "a wholesale change that would do damage to a strategic effort that has produced excellent work on terrorism and a variety of other important issues."
The Washington Post ran a story on Pavitt two weeks ago. Pavitt is upset at administration efforts to blame the CIA for administration failures. On October 27, he claimed the CIA's use of extraordinary renditions was approved by the National Security Council and Congressional overseers. He was one of the four former deputy directors of operations that approached Goss to offer advice on finessing a reform agenda.
Within the past month, four former deputy directors of operations have tried to offer CIA Director Porter J. Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss has declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials aware of the communications.
He has accepted, like Richard Clarke, responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to 9/11:
James L. Pavitt, who retired in August as the C.I.A.'s deputy director of operations, also said he had not seen the report and had not been asked to respond to it. Mr. Pavitt said in an e-mail message: "We failed to stop the 11 September attacks. It surely was not for lack of effort, lack of focus or lack of courage.''

"Given what we now know, in all the hindsight of the year 2004, I still do not believe we could have stopped the attacks,'' Mr. Pavitt added. "If there is to be blame, it belongs with me, not with the remarkable folks who worked the counterterrorism issue day in and day out."
Pavitt appears to be a mixed bag, but I doubt he is masterminding the CIA's angry response to Goss.

More on Corruption of the CIA

As Goss turns his attention to the Directorate of Intelligence, everyone needs to keep in mind Senator Levin's careful analysis of who was actually responsible for the analytical failures that led to Iraq: Doug Feith's DoD office.

Meanwhile, the country appears to be coming around on the outrageousness of Porter Goss's efforts to turn the CIA into a partisan Republican operation [see Goss' email at Laura Rozen's site]. Senator Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Goss warning him against politicizng the agency.

An editorial in the Boston Globe argues that Goss "has not shed his partisan instincts as a Republican congressman from Florida" and calls Goss out on the purge:

The CIA purge being conducted by Goss's aides distorts the principle of accountability in two crucial ways. One is the choice of whom to terminate. In the apt words of Joseph Cirincione, director of the Carnegie Endowment's Non-Proliferation Project, "They're firing all the wrong people."

Neither the intelligence failures that preceded the Sept. 11 attack nor those that were used by the administration to justify the war in Iraq originated in the directorate of operations. The intelligence officials who ought to be held accountable are those who failed to connect the dots indicating Al Qaeda's preparation of a strike inside this country, those who did not share crucial information with the FBI in a timely manner, and those who succumbed to political pressure to provide intelligence about Iraq that suited a neoconservative agenda.

The second way in which Goss's purge distorts accountability concerns its rationale. Senator John McCain lived up to his reputation for straight talk when he acknowledged that people were being punished at the CIA because members of the Bush team believe that agency leaks during the recent campaign "were intended to damage the president."
The LAT editorializes against Goss' partisanship:
The danger is that by politicizing the intelligence process, Goss could not only further undermine the agency's morale and professionalism, but the nation's security itself. Unfortunately, Goss' partisan record leads us to read his memo in the worst possible light.
Of course, there are reactionaries who still defend Goss's actions. The White House has promoted a benign reading of Goss' memo, despite its clear language. White House spokesman Scott McClellan claims the memo was "misconstrued." CIA enemy Robert Novak embraces McCain's argument, calling the CIA a "rogue operation" working for liberals. Bill Geertz claims the purge is simply an effort to whip the Agency into shape, following plans "from a House intelligence committee report made public in June that singled out the directorate of operations for harsh criticism, primarily saying it was unwilling to undertake risky missions." Mr. Geertz fails to mention that it was Goss' committee that produced the report, and partisan hack Jay Jakub in particular.

Dr. David Graham Blows Whistle on FDA

Dr. David J. Graham, "a 20-year FDA veteran who is the associate director for science at its Office of Drug Safety," claimed before the Senate Finance Committee that "26,000 to 55,600 patients might have died as a result of taking Vioxx," and that "the FDA, as currently configured, is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx." He pointed to five other currently on-market drugs that present similar risks.

Since 1996, multiple studies have indicated that taking Vioxx seriously increases (by as much as 3x) risks of heart failure and strokes by disabling natural anti-clotting agents in the blood. Merck, the pharmaceutical producer of Vioxx, has always explained away the studies, and the FDA has, until now, bought the rationalizations. The pharmaceutical producers of each of the other five drugs identified by Dr. Graham claimed that there was no scientific evidence of safety problems.

Coming on the heels of the FDA's negligent handling of bacterial contamination at the British flu vaccine plant, we have an agency in crisis (see also: Waxman's report). Its regulatory practices need a complete overhaul, and its scientific oversight needs major strengthening against industry corruption. Republicans will no doubt take this opportunity to push through more of their "peer-review" proposals that apply only to the risks of drugs.

Dr. Graham's study is available on the FDA website (PDF). The FDA's reaction to Dr. Graham's report as described by the AP on October 7:

"Dr. Graham described an environment where he was 'ostracized,' 'subjected to veiled threats' and 'intimidation,'" Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement after Finance Committee investigators interviewed the researcher Thursday.

Graham told The Associated Press that Grassley's characterization was accurate. Raising safety concerns within the agency is "extremely difficult," the 20-year employee said, declining further comment.

In a prepared statement, the FDA said it "values open discussion and frank exchange about scientific and medical issues" and subjects its scientists to "more rigorous" scrutiny than typical scientific peer reviews.

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, already has been asked to look into whether the FDA muzzled another staffer who linked antidepressants to raising the odds of children suffering suicidal tendencies. When Merck voluntarily pulled Vioxx from the market on Sept. 30, the GAO was asked to roll the FDA's handling of that controversy into its inquiry.

That report is not expected for months. Grassley's committee is one of three in Congress also scrutinizing the FDA's actions.

A "picture is emerging of an agency that can't see the forest for the trees," Grassley said. "Merck knew it had trouble on its hands and took action. At the same time, instead of acting as a public watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration was busy challenging its own expert and calling his work 'scientific rumor.'"
Update, 11/19/04, 1:18 PM EST: See also, NYT; WP; USAT; Seattle PI.

Graham's testimony has hurt stock values (we're talking billions of dollars). FDA spokespeople are "categorically rejecting" Graham's comments.

Powell and Iran Nukes

Colin Powell said on Wednesday that Iran is trying to put nuclear warheads on missiles:

Speaking to reporters en route to a meeting in Chile, Powell said the information suggested Iran was "interested in nuclear weapons they could deliver … not just something that sits there."

Powell said that although he could not verify the accuracy of the reports, they were consistent with claims of Iranian dissidents and "should be of concern" to other nations.
Also on Wednesday, the opposition group National Council of Resistance, the political front for the MEK, "leveled startling but unconfirmed charges...that Iran had bought blueprints for a nuclear bomb and obtained weapons-grade uranium on the black market" and that "Iran was still secretly enriching uranium at an undisclosed Defense Ministry site in Tehran, despite an agreement with the Europeans two days ago to suspend all enrichment activities." [NYT, 11/17] Barry Schweid, an AP diplomatic writer, reports that Powell's statements foreshadow an eventual US submarining of the EU negotiations with Iran:
The Bush administration is not considering talks with Iran on developing nuclear weapons even though Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend a conference next week with diplomats from Iran and other countries.

Already suspicious that Iran is developing such weapons, the administration now has intelligence provided by a resistance group that Iran is trying to adapt missiles to deliver the weapons, Powell said Wednesday....

Britain, France and Germany have struck a deal with Iran that is designed to stop the nuclear enrichment program. If the United States does not join in the agreement, "the deal is dead," he said. "Only the U.S. can give Iran the security guarantees it needs," Cirincione said.
It now appears, though, that this is simply history repeating itself, with the Bush administration using weak intelligence to undermine diplomatic solutions to security problems. Powell's comments were "based on an unvetted, single source who provided information" - reportedly "a 'walk-in' source [who] approached U.S intelligence earlier this month with more than 1,000 pages purported to be Iranian drawings and technical documents, including a nuclear warhead design and modifications to enable Iranian ballistic missiles to deliver an atomic strike." [WP 11/19/04] The source was unknown to US intelligence, the coincidental timing with the MEK announcement is suspicious, and the "weak" intelligence has neither been confirmed, nor turned over to the IAEA for confirmation.

N.B.: The NYT:
Leading the charge for a tough line on Iran has been John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At the moment, administration officials say there are no prominent members of Mr. Bush's inner circle enthusiastic about the European approach of negotiating with Iran; most of the moderates are lower-level areas specialists in the State Department. But only last week Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded Mr. Bush to endorse the European approach.
Update, 11/19/04 1:38 PM EST: "Western" diplomats, presumably American (Bolton?), are accusing Iran of trying to squeeze out one more weekend's worth of enriched uranium precursors prior to implementing the EU negotiated freeze. Is this supposed to be bad news? Doesn't this imply they intend to comply with the freeze?

Update 11/20/04 3:20 AM EST: The Guardian is reporting that the diplomatic reports (which aren't coming solely from US sources) have put the EU-Iran agreement at risk:
A breakthrough deal between Iran and the EU aimed at defusing an international crisis over Tehran's alleged nuclear ambitions was thrown into uncertainty last night when diplomats said Iran was rushing to process feed material for the manufacture of bomb-grade uranium.
The question is whether Iran is producing uranium hexaflouride or tetraflouride. Hexaflouride is ready for the enrichment process.

Media Cynicism

People think there's no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in part because the "fair and balanced" media so cynically perpetuate that idea. Look at this LAT editorial "condemning" the GOP for it's hypocrisy on passing the Delay rule:

Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are predictably huffing that Republicans are showing that "they simply do not care if their leaders are ethical." But Pelosi herself was fined in March by the Federal Election Commission for using multiple political action committees to exceed federal campaign contribution limits.

Still, the Democrats have wised up: They are planning to adopt a rule stating that any indicted leader has to resign his or her position.

As the Republican example shows, the Democrats know that as soon as the rule becomes inconvenient, they can scuttle it.
Rather than engaging in rank speculation about hypothetical Democratic attitudes, why not stick to the case at hand? The GOP, including some of the very people now supporting these ethics rules roll-backs (though we can't be sure because it was a voice vote and GOP congresspeople seem reluctant to fess up), are guilty of in-your-face hypocrisy. "Ethics" is an attack ad, not a commitment, to the GOP. If Pelosi becomes Speaker some day and the Democrats start changing rules to entrench their power, then the LAT can be outraged. Right now, all they are doing is rationalizing Delay's abuses and destroying trust in government.

Constitutional Amendment

Jonathan Chait, in an op-ed arguing that Democrats should embrace the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, says "the NEA is in large part a way of forcing the NASCAR set to subsidize the art house set." Assuming arguendo that the NASCAR set doesn't appreciate good art, Chait still makes a bunch of bad arguments.

First, he compares art to political magazines, arguing that the political magazines have to find wealthy benefactors, so why shouldn't artists? Of course, though, they do - the vast majority of art in this country is produced with private funding. The point, though, is that artists shouldn't be limited to producing what wealthy patrons support or what the the market demands. Neither should political speech, but two wrongs and all that. Government subsidization of art is an explicit endorsement of non-market favored expression, and thereby has an intrinsic and valuable political motive.

Second, in arguing that the NEA forces red states to subsidize blue state expression, he ignores the simple fact that blue states pay more in taxes per person. Why can't we just claim that all the funding for the NEA comes from the blue state surplus? Mainly because there is no constitutional method for doing so. So how about an amendment allowing the passage of unfunded legislation with an opt-in provision allowing state delegations to earmark for them a portion of their tax revenue above the mean burden? Red states don't like the NEA, so lets fund it with blue state money. Red states don't like federal funding of abortion? Let's fund it with blue state money. Of course money is fungible, but this whole stupid argument is about symbolism anyway.

Update, 11/19/04, 2:21 PM EST: Kevin Drum makes the slightly less radical point that eliminating the NEA doesn't benefit Democrats.

Update, 11/20/04, 6:57 PM EST: Yglesias' "culture vouchers" idea is a non-starter - the vast majority of the vouchers would go unspent, and those that were would be too diffuse to actually encourage artistic innovation. There are clear organizational problems that require some centralized allocative control. [blog post here]. Of course, my idea is ludicrous, rather than just unworkable.

Pillaging in the Omnibus Spending Bill

Man, Republican Senators have loaded this spending bill with some egregious environmental riders. They want to:

  • "exempt large livestock and dairy farms from some environmental laws;"

  • "provide billions of dollars for Army Corps of Engineers water projects...to avoid the "hang-ups" over policy issues that prevented them from passing earlier;"

  • "authorize a land exchange to allow oil drilling on what is now part of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska;"

  • "lift a wilderness designation from Georgia's Cumberland Island, opening the largest undeveloped island on the East Coast to commercial development;"

  • "allow commercial fish hatcheries and stocking in protected wilderness areas, national parks and wildlife areas in Alaska;"

  • "exclude grazing permit renewals in national forests from the need for environmental reviews;"

  • "exempt "biological processes" at agriculture operations from requirements of the Superfund law and the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act...to protect large dairy and livestock businesses from lawsuits now in the courts that could require them to publicly report emissions of toxic air pollutants such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from their manure pits."
They appear to have backed off proposals to weaken the Endangered Species Act by "exempt[ing] pesticide users from Endangered Species Act rules" and guaranteeing developers "that once the federal government agreed how much land could be developed and how much must be left undeveloped to protect an endangered plant or animal, it would not rethink its plan."

The Republicans are literally favoring shit over the American people. Is this what a "mandate" means?

11/18/2004

Education and Race

Richard Rothstein in the newest New York Review of Books skirts around an important question concerning racial disparities in educational achievement: why do conservatives like the Thernstroms blame Black culture when there are obviously different incentives for Black and white educational success? In every other performance related field people like the Thernstroms push to eliminate distorted incentives, from environmental regulations to income taxes. Yet in education, where Black Americans, by virtue of employment and wage discrimination, receive significantly smaller rewards for achievement than their white peers, these conservatives blame culture. Yglesias recommends "bribing" kids for their performance, which could potentially reduce the incentive gap.

I'd like to see the same conservatives damn corporate culture for pollution and materialism for the income effect.

On a related note, an incredibly important longitudinal study on the impact of preschool investment released its latest installment, finding that "taxpayers gained about $17 for every tax dollar invested in the Perry program. The gains came mainly through lower spending for criminal justice proceedings and increased tax collection from the higher earnings of Perry alumni."

11/17/2004

NYT: Correction Needed

In an interview, Mr. From pointed out that Republicans invited officials who disagreed with the party's position on abortion rights, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, to speak at their national convention. Democrats should do likewise, he argued.

"I want to win some people who are pro-life, because they probably agree with us on a lot of other things," Mr. From said.

Even that, however, would shock some Democrats. No prominent opponent of abortion has come anywhere near the podium of a Democratic convention since 1992, when abortion rights groups blocked a speech on the subject by Robert P. Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania and an observant Catholic. [David Kirkpatrick, NYT, 11/17/04]
Mediamatters.org corrected this error back in June. Casey had not endorsed Bill Clinton. Other pro-life Democrats spoke at the convention.

By the way, is it too much to ask that "leaders" of the conservative faction of the Democratic Party like From stop spreading malicious distortions? We just elevated a pro-life Mormon, Harry Reid, to the Minority Leader position in the Senate - perhaps From should mention that when he's on his little recrimination kick? The NYT should have mentioned it too.

Jay Jakub

Jay Jakub, the Republican staff director for the House Subcommittee on Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence, was hired onto Goss' CIA staff. Spencer Ackerman reports:

But some CIA officials are particularly concerned about Jay Jakub, a former GOP subcommittee staff director who's now Goss' nebulously titled senior advisor for operations and analysis. Jakub, a principal author of the June intelligence committee report, was a CIA analyst and case officer before serving as chief investigator on ultraconservative Rep. Dan Burton's inquiry into Democratic campaign finance during the 1996 election. "He's widely viewed as having very strong partisan views," says one of Jakub's former CIA colleagues. "Jay leaps too early. He acts on his views, and often doesn't seem like a measured decision maker."
The Barton investigation Ackerman highlights was run by David Bossie, of Citizens United fame, and Barbara Comstock. The Hill reported in 1998 that Jakub "a former CIA analyst considered one of the most talented investigators on the committee, announced that he would be leaving by the end of the month for other opportunities." [Jock Friendly, The Hill, 5/13/98]

National Journal published a bio sketch in 1998:
The House Select Intelligence Committee just enlisted some expertise from the field: Jay Jakub and John T. Stopher. Jakub, 34, spent eight years with the Central Intelligence Agency as an intelligence analyst overseeing security policy in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and comes directly from former CIA director John M. Deutch's now-suspended Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. In between these two jobs, he helped investigate foreign money laundering for the House probe of campaign fund raising during the 1996 election. [Gorman & Zeller, National Journal, 9/19/98]
The Washington Post reported on opinion about Jakub within the intelligence community:
More generally, Goss's aides arrived at the CIA with harsh views of the clandestine service. Their views were laid out in a House intelligence committee report in June. "There is a dysfunctional denial of any need for corrective action," the report said. The clandestine service suffers from "misallocation and redirection of resources, poor prioritization of objectives, micromanagement of field operations and a continued political aversion to operational risk."

The report was drafted primarily by Jay Jakub, whom Goss appointed to the newly created position of special assistant for operations and analysis.

The House report's critique brought on a tough response from then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and led to a near-breakdown in relations between the agency and the panel staff. It was repeatedly noted by present and past clandestine officers that Jakub had a limited career at the agency, first as an analyst and later as a case officer.

"He never distinguished himself before he left," a former boss said.
He has published publicly on Anglo-American intelligence sharing:
1995:04219 The Anglo-American 'special relationship' in the post Cold-War world: much more than meets the eye. Jay Jakub, Defense Analysis

Reports the views expressed at a conference on this topic, held during 10-11 April 1995 at the Centre for Security Studies, University of Hull, and attended by 75 prominent members of the British and American military, academic, political and government establishments. These demonstrated that the relationship is "much more than the media would have us believe... the relationship flourishes in the ease with which Americans and British at the working and mid-management levels share views, information -- often highly sensitive -- and ideas".
Post-graduate student, St John's College, Oxford.
Spies and Saboteurs: Spies and Saboteurs is the story of the origins of the Anglo-American "Special Relationship" in human intelligence collection and special operations, which took place amid the global conflagration that was the Second World War. It is the story of William "Wild Bill" Donovan--the father of America's Central Intelligence Agency--and of his relationship with legendary British spymasters. Relying almost exclusively upon recently declassified OSS and British intelligence documents and survivor interviews, it examines the transatlantic association in espionage and sabotage, guerilla warfare and disinformation. It explores the evolution of covert relations from a "tutorial" arrangement with the US as pupil, to an unequal then full partnership, and ultimately to competition and rivalry in the prosecution of the clandestine war.
In November of 2001, he produced this flowchart [PDF] "to show just how disruptive it would be to create a cabinet-level department to oversee the nation's security." [NYT, 11/27/2001, citing the AP]

Progress on GWS

A British independent investigation called on the Ministry of Defence to recognize Gulf War Syndrome.

The report said all the scientific studies agreed Gulf veterans were twice as likely to suffer from ill health as if they had been deployed elsewhere.

It accepted the illnesses suffered by the veterans were likely to be due to a combination of causes, including multiple injections of vaccines, the use of pesticides to spray tents, low level exposure to nerve gas and the inhalation of depleted uranium dust.
The BBC reported last week on a leaked American investigation pointing to Sarin as a contributor to GWS.

See also BBC report on the inquiry.

Progressive States Rights

It is not true that progressives are hostile to states' rights or local control. To the contrary, some of our lions, like RFK, embraced local control as a necessary aspect of the war on poverty. Poverty has local causes, and needs local solutions - but the federal government has an obligation to foster experimentation.

We are hostile to state decisions that impose costs on the entire country, such as environmental deregulation and state-driven economic races to the bottom, and efforts to punish specific subclasses of the American citizenry, be they women, ethnic or religious minorities, immigrants, or gay men and women. State decisions that impose costs on the rest of the country are opposed because they infringe state's rights - New York has no control over its environment if TVA air pollution migrates north. State efforts to punish subclasses are opposed for violating individual rights, human dignity, and the privileges of American citizenship.

We oppose "States' Rights," a particular historical phenomenon reborn in opposition to integration, not states' rights.

Michelle Goldberg at Salon has a piece predicting increasing progressive reliance on the concept.

What we're seeing, he says, is the growth of blue-state nationalism, a new sort of identity politics forced into life in reaction to the relentless insults of red America. For years now, conservatives have excoriated liberals in almost exactly the same way that previous right-wing movements demonized Jews -- as unwholesomely cosmopolitan, traitorous, decadent, inclined to both socialism and economic elitism. Right-wing authors like Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter routinely try to write their opponents out of the nation.

The administration plays on this animosity. In his recent New York Times Magazine cover story about Bush's faith-based governing, Ron Suskind quotes Bush's media advisor Mark McKinnon. After accusing Suskind of thinking Bush is an idiot, McKinnon goes on to say that "all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered two to one by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!"

Democrats are starting to get this, which is partly why the results of this election felt so personal. "We are being attacked and really caricatured," says Cannavo. "There's been an attack on the blue states as out of touch with the country. You had 48 percent to 51 percent in the election, but the 48 percent is considered somehow illegitimate."

Many of the people in that 48 percent are not content to be ruled by people who, beyond disagreeing with them, seem to despise them. They'll seek other ways to exercise power. "Over the history of this country," says Cannavo, "we have had states taking the lead on certain issues and then even banding together to sue the federal government. The Northeastern states have taken action on air pollution. Can this be magnified in terms of issues like health insurance? Yes. The question, though, is how far can this go. Would you eventually reach a point of a kind of loose federation where you have two countries pursuing their own domestic policies?"

DHS Non-Disclosure Agreements

Via Salon, I see that Spencer Hsu reported yesterday in the Washington Post that DHS has, since May, attempted to get all 180,000 of its employees, as well as local and Congressional homeland security officials and aides, to sign non-disclosure agreements. These agreements limit the disclosure of "any information that could 'adversely affect the national interest or the conduct of federal programs' or violate a person's privacy, a much lower barrier than damaging national security." Those signing the agreement waive many protections, including allowing "government inspections 'at any time or place' to ensure compliance."

This sheds a new light on the successful Republican efforts to deny civil service protections to DHS employees. It will reduce public trust in the DHS apparatus, reduce accountability, and deter whistleblowers. September 11th should have inspired more openness, not less.

Killing of Unarmed Iraqi a Strategic Setback

Dan Murphy of Christian Science Monitor reports that the filmed marine killing of an unarmed Iraqi in Fallujah has undermined US strategy:

Fallujah has long been a center of Iraq's information war - whether it was video of the four mutilated US security contractors there last April that insurgents hoped would demoralize the US, or the pictures of the women and children severely wounded in the retaliatory American assault that followed.

"This incident hasn't elicited the type of shock that Abu Ghraib did - that set a bar in a way, and lowered expectations,'' says Toby Jones, who tracks Islamist trends for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "But this will have a propaganda value that lives on."

On jihadi websites that Mr. Jones follows, the killing has been the top issue. A common theme at such sites has been that the public execution was a matter of policy. "The US did this to state clearly that the occupier will kill you like this if you resist," one typical post begins. The post was read 8,000 times, "pretty high traffic for these types of sites,'' says Jones.

11/16/2004

Noah Feldman

I just attended a New America Foundation brown bag on Noah Feldman's What We Owe Iraq. His argument is that we have an ethical obligation to provide Iraqis a viable opportunity to establish an effective constitutional democracy. This entails increasing our commitment to stabilizing the security situation, stimulating the development of a legitimate bargaining authority within the Sunni insurgency, and persuading Kurds and Shiites to recognize the necessity of political compromise, rather than theological decisionism. [See press on Feldman's book: WSJ, WSJ, NYT, NYT (first chapter) - more from Feldman at NAF].

Three observations:

1. Feldman is reframing "realism." There is little room for ethics in classic international realism, and the very question of what we "owe" Iraq is foreign to the traditional conception, except to the extent that apparent adherence to an ethical vision strengthens our security interests [i.e., Geneva conventions, enabling constraints]. His argument was that Americans needed to be able to wake up in the morning and look at themselves in the mirror without feeling abject shame. That would be a nice development, but I suspect that Feldman is overestimating the percentage of the American population that is capable of feeling shame, and more specifically, capable of feeling shame about our treatment of Iraqis. A better standard might be for the rest of the world to be able to look through the window and not think "death to America." Feldman appears to be backdooring into a broader theoretical debate about the relationship between international legitimacy, fidelity to international ethical and legal norms and multilateral institutions and American national security interests. This debate needs to be addressed head on. (n.b.: I haven't read Feldman's book - he may cover all this ground therein.)

2. Neoconservatives mean something different by "democracy" than ethical realists like Feldman. This is a topic I have been meaning to address for some time, as the American conversation on democratization is hopelessly muddled without clarification. Neoconservative "democratization" is a strategy for pacification, of using the pageantry and trappings of popular sovereignty to channel political and social discord into mediating institutions. There is no other way to synchronize the neoconservative embrace of democratization, of the militarized imposition of democratic institutions, with their goal of reducing anti-Americanism and support for radical Islam.

To an ethical realist, channeling public discontent into mediating institutions is an important part of democratization, but a side benefit, rather than the entire ball game. They (we?) view democracy as a moral good in its own right, a system in which people are capable of realizing their preferences and being recognized as legitimate participants in the exercise of authority. Even if we could fiat the development of democratic institutions in Iraq, we would still have the difficult task of winning the support, respect, and trust of the Iraqi people. We won't be made safer by a legitimate election in Iraq, we will be safer if the Iraqi people stop hating us.

[William Robinson (warning: Chomskyist undertones) calls the neoconservative conception of democracy "polyarchy," which is unfortunate, as "polyarchy" has been used by Dahl, among others, to mean something almost exactly opposite. See Robinson's comments on Iraq here.]

3. This administration has screwed everything up. Not enough troops, not enough planning, not enough smarts. Had I the chance to ask Feldman a question, it would have been if he had submitted his resume to the Heritage Foundation. Why else would this administration let him advise Bremer?

Update, 11/16/04, 10:48 PM EST: Matt Yglesias also attended the event. His take is here. He undervalues Feldman's contribution; of course the best case scenario laid out in the talk was extemely unlikely, and the reward minimal. That's why it's a shitty situation. The value of the book is that it attempts to visualize a way out, something to work toward. To this point, I haven't seen an actual, coherent theory on how to salvage anything in Iraq - Feldman gives us something to work toward, however unlikely.

11/14/2004

Railroad Astroturf Operation

The NYT follows up its article on the conflict of interest-ridden railroad industry regulators with a look at one of the astroturf organizations spawned by the industry to wage a PR campaign on its behalf. Union Pacific, the same rail operator that has taken advantage of close administration ties to foster a "partnership" approach to regulation, founded a non-profit, Operation Lifesaver, to inform drivers of the risks of railroad crossings. At first glance, that seems like an admirable public service; just below the surface, though, is a PR operation targeted at judges and police officers to convince them that the legal liability for railroad crossing accidents is born by the driver.

Industries that are willing to deceptively manipulate the legal system cannot be trusted with voluntary regulatory compliance.

Operation Lifesaver has a response to the article, laying out railroad accident statistics. It doesn't address the substantive allegations.

"Opinion News"

The AP asks if a "backlash loom[s] against opinion news." It has a good run down of recent challenges to the media practice, including John Stewart's appearance on Crossfire, David Westin's Harvard University speech, some of Michael Kinsley's recent writing, and the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. I would add John Carrol's May broadside against pseudo-journalism, the creation of mediamatters.org and the publication of Brock's Republican Noise Machine, the publication of Mooney's CJR article on science reporting, and much of the work at Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk.

I wasn't familiar with the Oct. speech by ABC News President David Westin. It is reported in the Harvard Crimson.

Separation of Powers

The Bush administration continues to undermine the system of checks and balances, again with the willing acquiescence of the institutions that offer the supposed check. Reuters is reporting Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's "Fox News Sunday" comments on Arlen Specter:

A Republican senator who has questioned whether an abortion opponent could win approval to the U.S. Supreme Court must agree to back President Bush's nominees if he is to head the committee acting on those nominations, the Senate's Republican leader said.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has yet to make a persuasive case that he should head the panel, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said on "Fox News Sunday."

The committee's actions in considering nominees for anticipated vacancies during Bush's second term will help shape the court's balance of power.

"I would expect Chairman Specter ... if it's Chairman Specter ... to have a strong predisposition to supporting that nominee sent over by President Bush," Frist said.
Has there ever been a Senate Majority Leader less protective of Senate powers and prerogatives? The Constitutional Advise and Consent clause is more than just a request that Senators sign on the dotted line.

As we are seeing with the CIA and DoJ, this is what happens when the President elevates loyalists over qualified, independent voices. Unlike the agencies, though, the Senate is not supposed to serve the White House.

Update, 6:50 PM EST: The AP has a more complete update on the status of the Specter situation.

 

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