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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 16 March 2004

Topic: Bush

Do you want to be outraged? Try this little investigation of how the need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.

Timothy Noah is always a fun read.

And today he gives us this. He's getting on George Bush's case, in a magazine that has pretty much become the Anyone-But-Kerry voice on the left. Led by their staff writer Mickey Kaus they may eventually come out for Ralph Nader or Lyndon Larouche or whoever isn't John Kerry, but they can still publish a cool critique of the president.

See Information Is Treason: Why Bush is worse than Reagan
Timothy Noah. SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2004, at 4:51 PM PT

Basically, Noah here wants to illustrate Bush's "unique contribution to the war against empiricism, which continues to escalate."

Well, silly me, I've always been kind of fond of empiricism. That only means I'm living in the wrong century.

Here's the opening:
"Facts are stupid things," President Ronald Reagan said in a famous self-parodying moment. (He'd meant to say "facts are stubborn things.") At the time, a common criticism of the Reagan presidency was that the Gipper tended to ignore facts and act instead according to the dictates of ideology. Since then, sentimental revisionists have come to praise Reagan for paying facts little heed.

Although it flatters President George W. Bush to suggest he possesses anything so grand as an ideology, Dubya emulates the Reagan technique. But he's advanced it one bold step further.

Rather than simply ignore information, Bush and his minions have resolved to suppress it or, better yet, to prevent it from being created in the first place.
Well, that's not nice at all.

But Noah gives three examples.

Noah notes that in the January/February issue of the Atlantic, James Fallows reported that in May 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency began a series of war games aimed at predicting conditions in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. This was, in light of the chaos that later descended on Iraq after the United States victory, a very wise thing to do.

Noah quotes Fallows -
[O]ne recurring theme in the exercises was the risk of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad....The CIA...considered whether a new Iraqi government could be put together through a process like the Bonn conference, which was then being used to devise a post-Taliban regime for Afghanistan. At the Bonn conference representatives of rival political and ethic groups agreed on the terms that established Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan President. The CIA believed that rivalries in Iraq were so deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.
Yeah, well that was on the money.

But Noah points out the Pentagon thought this anaysis was all wet, and quotes Fallows:

Representatives from the Defense Department were among those who participated in the first of these CIA war-game sessions. When their Pentagon superiors at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) found out about this, in early summer, the representatives were reprimanded and told not to participate further. "OSD" is Washington shorthand, used frequently in discussions about the origins of Iraq war plans, and it usually refers to strong guidance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, [Deputy Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, [Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas] Feith, and one of Feith's deputies, William Luti. Their displeasure over the CIA exercise was an early illustration of a view that became stronger throughout 2002: that postwar planning was an impediment to war.

Because detailed thought about the postwar situation meant facing costs and potential problems, and thus weakened the case for launching a "war of choice" (the Washington term for a war not waged in immediate self-defense), it could be seen as an "antiwar" undertaking.
Yep, these guys with their study didn't have the right attitude.

Noah asserts that in the Reagan era, Defense Department employees would likely have been permitted to participate in such an exercise; if what they learned from it displeased Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, he would have simply ignored it. But Noah asserts that in the Bush administration Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon "boldly declared it unpatriotic merely to know how the war games turned out."

As a few readers know, my former father-in-law was one of the assistant secretaries of defense in the Reagan administration. I visited with him at the Pentagon. I didn't sense then such an ideological fervor to always be wary of folks with odd views - folks who might be right in some way that made everyone uncomfortable. Heck, they let even me in the door. And they chatted with me. It was a looser time. This current crew would have me still standing in the parking lot.

Okay fine. Another example?

Noah goes over the story that Knight-Ridder broke a few days ago - the Medicare business. As you recall, Knight-Ridder (Tony Pugh) reported that Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, was ordered last June by Medicare administrator Tom Scully not to share with members of Congress his estimate that the then-pending Medicare drug bill would cost $156 billion more than they'd been led to believe. (After Congress passed the bill, the White House budget office revised its formal estimate by $139 billion.) According to Foster, Scully threatened to fire him if he showed his cost estimate to anyone in Congress. Foster considered resigning in protest.

In short, this bill was not going to pass if some traditionally small-government Republicans found out the real cost. They'd be pissed. So? Don't tell them. If you try to tell them? You'd lose your job. The Noah article has much more detail, but that's the basic idea.

And of the whole lie-to-your-own-party business Noah has this to say:
1.) The political hack in question blocked information output, not input. Prohibiting output is worse than prohibiting input because when you prohibit input there's at least the hope that a third party (say, the CIA) will make use of the shunned information. When you prohibit output, nobody gets the information. According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, not even President Bush had a clue that his Medicare bill cost in excess of $100 billion more than he'd thought until long after he signed it into law.

2.) The penalty for disobedience was not reprimand, but firing, which is self-evidently worse.
Well, these guy play hardball. And they were backing the president. And they did, after all, get the bill passed.

Ha, ha.

Noah's last example is the something that was covered in the Los Angeles Times today. Heck, I was just sipping coffee and scratching Harriet-the-Cat behind her ears when it caught my eye. Tom Hamburger and Alan C. Miller explained that Environmental Protection Agency staffers were told not to perform routine scientific and economic analysis for a proposed regulation governing mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. According to "EPA veterans" consulted by Hamburger and Miller, this is "unprecedented for a major rulemaking." And they ran down Russell Train, a Republican who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford presidencies, who called it "outrageous."

Yeah, yeah. And it seems that because this was so blatantly pro-industry there was a big noise about it all. The EPA administrator, Michael Leavitt, is now calling for additional study - well, he's calling for the analysis that should have been done before the rule was proposed. Oops.

Curiously this executive order that called for bypassing the basic science stuff came down when Christine Todd Whitman was running the EPA - and she says she didn't know about it, and that had she known, she'd have stopped such nonsense. Yeah, right. Well, she's gone.

Who is responsible? The Times guys say the instruction not to perform scientific and economic analysis came from William Wehrum, a high-ranking aide to Jeffrey R. Holmstead, the EPA's Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation. And Noah adds this:
Holmstead was present when Wehrum rendered his pronouncement, and remained silent while EPA staffers objected. This resolute stance may owe something to the fact that Holmstead and Wehrum, before coming to the EPA, were attorneys at the law firm Latham & Watkins, where Holmstead represented a utility group called the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy. As it happens, several paragraphs in the proposed rule were lifted word-for-word from a memo prepared by Latham & Watkins.
Ah yes, Latham & Watkins. I've dealt with them too. But that's another story, involving data my systems guys provided them when I worked at Hughes Electronics so they could defend that aerospace firm against lawsuits from angry former employees. None of this is surprising.

Anyway, Noah says this "EPA End Run carries the logic of the Medicare Lockdown one exquisite step further." The idea is that rather than prevent the dissemination of information, Holmstead and Wehrum took care that no such information be generated in the first place.

You see that pattern here?

Someone studies something and the conclusion suggests your war may be whole lot more expensive and messy than you'd like? You don't want to know. It would be unpatriotic to know such things, or at least it would be so negative to think that way. A positive attitude works wonders? Maybe.

Someone has financial facts that would mean you'd lose the vote because the damned Medicare bill is too expensive? Let that someone know if any member of congress asks him for the numbers, and he tells them the truth, he'll get fired.

The proposed regulation of something toxic might cost your political contributors a bundle? Make sure the science isn't done - forbid any studies on the matter.

Facts? Who needs them? Ignore them as "defeatist." Or make sure they never get out. Or make sure they're never developed at all.

As I said, I've always been kind of fond of empiricism. I am living in the wrong century.

But Noah may be wrong regarding Bush and his crew.

Any organization with any power does such things. Vote Bush and this crew out? Kerry might do the same, or Ralph Nader, or Lyndon Larouche. To think otherwise is to be na?ve. The need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.

Posted by Alan at 21:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 March 2004 21:26 PST home


Topic: The Economy

Economic Theory - Our Leader Explains What Is Happening

Note that George Bush said this in Washington, on February 19, 2004 - and Jacob Weisberg is forever finding more.

"Recession means that people's incomes, at the employer level, are going down, basically, relative to costs, people are getting laid off."

A textual analysis? Employers (people at the employer level) are seeing their incomes decline. They're making less money. Or their money doesn't go as far as it used to go - their income is declining relative to the costs of what they want. Employers have a diminished ability to buy the things they like to buy. Big cars? Jeweled watches? Whatever.

That is to say, basically, all sorts of stuff just costs relatively more for these people who employ others. Bummer. It's a real shame. Thus employers lay off workers. Who knows why? Apparently they think that laying of a few more people might help.

And this then is how you define a recession.

Implied here is the idea that if employers just made more money, and the cost of goodies remained constant, then these employers might not lay off so many people.

Thus it would seem the way to end a recession is to make sure employers make more money. Those at the top need to have more money. For some reason not given here it seems that might make them stop laying off people.

Of course Bush here could mean something else entirely. It's hard to tell.

Posted by Alan at 19:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Monday, 15 March 2004

Topic: Bush

And eight days after International Women's Day?
Some crazy woman doubts our president has his heart in the right place!
Not nice at all...


This is an example of how listing events in order can make you think subversive thoughts. It's an old trick.

See Bush's feminine side: The president's record on women's rights sits ill with his pose as saviour of the hijab-wearing masses
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday March 16, 2004

Here's the indictment -

George and Laura Bush invited a number of their closest Afghan and Iraqi women friends to a reception at the White House the other day. In his remarks, Mr Bush was nostalgic about his first meeting with the guest of honour: Raja Habib Khuzai, one of three women on the US-appointed Iraqi governing council. Apparently she turned up for her audience at the Oval Office weeping tears of joy, declaring: "My liberator."

It is a fairly safe guess that would not be a typical female reaction to meeting Mr Bush. On the very first day of his presidency, he imposed a ban on US foreign aid to any agency offering abortion advice. A year later, the US government withheld more than $30m for a United Nations population control programme because it espoused "reproductive rights". It also opposed UN measures to help girls and women raped during times of war in case that assistance included advice about the morning-after pill or abortion. Programmes for Aids victims have been advised not to mention the word "condom".

At home, the White House closed its office for women's outreach, the labour department's network of women's offices and other agencies monitoring gender discrimination at the workplace. Last September, Mr Bush proposed diverting $2bn in welfare funds to programmes promoting marriage. Two months later, he presided over the most significant retreat on abortion rights in 30 years by signing into law a ban on late terminations.

But with an election next November, that record is inconvenient. Mr Bush would much rather be remembered in his new role as the global saviour of downtrodden women, the liberator of Ms Khuzai and so many other hapless, hijab-wearing millions.

To that end, Mr Bush enlisted his normally retiring wife, Laura, to make an opening speech. He also announced the appointment of both his sister, Dorothy, and a daughter of the vice-president, Dick Cheney, to a UN commission on the status of women.

The centrepiece of Bush's argument was that America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan not to fight al-Qaida or to hunt out and destroy a dictator's weapons of mass destruction, but to improve their sorry lot in life.
Well he did.

You might click on the link and read the whole thing. It's enough to make anyone but Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell angry.

Posted by Alan at 21:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: The Law

But wait! There's more. Soon congress will have the power to reverse the decisions of the Supreme Court. Cool.

In the magazine yesterday, buried at the end of the item on Mel Gibson and George Bush, I mentioned there is a new 'Constitution Restoration Act' before congress.

This is a new bill submitted in both houses to limit the jurisdiction the Supreme Court and federal district courts over cases involving any federal, state, or local government official who "publicly acknowledges God as the source of law, liberty, or government." If passed, you cannot stop that official from saying God's will trumps the law and the constitution.

Sounds like theocracy is on the way.

Judge Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, introduced the bill at a press conference in Washington last month. You remember he was removed from office because he refused to take down a Ten Commandments display he placed in the state courthouse building.

Facts?

Robert Aderholt (R-AL) introduced a bill into the U.S. House of Representatives in February - the "Constitution Restoration Act," or H.R. 3799. There are seven co-sponsors to the bill, and it has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review. The co-sponsors of the House version of the bill are Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Robert Cramer (R-AL), Terry Everett (R-AL), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Mike Pence (R-IN), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Mike Rogers (R-AL).

Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced the same "Constitution Restoration Act" into the Senate in February as S. 2082. There are five co-sponsors to the Senate version of the bill, and it is under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill are Wayne Allard (R-CO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Zell Miller (D-GA).

These guys all say this bill say it was designed to counter "the radical judicial activism that has taken place in recent years to remove any reference to God in American society." They say too many legal decisions are an effort to secularize government and remove moral standards in the law.

And we cannot have that, can we?

But wait! There's more. There's a second bill that actually proposes that congress should be allowed to reverse the decisions of the Supreme Court.

You could look it up. Here's the relevant text:

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

March 9, 2004

Mr. Lewis of Kentucky (for himself, Mr. DeMint, Mr. Everett, Mr. Pombo, Mr. Coble, Mr. Collins, Mr. Goode, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Franks of Arizona, Mr. Hefley, Mr. Doolittle, and Mr. Kingston) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and in addition to the Committee on Rules, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

A BILL

To allow Congress to reverse the judgments of the United States Supreme Court.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the Congressional Accountability for Judicial Activism Act of 2004.

2. CONGRESSIONAL REVERSAL OF SUPREME COURT JUDGMENTS.

The Congress may, if two thirds of each House agree, reverse a judgment of the United States Supreme Court?

(1) if that judgment is handed down after the date of the enactment of this Act; and

(2) to the extent that judgment concerns the constitutionality of an Act of Congress.

3. PROCEDURE.

The procedure for reversing a judgment under section 2 shall be, as near as may be and consistent with the authority of each House of Congress to adopt its own rules of proceeding, the same as that used for considering whether or not to override a veto of legislation by the President.

4. BASIS FOR ENACTMENT.

This Act is enacted pursuant to the power of Congress under article III, section 2, of the Constitution of the United States.
Two of my regular readers are lawyers, and took the usual courses in Constitutional Law.

Can they do this? I'd guess so.

The congress shall have the power to make null and void what the judicial branch decides? Why not give the president that power? Co-equal branches of government in a balance of powers? How silly.

Legal opinions are welcome here.

Posted by Alan at 19:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: World View

Spain Pulls Out of the Coalition of Grudgingly Willing - A Second Round of Scrutiny from the Other Side of the Pond

Spain? Obviously a nation of pragmatists or, looking at it the other way, a nation of cowards who don't see the nobility of our war on all evil and full of folks with an unreasonable hatred of the heroic George Bush... that is, in Spain the craven appeasers of terrorism have won.

Take your choice.

First up we have Matthew Yglesias - a Writing Fellow at The American Prospect magazine in Washington, DC. In addition, his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Center for American Progress, and Tech Central Station. Yglesias is a 2003 graduate of Harvard where he majored in philosophy, was Editor in Chief of The Harvard Independent and wrote an honors thesis on the implications of John Rawls' political liberalism for public education. And he has a blog.

Here he suggests the bombing and surprising election in Spain is good for the conservatives here in the United States - it sets up a model:

The right would like to set up the following argument: If there are no attacks between now and the election, then Bush has defended us from terror and deserves re-election; if there is an attack between now and the election, then voting for Kerry would be appeasement. Spain is just the dry-run.
So young. So cynical.

And then he adds this:

On The Other Hand

If -- as much of the right keeps telling me -- yesterday's election in Spain really is a victory for al-Qaeda in the war on terror, and George W. Bush is leading the global war on terror, does it follow that Bush is mismanaging our side and leading to our defeat?
This fellow is fond of snarky logic. Harvard corrupts people, doesn't it?

Then there is Christopher Hitchens. He weighs in today.

See To Die in Madrid: The nutty logic that says Spain provoked Islamist terrorism
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM, Posted Monday, March 15, 2004, at 12:28 PM PT

I must admit this whole item was so heavily sarcastic even I could make little of what he was getting at. And I LIKE sarcasm. Most of it seems to be an argument that no matter what anyone nation does - support Bush or repudiate him or just shrug - the bad guys will kill anyone anywhere. And that is just the way it is. Spain can stay in Iraq or go home. Same for the UK or Australia or Japan or Fiji. Even we can stay or go home. It doesn't matter one whit.

So what should we do?

Hitchens ends with this:

I find I can't quite decide what to recommend in the American case. I thought it was a good idea to remove troops from Saudi Arabia in any event (after all, we had removed the chief regional invader). But, even with the troops mainly departed, bombs continue to detonate in Saudi streets. We are, it seems, so far gone in sin and decadence that no repentance or penitence can be adequate. Perhaps, for the moment, it's enough punishment, and enough shame, just to know that what occurred in Madrid last week is all our fault. Now, let that sink in.
Hitchens suggests a problem that admits of no possible solution. I guess he was having a bad day.

Josh Marshall on the other hand does a more useful analysis. Here's some of it.

Let's fall back for a moment and think about what this whole fight is about. Al Qaida (and militant Islam generally) sees itself as the inheritor of a world-historical religious movement which, according to their view of cosmology and eschatology, is supposed to be at the vanguard of history. In the orthodox Muslim view of history, the `lands of Islam' expand but they never recede. The Islamic world should be the most powerful, the most advanced by various measures, probably the wealthiest. Viewed from that perspective almost everything about the contemporary world is turned upside down, almost a blasphemy in itself. The US, from their perspective both a secular and a Christian power, is the dominant power even in the heartlands of Islam. Add to this that our secularism is another level of blasphemy. From the perspective of revanchist, militant Islam, almost everything about today's world is nearly the opposite of what they believe their religion says it should be. (Thus, they're somewhat aggravated.)

So the whole point of this endeavor is to sweep us out of the heartlands of Islam, put Islam back on the march on its frontiers and purify the religion itself within the Abode of Islam, as they call it.

From that point the whole program becomes more muddled and inchoate, but whether they want to reestablish the caliphate within the existing lands of Islam or take over the whole world or whatever doesn't really matter for our present purposes.

The key point is that it's not hard to see how invading and occupying part of the heartland of Islam is going to rile them up a bit since it brings into sharper relief their whole worldview of a cataclysmic struggle between the West and Islam. (In itself that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. But even if we supposed there would be positive effects, we'd have to realize that there would be at least short-term negative ones as well.) Whether they use our presence there cynically (as yet another rallying cry to bring followers to their side) or whether it just confirms them in their view of the reality of the situation is also not all that relevant for our present purposes.

We know for instance that over the last several years al Qaida has spoken more and more about Palestine --- an issue with which it didn't originally seem to have that much interest. And they started to do the same with Iraq just as the US increasingly turned its attention to the country. But again, that doesn't really prove anything more than al Qaida's opportunism or their addled worldview, take your pick.

Many of us are familiar with early- and mid-20th century Communists or modern-day LaRouchies who will glom onto almost any movement or issue under the sun in order to use it as a vehicle to advance their own interests and enhance their own power. I don't think there's that much difference in this case.

In just such fashion, in the middle decades of the 20th century, Communists sought to infiltrate the American Civil Rights movement --- repeatedly and, by and large, remarkably unsuccessfully. The analogy is imperfect certainly. But the parallels are telling. The point wasn't that the Civil Rights movement was Communist, but that Communists were trying to use the movement for its own purposes. Attacking the Civil Rights movement as part of attacking Communism wouldn't have damaged Communism but rather strengthened it since doing so would have tended to push those committed to Civil Rights into the Communists' arms. Indeed, this was precisely the idea.

Of course, there were those who had their own reasons for attacking both the Communists and the Civil Rights Movement. For them, this equation the Communists were trying to create between Communism and Civil Rights wasn't a distraction but rather a convenience. And those folks most definitely have their modern-day equivalents among us now as well, though we can focus on that point at a later time.

In any case, just because al Qaida has adopted the Iraq cause as their own doesn't mean we've damaged al Qaida by taking down the Baathist regime --- especially by doing it so incompetently. Just as likely --- in fact far more likely --- is that we've just handed them a useful recruiting tool while distracting ourselves from pursuing more effective means of extirpating them.
In short? Just what Hitchens said, without the sarcasm. The war was a dumb idea and didn't help with terrorism at all.

So it doesn't matter if Spain pulls out of the Coalition of Grudgingly Willing. They're not more safe. They're not less safe. This is an al Qaida effort beyond all that. It really doesn't matter.

Hey, if they want to toss out the fellow who kissed Bush's butt in spite of most everyone saying that was really dumb, well, more power too them. As if it matters...

Posted by Alan at 19:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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