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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Ames



Talking Points Memo follows up a point made in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof: Plame's identity may already have been compromised by Aldrich Ames. I wonder if this connects to the parsing issue? But, again, I can't really see a way in which it does.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Parsing



It's close to becoming conventional wisdom that there is something fishy going on with the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, repeating that various White House officials were definitely not involved with "the release of classified information": Needlenose; Talking Points Memo; Atrios; Orcinus.

These people are so smart that it worries me that I don't get this. TPM quotes, for example, today's WH press briefing:

QUESTION: Scott, earlier this week you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wondered if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MCCLELLAN: Those individuals -- I talked -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that's where it stands.

QUESTION: So none of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MCCLELLAN: They assured me that they were not involved in this.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: They were not involved in what?

MCCLELLAN: The leaking of classified information.

QUESTION: Did you undertake that of your own volition, or were you
instructed to go to these --

MCCLELLAN: I spoke to those individuals myself.


Now, I do see that McClellan is talking here about clearing people of "the leaking of classified information", not the "outing of Valerie Plame", and he clearly avoids using the latter sort of language. But he has been hanging on grimly to the former sort of language since the WaPo article came out, so as far as I can see that means nothing special as far as the Rove/Abrams/Libby trio goes.

The only argument I have seen which attempts to parse the distinction such that McClellan is saying that these individuals are innocent of "the leaking of classified information" without making a statement on Plame is Orcinus'. He relies on the Isikoff/Newsweek article to say that the difference in language is because the White House is going to go on to argue that the individuals concerned did not know that Plame was covert. Thus, Orcinus argues, McClellan can say they did not "leak classified information" because they did not know the information was classified.

But this is a bizarre reading of what McClellan is saying, and he surely couldn't get away with this. If he was saying "They did not leak information they knew to be classified" then fine. But everyone now knows Plame was covert. So if they released her identity, then they did leak classified information.

Suppose I were lost in a strange town and were to be asked: "Did you walk down Silver Street?" Well, being lost and generally mistaken I might at that time say "No." But if I later discovered that Silver Street was somewhere I did walk down, it just, right then, ceases to be [amended: possible for me truthfully to say] that I did not walk down Silver Street.

I can't see any ambiguity in the McClellan phrasing, to be blunt, that would give him the wiggle room if Rove et al are guilty to get away with this. So I don't, yet, buy the argument the above stars of blogworld are making: it still seems likely to me that the McClellan phrasing has more to do with wanting to influence the presentation of the story in the media as "just Washington games", as part of a larger phenomenon rather than a specific crime, ect ect.





Kettles



Various people in a hilarious comment thread on Eschaton are having naughty fun with the latest from Krugman-stalker Donald Luskin.


Let it simply be said that it is not maximally convincing to argue that one is on the side of civility when

It says rather a lot for Krugman's own dignity and civility that he appears to have given up trying to respond to the vast mountains of shit produced by Luskin; to do more would be to draw attention to someone else's embarrassing personal problem, and what could be more uncivil than that?

Greatness II



Paul Krugman, too.

Tenets



An unanswered question in Plamegate, as far as I can see:

Most people seem to think that someone familiar with the thinking of George Tenet was the source for the original WaPo story, including the information that two senior White House officials called at least six journalists with the news. Just as there is a potential is-this-a-conspiracy question involving how exactly the White House officials got to know that Amb. Wilson's wife was a CIA operative, it occurs to me that I can't see how George Tenet, or someone like him, could come to know exactly what two senior White House officials had said to at least six journalists. Without going all Parallax View about this question, was he part of discussions on the punish-Wilson strategy, or what?

(this thought inspired by the recently revived Calpundit's latest on the topic).

Aquinas



Oxblogger Patrick Belton points to a rather odd article in the Torygraph, in which Michael Barone attempts to connect Gray Davis' troubles in California with contemporary problems for Tony Blair. The defence of the claim that there are lessons for Blair to learn here, above and beyond those which might be learned from the study of any election anywhere, is ... well, Barone is clearly trading on his comparative advantage in writing about US politics and has managed to sell this to the Telegraph, so good luck to him, however unconvincing his theme.

What struck me in the article, though, was the way Barone (who I guess is right of centre) appears to have solved the medieval problem of the uncaused cause, the primum mobile if I remember my hack medieval Latin properly. It turns out that the uncaused cause is in fact the California energy crisis:

But in 2001, prices on the spot market spiked, the utilities went bankrupt and rates had to be increased much more.

You see, the prices just "spiked". No gaming the system by energy companies or anything like that - it just happened, uncaused. St Thomas would be so proud.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Greatness



Ronald Dworkin is a great man.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Tedium


Progressive blogger Atrios is bored on (or perhaps during?) his/her Eschaton.

In other, apparently unexciting, news, the biggest scandal since Watergate, the weirdest election since the last weird election, WWIII imminent, etc etc.

(Personally I can entertain myself just by watching the flashes of light that happen with the stress headache I get every time I think about North Korea.)

Moving



What I think is the first de novo post at Mark A. R. Kleiman's new site is, in the circumstances, rather restrained and lacking in jubilation. The left-blogger who did more than more or less all of American journalism put together to keep the Plame flame (sorry) going points to the latest evidence that even eager Bushites, like Daniel W. Drezner, might be pretty unhappy with Bush's answer yesterday to a question about l'affaire Plame.

The White House's handling of the matter is very little improved, I think, even in basic PR terms, over the earliest period of the story - they still don't really seem to have a handle on what they ought to be saying. Various hypothetical defenses have collapsed like wet cardboard, and they have little to show to back up the claim that they are keen to catch the criminals. The credibility of this claim is, I think, crucial.

What really matters is how fast the DoJ investigation can keep moving. If they can make progress in the medium term - say within a month or two - I think the DoJ can keep control and the WH can look serious about investigating felonies among its senior officials. If the DoJ investigation is clearly not making progress by some point after that - say, by the New Year - then, surely, the appointment of a Special Counsel will be unavoidable if the administration is not to appear to be sitting on evidence of a serious crime in the White House.

The thing I'm less sure about is this. The White House would not, other things being equal, want to run into election year as the pro-treason administration. So what exactly is it that prevents them from taking positive action to identify the felons - the sort of thing that Kleiman's readers have suggested, for example, which would give them a little short-term pain but a lot of credit thereafter? There seem to be two possible answers. The first is that the administration is committed to loyalty as an organising principle: as such, if so-and-so says he had nothing to do with the leak then, as far as the administration is concerned, that's an end to the matter. No-one is going to be thrown to the wolves by this administration. There is, of course, some power to this argument. The second possible answer is that the identification would be so damaging that it needs to be avoided or at least postponed. It's difficult to imagine why that would be, but it feels like there has to be at least an element of it in the explanation of why the White House is being so passive.


The Fiscal Crisis of the States



Are there any US state governors out there who are actually popular right now? Any time any of them goes near an election they seem to get chopped in two - thinking of not just the gropinator, but also the Riley tax referendum in Alabama, the 2002 gubernatorial elections, and so on.

So, is there, somewhere, a state which is actually doing ok?

Update
The NYT has a half-sensible story - this is happening elsewhere - with the somewhat odd line:

But more than a measure of the strength of each political party, the unseating of a sitting governor 11 months after he was re-elected was the latest sign of the power of the anti-establishment wave that has been roiling American politics since at least the emergence of Ross Perot in 1992.

1992-2003 would, of course, be the same "anti-establishment wave" that saw Republicans keeping control of the Senate and House in five successive elections from 1994, and the comfortable re-election of a sitting President in 1996.



Tuesday, October 07, 2003

'Shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed'


Quoth CNN:
"I want to know the truth," the president told reporters after a meeting with his Cabinet. "I want to see to it that the truth prevails."

But, he added, "This is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the 'senior administration official.' "


Isn't it the, singular, 'senior administration official' who told the world about the felony, but the two, plural, lots of, more than one, 'top White House officials' who committed it, in the original WaPo story? Has Bush just revealed what the White House is really trying to get out of the investigation?


Where did it all go wrong?



A confession of selfishness in response to world events.

In 2000-1, I was teaching US politics in Cambridge - the best class I've ever taught, by a long way, and a really fulfilling professional experience. I worked as hard as I could to get non-Americans to read American politics properly, to understand that it's not evil just (a bit) different.

And at exactly that point, halfway through my lectures, it (the US, subject of my fond thoughts since my teenage years) all went totally pearshaped and started smelling like a durian. I still can't quite bring myself to believe that all that many people voted for Bush; I couldn't, working on the Supreme Court as I do, quite bring myself to think the Js would (i) take Bush v. Gore on ; (ii) do anything non-unanimous; (iii) interfere with state electoral mechanics. And I still can't quite bring myself to believe that it didn't provoke a sustained outcry. And then every time I have been in the US post-911 I have wanted to get out as quickly as possible, and when I was in the US during the Iraq war I could hardly bear to watch or read the news despite being a total news junkie *and* thinking that on the whole the war was justifiable.

All that Americophilia I used to have now hangs by the thread that GWB might, just might, be rejected in 04. I don't know what I'll do if he isn't - probably start working on Canada or Australia or wherever. But I wish I had known this would happen when I decided to become an Americanist.

UPDATE: I talked to a colleague earlier today to whom it had not really occurred that GWB might be re-elected. From this anecdote I conclude, magisterially, that the rest of the world is in denial about this.


Thick



Tech Central Station does its thang on Open Source:

Maybe my business school coursework rendered me blind to the glorious vision of a "gift culture" in which people contribute their work to a decentralized development project like Linux for honor instead of money. Or possibly I'm just too thick to understand how cutting off a multi-billion dollar revenue stream from software sales, without putting anything else in its place, could be good for the software business.

Y'know, I'm given to believe the invention of the automobile was pretty darn bracing for the carriage-making business. Also that there are companies with an actual revenue stream from Open Source.

Conclusions:
i) Four words of the TCS piece are accurate;
ii) Business school is an oxymoron;
iii) Folk anthropology can be hazardous for your intellectual health.



Propriety



Eugene Volokh says:

I think it's quite proper for country A that's under attack by terrorists headquartered in country B to attack those terrorists, if country B won't do it for them (it may sometimes not be prudent, though it's also not prudent to get a reputation as being the sort of country that lets others get away with it)

I wonder if this is really true that it's not prudent to get a reputation as being the sort of country that doesn't pursue terrorists across borders. At various points in the 1970s it was clearly the case that the UK was being constrained from overtly pursuing IRA members across the border into the Republic where at least some of them were based and many successfully sought shelter. It was also pretty clear that this caused some serious difficulty. I think Peter Taylor's excellent book "Brits: the war against the IRA" talks about this a bit.

But caution won out, and the IRA were clearly pursued across borders only in the most covert ways, and... well, I think that turns out to have been darned prudent. Even if the IRA were to return to violence in a systemic way, I think the political advances made in part because of that care over borders have been worth it, and would significantly reduce its legitimacy. Moreover, the reputation does not seem to have encouraged further attacks by other organisations to any great degree. So, really: no. The reputational effect is minimal compared to the direct political effect. Country A is soaking the ground with petrol and waving a match. There are scary people in charge.

(This last bit is a bit of a theme of mine right now.)


Monday, October 06, 2003

Evil


Tories urge 'British roads first'

An aide to Mr Collins later insisted that he was not calling for a cut in the reconstruction budgets to Iraq and Afghanistan - merely "pointing out that for the first time since tarmac was invented we didn't have any road building last year, and maybe we should be doing something at home first".

Yup, let's screw Afghanistan and Iraq and spend the savings on screwing up the last remaining couple of acres of countryside. Oh, and while we're at it, we could make fun of the handicapped:

Mr Collins, a former Downing Street aide to John Major, also raised eyebrows with a joke at the expense of dyslexics: "I'm not saying this lot [Labour] get things wrong - but they do sometimes remind me of the dyslexic devil-worshipper who sold his soul to Santa."

because that's always good for a laugh.

Cringe


This is just horrible, and ever after something to point my students at when we do the race topic. I'm not sure, though, whether "obscenely patronising" is the New South or the Old South.



Perplexity


OK, so this doomed attempt to get even a single comment or two starts with a big question I don't know the answer to but am about to pretend to for public consumption:

what exactly has the US lost out on, just in military terms, by getting bogged down for a year or so in Iraq? Can they, for example, credibly claim they will defend South Korea? Can they threaten any state at all?

globalsecurity.org have a helpful webpage or two in this regard,
which implies the answer is "not much". The US Army is pretty much totally engaged, and quite a chunk of the reserves are too. There seem to be a couple of free carrier groups as far as the US Navy goes. It doesn't mention the Air Force and one has to expect that anything world emergencies that do turn up are going to be resolved by being flown at and perhaps bombed. Whatever those emergencies turn out to be.

The thing is, what to think about this?

On the one hand, this is cause for celebration: it turns out that even the hyperpower can't actually threaten multiple countries at once without good reason - it can just about take on one small-to-medium sized country for a short period, on its own. That may not be ideal, but it should be a source of relief: Iran, Syria and so on have a pretty substantial breathing space, in all probability, before the US can begin to make threats of invasion - and in that time this administration should be out of office.

On the other hand, consider those supposedly intelligent grown-ups in charge after those supposedly childish Clinton years. I don't care, for these purposes, whether they're evil or not. But what are they playing at? What is the point of talking loudly about pre-emption and prevention revolutions in military affairs and what have you, and the need to invade any country one chooses at the drop of a hat, only to reveal that what you really need is lots and lots of military police and you can't actually do all that much on your own?

There are moments when you wonder (well, I wonder) whether the people in charge are just frightened rootless children too. John Dunn says in "The Cunning of Unreason" something like: "Just what did John Major think he was doing as Prime Minister?". It is a clever question: Major had a spectacular habit of setting up his own defeats with some aggressive language in advance, just to raise expectations. The question might be applied, amplified, to the White House, to the Pentagon, and elsewhere.


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