Saturday, August 21, 2004

Lest We Forget...

...who we are dealing with: be advised that the Swift Boat Veterans for (the Ministry of) Truth are still channeling the spirit of Lee Atwater. They rather clearly have the blessing of the Bush campaign, and their ads seem to be having an effect. As I noted earlier, I was worried about the SBVT ad from the beginning, thinking that it might very well become the Willie Horton ad of this campaign.

It's good that Kerry has chosen to respond, but Karl Rove and the gang were prepared for that, and as soon he began to defend himself, they began saying publicly that he was "losing his cool," looking "wild-eyed," and even that he had become "unhinged."

So it's come to this. Karl and his cronies have dragged the process about as far down into the muck as it can go. They collude with other groups to smear opposition candidates, refuse to repudiate the smear, and, worst of all, call that candidate's sanity into question when he does respond. And they do this to liberals, to centrists, and to moderate conservatives alike. Remember that this is what they did to McCain in South Carolina. How far does this have to go before the rest of us come to realize that this is not about the conservatives vs. the liberals, but about a struggle between conservatives, centrists, and liberals on one side and a ruthless group of thugs with no respect for democracy, the political process, or the autonomy of the voter on the other?

The new tactic gives us some inkling of how far these people are willing to go. First they generate carefully crafted lies about their opponent's character and honesty, as they did with Al Gore. If that works, they can stop there. If those attacks don't work, however, or if they are unlikely to succeed, they pull out attacks on his family, as they did with McCain (his wife was an addict, his daughter the product of an extra-marital affair (with a black woman no less!)). If those attacks fail or are unlikely to work, they'll then attack the candidate's very sanity. They suggested that McCain had been brainwashed by the North Vietnamese; now they are suggesting that Kerry has lost his grip.

This, let me say, is the final straw for me. This is no insignificant development in this race. I consider these responses challenging Kerry's sanity far more important than the SBV(M)T ads themselves, and, perhaps, the most significant development thus far.

I think you'll admit that I've been counselling restraint and prudence in this campaign. I, for example, called bullshit on Julius Civitatus's bogus "correllation" of terrorism alerts and bad news for Bush, and took grief from some of the more zealous (and credulous) liberals as a result. I have always maintained--and I still maintain--that as we conduct this campaign we have to keep in mind that we are helping to shape the nature of the American political process into the indefinite future. Dirty tricks and rhetorical excesses might help one win in the short run, but there is a terrible price to be paid in the long run. Every time we engage in such tactics--or condone such tactics by others--we make the process of democratic decision-making in America (and, perhaps, in the world) less reasonable. Every lie, every dirty trick, strikes a blow against the bedrock of reasonableness that forms the indispensible foundation for democracy.

So, I hope that it goes without saying that we must be fair and reasonable in our responses to these villains. But though fair and reasonable, our responses must now be more direct and vigorous than before. And the more unreasonable and ruthless they show themselves to be, the more important it becomes to defeat them. Consequently, it becomes more and more important that we learn to play--and be willing to play--hardball.

What does this mean? And is it possible to play hardball without using the very kinds of dirty tricks that warm the blackened little hearts of the Karl Roves and Lee Atwaters of the world? I don't know. But it is now beyond dispute that beating these villains is imperative. And I have come to think that even a significant degree of hardball-playing by the Kerry campaign presents far less risk to the process in the long term than does a Bush victory.

But my guess is that there are ways of playing hardball without becoming more like them. Perhaps the first step is to simply take on their suggestions of insanity directly, exposing them for the fascistic--I use the word advisedly-- tactics that they are. But such charges are carefully crafted to make denials of them particularly ineffective. If you put me in the position of having to assert that I am not insane, you are already halfway to victory. (And, furthermore, what good is such a denial coming from an alleged mad man?) So I think the Kerry campaign has to put these charges in context. They have to expose the long history of character assassination associated with the never-ending Bush campaign, from the smears against McCain in South Carolina, through the lies about Gore's "lies, " up to the most recent charges. List them all, and make the character issue central to the campaign. Bush already has a credibility problem, and this is just another aspect of that same problem. The lies about Iraq should be linked to the lies about Kerry, Gore, and McCain.

Perhaps Kerry should just stand up and say, in effect: listen, this is the kind of people we are up against. Such people are unworthy of holding power in America. A vote for them is a vote for a country run by lies, propaganda, and character assassination. If that's what you want, then vote for them. But if you want a fair, decent and honest government that tells you the truth and lets you make up your minds on the basis of the facts, and if you want fair, clean, respectful and sane political campaigns in which the facts are laid out plainly for your consideration, then vote for us.

But, at any rate, these most recent charges should provide a wake-up call to anyone out there who has forgotten what we are fighting for in this election, and for anyone who has gotten complacent about our lead. We are fighting against some very bad men. We have seen what they are willing to do when they think they might not get what they want--we got our first glimpse of that, in fact, during the recount (or, rather, the no-recount) debacle of 2000. But we have not yet seen everything they are willing to do. One way or another, things are going to get worse in this campaign. Either Bush will take the lead or he won't. If he does, then, of course, things will be worse. And if he doesn't, then their tactics are likely to become even more loathsome, destructive, and dangerous to democracy.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Lysenkoism Watch: The "Data Quality" Act

Check out today's WaPo article on the "Data Quality" Act. This is the first I've read about the act, so of course I can't speak with any authority about it, but I can say some general things about why we should be concerned enough to pay close attention to this legislation.

As you know and as the article makes clear, many (perhaps even most) arguments in science--and out of formalized science, for that matter-- involve assessing the weight of conflicting evidence for and against some hypothesis. We can think of this as a kind of UNbalancing, analogous to weighing two items of extremely similar mass to determine which is heavier. If we build an inaccurate scale--or if we put a finger on the scale, continually nudging one side up or down depending on some antecedent preference about which we'd like to weigh more--the results of our efforts are basically valueless.

One way of cheating the system is to employ illegitimately differential standards of proof. Now, different standards of proof are appropriate in relevantly different cases. If John merely dislikes peanuts but Jane has a deadly allergic reaction to them, then it is rational for Jane to demand more proof than John that the dish before them contains no peanuts. But, if the WaPo article is getting it right, this is not the purpose of the Data Quality Act, nor is it how it is being used. According to this article, the DQA is being used to nudge the scales in favor of big business. When the weight of evidence indicates, for example, that some substance is harmful, this act allows those who oppose regulation to arbitrarily raise the required standards of proof.

Given that evidence is often available on both sides of any important question, if you give me the ability to raise and lower the standards of evidence at my whim, I can frequently torture the data to support whichever conclusion I prefer. The application of systematically differential standards is an old trick of pseudoscientists. A good example here is "Creation Science," which basically demands that evolutionary theorists adduce irrefutable evidence in support of their hypotheses, while rejecting these same hypotheses on the basis of even the flimsiest of objections. Creationists, of course, treat their own claims in exactly the opposite way, accepting even the most preposterous arguments in favor of their claims, but refusing to accept even the weightiest evidence against them. Creation Science is an extreme example of the illegitimate use of differential standards of proof, but a far slighter variation in standards of proof will wreak similar havoc when the weight of confirming and disconfirming evidence is more equally balanced.

The (ab)use of the DQA reported by the Washington Post is, of course, consistent with the attitude of the Bush administration to science and to rational inquiry in general, including the collection of intelligence data leading to the WMD debacle in Iraq. The WaPo article indicates that, as many of us have been saying, Lysenkoism is alive and well in the Bush administration, the Postmodern presidency in which conclusions are not accepted on the basis of evidence, but, rather, evidence is accepted or rejected depending on whether it fits with antecedently-held, ideologically-motivated conclusions.

Friday, August 13, 2004

What Would Intervention in Sudan Look Like?

Barbara asks in a comment how we might successfully intervene in Sudan. An answer just came to me in a flash...well, technically in an e-mail...from the indispensible TNR Online: Plan of Action by David L. Englin.
The Most Detestable Mr. DeLay: Reasons to Expel Him From The House

Jackson Thoreau on Tom DeLay's ethics violations and a petition to expel him from the House, via Mike Hersh.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Most Detestable Mr. DeLay
and Friends
On Humanitarian Intervention
The Right of Dissent

Tom DeLay is a despicable human being and a hypocrite of epic stature. If you think you can bear it, read this press release from Steny Hoyer contrasting Mr. De Lay's views about intervention and dissent during our interventions in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, respectively.
The Other Reason We Won't Intervene in Sudan

"Before I began explorig America's relationship with genocide, I used to refer to U.S. policy toward Bosnia as a 'failure.' I have changed my mind. It is daunting to acknowledge, but this country's consistent policy of nonintervention in the face of genocide offers sad testimony not to a broken American political system but to one that is ruthlessly effective. The system, as it stands now, is working. No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on."
Samanth Power
A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, p. xxi

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Unappreciated in My Time...

Listen, I'm getting just a little tired of nobody commenting on how extraordinarily witty the title of this post was...
The Worst Consequence of the Iraq Invasion?

The situation in Sudan is making me wonder again whether the worst consequence of the Invasion of Iraq will be that of making humanitarian intervention less likely now and in the future. It is, of course, not at all clear that we would intervene in the Sudan anyway, but intervention seems out of the question given how thinly-stretched our forces are now. That, sadly, seems to leave the unreliable Europeans as the only plausible candidates for the job.

My guess is that humanitarian intervention will be less likely in the future as well, regardless of who wins the election. Conservatives have usually been against intervention on purely humantarian grounds anyway, and, having re-cast the invasion of Iraq as a humanitarian war, they can now point to the difficulties there as further reason to avoid such intervention in the future. The left has recently made matters worse by frequently condemning the war on the grounds that Iraq did not attack us--an argument that seems to presuppose the illegitimacy of humanitarian interventions.

One might think that Kerry would offer us some hope on this score, but he has repeatedly said that he would only take us to war if he has to. That sounds on its face like the claim that he would only take us to war for defensive reasons. However he does sometimes include a list of conditions under which we might have to go to war, including "to defend our principles," which offers some hope.

But what I expect in the future is even more inaction against mass murder, inaction by the international community in general and the United States in particular.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

George Bush, Suckerpuncher
Jerome Corsi, Fruitcake

Two interesting links via Atrios in case you missed 'em:

Bush photo at This Modern World.


Carville on Corsi on Crossfire.

From CNN, Wedding Guests Eat Victim.

One more reason not to get married...

Though I guess they saved on the catering...

Swift Boat Veterinarians for Truth Debunk Story of Licorice the Hamster

Check it out.

(By Saletan at Slate, via the Apostropher.)

Monday, August 09, 2004

Blog It Like Bill

I say we declare—oh, say next Wednesday—Blog Like O’Reilly Day. Waddaya think? Oh, so you don’t think that’s a very good idea, eh, Mr. PINKO F****** COMMIE liberal? Well, you’re so much smarter than everybody else I guess ordinary guys like me from LEVITTOWN should just…HEY SHUTUP YOU COMMIE. That’s right, I’m callin’ you a COMMIE, COMMIE. I know you’re getting your marching orders from Hitlery and the other COMMIES in the COMMIE COMMIE-CRATIC PARTY OF COMMIES. What? SHUTUP. I didn’t call you a COMMIE, you COMMIE. I called you a QUASI-COMMIE. COMMIE. You’re so smart. Well I’m standing up for the REGULAR GUY. Where’d you get that information about me calling you a COMMIE? Your own ears, is it? Well SHUTUP! Where’d you get those ears? Oh, from your COMMIE PARENTS, eh? Well I’ve got some news for you, mister COMMIE PINKO COMMIE—why don’t you make your own ears? But before you do, SHUTUP. WHERE DO YOU GET OFF getting ears from somebody else? Here in AMERICA and especially in LEVITTOWN, a pleasant suburb of which I actually once LIVED in, we value SELF-F******-RELIANCE which a COMMIE like you probably wouldn’t understand. I WORKED for these ears, and if COMMIES like you get your COMMIE way, my ears will be taxed so onerously…er, I mean…highly…er…bigly…that I’ll just give up hearing ENTIRELY. I’ll just pack ‘em up and go DEAF. And then what will happen to the economy mister COMMIE I’m-so-much-smarter-than-everybody-else commier-than-thou COMMIE? Huh? My ear, nose and throat doctor has to turn into just a nose and throat doctor, and then he has to fire one of his nurses and then HEY SHUTUP then the whole F****** economy goes t**s up and then what, mister COMMIE? WHAT? WE END UP LIVING IN A COMMIE COMMUNIST STATE JUST LIKE FRANCE OR CANADA. Oh, but you’d LIKE that, wouldn’t you mister COMMIE? I guess that’s because you’re so must SMARTER than everybody else…
Important Distinctions: Preemption vs. Prevention

Almost every story I see that discusses the justification for the invasion of Iraq frames the national defense aspect of the case in terms of preemption. It is also common to see people refer to a "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive war.

These are errors.

First, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no question that a preemptive war can be just. Poland, for example, would obviously have been justified in attacking Germany in August of 1939. I believe that Aquinas and Grotius both admit that preemptive attacks are morally defensible.

Second, however, the invasion of Iraq was apparently not a preemptive attack. A preemptive attack occurs when nation A has good reason to believe that an attack by nation B is imminent and A attacks B in order to...well...preempt B's attack.

A preventive war, on the other hand, is apparently a war undertaken under conditions that fall short of those required for preemption--undertaken, that is, in order to prevent a possible (but not probable) future attack. That is, a preventive war is one that is initiated for purposes of national defense, but not in response to an imminent threat. Grotius, as I recall, specifically says that such attacks--attacks initiated purely out of fear and not in response to an immediate threat--are not just.

The contrast is apparently analogous to this one: if I see you go for your gun and have good reason to think that you are going to shoot at me, I do not have to wait for you to take the first shot, but am entitled to shoot you first. However if I merely know that you are kind of a dangerous character and suspect that you might try to shoot me some day, I am not ipso facto entitled to shoot you. These points seem beyond doubt to me.

The case of Iraq, however, is complicated by the duplicity of the Bush administration. There is little doubt that in the run-up to the war they intended to convince us that the threat from Iraq was imminent. They were, in effect, strongly suggesting and hoping that we would believe that we were starting a preemptive war. However, after it became undeniable that Iraq posed no imminent threat, the administration repudiated its earlier position, pointing out that they had usually been careful to avoid describing the threat as 'imminent,' using cognates such as 'immediate' instead. Now, if 'immediate' is synonymous with 'imminent' then the administration's point is senseless and changes nothing: they said that the threat was imminent/immediate, whereas the best evidence indicated it was not, ergo (ignoring details about a possible humanitarian justification) the war was unjust.

However, if the Bush administration is right and 'imminent' and 'immediate' are not synonymous, and if immediacy is something less than imminence, and if the threat from Iraq was merely immediate and not imminent, then the war was merely preventive hence unjust.

So, the preemption/prevention distinction is an important one.

(I suppose it goes without saying that there are more relevant details here that I don't discuss. And, of course, it goes without saying that I may be wrong about some of the details. As is always the case, this post is supposed to be the next word, not the last word, in this bit of public inquiry.)

Sunday, August 08, 2004


So there's been lots of craziness on the left about alleged politicization of terrorism alerts by the administration--some good arguments, too, but lots of craziness. (Wanna see some of it? Read the comments at Corrente in response to Lambert's post responding to posts by Kevin Drum and me. Kevin in particular is apparently a big fat Bush lover. Who knew?)

So, anyway, as I am wont to do from time to time, I was giving Johnny Quest my gosh-I-keep-forgetting-how-nutty-liberals-can-be speech, opining that maybe we really are as kooky as conservatives after all ...when I came upon a link to this post in Freeperland, via Atrios.


I stand corrected.

[Update: Matt C informs us that FreeRepublic pulled the thread in question, presumably b/c it was too crazy. Well, good for FreeRepublic, I say. One has to have standards.

So, what was it about? Sadly, I read it at the end of a long day, and was half asleep when I did. (I'm 3/4 asleep now, but that final 25% just won't manifest itself tonight.) Anyway, I was almost too tired to even finish this brief post, so my recollection is hazy. But here's the jist of it:

It started out with a message about the UN sending observers to, well, observe our presidential election to make sure everything is kosher. Many of the comments that followed were threats to shoot "the first blue helmet" seen. Yup, they were basically threatening to kill UN troops. (Um...why they thought there would be troops involved...well, I'm not too clear on that part...) On the bright side, I think in the end they may have just decided to beat them up and stomp on their head gear. No, I'm not making that part up.

There was also a lot of stuff about...and this is where it went from the merely homocidal to the utterly, totally, completely H. P. Lovecraft-level insane....the Democrats trying to steal the 2000 election. See, the overall idea was apparently that the Democrats were ("again") going to try to steal the election, but this time with the help of UN troops.

That's when I had to stop reading. I mean, they (in essence) stole the election and I've learned to live with that. They deny that they stole it, and I've even learned to put up with that. But when they steal it, deny that they stole it and then accuse us of trying to steal it... Well, that's where I gotta draw the line, folks. I quit reading at that point, though I'm sure there were many other fascinating insights that remained to be discovered.

Jebus, is this planet getting weirder or is it just me?]

[Update update: Still on the subject of abject insanity, I direct your attention to this comment on the Atrios post abovementioned. Um, is that a threat? As one Atrios commenter noted, sure sounds like a threat.

Must be the planet...]
Gigot's Iraq Fallacy

Just had Fox News on while I was washing dishes. Paul Gigot committed the following fallacy:

(Note: These are not his exact words, but this is the exact sense of what he said.)

Democrats argue that the war in Iraq was a distraction from the war on terrorism; but the recent arrests of al Qaeda operatives (in Pakistan and the UAE, presumably) show that they are wrong.

Whew, what a stinker. For quite awhile I've been meaning to run a series called something like "Fallacies For Our Time." Might as well make this the first one. Let's call it "Gigot's Iraq Fallacy."


My folks thought that playing X-Box ten hours per day would be a distraction from my education. But I just passed two quizzes, so this shows that they were wrong.

But moderate (or even great) success in an endeavor in no way indicates that the endeavor would not have been more successful if it had not been hampered in some relevant way.

Do we really need to point out that some successes in our efforts against al Qaeda (or the "war" on "terror") do not show that Iraq was not a distraction? Need we really point out that $144 billion dollars, the full attention of our nation, and greater cooperation by the rest of the world might have allowed us to nab a more respectable number of aQ bad guys? And if we'd left our special forces teams in Afghanistan instead of sending them to Iraq? Or put a respectable number of boots on the ground at Tora Bora? Would OBL still be plotting his evil plots against us?

Jeez, reasoning this bad really ticks me off.
Philosoraptor: Running Dog Lacky of the Bush Administration?

Lambert at Corrente posts this response to my post on the outting of Khan, the al Qaeda double agent. I'm pretty busy today so my guess is that I won't get a chance to respond in detail--but you, revered reader, can draw your own conclusions. (Needless to say!)

I honestly do appreciate the criticism, especially from such an esteemed source. However I don't see that any of Lambert's arguments carry significant weight against my own. If I'm wrong, please do inform me. You gotta watch me like a hawk...else who knows what kind of crap I'll write next?
What The Iraq War Cost In Terms Of The War Against Terrorism

Do check out the "Op-Chart" titled "Safety Second" on today's NYT opinion page.

Perhaps the war in Iraq should be called the war on the war on terror...

(The NYT link generator is screwy today, so by tomorrow you may have to register.)
Rick Santorum, Superfreak

And you thought Rick James was superfreaky... Check out this super-creepy story about everybody's favorite puritan (from Kos via General J. C. Christian.)

Saturday, August 07, 2004

O'Reilly Punks Krugman

Well, I just this second finished watching something that probably angered me more than anything I've seen since the re-count debacle of 2000--Paul Krugman vs. Bill O'Reilly on Tim Russert's show on CNBC. It's kind of funny given that I don't watch O'Reilly (though I have, of course, seen his show a few times, and seen him on C-Span, and so forth), but happened to see part of his show earlier this week. I saw part of one segment in which he actually disagreed with someone who was pushing some sort of obviously insane theory about Kerry, and I thought "hey, maybe this guy has more intellectual integrity than I thought." The next segment was a couple of porn starts pushing a book they had written about sex techniques or something like that, and it was humorous to watch O'Reilly trying to pretend that there was some actual issue on the table when, in fact and obviously this was nothing more than an opportunity to have some porn stars on his show and boost the ratings a bit by having them show some cleavage and talk about sex. (Note: I assure you that I have nothing against either cleavage or sex. In fact, both those things rank pretty high in my book. I just thought it was funny that O'Reilly tried to pretend that it was serious business.) Anyway, I went away thinking that O'Reilly wasn't quite as bad nor as dangerous as I previously thought.

Now I know better.

So here's Russert's show, with O'Reilly vs. Krugman. God, this is going to be a real slaughter I thought.

Sadly, I was right.

O'Reilly--rhetorically speaking--wiped the floor with Krugman (metaphorically speaking). Yes, of course Krugman had facts and reason on his side. Yes, of course he was right and O'Reilly was wrong on almost every point. And yes, of course, those are the things that really matter. But O'Reilly so thoroughly dominated the encounter rhetorically that no one but a current events junkie would realize that Krugman had come out ahead in all the important and substantive ways.

Now, I think that Krugman is great, and The Great Unravelling is great, and I think that when the history of this vile administration is finally written he will be remembered as one of those who most effectively spoke truth to power. But today was, sadly, not his finest moment. The sad fact of the matter seems to be that O'Reilly simply scared him early on in the exchange, and he never recovered. Early on, O'Reilly said something false about something Krugman had written, and Krugman unwisely said "that's a lie." He should, of course, merely said that it was false, since he obviously had no idea whether O'Reilly was lying or merely mistaken. O'Reilly responded energetically, and seemed to quickly--in the way of all bullies--ascertain that Krugman was somewhat intimidated. O'Reilly then raised his voice even more, started pointing at Krugman, and leaning in on him. Krugman responded by looking down and shrinking back. Dominance had been established, and it was all downhill from there.

From then on out, O'Reilly was, rhetorically speaking, in charge. He was leaning back and relaxed, making large gestures, looking Krugman in the eye, and sticking his finger in Krugman's face, while Krugman looked down, looked away, shuffled his papers, and even seemed to be actually shaking. Even worse, O'Reilly repeatedly--in essence--called Krugman a punk to his face. And Krugman mostly just took it. He made his points and he did his job intellectually speaking, but--and it really, really pains me to say this--he looked like a scared little kid. It was so, so, so very painful to watch. I almost couldn't make myself sit through it. Krugman did manage to stand up to O'Relly a bit from time to time, and that was heartening. But those were fleeting moments.

At the end of the program, Krugman did take a step towards redeeming himself by nailing O'Reilly in a lie. Krugman pointed out that O'Reilly said on his radio show that "Michael Moore...believes that we are an evil country." O'Reilly denied this, and challenged Krugman to produce a date for the show, which Krugman did. Then O'Reilly asked where he'd gotten the citation, and Krugman named some lefty source...Media Matters, perhaps. At this point, O'Reilly's low cunning served him well, and he began screaming and flailing his arms around about how leftist Media Matters was. Then, punking Krugman once more for good measure, he got in his face and started yelling at him over and over "do your own research! Why are you relying on other people for your own research! Do your own research!" Krugman, sadly, fell for the Red Herring and failed to point out that his methods of research weren't the issue--the issue was whether O'Reilly had said what he now denied that he had said.

Ugh. Thing is, I was almost madder at Krugman than I was at O'Reilly. How on Earth anyone could let a puffy, over-the-hill blowhard like that guy intimidate him is quite simply beyond me. And how anyone could let someone talk to him like that is beyond me. If O'Reilly--or anyone else--spoke to me like that--er, and if he were younger...and in better shape...and if I didn't know that he'd cry like a baby--I'd knock his freaking block off. He is merely a bully, and like all bullies he chooses his targets carefully. He bullies only civilized people who aren't used to--and so aren't psychologically prepared for--confrontations of that kind. What a pathetic coward that guy is.

One of Krugman's main disadvantages--and this was quite clear--was that he cared about the truth. O'Reilly simply sat there and made shit up. He made it up, said it loudly, repeated it over and over, and put on his how dare you question my integrity? mask when challenged about it. You could literally see Krugman sitting there thinking about objections, trying to stick to the truth, trying to be judicious about his claims and responses. All this, of course, put him at a severe rhetorical disadvantage.

So I shouldn't blame Krugman. He's a civilized fellow, an academician, and not a guy who even fancies himself a fighter, I'm sure. He was trying to do the right thing. But...did he really think that O'Reilly was going to take a swing at him right on Tim Russert? And even if he did, would that be so terribly frightening? I just don't understand...

One of the lessons of all of this is that being right does little good if you aren't courageous enough to stand up for what's right. Krugman was right, but he was easily cowed, and what should have been a resounding victory for him and a chance to spread the good word turned into a rout.

Little wonder that Kant thought that courage was the most important of all the virtues.
Juan Cole on Khan and the Terrorism Alerts
Does the Anti-Bush Side Deserve Some of the Blame Here?

(Via Kos) Juan Cole cites a Reuters story indicating that, in its attempt to justify the recent terrorism alert, the administration outted an important double agent working for us against al Qaeda. As you know, I've been defending the administration's actions regarding this terrorism alert, but if Reuters and Cole are right, then my earlier arguments become irrelevant. (If I'm not mistaken, those arguments are still correct taken by themselves and given the information available to us when I posted them, but this new information changes things dramatically.)

Cole's arguments are not conclusive, but they are extremely strong. Apparently the currently most plausible explanation for the adminisration having revealed Khan's identity is that they were trying to deflect charges of wagging the dog. If true, this is inexcusable.

However it is worth reflecting on the context in which this occurred. It is not clear to me whether charges of wagging the dog with regard to the terrorism alerts were warranted before the information about Khan was revealed. Suppose for the sake of argument that such charges were not warranted. In that case, the unwarranted charges raised the political stakes and gave the Bush administration more incentive to do what they did as a way of deflecting those unwarranted charges. That does not excuse their actions, but only explains them.

One might argue that the reaction of the Bush administration was not a forseeable consequence of the making of unwarranted dog-wagging charges against them, and so those who made the (as we are supposing) unwarranted charges cannot be blamed for doing so. I disagree. Although this specific (alleged) action by the Bush administration could not have been forseen, it should be obvious to anyone that making such charges increases the cost of taking certain actions against terrorists by increasing the political cost of doing so. Irresponsible charges of dog-wagging are themselves irresponsible, as we should have learned from the Republican response to Clinton's attacks against al Qaeda in 1998. In Against All Enemies, Clarke makes it clear that Clinton refused to allow political considerations to interfere with decisions about attacking al Qaeda. But we all know that the right wing had so raised the political cost of those attacks that a less resolute president could easily have allowed such considerations to affect--consciously or not--his decision-making. It is to the great and enduring shame of those who mercilessly persecuted Clinton that their actions could so easily have, at that crucial time, worked to the benefit of al Qaeda.

Let us insure that we do not make a similar mistake in our--admittedly justified--anger at the Bush administration.

Of course in much of the above we were operating under the supposition that charges that the Bush administration was wagging the dog were unjustified. My position on this is complex. Until this most recent revelation about Khan, I believed that there was no good reason to believe that the administration was politicizing the terrorism alerts. I did, however, believe that there was reason to suspect that they might be, given that they have so politicized so many things, especially with regard to our efforts against terrorism. My objections to most of the recent dog-wagging charges were that (a) they relied on weak and impressionistic evidence about the timing of the terrorism alerts and (b) they were taken to strongly support conclusions that they in fact only weakly supported. That is, these arguments relied on the wrong evidence and exaggerated the strength of their conclusions.

At any rate, this all puts those who oppose the Bush administration in a tight spot. We suspect that this administration is dirty, but we also suspect that one consequence of this is that they are likely to get dirtier when their backs are against the wall. Obviously we cannot simply resolve to let them run amok in order to keep backs and walls separated; but what we can and must do is insure that our charges against them are well-founded. If they do wrong and we confront them with that fact, we are not responsible for any irresponsible actions they might take as a result. On the other hand, if we make poorly-justified charges against them, then--knowing what we know about how they are likely to respond--I suspect that we do bear some responsibility for the consequences.

But this is, of course, just what we should be doing anyway--making only justified charges and eschewing unjustified ones.

[Once again Kevin Drum beats me to the punch--but consilience of this kind does provide (very) weak evidence for the points in question. (But only because Drum and I are both such reasonable chaps, of course.) (I found Drum's reaction via a post at Majikthise, which post I think I sort of agree and sort of disagree with. I'm not familiar with that blog, but it seems to be coming from the same sector of conceptual space as my very own wee efforts.)]

Friday, August 06, 2004

Swift Boat Veterans for the Ministry of Truth
Fun With Re-Writing History

Just saw a bit on CNN in which Bill Hemmer interviewed a member of "Swift Boat Vetrans for Truth" and also a man who served with Kerry on his boat. Clearly I'm not objective in the matter, but it seemed to me to be an open-and-shut case. The SBVT fellow could barely control his rage when he discussed Kerry's testimony before the Senate, and it soon became clear that Kerry's anti-war stance was probably the motive for most of what's going on here. None of the SBVT fellows served on Kerry's boat and their claims are denied by the people who did serve on his boat. I have to say, the SBVT fellow came off as kind of a shady character with a big fat ax to grind, and many of his answers were tricky and evasive. In the ad, someone says that Kerry betrayed his comrades or something to that effect, but it turns out that that apparently refers to his testimony before the Senate, though the ad makes it seem as if its a judgment about his actions in combat.

CNN showed the ad itself, and it's extraordinarily vicious. I worry that it could be effective, but, of course, I couldn't tell. It' s not inconceivable that this ad could turn out to be the Willie Horton ad of our time... God, the ruthlessness of these people really is approaching Nixonian proportions.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

A Quote:

"These Republican politicians have fouled the political atmosphere for all of us who see public service as a high calling. They do not seek to defeat the Democratic Party, they seek to destroy it. And in the process, they would deny one of the most precious freedoms of all--your freedom to judge which candidate will better serve your interests and truly reflect your values."

Hits the nail on the head, don't you think? Sounds like somebody's got Rove's number. And Cheney's. And De Lay's. More could be named...

And yet, as you may know, this is not a recent quote, and was not aimed at the crop of criminals that is currently in office. This was George McGovern in 1972, almost pleading with the American people not to re-elect that era's crop of miscreants, Tricky Dick et. al.

As you know, McGovern went on to be crushed by Nixon, getting only about 37% of the popular vote. It's rather hard to imagine how frustrating those times must have been. I was too small and stupid to understand what was going on, but I do remember the election.

How depressing is it that we've learned so little that a mere 30 years later we find ourselves in such similar circumstances?
On the Alleged Correlation Between Bad News for Bush and the Terror Alerts

Sadly, I'm going to have to call BS on our own side. Via the indispensible Agonist comes this list of alleged correlations between bad news for the Bush administration and the issuance of terror alerts.

I have admitted and still admit that there is prima facie reason to suspect that politics has entered into the decisions about when to issue terrorism (or "terror") alerts--in large part because politics seems to enter into so much of what this administration does. However, the point at issue is this: how much support does Julius Civitatus's evidence provide for the hypothesis that the administration is manipulating the terrorism alerts for political ends?

I'm no statistician. Far from it. My knowledge of statistics is pretty much limited to (a) what I learned in the gutter, (b) one class in statistics for political science, and (c) listening to many drunken lectures on the Central Limit Theorem by Statisticasaurus Rex. That having been said, I'm still fairly certain that this evidence is prohibitively weak.

I'd remind us all that correlation does not entail causation, but we haven't even gotten that far yet--we don't even have a real correlation here. In order to make a strong argument for the hypothesis on the basis of evidence like this, we'd need to know not only (i) how closely terrorism alerts followed bad news for Bush, but also (ii) how closely they followed good news for Bush, (iii) how closely they followed bad news for Bush'spolitical opponents, and (iv) how closely they followed good news for Bush's political opponents. We'd also have to predesignate (A) how closely such an alert has to be to good or bad news in order to count as following it and, I think, (B) (roughly) what kinds of things will count as good or bad news. (What counts as a terrorism alert is clear enough that we don't have to worry about that.)

The case is complicated by the fact that there has been so much bad news of late for the Bush administration.

It goes without saying that I could be wrong about this, especially about the details. I'm writing this on the fly. But I am fairly certain that caution is called for. Remember: as terrible as this administration is, and as important as it is to get them out of office, there are bigger things at stake here. The issue of what methods of inquiry and persuasion we allow into our political discourse is bigger even than this election, for decisions about this will have repercussions far into the future, affecting not only this election, but unknown numbers of future elections.

Oh, and the truth. That's at stake too. Let's not forget about that.
More on the Terror Alerts

Via BeckyG at The American Street, a nice NYT editorial on the terror alerts.

As I point out in comments at TAS--and I've said most of this here before--it seems to me that the most recent alert was handled correctly in the main. There seem to be two main objections to this claim. First, that old information was characterized as new information, and, second, that the alert was issued so soon after the Democratic convention.

Neither of these points is weightless, but neither is terribly strong. In response to the first point, we should note that it isn't clear whether the information should be called old or new. It's old to al Q and new to us. I'd have called it new information given that we just got it. If scientists discover 10 million year old pollen that sheds light on global warming it seems that we'd naturally say that we'd discovered new evidence about global warming, even though the evidence itself was ancient. (I'm worried about that analogy, but I don't think it has to work for the point to hold.) Add to this that al Qaeda plans its attacks years in advance, and the case for dismissing the evidence as old seems to evaporate. ( I prejudicing the case by throwing in 'dismissing' there? Does the fact that they plan so far ahead affect whether the information should be characterized as old? Not sure.)

Second, given that we'd just acquired the info, and given that releasing it is apparently thought to be the right thing to do by (even non-partisan) experts, there's a plausible case to be made for releasing it at that time. They waited three weeks, but that seems to me like a reasonable amount of time to take to process the info, think about, determine whether there are any actions that need to be taken while the information is still secret, etc. Furthermore. the alternatives seem to be either releasing it just before the convention or during the convention. Again, the decision seems to be defensible.

So I'm inclined to think that there's little in the way that this particular terrorism alert was handled to raise much suspicion. That's not to say that I'm not suspicious. But I'm suspicious of almost everything this administration does anymore given its stunningly bad record. There was good reason to believe that this adminstration was politicizing terrorism--and virtually everything else--before this alert was issued. It's their past actions that alarm me, not this most recent one.

Of course there was the fact that Ridge included a shameless Bush campaign advertisement (about the value of "the President's leadership") in his announcement. Well, there's just no excuse for that part, is there?

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Saletan on The Polls: Good News

Since I'm supposed to be writing lectures, I am, of course, watching too much CNN and spending too much time on the internet instead. And I've started to think that some Bush supporters have begun to sound a little...well, desperate. Last night I heard Ed Gillespie or one of those guys frantically and repeatedly asserting that Kerry was in the weakest position of any challenger in recent history, apparently basing this assertion on the fact that Kerry (allegedly) got the smallest bounce in recent history. Since I'm constitutionally inclined to analyze arguments first and speculate about psychology...oh, tenth or twelfth, I puzzled over this for awhile before the awfulness of the inference and something about the tone in his voice came together for me. Damn, this guy was worried... I mean, a big bounce would be better than a small one, but who on Earth expected a big one when the electorate is this divided and solidified?

And there's plenty of reason for Bush supporters to be worried these days. From the estimable Statisticasaurus Rex, I receive a synopsis of recent polling numbers by William Saletan at Slate. The numbers aren't good enough to warrant complacency on the part of Kerry supporters, but they're plenty good enough to warrant a touch of foreboding in the Bush camp.

I don't get too excited about this stuff, in part for the obvious reason that much can change between now and November, but in part because I'm so appalled and just downright freaked out that this race is even close... I mean, I'm a guy who thought about voting for not only John McCain but Bob Dole fer chrissake (er, I didn't, but i thought about it.), and I wouldn't vote for a ten-foot pole....or whatever. Jeez, I know that Kerry is sub-optimal in a number of ways...but I'm simply astounded that about 45% of the population is still willing to vote for Bush. Even if Kerry wins, I guess I'll always think that the big story is really about how the race was ever even close. So, in a way, these numbers are good news only if we turn a blind eye to the incomprehensibly bad news that almost half of our fellow citizens are still planning to vote for a man who is demonstrably unworthy of the office.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Shorter William Kristol

Some people think that The Onion is the most entertaining publication of our time. Well, The Onion is great, but it's no Weekly Standard. I used to think that TWS was supposed to be a serious publication, so you can understand the frustration I felt when I tried to read it. When it finally dawned on me that it was a kind of obscure, dry, inside-the-beltway joke parodying conservatism, reading it became much more enjoyable. Consider, for example, the latest effort by William Kristol, titled, ISYN, "The Last Refuge." Now, you might be tempted to go read it, but let me just give you the Busy, Busy, Busy version:

In order to combat the substancelessness and cynical hyper-patriotism exhibited in Kerry's acceptance speech, we must all vote for George W. Bush.

The mind, it reels...
Terrorism Alerts And Wagging The Dog
Why A Possibly Honest President Is Not Good Enough

Some have raised the possibility that the Bush administration has been issuing terrorism alerts for political reasons. Many of Secretary Ridge’s terrorism alerts have two features which individually and especially in combination make them suspect. First, they are issued at times that seem calculated to help President Bush politically; second, they tend to be either vague, uninformative and unhelpful or based on suspect sources of intelligence.

Charges of politicizing national defense are extraordinarily serious and must not be made lightly. Recall similar charges leveled at President Clinton when he ordered attacks on al Qaeda in 1998. Those charges were entirely irresponsible and symptomatic of the unhinging of the Republican leadership during the Clinton administration. In Against All Enemies Richard Clarke recalls worrying that the Lewinsky scandal would make Clinton hesitant to use force. But Clarke writes:

It did not. Clinton made it clear that we were to give him our best national security advice, without regard to his personal problems. “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” If we thought this was the best time to hit the Afghan camps, he would order it and take the heat for “Wag the Dog” criticism that we all knew would happen, for the media and congressional reaction that would say that he was using a military strike to divert attention from his deposition in the investigation.

(Against All Enemies, p. 186)

Irresponsible charges of dog-wagging are harmful not only because they are likely to distract the President from matters at hand, but also because they raise the political cost of undertaking the right course of action, running the risk of making it less likely that that course of action will be taken. By way of analogy, imagine that you go to your doctor with a strange set of symptoms, and, exhibiting some alarm, he informs you that you may have a serious malady. He recommends a course of treatment. Supposing that your health depends on doing the right thing at this point (and that you don’t have the option of switching doctors), would it be rational for you to publicly and repeatedly accuse him of ordering the treatment that he did only for his own (say, financial) gain? That is, would it make sense to force your doctor to suffer a significant personal and professional loss every time he recommended to you a certain general type of treatment? Even a doctor of extremely good character might (perhaps unconsciously) allow this to affect his decisions.

One thing to remember here is that in the real world of actual decisions, the evidence is usually foggy and conflicting, and vague guesses about likely costs must be weighed against vague guesses about likely benefits. Under such real-world conditions even an undistracted person who will pay no personal cost for making one decision rather than another will make the wrong decision very much of the time. It is the height of irrationality to gratuitouly add extraneous, complicating personal factors to such decision tasks, especially when (a) the decision in question is important and (b) there is little reason to believe that the charges in question are true.

It is a testament to President Clinton’s character that he was so successful in resisting the external pressures placed on him by the dog-wagging charges. It is substantial vindication of the view, held by many of us, that, though Clinton’s character is sub-optimal in certain ways having to do with his private sexual decisions, it is admirable in ways having to do with the big issues. Persons who are, let us say, rather more straight-laced in their personal behavior but rather less admirable in their attitudes toward the big issues cannot necessarily be expected to resist such pressure as resolutely as Clinton did.

Which brings us to the current situation. When I began to hear the recent dog-wagging charges against the Bush administration, I thought them reprehensible and roughly equivalent to the charges against Clinton. In fact, some friends of mine were discussing Fahrenheit 9/11 after seeing it last weekend, and I was expressing skepticism about the charges when The Cusamano noted that using bogus (or quasi-bogus) terrorism alerts for political ends is no worse than deceiving the public about the strength of the case for war. This seems right, and, in fact, I am inclined to think that it’s not nearly as bad.

This being noted, here is the position we now find ourselves in:

(1) Issuing deceptive terrorism alerts is no worse than (and probably not as bad as) deceiving us in order to get us to support a war.
(2) If this administration is capable of deceiving us in order to get us to support a war, then they are capable of deceiving us with bogus terrorism alerts

(3) It is clear that the administration deceived us in order to get us to support the war in Iraq
(4) This administration is capable of deceiving us with bogus terrorism alerts.

This argument, of course, does not show that these alerts about terrorism are bogus, only that we aren’t in a position to say that they are not bogus. That is, this argument seems to prove that skepticism about these alerts is reasonable. Consequently, it is reasonable to voice such skepticism publicly.

Whereas Republicans had by far insufficient grounds for making dog-wagging charges against Clinton, Bush’s deceptions about the Iraq war seem to provide us with relatively strong evidence for raising such charges against him and his administration. Dishonesty about private sexual indiscretions is only very weak evidence that the person in question will be dishonest about profound and public matters. On the other hand, the Bush administration has already demonstrated its dishonesty about matters just as public and perhaps even more profound than terrorism alerts. This, in conjunction with the suspicious timing and content (or lack thereof) of the terrorism alerts does, I conclude, provide significant reason to doubt the veracity of the alerts and the sincerity of the administration.

There are, however, some substantial reasons to doubt the above conclusion. First, one might question conclusion (2) above. (In fact that means that it is really the inference from (1) to (2) that is questionable, but we needn’t worry about that). (2) seems questionable because, in my opinion, we are still not sure why the administration was Hell-bent on attacking Iraq. The real why behind the war remains, in my mind, its greatest mystery. They were probably to some extent swayed by the evidence, but they are not dim-witted enough to miss patent weaknesses there that were noted by everyone else in the world. They were probably motivated by the humanitarian case to some extent, but this alone cannot explain their actions given the fact of the right wing’s long-standing objections to using military force to achieve humanitarian ends. At any rate, despite Karl Rove’s injunction to Republicans to “run on the war,” we have no good reason to believe that the war was undertaken primarily or in large part for political reasons. We still don’t really understand why it was undertaken. The point is that we cannot infer from the fact that they lied to us about the war (for reasons we don’t understand) to the conclusion that they are lying to us in the terrorism alerts in order to win the election. They might, for example, genuinely believe that attacking Iraq was in our long-term national interest, and they might be willing to lie because of that and still be unwilling to lie about terrorist threats merely in order to win an election. However, the fact that so many people who have left the administration have testified to the fact that this administration is driven primarily by politics does give us at least some reason to believe that politics might very well have played some role in both cases.

Second, in the case of the most recent terrorism alert, vague worries supported by hand-waving about “chatter” was replaced by specific information about targets and about the source of that information.

So, I conclude that skepticism about many of the administration’s recent terrorism alerts is reasonable, though conviction that the alerts are bogus is not reasonable. It is perhaps worth noting here that this indicates one of the major reasons I believe that the Bush administration must go—we are justified in being skeptical about their honesty concerning matters of great importance.

The left tends to assert that we can be certain that this administration is dishonest. True believers on the right sometimes go so far as to argue that the administration is exceptionally honest, but a claim so preposterous as that does not warrant serious discussion. The more sensible on the right have usually settled for arguing that we don’t know for sure that the administration is dishonest—for example, it is often argued (falsely) that Bush never really lied about Iraq, or that he did not really say specifically that Iraq was an “immanent threat.” The point of a defense of this kind is to show that it is possible that the accused is innocent of the relevant charges—roughly, that we do not have proof of their mendacity beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a sensible strategy in a courtroom, but not when national leadership is at issue.

The problem is this: even if the sensible right is right, the Bush administration is no longer fit for power. A president and his administration are fit to govern only if we have good reason to believe that they are honest with regard to profound and public matters. That is, only if we have strong reason to believe, for example, that they will not politicize national security matters. But the most we can say of this administration is that we cannot be certain that they are dishonest. That is, it is reasonably clear that we cannot be sure whether or not they are politicizing national security. And that is very, very far from being good enough.