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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Men of Honor Don't Do This

Men of honor don't do this.

That was George Tenet's reaction to hearing his "slam dunk" comment appear in the pages of Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack. Those words were spoken in a private meeting with the top five officials of the Bush White House. Once he heard those words leaked to a reporter and (in Tenet's view) spun to imply Tenet felt the existence of WMD in Iraq itself was a "slam dunk", or the war to topple Saddam would be a "slam dunk" or whatever the spin on the spin was supposed to be, Tenet knew the knives were out.

Throughout the interview with Scott Pelley, Tenet came across as paternally defensive (in an odd, patronizing and disingenuous way) about the employees in the CIA and frequently combative, particularly on issues related to torture. Tenet repeatedly expressed frustration over the failure to block the original September 11 plot, implying in a way that he rejected the "blame" collectively pinned on the CIA and himself in particular.

George, let's be perfectly clear. No one is holding you or any other person individually responsible for the events of September 11 or intelligence estimates that said Saddam had X tons of WMD material awaiting a final weaponization effort, etc. No one has seen any documents unearthed after September 11th that put 20 names, a date, four flight numbers and four buildings on a map with a big red circle. No one has seen a stash of photos turned up with UN inspectors grinning for the camera inside every claimed weapons bunker and WMD factory showing nothing but empty space and cobwebs.

What we HAVE seen is an Administration specifically staffed with people who actively AVOID seeking counsel from alternate perspectives. We HAVE seen an Administration which staffed key civilian security and defense positions with people advocating a very consistent, adventurous approach to altering the political and economic environment in the Middle East. You saw this mindset in action ONE DAY AFTER September 11 when Richard Perle spoke to you in the White House and said "we have to hold Saddam to account for what happened" when you yourself absolutely knew beyond any doubt that September 11th was perpetrated by Al Queda and had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein or Iraq.

In that environment with that cast of characters, what did you do?

Despite enjoying one-on-one daily meetings with the President of the United States, when alarm bells began going off in the summer of 2001, you played the well-behaved government bureaucrat and asked to tee up a meeting with another cabinet officer to get the escalated threat situation on the agenda.

September 11th didn't occur because of one single massive intelligence gaff on the part of one person or one agency. It happened within the context of a bureaucratically induced mental stupor which fogged our vision and dulled our imagination from considering what might be possible.

The Iraq war didn't happen because of one single intelligence failure either. The Iraq war happened because dozens / hundreds of people failed to distinguish between intelligence couched with the normal CYA caveats created for consumption by equally savvy intelligence professionals versus intelligence being systematically cherry-picked to make a case for a decision that was pre-ordained. Unlike the rest of us, who had to wait over a year after the war began to hear of that pre-ordained decision, you knew of it on September 12, 2001, and you continued to aid and abet the charade for eighteen months until it failed and those above you needed to toss the growing circle of sharks behind the S.S. Whitehouse some chum.

George, here's a news flash. There are many things this Administration has done that honorable men and women wouldn't do. The invasion of Iraq lies at the top of that list and you played a key role in maintaining the environment that allowed such a disastrous course to be set without one person on deck mentioning "iceberg", much less shouting it.

George, you're right. Men of honor don't do this. You were part of that team. Put 2 and 2 together.


WTH

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Testimony: Compared and Contrasted

I watched some extended clips of testimony from Pat Tillman's family and Jessica Lynch in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee today and something occured to me...

Didja ever notice what a difference there seems to be between ANY outside party testifying before Congress about things that have transpired in the past six years versus ANY member of the Bush Administration? Whether it's Al Gore talking about global warming, Valerie Plame talking about her view of a security breach, a soldier talking about consistently shoddy care at Walter Reed, or Pat Tillman's mother talking about the charade played with the story of her son's death, they all

1) get in front of the committee,
2) raise their right hand and take the oath,
3) sit in the chair (some times for HOURS),
4) and calmly answer any question raised...
5) with complete sentences and coherent thoughts

In contrast, Bush Administration officials

1) attempt to submit half their testimony in writing beforehand to keep extemporaneous speech to a minimum to avoid tripping over prior mis-statements,
2) have others argue as proxies for them about whether they should be "subjected" to being sworn in in the first place,
3) practice their delivery in front of a "murder board" for weeks beforehand,
4) finally sit in the chair (some times for HOURS),
5) respond with hostility or outright sneering contempt for all of those asking the questions (including those of their own party)
6) usually fail to recall half of the material at issue,
7) and invariably speak in mangled fragments with miles between subjects and verbs with little coherence to any idea being conveyed

I don't think this is just some freak statistical oddity that this Administration became populated with a bunch of oratorial non-savants.

You really can't defend much of what this administration has done. Something about the act of actually saying things out loud must trigger some sort of subliminal (mmmmbbbullsssshhh______) reflex in the human brain that prevents virtually anyone from faking coherence out of incoherence or sense out of insanity.

In contrast, when the truth is on your side, the facts speak for themselves. Very little rehersal seems to be necessary.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How to Break a Terrorist

The May 2007 issue of The Atlantic has a must-read cover story written by Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) called How To Break a Terrorist. The article is billed as "The inside story of how the interrogators of Task Force 145 cracked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's inner circle -- without resorting to torture -- and hunted down al-Qaeda's man in Iraq."

The article is fascinating and encouraging on several fronts.

Most of the key people on the team that broke the suspects to provide information that allowed the elimination of al-Zarqawi were not career CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency or black-ops commandos.

Some were on active duty, a good number from military-police units. Some were veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, where they had so distinguished themselves that the Special Operations Command had sought them out.

All of them were recruited in 2005 after all the controversy over Abu Ghraib became public.

What's fascinating about the story is how a group of people from all over seemed to naturally and fairly quickly evolve a team approach to figuring out what made their captives tick. Interestingly, all of the interrogators dressed in street clothes and were allowed to grow beards, etc. and NEVER conveyed any information about their rank or role to the captives. This proved useful over time because as a particular interrogator found a chink in the captive's ego or temper to leverage, they could evolve their "story" about who in the team was in a position to do what for the prisoner on the fly.

The team was also particularly astute at using the prisoners' egos against them at the right point. The key break in deciphering the power structure of the prisoners and their larger organization occurred when one prisoner added a very subtle twist to a story he had repeated dozens of times before and referenced someone he met alone. The interrogator noticed the discrepancy then used the prisoner's ego and confidence about his own debate skills and logic to flatter the prisoner and convey he was much more respected than the other prisoners.

"We both know what I want," Doc said. "You have information you could trade. It is your only source of leverage right now. You don't want to go to Abu Ghraib, and I can help you, but you have to give me something in trade. A guy as smart as you are -- you are the type of Sunni we can use to shape the future of Iraq...

"You and I know the name of a person in your organization who you are very close to, " Doc said. "I need you to tell me that name so that I know I can trust you. Then we can begin negotiating." In fact, the American had no particular person in mind. His best hope was that Abu Haydr might name a heretofore unknown mid-level insurrectionalist.


In fact, the prisoner named Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the senior advisor to al-Zarqawi. By June, a subsequent conversation with the same prisoner mentioned another contact, Sheikh al-Rahman, the so-called "spiritual advisor" to al-Zarqawi. At that point, his whereabouts WERE known, Predator drones were dispatched, and we nailed Zarqawi from the clouds on June 6, 2006.

The prisoners who provided the information were captured in April 2006 and we nailed our man by June 6, 2006.

THAT'S how we got to al-Zarqawi.

No waterboarding. No cattle prods. No stress positions. No extraordinary rendition. No sexual abuse. Two months of intense conversations produces CORRECT, ACTIONABLE intelligence.

There are plenty of people in the military capable of combating terrorists successfully. It's a shame we didn't have enough of them in the proper positions of power in the Pentagon and White House to dictate the proper strategies from Day One.

VT Through a Constitutional Lens

The senseless, tragic shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 have required all Americans to begin two tasks we are normally loath to perform separately, much less at the same time -- grieving and thinking. One week or even one year may not put enough time between us and the events to feel comfortable addressing the lessons the event should teach us about ourselves and our society. However, the consequences of the shootings make it clear comfort is not the most important principle at stake.

Individual Rights and Public Priorities

Many of the discussions after the shooting focused on the interpretation and limitations on the right to bear arms provided in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I would argue anyone jumping to the Second Amendment to frame a review of the pattern of violence most recently repeated at Virginia Tech is bound to miss the real issues. A more appropriate start to the debate involves two famous excerpts from the key founding documents of our society. Specifically,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I don't think it's any accident that Thomas Jefferson, arguably one of the world's greatest writers, put those words Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence in that specific order. It is also no accident that the Preamble to the United States Constitution, written by Gouverneur Morris, consistently addresses the purpose of both our Constitution and government in the PLURAL sense. Again, note both the order of the goals cited and the pluralistic sense of each of the goals:

* to form a more perfect UNION
* establish JUSTICE
* insure TRANQUILITY (order)
* provide for our common (not individual) DEFENCE
* promote GENERAL WELFARE
* secure liberty for OURSELVES and future generations

The Constitution focused on defining the relationship BETWEEN the branches of government to provide a government with short term stability, defenses against abuse within the government and orderly methods for altering the long term direction of the government. The Bill of Rights was created to define the relationship BETWEEN the government and the people. It reflects the Founding Fathers' fortunate insight that a better collective direction will result in most situations when the rights of individuals to hold, communicate and pursue their own ideas are protected. The Bill of Rights was NOT intended to REPLACE the larger pluralistic goals of the Constitution. The scope of individual rights ends when exercising those rights interferes with the larger collective rights and goals of society, including the Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness of others.

Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Shooting

The terminology, syntax and sequence of rights and priorities referenced in the above excerpts serve as a useful set of "tie-breakers" when choosing between conflicting interpretations of individual rights and public obligations. They are particularly useful when trying to sort through the larger issues beyond the immediate grief of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Individual Privacy versus Public Safety -- As mentioned earlier, the issue of gun control itself is not the utmost philosophical or constitutional issue raised by the Virginia Tech shooting. The core issue is the conflict between privacy and public safety. Coverage of the incident has unearthed the following information:

* the assailant created and SHARED (public behavior) MULTIPLE disturbed writings which caught the attention of teachers
* the assailant had stalked (public behavior) at least two females, resulting in police contact
* the assailant was ruled by a judge to be mentally unstable and a danger to himself and others
* multiple teachers had offered to provide non-traditional instruction outside the classroom but only with supervision, indicating multiple people reviewed the same facts and came to the same conclusion

Again, those facts alone, without involving any discussion of firearms, highlight the key issue about the rights of an individual versus the rights of others to take actions to protect themselves and the larger communities they serve. This person's mental state was not even close to a judgment call. One student who shared a dorm suite with the assailant said the assailant didn't speak A SINGLE WORD to him and several others in the suite for an ENTIRE SEMESTER. Clearly, everyone has a right to communicate or not communicate with anyone they choose but can anyone argue this is even remotely normal behavior in a college environment?

The facts about the assailant's mental health and the unwillingness by Virginia Tech and state/local law enforcement to remove him from that setting point out a legal schizophrenia in the United States about privacy and the stigma of mental health issues versus public safety. We have no trouble restricting the right to engage in other public acts (driving, building a home, etc.) which involve personal freedom and expression because they also have public impacts (You are driving on public roads and can kill other people. You are building a home which could collapse or burst into flame if poorly constructed, putting others at risk.)

For something as personal as depression or other even more severe mental illnesses, each person has a right to deal with those problems as they see fit provided the impacts of their illness do not harm anyone else. Once your private demons or medical conditions have the potential to adversely affect the safety of others in a public setting, your individual rights are trumped by the rights of the larger society when those rights conflict. Do you think it's acceptable for someone diagnosed with suicidal depression to be flying a 747? Do you think it's acceptable for an airline that KNOWS the pilot has suicidal depression to continue allowing the pilot to fly? Does the pilot have a "right" to work out his demons over time while flying 200 passengers five times per week?

In the case of the Virginia Tech assailant, he stepped into the public square by requesting to attend a university, he publicly demonstrated repeated threatening behavior in his writings and in his stalking of two separate women and was ruled a danger to himself and others by a judge. He had no "right" to attend Virginia Tech or any other school under those circumstances and legal interpretations in all states should be uniform and clear that the school had the right to deny his attendance at the school.

Denying him the right to attend would not have solved the larger problems of this assailant nor assured the safety of Virginia Tech students in an open campus environment. However, it would have reduced his daily exposure to a social environment he clearly was not equipped to handle, possibly lessening the risk posed to that particular community. This doesn't imply each organization that becomes aware of such conditions only owes a duty to its own local community and to hell with the rest of the world. Instead, it simply reflects the primary obligation to act responsibly within your local scope of authority.

Unique Public Safety Issues in Schools -- Margaret Spellings, Education Secretary for the Bush Administration, appeared on Meet the Press April 22, 2007 to discuss the Virginia Tech shootings. In her comments, she attempted to calm fears by stating that overall, our schools are quite safe. That may be true in a pure statistical sense but in the particular case of mental illness and public safety, Virginia Tech is just the latest in a series of incidents which prove school settings are uniquely UNSAFE. I don't know what Ms. Spellings' definition of "anomaly" might be, but does this list (taken from Wikipedia at #1) look like school shootings are an anomaly in America?

Parkway South Junior High School -- Saint Louis, MO - 1/20/83
Laurie Dann -- Hubbards Woods Elementary School; Winnetka, IL -- 5/20/98
Stockton -- Stockton, CA -- 1/17/89
University of Iowa -- Iowa City, IA -- 11/1/91
Simon's Rock College of Bard -- Great Barrington, MA -- 12/14/92
Richland High School -- Lynnville, TN -- 11/15/95
Frontier Junior High -- Moses Lake, WA - 2/2/96
Pearl High School -- Pearl, MS -- 10/1/97
Heath High School -- West Paducah, KY -- 12/1/97
Jonesboro -- Jonesboro, AR -- 3/24/98
Thurston High School -- Springfield, Oregon, United States; May 21, 1998
Columbine High School-- Littleton, CO -- 4/20/99
Heritage High School -- Conyers, GA -- 5/20/99
Santana High School -- Santee, CA -- 3/5/01
Appalachian School of Law -- Grundy, VA -- 1/16/02
Rocori High School -- Cold Spring, MN -- 9/24/03
Southwood Middle School -- Miami, FL -- 2/3/04
Red Lake High School -- Red Lake, MN -- 3/21/05
Campbell County High School -- Jacksboro, TN -- 11/8/05
Platte Canyon High School -- Bailey, CO -- 9/27/06
Nickel Mines School -- Nickel Mines, PA, 10/2/06
Weston High School --Cazenovia, WI -- 9/2906
Henry Foss High School -- Tacoma, WA -- 1/3/07
Virginia Tech massacre -- Blacksburg, VA -- 4/16/07

The similarities in many of these shootings about the assailants and their mental background seem to point out OBVIOUS aspects of school scenarios that make students particularly vulnerable:

1) The compulsory nature of schools (even colleges which aren't technically compulsory) creates an environment where disturbed individuals who already feel powerless feel more so by the highly scheduled nature of classes.
2) A school setting places disturbed individuals in close proximity to the micro-society they often obsess over as the "cause" of their suffering for extended periods of time (6-7 hours per day) for weeks / months at a stretch.
3) The physical setting of schools provide an unlimited number of locations where large groups of people gather in rooms with limited numbers of easily blocked exits
4) The scheduled nature of classes creates a situation where disturbed individuals with a grudge know exactly where the people they've fixated upon will be at any given time

The safety of students in schools (particularly primary and secondary school) poses unique obligations to our society because of the compulsory nature of school. We're REQUIRING students to be in those classrooms. We therefore owe a particular duty to protect their safety.

Gun Rights in a post-Virginia Tech World -- The Virginia Tech shooting shouldn't change anything about the right of individuals to own and use firearms. What must change is our understanding of how those gun rights intersect with the larger goals of our society and the rights of those within that society. No change in gun laws can guarantee a school massacre never occurs again. Some other method could be employed. The goal should be to prevent massacres period, not simply prevent gun massacres. However, at this time, the combination of mental illness and easy access to weapons is proving consistently and repeatedly lethal in educational settings in particular.

In a perfect world of mentally balanced people and no robberies or murders, all Americans would have the right to own and use any weapon they desired. If you want to live on top of a massive depot of pistols, rifles, shotguns, machine guns and enough ammunition to recreate World War II, so be it. However, if you cannot guarantee your weapons will not be stolen and used to commit a crime, society has a right to impose limits on the nature and number of weapons you can possess. Society also has an obligation to hold you strictly accountable for the safety of your weapons and ANY consequences (accidental or otherwise) of their use. If you are not mentally balanced enough to keep your apocalyptic visions firmly in check and you communicate with others in patterns similar to mass murderers, society has a right and an obligation to restrict your access to any and all firearms. Once your public behavior steps over an objective line, there is no presumption that your right to bear arms trumps anyone else's rights. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Once you cross that line of public behavior, your right as an individual to bear arms goes to the very bottom of the list.

Despite what some pro-gun advocates would like to believe, the right to bear arms was never intended by the founding fathers to enable or promote a nation of nut jobs holed up in a shack or some religious compound "defending" themselves as individuals against everyone else in society. It was not identified as an inalienable right. The language of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution make it clear that all rights described in those documents were proscribed to foster the well-being of We the People as a whole and provide individual rights in sync with that larger goal. In particular, the references to arms and "defence" are both explicitly framed with references to well-organized public forces protecting common interests, not individuals attempting to protect themselves against everyone else or claiming to defend themselves in the absence of a functional police force.

America needs to unify standards for reporting court findings of mental incompetence and improve the sharing of such information. A large number of states currently withhold mental fitness rulings from the national registry. Some only report if a person is involuntarily committed. Based on the pattern of behavior with many of these school shootings, the threshold should be altered to be any official police interaction (call to the home, formal arrest or conviction) with someone ruled a potential threat.

No government use of such data is guaranteed to be perfect (the Duke incident being a prime example of government / prosecutorial abuse) but all that is at stake with this information if an error is made is one person's right to have fun shooting a weapon. If information isn't shared at all to prevent a gun purchase by a deranged person, the stakes are indescribable. Indescribable unless of course you meet a survivor of Columbine, Virginia Tech or one of the other dozen or so shootings. They can tell you EXACTLY what is at stake.

The students and larger community of Virginia Tech have a great deal of hurting and healing to get through in the coming months and years. The rest of us owe them our best effort to rethink our approach to all of the issues that combined to produce this latest horror and do our best to prevent it from happening again and adding more members to their family of survivors.

==========================

#1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_massacre#List_of_school_shootings

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Dubya Bubble and Impeachment

The April 13, 2007 edition of Charlie Rose featured a roundtable discussion with various writers, editors and reporters. One topic involved perceptions and reality about Iraq, the efficacy of the surge and the bombing of the Parliament inside the Green Zone. Martha Raddatz of ABC News commented that no one she has talked to within Iraq has any thought that the United States will "win" the war in Iraq by any traditional measure. Any debates about short-term and long-term tactics involve minimizing the worst case scenario, not achieving the original claimed goals for the war. Apparently, the only three people on the planet who haven't reached this conclusion are George Bush, Dick Cheney and John McCain.

All of the guests concurred they have NEVER seen a president more isolated from Congress, the American people or the world than George Bush. Not even Johnson in 1967-68 at the height of the Vietnam protests when he already decided not run for re-election. This degree of isolation is truly frightening when one considers:

a) Bush PREFERS isolation and loathed external / dissenting opinions from the start.
b) Bush's isolation and resulting ignorance has produced disasters with EVERY problem and policy he has addressed, alienating him from even people in his own party who could provide better advice.
c) With only 20 months left in his term and all the disastrous chickens coming home to roost, absolutely NO ONE with a brain or sense of integrity will be willing to serve in his Administration. Why bother? You're going to be ignored yet tarred by association with the absolute worst presidency ever. Who needs that?

So what kind of ideas and decisions are going to be made when no outside air is reaching the Situation Room? No good ones, that's for sure. Maybe ideas like hiring a "war czar" to coordinate war strategy, which, based on my last read of Cliff's Notes on The Constitution was clearly George "Wartime Commander-in-Chief" Bush's job. (Does Bush only like playing CIC when he gets to wear a flight suit?) The lack of interest in anyone taking the "czar" role is the latest confirmation of the damage done to the Executive Branch by this Administration.

The self-imposed anti-reality bubble around George Bush and his inner sanctum doesn't itself constitute an impeachable offense, but its impacts are the most appropriate motivation for pursuing impeachment. His botched decision to topple Saddam, the botched handling of the resulting war, the botched response to Katrina (a disaster he failed to even MENTION in both the 2006 and 2007 State of the Union addresses -- see #1 and #2), and his politically motivated management of regulatory functions are ample proof there is far more damage he can still generate unilaterally without a single Congressional vote in direct opposition to the will of the country.

If an Administration's reputation has become so toxic that no one is willing to serve their country at arguably one of the most crucial points in our history, it's time for the President to leave. If you aren't worried about an isolated, unsupervised George Bush and what he could yet do to damage our country and our position as a force for good in the world, you simply haven't been paying attention.

=====================

#1) http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/

#1) http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2007/

The Song Remains the Same

The PBS news magazine NOW ran a story (#1) April 13, 2007 about SEC investigator Gary Aguirre who was abrubtly fired by the SEC after he informed his boss he was going to subpoena John Mack regarding an investigation into fraud at the hedge fund Pequot Capital. The investigation involved a deal in 2001 that netted Pequot Capital $18 million but may have involved inside information about the company whose stock was in play. Mack had been CEO of MorganStanley at the time of the events being investigated and Aguirre wanted to see what information Mack might have provided. His boss told him he could not approve a subpoena of Mack because of his political profile. Mack is a "Ranger" level fundraiser within the Republican Party.

Just weeks before being fired, Aguirre was given a top job evaluation which cited his performance on the Pequot case. After the firing, agency officials mentioned "personality issues", etc.

Sound familiar? It should. That is the exact same pattern seen with the dismissal of eight United States Attorneys.

Think this is just another Democratic Party witch hunt? Republican Senator Arlen Spector and Charles Grassley of Iowa have both publicly criticized the SEC's handling of the case. When interviewed by a MarketWatch columnist, Spector said:

"He was doing outstanding work -- whatever language that was -- and then they manufactured a re-evaluation as the basis for firing him. Totally, totally unjustified." He said the SEC's actions have "an overtone of a coverup." (#1)

The ties to the Republican Party are less concerning than the fact that the SEC appeared reluctant to investigate a leading Wall Street executive involving issues central to its mission in ensuring integrity in the markets. Mack was not necessarily the focus of Aguirre's investigation, but someone with likely insight. Mack was cozy enough with Pequot Capital that he became its CEO for a month in 2005 when he temporarily left MorganStanley in a power struggle with a long-time competitor. In essence, the circumstances of Aguirre's dismissal illustrate the danger of a crucial regulatory agency being "captured" by the very industry it is charged with regulating.

The NOW story tied the problems with proper investigations of Wall Street firms into the larger problem of the shenanigans that could be going on with hedge funds, using the failure of Amaranth Advisors as a case in point. The story also indicated that the majority of political contributions from hedge fund operators have been going to Democratic politicians, with Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd one of the most notable examples. Watch this space… Money is a bi-partisan, equal opportunity corruptor.

=================

Paul Wolfowitz, one of the lead architects of the colossal disaster in Iraq, was rewarded for his efforts by being appointed President of the World Bank. The irony starts right there. The World Bank is an international organization of financial experts dominated by the United States aimed at providing loans and financial expertise to developing nations as part of a larger goal of improving the world via economic development. Paul Wolfowitz has spent his entire working career working in an around government and has absolutely no experience in hands-on economic development or banking at the micro or macro level. In other words, Wolfowitz is another Phil Graham, a conservative who has made a career out from tying his wagon to those who bash the ability of government or public agencies to accomplish ANYTHING productive yet has done NOTHING in his career except work in government to prove his theory correct.

Wolfowitz is now facing controversy over alleged favoritism over pay raises granted to his girlfriend who worked within the World Bank but was reassigned to a position inside the US State Department ostensibly to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest from working in a chain of command to her boyfriend. The only problems are that

a) she's still on the World Bank's payroll
b) she received a raise to a salary of $193,000
c) she now makes more than Condoleeza Rice, who "only" makes $186,000

Wolfowitz claims he offered to recuse himself from any decisions about her compensation and career path to avoid any conflict of interest and that the World Bank board rejected the request and told him to solve it by giving her an external assignment. In a comment provided to the Financial Times, a World Bank official stated:

…the terms of Ms Riza's secondment were approved by the ethics committee of the board – not by Mr Wolfowitz. He said the terms of the assignment "recognised her professional contribution and career opportunities", which might be impaired by her departure to the State Department. (#3)

Wow. Just take a moment to savor the cynicism in that comment.

If working for the State Department in the Bush Administration, which has done so much to foster peace and economic development in the world, is such a career downer, then why did she take the job? Does she have no moral compass guiding her in her career choices? I guess $193,000 can be a pretty effective muzzle on the neo-conservative conscience.

Sound familiar? It should. This describes the cynicism of virtually every Bush Administration staffer, many whom cam from anti-government think tanks yet had no qualms about going into the belly of the beast and collecting a paycheck.

In the resulting furor within the World Bank employee ranks and the larger public, great dissatisfaction is coming to light about Wolfowitz's management style. After taking over the helm at the World Bank, Wolfowitz brought in two long time colleagues as aids and immediately blocked out everyone else in the institution as he went about implementing his grand ideas.

Sound familiar? It should. This is exactly the same management style from the same man that helped produce the Iraq war.


The neo-conservative song remains the same. For the last six years, neo-conservatives have simultaneously cited government as the root of all evil while clamoring for control of every lever of power and abusing that power to screw up every situation they touched while enriching their friends at the expense of the public and world at large. The song remains the same, indeed.

==================

#1) http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/315/index.html

#2) http://www.marketwatch.com/News/Story/sec-afraid-elite-wall-street/story.aspx?guid=%7B61D5EB54-C4F4-48C3-8641-8EAB2C088D26%7D

#3) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17956779/

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Still Think SOX Is a Bad Idea?

I've commented previously about the value of Sarbanes-Oxley reporting rules as relatively cheap "macro-economic malpractice insurance" for the economy (#1, #2). The Wall Street Journal reported April 14, 2007 on a report from the board of Computer Associates (now CA) that is recommending a lawsuit against its founder to recover $500,000,000 in costs related to his role in the larger $2.2 billion accounting fraud alleged by the government.

Per the WSJ report, the committee report not only confirms the nature and extent of the charges against eight CA employees who have already been indicted but identifies three others not yet facing charges. For those who might conclude that SOX rules were unnecessary and that the board did its job, you might want to rethink that:

* Charles Wang resigned in 2002 amid clear signs of financial fraud.
* The board waited for THREE YEARS to commission the investigation in 2005.
* The board's investigation received no cooperation from Wang whatsoever during the investigation.
* The report identifies an additional three employees who have not yet been indicted but played key roles in the fraud.
* The report was issued more than five years after the fraud, preventing the information from being used in criminal proceedings due to the 5-year statute of limitations.

How convenient.

Wang is probably still worth south of $1 billion so the CA board might be able to recover its $500 million from him but that still leaves him with about $400 million and leaves investors who saw share prices drop from $20 to $7 during the worst of the crisis in mid-2002 holding the bag. That's not an efficient free market. That's a free market for criminals.

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#1) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/is-sarbanes-oxley-really-problem.html

#2) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/11/what-enron-and-worldcom-werent-enough.html

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Ghost of Harry Caray

Comedian John Caponera is famous for his impressions of famed Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray and his unique play by play style.

He's totally oblivious. The game's incidental. I was on Rush Street last night, getting totally inebriated, I close the one bar and went across the street and had a taco at that greasy spoon (there's a triple play). Anyway, I had too many jalapeno peppers, get indigestion you know (there's a fastball off Sandberg's head, both benches empty) so I'm looking for the Pepto-Bismol (he's on a stretcher, I think he's dead) finally I get a hold of some Kaopectate. Heeeeyyyy! The Pope is here. The Pope is here with a group of thirty cardinals. Finally, a group of cardinals the Cubs can beat...

I have become convinced the ghost of Harry Caray is alive and well. In the American media.

There might be no better proof of the media's oblivious, incidental treatment of what's really important in the world than the "controversy" over the comments made by Don Imus on his radio/cable-TV simulcast show. Since the comments themselves were so moronic and racist, there's not much enlightenment to be gained from analyzing them. They were moronic and racist. What IS enlightening is a review of the time spent on "coverage" of the comments and the timing of that coverage in the media.

The April 10, 2007 edition of NBC's Today show spent the entire first hour of the show on the following segments:

* the normal 2 minutes of welcoming chit-chat and self-promotion
* the normal top-of-the-hour 4 minute news summary, including references to the Imus controversy
* the normal top-of-the-hour "here's what's happening in your neck of the woods" weather report
* the main 7:00am in-depth session with Don Imus and Al Sharpton
* the normal bottom-of-the-hour 4 minute news summary, including references to the Imus controversy
* the normal bottom-of-the-hour "here's what's happening in your neck of the woods" weather report
* a follow-up "panel" discussion of regular NBC and/or Imus talking head guests about the Imus controversy
* a five minute promotional segment on the much anticipated 2007 edition of "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?"
* an update on the latest contestant ousted from American Idol

Both NBC and CBS led their evening news on April 10, 2007 with more "reaction" to the comments and "reactions" to "reactions", including coverage of the 30 minutes or so the women of the Rutgers team wasted dignifying Imus' idiotic comments with any response whatsoever. (Ladies... He's a loser. Don't waste your breath or your time.)

The most ironic aspect of the "Imus Imbroglio" coverage involved the comments from the Today show talking head guests about the illegitimate use of public airwaves for such offensive speech.

Can someone explain to me how spending nearly 40 minutes of network time on the most watched morning show in the country rehashing moronic, racist comments from one shock jock constitutes "legitimate use" of the public airwaves? How does that elevate the public's understanding of ANY major problem facing America? As the staffers at the Today show spent all day Monday on the phone trying to line up guests to harrumph about impacts of Imus' comments, did any of them happen to glance at a calendar or a newswire? Monday. April 9, 2007. Four years after the famous toppling of a Saddam statue marking the wildly successful replacement of a brutal, murderous dictator with a shiny new democracy that would bring peace, justice and prosperity to a grateful Iraqi people.

What's that? It isn't a shiny democracy? How many car bombs exploded over the weekend? How many US troops were killed on Monday, April 9, 2007? How much of the invasion costs have been covered by a booming Iraqi oil industry?

If the media wants to address a serious issue about the use of public airwaves, why not turn the light on its own shameful conduct leading up to the war in Iraq? Or its swallowing of the "heroic" Jessica Lynch story hook, line and sinker? Or the debates about post-invasion strategies for civil control of the country that produced the security vacuum that allowed the insurgency to florish?

If the media wants to address a serious issue involving the media and college athletics, why not address the corruption of college sports and higher education in general by media giants making millions off broadcast rights for "amateur" sports where EVERYONE makes money except the "amateurs"?. Why not find out where those NCAA dollars are going and how athletic departments and loser alumni with nothing better to worry about than how their lame college sports teams do in the rankings are distracting the entire higher education system from its core mission at a time when a growing portion of our high-dollar technical work is being farmed out to foreign-born nationals?

If the media wants to provide serious analysis of the ongoing effects of lingering racism, why not address the aftershocks of hurricane Katrina? Why not address how FEMA squandered billions in emergency relief dollars paying favored contractors to hire sub-contractors to hire sub-sub-contractors to do work that was finally done for 30% of the original contracted cost? Why not address how that extra bloat could have at least been used to jump-start new service-oriented small businesses while ensuring they had immediate revenue for immediate, measurable work (not a handout) and immediate experience in bidding for contracts, etc.? Isn't small business supposed to be the real engine of job growth in the economy? Or is that only true once every four years on the podium at political conventions?

Heeeeyyyyy! American media! The game! Pay attention to the #^@*~!% game!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

OK Congress, Make Yourself Useful

It seems no one is happy with the bills passed by the House and Senate involving continued funding for the Iraq war. The votes have spawned arguments on both sides of the proverbial aisle:

-- Conservatives argue (correctly) that legislation that proscribes specific dates for changes in troop deployments along with funding interferes with the President's role as Commander in Chief.

-- Conservatives also argue (correctly) that if liberals REALLY want to stop the war, they should vote to do precisely that -- stop the war by withdrawing funding, which DOES lie within the Constitutional authority of Congress.

-- Conservatives finally argue (correctly) that the votes should not have required billions in pork-barrel spending to attract enough votes for passage. House and Senate members should have been willing to vote for / against the core issue on its own merits.

-- Liberals argue (correctly) the House and Senate votes DO matter, even if they lack the margins to override a threatened veto, because they clearly convey the changing sentiment of Americans who must be in support of any long-term war in order for it to "succeed" at whatever it was supposed to accomplish.

Arguments about this specific legislation and the larger issue of ending the war will continue until some other even larger, more menacing issue takes center stage. Sadly, that next issue may be days or weeks off, not months or years.

That's why, if Congress REALLY wants to make itself useful and accomplish something truly valuable for the long-term health of the United States, Congress needs to immediately vote to eliminate the War Powers Act in its entirety. I've written about this before (#1) but the following combination of events

* the disastrous results from the half-baked "authorization" of war in Iraq
* the ongoing saber rattling against Iran and the escalation between Iran and the West
* fundraising results showing Democrats collecting lots of gold bricks for the 2008 Presidential race

might constitute the perfect motivational circumstance to focus Congress on reclaiming its Constitutional "manhood" from the blind trust in which it put it when the War Powers Act was passed in 1973.

First, two key relevant documents:

The War Powers Act: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/warpower.htm
The United States Constitution : http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html

The War Powers act attempted to establish a process for controlling the escalation of "cold war" conflicts into "warmer" wars while still acknowledging the need in a nuclear world of the Commander in Chief to respond militarily to attacks on United States interests without waiting for formal debate and a declaration of war. In reality, passage of this law cemented the flawed concept of the President as Commander in Chief of a never-ending, too-secret-to-share-with-the-public state of war. That approach is completely out of sync with the intent of our Constitution which assigns the following functions to Congress:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;


The Constitution also states:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Read the above clauses again, CAREFULLY. They unambiguously state that the President is the commander in chief of military / militia forces once called into the actual service of the United States. They unambiguously state that only Congress has the power to DEPLOY any military force against foreign or domestic threats.

Why is now the perfect time to eliminate the War Powers Act?

ONE -- The Iraq War started with the CLAIM of an imminent threat and an "authorization" by Congress for the President to address that imminent threat. Rather than launching a war against a specific enemy in a specific country with a clear idea of terms under which hostilities will cease, we are now stuck in a mode of searching for additional bogeymen to justify our presence while resisting attempts to withdraw troops under the pretence of emboldening a larger enemy who was not specifically identified in a valid declaration of war. The result? Over 150,000 troops stuck in a no-manhood-land of battling egos, billions of dollars squandered, and an American public which has lost interest.

TWO -- The battle of words with Iran and the seizure of British forces in the most sensitive shipping area of the world is HIGHLY likely to produce another half-baked, half-thought out engagement of American forces. Every press account of the action itself and recent demonstrations within Iran confirms the capture was specifically planned as a domestic Iranian political diversion on the part of the mullahs running the government. If President Ahmadinejad and the nutjobs pulling his string continue to interfere with shipping in international waters to distract their populace from glaring domestic problems within Iran, we will be justified in taking military action if American ships or ships of American allies are affected. However, there is no capability Iran possesses that justifies providing an American President carte blanche to initiate bombing of Iranian targets or covert actions against Iran without the express, prior approval of Congress in the form of a declaration of war. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2403 Americans and destroyed 11 ships and 188 planes but Franklin Roosevelt still sought a declaration of war against Japan. A declaration of war makes it clear to the enemy the American people are behind the hammer that will be coming its way, not politicians with months left in office.

THREE -- House and Senate members who might resist reverting to a more pure Constitution-based process to control the current White House occupant surely can see the value in doing so if one of those crazy front-running liberal candidates for President takes office in 2009. I'm in favor of this no matter WHO occupies the White House.


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#1) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/sotu-alternatives-war-powers.html