Monday, December 31, 2007

Best team ever?

The Patriots are three wins away from staking their claim as the best team in NFL history, and if they win the Super Bowl, there will be no real argument.

I've frequently stated that the '89 49ers are the best team I ever saw, and that's basically wrong. That evaluation is based on the way they whupped everyone in the playoffs and how, during the regular season, they hung 34 on a very good Giants defense. Honestly, the best team I've seen, objectively, is the '85 Bears. I forgot how they crushed the Cowgirls in Dallas (44-0) and shredded the defending champs at The Stick (26-10). Combine that with their rampage through the playoffs (21-0, 24-0, 46-10 wins), the fact that their only loss came with starting QB Jim McMahon on the bench due to injury, they outscored their opponents by 258 points (16+ per game) and the way they manhandled good teams (beat 10-6 Redskins 45-10; beat 10-6 Cowpatties 44-0; beat 10-6 49ers 26-10; beat 10-6 Giants 21-0; beat 11-5 Rams 24-0; beat 11-5 Jets 19-6; beat 11-5 Pats 20-7 and 46-10) and the answer of best team pre-'07 Pats is easy to discern.

The '72 Dolphins are an anomaly. They somehow obtained a preposterously weak schedule, despite winning their division in '71 and advancing to the Super Bowl (where the Cowboys stomped them 24-3). They beat all of two teams with supra-.500 records in the regular season, the 8-6 Giants and the 8-6 Chiefs. They didn't face a team that won its division until the playoffs. And their playoff run (20-14, 21-17, 14-7) is not really the stuff of legends (unless you count Garo Yeprimian's pass attempt).

The Pats are nearly off the charts: highest scoring team ever in both total points and average per game, they outscored opponents by nearly 20 points per game! And the schedule, outside of the AFC East, was actually good. The Pats had to defeat every team in the NFC's best division, including wins over NFC #1 Dallas (48-27 on the road), NFC #5 Giants and NFC #6 Washington (52-7 in Foxboro). They smashed the AFC #3 Chargers (38-14), AFC #4 Steelers (34-13) and dropped the defending champs on the road. They scored more than 70 TDs. And to win the Super Bowl, they'll likely have to beat both the Jags and Colts. A 19-0 run will put them at the top of the pantheon.

Now the fun starts.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dollar Woes Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series we analyzed the long-term macroeconomic trends that assail the dollar as well as recent developments. In this final installment I'll try to prognosticate for 2008 and beyond. Comments and questions welcomed.

What does 2008 hold for the dollar?
I think we will see the nadir for the dollar sometime in 2008, probably in the second half. In terms of levels, I see the euro peaking around 1.6000-1.6500 (current 1.4600) and unlikely to breach 1.7000 for any length of time. Versus the USD index I see it bottoming at 68 (currently 76). The analysis behind this is basic. 2007 was annulis horribilis for the dollar and it shed, at worst, 15% vs the euro and 10% vs the Index. I think it is unlikely that the dollar will do worse in 2008.

1. The G10 economies are, roughly speaking, perhaps 12-18 months in the cycle behind the US. Growth is beginning to slow in certain regions and central banks will start cutting rates. The UK, which has property sniffles of its own, as well as Canada, have already cut rates with Ottawa seriously concerned about the competitiveness of the Canadian dollar above par with the US unit. The European Central Bank for which inflation cutting credibility is paramount may start to cut rates in the second half of 2008. Rates cuts globally make the dollar more attractive.

2. Subprime writedowns should have run their course by the end of the first half. New chiefs at places like Merrill and Citigroup have every incentive to write down non-performing assets as steeply as possible to handicap their tenure favorably. Barring an as-yet unforeseen calamity all the bad news should be out.

3. Fed cuts are foreseen to have run their course, another 75 to 100 basis points or so, sometime this coming year. Once the last cut is seen/foreseen due to a more solid basis for growth (as opposed to fears of in/stagflation) longer term dollar accumulation may begin

4. A new president will be elected in November 2008 and one cannot imagine anyone more negatively perceived than George W. Bush. (A disgrace but that's a different post)

Flies in the ointment

A few reasons why we may see a further, drastic fall in the dollar:

i. Crude oil rises dramatically above $100 a barrel and Gulf countries are forced to de-peg the dollar. This may weigh more than anything else short term.

ii. A hard landing that will force the Fed to cut interest rates dramatically. A drop associated with this may be temporary and last until extremely low rates re-ignite the US economy


A. On China.

Many China hands foresee a marked slowdown in China, perhaps arranged by the authorities with a combination of a more quickly appreciating currency, higher rates and higher reserve requirement/capital ratios. Growth will chug along until the Olympic showcase in August and expected to slow thereafter.

China needs to rein in growth IN A MEASURED WAY. 10% growth (officially) and probably something closer to 15% is too high and one effect of this is business is adding capacity because the domestic currency's forced weakness is amplifying demand. This leads to investment at the margins that won't be profitable with loans that ultimately may not be repaid.

However, its critical to remember that the political priority for the Communist Party is STABILITY. There remains a teeming underclass of laborers numbering in the scores of millions who live hand-to-mouth. A sudden seizure in the economy would leave as many as 200 million itinerant, migrant workers without a job in the major urban areas. So China will proceed cautiously.

B. "Living beyond our means"

Pundits, would-be pundits and politicians are often heard declaiming that the United States "is living beyond our means" and that there, someday, would be hell to pay. What does this mean, really? It starts with the balance of payments which has to, by definition, equal zero. If we have a big current account deficit where we are paying more dollars out than we are getting in, that deficit has to be made up. A positive capital account compensates for the negative current account. In other words the dollars that go out come back in in investments in US dollar assets.

The question often raised then is "What happens when foreigners stop funding our spendthrift habits?" The answer first is UNLIKELY and if they do, NOT MUCH. Why is it unlikely? Well folks who have money to invest need to invest in safe, reasonably secure markets. There is no larger or more secure market than US Treasuries. And when the amounts are hundred of billions and trillions of dollars there aren't actually very many places that offer that much paper especially in long term maturities like 10 to 30 years. [On a technical note, long term paper is especially valuable in portfolio management to tailor portfolio characteristics.]

And if they hem and haw at investing at 4.5%, 5.0% will look much more effective. And at 5.5% they'd run over their grandmothers to grab paper. So the real risk is that concerns about the safety of dollar denominated assets will lead to higher US domestic interest rates. If the economy remains weak and rates are forced to remain higher the US economy could experience stagflation but I find that unlikely to be sustained as stagflation would drive the US economy into recession and that would immediately start to reduce the trade deficit.

Dollar Woes Part II

Yesterday in Part I we covered some of the long term macroeconomic issues that ail the dollar. Today we'll look at more recent events, primarily in 2007 where the dollar shed 13% vs the euro and 9% vs the USD index as well as some other factors that weigh on the greenback.

(numbering continues from Part I)

4. The subprime crisis

The subprime crisis that caused sniffles as early as March that became a systemic septic infection in August battered the dollar. A goodly chunk of the dollar drop came in the three months after August 7th when the Federal Reserve cut the discount in a surprise, intermeeting move that started the current cycle of FOMC rate curs.
Subprime has hurt the dollar in three ways:

First, the horrific shudders that it has sent through an already weak housing and construction sector directly affects economic growth in the United States. The subprime crisis hits at the root of the economy - new housing spurs building materials, construction, major household expenditures like new appliances and furniture that are purchased to furnish a new home, describes the huge role that housing plays in the economy. As credit to subprime borrowers has dried up the velocity of home sales has slid at nearly every level (with the exception of the ultra luxury) as current non-owners aren't able to borrow nearly as freely as before so current first-time homeowners can't upgrade. If they can't upgrade, the 500k-800k tranche can't get to the McMansion and homebuilders are left with huge inventory.

Second, the subprime crisis is perceived to have hit American institutions more than global institutions. So far this is true - American banks have been hit much harder but whether it remains true we will know in the fullness of time. After all not just Americans are yield whores which is why the asset backed market became so attractive everywhere.

Finally, lower US rates as a result of Fed cuts makes dollars and dollar assets less attractive to hold ceteris paribus.

5. Oil

The sharp rally in crude is both a cause and an effect of a lower dollar. Since the US is the biggest consumer of crude and the dollar is falling against other trading partners it has the effect of pushing crude higher if producers are to maintain their margins. Before we get the populist dander up let's note that the primary driver of higher crude prices is indeed tremendous GLOBAL demand and not much more available supply at the margins. Crude will come off as a result of any of the following: a stronger dollar, a recession in the US or significant economic slowing in China.

Another key weight on the greenback is the currency regime currently in place in the Gulf of Arabia between large oil producers like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. These countries have pegged their currencies to the dollar for stability - their receipts are in dollars and it has worked well for them for a long time. However given their peg and the fact that the US is lowering rates it creates a lot of domestic inflation. In practice, because of fixed exchange rates, cheap dollars can be converted ad infinitum to the local currency which has caused merchants and services on site to raise prices. This has caused significant consternation among the expatriate service community (imported laborers) who see their paychecks shrink relatively and the value of their repatriations to their home countries also shrink because those countries' currencies are appreciating vs. the dollar. With inflation nearing 10% in these countries many want to re-price oil away from the dollar which would force the sale of dollars for another currency to purchase oil.

It does not appear likely that this peg will crack soon however the fact that it has gained attention is yet another factor dragging on the dollar.

6. Anti-Bush, Anti-Americanism

The palpable antipathy towards President Bush globally is sufficient to affect investment in the United States at the margin. From experience there is not a little schadenfreude particularly from Europe at the travails of the American economy. On the other hand though it is hurting folks like Airbus. I think the effect here is twofold, a reluctance to invest in the dollar given any alternative and increased attention to opportunistic plays against the dollar. This isn't a primary driver but it helps set a negative backdrop for the greenback.

2008 Yankees' crystal ball

Pete Abraham of the Lower Hudson News is one of the better Yankees' beat writers and the best blogger of the lot. Today, he published his predictions for the 2008 season. Some gems:

Feb. 15: Carl Pavano falls asleep on the beach, suffers debilatating sunburn. “Torre warned me about this guy,” Joe Girardi says.

* * *

April 11: First game of the season against Boston goes to the Red Sox 3-2 . . . Curt Schilling gets the win but breaks his index finger trying to field a line drive off the bat of Jorge Posada. Doctors tell Schilling he will be unable to type again, causing him to suspend his blog,

April 12: Posada given American Literary Award for contributions to the betterment of the culture.

* * *
June 14: Yankees win 3-2 at Houston. Roger Clemens makes 2008 debut with the Yankees, having signed a prorated $27,222,222.22 deal three weeks prior. “I feel great,” Clemens says after throwing seven strong innings. “I owe it all to my new trainer, Victor Conte. Salt of the earth, that guy. That flaxseed oil works.”

* * *
Oct. 22: Despite being limited to 50 pitches, Joba Chamberlain goes seven innings for [World Series] Game 2 victory [against Dodgers]. “Gotta be economical,” he said. “Wang taught me his sinker.” Says Torre: “I think I recognize that kid from somewhere.”

Read it all.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

In Pakistan the People are the Problem

National Review's Andy McCarthy has one of the most provocative, and insightful, pieces on Pakistan in the wake of the Bhutto assassination. In the West we like to think that "people are good, government is bad." In today's Pakistan quite the opposite is true:

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

What does this tell us?

Then there is the real Pakistan: an enemy of the United States and the West.

The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman — indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.

The real Pakistan is a place where the intelligence services are salted with Islamic fundamentalists: jihadist sympathizers who, during the 1980s, steered hundreds of millions in U.S. aid for the anti-Soviet mujahideen to the most anti-Western Afghan fighters — warlords like Gilbuddin Hekmatyar whose Arab allies included bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the stalwarts of today’s global jihad against America.

The real Pakistan is a place where the military, ineffective and half-hearted though it is in combating Islamic terror, is the thin line between today’s boiling pot and what tomorrow is more likely to be a jihadist nuclear power than a Western-style democracy.

In that real Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto’s murder is not shocking. There, it was a matter of when, not if.

It is the new way of warfare to proclaim that our quarrel is never with the heroic, struggling people of fill-in-the-blank country. No, we, of course, fight only the regime that oppresses them and frustrates their unquestionable desire for freedom and equality.

Pakistan just won’t cooperate with this noble narrative.

Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people. Their struggle, literally, is jihad. For them, freedom would mean institutionalizing the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism. They are the same people who, only a few weeks ago, tried to kill Benazir Bhutto on what was to be her triumphant return to prominence — the symbol, however dubious, of democracy’s promise. They are the same people who managed to kill her today. Today, no surfeit of Western media depicting angry lawyers railing about Musharraf — as if he were the problem — can camouflage that fact.

In Pakistan, it is the regime that propounds Western values, such as last year’s reform of oppressive, Sharia-based Hudood laws, which made rape virtually impossible to prosecute — a reform enacted despite furious fundamentalist rioting that was, shall we say, less well covered in the Western press. The regime, unreliable and at times infuriating, is our only friend. It is the only segment of Pakistani society capable of confronting militant Islam — though its vigor for doing so is too often sapped by its own share of jihadist sympathizers.

Yet, we’ve spent two months pining about its suppression of democracy — its instinct not further to empower the millions who hate us.
But we should at least stop fooling ourselves. Jihadists are not going to be wished away, rule-of-lawed into submission, or democratized out of existence.
If you really want democracy and the rule of law in places like Pakistan, you need to kill the jihadists first. Or they’ll kill you, just like, today, they killed Benazir Bhutto.

The Bhutto assassination and effects in the US

There is no mystery -- the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a strike against American foreign policy. Bill Roggio reports that al-Qaeda claims responsibility for killing her.

The commentariat is just starting to analyze what the Bhutto assassination means in the world as a whole and in the US.

First, John Podhoretz says that the assassination prevents a presidential campaign that would take us on yet another holiday from history. He notes that

The success of the surge in Iraq, coupled with the bizarre “we’re safe” reading of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, drained some of the passion from the anti-war fervor in the Democratic primary electorate and from the hawkish fervor of the Republican primary electorate. In their place came the Christian identity-politics rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side and the 'we need a nice new politics' rise of Barack Obama on the Democratic side.

Thus, the Bhutto assassination could make the presidential candidates smarten up because "It is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam, the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists."

Mark Steyn sees blood on the hands of the US in this because

Since her last spell in power, Pakistan has changed, profoundly. Its sovereignty is meaningless in increasingly significant chunks of its territory, and, within the portions Musharraf is just about holding together, to an ever more radicalized generation of young Muslim men Miss Bhutto was entirely unacceptable as the leader of their nation. "Everyone’s an expert on Pakistan, a faraway country of which we know everything," I wrote last month. "It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate." The State Department geniuses thought they had it all figured out. They'd arranged a shotgun marriage between the Bhutto and Sharif factions as a "united" "democratic" "movement" and were pushing Musharraf to reach a deal with them. That's what diplomats do: They find guys in suits and get 'em round a table. But none of those representatives represents the rapidly evolving reality of Pakistan. Miss Bhutto could never have been a viable leader of a post-Musharraf settlement, and the delusion that she could have been sent her to her death.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross says the assassination is not surprising:

The most likely culprit in Bhutto’s death is al-Qaeda and aligned militant groups — the same groups who swore they would kill Bhutto when her return to Pakistan was announced, the same groups who tried to kill her in October. If al-Qaeda was indeed responsible, this is another stark reminder of the group’s regeneration in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has returned to the levels of power they enjoyed in Afghanistan before U.S. forces toppled the Taliban, and Bhutto’s death has to be considered a major victory for them.

Cliff May discusses an effective election tactic that the Bhutto assassination represents:

This is not some extraordinary event. This is not the work of some lone madman. This is how militant Islamists contest elections – not just in Pakistan but also in Lebanon and Gaza and wherever they they get a foothold.

Victor Hanson believes the US needs to come to grips with the reality of Pakistan:

Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, among others, have suggested that it’s about time to consider incursions into Pakistan to strike al-Qaeda. That would be like putting a needle into a doughboy: The problem is not a particular region, or a particular Pakistani figure, but Pakistan itself, founded as an Islamic state, and by nature prone to extremism. It is the most anti-American country in the region and we should accept that and move on.

Our relations were always based on the flawed idea its Islamic and autocratic essence made it a good bulwark against communist Russia and socialist India. But the world has changed, and we should too. It is long past time to smile and curtail aid — and quit arming it with weapons that are more likely to be used against our friend India as bin Laden.

The Wall Street Journal has Bhutto's own reflections after the failed attempt on her life in October 2007, and Bret Stephens' column on his interview with her, which originally appeared in the 8-11-07 WSJ.

Dollar Woes Part I

This is Part I or II (or III) and aims to discuss the falling dollar.

As a consultant in the field, I've been asked quite a bit, not the least by the august Monk himself, what is happening to the dollar?

The dollar has been in a secular [long-term] decline since about the beginning of 2002 when it was trading about 120 versus the Index (a basket of other currencies). Today it is trading about 76. This 36+% decline has been steady and inexorable and shows no real sign of abating. Before we go further let's use the European currency, the euro, as a proxy since its easier to visualize. At the beginning of 2002 the 'euro' was trading about 0.86 to the dollar, that is, 86 cents would buy you one euro. Today, it requires $1.47 (147 cents) to purchase one euro. Depending on how you look at it the dollar has lost 40% of its value or the euro has gained 70%against the dollar. (The difference has to do with the basis - by what you are dividing - but that's not relevant to the discussion here.)

Why has the dollar fallen so significantly? I would point to the following reasons:

1. Variance in the economic cycle

Up through the end of the bubble and for 6-12 months thereafter US growth dwarfed the growth of our primary trading partners. Money flowed into the United States from all corners of the globe to buy US assets and in order to buy US assets you'd have to pay in dollars. A banal example: Try buying a hot dog from a vendor with Japanese yen. From 2002 onwards the view was that the USD had grown too strong and an adjustment was necessary. Also while our growth slowed, growth in Europe and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), particularly China, accelerated. (More on this later). Fast forward to 2007 US growth was seen to be slowing sufficiently - punctuated in March by the first subprime sniffles - that rate cuts would be necessary. Contrast this with Europe where growth is still strong and the hawkish European Central Bank [influenced heavily by the legacy Bundesbank] complained about inflation and looked to raise interest rates. The anticipated change in the interest rate differential between the US and its major trading partners has been a cornerstone of dollar weakness particularly over the past year. Also the heady inflows of the years have significantly shifted as other opportunities beckoned.

2. Balance of Trade

Our trade deficit with China has exploded over the past four years. This is due to the fact that the cost of Chinese labor and materials is much, much lower than those in the US. The other piece is that China has artificially kept its currency, the yuan (or reminbi) significantly lower than where it would trade if it floated freely. The yuan is trading about 7.40 to the dollar. It's "real" value at the moment if allowed to float may be somewhere near 5. This makes Chinese exports very affordable and hence the lion's share of products at the Wal-Marts and the Targets are "Made in China" and flying off the shelves. This is not a bad thing; a lot more product is made available to the American consumer at very low prices. However, a large trade deficit where there are a lot of dollars floating around tends to depress its value. If international holders of dollars wish to repatriate they need to buy currency, sell dollars.

Interestingly one reason why the dollar drop hasn't improved the trade deficit as much as one might think is that the dollar fall has come against trading partners like Canada and Europe but the greenback has remained steady against the renminbi (very slow crawling peg) and the Japanese yen, the latter has nearly 0% interest rates.

3. The market is very long dollars.

The world is long of US assets. In fact it is very, very long of US assets. All those exports that Americans have bought on the back of money taken out of houses in the bubbling real estate market, for example, were put to work. Typically countries like China bought interest bearing US government securities (as well as some others which we will get to presently). This had the effect of keeping US interest rates low and at some stage will probably cause China much pain. China can probably be accurately described as following a mercantilist policy. Why will this hurt them in the end? The articially low yuan has propelled economic growth in China to the tune of 10-15% A YEAR. There has been and continues to be a lot of capacity being added that probably should not be added. This is ramping up the bubble of all bubbles. At some stage there may be tremendous overcapacity and then the deflationary spiral will be terrible to behold. To give the butchers of Beijing credit their technocrats have managed their economy exceedingly well.

So what happens when a market is long? It tends to fall for the simple reason that there isn't much appetite to buy more. If, like China, you are long 600 billion dollars and the value of the dollar sheds 10%, well you've lost 60 BILLION DOLLARS. Instead of keeping all your earnings in dollars you may choose to exchange them for other currencies. Given the numbers involved even if the world exchanged a fraction of their US dollar receipts into other currencies we are talking tens of billions of dollars. This behavior, and this is important, THE ANTICIPATION OF THIS BEHAVIOR, puts a lot of pressure on the dollar.

On the other hand there is little motivation certainly by the holders of these dollar assets to liquidate. Simply put their position is too large to liquidate. The act of selling 600 billion dollars would destroy the value of those holdings by a significant fraction. In order to seriously reduce their dollar long the Chinese have to wait for a secular dollar RALLY.

In Part II we will look at some of the more recent events that have conspired against the dollar this year.

Bhutto assassinated

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated this morning by a suicide gunner/bomber in Rawalpindi today where she was compaigning.

Bhutto was first elected Prime Minister at age 35 in 1988 and was the first woman head of government in a Muslim country. Her tenure in Pakistani politics has been dogged by accusations of corruption and Bhutto recently returned from eight years of self-imposed exile in a deal with President Pervez Musharraf.

Bhutto's death could be very destabilizing for Pakistan and may lead to a re-imposition of martial law which was only lifted two weeks ago.

Perversely her death could be the casus belli for Musharraf to go after the fundamentalist/al-Qaeda segment aggressively if he has the fortitude and the support with which to do it. It would be fraught and the support from the Pakistani Secret Service would be very shaky.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Stupid concept, endorsed by intellectuals

This is one of the more intellectually heinous and disingenuous concepts I've ever heard this side of Holocaust denial:

A research paper that won a Hebrew University teachers' committee prize finds that the lack of IDF rapes of Palestinian women is designed to serve a political purpose.

* * *
The paper [] theorizes that Arab women in Judea and Samaria are not raped by IDF soldiers because the women are de-humanized in the soldiers' eyes.

In other words, the IDF's soldiers are intentionally damaging Palestinian women by not f---ing them against their wills. And this is an award-winning doctoral thesis by a Jewish Israeli woman.

The line between academic theorizing and incomprehensible dementia is very faint.

Monday, December 24, 2007

NORAD tracks Santa!


[ - don't get your knickers in a twist - actually on second thought - do.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Headline of the Year

Bush proposal threatens Lebanon stability - Hezbollah

Hahahahahahahaha. Yup, you read that right.

BEIRUT, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Hezbollah said on Friday a proposal by U.S. President George W. Bush for Lebanon's Western-backed governing coalition to elect a new president unilaterally was a threat to the country's stability.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and listed by the United States as a terrorist group, has previously warned that a unilateral move by the majority to elect a president would be tantamount to a coup.

"The American administration wants to embroil who it considers its allies in Lebanon in choices which they already know threaten stability in Lebanon, strike at national unity and spread chaos as happened in Iraq," Fadlallah said.

Hezbollah's deputy chief Naim Kassem also accused Bush of proposing the absolute majority idea "without caring about the repercussions of this issue".

Lawfare: how to lose a war through litigation

Caroline Glick, Israel's Cassandra, discusses Israel's recent legalistic approach to fighting enemies that seek its destruction and juxtaposes it with a recent debate at the Hebrew University between former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak, a judicial activist who makes William Douglas look like a conservative, and Richard Posner, the most influential American jurist not appointed to the Supreme Court.

The Israeli Supreme Court is the most powerful institution in that country, and Barak made it so. It intervenes in political disputes and imposes its will over the Knesset -- often to the detriment of Israel's national security.

Her verdict on the debate is clear, and correct:

. . . as the war in Lebanon showed, the "lawyerization" of Israeli society affects the lives of all of us. Again, this process has not made us more sensitive to human rights. Israelis have always been respectful of human rights.

But before Barak established the supremacy of lawyers, we respected human rights and won wars. Today, we respect human rights and lose wars.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

GLOBAL WARMING EFFECTS -- coldest temps ever!

Remember boys and girls, no matter what happens, if there's a change in the weather, it's attributable to global warming. Even if the changes are record low temperatures and retrenchment of the ice caps in the Arctic. Geophysicist David Deming explains (emphasis added):

Since the mid-19th century, the mean global temperature has increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius. This slight warming is not unusual, and lies well within the range of natural variation. Carbon dioxide continues to build in the atmosphere, but the mean planetary temperature hasn't increased significantly for nearly nine years. Antarctica is getting colder. Neither the intensity nor the frequency of hurricanes has increased. The 2007 season was the third-quietest since 1966. In 2006 not a single hurricane made landfall in the U.S.

South America this year experienced one of its coldest winters in decades. In Buenos Aires, snow fell for the first time since the year 1918. Dozens of homeless people died from exposure. In Peru, 200 people died from the cold and thousands more became infected with respiratory diseases. Crops failed, livestock perished, and the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency.

Unexpected bitter cold swept the entire Southern Hemisphere in 2007. Johannesburg, South Africa, had the first significant snowfall in 26 years. Australia experienced the coldest June ever. In northeastern Australia, the city of Townsville underwent the longest period of continuously cold weather since 1941. In New Zealand, the weather turned so cold that vineyards were endangered.

* * *
Recent weeks have seen the return of unusually cold conditions to the Northern Hemisphere. On Dec. 7, St. Cloud, Minn., set a new record low of minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. On the same date, record low temperatures were also recorded in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are just emerging from a destructive ice storm that left at least 36 people dead and a million without electric power. People worldwide are being reminded of what used to be common sense: Cold temperatures are inimical to human welfare and warm weather is beneficial. Left in the dark and cold, Oklahomans rushed out to buy electric generators powered by gasoline, not solar cells. No one seemed particularly concerned about the welfare of polar bears, penguins or walruses. Fossil fuels don't seem so awful when you're in the cold and dark.

No, they don't.

Today's sign of the apocalypse

Arkansas ex-Governor Mike Huckabee is nearly tied with Rudy Giuliani among Republican candidates for president.

Huckabee is a right-wing pro-life Bible banger, but from a policy standpoint he's Jimmy Carter with darker hair. He wants to raise taxes (the Fair Tax, that will absolutely hammer lower-income Americans), is weak on defense and frames issues in a left-wing Carterian manner (see his Foreign Affairs article), and is far more of a religious zealot than the worst portrayals of Pres. Bush. As a candidate for office, he's awful. As a Republican, he's an abomination.

Hopefully, he'll be exposed soon as the fraud he is and will collapse in Iowa like Howard Dean did in '04.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Woo-hoo! Peter Jackson and New Line bury the hatchet


Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have solved their business dispute and PJ will executive produce a live-action version of The Hobbit!

But wait, there's more. From the presser:


Los Angeles, CA (Tuesday, December 18, 2007) Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson; Harry Sloan, Chairman and CEO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM); Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, Co-Chairmen and Co-CEOs of New Line Cinema have jointly announced today that they have entered into the following series of agreements:

* MGM and New Line will co-finance and co-distribute two films, “The Hobbit” and a sequel to “The Hobbit.” New Line will distribute in North America and MGM will distribute internationally.

* Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on “The Hobbit.” New Line will manage the production of the films, which will be shot simultaneously.

* Peter Jackson and New Line have settled all litigation relating to the “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) Trilogy.

Said Peter Jackson, “I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a legacy we proudly share with Bob and Michael, and together, we share that legacy with millions of loyal fans all over the world. We are delighted to continue our journey through Middle Earth. I also want to thank Harry Sloan and our new friends at MGM for helping us find the common ground necessary to continue that journey.”

“Peter Jackson has proven himself as the filmmaker who can bring the extraordinary imagination of Tolkien to life and we full heartedly agree with the fans worldwide who know he should be making ‘The Hobbit,’” said Sloan, MGM’s Chairman and CEO. “Now that we are all in agreement on ‘The Hobbit,’ we can focus on assembling the production team that will capture this phenomenal tale on film.”

Bob Shaye, New Line Co-Chairman and Co-CEO comments, “We are very pleased we have been able to resolve our differences, and that Peter and Fran will be actively and creatively involved with ‘The Hobbit’ movies. We know they will bring the same passion, care and talent to these films that they so ably accomplished with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy.”

“Peter is a visionary filmmaker, and he broke new ground with ‘The Lord of the Rings,’” notes Michael Lynne, New Line Co-Chairman and Co-CEO. “We’re delighted he’s back for ‘The Hobbit’ films and that the Tolkien saga will continue with his imprint. We greatly appreciate the efforts of Harry Sloan, who has been instrumental in helping us reach our new accord.”

Yes, you read that right -- there will be TWO prequels, The Hobbit and another film connecting it more closely in time to The Lord of the Rings.


And similar to The Lord of the Rings, they'll film the two pictures simultaneously. Release dates: 2010 and 2011.

Losing an example

As you probably know, Andy Pettitte admitted using HGH in 2002 when he had elbow problems. Those elbow problems sidelined him for part of the season and wiped out most of his 2004. HGH is a prescription medication and use of ALL prescription meds are banned by Major League Baseball unless the player has a valid doctor's prescription for their use. Pettitte did not claim he had such a prescription when he used HGH.

Pettitte is right to come clean, and The Monk doubts the effect of HGH on his career -- after all, Pettitte stank in his 2002 playoff appearance (Torre yanked him after 3 bad innings) and lost most of 2004 to injury. Taking his claim at face value, he used HGH twice and for the purpose of accelerating recovery from injury. The effectiveness of HGH for that purpose is questionable. He is not a cheater like Canseco.

Major Leaguers are remarkably dumb. Almost none have college degrees and few (Mussina is an exception) would get into a good college but for their baseball ability. Far more common are the ballplayers who skipped college altogether to go straight to the minors after halfheartedly attending high school (*cough* Manny *cough*). The absence of education that the average ballplayer received is comparable to top hockey players who go into junior programs straight off the snow farms in Canada. So it's easy to see why ballplayers would be stupid enough to buy into some line of BS from the clubhouse attendant who heard from a friend that HGH can heal all wounds and he can get some for the player if the price is right.

I'm disappointed that Andy Pettitte sunk to this average level of stupidity or, worse yet, actively sought an edge illegally. I've noted that as a person and ballplayer he carried himself with dignity and class, prioritized family, showed devotion to his wife and provided a fine example for kids.

I can't say that anymore.

CIA, the Military, Congress and Interrogation

Stuart Taylor is always worth reading and today he explains why, even if the military restricts its field personnel to certain interrogation techniques, handcuffing the CIA with restrictive regulations makes no sense. Thus, he decries Congress' new attempt to force the CIA to treat all interrogation subjects with kid gloves.

The CIA . . . has a small cadre of highly trained professional interrogators operating far from combat zones and under close supervision. These attributes provide some insurance against the admittedly grave danger that individual interrogators will get carried away and, for example, freeze a detainee nearly to death when they had been authorized only to keep him uncomfortably cold during a two-hour session.

That's why the CIA gets custody of only the relatively small number of terrorist leaders, none of them POWs, who seem most likely to have potentially lifesaving information. Since 9/11, for example, the CIA has used "enhanced" interrogation techniques on only about 30 detainees.

* * *
The current push to subject the CIA to the same restraints as the military may reflect congressional unawareness of just how restrictive the new Army field manual is. It not only prohibits practices that violate international or criminal law, such as waterboarding, mock executions, inducing hypothermia, electric shock, and burns. It also prohibits any technique other than those on a list of 19 that allows various forms of trickery but excludes threats, intimidation, an unfriendly poke in the chest, and much more.

Consider Section 8-35. The heading, "Emotional Fear-Up Approach," sounds ominous. But the section specifies that an interrogator "must be extremely careful that he does not threaten or coerce" a detainee or "act as if he is out of control or set himself up as the object or focal point of the [detainee's] fear. If Congress binds the CIA to provisions such as this, it will not only be prohibiting a light slap in a Qaeda leader's face; it will also be prohibiting a threat to slap him.

Does Congress really want to make it unlawful for the CIA to threaten to slap Osama bin Laden (if he is captured) in the face? Or to put him through the indignity of being served MREs until he cooperates?

Then again, the solution Taylor proposes has some entirely unsatisfying aspects -- most notably making the CIA's own manual public:

So instead of binding the CIA to the Army field manual, Congress should require it to make public its own list of permitted and prohibited interrogation techniques, perhaps with a classified appendix to avoid giving terrorists a road map for resisting. Congress should then codify the CIA manual as law, with any changes that Congress may consider necessary.

That appendix suggestion is naive -- far from Taylor's normal level of pragmatism. However, he's right that:

This CIA manual should allow yelling, threats, and other intimidation techniques that clearly do not rise to the level of torture or violate Geneva's Common Article 3.

Leading experts on the laws of war have also suggested persuasively that Congress should make a special provision for emergencies, allowing the president to authorize specified interrogation techniques for specified detainees that may violate Geneva -- but not the torture ban. To ensure political accountability, the president should be required to give the Intelligence committees a written finding detailing both his justifications and the authorized techniques.

It should also specifically allow waterboarding. There's entirely too much whining and crying about how this interrogation method is torture -- the fact remains that the subject is not physically harmed nor in danger of severe injury (the technique is monitored by medical personnel). But it is coercive. And in a war such as the one the US is fighting, such options are necessary.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Outrage of the day

Like the stain you can't remove from your clothing, Australia's ingrained culture of racism against its aboriginal population is a blight on its society. Seriously, there is no Anglospheric nation with a worse record toward its indigenous population than the Aussies' record with regard to the aboriginals.

When we returned from a trip to Oz in 2003-04, I wrote in a travelogue about Australia's own strange career of Jim Crow (to borrow a book title):

On some levels, the Australian aboriginals are equivalent to both black Americans and American Indians, both in their societal arrangements (a parallel system of laws and judiciary like Amer-Indians) and their treatment at the hands of the white Aussies (historically, rank racism and separation). They've been discriminated against time and again; they predominantly live on tribal lands that have been ceded to them over the past 15-25 years by the Aussie government (the Aboriginal Land Claims act was instituted around 1978 or so for ownership claims over nationally held lands, but claims could take a decade or more to sort out); they are subject of distrust and pity by white Aussies. On another level, they are a tourist attraction and cultural anomaly treated as noble savages and still discriminated against within Australian society. As much as the Aussies highlighted aboriginal culture during the Sydney Olympics (including aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman's lighting of the Olympic torch), the facts speak louder than anything else

Fact 1 = 80% of aboriginals do NOT live the traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle that defined and organized their forebears. But you will be hard-pressed to see any representation of the aboriginals in Australia in any other manner.
Fact 2 = From 1920 or so until 1971, aboriginal and mixed-racial children were systematically and forcibly removed from the aboriginal lands and forced to live in white settlements after being domesticated at white church-run schools. See for Doris Pilkington's Rabbit-Proof Fence wherein Pilkington describes her mother and her aunts' escape from the Moore School (better yet, see the movie). The Aussie government did not condone this arrangement, it ORDERED it by statute.
Fact 3 = until 1967, Australian law codified the INEQUALITY of the races (as opposed to American law, which codified the equality of the races in 1865 but needed a kick in the pants from Thurgood Marshall, Spottswood Robinson, William White and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among others, to join the law with the facts).
Fact 4 = on our first day in Oz, we rode the gondola to the top entrance at Taronga Zoo with three Aussie teenagers. They told us the aboriginals get "everything" including "all the land" and that we needed to "watch your pockets" when we were in Darwin. The teenagers were white, middle class Sydney (area) residents.

Why bring this up today? Because only that legacy of racism can explain these actions by a judge in Queensland -- a female judge:

A judge in Australia was facing calls to step down today after she failed to jail a group of nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year-old girl in an Aboriginal community, saying the young victim "probably agreed" to have sex with them.

Instead of jailing the three adults, aged 17 to 26, one of whom was a repeat sex offender, and giving custodial sentences to the six juveniles aged 14 to 16, Queensland District Court judge Sarah Bradley handed out suspended sentences and probation orders.

Evidently in Judge Bradley's mind, aboriginals just rut like animals so a 10-year old girl can actually consent to sex by a gang of nine.

Where can I go to get my reputation back?

What if Brian McNamee is a liar? It's not far-fetched -- the only source in the Mitchell Report who claims to have seen baseball players getting injected with illegal substances is under Federal investigation and a low-end person. So if he's full of it, then the reputations of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte have been tossed in the trash heap by a nobody. Jayson Stark's reaction:

Who among us will ever be able to forget what it felt like to read eyeball-rattling phrases like, "McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone," in this report?

* * *
Is there any doubt the Mitchell report will wreak havoc on Clemens' legacy, reputation and Hall of Fame vote totals? Is there any doubt that 99 percent of all Americans already regard George Mitchell's conclusions about the Rocket as immutable fact, without even examining them closely? None. Right?

* * *
You probably don't even care that the evidence is more tenuous than you'd think. You probably don't even care that two attorneys who were surveyed Thursday, both of whom now work in the sports world, say they're extremely dubious that the allegations against Clemens would hold up in court. Not even in a civil case.

You might find that surprising, considering that Clemens is one of the few players in this report whose alleged use of illegal substances was actually witnessed by a living, breathing human being (trainer Brian McNamee) who then spoke with the Mitchell crew. But one attorney -- a man who doesn't represent players, by the way -- said the entire case is "all based on one guy [McNamee], and there's no documentation."

* * *
Now nobody disputes that the circumstantial evidence here is still the most powerful content in this whole report. And nobody believes that the American public will give a flying forkball about those reasonable doubts.

Heck, the jury of public opinion had rendered its verdict 15 seconds after this report hit the nearest TV screen.

So Clemens' reputation has already gurgled down the drain. But if there's anyone out there who still believes in that old-fashioned innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff, you might want to read that Clemens section over one more time.


National Review has selected its Man of the Year, and unless Time makes the same pick, NRO's will be better.

Gen. David Petraeus.

From the NRO editorial:

When Petraues [sic] testified on Capitol Hill in early September, much of the media and the Left simply refused to believe that violence in Iraq was down. The Government Accountability Office’s comptroller general had appeared before Congress to ask why the Pentagon was reporting much lower numbers of Iraqi civilian deaths than the GAO had (answer: the GAO assessment was based on incomplete figures). And the day Petraeus’s testimony began, ran its infamous “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad. It said that “every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed”; that Petraeus “is constantly at war with the facts”; and that the general “is cooking the books for the White House.” Throughout his testimony, Petraeus continued to suffer slanders from members of Congress who cared about politics more than truth. Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped just short of calling him a liar, saying that to believe his report required “a willing suspension of disbelief.”

Less than a month later, however, Petraeus’s critics had been effectively silenced. To its great credit, the Washington Post acknowledged this in a blistering editorial:
In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 — down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004. . . . It’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were — to put it simply — wrong.

That the surge has worked is no longer up for debate. On a trip to Iraq the week after Thanksgiving, even John Murtha stated flatly, “I think the surge is working.” And in recent months the Democratic presidential candidates have accepted this reality too, sparring more over health-care plans than over who will pull out troops fastest.

The List -- the Mitchell Report points fingers

Click the title to see the list of players named in the Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball. Note how many are recent Yankees and Mets -- that's because the only stool pigeons supporting the report were a former trainer for the Yanks and a clubhouse attendant for the Mess. Note how many prominent current or recently former Orioles are on the list (Gibbons, Tejada, Roberts, Palmeiro, Matthews) and then note how many prominent RedSawx of the past 5 years are on the list (ZERO).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Clemens and the Mitchell Report

Roger Clemens has lawyered up . . . and picked a good one. Rusty Hardin is one of the best in Houston and he's p****d. The only link right now to steroids and HGH between Clemens and Pettitte, respectively, is Brian McNamee -- a man who has missed numerous opportunities to establish his credibility in the past.

“Roger has been repeatedly tested for these substances and he has never tested positive. There has never been one shred of tangible evidence that he ever used these substances and yet he is being slandered today,” said Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin.

“The use of steroids in sports is a serious problem, it is wrong and it should be stopped,” Hardin said. “However, I am extremely upset that Roger’s name was in this report based on the allegations of a troubled and unreliable witness who only came up with names after being threatened with possible prison time.”

Brian McNamee, a former trainer who worked with Clemens on the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, has repeatedly denied these current claims, including in June of this year when he was first contacted by federal investigators. According to McNamee, after a day of repeated denials to federal investigators, he changed his story under the threat of federal criminal prosecution. He says he was then forced by those federal prosecutorial authorities to tell the same story for inclusion in the Mitchell report.

Mitchell Report update

Contrary to CNBC's speculation, no RedSux player was named in the Mitchell Report. As AP reporter Ron Blum stated "Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox, and some questioned whether that created a conflict, especially because none of their players were in the report."

I'm still questioning that. Especially when Andy Pettitte of all people shows up in it.

Mitchell Report Revelations . . . or not

Yankee beatwriter Peter Abraham live-blogged the Mitchell press conference and thinks MLB got ripped off for the $30M it paid for the Mitchell Report. The most notable revelation is Roger Clemens' alleged use of steroids (which Dan Wetzel has knee-jerked into "white Barry Bonds"). The rest, is a lot of sound and fury, signifying . . . very little

read more | digg story

The Mitchell Report: Let the Fall-out begin

The Mitchell Report on steroids and baseball will be released to a large level of fanfare in about two hours. ESPN's Howard Bryant has an extensive investigative piece (linked in title) regarding the conflicts inherent in the report and the fractures between players and owners.

This CNBC report lists players expected to be named in the Mitchell findings. Included are the following players who are current or former (since 2000) Yankees: Roger Clemens, Aaron Boone,
Jose Canseco, Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Grimsley, Jason Giambi, Felix Heredia, Raul Mondesi, Andy Pettitte and Gary Sheffield. That's 11 of the 75 listed in the CNBC report. Nine current or ex-Red Sux are also listed, including Varitek, Garciaparra and Trot Nixon. I counted Damon as both current Yankee and ex-Sawx.

I do not believe the report on Pettitte. I also do not believe the report on Damon. I doubt the investigation's methods and accuracy. It's notable how many players on the CNBC list were Orioles (Segui, Sosa, Gibbons, Palmeiro, Anderson, Tejada, Roberts, Hairston, Belle), Yanks, RedSux, Indians, Cards and Astros. The Sawx are Mitchell's own team (he's on leave from the team's board of directors). The Astros have two dead former players on this list: they were the last team of admitted steroid abuser Ken Caminiti and the first team for Darryl Kile. The Cards were Kile's last team. Rafael Bettancourt (aka Raffy Righty in Cleveland) is a convicted steroid user. In other words, Mitchell primarily obtained sources (whose reliability is unknown) within specific organizations with known users and then leaned on someone to talk.

The commissioner's reaction could devastate these teams if Bud Selig imposes long suspensions on named players solely based on the Investigation results. Other than the known violators (Giambi, Grimsley, Gibbons, Segui, etc.), I'm not convicting the questionable ones (Clemens, Pettitte, Damon, Varitek, Garciaparra) in my own mind without substantial proof.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bush's greatest failure?

Is the continued ineffectiveness, politicization and policymaking of the intelligence community the largest failure of Pres. Bush's presidency? Gabe Schoenfeld thinks this:

Since September 11 we have poured immense resources into improving intelligence and embarked on numerous reforms, including both a 100-day and a 500-day plan to “integrate” the intelligence community’s diverse components. But as we see from the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran — shoddily argued on its face, with the facts it puts forward directly contradicting its own starkly stated finding that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003 — the fundamental problem of our intelligence community remains intractably in place. Some very low-quality people, who have few inhibitions about smuggling their politics into intelligence findings, continue to occupy positions of high responsibility in the bureaucracy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? We can blame some of this on Bush’s first CIA director, George Tenet. And we can also point a finger at Tenet’s successor, the far less canny but equally hapless Porter Goss, who was forced out of the job within half a year. And we can question many of the decisions taken by John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, the two directors, successively, of the new post of Director of National Intelligence.

But who appointed all these people? Who kept the Clinton holdover George Tenet in office after September 11 and then, even after the Iraq-WMD “slam-dunk” fiasco, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor? Who appointed Porter Goss to run the CIA and failed to back him up when he tried to clean house? Who acquiesced in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is emerging as a clumsy and duplicative bureaucratic behemoth, far more focused on drawing and redrawing the organizational charts of the intelligence community than on getting the intelligence itself straight, as the latest NIE demonstrates?

Looking back over the past seven years, I believe it is increasingly apparent that President Bush’s failure to reform the intelligence community — to manage even to gain control of it — is emerging as the largest blot on his presidency. Accused of politicizing the intelligence community, the President has manifestly failed to depoliticize it, with ramifications now spreading across the globe, including the prospect of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons while the U.S. turns a blind eye.

One small step

Tarek Fatah, head of the Muslim Canadian Congress, thinks the Sudanese are nuts for imprisoning a British schoolteacher whose students decided to name a teddy bear she took to Sudan Muhammad.

He's right. Some excerpts from a Macleans interview (courtesy Mark Steyn):

Here in Canada, what's been the reaction among the larger Muslim community?

TF: They’re exasperated. On one side, you have pressures to be [loyal] to your community, so many people would not say anything. But I can assure you that 99 per cent of the [Muslim] community rolls their eyes, and calls each other, and says, "What next?" We are at a loss for words. It’s embarrassing for us, and it is causing a backlash against the Muslim community. Can you imagine if you were in my shoes? I can imagine my neighbours sitting around the breakfast tables throwing up their hands and saying, “Are we dealing with crazy people?”

* * *

The MCC has urged the Canadian government to intercede. Why should Canada intercede on the behalf of a British citizen?

TF: Because [this issue] causes ordinary, non-Muslim Canadians to look at Muslims as if they are people from another planet. For the sake of better race relations in this country, it is important that mainstream organizations stand up and say, “We will not put up with this nonsense.” The Canadian government is our spokesperson. If it cannot defend a teddy bear, what else will it defend? Canada should call in the Sudanese ambassador and tell them that we find this offensive; that the woman should be released right now and let go.

CIA's mutiny

The column by's Christopher Hitchens linked in the title of this post has a misleading subheadline -- "Destroying the interrogation tapes amounts to mutiny and treason." But that's not the point of Hitchens' fine column.

Instead, Hitchens notes that the CIA is a sanitarium run by the looniest inmates. His column bashing the CIA's conclusions in the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is worth reading in full, but here are substantial excerpts (all emphases added):

. . .
It is completely false for anybody to claim, on the basis of this admitted "estimate," that Iran has ceased to be a candidate member of the fatuously named nuclear "club." It has the desire to acquire the weaponry, it retains the means to do so, and it has been caught lying and cheating about the process. If it suspended some overtly military elements of the project out of a justifiable apprehension in 2003, it has energetically persisted in the implicit aspects—most notably the installation of gas centrifuges at the plant in Natanz and the building of a heavy water reactor at Arak. All that the estimate has done is to define weaponry down and to suggest a distinction without much difference between a "civilian" and a "military" dimension of the same program. The acquisition of enriched uranium and of plutonium, for any purpose, is identical with the acquisition of a thermonuclear weapons capacity. Iran continues to strive to produce both, neither of which, as it happens, are required for its ostensible civilian energy needs.

* * *

Why, then, have our intelligence agencies helped to give the lying Iranian theocracy the appearance of a clean bill, while simultaneously and publicly (and with barely concealed relish) embarrassing the president and crippling his policy? It is not just a hypothetical strike on Iran that is rendered near-impossible by this estimate, but also the likelihood of any concerted diplomatic or economic pressure, as well. The policy of getting the United Nations to adopt sanctions on the regime, which was about to garner the crucial votes, can now be regarded as clinically dead. A fine day's work by those who claim to guard us while we sleep.

One explanation is that, like Mark Twain's cat, which having sat on a hot stove would never afterward sit on a cold one, the CIA has adopted a policy of caution to make up for its "slam-dunk" embarrassment over Iraq. This is a superficially plausible hypothesis, which ignores the fact that for most of the duration of the Iraq debate, the CIA was all but openly hostile to any argument for regime-change in Baghdad. This hostility extended all the way from a frenzied attempt to discredit Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, to the Plame/Wilson imbroglio, and the agency's "referral" of Robert Novak's disclosure to the Department of Justice. Interagency hostility in Washington, D.C., between the CIA and the Department of Defense has never been so damaging to any administration, let alone to any administration in time of war, as it has been to this one.

Considering how much more effective the State Department's intelligence arm, and the Defense Intelligence Agency has been, there is a legitimate argument for abolishing the CIA -- especially now as it has become more of the shady lair of questionable personalities evoked in a Bourne movie than a repository of brilliant analysts and ultra-competent agents that you would see in an adaptation of a Tom Clancy technothriller.

Last word to Hitchens:

. . . Despite a string of exposures going back all the way to the Church Commission, the CIA cannot rid itself of the impression that it has the right to subvert the democratic process both abroad and at home. Its criminality and arrogance could perhaps have been partially excused if it had ever got anything right, but, from predicting the indefinite survival of the Soviet Union to denying that Saddam Hussein was going to invade Kuwait, our spymasters have a Clouseau-like record, one that they have earned yet again with their exculpation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was after the grotesque estimate of continued Soviet health and prosperity that the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished. It is high time for his proposal to be revived. The system is worse than useless—it's a positive menace. We need to shut the whole thing down and start again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The magnanimous Chavez . . . or not

The new meme among the left-wing blogosphere is that Chavez is more of a democrat than Pres. Bush because Chavez "accepted" defeat in the recent constitutional election in Venezuela (yes, this ignores the Bush victory in Florida that every recount has confirmed).

Jorge Castaneda, the former foreign minister of Mexico, discusses why Chavez went so quietly to his defeat -- Chavez wanted to overturn the election results but would have been deposed by his own military. Castaneda (sorry, can't do the tilde over the n on Blogger) also notes the problems that Chavez causes in Latin America. Read the whole piece, but here are some choice bits:

. . . by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior. Why did these leaders not speak out? . . .

The reason for the silence: these leaders know Chávez can count on a fifth column in nearly every country in the region. Even while he denounces the policies of his opponents and throws vitriol in every direction, he also uses his nation's resources to befriend their constituencies. These acolytes are devoted to his ideals and, more important, to his funding. They are boisterous, or powerful, or both, and they can make life miserable for governments ranging from the emblematic left (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil) to the liberal right (Mexico's Felipe Calderón or Colombia's Alvaro Uribe).

Over the years Chávez has picked fights, from north to south, with virtually every leader in the region. He called Calderón caballerito, "tin soldier," early this year and questioned his electoral victory last year. . . He accused the Brazilian senate of being a "Bush lapdog" and heaped scorn on anything Spanish under the sun, including the king, the government, the opposition and the banks. He warned two weeks ago that if the right-of-center opposition won next spring's election in Spain he would nationalize every Spanish corporation in Venezuela. He has meddled incessantly in his neighbors' affairs. With varying degrees of proof, stridency and significance, he is said to have interfered in the domestic politics of Mexico in last year's election, in El Salvador by funding the left-wing FMLN, and in Nicaragua by financing public works for Managua's Sandinista mayor, which led to Ortega's victory in the presidential vote. In Peru he openly backed radical nationalist Ollanta Humala in 2006. In Argentina he funded the Kirchners and the so-called piqueteros, or street fighters. He has meddled as well in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and, of course, Colombia, where his intervention led to a breakdown in the international mediation efforts to free a number of hostages.

And Pres. Bush has done nothing but enable Chavez for seven years.

Freedom before Climate

From Czech President Vaclav Klaus - the Czechs are remarkably clear thinkers on the issue of liberty:

BERLIN, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The movement against global warming has turned into a new religion, an ideology that threatens to undermine freedom and the world's economic and social order, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said on Monday.

Klaus was speaking to reporters at the launch of the German translation of his new book, a sceptical look at the worldwide campaign to stop climate change entitled "Blue Planet in Green Chains: What Is Under Threat -- Climate or Freedom?".

"My answer to that question is unambiguous," said Klaus.

"Freedom is under threat."
"Also (threatened) is the prevailing social and economic order, contemporary civilisation, the current prosperity of developed countries and the chances of developing countries to achieve a similar level of prosperity."

He said the climate change movement was not based on science and that theories about man-made global warming could not be proven.

"It has become a new religion or new ideology and in that sense I think it's justified to compare it with other ideologies," Klaus said.

Klaus, an economist and former Czech prime minister who championed the free market, is one of the world's most vocal climate-change sceptics. On Sept. 24 he gave a speech to the U.N. General Assembly expressing doubts whether climate change
was man-made.

Several diplomats said the U.N. speech irritated some small island nations and may have cost Prague a hotly contested seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Klaus said the climate was constantly changing and current developments were no exception. There was no scientific consensus on what caused climate change, although mankind is playing a marginal role.

He added that any likely changes to the climate "in the relevant future" would not threaten the human race.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Iran Nukes NIE

The NIE has effectively allowed Iran cover to obtain nukes. As Valerie Pincy and Gary Milhollin note, the analysis is divorced from reality.

During the past year, a period when Iran’s weapons program was supposedly halted, the government has been busy installing some 3,000 gas centrifuges at its plant at Natanz. These machines could, if operated continuously for about a year, create enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a bomb. In addition, they have no plausible purpose in Iran’s civilian nuclear effort. All of Iran’s needs for enriched uranium for its energy programs are covered by a contract with Russia.

Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at its research center at Arak. This reactor is ideal for producing plutonium for nuclear bombs, but is of little use in an energy program like Iran’s, which does not use plutonium for reactor fuel. India, Israel and Pakistan have all built similar reactors — all with the purpose of fueling nuclear weapons. And why, by the way, does Iran even want a nuclear energy program, when it is sitting on an enormous pool of oil that is now skyrocketing in value? And why is Iran developing long-range Shahab missiles, which make no military sense without nuclear warheads to put on them?

For years these expensive projects have been viewed as evidence of Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons. Why aren’t they still? The answer is that the new report defines “nuclear weapons program” in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear weapon design. But the halting of its secret enrichment and weapon design efforts in 2003 proves only that Iran made a tactical move.

Worse yet, the momentum towards sanctioning Iran in an effort to get it to cease its nuclear ambitions, which may have had a chance at succes, was stopped cold.

The new report has also upended our sanctions policy, which was just beginning to produce results. Banks and energy companies were pulling back from Iran. The United Nations Security Council had frozen the assets of dozens of Iranian companies. That policy now seems dead. If Iran is not going for the bomb, why punish it?

No company or bank will agree to lose money unless a nuclear threat is clear. Likewise, is it fair for the United Nations to continue to freeze the assets of people like Seyed Jaber Safdari, the manager of the Natanz plant, or companies like Mesbah Energy, the supplier of the reactor at Arak, because of links to a program that American intelligence believes is benign? One European official admitted to us that he and his colleagues were flummoxed. “We have to have a new policy now for going forward,” he said, “but we haven’t been able to figure out what it is.”

This situation is made all the more absurd by the report’s suggestion that international pressure offers the only hope of containing Iran. The report has now made such pressure nearly impossible to obtain. It is hardly surprising that China, which last week seemed ready to approve the next round of economic sanctions against Tehran, has now had a change of heart: its ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday that “we all start from the presumption that now things have changed.”

Perhaps the authors are correct in their implication that the Bush Administration is "just washing its hands of the intractable Iranian nuclear issue by saying, 'If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.'" More likely, they are dead-on in their primary conclusion:

. . . the report is an undoubted victory for Iran.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Iran NIE - Read the Key Judgments

One wise blogger once wrote something to the effect of "Before you make any judgments, read the transcript." I forget who it was but it's very good advice. The eminently readable 9 page document is available here. It's easy reading, its just the conclusions and not the Estimate itself which one would hope would remain secret for something sensible, like 50 years, to protect any valuable sources.

Monk has already made some very good critical points in his post below so I am going to concentrate mine solely on the NIE Key Judgments themselves.

Some quick observations:
- The "Key Judgments" section comprises barely 2.5 pages
- Four pages are devoted to PREFACING what their terminology means

Going into the meat of the document:

National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) are the Intelligence Community's (IC) most authoritative written judgments on national security issues..."

So noted.

"This Estimate focuses on the following key questions:
- What are Iran's intentions towards developing nuclear weapons?
- What domestic factors affect Iran's decisionmaking on whether to develop nuclear weapons?
- What external factors affect Iran's decisionmaking on whether to develop nuclear weapons?
- What is the range of potential Iranian actions concerning the development of of nuclear weapons, and the decisive factors that would lead Iran to choose one course of action over another?
- What is Iran's current and projected capability to develop nuclear weapons? What are our key assumptions, and Iran's key chokepoints/vulnerabilities?"

I find it distressing that the Key Judgments do not touch upon the three questions above that I have put in BOLD.

In boldface then the Scope Note states that:

"This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons."

Now that is just academic HOSS-SH*T. Especially considering two pages later in Section A of the Key Judgments this is the FIRST bullet point:

"We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons."

Bullet point #5 in the same section is nearly as outrageous for what it does not say:

"...Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."

This line of reasoning is repeated several times. "International pressure" - could there be ANY possibility the toppling of Saddam's regime in Iraq and 200,000 coalition troops next door was a deterrent factor?

Key Judgment C then has the MOST ASININE comment:

"We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely."


In Key Judgement E there are two very telling comments:

1. "...This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige and goals for regional influence in other ways, might - if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible - prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program."

2. "We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran's key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran's considerable effort from at the least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons." [emphasis added]

Point 1 is pure diplomatic drivel. Point 2 is on point. They tried very hard to develop it for 15-20 years - is there any question as to INTENT?

Finally in the last Key Judgment (H):

"We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so." [emphasis added]


This released portion of the NIE reads like a bad academic paper. It makes very important judgments without substantiation. The level of equivocation - on the one hand, but on the other - is remarkable. And some of comments are purely contradictory.

They are probably popping the proverbial champagne bottles in Tehran because this estimate has probably taken the military option off the table for President Bush as well as for the Israelis unless they have a smoking gun. So what have these folks done? They've effectively moved negotiations forward in time...from 1936 to 1939.

The US Intelligence Community -- mistaken on Iran

Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen and Thomas Joscelyn -- all intel experts who know their field, have blasted the recent National Intelligence Estimate's Key Findings that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon as pure wistful thinking.

Gaffney says the US needs a Winston Churchill to cut through the hopeful nonsense and forthrightly discuss the Iran threat. He notes:

The just-released unclassified Key Judgments of a still-secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) confirm that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons as recently as 2002 or 2003. [But] [t]his homogenized product of the various intelligence agencies performed under the supervision of the deputy director of national intelligence, Thomas Fingar, avers [ ] that the Iranians may have abandoned this program. The reasons given for such a contention are, to say the least, highly subjective and debatable.

The truth is that neither the U.S. intelligence community, nor the International Atomic Energy Agency, nor anybody else outside a very small circle in Iran has certain knowledge about the current state of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, or how far it is from producing one or more usable devices. But, like their counterparts in pre-World War II Britain, today’s spies are serving up soporific conclusions certain (if not calculated) to encourage inaction by the West — and to buy our enemies time to prepare their onslaught.

Worse yet, Gaffney notes that the NIE conclusions are driven more by the diplomatic corps than career intelligence officers. Foggy Bottom has been hostile to the Bush Administration since Day One, has actively rebelled against Bush policies and is accommodative of rogue regimes, including the Saddamized Iraq and Iran. When John Negroponte came over from the State Department to become the National Intelligence Director,

he put a coterie of fellow foreign-service officers, like Tom Fingar, in key leadership positions. A number of these displayed a visceral hostility to President Bush and his most robust policies, including Fingar and the national-intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction (lead author of the new Iran NIE), Vann Van Diepen, and yet remain in place even since Negroponte's move back home to the State Department as its deputy secretary.

Ledeen doesn't buy the conclusion either:

Moreover, there’s the old smell test. We went from zero to bomb in four years leading up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at a time when nobody even knew if the thing was doable. On the IC’s account, the Iranians have been at this since “at least the late 1980’s.” (I actually think it didn’t get into gear until 1991, but let’s not quibble.) During that time, almost everything was for sale (and Iran has lots of money), A.Q. Khan was running his bazaar, Soviet nuclear physicists were hired by Tehran, and the Iranians themselves are very smart. Is it likely, that Iran hasn’t been able to build nukes in two decades? No way.

Joscelyn doubts the methodology of the analysis.

. . . , there are good reasons to suspect that the IC does not have good intelligence inside Iran. For example, both of the leading members (one Republican, one Democrat) of the House Intelligence Committee explained back in 2006 that we did not really know then what was going on inside Iran. And the Robb-Silberman Commission, which investigated what the IC knew about WMD programs around the world, found in 2005: "Across the board, the Intelligence Community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors. In some cases, it knows less now than it did five or ten years ago."

* * *
As this latest NIE notes, its conclusions are at odds with what the IC believed in 2005. The last page of the declassified Key Judgments notes significant differences between what the IC believed in 2005 and what it is saying now. In 2005, the IC noted: "[We] assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable." Now the IC says, "…we do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." So, in 2005 the IC was sure that Iran was determined to build a nuclear weapon and now it is not sure at all. This is a profound change in opinion and, at a minimum, does not inspire confidence that the IC can get this story right. After all, if the IC’s judgments can change so drastically in two years time, why should we believe any of its pronouncements one way or the other?

What is the basis for this flip-flop? What has been learned in the meantime to warrant such an about-face?


Nothing at all.

The Yanks wheeling and dealing

Right now, the Santana-to-Yankees deal looks dead. The Yanks felt they had the best package on the table with Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and a B level prospect over the RedSawx' offer of Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie, Coco Crisp and Jeremy Masterson. Those offers are close -- the $11M Crisp is owed and the lesser talents of Masterson and Lester are offset by the Yanks' refusal to include a third top prospect in the deal. Moreover, and thankfully, the Yanks internally are uncomfortable with trading Hughes. They should be -- this is a top-of-the-rotation starter with a makeup to match his physical skills (unlike Kyle Farnsworth).

If the Yanks were not thrilled about trading Hughes for Santana, they DEFINITELY should not trade him as part of a Danny Haren deal. Haren is the Yanks' plan B at this point because they don't think the Orioles would trade lefty Erik Bedard within the division. Haren is a fine pitcher, one The Monk would be pleased to see in pinstripes. But he is worth a Kennedy-Melky-Horne package, not Hughes. Bedard (13-5, 3.16, 221K in 182 IP) is a lower-cost and lower-mileage Santana and had a better season than Santana last year. The Kennedy-Melky-Horne package for Bedard is also a good one.

Moron of the day

From Jayson Stark's story on the Johan Santana trade talks this morning comes this idiocy:

"If the Red Sox get Santana," said an executive of one NL team that's grateful to be in the other league, "they might be the best team in the history of the frigging universe."

Right. And if Wongdoer had wheels, he'd be a trolley.

Executives said the same thing in 1999 when the Yanks acquired Clemens after the 114-win season in '98. Didn't happen -- the Yanks won 98, Clemens and Pettitte struggled, and the team needed a botched double play leading to a big comeback to maintain their division lead in September over a RedSawx team that won 94 despite a rotation that went one man deep (Pedro).
Then again, the '99 Yanks were 11-1 in the playoffs and waxed the Braves in four.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pettitte back, kill the Santana trade!

Andy Pettitte will pitch for the Yanks in 2008. This gives them a rotation of Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Mooooooooose, Joba/Kennedy. That's enough to get to the playoffs and do damage, especially if the kids don't regress.

Here's what Andy Pettitte did in his second season (1996) with the Yanks: 21-8, 3.87, 221 IP, 2nd in CYA voting. Hughes is supposed to be a top of the rotation starter with greater upside. If he puts out a performance somewhere between the '96 Pettitte and what Pettitte did in his first year with the Yanks (12-9, 4.17, but 6-1, 3.00 during the Yanks' push to the wild card from Aug. 30-Sept. 29), that's more than good.

So pull off the Santana trade. If the Yanks want more depth in the rotation, get Bedard or Haren or even Blanton. But don't trade Phil Franchise for a flyball pitcher who will have one of the weakest outfield defenses in Yankees' history behind him.

Freedom's split doubleheader

A victory for freedom in Venezuela where the people rejected dictator-in-the-making Hugo Chavez's attempt to write himself into the constitution as (essentially) the nation's leader for life failed 51%-49% in a vote over the weekend. The Monk thinks the real vote was less close.

Meanwhile, in Russia Vladimir Putin's party swept the elections. Garry Kasparov smells a rat. Given Putin's history of supporting free, fair and above-board elections (HA!), Kasparov's nose seems like a good one.