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Archive for November, 2010


[ 9 ] November 21, 2010 |

This is news:

North Korea showed a visiting American nuclear scientist earlier this month a vast new facility it secretly and rapidly built to enrich uranium, confronting the Obama administration with the prospect that the country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb.

Whether the calculated revelation is a negotiating ploy by North Korea or a signal that it plans to accelerate its weapons program even as it goes through a perilous leadership change, it creates a new challenge for President Obama at a moment when his program for gradual, global nuclear disarmament appears imperiled at home and abroad. The administration hurriedly began to brief allies and lawmakers on Friday and Saturday — and braced for an international debate over the repercussions.

The scientist, Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that he had been “stunned” by the sophistication of the new plant, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed in a recently gutted building that had housed an aging fuel fabrication center, and that were operated from what he called “an ultra-modern control room.” The North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges were already installed and running, he said.

American officials know that the plant did not exist in April 2009, when the last Americans and international inspectors were thrown out of the country. The speed with which it was built strongly suggests that the impoverished, isolated country, which tested its first nuclear device in 2006, had foreign help and evaded strict new United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed to punish its rejection of international controls.

The summary touches on the interesting bits, which to my mind are the questions of foreign assistance, North Korean motivation, and US intelligence gathering capabilities. On the first point, if it’s determined that North Korea had substantial help (and from this initial report it appears likely), then either the Proliferation Security Initiative has serious holes, or China is signaling lack of interest in constraining North Korean weapons development. On the second, it’s hard to say what precisely the point of revealing the plant is beyond a demonstration of 1) North Korean resistance, and 2) the desire for additional US economic assistance. I wonder whether North Korea is picking up cues from the deterioration of security relations between the PRC and the US/Japan, and has decided to take advantage of those tensions. I’m also kind of curious what role Russia could play in this. Finally, if we really didn’t have any idea that a large enrichment facility was being built over the course of a year in one of the most surveilled countries in the world, it really opens up some serious questions about our intelligence gathering capabilities. To my mind, it also reaffirms the utility of on the ground inspections.

Finally, the chances that conservatives will use the North Korean revelation as ammunition against the wholly-unrelated New START are roughly 100%.

…see also Lewis and Kimball.


An Epic Fail For All Seasons

[ 9 ] November 21, 2010 |

Since Charli has noted the ways in which Marc Thiessen is wrong in ways that are grossly immoral and dangerous for national security, I’ll note that like so many modern Republicans he seems to take pride in being wrong about everything, even stuff that there’s no logical reason for conservatives to be wrong about.    Take the very first manifestation of his all too explicable gig with Fred Hiatt:

Something has been lost since the U.S. started sending professional athletes to the Olympics — first with the basketball “dream team” in 1992, which crushed the competition on the way to the gold, and then with hockey in 1998. Now, National Hockey League executives are reportedly debating whether to continue their Olympic commitment beyond the Vancouver Games. For the sake of hockey fans and for the sake of the NHL, the answer should be no.

According to the ratings, even many of you who aren’t otherwise hockey fans watched at the Olympics.   Would anybody have preferred watching a bunch of semi-pros rather than the greatest players in the world?  Anybody?  Didn’t think so.

And just as as he’s  apparently willing to make torture-justifying arguments in public that in a more rational universe would be confined to blog comment sections (“the fact that a few military personnel submit to torture as part of torture resistance training proves that inflicting the seem techniques on other people isn’t torture!”), note that in a mere two sentences he manages to pack in at least two glaring logical and/or empirical errors.   The comparison with hoops in transparently specious, because there’s a much, much more even distribution of talent in (men’s) hockey.   Canada (which has yet to win a medal outside of North America since the NHL blessedly started letting its players compete in the Olympics) doesn’t have anything like the dominant position that the U.S. has in basketball, and 5 or 6 teams could have won hockey gold with it being only a mild upset at most.    And the nostalgic longing for the game at which Al Michaels personally tore down the Berlin Wall is even dumber, because the Miracle on Ice was thrilling because the Soviets were allowed to play a team full of world-class professionals, many of them Hall of Fame caliber.  If you think that one country’s semi-pros and college kids playing someone else’s could generate similar excitement, I have some shares in a network that plans to broadcast the Spengler Cup in American primetime to sell you.

Being this wrong all the time about everything is an impressive achievement, in its way.

Sunday Book Review: How the CIA Has Made America Less Safe (A Response to Marc Thiessen)

[ 54 ] November 21, 2010 |

I had the tremendous pleasure of appearing on a forum with Marc Thiessen earlier this week, sponsored by the UMass Republican Club. Thiessen was there to promote his new book, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack, and in his remarks he gave the abbreviated version: that had it not been for the enhanced interrogation including waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a few other high-value detainees (which by the way definitely wasn’t torture), potentially thousands of Americans would now be dead in attacks foiled only by the efforts of these patriots who set aside their moral uneasiness and, as professionals, applied the least necessary discomfort to a few detainees in order to gather vital actionable intelligence.

A number of commentators have already ripped apart his argument on the facts and methodology (Jane Mayer questions his causal narrative on empirical grounds; Matthew Alexander points out that the evidence he presents is primarily drawn from interviews with the CIA agents who did the torturing and proceeds to pick apart a number of his propositions, drawing on his extensive experience as a former military interrogator.)

In my view, the weakest part of his book is where he tries to argue that enhanced interrogation isn’t torture and doesn’t violate the Geneva Conventions.

His fallacy regarding the Geneva Conventions is that they don’t apply to GWOT detainees. But he seems to be confusing the concept of humane treatment with the concept of POW status. It’s true that the likes of KSM probably do not qualify as POWs, but this only means it is legitimate to try him for participating in hostilities. It doesn’t mean he can be tortured: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is understood by both human rights organizations and the US Supreme Court to apply to all detainees in all contexts.

For the torture claim, Thiessen relies on the US definition of torture in the War Crimes Act, as well as a “common-sense definition of torture” as he put it in our panel discussion: “if you are willing to try it yourself, it’s not torture.” He also argues waterboarding can’t be torture, because it if is the military would be guilty of torturing its SERE trainees.

In making these claims, Thiessen wilfully overlooks the elements of the international torture definition that pertain to the context of torture: the Convention Against Torture defines torture not as just any kind of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering” but particularly suffering

intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

In short, SERE training doesn’t qualify under this definition; it also doesn’t quality under the War Crimes Act because trainees are not “in custody” and have a choice to quit. It’s clear that these legal instruments define torture, and prohibit it, in precisely the kinds of situations that Thiessen is talking about.

But non of these legal mistakes disprove his entire argument, because his argument doesn’t really rest on whether this is torture or not: in fact if Thiessen were to just admit we tortured, it wouldn’t alter his basic argument at all, which hinges on a causal claim and a moral claim. The causal claim is that torture, yes, torture is both effective and absolutely necessary for the protection of civilians from terror attacks. The moral claim is that, if these two causal claims are true, then engaging in limited acts of non-lethal torture are the lesser evil compared to standing by and allowing innocent civilians to absorb terror attacks.

Thiessen does a careful job developing these claims, squarely addressing liberal counter-arguments as he does so, and so for the sake of argument, I plan to set aside my general belief that torture is illegal and wrong no matter how effective it is. I’ll also set aside the broader constitutive claim that “it’s not about who they are it’s about who we are.”

Instead, I’ll address Thiessen’s wider argument on its own merits. Are Americans really safer if we cede our intelligence services the right to torture certain individuals in certain circumstances? I will argue no, but in doing so I rely on a much broader understanding of civilian protection that Thiessen is allowing for. Read more…

Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 7 ] November 19, 2010 |

“We’re kind of trying to make allies with every continent around the world, aren’t we? But then at the same time, we’re like trying to take over those continents too. It’s a tricky strategy, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is.

One day, I hope to stop being surprised.

[ 74 ] November 19, 2010 |

I try not to pay attention to Glenn Beck, but even when I have, I never really paid attention to him. But when an old friend, someone I genuinely respect, forwarded me a link to Beck’s archive and dared me to refute his logic, I decided it might be time to try.

Bad decision.

As someone who’s studied linguistics and taught journalism, I know that spoken language differs significantly from written and resist judging speakers for not speaking in complete sentences or organizing their thoughts into coherent paragraphs. That said, it should still possess some underlying logic, which is why this transcript from his November 19th program requires an airing out. It begins by preying on lunatic fears of a One World Government:

I have a little bug inside of me, too, and it wants to stop control-hungry progressives from running our lives and pushing us into a giant global system of government. You know, the kind of global government that [Jay Rockefeller’s] dad liked so much. [David Rockefeller] was a globalist and had a wonderful vision of the future of our world.

Then, just in case his audience was insufficiently terrified:

I feel a little uncomfortable. We’ll talk about preparing for—let’s just leave it at that, being prepared.

Note how, in a classic bit of demagoguery, he stops himself just short the moment of revelation. People fear what they don’t know, especially when they’re being told, in ominous tones, that the unknown requires preparation and is connected, somehow, to the “shadowy” or “spooky” forces of the One World Government. Those adjectives don’t appear in that particular quotation, but they appear later, and frequently, especially with regards to:

George Soros, [whose] daddy was a globalist as well. He believed in something called Esperanto. Esperanto is a made up language. It was designed for a one world government. It started in the 1890s, 1880s. And he was fluent in it. I mean, he wrote a book in Esperanto for one world government. Later, George Soros started his Open Society Institute. The main goal of the Open Society Institute was really that of his father’s: to create a world free of nationalities—one world government.

I knew, in the vague way that everyone who follows politics knows, that Beck believes that lines on a chalkboard have the force of logic. I did not, however, appreciate that he was trafficking in full-throated conspiracy theories about the imminent invasion of the forces of the One World Government. Put differently, I expected to find moments, like the following, in which Beck discovered in the world connections that only exist in his head:

Soros explains the anti-capitalist, pro-Marxist tactics he uses to fundamentally transform countries. They are the dreams of his father—which is weird because that’s almost the title of Barack Obama’s book, The Dreams From My Father. His daddy, by all accounts was a communist, at least an anti-colonialist, as was his grandfather. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I’m sure his audience didn’t realize that the connective tissue of his argument is that Soros and Obama both had fathers with dreams. You know who else had a dream? An episode of Dexter, which is about a serial killer, which means that Obama is in grave danger:

George Soros thinks he’s on the verge of [establishing the One World Government]. He has collapsed economies and entire currencies. They see it as possibly—possibly—falling apart. I told you that I believed this show may have accelerated their timetable because we’ve exposed them. But what if—what if they really do believe that Barack Obama is not the guy to get it done?

These guys, this is a violent, revolutionary. This guy is a labor union with millions of dollars and, also, a globalist. This guy—spooky dude.

This is why I told you one of my longest-standing worries about President Obama was not about the country, not about corruption. It was about his safety and not because of the Tea Party people, but because the minute these radicals, if they actually decide that Barack Obama is not who he says he is, political danger is not his only concern.

I ask you again to pray for our Secret Service. Make sure our Secret Service are watching inside and out. Pray for our president. As I see it, there are a million things that could happen. That’s just one of them. There’s a million things that can make the entire world fly apart.

What, and then the Chinese will invade?

China’s leaders know this.

Seriously? Let me recount Beck’s argument for you:

1. Jay Rockefeller’s father supported a One World Government, which makes

2. Glenn Beck afraid, and as you should be, because

3. George Soros’s father wanted everyone to speak Esperanto,

4. And had a dream, which is something Obama’s father also had, meaning

5. If Soros is unable to fulfill his father’s dream

6. Obama will be assassinated and

7. China will invade.

Minus a bit about some lady finding a coat Beck’s father owned in a Seattle pawn shop, this is the argument Beck proffered on November 19, 2010 and it is premium-grade insane. I’m not talking “your stated reasons for supporting tax cuts for the wealthy are disingenuous” insane. I’m talking “you couldn’t tell a premise from a conclusion if one were labeled ‘premise’ and the other ‘conclusion'” insane. His disconnect from the world is either so cynical as to be sociopathic or so fundamental as to be dissociative.

Needless to say, after reading all that and writing all this, I have one less friend on Facebook.

Security Scholars for Fiscal Sensibility

[ 0 ] November 19, 2010 |

Erik Voeten directs our attention this new initiative by scholars, who have now set their gun sights on military spending. Let’s hope the Ivory Tower has more influence this time than they did on the Iraq War.

Opinion Writing on the Roberts Court

[ 14 ] November 19, 2010 |

Liptak has an interesting piece on opinion-writing on the Roberts Court, and in particular the debate within the Court about whether they should be using the relatively tiny number of appeals they accept to be setting clear rules:

In June, the Supreme Court issued a decision on the privacy rights of a police officer whose sexually explicit text messages had been reviewed by his employer. Ever since, lower court judges have struggled to figure out what the decision means.

The case “touches issues of far-reaching significance,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote. Then he explained why the court would decide none of them. A definitive ruling should be avoided, he said, because “it might have implications for future cases that cannot be predicted.”

Justice Antonin Scalia went along with the decision, but he blasted his colleagues for “issuing opaque opinions.”

A month later, Judge Frank M. Hull of the federal appeals court in Atlanta complained that the privacy decision featured “a marked lack of clarity,” and was almost aggressively unhelpful to judges and lawyers.

The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is often criticized for issuing sweeping and politically polarized decisions. But there is an emerging parallel critique as well, this one concerned with the quality of the court’s judicial craftsmanship.

In decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts.

And it increasingly does so at enormous length

One aspect of “minimalism” the article correctly emphasizes is that while its proponents tend to emphasize the discretion it leaves to legislatures, in many cases it just transfers discretion (for better or worse) to lower courts.

The article also discusses some new academic research, most of which has unsurprising results (for example, majority opinions — which need to hold votes from justices with potentially divergent opinions — are longer and less clear than dissents). One thing that I did find amazing, from a chart in the dead tree edition, is that McDonald v. Chicago is one of the ten longest opinions in the Court’s history. Given that the Court had already addressed the (difficult and important) 2nd Amendment issue the previous year and were just dealing with the relatively straightforward incorporation question — and resisted suggestions to do anything innovative — that’s very odd. I’m not sure to what extent it really matters, but increasingly prolix opinions are one clear effect of delegating opinion-writing to clerks, which seems to bother a lot of Court observers and scholars for reasons I don’t really understand.

…see also.

Bush League

[ 9 ] November 19, 2010 |

You have to wonder what the Islanders are trying to accomplish in taking away Chris Botta‘s credentials. I maybe can see a Machiavellian logic in blackballing non-propagandistic reporters if you’re a really popular franchise, although I doubt that it’s actually productive. But when you’re the (distant) #3 team in a market’s #4 pro sport and you’ve lucked into coverage from a very popular blogger, instead of being grateful for your good fortune you want to punish hm? Over…nothing in particular? I think I can see why this team hasn’t won a playoff round in 17 years.

Your Anti-MarkZist Rant of the Day

[ 7 ] November 19, 2010 |

So I’ve been complaining a bit lately about Facebook’s “See Friendship” feature. Turns out it’s even worse than I originally thought.

See, it’s not just any two of your friends whom you can analyze with this feature, it’s any friend of yours and any friend of theirs.… which means not only your friends but also all their friends – many of whom may not be in your network – can see all your online moments with you and your pal.

Time Magazine has an article on the social implications:

The “See Friendship” feature was launched by Facebook developer Wayne Kao, who credited his inspiration to the joy of browsing through friends’ photos. “A similarly magical experience was possible if all of the photos and posts between two friends were brought together,” he wrote on the Facebook blog. “You may even see that moment when your favorite couple met at a party you all attended.”

The problem with that, according to the more than 3,800 users who have joined a Facebook group demanding to be given the ability to opt out of the feature, is that the couple might not want friends of friends seeing that moment. They might not even want many people to know they’re a couple. Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto professor who studies social networks and real-life relationships, thinks Facebook developers don’t understand the fundamental difference between life online and offline. “We all live in segmented, diversified worlds. We might be juggling girlfriends, jobs or different groups of friends,” he says. “But [Facebook thinks] we’re in one integrated community.”

In this era of “media convergence” — when GPS and wireless devices are colluding to make one’s offline location known in the virtual world — friendship pages allow you to see an event your nonfriend has RSVP’d to or a plan he or she made with your mutual pal. At best, “See Friendship” is an invasion of privacy (one disgruntled user likened the feature to having sex on a football field in broad daylight). At worst, “it brings cyberstalking to a new level,” says Kevin Wright, a professor of computer-mediated communication at the University of Oklahoma. “We’re just beginning to see the toll this is taking on people.”

And then there’s the already gnawing problem of Facebook, one this new feature will only exacerbate: seeing all the fun your friends are having without you. “You’re making a normally ambiguous situation very concrete,” says Wellman. “People don’t call you up and say, ‘Hey, we’re not calling you.'”

Another big win for the blogosphere

[ 18 ] November 19, 2010 |

Three days ago, LGM suggested that playing a football game with a (padded!!) brick wall on the end line of the field might be a dubious idea. Apparently this stunning insight “went viral” as the kids say, because this morning . . .

(The lawyers who were planning to sit in the east end zone to be first off the mark when filing PI suits can now use their strategic positioning to organize a class action for the benefit of everybody who bought tickets on that end of the field).

Update: Look at these ticket prices!

A friend reminds me that Chicago baseball fields seem to be magnets for horrible promotional ideas:

Disco demolition

Republican Fiscal Policy, Definied

[ 2 ] November 19, 2010 |

Shorter Mike Pence: Bush’s policy of cutting taxes for the upper classes to promote economic growth didn’t work, so for the sake of economic growth they must be permanently extended.

Well, that first part is certainly right. And Hoyer seems to be standing firm, amazingly enough.

If This is True…

[ 2 ] November 19, 2010 |

…one more reason to abolish the Air Force. [/Farley]

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