Friday, June 06, 2003

It seems that the stock market is growing more rational:

On the day in March 2000 that 3Com, then Palm's corporate parent, sold part of its Palm holdings in an initial public offering, investors crazily valued Palm at $53 billion. They valued 3Com as being worth $23 billion less than the value of its stake in Palm. Now Palm is valued at less than $500 million.

It took months for that irrationality to go away, so strong was the belief of investors that valuation measures meant nothing. So perhaps it is reassuring that [the more recent] misvaluation [of Handspring, for more than Palm was paying for it, after announcement of the merger] corrected itself in just one day. "This proves the market is efficient," said Donna L. Dubinsky, Handspring's chief executive and a founder of Palm. "It just took the market a day to absorb the information."

Aren't you reassured?

So Douglas Feith, the executive chef of Rumsfeld's kitchen for cooked intelligence on Iraq, is now denying all:

"This suggestion that we said to them, `This is what we're looking for. Go find it,' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," Mr. Feith told reporters. "I know of nobody who pressured anybody."

Needless to say, there are a few skeptics.

One senior official, who said he was skeptical of Mr. Feith's account, was too angry to answer immediately. Another official said simply, "There was a lot of doublespeak out there."

But personally, I find it entirely credible that no one from Mr. Feith's office, or DOD generally, pressured the CIA. Dubya's crew has other people for that:

Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives, according to senior intelligence officials.
Brad DeLong offers the last thing you will ever need to read about the scholarship of Leo Strauss.

And, as long as I'm in linker mode, I think I should have something to say about Ashcroft asking for even broader "anti-terrorist" powers at the same time that he's being excoriated for the pointless excesses of his earlier, unconstitutional and fruitless sweeps for suspected terrorists, but I don't, so read Lisa English.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

With all the executives of shaky, high-flying firms that made tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in the stock-market bubble, it seems a bit odd for federal prosecutors to be putting so much energy into the pursuit of Martha Stewart, who was indicted yesterday in a case concerning one sale of a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of stock in a company she had no role in running. It gets even stranger when you read that she's indicted mostly for misleading the government, though the matter was not earlier considered important enough for them to even put her under oath.

But the New York Times's Kurt Eichenwald explains that there is a reason:

After all, the purpose of law enforcement is not simply to punish people for crimes they have committed, but to deter crimes that are being contemplated. That pushes prosecutors to send strong signals about the dangers of crossing the line by bringing cases that penetrate the public consciousness. If yesterday's indictment had been against Martha Jones rather than Martha Stewart, no one would be reading this article -- primarily because it would not have been written.

"The deterrent effect is immeasurable," said Christopher Bebel, a former lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former federal prosecutor. "Even if the government puts a thousand hours into building this case against Martha Stewart, the risk-reward ratio is enormously positive and constitutes a very prudent allocation of government resources."

Surely, this explains why there has not yet been any indictment of, say, Jeff Skilling, and why no one is doing much with the evidence of Dubya's own insider trading which has recently come to light. Dubya's malfeasance doesn't seem to be getting a whole lot of traction in the press these days, so hey, why prosecute?

It's good to know that there's a sound reason behind this prosecutorial choice, and it doesn't have anything to do with Stewart's status as a major Democratic political donor.

Meanwhile, someone has got to do something about The typography looks like a ransom note, and the entire site is done up in an incredibly tacky shade of pink. (Martha's own is much more tastefully done).

Update: For a dissenting view (which reads almost like a response to this piece, though it almost certainly wasn't), read Steve Gilliard over at the Daily Kos. I'm not sure I buy all of his arguments, though. For instance, he points out that Bill Gates and George Soros, both known for their left-leaning philanthropy, are not under such attack from the right. But philanthropy is one thing, and campaign contributions are another; Microsoft's, for what it's worth, have tended to be evenly split among the parties in recent years. As to the complexity of the cases which haven't yet been brought against Skilling, et al., it's worth pointing out, as the Eichenwald article does, that the evidence against Stewart is also pretty darn murky, enough so that they didn't even try to indict on the supposed insider trading that she was allegedly trying to mislead the government about.

And compared to any of these, the case against Dubya (who was an insider at Harken, and apparently had material non-public information at the time he dumped his stock) is open and shut...

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

The AP reports:

Bernard Kerik, New York City's former top cop now trying to bring civil order to Iraq, sees continuing violence against U.S. troops as evidence of progress, according to a published report.

What the attacks really mean is that people in "pockets of resistance" are rebelling against their own loss of power, and "that's a clear sign of a free Iraq," Kerik told Time magazine.

"It gives me the sense that the rule of law is taking hold and the freeing up of Iraqi society is taking hold," Kerik says in Time's June 9 issue, out Monday.

So, continual attacks on US troops are a sign of progress. And if people weren't attacking our soldiers... well, that would be bad.

Meanwhile, in his first Guardian column, Salam Pax presents an Iraqi view on the problems of life in Baghdad these days. There's the looting. The carjacking. (The gangs were using a parking lot in the center of Baghdad as an impromptu clearinghouse for stolen vehicles). The lack of a legal system. The US-sponsored TV station broadcasting Japanese cartoons about a post-apocalyptic future where chaos reigns the earth. The Muslim fanatics filling the power vacuum. (His friend G is trying to convince him that "reasonable Imams in Hawza" is not an oxymoron). And then, there's this:

... the BBC World Service killed in one move a favourite Iraqi pastime: searching for perfect reception. The BBC Arabic service started broadcasting on FM here and it is just not the same when you don't hear the static.
Sammy Sosa, the Chicago Cubs' leading slugger, and one of the two main attractions at Wrigley Field of late (the other being the beer), was ejected from a game yesterday for using a corked bat.

There are many questions that come to mind about this incident. Like, for instance, what is it with Chicago and baseball scandals anyway? But for myself, the most perplexing thing about the whole affair is how the Times found a reporter to cover the story named Damon Hack.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

So what's the most dishonest thing that's come out of Dubya's crowd about the war? Was it Colin Powell giving a speech to the UN "proving" the WMD threat, having previously told Jack Straw that he regarded the evidence himself as dubious, and could only hope that it wouldn't "explode in their faces"? Was it the staged speech on the aircraft carrier, declaring victory even though the situation on the ground was falling to pieces, and Saddam Hussein is now believed to be alive, well, and running a resistance? Was it the post hoc attempt to turn two trailers into a casus belli, even though they seem more suited for hydrogen production, which is what the Iraqis say they were for, than for bioweapons production, for which they are missing crucial components? I've got a soft spot myself for the high tech, quick response decapitation strike on the opening night of the war -- targeting a bunker which apparently didn't exist.

But for sheer, unjustified ugliness, my choice would have to be this: "We need to support the troops", coming from an administration which actually cut veterans' benefits on the eve of the war, deliberately set in its current forces undermanned, and failed to provide proper reinforcement, or even spare parts, afterward. The third infantry division has now been stressed beyond the limit; their equipment is breaking down and they are no longer combat capable. As to the troops, who were promised that they could go home after we "won", and who have been ordered to stay on well after the declaration of "victory", morale is dismal, witness this letter Jim Henley received from a military spouse.

To quote the last antiwar rally I attended before hostilities kicked off: "Support our troops! Bring them home!"

But no doubt we'll be hearing that line again. On to Tehran!

(Links via Eschaton, The Agonist, and probably others...)

Update: ... and one of them had problems; the Guardian has retracted the story about Powell's meeting with Straw, though the evidence he presented of specific facilities at specific places seems to have blown up in his face regardless...

So, if you got a conference invitation which began ...

I am Mr. Laurent Mpeti Kabila, a senior assistant leader of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone.

I present to you an urgent and confidential request: I request your attendance at The 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference. This is an excellent opportunity to meet your distinguished colleagues, learn new marketing techniques, and spend your hard-earned money. Attending this conference demands the highest trust, security and confidentiality between us.

... would you believe it?

(via Jamie Zawinski).

Peter Maass reveals the awful truth about Salam Pax:

Salam, who is chubby and cherubic and hip and speaks beautiful English, and often says "thingy," had everything you would want in an interpreter, save one trait. When I asked about his road skills, he blushed slightly and said, "To be honest, I am not much of a driver." A few days later, as we headed out from the Hamra, I suggested that he drive, so that in an emergency he would be somewhat familiar with the workings of my vehicle, a Hyundai SUV. He got behind the wheel. There was just a foot or so between the Hyundai and the cars in front and back. Salam grimaced. "I don't think I can do this without causing damage," he said. We switched seats. Salam was my interpreter, but I was his driver.

Maass hired Salam as an interpreter, knowing nothing about the blog. (He recognized incidents from his own reporting trip on the blog after he got back to the States).

Maass also praises Salam's fine taste in Persian rugs, music (the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was "the best music imaginable for driving around anarchic Baghdad") and science fiction -- he found Salam reading The Man in the High Castle.

(via Electrolite).

Monday, June 02, 2003

It looks like the State may not be the only Cabinet department that Rumsfeld's Department of Defense is trying to move in on.

The Justice Department still wants to conduct a trial of Zac Moussaoui, the (by now) confessed al Qaeda member who is under indictment for participation in the Sept. 11th plot (which he still denies). Moussaoui, acting as his own lawyer, is demanding that the government produce witnesses for his defense who are now in custody at Guantanamo. The request is now on appeal. The upshot?

Bush administration officials acknowledge that a ruling against the government in the courts would almost certainly prompt the Justice Department to abandon its prosecution of Mr. Moussaoui in a civilian court and turn him over to the Pentagon for a military tribunal. The case could finish up before the Supreme Court.

In a tribunal, Mr. Moussaoui would most likely have far fewer rights to seek out defense testimony from Mr. bin al-Shibh and others and to control how his case was presented to a jury.

The officials say that a decision to abandon a civilian trial would create dismay at the Justice Department, which wants to retain its authority to prosecute terrorists in civilian courts, but that the Pentagon has made it clear that it would never agree to make important Qaeda suspects available for testimony on behalf of Mr. Moussaoui.

"The implications are uncomfortable," a senior administration official said. "If the Justice Department can't prosecute Moussaoui, there's general agreement that we'll need to avoid civilian trials for other suspects like him." The official said that "these cases will become the Pentagon's show."

So, Rumsfeld sets up his own parallel foreign policy, and his own set of courts for "terrorists" on the domestic side (though not soon enough for the likes of Eric Rudolph). And so we drift from the America we knew, to a less compassionate, uglier country -- one which seems to be acquiring the apparatus of military governance, as it were, on the installment plan.