Friday, February 21, 2003

EBay tells law enforcement officers that their privacy policy is flexible. Which is to say that, as their "law enforcement and compliance officer" explained to cops at a cybercrime conference, they bend over backwards:

"We don't make you show a subpoena, except in exceptional cases," Sullivan told his listeners. "When someone uses our site and clicks on the `I Agree' button, it is as if he agrees to let us submit all of his data to the legal authorities. Which means that if you are a law-enforcement officer, all you have to do is send us a fax with a request for information, and ask about the person behind the seller's identity number, and we will provide you with his name, address, sales history and other details - all without having to produce a court order. We want law enforcement people to spend time on our site," he adds. He says he receives about 200 such requests a month, most of them unofficial requests in the form of an email or fax.

But remember, that fax has to be from a real law enforcement officer. Or at least, someone who has managed to filch their letterhead.

The same policy applies to most customer records for PayPal, which EBay owns. They need to see a court order for credit card transactions, apparently due to eeeeevil laws which just don't let eBay be as friendly as it would like. But the article I'm quoting suggests they're more willing to share information on payments that went entirely through PayPal.

In fact, eBay's cooperation with law enforcement has gone a whole lot farther than that:

In his lecture, Sullivan spoke about how he helped investigators locate a user who had been suspected of selling stolen cars through the site. "We tried to buy the car from the thief and in that way incriminate him. But the bad guy was smart. He saw there wasn't a single feedback in the history of the person who was making the purchase. He told us he didn't want to make a deal with us."

Sullivan explained that the incident taught the company a lesson, and that since then it has used pseudo buyers for which it constructs comprehensive simulated histories, including simulated feedbacks, all for the sake of incriminating those suspected of theft. ...

Sullivan is even more forthcoming. Aware of how hard the police work, he decided to help as much as possible. "Tell us what you want to ask the bad guys. We'll send them a form, signed by us, and ask them your questions. We will send their answers directly to your e-mail." Essentially, by engaging in what seems like impersonation, eBay is exploiting its relationship with customers to pass on information to law enforcement authorities.

Remember, they're doing this all to help law enforcement keep us safe. Which is a very, very big job. Why in Denver, the local cops' tracking of "criminal extremists" extended to a nun upsetting the social order by teaching destitute Indians, and another woman who was creating a center for social discontent by running a soup kitchen.

Like I said, it's a very big job, and they clearly need all the help they can get, but EBay is giving it to them, without any pesky probably cause requirements or court oversight to get in the way. Now don't you feel secure?

(This has been all over; seen among other places at Nathan Newman).

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Matt Hogan looks through the transcript of that Osama bin Laden tape which Dubya's crowd was broadcasting to the world the other day, and finds that it offers terrorists and other riffraff more than just moral support. Here, for instance, are Osama's helpful hints for the low-tech terrorist under bombardment, or just trying to hide stuff from camera drones:

We have recognised that one of the best, effective, and available means to devoid the aerial force of the crusading enemy of its content is by digging large numbers of trenches and camouflaging them in huge numbers....The American forces were bombing us with smart bombs, cluster bombs, and bombs which invade caves. B-52 aircraft were flying every two hours over our heads ... The modified Sinmo 13 aircrafts were bombing us daily ...If all the evil global powers were not capable of defeating one simple mile occupied by mujaheddin using very poor equipment, how can such evil powers triumph over the Islamic world? ...

Osama has been compared, I'm sure, to Hitler, Stalin, and the leaders of innumerable cults, gangs, and just plain cutthroats, but in this passage I find him strangely reminiscent of a battle-crazed Martha Stewart. Except with a beard. Perhaps it's just me.

Hogan's comment:

Curious, by the way, that our government has asked networks not to broadcast bin-Laden videos for fear they contained instructions, yet this broadcast contains the most specific and frighteningly accurate instructions, to date, directed at killing large numbers of our soldiers, and it was practically heralded by government officials.

But they were using it to try to argue that we still need to attack Iraq. And if we don't, then where would the soldiers be?

(via Unqualified Offerings)

Imagine a school full of immigrant kids, with Spanish being the first language for half. Imagine the school clean and bright. Imagine dedicated staff working long hours for the kids, with a principal who works twelve-hour days and does whatever needs doing, fixing bookcases himself when they're broke. Imagine something like this:

Ms. Carter has first graders with parents in prison, students who sleep four to a bed, children who don't know what she means when she mentions a trip to the zoo.... On national and state tests that measure a student's yearly academic progress, this poor school scores above average. Last year, 77 percent of students made at least a year's growth in reading and 75 percent made a year's growth in math, compared with a state average of 73 percent on each.

"That tells me we're doing our job," [Principal] Paxinos said. "In a year, most students are getting a year's worth of education."

What would you call that school? George W. Bush would call it a failure:

The federal law says a school must be judged solely on how much the student body improves on math and English competency tests. The fact that 100 transient students may have been at Gonzales Elementary just a few months when they take the tests is not a mitigating factor. It's the school's fault if they score low. Nor does it matter that hundreds have serious deficiencies in English. If teachers can't get new arrivals fluent by test time, blame the school.

Unfortunately, last year the fifth grade did not make adequate progress on the state competency exams. And that's all it takes under this great new federal law. So Mr. Paxinos and his teachers, who should be up for sainthood, instead had their school labeled "underperforming," and by next fall, in all likelihood, it will be labeled "failing" under the new federal law.

So, in addition to the minor chores involved in actually running the school, Mr. Paxinos is now trapped jumping through the law's hoops, which so far has involved compiling a 120-page report, and submitting it to a state bureaucracy which didn't have anyone on staff to read it. All in the name of improving things for his students, of course.

Another principal might take the path of least resistance, as other districts faced with mandatory testing requirements have, raising test scores by taking the kids with poor performance, who most need attention, and kicking them out of school altogether. But Mr. Paxinos seems, for some perverse reason, to just not want to help the bureaucracy out.

So we see that just measuring things can actually make them worse. There's an interesting book which describes this sort of thing, citing everything from African village improvement projects to sterile, sickly "managed" forests in Germany, called Seeing like a State, by James Scott, and subtitled "How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed." The schemes in question were, overwhelmingly, from those on the left attempting to apply a fairly vulgar and crude scientism to the management of processes which they didn't begin to understand. I guess the right in this country has advanced to the point of making the same mistake.

(via Nathan Newman)

By the way, when Steven den Beste writes about the arrogant, counterproductive, two-faced, insincere diplomacy of the French, he can be spot-on. (Except that he forgot to note how much Chirac, and some other war opponents, are trying to protect oil contracts which would almost certainly go up in smoke with Saddam Hussein's regime).

It's not as if Chirac's arrogance (telling Eastern European governments supporting the war plans that they had "missed a good opportunity to shut up") excuses Dubya's outright falsehoods, or makes the war a good idea. But it's worth remembering that the French position is enlightened self-interest at best...

A number of libertarian weblogs are in a tizzy over Congress's discomfort with the provisions of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, most pointing to this New York Times article, which says what they're in for, and has several of them whining that they didn't know what they were voting for it.

When you look at the actual restrictions cited in the article, most of them have to do with restricting how they can collect campaign funds, or associate with other groups which have rasising campaign funds as a primary purpose. (They didn't know they were voting for that. Well, I'm shocked). But amid all that, there is this genuine surprise:

It turns out that the law also includes a provision requiring that federal candidates appear full-faced for the last four seconds of their campaigns' television advertisements and personally attest that they stand behind the advertisements' content.

Several consultants said this could prove to be quite a problem politically when the time comes to begin televising the kind of hard-hitting negative advertisements that have become standard campaign fare. As a rule, those ads at present tend to reduce the role of the candidate to a small line at the bottom of a screen.

"I think it was a total surprise to people who don't read C.Q. with a yellow pen," said Bill Knapp, a Democratic media consultant, referring to Congressional Quarterly, which keeps close tabs on legislative maneuverings here.

So now, candidates for public office will be forced by the eeevil forces of state regulation, yes forced, to associate themselves with their own disreputable slurs. Poor babies.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

So, $32 billion isn't enough for the Turks. Think they might be holding out for something else?

A few days ago, I was wondering towards the end of a blog entry how close the "safe zone" that the Turks were negotiating for themselves in Northern Iraq was going to be to the oil fields. Well, surprise, surprise: administration official said other issues were in contention in negotiating with the Turks — namely, the future of the Turkish military presence in northern Iraq and the Turkish desire for some oil concession at Kirkuk in Iraq.

"The Turks want to control the operation at Kirkuk, at a minimum through a pipeline," the official said. "That's in a way a better deal for them than American aid."

How this will change the administration's plans to have Iraq pay for its own reconstruction from oil revenue is left as an exercise for the interested reader...

More data: Sean-Paul Kelly has posted some useful maps of Iraq. The oil fields are the second on the page; scroll down, and take note that Kirkuk is in the middle of the largest...

And yet more: It is maddeningly difficult to find a map which depicts the borders of the current Kurdish Autonomous Zone, in part because they're somewhat... fluid. Here's one, however, which tries; note that Kirkuk is actually to the south of it, under control of the Iraqi government, as numerous other sources confirm. In order to take control of it, the Turkish troops would have to go all the way through the Kurdish Autonomous Zone, and come out the other end. With American support. So much for American support of indigenous self-government on Iraqi soil...

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Tom Friedman has been promoting war with Iraq as a way to create a beacon of democracy in the region. You'd think on that basis, he might at some point have a thing or two to say about last Sunday's report from Iraqi opposition leader Kanan Makiya, that the administration's current plans involve a military dictatorship that would be servile to the interests of the Arab governments that Friedman wants to change. But then again, you'd have thought he'd have something to say about the months-old repeated hints from folks like Rice and Rumsfeld that an indigenous Iraqi military dictatorship was perfectly fine with them, so long as the guy running it wasn't Saddam Hussein.

But never mind all that. He's got a new rationale for the attack. As he patiently explains to the slow, dull-witted Chinese leadership, who stupidly "don't realize they have a dog in this fight":

Friends, with every great world war has come a new security system. World War I gave birth to the League of Nations and an attempt to recreate a balance of power in Europe, which proved unstable. World War II gave birth to the U.N., NATO, the I.M.F. and the bipolar American-Soviet power structure, which proved to be quite stable until the end of the cold war. Now, 9/11 has set off World War III, and it, too, is defining a new international order.

And here I was, naively thinking that what we had now was a regional skirmish to try to squelch a criminal gang, that World War III would be something else, and that avoiding it might still be a good idea. He goes on:

The new world system is also bipolar, but instead of being divided between East and West, it is divided between the World of Order and the World of Disorder. The World of Order is built on four pillars: the U.S., E.U.-Russia, India and China, along with all the smaller powers around them. The World of Disorder comprises failed states (such as Liberia), rogue states (Iraq and North Korea), messy states -- states that are too big to fail but too messy to work (Pakistan, Colombia, Indonesia, many Arab and African states) -- and finally the terrorist and mafia networks that feed off the World of Disorder.

There has always been a World of Disorder, but what makes it more dangerous today is that in a networked universe, with widely diffused technologies, open borders and a highly integrated global financial and Internet system, very small groups of people can amass huge amounts of power to disrupt the World of Order. Individuals can become super-empowered. In many ways, 9/11 marked the first full-scale battle between a superpower and a small band of super-empowered angry men from the World of Disorder.

Which is an odd way of phrasing things, given the behavior of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed the right to behave exactly as it sees fit, and been overtly hostile to any third-party checks on its actions --- even long-standing obligations like the anti-missile treaty, which they unilaterally shredded. You can call the Cheney/Rumsfeld vision of the future the "World of Order" if you like --- but if so, then it's a world where the United States gives the orders.

You can understand why the Chinese leadership might not be terribly enthusiastic about that prospect, what with (for example) a frozen war with Taiwan which some of them may well want to thaw. But that doesn't keep Friedman from superciliously informing the Chinese leadership that

The job of the four pillars of the World of Order is to work together to help stabilize and lift up the World of Disorder. Unfortunately, China doesn't seem to realize that.

And he goes on to "explain" (as in "Shut up, he explained") that further disorder without Chinese cooperation could result in a reduction of trade, and you wouldn't want your economy hurt now, would you, Mr. Hu?

But whatever Tom Friedman thinks, Hu Jintao will decide for himself what his job is. He is the heir to a leadership which has inflicted much worse things on its people than an economic slowdown when the leaders thought it served their own long-term interests. If he sees the United States as yet another Western hegemon, prone to meddling in China's proper sphere of influence for no good reason, which could stand to be cut down a notch or two, well, so much the worse for us.

From digby: God-on-our-side rhetoric from George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden: two great tastes that go great together.

He also thinks that the administration's strategizing is something awesome to watch, like a pageant. Or maybe a movie...

Monday, February 17, 2003

Two British newspapers, two comments on Iraq:

Point, from a sometime traveller there:

This war is literally the only hope for extending this democracy to the rest of Iraq. The policy of keeping the UN inspectors circling a country the size of France in search of weapons that could be contained in a small bungalow is a recipe for keeping Iraqi people under dictatorship and Iraqi democrats in torture chambers, exile or freshly dug graves. ...

The Iraqi people are in a terrible condition right now, whatever we do (40 per cent of Iraqi children, according to a recent report by the charity Warchild, do not think life is worth living). Our choice is between acting now to bring the humanitarian crisis to a head so we can solve it, or to leave it in the hands of Saddam to rot somewhere below the news agenda, where there will be no exciting marches and no light at the end of the tunnel for the Iraqi people.

Counterpoint, from Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile recognized by Dubya's administration as a leader of the opposition:

The United States is on the verge of committing itself to a post-Saddam plan for a military government in Baghdad with Americans appointed to head Iraqi ministries, and American soldiers to patrol the streets of Iraqi cities.

The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government. ...

Its driving force is appeasement of the existing bankrupt Arab order, and ultimately the retention under a different guise of the repressive institutions of the Baath and the army. Hence its point of departure is, and has got to be, use of direct military rule to deny Iraqis their legitimate right to self-determine their future. In particular it is a plan designed to humiliate the Kurdish people of Iraq and their experiment of self-rule in northern Iraq of the last 10 years, an experiment made possible by the protection granted to the Kurds by the United States itself. That protection is about to be lifted with the entry into northern Iraq of much-feared Turkish troops (apparently not under American command), infamous throughout the region for their decades-long hostility to Kurdish aspirations.

All of this is very likely to turn into an unmitigated disaster for a healthy long-term and necessarily special relationship between the United States and post-Saddam Iraq, something that virtually every Iraqi not complicit in the existing Baathist order wants.

Update: Newsweek has more on the selling out of the Kurds --- a subject that Jim Henley has been posting on for a while now. They report that Turkey has been promised a "security zone" in the presently autonomous Kurdish north of Iraq which goes halfway to Baghdad. Given the friction between Turks and Kurds generally, there is the clear prospect of open warfare if that goes forward.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how close the "security zone" would be to the oil fields...

It's ratings sweeps month again, and the American TV networks are doing anything they can to attract viewers. Which is how we wind up with dueling Michael Jackson documentaries being deployed as weapons in things called "pincer maneuvers".

The astonishing thing, to me, is that a beer connoisseur attracts so much attention in the first place. I knew he was big in the microbrew set, but I guess they've gone mainstream...

The popular press, and the hawkish blogsphere, paint the European portion of Dubya's "coalition of the willing" as including at least Britain, which can bring some real military assistance to bear (in addition to eight other governments who have been persuaded to lend moral support, whatever their population may think).

I had a chance to talk to a few brits over the weekend who paint, shall we say, a more nuanced picture --- one which I first saw in the blogsphere a few weeks ago at Beyond the Wasteland, which has an update here.

Briefly, the British Prime Minister is not elected as such, but rather chosen as the leader of his party by the rest of his own Parliamentary delegation. So, if the majority of his own delegation ever wants him out --- say, because he is pursuing a wildly unpopular policy which is likely to cost them all big in the next election --- they can mount a leadership challenge and get rid of him. This is what happened to Maggie Thatcher, in the wake of massive demonstrations over her wildly unpopular poll tax. And if the UK joins Dubya's war without a specific enabling UN resolution (1441 would not be good enough), given the scale of the recent antiwar marches, it is quite likely to happen to Tony Blair.

So, there is a possible future in which Dubya's war has managed to turn the major military powers of Europe, such as they are, including Russia, against us completely. If you don't see how that could be a problem, let Emma remind you that there are other potential trouble spots in the world where friends and coalitions might be useful....

I have a walkman that pulls in TV audio, which kept me yesterday from missing Condi Rice on the Sunday Morning Follies, a/k/a Meet the Press. It's nice to know that there's still at least one administration official with enough shame to follow up a whopper like "The problem is that in this country and in the countries that are there on television one has the right to protest," by mumbling, after an embarrassed-sounding pause, "which is a very, very, very good thing."

But there were a few other odd remarks. Reviewing the transcript, I was struck, for example, by her response to a quote from UNSCOM head Hans Blix. Colin Powell had previously described some truck movements at Iraqi munitions dumps as evidence of some kind of coverup, and Blix had responded by saying it could just as easily have been routine activity. Now Rice:

Well, one would have to believe that at as many as 30 different sites, they were just engaged in routine activity. I think, frankly, that just gives the Iraqis a benefit of the doubt that they do not deserve.

By that standard, any activity at all at a site associated with the Iraqi military is prima facie evidence of a WMD coverup. That certainly takes some of the complexity out of interpreting satellite photos. For more fun, watch the rhetorical sleight of hand in this next bit (with emphasis added):

MR. RUSSERT: There is a CIA analysis which said that if Saddam's back is against the wall, he becomes more dangerous, that it would increase the likelihood of terrorist acts here in the United States and that he very well may have a pre-emptive attack of his own of chemical weapons against U.S. soldiers. Do you concur with that?

DR. RICE: We cannot rule out, of course, that Saddam might try, in some kind of desperation, to use the chemical or biological weapons. But you have to do everything that you can in the following way. First of all, to prepare militarily to deal with the ways that he might deliver that, to send a very strong message, as the president has done, to Iraqi soldiers and officers who have to carry out those orders that carrying out those orders on behalf of a dictator who will be defeated will put them at personal risk, and therefore, deterring them from doing it. We are prepared...

MR. RUSSERT: Will we use a nuclear bomb against them?

DR. RICE: The president, like every other president, is not going to talk about what his options might be. But very clearly, we are working to deter any Iraqi use.

Now, it's very interesting, for somebody who doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, to threaten to use them. I just want to say on the terrorism piece, Tim, it did not take potential conflict with Iraq for al-Qaeda to carry out 9/11. It did not take potential conflict with Iraq for them to carry out attacks in Bali. It did not take a conflict with Iraq for a poisons network to spread through Europe. The terrorists are going on their own operational time line to try and hurt us.

Note how an evaluation of Saddam by a CIA analyst, in Russert's first question, becomes transmuted into a threat from Saddam himself, in Rice's second response. Note also how, when pushed on the point, she starts talking about terrorist attacks from al-Qaeda, even though the administration has at best thin and tangential evidence that Iraq has been any help at all to them in the past --- as opposed to the bounteous help which they and their fellow Islamic radicals have received from our allies in, say, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

(Oh, by the way, she also threatened to nuke Iraq. But compared to some of the other stuff in that passage, that's almost rational).

It's also interesting to note that at times even the Bush administration has high praise for multilateral approaches --- if only to problems that they just don't want to be bothered with:

Dr. RICE: ... North Korea we are dealing with through multilateral means. We know that what the North Koreans want most is for this to become a bilateral crisis between the United States and North Korea. We refuse to let that happen, because the United States has interest here, but so do South Korea and China in particular and Russia and Japan. Everybody has to pull their weight here. It was a positive step that this was referred to the Security Council the other day.

MR. RUSSERT: But we have to stop them.

Dr. RICE: It is absolutely the case that the North Koreans should not continue up this ladder of escalation, but it is not just the responsibility of the United States to make sure that that happens. It is the responsibility of North Korea's neighbors and the responsibility of the world.

But the most downright peculiar thing from the interview wasn't any of those things. It was this:

... we are in a diplomatic window here but a diplomatic window that frankly cannot last very much longer because the uncertainty is unfair to states in the region. The uncertainty is unfair to the Iraqi people.

So, if the governments in the region that are madly trying to arrange some kind of diplomatic alternative get preempted by an unheralded blitz attack from American troops, their leaders can comfort themselves with the thought that we're only doing it to be fair to them.

Professional diplomacy, folks. Don't try this at home.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

The Observer reports that Donald Rumsfeld's DOD is planning to retaliate for German non-cooperation with the Iraq invasion plan by withdrawing American troops from Germany. A Rumsfeld-esque "source" within the administration, anonymous as usual, asks "Why should we continue to support a country which has treated NATO and the protection we provided for decades with such incredible contempt?" So now it's the Germans who are treating NATO with contempt. Good to know.

Administration "sources" are also quoted making this point:

After this, Germany is finished as a serious power. This is simply not the way to conduct diplomacy at a moment of international crisis.

To which we may offer this counterpoint:

Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn't happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they've hardly bothered us since then.

as well as the reported reaction of the American State Department, which is reported to believe that vindictive swipes at a long-time ally over differences on issues of substance aren't exactly top-tier diplomacy either.

At this point, I'm not sure anyone serious believes that Iraq poses an immediate danger to the United States (if only because the administration shills, including Dubya himself, who continue to assert some connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda, with no evidence or bogus evidence, don't strike me as serious). A serious case for war, it seems to me, has to be based on the notion of Iraq as a long-term strategic threat. And a serious case for war the way that this administration is pursuing it has to see Iraq as more of a long-term strategic threat than the dissolution of the NATO alliance.

It's difficult to imagine, in case of some future large-scale conflict between the United States and China, that the Europeans would take the Chinese side. But it's getting a whole lot easier.