Friday, July 25, 2003

The anticipation was great. The tome, when it finally arrived, was huge. But now, after sorting through hundreds of pages of screwups, close shaves, players whose identities have been carefully obscured, conflict with deadly stakes, and high-ranking players with a major-league god complex, I can now affirm... Ilium by Dan Simmons is a hell of a read.

As with his earlier epic SF, Hyperion, this is the first volume of a projected two-volume series, ending on a cliffhanger. Which is fine with me, so long as the series stays at two volumes...

Speaking of that other big tome that got released just yesterday, what seems to be getting major coverage is that the CIA and FBI didn't communicate much, within themselves or with each other, and that Dubya's crew may not have taken effective steps to clean up the mess.

Is this news? I wrote at the time the Homeland Security bill was floated:

So --- the problem of turf wars between the FBI and CIA is dealt with by giving them both a new agency to fight with, the problem of information hoarding at headquarters is dealt with by establishing a new hoard of information at headquarters, and we also improve matters by imposing a new layer of centralized bureaucracy on agencies which (with the possible exception of INS) didn't have much to do with the problem.

It was obvious then -- but underemphasized by reporters unwilling to say the sky was blue unless they have three vetted, reliable sources willing to say so (anonymously, of course, to protect their reputations...)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

From the WaPo today:

If President Bush's White House is known for anything, it is competence at delivering a disciplined message and deftness in dealing with bad news. That reputation has been badly damaged by the administration's clumsy efforts to explain how a statement based on disputed intelligence ended up in the president's State of the Union address.

They don't mention one of the crucial bulwarks of that reputation: the combined failures of Dubya's nominal political opposition to effectively point out the obvious falsehoods that pervade his disciplined message -- on everything from the phony threat from Iraq to the obviously cooked budget projections he's been putting out since entering office -- and the failure of the press to raise those issues on its own.

What's different this time is nothing that Dubya's doing; it's that he's faced with an opposition which, for once, is genuinely clever in getting its own message out -- viz., for example, the buried stings in two successive rounds of mea culpas -- one from the CIA, the other set up by them, leading to press conferences whose message proved to be, on close examination: "I confess -- Condi did it".

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

One of the main points of the war with Iraq was to try to create a Muslim democracy which would be our ally. We already have one of those in the region. Or perhaps, had:

Political analysts in Turkey are pessimistic about the trip’s prospects, some going so far as to pronounce the long-standing US-Turkish alliance as "dead." The souring of relations has prompted a vigorous debate in Turkey on the country’s strategic priorities.

Of course, the Iraq war itself is an aggravating factor here, as Dubya's crew expressed great disappointment that billions of dollars worth of bribes weren't enough to convince their democratic Muslim ally to ignore the will of its people in favor of Dubya's fiat.

But we'll have a thriving new Muslim democratic ally in Iraq any day now, right? So we at least come out even. Spiffy!

via Hesiod.

Diana Moon posts a long discussion from a scholar who reviewed the script of Mel Gibson's new film about the crucifixion. There's more in it than you wanted to know about legal threats from Gibson's production company. But buried under that is a bit about the film itself, which apparently features

a vicious riot of frenzied hatred between Romans and Jews with the Savior [en route to Golgotha] on the ground in the middle of it getting it from both sides

among other scenes apparently deriving less from canonical Christian scripture, or anyone's history, than from the mystical visions of a German stigmatic nun from the early 19th century.

Nope, no anti-semitism here.

Also on tap, her tart take on the killing of Saddam's sons:

Call me a crackpot, but I think that U&Q should have been arrested and put on trial. And made an example for future generations, and protocols and procedures should have been established, and we should have shown the Iraqis we are willing to go the extry mile to show that we believe in civilized norms and yada yada.

Call me a crackpot, but I think that you shouldn't go to a jungle claiming that your intervention is based on the rule of law, and is meant to establish the rule of law, and then act like Tony Soprano.

Hey, she's not the one who keeps posting entries hinting that Dubya's courtship of the loony fundamentalist right in this country might be something even uglier than the cynical political posturing it looks like.

(And yes, killing and not capture of the spawn of Saddam was a deliberate choice made by Dubya's administration; as Lambert at Eschaton points out, the place was surrounded the night before, with a psy-ops team in place; they certainly had time to ask HQ whether to use it).

She's back! And still headed to housing court!

Buried lede of the day:

The second [CIA] memo, dated Oct. 6 and sent to Hadley and Rice, was brought to the White House's attention yesterday by the CIA, the officials said. In response to another draft of the speech that had already deleted the [Niger] uranium reference, the memo included fresh CIA objections to the charge, saying there was "weakness in the evidence" and that the attempted purchase "was not particularly significant," Hadley said.

From which we can extract two less-than-well-remarked details:

First, the CIA specifically informed Condi Rice of its objections to the (now discredited) charge that Iraq was trying to buy uranium ore from Niger, well before the State of the Union address. This was not what one might conclude seeing only the flood of mea culpas from Rice's deputy, and Dubya's latest fall guy, Stephen Hadley.

Second, for those following the beltway politics, this latest blame-taking episode was the White House response to memos which were "brought to [their] attention by the CIA". Billmon's right; spooks make lousy scapegoats.

Republicans seem to be losing track of the distinction between reality and their whims. Last week we saw Dubya's fantasia on arms inspectors, and his OMB director, Josh Bolten, professing to know of benefits to tax cuts which "the art and science of economics" had yet to disclose. (Greenspan's not supposed to be partisan, so it wouldn't be quite proper to cite his respin of that old Republican slogan, "prosperity is just around the corner". Would it?)

And now, new frontiers: the chairman of the House Armed Services committee wants the American armed forces, and their contractors, to buy American whether the stuff they need is made here or not:

As a practical matter, such cross-border programs as the Joint Strike Fighter, a $200 billion joint venture by the United States and Britain to build a new fighter jet and sell it globally, would be jeopardized. Other programs would be equally hard to unscramble — for instance, the Army's new light armored vehicle, the Stryker, designed in Switzerland and being assembled in Canada for an American company.

Even Rumsfeld is opposed...

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Last week, Alan Greenspan testified, in effect, that low interest rates, due to his Fed policy, were largely responsible for both keeping current consumer spending as high as it is, and the recent minor run-up in stock prices -- but that it wasn't inducing job creation, so none of that was really sustainable long term. But he also said that if, for whatever reason, businesses finally did start creating jobs, well then, real prosperity would be just around the corner. So, the speech was generally covered as being optimistic.

Well, it seems he's picking up a little criticism for this, from people with better credentials than mine who are just as worried about bubbles in the housing and bond markets bursting in an economy whose fundamentals are already weak. Particularly since the low level of interest rates has left him with very little room to maneuver -- in fact, long-term rates are currently spiking due to activity involving derivatives; if that sort of movement lasts long enough to affect mortgage rates for a few months before the economy really picks up... well, things could get bad.

But fear not. Executives of IBM are talking about creating new jobs! In China. And yet, there is not universal joy:

The I.B.M. executives [in leaked a conference call] warned that when workers from China come to the United States to learn to do technology jobs now being done here, some American employees might grow enraged about being forced to train the foreign workers who might ultimately take away their jobs.

Oh, wait, Mr. Greenspan. You wanted total employment to rise?

More: ... on the run-up in interest rates from Morgan Stanley, and on the larger context, including other asset bubbles, in the comments on that article on Brad DeLong's blog...

The unusual attraction at this month's MIT Ham Radio/Computer swapfest: Tom Perera doing presentations and talks on some of the World War II German Enigma machines in his collection. Also a whole lot of radios from the 1950s which might have been worth real money at the '50s flavor antique shops between Harvard and Porter squares...

Monday, July 21, 2003

The indispensable Billmon highlights the opening paragraphs from a UPI dispatch on a border clash between American Iraqi occupiers and Syrian troops on the Syrian border:

Depicted by the Pentagon as a mere border skirmish, the June 18 strike into Syria by U.S. military forces was, in fact, based on mistaken intelligence and penetrated more than 25 miles into that country, causing numerous Syrian casualties, several serving and former administration officials said.

Although diplomatic relations between the two sides have been frosty after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the two nations have close intelligence ties, which have become strained as a result, these sources said.

"I think this was a deliberate effort to disrupt cooperation between U.S. and Syrian intelligence agencies," an administration official said.

According to a report in The New York Times, administration officials said that attack, carried out by Task Force 20, a Special Operations force, was based on intelligence that a convoy of SUVs, heading for Syria, was linked to senior fugitive Iraqi leaders.

I've suggested before that regimes like Syria's make strange allies in a general war on Terror; their populations are more likely to see them as allies of Terror. But in al-Qaeda specifically, we and they have at least a common enemy; the Baathist Syrian government is overtly secular, and al-Qaeda would love to be rid of it, if only to install its own brand of tyranny. And so Syrian state security has what is, from the American perspective, a treasure trove of intelligence on al-Qaeda and its allies.

How close has American cooperation been with the Syrians? Seymour Hersh (via Eschaton) has more, with specifics:

In one instance, the Syrians learned that Al Qaeda had penetrated the security services of Bahrain and had arranged for a glider loaded with explosives to be flown into a building at the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters there. Flynt Leverett, a former C.I.A. analyst who served until early this year on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, told me that Syria?s help "let us thwart an operation that, if carried out, would have killed a lot of Americans." The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa.

Syria's efforts to help seemed to confound the Bush Administration, which was fixated on Iraq. According to many officials I spoke to, the Administration was ill prepared to take advantage of the situation and unwilling to reassess its relationship with Assad's government. Leverett told me that "the quality and quantity of information from Syria exceeded the Agency's expectations." But, he said, "from the Syrians' perspective they got little in return for it."

Needless to say, the Iraq war has put something of a strain on things, particularly since the Syrians regarded it as ill-advised to start with, and cooperation isn't nearly now what it was. But the reckless American border attack seems intended to gin up tensions further, perhaps to provoke yet another war.

And why would anyone in the administration want to provoke a war with a strained Arab state which also has a simmering border dispute with Israel, the region's ultimate tinderbox? Let's go to the Rense archives:

Jack Van Impe Question Of The Week

Do you think President Bush, a Christian man, believes or knows he's involved with prophetic events concerning the Middle East and the final battle between good and evil?


... Rexella and I were in the home of President Bush Senior. What a great time we had with his wife Barbara, in fact, she's even written us four personal letters and we have them hanging up in our memorabilia room. We gave her the message on video, "The Coming War with Russia" and many of our books to share with her husband, George Bush Sr. Of course, I now have sent the video, "Jerusalem: War or Peace" to all the leaders of our nation.


I know that he as seen this video, "Jerusalem: War or Peace". His brother in Florida, Jeb Bush, has seen it because he wrote me the most heartfelt letter. So, yes, I think George W. knows that he's destined for this final hour in prophetic history.