Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feelin' Groovy

Today, if someone pushed me from the fifth floor, I'd be singing happily on the way down. Not sure why I feel so light-hearted, I haven't

- attained moksha
- fallen in love
- published a viable theory of everything
- won a lottery

or any such thing. There's nothing special happening this weekend either. None of the piles of boring but necessary stuff to do has evaporated.

Come to think of it, except for the first item in my list, I should feel some resentment on being pushed, because it would interrupt the many interesting things left to do. But I wouldn't, I'd be waving a cheery farewell.

Strange. I think as I grow older, my power of introspection diminishes, my intentions, motivations are increasingly a mystery to me.

Enjoying it while it lasts :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

dkos: Things That Are Not Torture

A Hunter diary.
The United States does not torture. This has been definitively stated at all levels of government, including by the President of the United States. The United States may perform techniques of enhanced interrogation; it may engage in coercion; it may inflict suffering akin to that experienced at the moment of death; it does not, however, torture. The United States clearly follows the Geneva Conventions in all circumstances in which it has deemed the Geneva Conventions to apply. The United States unambiguously follows its own laws regarding the rights of prisoners in all instances in which the United States has deemed those prisoners to have rights. It does not treat prisoners in a cruel or inhumane fashion. The Vice President of the United States has explicitly endorsed the legality and reasonable nature of this technique.

The United States may have enhanced interrogation techniques, borrowing methods of methodical drowning used by the Khmer Rouge, the Spanish Inquisitors, and various others that populate the cruelest edges of history.

But we are the United States, and that is the difference: the United States does not torture.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Diwali 2007

Diwali 2007

Our Rangoli:


Estimating the Size of the Revolution

The American political system is rotten to the core. The confirmation by the Senate of Mukasey to the post of the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer in the United States is simply an example that is exceptionally easy to understand; there is nothing unusual about it in any other way.

The Senate has abandoned its Constitutional Duty of Advice and Consent, and replaced it with Abdicate and Capitulate. To quote the New York Times editorial:

[Mukasey] was simply asked if, as a general matter, waterboarding is illegal.

It was not a difficult question. Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”.......

....Democrats have done precious little to avoid the kind of spectacle the world saw last week: the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.

What is needed to stem the rot?

The Republicans in the Senate all have to be voted out. I include Lieberman in their number. Replaced by whom, though? One of the two key enablers of the Mukasey confirmation is Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) who is the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee! He has to go. Diane Feinstein (CA) has to go. The Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to go. What about the Democratic Presidential hopefuls in the Senate? None of them showed any leadership in trying to block this nomination, or even to force a clarification of Mukasey's stand on torture (a group of distinguished career intelligence officers who are appalled by waterboarding even as they are keenly aware of the practical necessities of their job suggested to the Senate leaders that Mukasey be given a full briefing in private before continuing with the nomination). As it turned out, they didn't even vote. That means Clinton, Biden, Obama, Dodd should be shown the door.

This is just one issue, isn't it?, etc.

This is just one easy to understand issue. But it is symptomatic of a pattern of behavior of this Senate. The Democratic Senators have perfected the "oppose but are powerless to stop Bush" charade. They artfully register their opposition only when that opposition is bound to fail. E.g., they will not even attempt to block a bad bill or nomination in committee or filibuster it on the floor; they just want their pious vote "against" recorded. Glenn Greenwald describes the game quite well.

The size of the revolution

Virtually all of the current Senate has to face their accountability moment. Will it, can it happen? Not immediately of course, but over the next three election cycles. Since the answer from any sane observer is no, most will likely not even face serious challengers, then expect that the rot will simply continue to grow.


PS: Desi links to a great cartoon

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fawke You, Washington!

(The title is from a comment by a freeper.)

Congressman Ron Paul, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, broke GOP online fund raising records on Guy Fawkes Day, by raising about $4.2 million.

Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the British Parliament, but today he is given a different meaning; he is taken as a reminder

It is not the People who should fear the Government, but rather the Government which should fear the People.

Ron Paul is an old-style conservative, anti-war, anti-interventionism, for limited constitutional government and for fiscal responsibility, contra the neo-cons. He also has some antediluvian positions.

The Republican establishment would like Ron Paul to go away. From the left, Glenn Greenwald opines on the Ron Paul phenomenon:

The Paul campaign is now a bona fide phenomenon of real significance, and it is difficult to see this as anything other than a very positive development.

There are, relatively speaking, very few people who agree with most of Paul's policy positions. In fact, a large portion of Americans -- perhaps most -- will find something in his litany of beliefs with which they not only disagree, but vehemently so. Paul has a coherent political world-view and states his positions clearly and unapologetically, without hedges, and that approach naturally ensures greater disagreement than the form of please-everyone obfuscation which drives most candidates.......

.....So there is at least something in Paul's worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate, if they are so inclined. Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about our political discourse and about what kind of country this is supposed to be.

While Barack Obama toys with the rhetoric of challenging conventional wisdom, Paul's campaign -- for better or worse -- actually does so, and does so in an extremely serious, thoughtful and coherent way. And there are a lot of people who, more than any specific policy positions, are hungry for a political movement which operates outside of our rotted political establishment and which fearlessly rejects its pieties, even if they disagree with some or even many of its particulars.


Perhaps most importantly, Paul is the only serious candidate aggressively challenging America's addiction to ruling the world through superior military force and acting as an empire -- not by contesting specific policies (such as the Iraq War) but by calling into question the unexamined root premises of these policies, the ideology that is defining our role in the world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Atlantic, 1946, on Pakistan

1946 article on India, Pakistan


When Congress ministries took office in seven out of eleven provinces in 1937, Moslem Leaguers (who had polled only 4.6 per cent of the total Moslem vote) were denied any share in the spoils of office. Moslem League propagandists have represented this situation as a denial of their legitimate rights, and as proof of a Hindu determination to dominate India. Tactically, it may have been unwise of Congress, but under a party system of government it is difficult to see how it could have done otherwise. Congress did not refuse office to Moslems as such, but to Moslems who were not members of Congress.

For Congress is not, as League followers claim, a Hindu organization. The Hindu Mahasabha is the party of orthodox Hindus. Congress is, and always has been, open to Moslems, and has a notable Moslem president, the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mr. Asaf Ali is another Moslem member of the Working Committee. To expect Congress to present ministerial offices to its political rivals is as if the British Labor Party, after its recent overwhelming victory, should be invited to give Cabinet posts to members of the insignificant Independent Labor Party, which had opposed it at the polls.

How many nations in India?

The experience of one election convinced Jinnah that his party could never hope to enjoy a ruling majority. In 1940 he accordingly resurrected the theory of Pakistan, claiming that Hindus and Moslems are two separate nations.

Before 1940 no one outside the Moslems, and few among them, took Pakistan seriously, but by persistent advocation in season and out, Jinnah has made of it the central issue before India today. He has made of the League a real political party, and in the recent elections to the Central Legislative Assembly it won all the Mohammedan seats (30), polling 86.6 per cent of the total Moslem votes. These elections were based on the extremely restricted franchise of the 1919 Act, and the total number of votes cast was only 586,647, representing almost exclusively the propertied classes.

In the provincial elections now taking place, with an electorate of over 30 millions, the League is unlikely to repeat its 100 per cent success, but there is little doubt that it will gain a decisive majority of Moslem votes for a policy of Pakistan.

The real problem starts from this point the League is pledged not to make the new Constitution work unless it starts from the basic assumption of Pakistan. There must be not one but two constitution-making bodies, says Jinnah -one for Hindustan and one for Pakistan. Hindus naturally are not willing to submit, in advance of the elections, to the dictation of a minority.

Allegations of corrupt practices and official interference have been made by the League and Congress in the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Doubtless many are true. The greatest curse of Indian political and administrative life is corruption running like a putrefying streak from top to bottom. Election returns from the North-West Frontier Province show, however, that the majority of Moslems in their traditional home are opposed to the vivisection of India.

Jinnah wrecked the Simla Conference - called by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell -in July, 1945. He can wreck the elections. All he has to do is to stall, and the longer he stalls, the stronger he grows.


Things that tickled me:

...he had a personal philosophy of Manifest Destiny in which a higher power had already made his choices for him. By virtue of him choosing A over B, A was right. This outlook made him reckless, or a Muslim, and he wasn't that, that's for sure.

Hocus Potus - a novel by Malcolm MacPherson


(Via CIP) Andrew Sullivan points out that the neocons are making precisely the same arguments in defense of torture that the US rejected and condemned the guilty to death in the case of the Nazis.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Officials write to the Senate about the AG nominee

Via dkos, from No Quarter:

Mukasey Nomination: Letter from Intelligence, Military, Diplomatic & Law Enforcement Professionals


A group of distinguished intelligence and military officers, diplomats, and law enforcement professionals delivered an urgent message this morning to the chairman and the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling on them to hold the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey until he takes a clear position on the legality of waterboarding.

Their message strongly endorses the view of former judge advocates general that waterboarding "is inhumane, is torture, is illegal.” The intelligence veterans added it is also a notoriously unreliable way to acquire accurate information.

They noted that the factors cited by the president and Mukasey as obstacles to his giving an opinion on waterboarding can be easily solved by briefing Mukasey on waterboarding and on C.I.A. interrogation methods.

The intelligence veterans noted that during their careers they frequently had to walk a thin line between morality and expediency, all the while doing their best to abide by the values the majority of Americans have held in common over the years. They appealed to Senators Pat Leahy and Arlen Specter to rise to the occasion and discharge their responsibility to defend those same values.



MEMORANDUM FOR: Chairman and Ranking Member Senate Committee on the Judiciary

FROM: Former U.S. Intelligence Officers

SUBJECT: Nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General

Dear Senators Leahy and Specter,

Values that are extremely important to us as former intelligence officers are at stake in your committee’s confirmation deliberations on Judge Michael Mukasey. With hundreds of years of service in sensitive national security activities behind us, we are deeply concerned that your committee may move his nomination to the full Senate without insisting that Mukasey declare himself on whether he believes the practice of waterboarding is legal.

We feel this more acutely than most others, for in our careers we have frequently had to navigate the delicate balance between morality and expediency, all the while doing our best to abide by the values the vast majority of Americans hold in common. We therefore believe we have a particular moral obligation to speak out. We can say it no better than four retired judge advocates general (two admirals and two generals) who wrote you over the weekend, saying: “Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal.”

Judge Mukasey’s refusal to comment on waterboarding, on grounds that it would be “irresponsible” to provide “an uninformed legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances,” raises serious questions. There is nothing hypothetical or secret about the fact that waterboarding was used by U.S. intelligence officers as an interrogation technique before the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004. But after Alberto Gonzales became attorney general in February 2005, Justice reportedly issued a secret memo authorizing harsh physical and psychological tactics, including waterboarding, which were approved for use in combination. A presidential executive order of July 20, 2007 authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” that had been banned for use by the U.S. Army. Although the White House announced that the order provides “clear rules” to govern treatment of detainees, the rules are classified, so defense attorneys, judges, juries — and even nominee Mukasey — can be prevented from viewing them.

Those are some of the “facts and circumstances.” They are not hypothetical; and there are simple ways for Judge Mukasey to become informed, which we propose below.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush told reporters it was unfair to ask Mukasey about interrogation techniques about which he had not been briefed.

“He doesn’t know whether we use that technique [waterboarding] or not,” the president said. Judge Mukasey wrote much the same in his October 30 letter, explaining that he was unable to give an opinion on the legality of waterboarding because he doesn't know whether it is being used: “I have not been made aware of the details of any interrogation program to the extent that any such program may be classified and thus do not know what techniques may be involved in any such program.” Whether or not the practice is currently in use by U.S. intelligence, it should in fact be easy for him to respond. All he need do is find out what waterboarding is and then decide whether he considers it legal.

The conundrum created to justify the nominee’s silence on this key issue is a synthetic one. It is within your power to resolve it readily. If Mukasey continues to drag his feet, you need only to facilitate a classified briefing for him on waterboarding and the C.I.A. interrogation program. He will then be able to render an informed legal opinion. We strongly suggest that you sit in on any such briefing and that you invite the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take part as well. Receiving the same briefing at the same time (and, ideally, having it taped) should enhance the likelihood of candor and make it possible for all to be — and to stay — on the same page on this delicate issue.

If the White House refuses to allow such a briefing, your committee must, in our opinion, put a hold on Mukasey’s nomination. We are aware that the president warned last week that it will be either Mukasey as our attorney general or no one. So be it. It is time to stand up for what is right and require from the Executive the information necessary for the Senate to function responsibly and effectively. It would seem essential not to approve a nominee who has already made clear he is reluctant to ask questions of the White House. How can a person with that attitude even be proposed to be our chief law enforcement officer?

We strongly urge that you not send Mukasey’s nomination to the full Senate before he makes clear his view on waterboarding. Otherwise, there is considerable risk of continued use of the officially sanctioned torture techniques that have corrupted our intelligence services, knocked our military off the high moral ground, severely damaged our country’s standing in the world, and exposed U.S. military and intelligence people to similar treatment when captured or kidnapped. One would think that Judge Mukasey would want to be briefed on these secret interrogation techniques and to clarify where he stands.

The most likely explanation for Mukasey’s reticence is his concern that, should his conscience require him to condemn waterboarding, this could cause extreme embarrassment and even legal jeopardy for senior officials this time not just for the so-called “bad apples” at the bottom of the barrel. We believe it very important that the Senate not acquiesce in his silence—and certainly not if, as seems the case, he is more concerned about protecting senior officials than he is in enforcing the law and the Constitution.

It is important to get beyond shadowboxing on this key issue. In our view, condoning Mukasey’s evasiveness would mean ignoring fundamental American values and the Senate’s constitutional prerogative of advice and consent.

At stake in your committee and this nomination are questions of legality, morality, and our country’s values. And these are our primary concerns as well. As professional intelligence officers, however, we must point to a supreme irony—namely, that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation practices are ineffective tools for eliciting reliable information. Our own experience dovetails well with that of U.S. Army intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. John Kimmons, who told a Pentagon press conference on September 6, 2006: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Speaking out so precisely and unequivocally took uncommon courage, because Kimmons knew that just across the Potomac President Bush would be taking quite a different line at a press conference scheduled to begin as soon as Kimmons finished his. At the White House press conference focusing on interrogation techniques, the president touted the success that the C.I.A. was having in extracting information from detainees by using an “alternative set of procedures.” He said these procedures had to be “tough,” in order to deal with particularly recalcitrant detainees who “had received training on how to resist interrogation” and had “stopped talking.”

The Undersigned
(Official duties refer to former government work.)

Brent Cavan
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA

Ray Close
Directorate of Operations, CIA for 26 years—22 of them overseas; former Chief of Station, Saudi Arabia

Ed Costello
Counter-espionage, FBI

Michael Dennehy
Supervisory Special Agent for 32 years, FBI; U.S. Marine Corps for three years

Rosemary Dew
Supervisory Special Agent, Counterterrorism, FBI

Philip Giraldi
Operations officer and counter-terrorist specialist, Directorate of Operations, CIA

Michael Grimaldi
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; Federal law enforcement officer

Mel Goodman
Division Chief, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; Professor, National Defense University; Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy

Larry Johnson
Intelligence analysis and operations officer, CIA; Deputy Director, Office of Counter Terrorism, Department of State

Richard Kovar
Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director for Intelligence, CIA: Editor, Studies In Intelligence

Charlotte Lang
Supervisory Special Agent, FBI

W. Patrick Lang
U.S. Army Colonel, Special Forces, Vietnam; Professor, U.S. Military Academy, West Point; Defense Intelligence Officer for Middle East, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); founding director, Defense HUMINT Service

Lynne Larkin
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations, CIA; counterintelligence; coordination among intelligence and crime prevention agencies; CIA policy coordination staff ensuring adherence to law in operations

Steve Lee
Intelligence Analyst for terrorism, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA

Jon S. Lipsky
Supervisory Special Agent, FBI

David MacMichael
Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council, CIA; History professor; Veteran, U.S. Marines (Korea)

Tom Maertens
Foreign Service Officer and Intelligence Analyst, Department of State; Deputy Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, Department of State; National Security Council (NSC) Director for Non-Proliferation

James Marcinkowski
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations, CIA by way of U.S. Navy

Mary McCarthy
National Intelligence Officer for Warning; Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, National Security Council

Ray McGovern
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; morning briefer, The President’s Daily Brief; chair of National Intelligence Estimates; Co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Sam Provance
U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst, Germany and Iraq (Abu Ghraib); Whistleblower

Coleen Rowley
Special Agent and attorney, FBI; Whistleblower on the negligence that facilitated the attacks of 9/11.

Joseph Wilson
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Ambassador and Director of Africa, National Security Council.

Valerie Plame Wilson
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations


I stupidly turned on the radio this morning (NEVER a good way to start the day!) to an Anne Garrels' story from Iraq. I'll link to it later, whenever it appears on the NPR web-site.

You'll understand what I mean, when I tell you that Garrels informs us that regular US military personnel were in tears describing to her the brutality of US Special Forces (towards Iraqis).

PS: Here's the link to the NPR story.

Mathematics cannot substitute for ethics

Multi-billion dollar losses at big banks are making the news these days.

Big name investment bankers assembled dubious mortgage loans into securities, the ratings companies gave these products investment grade ratings, and investers purchased this blessed junk.

No doubt these will all claim good faith effort and take refuge in the excuse of the failure of their mathematical models of risk. But the models were premised on eternally rising housing prices, which is an absurd assumption. You don't need any sophisticated quant analyst to tell you that.

It seems very clear to me that the lure of ringing up immediate transactions and making a profit in the short term greatly outweigh the long-term well-being of the bank for its employees, CEO downwards. Presumably they make their bonuses and are out doing something else when the whole thing blows up.

Just how bad they were is outlined in this dailykos story.

This is from Fortune magazine, quoted there:

In the spring of 2006, Goldman assembled 8,274 second-mortgage loans originated by Fremont Investment & Loan, Long Beach Mortgage Co., and assorted other players. More than a third of the loans were in California, then a hot market. It was a run-of-the-mill deal, one of the 916 residential mortgage-backed issues totaling $592 billion that were sold last year.

The average equity that the second-mortgage borrowers had in their homes was 0.71%. (No, that's not a misprint - the average loan-to-value of the issue's borrowers was 99.29%.)

It gets even hinkier. Some 58% of the loans were no-documentation or low-documentation. This means that although 98% of the borrowers said they were occupying the homes they were borrowing on - "owner-occupied" loans are considered less risky than loans to speculators - no one knows if that was true. And no one knows whether borrowers' incomes or assets bore any serious relationship to what they told the mortgage lenders.


In this case, Goldman sliced the $494 million of second mortgages into 13 separate tranches. The $336 million of top tranches - named cleverly A-1, A-2, and A-3 - carried the lowest interest rates and the least risk. The $123 million of intermediate tranches - M (for mezzanine) 1 through 7 - are next in line to get paid and carry progressively higher interest rates.

Finally, Goldman sold two non-investment-grade tranches [and kept one more, the riskiest, as its fee for the deal}


Even though the individual loans in GSAMP looked like financial toxic waste, 68% of the issue, or $336 million, was rated AAA by both agencies - as secure as U.S. Treasury bonds. Another $123 million, 25% of the issue, was rated investment grade, at levels from AA to BBB--.

Thus, a total of 93% was rated investment grade. That's despite the fact that this issue is backed by second mortgages of dubious quality on homes in which the borrowers (most of whose income and financial assertions weren't vetted by anyone) had less than 1% equity and on which GSAMP couldn't effectively foreclose.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Need to Innovate

The energy to run a technological civilization and the resiliency of the environment to man's activities are in deep depletion. If we do not want the majority of humanity to live in great material deprivation and misery, we need to do things differently. Sometimes even Thomas Friedman is worth quoting in this regard:
Why should you care what they’re driving in Delhi? Here’s why: The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.

To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Surge in Iraq

The current trend line in Iraq for casualties is pointed downwards. The trend could be real, i.e., not equivalent to some of the previous downturns in violence. It could be because of the surge - the efforts of General Petraeus and his men. It could be for a variety of other reasons.

Is it real? Only time will tell.

The graphic whose small version is below is from