Thursday, January 18, 2007

Comfort to the Enemy

This is pretty funny. It's been countless times that the Bush administration has accused its critics of aiding the enemy, and Maliki seems to have learned from them.

Town Hall

I think we can officially say that Town Hall is the worst blog in the world now. It was awful enough just with Hewitt and Barnett, and now D'Souza is the rancid cherry on top. To watch Colbert destroy D'Souza, check out this.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Irbil

The news about the raid on Iranian offices in Irbil created a lot of talk and speculation yesterday. Well, Steve Clemons is about the most insidery blogger I'm aware of, and this post is startling:
Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

When Clemons says that "intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz," it means something - he's got the contacts.

And his buddy Josh has a similar report:
I'm getting some hints that this raid on the Iranian consulate in northern Iraq may be part of something much bigger. Is there a classified presidential directive to the CIA and DOD to take down Syrian and Iranian operations inside Iraq, even so far as operations into Iranian and Syrian territory? And is the aim here to provoke a conflict with one or the other of these states? To provoke an attack from Iran perhaps? The plan from the neocons was always to build the chaos outwards. Never too late, I guess. Watch this. Something's up.

Build the chaos outwards. I guess I misunderstood the ink-spot strategy. Raiding these offices in Irbil to set up a provocation for Iran to attack does sound like this administration's MO. I would guess that light would be shed on this matter before long, but who knows.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Derb on the Surge

As crazy as the Derb can be, he's got more honesty and insight than the other Cornerites:
Sorry, but it struck me as a snow job, from an administration that—pretty much like the rest of us—has no clue where to go from here.

The central and most glaring contradiction is the implied threat to walk away... Yoked to the ringing declaration that, of course, we can't walk away. We seem to be saying to the Maliki govt.: "Hey, you guys better step up to your responsibilites, or else we're outa here." This, a few sentences after saying that we can't leave the place without a victory. So-o-o-o:

—-We can't leave Iraq without a victory.

—-Unless Maliki & Co. get their act together, we can't achieve victory.

—-If Maliki & Co. don't get their act together, we'll leave.

It's been a while since I studied classical logic, but it seems to me that this syllogism leaks like a sieve.

Iran and Syria

Down on the corner, Michael Ledeen's headline is Did We Just Declare War on Iran and Syria? Here's the post:

Try parsing this carefully:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity – and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.


I've read that last sentence maybe ten times. Those "networks providing advanced weaponry and training" certainly are based in Iran and Syria. It sounds like he said we are going after terrorist training camps and the IED assembly facilities, doesn't it?
Well?

His Corner colleague, Cliff May, responds with this:
Michael, that caught my eye, too. I hope, this time, we mean what Bush says.

I'm all for disrupting, intercepting and destroying support for the insurgency that might be originating from neighboring countries, but if these two are actually crossing their fingers that we're going to invade Iran and Syria, they've lost it entirely and are dangerously delusional. And if Bush is really planning such a thing, help us all. However, sooner or later Bush's ambitions hit a brick wall: the military is spread way too thin and he's losing the support of his military commanders. I just don't see how he could make it happen. But the fact that, among the few stray supporters Bush has left, there are still those who would happily support such an adventure, is amazing.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Israel and Iran

All this talk about Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, stemming from a Times report, looks to be pretty baseless.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gladwell on Enron

I just yesterday found Malcom Gladwell's "semi-defense" of Enron in the New Yorker, and I think it's pretty awful. It wasn't just reading the piece itself that brought me to that conclusion, but also reading his related blog post and the ensuing comments there. His basic thesis is that Enron's accounting practices were so complex that the entire scandal itself is an unsolvable mystery. Underpinning his argument is a discernment between puzzles and mysteries, the former of which can be solved by searching for and finding new facts, by adding information, and the latter of which involve uncertainty and cannot be solved just by adding new information. Gladwell basically thinks that Enron's accounting was so complex and opaque that it is impossible to disentangle and to confidently bring criminal charges against the executives.

At his blog, Gladwell gave readers a challenge:
Can anyone explain—in plain language—what it is Jeff Skilling and Co. did wrong?

I’m not asking for an explanation for what they did wrong as businessmen. That’s plain. They did a mountain of stupid and arrogant things. Nor is this about what Skilling and company did that was unethical or in bad faith. There’s a mountain of evidence on that too. The question is strictly a legal one: according to the way the accounting rules were written at the time, what specific transgressions were Skilling guilty of that merited twenty-four years in prison? For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that summaries must be three sentences or less.

He's asking if anyone can concisely explain what crime Skilling and Lay committed, regardless of whether their actions were unethical. As an analogy, he refers to a former colleague of his who asked 20 Nobel physicists to explain the Higgs Boson particle in simple language, with the result being that apparently none of them were able to - which I have a hard time believing, but that's another story. Luckily Gladwell has some astute readers, because concise explanations of Skilling and Lay's criminal actions started pouring in. For example:

Fastow had set up a series of partnerships that ran afoul of SEC regulations and served to prop up the value of Enron stock while masking the huge losses. Fastow testified that Skilling had knowledge of and authorized these transactions. Enron energy traders during the summer of 2000 encouraged producers of energy to go off line, to go into maintenance, to generally cease to provide needed energy to the grid thus escalating prices and forcing purchasers to purchase at greatly inflated prices. The collusion between trader and producer defrauded the public and caused the state of California to lose billions of dollars in order to forstall a crisis. This fabricated energy crisis was criminal. Skilling either authorized it or supported and encouraged it. The link between Enron and the deregulated bill that passed in CA was clear. Enough or do I not understand the question?

And:

Treating debt as revenue, or anything that is not revenue as revenue, is accounting fraud. If nobody gets hurt, it doesn't perhaps matter. If it runs up the stock, you should go to jail.

Plain example: If I own two companies, and CO1 loans money to CO2, and CO2 treats the cash infusion as revenue, that's a mis-characterization, even if both CO1 and CO2 are legal businesses engaged in otherwise legal activities.

The debt they treated as revenue, by the way, was pretty obviously not revenue. Fails the smell test. Lock them up.

It does seem to be uncertain as to whether or not their use of "special purpose entities" was illegal at that time, but there is no lack of other criminal doings. Thankfully, Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong stopped by to make things even more concise:
Jeff Skilling and his co-conspirators falsified the accounts of ENRON for 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 in order to persuade investors it was a well-run, profitable company and so boost its stock price.

Gladwell comments essentially that there could've been wrong-doings, who knows, but it's all murky and no one can explain it well, despite the fact that his readers are doing exactly that. DeLong comments again:
Malcolm, you've gotten yourself into a hole and you are digging yourself in deeper. I'd recommend that you'd stop.

Gladwell insists it's all a big grey area and that he's not saying Skilling was necessarily innocent, just that it's impossible to tell. DeLong stops by again:
I do not acknowledge that there is grey here. Enron did its accounts in ways that misled, and that were criminal accounting fraud. No grey about whether they were misleading. No grey about whether they were fraudulent. That there is a grey area in which accounts are misleading but not fraudulent does not mean that Enron was in that grey area. It wasn't.

Robert Jennings has it right when he writes: "For practitioners (and Enron was a practitioner) none of this was vague or confusing or difficult to understand and if you lied to the accountants then you were committing fraud."
...
You're in a hole. Stop digging.


Now, it would be one thing if Gladwell had merely been asking, via his blog, for an explanation of what Skilling and Lay had done wrong. But in fact he had just published a piece in The New Yorker that was very sympathetic to Skilling. The introduction of the piece focuses on Skilling's harsh sentence and seems to imply that he was treated unfairly. Gladwell's article basically says that it's too complicated to understand and therefore Skilling should have been treated better. "What a big unsolvable mystery!" This is just shoddy journalism and he should've done his homework before he wrote the piece, not in light of the piece. Why didn't he ask someone like DeLong for an explanation while he was writing it? The whole thing just stinks to high heaven.

Update: I see that DeLong has posted a longer response here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007