Thursday, December 29, 2005

Stop the Presses: Meacham is Dull

Subbing over at the Daily Dish, Ross Douthat is disappointed that Newsweek's Jon Meacham is "wearying and banal" in his review of religious books in the Times book review. Well knock me over with a feather.

At Citizen Cain, our response to Parson Meacham's work is similar to Bob Somerby's. We'll let Somerby paraphrase: "Blah blah blah blah harrumph zzzzzzz." Also: "Blah blah blah blah blah plop fizz."

Victor Davis Hanson Must Be Stopped!

VDH's latest column at NRO is up to his usual vile standard. Try to match this sentence for laziness of thought, foolishness, and just plain crappy writing:
Those in our media circus who deliver our truth can't weld, fix a car, shoot a gun, or do much of anything other than run around looking for scoops about how incompetent things are done daily in Iraq under the most trying of circumstances.
Sheesh. You hear that, John Burns? Quit running around Baghad looking for scoops and weld something, for chrissakes.

Or this:
there is a sort of arrogant smugness that has taken hold in the West at large. Read the papers about an average day in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit, or even in smaller places like Fresno. The headlines are mostly the story of mayhem — murder, rape, arson, and theft. Yet, we think Afghanistan is failing or Iraq hopeless when we watch similar violence on television, as if they do such things and we surely do not.
Is he really this dumb? Can he not tell the difference between a crime problem in a stable, functioning society and an insurgency that threatens to erupt into civil war, or anarchy?

President Bush: Burning the Midnight Oil

Today's Washington Post article by Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, about the White House political strategy for 2006, contains this gem:
Bush, who had plenty to be morose about through the fall, responded with vigor
as well. Instead of heading immediately to bed after the Oval Office address, as
he usually does, he stuck around to chew through themes for his upcoming State
of the Union address, another high-ranking administration official said.

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hitchens Promises, and Fails to Deliver

The headline of Christopher Hitchen's latest at Slate is intriguing: Neighborhood Watch: Yes, Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs, but maybe the influence works both ways.

Wow! Now maybe here's some good news that the Mainstream Media hasn't reported. Even while Iranian agents are having great success in their efforts to turn Iraq into a Shiite theocracy, maybe the influence of Iraqi democracy is influencing Iran, creating some sort of movement from below for greater freedom. In the first sentence of the article, we learn that Hitchens was actually in Iran this year, so no doubt his article will be filled with inside details on how what's going on in Iraq is influencing Iran.

But read the article. What a disappointment. Nothing. Hitchens seems to have done some reporting on the Iran's meddling in Iraq, but when it comes to showing that "the influence works both ways, he can only ask rhetorical questions:
everything I can glean from friends and contacts in Iraq makes it ever-clearer that the Iranian state and its clerical proxies made a huge intervention in the Iraqi voting earlier this month, most especially in the southern provinces and in the capital city of Baghdad. It was probable that the Shiite parties would have won anyway, but they made assurance doubly sure by extensive fraud and by using both militias and uniformed policemen to exclude, coerce, or intimidate voters. So, the regional dilemma is now as follows: Will the Iraqi model be one day followed in Iran, or will Iran succeed in imposing its own "model" on Iraq?

Hitchens does tell us that the Ayatollah Sistani is an opponent of Khomeniism and that he has some influence in Iran. Thanks for that-- Hitchens could have saved himself a trip to Iran and reported this hot news back in 2003.


Compassionate Conservatism in Action

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an evaluation of the spending reconciliation bill back on December 19. They found that the reconciliation bill includes a change to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that will increase childhood poverty in the United States and lead to financial penalties on states that cannot meet the unreasonable requirements of the new provision.

Read the report. I won't go into detail, but yet again the Republicans are violating their professed federalist principles, not to mention that whole compassion thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Military Service and Socioeconomic Status.

Citizen Cain is a big fan of both Jane Hamsher and Digby. Both bloggers are irritated with Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell for her criticisms of a November 4 Ann Scott Tyson front pager about the socioeconomic profile of Army recruiting. Tyson's article was based on an analysis of military recruiting data by the National Priorities Project (NPP).

I agree with Hamsher and Digby that Howell's critique is weak, and that it seems to be based on not much more than noting that some people disagree with the NPP analysis, without providing much context for judging who is right. But the dispute caused me to look more closely at the Washington Post article, the NPP analysis and a critique of it by the Heritage Foundation. Based on my review of these sources, I would say that the Tyson article was misleading.

Tyson's article states:
Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

Such patterns are pronounced in such counties as Martinsville, Va., that supply the greatest number of enlistees in proportion to their youth populations. All of the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.

I have several problems with this. First, despite Tyson's assertion that nearly half of recruits come from "lower-middle-class to poor households," the available data don't actually tell us the socioeconomic status of the households recruits come from. The data tell us what zip codes recruits come from, so at most we can say that nearly half of recruits come from lower-middle-class to poor geographic areas. Tyson alludes to this, but in a way that isn't at all clear. While common sense and experience tells us that many recruits are "financially strapped," the article doesn't add a lot to our knowledge of this topic.

Second problem is that "lower-middle-class to poor," depending on how you define, could be most of the country. But it seems obvious that Tyson is trying to say that recruits come disproportionately from lower-middle-class to poor" regions. It isn't clear that this assertion is true. You would never know from Tyson's article that the NPP data show that the poorest regions of the country (those with median incomes below $20,000 per year) are actually underrepresented among recruits. The very wealthiest regions are the least reprented among military recruits. Zip codes with median incomes between $25,000 and $55,000 are overrepresented. The Heritage Foundation, drawing on the same Department of Defense data, reports the data by income quintile, and show that in 2003 the poorest quintile areas are the least represented among recruits, the second richest quintile is the most represented, and the richest quintile is the second most represented. Taking the NPP and the Heritage data together produces a picture where the poorest regions and the very wealthiest regions are underrepresented among recruits, but middle class regions, including at least middle-middle (and upper-middle-middle?) classes are well represented. A somewhat different picture than what Tyson reported.

Third problem is that while Tyson doesn't directly say it, she implies that the military is relying increasingly on poor areas. Here's her lead:
As sustained combat in Iraq makes it harder than ever to fill the ranks of the all-volunteer force, newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed, rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war.
But in fact Heritage shows that the poorest and second quintile zip codes become less well represented among recruits between 1999 and 2003.

Finally, Tyson is mislead by NPP's analysis of the "top 20 counties for recruiting." In fact these are the 20 counties with the highest recruitment rate, not the highest number of recruits. All of these counties are counties with very small populations, where the addition of one or two recruits raises the recruitment rate significantly. Therefore, the recruitment rates for these counties isn't statistically meaningful, any more than it is statistically meaningful that there were many poor rural counties with zero recruits. Digby says that Heritage reports "a bunch of arcane gobblodygook that I defy Howell or anyone else to interpret." Actually, it isn't that complicated. A high recruitment rate from a county that had only a few recruits doesn't mean much.

Note: this post has been modified slightly since original posting.

The Paranoid Style of William Kristol

William Kristol opines, in the Weekly Standard, that liberals don't care about the war on terror, so transfixed are they by the imaginary threat that George Bush will turn the repressive powers of the state against innocent American citizens. The political opposition and the mainstream media, he declares, are infected by The Parnoid Style in American Liberalism.
Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high-speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed? The questions answer themselves.

So Kristol thinks that the law was "broken" and that it is too hard to conduct necessary surveillance under the law. Is he right? Citizen Cain hasn't formed an opinion, and the reason that he hasn't is that we haven't had a proper national debate on this topic, because the President decided that he was above the law and didn't need to change it.

Citizen Cain might well support an expansion of surveillance powers, if it could be shown, for instance, that data mining approaches that could be useful against terrorists could not be conducted under current law, and if a revised law could provide for adequate judicial oversight of how the data mining was conducted, and how the results were used. Citizen Cain could even forgive President Bush if he had, for a brief time after 9/11, violated the law while at the same time asking Congress to change it.

But Kristol says that Bush was right to violate the law indefinitely without Congressional or judicial safeguards, because of the possibility that Congress might not "figure out a way to fix FISA." Because liberals have dared to criticize the Preident and to suggest that he is improperly assuming powers that the law and the Constitution don't give him, liberalism is on the verge of descending into a "fever swamp."

Kristol's lack of respect for the constitution is appalling. At the risk of descending into the fever swamp, Citizen Cain declares that we might as well be a banana republic if we allow the President to ignore the law because of the possibility that Congress won't do what the President wants.

Monday, December 26, 2005

One More on Measuring Bias

A final thought about Groseclose Milyo study. The Language Log critique of an earlier version this study states:

Let's begin with the assumption that underlies Groseclose and Milyo's assignment of ratings to the various groups they looked at: if a group is cited by a liberal legislator, it's liberal; if it's cited by a conservative legislator, it's conservative.

On February 24, 2004, for example, in a debate on the medical liability bill, the liberal Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut cited "a study conducted by the Rand Corporation and published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year [which concluded] that individuals received the recommended treatment for their condition in only 55 percent of the cases... " For Groseclose and Milyo, Dodd's citation of the study counts as one piece of evidence that the Rand Corporation is a liberal think tank. In fact, their method assumes that there can be no such thing as objective or disinterested scholarship -- every study or piece of research, even if published in so august a scientific authority as the New England Journal, can be assumed to have a hidden agenda, depending on which side finds its results congenial to its political purposes.

In their response, Groseclose and Milyo state:

Although we did not state it in the paper, our own view is nearly the exact opposite of this assumption. Namely, by and large, we believe that all studies and quotes by the think tanks in our sample are true and objective. However, it just happens that some, but not necessarily all, of these true and objective studies appeal differently to conservatives than liberals. To see why, imagine that a researcher publishes a study in a very prestigious scientific journal such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Suppose this study gives evidence that a fetus in the early stages of its mother’s pregnancy can feel pain (or cannot feel pain). We are willing to bet that this true and objective study will appeal more to conservatives (liberals) than liberals (conservatives). We are also willing to bet that conservatives (liberals) would tend to cite it more.

This is all that our study assumes—that these studies can appeal differently to different sides of the political spectrum. We do not assume that the authors of the studies necessarily have a political agenda. Not only that, we do not even assume that each study will appeal differently to different sides
of the political spectrum. We only assume that it is possible that such studies will appeal differently.

This is an excellent response, as far as it goes, but it fails to address part of the concern about the study's methodology. Suppose that a think tank, call it the NEJM Association, had published a study giving evidence that a fetus in the early stages cannot feel pain. Suppose further that liberal legislators cited this study frequently and that neither conservative nor liberal legislators cited anything else published by the NEJM Association, making the NEJM Association seem to be a liberal think tank. Therefore, under the Grosecose-Milyo methodology, a newspaper that cited the NEJM Association frequently would be tagged a liberal newspaper. That would make sense, perhaps, if it could be shown that the newspaper was citing the NEJM study about fetal inability to feel pain. But what if the newspaper was citing other work by the NEJM Association -- for instance, studies on the connection between diet and cancer incidence, or on outcomes of obesity treatment. I would contend that it would be unfair to give this newspaper a "liberal" tag.

In think that something like this might be going on with the Grosesclose-Milyo study. Think tanks produce work that is political charged and work that isn't. I would contend that on average, liberal groups produce more non-policically charged work, work that is important for it's expertise and informational content. Conservative groups, I would argue, are on average more political, and more consistently partisan. I don't think that Groseclose and Milyo have adequately controlled for this effect.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

More on Measuring Media Bias

A couple of additional points to make regarding the recent report evaluating “media bias” that I blogged about a couple of days ago:

In addition to the Media Matters evaluation of the report, earlier versions of the report received critiques from the Left Coaster and from Geoffrey Nunberg. The report’s authors, Groseclose and Milyo, responded to Nunberg. I agree with some of points made in these critiques of the Groseclose/Milyo report, particularly the idea that authors overreached by labeling their report a study of media “bias.” The report looks only at journalists’ use of think tanks and policy advocacy groups, and bias can creep into journalism in a lot of ways other than through selection of groups to cite. Moreover, the report takes any deviation from the political center (as defined by which groups are cited by members of Congress in floor speeches), as evidence of “bias.” I would like to see evidence of unfairness or inaccuracy on the part of journalists before the word “bias” is thrown around.

However, I don’t think that the report’s methodology is worthless, as some of the critics do. I think the report is actually pretty interesting, if it is taken not as a full accounting of “media bias,” but rather as an attempt to quantitatively determine what types of think tanks and policy groups the media give voice to most often, and how those groups stand in relation to the national polical center of gravity. The fact that the methodology produces some anomalous results doesn’t mean that the whole approach is without merit.

But I do think that the methodology needs some refinement. In particular, I think that several factors biased the report towards the result that media organizations favor liberal groups. I would like to expand on one of those factors that I cited in my previous post. I opined that liberal organizations are likely, as a group, more scholarly and and better sources of unbiased information than conservative organizations. Therefore, if journalists are more concerned than members of Congress with the scholarly reputation of an organization, they might be inclined to cite liberal organizations, not because they are liberal but because they are scholarly.

I was unfair, in my previous post, not to acknowledge that Groseclose and Milyo do attempt to control for the “scholarliness” of groups in their study. However, I do not believe that their controls fully address this issue, and I still believe that this factor biases their study towards the conclusion that the media favor liberal groups.

The authors constructed three binary variables to control for “scholarliness:” whether the organization’s website has closed membership (like a think tank and unlike most advocacy groups), whether the organization has staff with the title “fellow,” “researcher,” “economist,” or “analyst,” and whether the organization is located off K Street in Washington D.C. (unlike organizations devoted to lobbying, which tend to be located on K Street). I don’t think that these variables get very far towards a true measure of scholarliness—the Heritage Foundation comes out as scholarly as Brookings. I’d like to see the authors try to use a measure such as number of staff who have published research in peer reviewed journals in the last two years, or something similar.

Nonetheless, use of these variables made media organizations come out somewhat more conservative than the version of the model that did not control for “scholarliness,” though they still came out conservative on average and the change was not statistically significant. I’m inclined to believe that if the model used more sophisticated measures of scholarliness, news organizations would come out still more conservative.

But more importantly, scholarliness is only part of the issue. Think tanks and policy organizations produce a lot of different information. Some of this information is useful in arguments that fit on a liberal-conservative spectrum, and some is not. Sometimes policy organizations package this information into arguments, but sometimes they put information out in an unbiased way without spinning it at all-- a good example would being the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index. I would contend that liberal organizations are more likely to also be organizations that are good sources for this sort of non-ideological, non-partisan information. For instance, Amnesty International can fairly be classified as a liberal organization. But if a reporter is looking for a source of information about, say, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, he or she will likely turn to Amnesty. Does that create a “liberal” slant to the story? Not if there’s no liberal-conservative split on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. What if a journalist is writing a story about a politically-loaded question like welfare policy, and she gets data about trends in the number of poor people from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, because they provide the government data in an unbiased, easily accessible format. She then quotes the Economic Policy Institute saying that the Bush administration’s welfare policies are too conservative, and quotes the Heritage Foundation saying that the administration’s policies are too liberal. Is she tilting her story to the left because she has quoted two liberal organizations and one conservative one? I would say no, since one of the liberal organizations was used to provide data that was not in dispute, not to provide politically-salient arguments.

If I’m right that liberal organziations are better sources of unbiased information, and if members of Congress are more likely to quote organizations to score points in a political debate, while journalists are more likely use organizations to provide information that doesn’t necessarily have political/ideological salience, then the fact that journalists are more likely to quote liberal organization is not evidence that journalists slant left.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Santorum. Intelligent Design.

A rat flees a sinking ship.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Measuring Media Bias

As I was starting to write a critique of the recent report on “media bias” by Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and Jeffrey Milyo, a University of Missouri economist, I saw that Media Matters beat me to it. They do a bang-up job too, although I have some differences with the Media Matters evaluation.

The report found—guess what?—“liberal bias” in the mainstream media. Gasp! As Media Matters lays out, the researchers employ an unusual methodology to assess bias. First, they use Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) ratings for members of Congress to determine how liberal each member is. Floor speeches by each member were analyzed to see which think tanks and policy organizations each cited most, omitting the citations made in the course of refuting or denouncing the organization. The organizations most cited by liberal members were deemed to be liberal organizations, and those most cited by conservative members were deemed to be conservative organizations, with each organization receiving a score from 1 to 100 corresponding to the ADA ranking. Then the researchers analyzed media outlets for the think tanks they cited in their news stories, and compared these patterns with the patterns observed in Congress. Media outlets with similar citation patterns to liberal members were deemed to be liberal, etc.

The results were that 18 of the 20 media outlets evaluated came out as liberal. The exceptions were the Washington Times and Fox News.

Media Matters points out the authors’ apparent ignorance of previous scholarly work about media bias. They also describe some flaws in their methodology, and some of the peculiar results it generates: the ACLU turns out to be a conservative group; the National Rifle Association comes out as a moderate organization; the RAND Corporation and the Council on Foreign relations come out as being to the left of the ACLU.

Despite these anomalies, I think somewhat more highly of the report’s methodology than Media Matters does. It is a cleverly constructed attempt to generate an objective standard for defining how liberal or conservative an organization is, at least in comparison with the national political center of gravity. In most cases the relative results (in terms of how think tanks and media outlets are ranked in comparison with each other) seem approximately accurate. While the methodology doesn’t really get at “bias” as I understand it, it does provide some clues as to which groups are most often publicized by the mainstream media, and, on a relative basis, whether these groups are liberal or conservative. Moreover, the report’s authors have explanations for how some of the anomalies occurred and, in some cases, for why the anomalies aren’t important. Besides, no methodology is perfect.

However, I believe that there are at factors that bias the entire study towards labeling media outlets as “liberal.” One is described by Media Matters:

. . . stories about race relations that include a quote from an NAACP representative are unlikely to be "balanced" with quotes from another group on their list. Their quotes will often be balanced by quotes from an individual, depending on the nature of the story; however, because there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo's list), such stories will be coded as having a "liberal bias."
Since the NAACP is the third most-cited group in the study, this factor could have a significant impact.

I believe that two additional factors bias the report towards the conclusion that the media tilt left:

1. The Government: A Conservative Group. The period of observation of media outlets varied, depending on the organization, but most organizations were tracked from the late 1990s through 2003. Moreover, of the 20 news organizations tracked, nine were followed only during 2001 and beyond. Therefore, during most of the time the news organizations were evaluated, the Republicans held the presidency and had the initiative in putting forward policies and programs that would receive press coverage. When reporting on a Republican White House initiative, a reporter seeking “balance” and reaction from political opposition might choose to quote Democratic congressional leaders, but they might also choose to quote liberal think tanks and advocacy groups. I would be interested in seeing the authors do an analysis of whether trends in citing liberal versus conservative groups change as the political party in power changes, both in the White House and in Congress.

2. Liberals: the reality-based community. The organizations most often cited by members of Congress were the National Taxpayers Union (conservative), AARP (liberal), Amnesty International (liberal), Sierra Club (liberal), Heritage Foundation (conservative), Citizens Against Government Waste (conservative), RAND (liberal), Brookings (liberal), National Federation of Independent Businesses (conservative), and ACLU (anomalously slightly conservative in this ranking). Note that the liberal organizations include two that are highly scholarly sources of relatively unbiased information, and not political advocacy groups. Amnesty International, while considered a liberal advocacy group on domestic controversies such as the death penalty and abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, is also an outstanding source of unbiased information about human rights conditions in regimes such as Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, etc. Of the conservative organizations, the Heritage Foundation comes closest to being a scholarly organization, but it is much closer to being an arm of the conservative movement than either RAND or Brookings is to being an arm of the liberals. So when news outlets cite Brookings or RAND or Amnesty, the actual content of the information that is being cited is likely to be less loaded in ideological or partisan terms and less affected by “spin” than is the case when the National Taxpayers Union or Citizens Against Government Waste or the Heritage Foundation are cited. I would be interested in seeing an analysis that attempted to control for such differences.

So while I think that the methodology that Groseclose and Milyo have developed has some merits and is worth trying to improve, I think that their bottom-line result is unreliable. The finding that the media tilts left is unproven.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lying Liars

The Washington Post:
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked to explain why Bush last year said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." McClellan said the quote referred only to the USA Patriot Act.
How low can they go? Clinton was torn a new one for parsing the word “is.” But Bush is allowed to invent new meanings for "any time."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Surveillance and the Law

Many thanks to Kevin Drum for his lucid explication of the best thinking on legal status of the National Security Agency’s domestic electronic spying program.  The New York Times sat on the story for more than a year, and yet when the finally published, their reporting of the legal issues involved was a confused jumble.

Drum explains that 1. the program probably doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, given current interpretation of the law; 2. the program definitely does violate the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, and 3. the President has no constitutional powers allowing him to override FISA.

George Will asks the right question—if he really believed it was necessary to conduct this program, then why didn’t he ask Congress to give him the legal authority.  I could accept it if he had started the program after 9/11, while simultaneously asking Congress for authorization.  I can’t accept, however, that he unilaterally implemented the program and never bothered to ask Congress to change the law.  This is criminal behavior.

Intelligent Design Defeated!

When I opined yesterday that the Intelligent Design movement was in trouble, I had no idea how quickly events would prove me right.  Of course, this is only one courtroom, and just one case, but Judge Jones would have seemed a pretty good choice from the ID perspective—someone who ran for Congress as a Republican and who was appointed to the District Court by W.  This is a happy day.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Is 72 Hours Enough?

I see now that Byron York has written an NRO article that addresses the question of why the Bush administration thought it necessary to do without warrants.  The argument is that even with the ability to conduct surveillance for 72 hours, the Justice Department/ FBI bureaucracy can’t handle the paperwork required to process all of the applications for all of the surveillance that they want to conduct.  Apparently the warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are a bear.  The court apparently isn’t the problem; getting the applications together is the problem.  So even with a 72 hour window, there were concerns about the ability to get the applications in on time.

Hmm.  If this story holds up, I’ll have to revise my opinion that the concern about timeliness is a red herring.  My next question would then be, if the existing law was too cumbersome, then why didn’t the administration seek to change the law?  It’s been four years!


Don't Worry about Your Civil Liberties

The Bush administration is saying that while they dispensed with the requirement to get warrants to spy on U.S. citizens, they still had plenty of procedures in place to prevent abuses. First Draft has the transcript of a press briefing with Michael Hayden, Principal Deputy Director for National Intelligence (hat tip Atrios):

Q And who determined that these targets were al Qaeda? Did you wiretap them?

GENERAL HAYDEN: The judgment is made by the operational work force at the National Security Agency using the information available to them at the time, and the standard that they apply -- and it's a two-person standard that must be signed off by a shift supervisor, and carefully recorded as to what created the operational imperative to cover any target, but particularly with regard to those inside the United States.

I feel so much better now. Who needs courts when you’ve got an operational work force, including a shift supervisor?

Illegal Surveillance: Why?

The Bush administration is floundering painfully as it attempts to defend of its program of warrantless domestic electronic searches. The Washington Post quotes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

Gonzales said that while FISA prohibits eavesdropping without court approval, it takes an exception where Congress "otherwise authorizes." That authorization, he said, was implicit in the authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.

This is preposterous; Congress authorized the use of military force against al Qaeda and the Taliban, not warrantless searches in the United States.

Moreover, the argument that warrantless searches were burdensome because of the time that it takes to get a warrant has been shown to be baseless. Since the administration could already conduct surveillance for 72 hours without a warrant under the law, the real reason must be not that they couldn’t get warrants quickly enough, but rather that they feared that courts might reject some of their requests for warrants. And why did they fear such rejection? Judges are generally very willing to grant warrants.

The most generous interpretation is that the administration feared that there might be instances where they were suspicious of an individual, but would not be able to show probable cause. There are less generous interpretations, involving possible eavesdropping against journalists or political enemies.

What’s the real reason? Citizen Cain doesn’t know. But the Bush administration sure hasn’t put forward the real reason yet.

Intelligent Designers Retreat!

Intelligent design as a political program for sneaking the teaching of religion into science classrooms is in big trouble, and is on the verge of having to retrench. My evidence? Today’s Chicago Tribune column by the conservative Dennis Byrne. Byrne is clearly sympathetic to intelligent design, and spends much of his column defending it and criticizing the arrogance of secularists and scientists regarding “the Big Question: How did we get here, and why?”

But here’s what Bryne has to say when he comes to the big political question of the day – should intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in science classrooms?

The reality today is that when theology, philosophy or religion dares to examine the Big Question, its practitioners find themselves increasingly bumping heads with scientific claims of exclusive competence. This is wrong. Neither science nor theology has the right to tell the other to butt out of this quest. In this, no one has the right to demand that the study of intelligent design be kept out of schools. Out of the science class, perhaps, but not out of all classrooms.
So Byrne seems to be conceding that scientists should decide what gets taught in science class, and scientists overwhelmingly reject intelligent design as an unscientific theory.

Where then, according to Byrne, should intelligent design be taught? He doesn’t directly say, but since he refers to the contributions that philosophy, theology, and religion can make towards answering “the Big Question.” So I assume he supports the teaching of intelligent design in philosophy, theology and religion classes. Since all high school students take biology, but relatively few take philosophy, theology, or religion, I would consider this a major scaling back of the education agenda for intelligent design.

The next question to ask, now that it has been conceded that intelligent design doesn’t belong in the science classroom, is whether intelligent design is good philosophy, theology, or religion. Byrne says:
Philosophers and theologians may--must, actually--rigorously examine the scientific theory that random chance explains everything. A denial of that right and responsibility rises from the same spirit of arrogant certitude that haunted

It isn’t clear to me who Byrne thinks is denying philosophers and theologians the right to examine any question, so the comparison to the inquisition seems hysterical. By all means, examine away. But as philosophers and theologians examine this question, they should start by trying to understand the most rigorous work by scientists on this subject—and it isn’t by intelligent design proponents.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Administration Dishonesty: This Time on Surveillance

Bush administration sources have stated that the reason why the president needed to conduct warrantless surveillance of domestic intelligence targets is that it can take too long to get a warrant. According to the Washington Post:

The aim of the program was to rapidly monitor the phone calls and other communications of people in the United States believed to have contact with suspected associates of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups overseas, according to two former senior administration officials. Authorities, including a former NSA director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, were worried that vital information could be lost in the time it took to secure a warrant from a special surveillance court, sources said.
But on Face the Nation today, Sen. Joe Biden explained that existing law allows the President to conduct electronic surveillance of anyone for up to 75 hours. Biden:

I'm the guy that drafted the FISA Act 25 years ago on the Judiciary Committee, one of the three people, and we set it up-- it's a secret court allowing the president to wiretap anybody, intercept anything for up to 75 hours. They can in the meantime go into that court and say, `I needed to do this.' If there's a reason the court thinks is under the Constitution permissible, they're allowed to do it. If it turns out they're not allowed to do it, they have to destroy the evidence.

So I just don't get it. He already has the authority under the FISA court to go in and intercept anything he wants up to 72 hours. This is neither, I think, legal, nor is it necessary what he's been doing. It is a little bit frightening how broadly he asserts his authority as commander in chief, where the guy hasn't shown very good judgment on torture or a lot of other things.
So once again this administration is being dishonest—making it seem as if they need to violate the law in order to protect the public. I hope that Congress has the guts to face down Bush on this one. I also hope that the Washington Post publishes a correction and stops trusting the sources that fed them a line about losing information during the time that it takes to get a warrant.

David Brooks Misses the Point. Again

Does David Brooks even believe the stuff he writes? Start, in today's column, with the assertion that
American policy makers and think-tank Johnnies have not really looked at Iraq in
the broader context of . . . [other civil wars]. That's in part because when Americans think of civil war, we tend to think of our own Civil War, which was utterly atypical. It's also because American experts were almost all trained to think about wars between nations . . .

Please. First of all, it's silly to say that think tank analysts haven't looked at Iraq in the broader context of other conflicts. Second, it's ludicrous to assert that the American civil war has somehow prevented U.S. experts from an understanding of other civil wars. And third, it's preposterous to say that our lack of preparation for the civil war in Iraq occurred because of some kind of general failing in the training of American "experts."

Whatever the failings of experts, our lack of preparation for the civil war in Iraq is attributable predominantly to factors that David Brooks won't discuss: the abject failure of the Bush administration to plan for the occupation, and to commit sufficient resources to it. James Fallows has reported that even now, no one in the administration really gives much attention to Iraq, hard thought that may be to believe. Rumsfeld is apparently bored with the whole subject, perferring to focus on military "transformation."

But in Brooks's fantasy world, it isn't the Bush administration's fault. The problem, you see, is that American experts all have their heads up their butts thinking about the U.S. civil war.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Confusion About Surveillance

Here at Citizen Cain, we’re confused by the whole issue of the Bush Administration’s authorization of domestic electronic surveillance.

First off, it appears that it is illegal to conduct electronic surveillance except as authorized by statute. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a government official who conducts electronic surveillance must be able to show that he was “engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction.”

President Bush overrode this law in 2002, using a secret executive order. The order authorized the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance against U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, despite, as the Washington Post puts it, “previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night.”

Question #1: How is it possible for a law can to be overridden by executive order. This seems astonishing.

According to the New York Times, the Bush administration’s justification for ignoring the law includes the following:

President Bush did not ask Congress to include provisions for the N.S.A. domestic surveillance program as part of the Patriot Act and has not sought any other laws to authorize the operation. Bush administration lawyers argued that such new laws were unnecessary, because they believed that the Congressional resolution on the campaign against terrorism provided ample authorization, officials said.
But here is the relevant text of the Authorization for Military Force that Congress passed on September 18, 2001:
Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled . . .
a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Question #2: How could this authorization for use of force against al Qaeda be interpreted to allow for warrantless electronic surveillance.

The New York Times says that administration lawyers developed a theory that:
the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority.

Support for this theory, the Times said, came from a decision in an unrelated matter by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. The court referred in this decision to "the president's inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance." The Court decision, moreover, appears to say the authority to conduct such warrantless surveillance is well accepted law, and that this applies under some circumstances to domestic intelligence surveillance.

Question #3: If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s requirement for warrants contradicts “the president’s inherent constitutional authority,” why hasn’t it been challenged on constitutional grounds? Can the president simply ignore a law because he thinks it’s unconstitutional?

Can a lawyer help me out, or point to something that explains this? The newspaper accounts just aren’t sorting it out sufficiently.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sexuality and Genes

Conrad, a commenter on a recent post about Brokeback Mountain and whether aversion to witnessing homosexual affection is genetic, opines that:

if one accepts that sexual orientation is genetic, that homosexuality is in the genes, it makes tremendous sense to assert that hetero aversion to gay sex is also in the genes. The point being that it's very hard to imagine a genetic reason why homosexuality would pass on homosexual genes to the next generation, since gay sex doesn't produce children. Whereas it makes excellent sense to suggest that hetero men with an aversion to gay sex are more likely to pass on their genes than hetero men without an aversion to gay sex.
Conrad makes some reasonable points, but I don’t necessarily agree. First, let me address the point that “it’s very hard to imagine a genetic reason why homosexuality would pass on homosexual genes to the next generation.” Then I will address whether hetero aversion to gay sex is likely to be genetic, because it enhances genetic fitness.

It is far from certain that homosexuality has a genetic component, but if it does, there are several theories of how genes that promote homosexuality could be maintained in a population. An early theory, by sociobiology founding father E.O. Wilson held that homosexuality is a form of genetic altruism—that homosexuals through human pre-history refrained from parenthood and instead devoted themselves to being good aunts and uncles—to helping raise the children of the tribe with whom they shared some genes. This theory hasn’t held up very well, because it’s hard to imagine aunt/uncle effort contributing sufficiently to genetic success to explain the persistence of genes that discouraged parenthood itself.

Another theory, first explained by Richard Dawkins and more recently by Robert Wright, holds that there may be genes that in modern society predispose some individuals to homosexuality, but that these genes did not predispose people to homosexuality in environments during which humans did most of their evolving. The expression of any gene is dependent on its environment, and maybe hunter-gatherer societies were not conducive to development of homosexuality even in people who, if alive today, would be homosexual. Keep in mind that in hunter gatherer societies there were no bars, personals ads, clubs, literature, movies or television and that people lived in very small groups and knew only a small number of people. Even for people who had some tendency towards homosexuality in a hunter-gatherer society, it might be difficult to find or identify other homosexuals as sexual partners or role models. Unable to express their homosexual tendencies, according to this theory, they “became” heterosexual and passed on their genes.

Conrad draws an analogy between sibling incest aversion and aversion to homosexuality. But incest aversion is a different case, because a very high percentage of people throughout human evolution have opposite sex siblings that are theoretically available as sexual partners, and because incest has hugely negative fitness implications, especially for women but for men too. So genes that predispose a person to finding sex with a sibling to be disgusting have high fitness benefits.

Another theory is that there may be genes that promote homosexuality but that have other fitness benefits. Perhaps a number of genes, each of which individually has fitness benefits and do not promote homosexuality, when combined together predispose a person to be homosexual. Still another theory, applicable only to male homosexuality, is that there may be genes that promote male homosexuality on the X chromosome, and that these genes have a fitness benefit to women. Since women have two X chromosomes and men only one, an X chromosome gene as it is passed through the generations will spend 2/3 of its time in women’s bodies, and only 1/3 in men’s. Therefore, if there were an X chromosome gene that, say, decreased a woman’s odds of dying in childbirth while predisposing a man to homosexuality, such a gene might survive in a population.

I personally think that some combination of the Dawkins theory of different environments and the gene combination/X chromosome theory is plausible, but no one really knows.

Turning now to the question of whether aversion to gay sex is genetic, I find it highly plausible that most men are genetically predisposed to prefer women as sexual partners, and vice versa. It’s less clear to me, however, that Conrad is right to assert that “hetero men with an aversion to gay sex are more likely to pass on their genes than hetero men without an aversion to gay sex,” if by this he means aversion to other people having gay sex. An aversion to the type of sex that other people are having doesn’t obviously seem to be fitness-enhancing. Maybe the point is that an aversion to gay sex makes a man more hetero on a continuum from homosexuality to heterosexuality, more exclusively devoted to sex with females and therefore less likely to expend effort on genetically unproductive couplings. Perhaps. Or perhaps aversion to other people having gay sex is a byproduct of genes that make a person prefer not to have gay sex themselves.

Though such theories have some plausibility, I’m reluctant to accept them because it is so easy to spin out equally plausible theories of what ought to be in our genes. Why not theorize that men should be genetically predisposed to encourage other men to be homosexual in order to keep the women for themselves, or that people ought to be averse to masturbation and oral sex because they’re wasted effort genetically.

Moreover, human beings have all sorts of genetic predispositions that may or may not be expressed depending on the circumstances. Perhaps a predisposition to disgust at homosexual affection between others is expressed only in when an individual rarely witnesses homosexual expressions of affection. So to say that heterosexual men may have a genetic predisposition to find expressions of homosexuality in others to be disgusting, seems to me to be a way to say, “it will ever be so.” I’m skeptical. If you said that genetic programming is likely to ensure that even 1000 years from now, most people will prefer opposite sex sexual partners and that most people will continue to feel protective towards their children and to prefer comfort over misery, I would agree. The genetic benefits of these tendencies, across an enormous varieties of possible environments, are just so obvious.

But if you say, “heterosexual men will always find the sight of other men kissing to be disgusting, because it’s in the genes” it seems to me that you’re trying to justify preferences that are highly malleable, to limit the scope of our culture to make change. I won’t go there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish on New Orleans Levees

The New York Times reports that the White House has agreed to double funding for flood protection levees in New Orleans, adding $1.5 billion to an already promised $1.6 billion.  With the added funding, it will be possible, the White House says, to protect New Orleans against catastrophic flooding from another hurricane the size of Katrina.  That is against a category 3 hurricane.  The funding would not be sufficient, however, to allow the levees to be strengthened sufficiently to prevent levee breaches in response to a category 5 hurricane.

Isn’t this a ridiculous place to be pinching pennies?  Not only does it invite another catastrophe, it threatens the success of the whole reconstruction effort.  How much sense does it make to spend tens of billions on reconstruction by nickel and dime the effort to make New Orleans safe from another catastrophe.  The best thing that the federal government could do to attract private investment back to New Orleans isn’t to offer tax breaks or to expand flood insurance protection, but to spend what it takes to protect the city.  In November, the Washington Post reported that ”rebuilding the levees in New Orleans to the level state and local leaders want is expected to cost $20 billion or more.”

It’s ridiculous that we aren’t budgeting money for this vital effort right now.  If we don’t, we risk wasting a lot more than $20 billion.

The Liberal Bias Boogeyman

The Washington Post, particularly national politics editor John Harris, has covered itself in disgrace by undermining Dan Froomkin, the paper’s online White House Briefing columnist.  Media Matters and Brad DeLong have the goods.

What is truly extraordinary about this episode is how little the White House, and/or conservative activists, need do to make the mainstream media crap itself for fear of being charged with liberal bias.  All that it takes to get the Post to impugn their own man’s credibility Froomkin is for some conservatives to assert that he “writes from a liberal world view.”

More Brokeback

It's overwhelming the impact that a link from Andrew Sullivan will have on traffic at a humble site like Citizen Cain. Thanks Daily Dish! Thanks also posters for the great discussion on the Brokeback Mountain post.

I see that Mickey Kaus has had a conversation with Robert Wright, in which Kaus no longer explains his lack of enthusiasm for seeing Brokeback Mountain on his need to see an attractive female lead. He now, much more plausibly, states that it's because he finds witnessing homosexual sex and romance to be repellent. Glad we cleared that up. Less plausibly, Kaus speculates that his aversion is genetically based; Wright makes mincemeat out of that argument.

And no, I don't think that Kaus should be driven out of polite society for his views, or that he hates gay people, or that he is psychologically diseased. The Malcontent should calm down. I'm just trying to sort through some very confused-seeming posts by Mickey Kaus to try and see what really is bugging him about Brokeback Mountain. And yes, I made fun of him a bit-- something that someone who can dish it out like he does should be able to take.

Now that Kaus has come clean, I'll leave him alone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mickey Kaus Loves the Ladies. Really!

Welcome Andrew Sullivan readers! After you've read this post, please stay for a while, and check out what else we've got on offer here at Citizen Cain.

12/15/05, 8:40 pm

Regarding the new gay cowboy romance, Brokeback Mountain, Mickey Kaus has this to say:
I'm highly skeptical that a movie about gay cowhands, however good, will find a large mainstream audience. I'll go see it, but I don't want to go see it. (Why? Sexual
orientation really is in the genes. Sorry.)
Kaus doesn't want to see it because he's straight straight straight. When a correspondent questions why straight men should be uninterested in a gay romance when gay people manage to find pleasure in hetero romances, Kaus responds:
If a gay man, say, goes to see "Wuthering Heights," there is at least one romantic lead of the sex he's interested in! In "Brokeback Mountain," neither of the two romantic leads is of a sex I'm interested in. ... My wild hypothesis is that more people will go see a movie if it features an actor or actress they find attractive! If heterosexual men in heartland America don't flock to see "Brokeback Mountain" it's not because
they're bigoted. It's because they're heterosexual.
Got that? Kaus isn't interested in Brokeback Mountain only because he wants to see women when he goes to the movies. But it's not, NOT, because he's homophobic.

Interesting. First Kaus doubted that mainstream audiences would be interested in Brokeback Mountain. Apparently though, it's only heterosexual men who won't be interested. Straight women (if I follow Kaus's logic) should be doubly interested because of its two attractive male romantic leads. And hetero men won't be interested not because they find gay romance aversive, but rather because of the lack of female romantic leads. Gay women, I assume, will have no interest in it at all.

But does a movie have to have attractive female romantic leads to interest straight men, as Kaus says? Surely men straight men like lots of movies that have no romantic leads, and no romance, whatsoever. Like, for instance, Rope, or Terminator.

Or does a movie just need to "feature an actor or actress [that heterosexual men] find attactive?" as Kaus says in the same paragraph. Well Citizen Cain is no expert on attractiveness, but he knows what he likes. And he likes Brokeback Mountain co-stars (caution-- racy image) Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams. But perhaps these beautiful women don't get enough screen time in Brokeback Mountain to satisfy Kaus. Does Kaus also find himself uninterested, I wonder, in the many Hollywood films that feature a dozen or so male leads and one female lead, who gets minimal screen time (say, Ocean's Eleven or any of the classic Smurf pictures)? Does he stay away from movies that have no featured females at all (say Reservoir Dogs, or 12 Angry Men, or Master and Commander)?

Citizen Cain hasn't seen Brokeback Mountain. So he can't recommend for or against it. Nor would he assume that anyone who doesn't care to see it or who doesn't enjoy it must be homophobic. Moreover, Citizen Cain shares Kaus's pleasure in seeing beautiful women in movies. However, Citizen Cain also can sometimes identify with movie characters who experience powerful longing, even if the object of desire isn't to Citizen Cain's own taste.

Finally, I see that Andrew Sullivan has noticed that Kaus's posts on this topic:
The great thing about blogging is that, if it's done right and honestly, it can sometimes reveal things about yourself even you didn't know.
Well said.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thimerosal and Autism: Where are the Goal Posts?

Kevin Leitch is a parent of an autistic child, and an outstanding blogger, who is highly skeptical of claims that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. Leitch has commented here, and in greater detail here, on my previous post about a recent admission by David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm, a book highly sympathetic to claims that thimerosal causes autism. Kirby now admits that if autism cases among 3-5 year olds don't start declining by 2007 (in response to the removal of most thimerosal from vaccines), "that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis."

Leitch points out that Kirby has moved the goal posts. Earlier this year, the New York Times summarized Kirby's position as follows:
Because autism is usually diagnosed sometime between a child’s third and fourth
birthdays and thimerosal was largely removed from childhood vaccines in 2001,
the incidence of autism should fall this year.

That's this year-- 2005. Leitch rightly asks, "what are the extra two years for." This is how Kirby explained his current position to me (without explaining why it has changed) in an e-mail back in August:

It is a myth that "most" mercury came out [of vaccines] in 1999. It wasn't even until July of 1999 that the government suggested that manufacturers begin to remove the
mercury "as soon as possible." Factories did not get approval for, and begin making thimerosal-free vaccines until 2000 at the earliest (Except for Merck, which got approval in Sept. 1999 to make Hg-free Hep-B vaccine, though it is not clear when this new formula actually appeared on the shelves of doctors offices).

On Meet the Press, Dr. Fineberg said that some mercury containing pediatric vaccines expired in 2003. I have reason to believe it was later than that, as many vaccines without thimerosal were not even produced until 2001 or 2002, and most vaccines have a shelf life of about three years from manufacture, it is my understanding. (Again, correct me if I am wrong). Plus, it takes quite some time for new lots to work their way through the distribution system, and new stocks are not ordered until old stocks begin to run low, as far as I can discern.

By this account, there were still mercury-containing vaccines on the shelf, potentially at least, until very recently. This matter is being investigated right now by the United States Senate, and we should have an answer soon, even if the Senators must subpoena the information (which they will, their staffs have indicated).

But let's take Dr. Fineberg at his word for now. He said at least some mercury containing vaccines (we don't know how many because the FDA won't say) expired in 2003. Meanwhile, 3-5 year old children entering the system now were born no later than June, 2002. In fact, we don't have the breakdown of individual birth cohorts, but one would imagine that there were more five year olds (born in 2000, when many kids were still getting the full amount of mercury in their shots) entering the system last quarter than three year olds, born in 2002. However, early intervention programs are lowering the age of diagnosis, and perhaps this ratio is changing as well.

. . .

My guess, and it is admittedly a guess, is that MOST 3-5 year olds entering the system today, on average received relatively high levels of mercury in their vaccines. If the FDA would release the pertinent information, we would know exactly how much that was.

So Kirby says that maybe thimerosal wasn't removed from vaccines in 2001 after all. Maybe it wasn't mostly removed until 2002 or 2003.

I don't find this persuasive. Proponents of the thimerosal-autism hypothesis hold that increased exposure to thimerosal resulting from changes in infant vaccine schedules in the early 1980s caused a massive subsequent increase in autism incidence. It isn't that there was no thimerosal exposure prior to 1980 (there was), it's that the increased exposure supposedly caused more autism. So significant decreases in exposure, even if some exposure remains, ought to decrease autism incidence if the hypothesis is correct.

Moreover, as an informed correspondent has told me, there was a shortage of DTP vaccine in 2001 and 2002, so it's unlikely that there was old vaccine sitting around by 2003. But Citizen Cain is a patient man. I can wait until 2007. I'm just afraid that by then the new hypothesis will be that miniscule amounts of thimerosal, still present in some vaccines because of use during the production process, are sufficient to cause continued high incidence of autism.

Evolutionary Psychology Debate Rages

Citizen Cain did a lot of reading in Evolutionary Psychology a few years back, and found some of it intriguing, some of it persuasive, and some of it dubious. Evolutionary psychology seemed all the more persuasive because many of the critiques of it were shoddy and seemed to deliberately miss the point. I'm thinking specifically of Stephen Jay Gould, Hilary Rose, and Stephen Rose. It seemed to me that if that's the best the critics could do, then Ev Psych must have been on pretty solid ground.

But earlier this year, a new criticism of evolutionary psychology was published that was a cut above previous efforts. Adapting Minds : Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, by David Buller, a philosopher of science, seemed fair, informed, and reasonable. And it seemed to undermine most of the more provocative claims of the Ev Psych researchers.

But now Ev Psych has come back swinging, with defenses by leading researchers against Buller's criticisms of EP findings related to social contract reasoning, jealosy, and the psychology of parental care. Citizen Cain hasn't had time to study the arguments and decide who's right. A synopsis of Buller's attack is here. Ev Psych godfathers Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have organized the counterattack here. A counter-counterattack from Buller is here. Comments would be appreciated from anyone who has taken the time to wade through these papers, or, for that matter, from anyone who has a strong, uninformed opinion.

POSTSCRIPT (12/11): La Citoyenne told me that on reading the last phrase of this post, requesting comments from those with strong uninformed opinions, that I had made a typo. Wrong. I made a joke. But only sort of, because I like comments, even if they're uninformed. At Citizen Cain the posts are always informed; the comments may or may not be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Memo to Nancy Pelosi: Assume that Anything This Adminstration Says is BS

Condoleezza Rice got herself some nice press coverage by stating on her trip to Europe that the United States does not torture prisoners, here or abroad. This is how the Washington Post reported it:
U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extend as "a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said here at a news conference with Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko.

If you've been paying close attention to this mendacious administration, however, it won't come as a surprise that this statement is carefully crafted to mislead, and doesn't say what it seems to say on first impression. As Eric Umansky has explained, the Bush Justice Department has opined that the Convention Against Torture prohibits cruel treatment only of U.S. prisoners at home or abroad. Foreigners, held in prisons not on U.S. soil, such as the secret CIA prisons in Europe. They're fair game.

Moreover, as Media Matters has pointed out, press coverage of Rice's statement failed to point out that the Bush administration uses a extremely narrow definition of torture, that allows it to engage in extremely abusive treatment of prisoners.

So Rice's statement, far from being some kind of breakthrough, was just a continuation of the Bush administration's sickening double-talk on torture: We don't torture, because we're the good guys, but don't make us stop torturing because we're the good guys. We're the good guys because we don't torture, but anything we don't short of causing major organ failure isn't torture. And we abide by our treaty obligations, but we interpret these treaties as allowing us to do whatever the hell we want to foreigners in foreign places.

So it's unfortunate that Nancy Pelosi waded into this story with the following comment, as reported by the Associated Press:

"It's about time," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of Rice's remarks. "Shame on us that it took so long for the administration" to make such a determination.

Yes, Pelosi was being critical of the administration. But she also gave them undue credit for making a determination against committing torture abroad. Sadly, no such determination has been made. Here's what Pelosi should have said:

Secretary Rice seems to be continuing this administration's pattern of double-talk. She says that the United States acts consistent with our treaty obligations, without saying that the administration's interpretation of our treaty obligations allows the use of treatment that any reasonable person would consider cruel and degrading, and allows torture of non-citizens when conducted outside of U.S. territory. I call on Secretary Rice to issue a clear statement that the United States prohibits its personnel and agents from abusing any prisoner, anywhere, and to support legislation that would codify this policy. Until then, we will have to assume that Rice's statements are a smokescreen for a policy that promotes torture and abuse.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sully Sticks to the Hillary Script

If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, the Republican line of attack against her will be that she's a left-wing freak and/or that she's unprincipled and will say anything to gain political advantage. Mainstream pundits will be happy to advance the latter line of attack, especially if their darling McCain is the Republican nominee, and they can contrast principled Senator Straight-Talk against devious Senator Forked-Tongue.

Here at Citizen Cain, we don't endorse political candidates. But we do believe that pundits shouldn't slam politicians for moral failings without providing some evidence. But sometimes the pundit herd all advances the same script about a politician without ever seeing a need to evaluate whether it makes sense. Whether it's the script that W is a man of great honesty and moral character who is in touch with the concerns of the common man, or the script that Hillary's burning ambition to be president has caused her to distance herself from her past as a socialist and a dove, these scripts don't need to be true if pundits and the RNC all read faithfully from them.

So when Clinton expressed respect for the feelings of pro-lifers, while re-affirming her commitment to pro-choice policies, this was widely taken as a shift to the right. There was no need to show that she was contradicting previous positions, and pundits were free to ignore previous expressions of similar sentiments because to have acknowledged them would deviate from the script.

Andrew Sullivan has produced a variation of the meme that Hillary Clinton is unprincipled. Now that the political winds are shifting, he detects Hillary re-positioning herself to the left on Iraq. Marvel at what counts as evidence for Sully, in a Sunday Times piece titled "Hillary, straw in the wind of an Iraq deal:"

A good indicator of the way the wind is blowing in Washington is often the position of Senator Hillary Clinton. A human weather-vane, Clinton has been a long-time supporter of the Iraq war, has visited Iraq, kept close contact with the military, served on the relevant Senate committees, and made hawkish noises that helped her with her rural New York state voters, but slowly alienated her anti-war liberal base.

Now, as with the rest of Washington, she’s shifting a little with the breeze. Yes, she recently voted against both Senate resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal or a fixed timetable for withdrawal. But last week she sent out an e-mail to constituents, finessing things. “We are at a critical point with the December 15 elections that should, if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year,” she wrote.

She still opposes a rigid timetable. But she has made it clear that the Iraqi elections next week will be a critical milestone in the American effort. After that the Iraqis had better step up or the US will start stepping down.

Does Sully provide any evidence at all to justify calling Clinton a human weather vane? After supporting the war in Iraq, she now says that "if successful," the December elections "should . . . allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year." That's it. Check the article. This is the closest Sully comes to providing an example of a shift in Hillary's position. I leave it to the reader to decide whether suggesting that we might next year be able to reduce troop levels in Iraq counts as a unprincipled shift from Hillary's war support.

Sully even notes that Clinton's position is very similar to George W. Bush's:

How different is this from the position of the president? On the face of it George W Bush is still insistent on fighting until “victory”, but Washington’s little secret is that the difference between Clinton and Bush is not much more than rhetorical.

So if both Clinton and Bush supported the war, and Hillary has now shifted in the wind, and Clinton and Bush still have the same position, then surely that means that Bush has shifted in the wind too? Simple logic would say yes. But Sully is operating on a level far beyond simple logic. In fact, Sully is able to surmise, without any evidence, that Bush is ignoring short-term political gain and focusing nobly on the big picture:

Are next year’s congressional elections a factor? Much of Washington believes so. I don’t. This president doesn’t need to get re-elected; and he’s smart enough to know that his legacy will be determined far more by resilience and flexibility in Iraq than a few lost seats at home.

Ugh. If Sullivan wants to say that Hillary is unprincipled and Bush is the opposite, that's certainly his right as a pundit. But shouldn't he be required to provide some evidence?