Saturday, October 29, 2005

Notes on Libby/Plamegate

Linked from Instapundit I see the WSJ, in an article titled "Novak's Role Is Still Largely Unknown", saying

In January 2003, Mr. Bush claimed that Iraq had purchased uranium -- a key ingredient in nuclear weapons -- from Niger.
I think that this is wrong; I've asked for a specific citation, but I think that this is an incorrect reference to the January 2003 SOTU's "16 Words". Factcheck, in an article claiming Bush's "16 Words" on Iraq & Uranium: He May Have Been Wrong But He Wasn't Lying said
Bush said then, “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” Some of his critics called that a lie, but the new evidence shows Bush had reason to say what he did.
and specifically that
Ironically, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who later called Bush’s 16 words a “lie”, supplied information that the Central Intelligence Agency took as confirmation that Iraq may indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger.

So, my current understanding of the puzzle is that

  1. Rumors of purchase and attempted purchase were reported by intelligence agencies of various countries, as they had been for years before Bush (see, e.g. the Washington Post summary.)
  2. Cheney's office, and thus Libby himself, were trying to get clarifications of these;
  3. Valerie Plame was (very properly) in the discussions;
  4. she suggested sending him (for good reasons, so far as I can tell);
  5. he went, and effectively reported that (a) there almost certainly had not been purchases, but (b) there had been approaches which officials from Niger thought to be uranium-seeking and which Niger had rejected because of the sanctions, and thus
  6. people like me would think (c) that it follows that Saddam was not a huge nuclear threat but would become one if the sanctions fell apart, which they were doing.
  7. Bush said (b), which was apparently true, and that should be the end of the story, moderately creditable to all concerned. BUT
  8. Wilson called Bush a liar for saying (a). My understanding is that Wilson was lying.
  9. Wilson also claimed that he'd been sent at the "behest" (Kristof's term) of Cheney's office, i.e. through Libby. I count this claim as spin -- i.e., Wilson was trying to say that since Cheney had sent him, of course Cheney had seen the report, whereas in fact the report of Wilson's debriefing was never even sent to Cheney's office.
  10. (Wilson further claimed that he'd debunked forged documents, whereas in fact he had not seen them.)
  11. Libby, defending himself and his boss against actual lies which included the "behest" spin, understandably wanted to explain the actual origin of Wilson's mission.
  12. The origin of Wilson's mission lay in a wifely recommendation, which Libby probably thought sounded vaguely nepotistic -- ah, good, counter-spin!
  13. But Wilson's wife's involvement involved classified information. According to the indictment, this information was not common knowledge.
  14. I'm a little suspicious of the phrasing in the indictment: it does not say that Plame's employment was effectively concealed, or that Libby harmed her. (Is my employment common knowledge? I really don't know.)
  15. However, the indictment claims that Libby lied under oath about what he'd said. Perjury. If so, that's bad.
  16. How bad? Well, if convicted, he should lose what Clinton lost when convicted of perjury [see Update3], maybe more -- maybe he should lose his job. Well, he already did. His license to practice law? Sure. More than that, without proof of an underlying crime? I don't like it. But nobody cares what I like, and that's probably good.

Perhaps I should mention that one of my very few emails to my congresscritter was in opposition to the Clinton impeachment process. The underlying crime was a betrayal of his wife, and if she forgives him it's none of my business -- indeed I wrote at the time that I was happy to have the President have [consensual] sex with not only every female staffer and every male staffer but every animal at the White House, as long as he did his job. I didn't support him because I didn't like the way he did his job, but that's completely separate.

[Update] I see that Joseph Wilson has an LA Times op-ed saying

That was the day columnist Robert Novak identified Valerie as an operative, divulging a secret that had been known only to me, her parents and her brother.
I would like to hear that from a source I found more credible. At the moment, I see that Wilson goes on to say he
knew that the statement in Bush's speech — that Iraq had attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium in Africa — was not true. I knew it was false from my own investigative trip to Africa (at the request of the CIA) and from two other similar intelligence reports. And I knew that the White House knew it.
It's my understanding, as indicated above, that this is false; it is contradicted by the Butler report (which is closest to relevance since Bush's statement was based on British intelligence) as well as by the Senate Select Committee's report of what Wilson himself said. It really appears to be an incomprehensibly blatant lie. (It's also not what he originally claimed to be rebutting.) Puzzling.

[update2]The WSJ article has been corrected.

[update3] Oops. I don't think Clinton was convicted of perjury, but rather "false testimony" (and contempt of court?) and fined $90K and $25K with five-year law license suspension, after he confessed to the false testimony charge. I think his "I did not fully accomplish this goal" summary is masterfully Clintonian (what goal? Why, of course, the goal of walking the "fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely".)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Notes Towards a Global Association for Technical Education Data Centers and Journals

I want to promote technical education, but I want to argue that technical education should not be considered in isolation. Let me start from where I am, with personal involvement, then consider the past and future context of technical education as a source of good and ill, and finally consider the requirements of what I'd like to propose.

Personal Involvement: I try to help the Brackett Foundation as it tries to promote educational projects in and around Thailand, and Colgate University's Project Afghanistan as it tries to help the University of Kabul with its science program. There's a lot of this going around -- projects trying to use education in far-away places to combat poverty, terrorism, and General Bad Stuff. I care most about technical education, "how-to" education, because I do believe in technology as the Lever of Riches, and I also care about economic and business-management and even legal education because the lever needs a fulcrum. I've given quite a bit of money to educational projects in Iraq sponsored by the Spirit of America people, and some to educational efforts by ANERA in Gaza and the West Bank. I'm writing this in support of the creation of "Data Centers" with information resources for such projects; I think there should be many such centers. There should be an Association of such centers. My ideal Data Center for Technical Education naturally promotes technical education in such a way as to lead to future wealth, consensual politics, and General Good Stuff. I'll expound, but first I want to consider the context.

Past Context: We have working models of technology as a source of wealth, and we have models of technology failing to produce wealth. Most of the successes seem (to me) to involve more-or-less consensual governments; all of them depend (even in China) on creation and competition of companies within open markets, with (as De Soto describes) transparency -- low corruption, low costs for transactions and business formation -- and property rights. In opaque governments, officials look for ways to create new obstructions in order to maximize their own income or power. It's not simple, though. The Chinese government is for the most part neither transparent nor consensual, yet the bottom-up market reform policy of Deng Xiaoping may have been one of the greatest wealth-producing victories for personal freedom in human history, enabling technology to do its wealth-producing job. In contrast, post-Communist Russia has not been short on technological education, but has been short on market reform -- technology can't produce wealth unless businesses can form to apply it. Corruption kills.

Future Context: My basic assumptions for the next few decades are that

  1. technical progress will continue to accelerate, with various relevant doubling-times on the order of one to ten years, and
  2. human nature will continue not to change.
The Hitlers, Stalins, Maos, &c of this century will not be limited to a few tens of millions each; nuclear weapons, bioweapons, and self-guided ('robotic') weapons will become cheaper and more accessible, even for countries and smaller groups with limited wealth, and I do not believe that we have any long-run prospect of keeping them away from a Dear Leader Kim, a Supreme Leader Khamenei, a resurgent Bin Laden or their successors. Technical education in isolation may therefore be an even bigger part of the problem than it is a part of the solution. Technical education must therefore not be dealt with in isolation.

We can do three basic things about Armageddon; indeed, we have to do all three:

  1. We can slow down the acquisition of bad stuff by bad guys (armaments control);
  2. We can encourage the replacement of bad guys by good guys (regime change);
  3. We can increase the acquisition of good stuff by good guys (trade and education).
Over the past twenty-five years, armaments control and regime change have done many good things; the map looks much, much better than it did in 1980. Consensual government has been spreading (as I'm writing this, Iraq's constitutional referendum seems to be a peaceful success). Trade liberalization and technology have greatly increased the world's wealth, with wealth going disproportionately to transparently consensual governments.

What Can't Technical Education Do? Technical education cannot create much wealth for people under predatory governments -- moderately predatory in Russia, extremely so in North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe. (In extreme cases we can educate refugees, in the hopes that they will return home after regime change.) It also can't substitute for the lack of a Small Business Administration and the thousands of other state and local groups that help business formation in the United States. When we train database administrators, programmers, electrical engineers and rocket scientists, we are contributing to the effectiveness of businesses, governments, religious organizations -- whoever uses the technology. We can contribute better if we track the actual situations that our trainees end up in, and learn from our mistakes.

The Proposal All kinds of schools, all over the world, are doing technical education. A great deal of what they do is similar. If we think about schools in Afghanistan, schools in Iraq, in Thailand, Indonesia, Uganda...many of them have similarities beyond what they share with schools in the United States or in Belgium. Western organizations try to support these non-western schools in different ways, each comonly trying to help multiple schools. Much of the data is shared. I would like to propose the formation of an "association" for handling some of the shared data issues, and for encouraging business technology, i.e. the basic skills of market democracy. An ideal database administration curriculum for Afghanistan would include some knowledge about the Afghan economy. It might well include a ``general education for technologists'' curriculum, something including the books I cited above. The association would try to keep issues like that from being forgotten. It doesn't have to be a real association with people meeting one another off-line; for a virtual association, it's sufficient to have a website with a database -- and an agreed-upon data format.

Let us imagine that Colgate University wants to use the association as a tool in its support of the University of Kabul. The procedure would be for Colgate to register a member-center, which we might call the "Technical Education Data Center and Journal for Afghanistan at Colgate", and for the University of Kabul to register as a member-school. The University of Kabul ought to be trying to connect with possible future employers, whether business or government or NGO; each of these can be offered a member-employer registration. Each member would have a description in a standard XML format (tentatively starting with Atom, with probable use of XHTML microformatting extensions and possibly of RDF). The formation of a member-center or of a member-school or member-employer would not be a difficult procedure: it shouldn't actually take more than a few minutes to set up initial data about contact information, range of courses or seminars or skill-sets of interest, sources of support, and so on. Each member would have several automatically generated blogs, and could have one or more blogs of conventionally written articles. Each would also have a "journal" blog which would be peer-reviewed, and which (depending of course on the quality of community review) would not only serve as a way of identifying important articles, but could develop into a form of recognition for the authors. Few would subscribe to the TEDC Journal for Afghanistan at Colgate, but some would subscribe to the merged TEDC Journal for Afghanistan, and others would subscribe to (say) the merged TEDC Journal for Middle Eastern Database Administration or the merged TEDC Journal for the users of a particular course or even the users of courses whose descriptions reference a particular document, say the teaching approaches described in How technology influenced me to stop lecturing and start teaching, or the data-mining approaches used by Wal-Mart in Bentonville. When somebody learns that "X works" or "Y didn't work" then we try to check it out through peer review, and then we make the conclusion as readily available as possible.

The association, in other words, would be doing very little. Each member would for the most part be doing what it was going to do anyway. All we're talking about is reducing transaction costs, making it a little easier for people to find each other and to find each other's shared data.

And do I have a detailed proposal to fit these requirements? Not yet. It's possible that such tools (formats, code, and even such an association) already exist, although I don't think so. It's also possible that the Director of Project Afghanistan could do something about it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Miers for the Supreme Court: a Soccer Theory

I have a conspiracy theory about the Harriet Miers nomination. I think it's entirely possible that Bush really does consider her to be uniquely qualified to take part in shifting American jurisprudence, rather than just defensibly qualified in the way that Beldar defends her. If I understand the Beldar theory, Miers

  • is well-qualified, maybe within the top thousand candidates
  • offers a useful kind of diversity
  • is someone that Bush can trust, based on long friendship. He thinks he knows who she is and how she feels about the role of law, and all that.
Perhaps that's all that there is, perhaps it's all that should be looked for. American law is in a sense all about getting representation for each viewpoint, and so it's a good thing to make sure that different viewpoints get on the Court. Sure, it's likely that he trusts her and considers her to be reliably "conservative" to the extent that Bush is himself a conservative (I don't see why realio-trulio conservatives should find this reassuring, any more than libertarians, but Bush got re-elected and it's his option.) But I have another thought. I'm looking at PowerLine's saying that
any admiration she may harbor for Warren Burger's work in judicial administration is almost completely irrelevant to her prospective service.
Isn't it's possible that this is totally wrong? Isn't it possible that Bush and Roberts have already agreed to have a real manager like Miers take a substantial role, perhaps informally defined, within Roberts' sphere of judicial administration? If Bush wants to manage the judiciary from within, maybe he actually went looking for a high-level manager -- one that he could trust, and who would be empowered by Roberts. In that case, her management background is central, not just a kind of viewpoint diversity.

Think about it -- the Supreme Court as described to non-lawyers like me has the structure of a kindergarten soccer team, with players who basically run around and either cooperate or get in each others' way, plus one (the keeper) who tries to remember a specific role. They are interchangeable except in the sense that one might be more aggressive, another might be better coordinated, and so on. (Supporting personnel, such as parents or law clerks, may get specific roles, but not the players.) Back when I was in computer science graduate school, in the 70's, much was written about Harlan Mills' "Chief Programmer Team" with the Chief Programmer (and an assistant of similar skills), the Language Lawyer, the Librarian, and a few others. A team should generally have different kinds of people on it, doing different kinds of things in a non-interchangeable way.

Speaking roughly, Bush has Scalia and Thomas; he has Roberts; now he wants Miers. Maybe he thinks Miers as a manager gives Roberts a better chance of turning those four votes into five on at least some cases, and maybe he thinks Miers as a judicial administrator gives Roberts a better chance of changing the way that America does its judicial business.

Or then again, maybe not.