Man Without Qualities

Saturday, July 16, 2005

It Appears That Paul Begala, Advisor To President Bill Clinton, Is Literally Insane

But Democrats still honor him when he says this kind of thing about Republicans:

"They want to kill me and my children if they can. But if they just kill me and not my children, they want my children to be comforted -- that while they didn't protect me because they cut my taxes, my children won't have to pay any money on the money they inherit," Begala said. "That is bulls*** national defense, and we should say that."
By "literally," I mean literally.

Link from DRUDGE
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Mickey Kaus and Tom Maguire interestingly ask if Judith Miller may have been a source for the White House information regarding Valerie Plame.

Is it possible that Judith ran into Valerie in connection with some weapons of mass destruction item (the two women's common interest), as Messrs. Kaus and Maguire suggest, that Judith thereby gained Valerie's confidence - and Valerie is Judith's "source" about her husband's trip? Of course, Valerie presumably had no interest in discrediting her husband's story, but she may not have been aware that her husband's investigation was as flawed, shoddy and likely fraudulent as it turned out to be. The Wilson report was reportedly construed by a majority of CIA analysts as evidence of the opposite of what Wilson was arguing it supported. Could Valerie have disagreed - and brought her minority view to her by then trusted buddy, Judith? That is: Could Valerie have been attempting to advance the substance of her husband's investigation, disclosing her own role in the process? As things turned out, Wilson's report was unsalvagable, as Judith may have determined - perhaps a conversation with one of the "majority" analysts was enough to disabuse her. Such a determination by Judith would perhaps ironically leave Valerie's role in her husband's original selection as the only really newsworthy item in Judith's possession (at least after giving effect to the Times' political agenda, as noted below).

Valerie being Judith's source might explain why Judith isn't cooperating with the special prosecutor now, even though all the White House people have signed waivers - and it is clear that they will sign more specific waivers, if asked. But has Valerie signed any waiver? Has anyone asked her to? I doubt it - and I have seen no report suggesting she has signed one. The Times argument that waivers aren't sufficiently "voluntary" even when signed by big, well-represented players is absurd: The Times says waivers given by government officials under "pressure" are not enough, but then calls for those same officials to be held "accountable" for their action taken in the constantly-pressured course of their officials duties. Could any reasonable person state the Times' argument without laughing at it? Obviously, high officials sign up for "pressure" and are expected on all counts to deal with it and accept its consequences - as TIME and Matt Cooper, for example, eventually acknowledged.

Valerie being Judith's source might also help explain why Judith never published anything, if one posits the Times' was uninterested in discrediting Joe Wilson. Matt Cooper published - but he transformed his story mostly into a slam on his White House "sources" (as Byron York points out). That option would not have been open to Judith if Valerie was her source.

Just a thought. Just speculation.

If these thoughts and speculations are near the mark, wouldn't it follow that the New York Times has probably known from or near the beginning that Ms. Plame was not a covert agent under the federal non-disclosure law and/or that Ms. Miller was ultimately the person responsible for public disclosure of her "covert" role? And if that's correct, wouldn't it also follow that the Times has long known that disclosure of her identity was therefore not a crime committed by anyone in the White House, and that the Times knew all that even as the Times was running many editorials pretending the opposite?

Of course, once Ms. Miller faced actual jail time, even the Times belatedly "discovered" the unlikelihood that any crime had been committed in the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity (possible obstruction of the investigation is another matter). That obviously disingenuous change of heart and legal analysis already indicates that the Times has almost certainly been misrepresenting its thinking and knowledge in this matter for a very long time.

Isn't it time for the special prosecutor to call Times management before the grand jury to ask about such things? Isn't it time that the Times itself - as a public corporation - was asked a few direct questions and told to deliver a few of its own documents and e-mails, as TIME was?

And, if in fact the Times knew that its many editorials on the Plame matter were reeking of the disingenuousness suggested above, wouldn't the Times quite appropriately suffer far more than CBS News did as a result of Rathergate? - and take much of the mainstream media with it into whatever oblivion the Times would then descend?

Just a thought. Just speculation.

UPDATE: There are those who argue that Bob Novak did not "out" Ms. Plame after all, with the real culprits being David Corn and her husband. But would Mr. Wilson do such a thing without Mrs. Wilson's consent? And if he or she has admitted any such thing to the grand jury, why would the special prosecutor still be so interested in Matt Cooper and Judith Miller?

If Joe Wilson is the culprit (with or without his wife's involvement), it would make sense that he is now saying that "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity." [UPDATE: During the early afternoon of July 15, 2005, the Associated Press issued a corrected version of the article noting Wilson's clarification that "his wife lost her ability to be a covert agent because of the leak, not that she had stopped working for the CIA beforehand." In light of Mr. Wilson's clarification, it appears that if he did "out" his own wife, and she was a covert agent (which now appears to be unlikely), he is guilty of a federal felony.] Otherwise, he would be guilty of a federal felony. If he or she has been asked whether either of them was the source of the "leak," and misled the prosecutor or grand jury, that would be enough to support a "Martha Stewart" obstruction or perjury case.

Of course, in the same interview in which he admitted his wife was not a "clandestine officer" on the day of Novak's column, Mr. Wilson also refused to comment on her prior status - which, of course, is highly material to the question of whether someone in or outside of the Bush administration violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But Mr. Wilson had already written extensively about her pre-Novak era in his book in terms not consistent with her having been a covert agent for many years. Whatever else he's doing, Mr. Wilson is clearly playing a highly disingenuous and misleading game.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Times is even being ridiculed by its own columnist, John Tierney, who weighs in with a terrific column:

So far Karl Rove appears guilty of telling reporters something he had heard, that Valerie Wilson, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, worked for the C.I.A. But because of several exceptions in the 1982 law forbidding disclosure of a covert operative's identity, virtually no one thinks anymore that he violated it. The law doesn't seem to apply to Ms. Wilson because she apparently hadn't been posted abroad during the five previous years. .... Karl Rove's version of events now looks less like a smear and more like the truth: Mr. Wilson's investigation, far from being requested and then suppressed by a White House afraid of its contents, was a low-level report of not much interest to anyone outside the Wilson household. .... For now, though, it looks as if this scandal is about a spy who was not endangered, a whistle-blower who did not blow the whistle and was not smeared, and a White House official who has not been fired for a felony that he did not commit. And so far the only victim is a reporter who did not write a story about it. ....


Yes, "Nadagate" says it all. As noted above, there is reason to suspect that Ms. Miller and the Times knew all of what Mr. Tierney describes long before anyone else did. Yet the Times - apparently with the direct involvement of Mr. Sulzberger - has been hammering on this story in editorials and tendentious reporting as if that paper had no notion whatsoever of what the facts were.

What did the Timespeople know and when did they know it? That is the increasingly obvious central question in this matter. And this question is also worth considering: What, if anything, has the Times (especially Mr. Sulzberger) done to obstruct the special prosecutor's conduct of an investigation the Times demanded - quite possibly while knowing through Judith Miller from the beginning that no crime had been committed? As Mr. Tierney correctly notes: Well, there's always the chance that the prosecutor will turn up evidence of perjury or obstruction of justice during the investigation, which would just prove once again that the easiest way to uncover corruption in Washington is to create it yourself by investigating nonexistent crimes.

Yes, indeed. And it's his own employer who may have invented those nonexistent crimes, repeatedly demanded an investigation in bad faith ... and then obstructed that investigation by pressuring Ms. Miller not to comply with her subpoena.

Many things remain uncertain in this matter, but one aspect seems to emerge with more and more clarity from the mists:

The mainstream media and the New York Times are very likley to take a very nasty hit when all of the facts come to light. The whole mess could be as bad for the Times as Rathergate was for CBS News.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

American Political Suicide Bombers II

Another day, another new, overcharged story regarding Mr. Rove's non-involvement with the Plame/Wilson affair:
Presidential confidant Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he learned the identity of a CIA operative originally from journalists, then informally discussed the information with a Time magazine reporter days before the story broke, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings
[Note: this description of the source sounds like Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, who would not have been with Mr. Rove in the grand jury room, but would certainly have been "briefed" (or "officially briefed" as the New York Times describes the source)] told The Associated Press that Rove testified last year that he remembers specifically being told by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, the wife of a harsh Iraq war critic, worked for the CIA.

Rove testified that Novak originally called him the Tuesday before Plame's identity was revealed in July 2003 to discuss another story. The conversation eventually turned to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was strongly criticizing the Bush administration's Iraq war policy and the intelligence it used to justify the war, the source said.

The person said Rove testified that Novak told him he had learned and planned to report in a weekend column that Wilson's wife, Plame, had worked for the CIA, and the circumstances on how her husband traveled to Africa to check bogus claims of alleged nuclear material sales to Iraq. .... Rove told the grand jury that by the time Novak had called him, he believes he had similar information about Wilson's wife from another reporter but had no recollection of which reporter had told him about it first, the source said.

When Novak inquired about Wilson's wife working for the CIA, Rove indicated he had heard something like that, according to the source's recounting of the grand jury testimony.
Whatever else Mr. Rove's grand jury testimony may mean (assuming this account is accurate), his testimony is certainly not equivalent to Mr. Novak's description in the original Novak column, if Mr. Rove is taken to be one of the referenced "senior administration officials":

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.
It is simply not the case that someone who tells one that he has "heard the same thing" about a story one has just recounted has "told" that recounted story. Mr. Novak's old column, "Evans and Novak," was widely known as "Errors and No Facts." Could Mr. Novak be carrying on the wrong tradition?

Didn't CBS News make this same mistake in "corroborating" the Rathergate story by calling a military official, telling him the story and then noting that he didn't contradict the whole thing? Houston, we have inside corroboration!

How widespread is this particular journalistic practice of pseudo-confirmation?

Of course, Mr. Rove is not the only person who has testified before that grand jury. Matt Cooper also had his day, and afterwards he had this to say about his own testimony:
Now, today I testified -- and agreed to testify -- solely because of a waiver I received from a source last Wednesday. I'd like to explain a little bit about that waiver. We're going to hand out copies of the waiver agreement in a little bit. .... And even when Time Incorporated, over my objections, handed my notes, my e-mails to the grand jury, when some of those materials began to leak into the public domain revealing my source, many people, including my good friend and lawyer here, Richard Sauber, urged me to testify.

I think it is pretty clear from this excerpt that Mr. Cooper testified that he had one source for his story, the same source who signed that particular, specific waiver Mr. Cooper now says he needed. Moreover, later in the linked transcript, Mr. Cooper's attorney, Mr. Stauber, goes on about how he could neither rely on the blanket waiver signed long ago by Mr. Rove nor even contact Mr. Rove or Mr. Rove's attorney to ask for a specific waiver - until, for some reason, reading about it in the Wall Street Journal changed all that. Such considerations would of course apply to every one of Mr. Cooper's sources, if there were more than one. But Mr. Cooper is very clear: Now, today I testified -- and agreed to testify -- solely because of a waiver I received from a source last Wednesday.

If Mr. Cooper had more than one source for his article he's cutting the baloney pretty thin in this transcript. of course, it wouldn't be the first time for him.

Maguire, as always, has great stuff on this topic - especially his discussion of why Lewis Libby, in particular, was probably not a source.
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American Political Suicide Bombers

This link is to a GOP site (link from DRUDGE). But its demolition of Joe Wilson (and, correspondingly, the vindication of Karl Rove) seems remarkably thorough.

Focus on the claimed impropriety of Mr. Rove's "leak" by the media (especially the New York Times) and by some Democrats in the Senate seems to be an attempt to avoid the increasingly obvious conclusion that the facts underlying the "leak" overwhelmingly favor the White House because Mr. Wilson and his now-discredited story are dangerous, politically toxic frauds. The media and Democrats therefore seek to focus not on the underlying facts, but on the "leak's" disclosure of Ms. Plame's doubtful covert status. But the strategy behind that narrow focus is probably a lead pipe political loser, as suggested by an earlier genuine scandal: Republican focus on Bill Clinton's perjury instead of the underlying facts of his involvement with Monica Lewinski. Democrats successfully maintained that those underlying facts were "all about sex" (which, they argued, was essentially nothing).

The larger facts and total circumstances underlying claimed perjury or improper "leaking" obviously do matter, especially politically. Pretending otherwise, as Republicans did in the Lewinski case and Democrats and much of the media are doing now in the Plame case, is very dangerous. In the short run, Republicans came out the worse in the Lewinski mess, and almost lost the Congress (although perhaps Al Gore and the Democrats suffered in the longer run, on "values" issues).

One might have thought that the Democrats would have learned from their earlier short-term success (and short term is what Washington mostly cares about in strategy and skirmishes). But the Democrats and their media water carriers seem to remember nothing about the Lewinski dynamics, and still less do they understand that the differences between the prior and current claimed "scandals" seem to all be against the Democrats: Mr. Rove's comments to TIME reporter Cooper appear to have been no more a crime than Mr. Clinton's salacious behavior with his intern. [UPDATE: It now seems that the Wilson's were both in the US for too long to even be covered by the federal statute prohibiting the disclosure of covert agents - at least according to Wilson's book. Link from Taranto ] Even the Times is reduced to running big, silly front-pagers on Rove that bury this jewel:
Based on the e-mail message, Mr. Rove's disclosures are not criminal, said Bruce S. Sanford, a Washington lawyer who helped write the law and submitted a brief on behalf of several news organizations concerning it to the appeals court hearing the case of Mr. Cooper and Judith Miller, an investigative reporter for The New York Times. "It is clear that Karl Rove's conversation with Matt Cooper does not fall into that category" of criminal conduct, Mr. Sanford said. "That's not 'knowing.' It doesn't even come close." There has been some dispute, moreover, about just how secret a secret agent Ms. Wilson was. "She had a desk job in Langley," said Ms. Toensing, who also signed the supporting brief in the appeals court, referring to the C.I.A.'s headquarters. "When you want someone in deep cover, they don't go back and forth to Langley."
On the other hand, President Clinton's perjury was itself a crime. But there's another big difference: A superior's sexual act with a subordinate can be a serious and politically disastrous civil wrong. Ms. Lewinski remained loyal to Bill Clinton, but he had exposed himself (apologies for the pun) to the possibility that if she had ever turned on him and asserted that he pressured her, she could have devastatingly sued him for sexual abuse. The specter of the president reduced to claiming some kind of legal privilege from liability for using the power and prestige of his office to pressure his intern to allow her body to be penetrated with his cigar, and much more, silently hovered over every minute of those impeachment proceedings. And, still, the Republicans lost in the short term.

In addition, Mr. Clinton's behavior with Ms. Lewinski was thought disgusting and disgraceful to many people - including many in Mr. Clinton's feminist base, who were forced by political expediency to humiliate themselves with silence. Mr. Clinton's antics were also far from known common Washington office practice. In contrast, Washington lives on leaks, which are considered normal. In fact, leaks are generally celebrated by the media as an essential aid to democracy. Briefs filed by the New York Times, TIME and other media companies (as well as by some civil rights groups) with the Supreme Court and other federal courts, attempted unsuccessfully to elevate this supposed benefit to democracy to the pantheon of First Amendment privilege for media representatives. The other major concentration of presidential critics, the Democratic caucus of the United States Senate, preaches the dangers and impropriety of "leaks" to the media at the risk of the audience breaking into gales of laughter over the obvious hypocrisy.

If Mr. Rove had breached federal law prohibiting disclosure of covert agents, or had even inadvertently been the source of disclosure of a true covert agent, the facts of the Plame case might to some extent be distinguishable from common Washington leaking (which, by the way, I do not wish to suggest I endorse). But none of that seems to be the case. Nobody has produced evidence that Mr. Rove knowingly outed Ms. Plame, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that the only information Mr. Rove had on Plame was obtained from other journalists - as pointed out repeatedly by the Wall Street Journal, for example:

Media chants aside, there's no evidence that Mr. Rove broke any laws in telling reporters that Ms. Plame may have played a role in her husband's selection for a 2002 mission to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in Niger. To be prosecuted under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Mr. Rove would had to have deliberately and maliciously exposed Ms. Plame knowing that she was an undercover agent and using information he'd obtained in an official capacity. But it appears Mr. Rove didn't even know Ms. Plame's name and had only heard about her work at Langley from other journalists.
And, of course, the more the argument is made that the leak was serious and possibly improper, the more important the special prosecutor's need to know all the facts is supported. Poor Ms. Miller, a sacrificial offering. But surely Mr. Sulzberger has promised that he will make things nice for her when she gets out? Is that obstruction of justice on Mr. Sulzberger's part? Yes, it probably is, technically. Indeed, given Ms. Miller's continued silence and the special prosecutor's zeal, perhaps he should consider summoning Mr. Sulzberger and Times' management to the grand jury to ask what, if anything, those worthies have offered, done or said to Ms. Miller - including anything affecting the prospect of her advancement at the newspaper - to induce her to defy the court. [UPDATE: Victoria Toensing, another of the attorneys who helped draft the 1982 act [that protects covert agents' identities] ... said, "reading between the lines, I'd say he's got a 'Martha Stewart case' " involving perjury or obstruction of justice.] The Times has certainly not backed down yet (although that is coming), but even the Times' coverage has shriveled to this kind of thing:

President Bush said Wednesday that he would withhold judgment on whether Karl Rove, his senior adviser and political strategist, had identified an undercover C.I.A. operative in a conversation with a reporter for Time magazine. .... Mr. Bush's comment came nearly two years after he suggested that he would fire anyone in his administration who had knowingly leaked the identity of the operative, Valerie Wilson.
So even the Times now remembers the "knowingly" bit. In light of the evidence and developments so far, the president's comment amounts to a subtle "screw you" directed at the media, the Democrats and especially the Times.

The media and Democrats seem poised to take the Plame fallout in a big, bad way. The consequences will maybe not be quite as localized and intense as the fallout from the Rathergate disaster, although that will depend to a large extent on what the Times and Ms. Miller actually knew and when they knew it - and whether the public ever finds such things out. But even on present facts the damage looks likely to be broader and ultimately, worse, for the media than even Rathergate because the entire hostile but contentless (and obviously partisan) media and Democratic second-guessing of the Administration comes hard on the heels of the London bombings. Could there be a worse time for the Administration's critics to be doing what they are doing: second guessing the Administration's anti-terror efforts and drawing attention to the critics' own arguments that the Administration has been "making too much" of the war on terror?

Yet such critics keep charging over the cliff, apparently following the lead of the New York Times: First one sheep jumped to its death. Then ... nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff ... The Democratic abandon has reach the point of Joe Wilson doing press conferences with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The London bombers couldn't have known that they were helping the Democrats, the New York Times and much of the American liberal media to blow themselves up - American political "suicide bombers."

POSTSCRIPT: Mickey Kaus and Tom Maguire praise a 2003 Web article by Howard Fineman that purports to provide some backstory for the Plame affair that supposedly explains - in a way yesterday's WSJ editorial quoted above supposedly (according to Mickey) misses - why the White House might have considered it particularly significant that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and semi-endorsing the following claim by Fineman:
I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilson's wife to several reporters. But the motive wasn't revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasn't a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIA's leave-Saddam-in-place team.
Why should anyone care about Mr. Fineman's airy, unsupported constructs? First, who the heck are the "aides"(note the plural) claimed by Mr. Fineman's source other than Mr. Rove supposed to be? If Mr. Fineman knew anything of substance, he would presumably have disgorged it to the special prosecutors (and there's no word that he has done any such thing) or he would now be sharing a cell with Judith Miller (and he isn't). So Mr. Fineman almost certainly knows nothing - yet he writes at length. Mr. Fineman isn't the only reporter likely making claims way beyond his sources in this manner. Mr. Cooper (under oath) and his notes describe only one source (Mr. Rove) and describe an approximately two minute "interview" with him entirely unlike such "shopping." Yet Mr. Cooper's original TIME article suggests that the Administration was "shopping" the anti-Plame story and outright states (not just suggests) that Mr. Cooper's story is supported by leaks from more than one Administration official:
And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.
In other words, Mr. Cooper outright lied about the number and circumstances of his White House contacts - either in his TIME article or under oath. And the claims made by Mr. Fineman are highly suspect in themselves and in light of his completely non-existent role in the special prosecutor's investigation.

No thanks. I'll stick with the Journal's take unless a lot more comes to light.

FURTHER UPDATE: The sheep keep leaping:

Democrats stirred the pot Thursday in the case of powerful presidential aide Karl Rove and the news leak that unmasked a CIA agent. They triggered a partisan clash in the Senate, sought a House investigation and brought the husband of the undercover operative to the Capitol, where he accused the White House of a "smear campaign."
Of course, there already has been a Congressional (Senate)investigation. The resulting written bipartisan Senate committee report almost completely discredited the very same Mr. Wilson the Democrats have now invited to Capitol Hill, without dissent from a single Senator. But even more peculiar is AP's self-immolation of its own credibility in its casual description of the Plame case as involving "the news leak that unmasked a CIA agent" - where it has by no means been determined that Valery Plame was "unmasked" in any serious sense by any news leak, still less the "leak" by Mr. Rove, who appears to have obtained his information about Ms. Plame from journalists. Indeed, Ms. Plame most likely wasn't even a covert operative, as noted above.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

But At Least They Are Expensive And Inconvenient

From a New York Times item by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt:
[The] Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) ... compiles police reports on all fatal crashes in the U.S. since 1975. These data include every imaginable variable in a crash, including whether the occupants were restrained and how.

Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection.

But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don't change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes -- rear-enders, for instance -- car seats actually perform worse.)
Professor Levitt is a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal who actually has interesting, popular, stimulating things to write in the New York Times - and doesn't have to resort to parrotting partisan talking points or slicing and dicing statistics. In fact, he has been writing more and more in the Times recently.

Could it be that the Times is discovering that it might be better to have a genuinely talented, interesting, non-paranoid, non-repetitive, open minded, fun, serious, John Bates Clark Medal-winning academic economist (one who the Clark committee is not embarrassed to have given that medal to in the first place) like Professor Levitt writing columns for the paper instead of Paul Krugman? Where could the Times have got such an idea like that? - assuming, of course, that they've caught on yet.

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