December 27, 2005

Bad News in Iraq

Posted by TMLutas

The Poles are staying. It was clear earlier this year that Poland was going to pull out if things were going well in Iraq. The deployment was large and burdensome for Poland and if things were going well, they were out of there in order to tend to their own troubles. As a good member of the Coalition of the Willing, they're going through the process of sticking around. The anti-war left won't be reporting this too much because it undermines their "we're all alone" narrative. The pro-war side should be more honest. There's trouble brewing in Iraq, enough for Poland to stay. We need to be ready for the coming bad news so that we can fight through it to eventual victory.

December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas at the Hospital

Posted by TMLutas

So we were sitting in the waiting room and a woman pipes up "Merry Christmas everybody! Santa just dropped some gifts off 6 minutes ago". It was a very nice bit of levity in what was a nightmare of a night. And what a night! My mom, over for a visit, gets pneumonia and manifests badly right on Christmas Eve. We got home (my father and I) after she was admitted and her paperwork was done some time past 4AM. Start to finish, ambulance call to back home was 5 hours.

Now that she has appropriate antibiotics running through her, she's lost the blue lips and is lucid once again. Now we have to figure out why the darn thing presented so atypically. There are lots of theories but for those who got the news over the phone, your prayers and well wishes have been very much appreciated.

December 23, 2005

And Then There Were Four

Posted by TMLutas

NBC is buying out its partner, Microsoft and taking a controlling stake in MSNBC. This sets up an interesting dynamic. The right-wing narrative says that media bias is crippling the MSM as left-wing reporters turn off their listners/viewers. This is somewhat supported by the end of MSNBC, the fourth US national network not identified as center or center-right.

The alternative narrative of the left is that media fragmentation is really what's going on with high-cost structure national networks being hammered worst of all. This is not discredited by the MSNBC failure as consolidation and cost-saving closings would be a natural thing to do in that sort of environment.

The real proof of the pudding of which narrative is right would be the creation of a new network that would compete with Fox from the right. If such a network would happen and be a success, it's case closed on the question of consolidation v. bias narratives and all the networks would have a great deal of soul searching to do.

December 22, 2005


Posted by TMLutas

It's surprising how often a very little incident of corruption, once exposed, can illuminate surprisingly large illegalities if you just keep pulling on the connected threads. Thus the story of Kofi Annan's car. Or is it Kojo Annan's car? Or is it the UN's car?

Here is my precis of the known facts:
Kofi Annan sends $15,000 to his son to buy a car. The car is bought in Kofi Annan's name. The car is sent to Ghana under UN seal and without paying duty. What became of the car is now a mystery.

Here are a few questions I wish I knew the answer to:
What is the car's VIN?
Is that VIN registered in Ghana?
Who owns the car now?
How did it come to be in their posession?
Do you own anything else that was bought with a UN discount or crossed a border duty-free under UN seal?

I've no doubt that some journalists have chased down the VIN already but why not distribute it out to the little guys and see if maybe the darn thing pops up in some unexpected place.

December 21, 2005

Jehovah's Witness Telemarketers

Posted by TMLutas

This is providing an entirely new impetus for me to get a phone switch. I'm planning to install a unilateral contract so that if I'm solicited over the phone and they don't say that they're a telemarketer ahead of time, they owe me $500 a call (believe it or not, this sort of thing has been adjudicated). Those that admit to being solictors go to voice mail.

December 20, 2005

Medical Price Controls

Posted by TMLutas

Next time you are waiting for a doctor in the US, you might pass on the outdated newsweeklies and ask a bit about how prices are determined. The results should shock you. For the vast majority of medical practices, their prices are set for them the institution ultimately setting them is the federal government. The entity doing it is called HCFA, commonly known as Medicare. They don't do it alone but they do the heavy lifting. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines a long list of numeric codes for each mainstreatm recognized medical procedure. Medicare then takes each of those procedures and assigns both an resource value unit (RVU) and a price for each of those CPT codes. You are, by law, not allowed to charge patients more than those tables permit whether you participate in the Medicare program or not. Your doctor's participation only moves him from one reimbursement column to another.

Since a huge chunk of medical dollars are run through the government, that's a socialist pricing model that has broad influence. But the RVU system is far more pervasive than that in its real-world effects. Most health insurers do nothing more than take the Medicare RVU values and blanket raise or lower them by a set percentage. This means that if a government bureaucrat misprices a procedure, every private health insurer will also misprice that procedure.

This, in short, is insane. The longer version is that nobody has ever successfully allocated resources via government pricing in any field and there is no reason to think that medicine is priced correctly. Our only salvation is that our systemic transparency makes the insanity clear a bit earlier than most other countries that adopt socialized medicine and spend a great deal of effort in propagandizing in favor of the system and hiding the inequalities and injustices of government pricing.

This propagandizing/hiding function can have drastic, real world consequences. The timing of the invasion of Poland has been alleged to have been at least partially driven by the need to hide the coming collapse of the Third Reich's disastrous economic policies Germany, under Hitler, made tremendous strides by eating up its seed corn and juggling the books in the most shameless ways. You can't hide that forever but you can hide it a lot longer if you start invading other countries and robbing them of their wealth.

Germany's present day malaise can largely be explained by its political class being unwilling to be honest with the German people and explain exactly how much past administrations of all parties have robbed future generations of a decent standard of living. The same can be said of all the european social-model states on the continent. Fortunately, their malaise extends to their militaries and thus the old solutions of the last century are no longer practical. But nobody seems to have a better solution than to kick the problem down the road and hope for a miracle.

A major driver of that future impoverishment across the 1st world is the state provision of healthcare. It's not the only one, state pensions are also a huge problem. Healthcare is the largest component of the problem and even though President Bush was willing to try to reform Social Security, his contributions to healthcare reform have been very modest indeed.

December 19, 2005

Why not Sue in FISA Court?

Posted by TMLutas

After I wrote my original article it occurred to me that an entirely appropriate response to an unconstitutional secret intelligence search program that got around judicial oversight would be to file suit in the secret FISA court that normally grants these sorts of intelligence tap orders asking for injunctive relief to restore judicial oversight. All the players would have appropriate clearance. There would be no question of harming the war effort by filing the suit as the plaintiff would be one of the members of Congress privy to the information, the judge would have the appropriate clearances and anybody who's certified to appear on the Executive's behalf in front of the FISA court is also going to have the right clearances by definition.

So why didn't the minority leaders of either House of Congress sue? Why didn't either of the ranking committee members of the intelligence committtees do it? That's four Democrat leaders, one of them representing San Francisco, California (possibly the most liberal corner of the 50 states) who all passed on the opportunity to correct things without making a public circus of the correction. None of them did it. Nobody is asking why.

How strange.
How unusual.
It's almost like this is an entirely partisan circus where only Republicans get asked the tough questions.

Remembering Echelon

Posted by TMLutas

In all the brouhaha over the exposure of the secret NSA intercept program for those connected to Al Queda, one thing strikes me as utterly separated from reality. Nobody, pro or contra, is recognizing that all these conversations were likely intercepted already. The ECHELON program is a longstanding effort to, essentially, hoover up every international conversation, everywhere and run them through computer threat analysis, forwarding a tiny percentage of them for human analysis.

Essentially, what the executive order did was change the rules for which intercepted conversations were subject to human scrutiny. It's absurd to think that already intercepted conversations cannot be listened to by agents of the executive absent a warrant. What is going on is not a new search but rather analysis of an already ongoing search, a search that's been continually conducted in the world for decades.

So if this search was OK during the Clinton administration (ECHELON far predates it) during peacetime, the exigencies of wartime mean we should blind our existing eyes? What kind of nonsense is this?

Welcome Instapundit readers:

I have a followup to this article here on how this could have been derailed responsibly if, in fact, the program were actually unconstitutional.

December 17, 2005

Moving to Functional Impairment Tests

Posted by TMLutas

Clayton Cramer picks up an interesting meme. The idea is to move from testing blood alcohol levels to testing actual driving performance. Much good analysis ensues but he misses a trick. These tests will really come into their own when drive-by-wire cars are the norm and cheap HUDs come standard. This is because you can pull over and test yourself, in your own car. Long haul truckers will likely have mandatory impairment testing periodically and black boxes not under their control sending the reports back to either their employers, their insurance company, or the relevant state authorities.

Drive-by-wire cars are likely to come into their own when the internal combustion engine goes goodbye, being superseded by an alternate engine. If the hydrogen fuel cell enthusiasts are right, that'll start to come about at the end of the decade. HUD displays for cars are just starting to come out now in high end cars so that's likely to filter down into the main fleet over the next 5-10 years as well.

The federal government could take a proactive stand by allowing states to move to a performance based system instead of a BAC level system and still qualify for highway funds. That legislation will then put the idea on the agenda of all 50 state legislatures.

I really can't see anybody protesting against this. Do you claim that you can drink and drive and the current standard is unfair? Prove it by passing a functional test and may your liver have mercy on you.

December 14, 2005

The Theory of a Violently Declining China II

Posted by TMLutas

It appears that the PRC is not quite ready to go completely mad. An announcement has been made that the officer that recently gave an order to shoot protesting peasants has been arrested. As in my original report, it's still too soon to tell where things are going. It's quite odd for somebody to give a shoot to kill order, be arrested for it, and to remain anonymous. We don't even know his rank and/or organizational affiliation.

Still, even if it's fake, an announcement of an arrest order gives a signal that the government is aware that such incidents are profoundly disturbing to foreign investors and destabilizing for the country even if the PRC could completely suppress domestic knowledge and reaction to these sad events.

The PRC remains far too close to the edge of the cliff for geopolitical comfort.

December 12, 2005

There's Nothing Like a Good Coverup

Posted by TMLutas

I'm not too fond of Special Counsels but I also don't much like coverups of high crimes and misdemeanors either. And there seems to be evidence that the IRS and other arms of the executive were bent to the political will of the Clinton administration in order to persecute and harass Clinton's political opponents. If true, this would be patently unamerican and a scandal that would have truly merited impeachement had it been proven during Clinton's term.

We've paid for an investigation. We've paid for a report. We've paid to have that report modified and rebutted for a decade now. And in the end, Democrat Senators seem to have succeeded in getting the thing buried.

Release the report. We paid for it. We deserve to know what our money bought.

December 11, 2005

"Human Rights" Lawfare Revealed

Posted by TMLutas

In a previous article I speculated that the US is running a shell game on "human rights" organizations with its "secret CIA prisons" story. The previous article left some threads dangling:

Why put quotes areound "human rights"?
Why would the US do such a thing?

A great illustration of the reasons behind both is here. A Danish paper exercises free speech and publishes images of Islam's prophet and threats of violence and state action ensue. The Danish paper acted entirely within the law but the "UN High Commissioner for Human Rights" is on the case and seems to be on the side against free speech and for threats to shut down same.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour was investigating the matter. "I understand your attitude to the images that appeared in the newspaper," Arbour wrote the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others. This kind of thing is unacceptable."

So if an entirely legal political cartoon is going to put a newspaper and several cartoonists under legal scrutiny and difficulty, what are the fates of US military and civilian interrogators of muslim terrorists? Can they look forward to anything other than investigation after investigation, with threats to follow for even completely false accusations?

Why would the US subject itself voluntarily to this sort of lawfare? It wouldn't if it had any sense. If we had a healthy human rights sector, investigating a Danish publication on human rights grounds for publishing a few cartoons should have led to widespread calls for the firing of the current commissioner. It hasn't. This makes the use of scare quotes fully justified. The "human rights" sector is sick and needs reform.

The War on Terror has no business voluntarily getting caught up in that fight. Thus a lack of information sharing, thus a lack of cooperation, thus an operation that actually is free enough to do its real job of interrogating prisoners not covered by any of the laws of war because they are the worst sort of international war criminals.

December 08, 2005

Letter to the Paper L

Posted by TMLutas

I think the torture debate is being conducted on the wrong grounds. If a uniformed soldier from the other side of a conventional war were to successfully secrete a nuclear device in NYC, he should not be treated the same as a terrorist who has accomplished the same act even though the ticking time bomb problem is exactly the same in both cases.

Neither anti-torture nor torture proponents want to touch this case with a ten foot pole. It's uncomfortable for both sides.

The Glittering Eye had an article on torture recently. Below is what I left in comments.

I'd like to chime in with a plea for a good definition of torture. The difficulty of drawing the line between coercive interrogation and torture is exactly the battlefield of lawfare, the use of the law to conduct warfare against those who believe in the rule of law.

There is an important principle at stake in the treatment of warriors who adopt a pre-westphalian ethos such as Al Queda. They are retrograde and evil in attempting to bring back a form of warfare that has long been abandoned as too indiscriminate and cruel. They do not respect the notion of civilians and the immunities that civilians have from combat. Read about atrocities carried out prior to the adoption of westphalian limits and you will see the horror that we can descend to. Without those limits we *will* descend to that form of warfare again.

We are charged, both as a civilized nation and under treaty obligations to enforce the Geneva conventions and the customary laws of war. One of those obligations is to punish any side that habitually violates the conventions and the customary laws of war. We are morally charged with treating them in a manner that will induce their compatriots and superiors to change their policy and to adopt the customary laws of war in order to restore the immunities from combat that civilians traditionally have.

I would suggest that some of the things that anti-torture activists want to ban (prisoner sleep deprivation, loud music, water boarding) fall into the realm of legitimate penalties for abandoning the laws of war and endangering civilians to the level that Al Queda and, frankly the entire so-called Iraqi resistance has descended to. The Chechen rebels are in the same boat as far as I am concerned.

If you take away legitimate punishments for these crimes without even trying to offer up better solutions for the problem, you're essentially discarding the customary laws of war of the past several centuries including the Geneva Conventions.

The truth is whatever we've done in order to induce compliance with the laws of war, it hasn't been harsh enough. The war crimes continue on a daily basis and endanger civilians all over the world. The other side is not deterred.

I don't think that filleting KSM and feeding him his own body parts fried in pork fat is the answer. There is a line past which we should not cross. But the argument about where to draw the line on interrogation has to deal with the wider question of the thousands who have died because one side habitually violates the laws of war and the other side is not harsh enough in punishing them for it.

The Theory of a Violently Declining China

Posted by TMLutas

It's very unlikely that this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back but chinese villagers getting shot over eminent domain compensation complaints is a new level of disorder in a rolling wave of rural protests that have spanned years. As long as it was truncheons and tear gas, deaths were rare and you could legitimately say that the PRC was not in crisis.

Now, it's more difficult to maintain the "all is well" mantra. It's still too soon to say definitively that there's a crisis but if protests don't slacken, if gunfire turns into a pattern instead of a one-time aberration, the entire world is going to have to rethink making the PRC its low-cost workshop. That would have disastrous consequences as the PRC's heretofore virtuous cycles turn into vicious ones.

The PRC risks everything, every day on several fronts. Pollution, courts and police that can be bought, a rickety banking system, a state employment sector that is still way too big, a system of crony capitalism that defies description, there are plenty of ticking time bombs in the PRC today. Any one of them can bring down the regime and provoke dissolution of the present order.

Each of these problems, and the several others that I didn't bother to list, are not especially high probability events. Collectively, though, they seem to me to be the more probable outcome of the great PRC experiment with authoritarianism than the popular "theory of a peacefully rising China" that PRC scholars push out to the world and among themselves as the future they are trying to create.

We can watch. We can try to provide help to reduce the chance of international spillover. What we cannot do is intervene more than nibbling around the edges because these problems are chinese and the PRC will either solve them or founder on them. Hopefully a Gorbachev will be at the helm if they founder.

Iran Endorses Border Flux

Posted by TMLutas

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is suggesting uprooting Israel and moving it to Europe. In doing this, he's accepting the principle that borders are not sacrosanct and can and should be adjusted to ease diplomatic tensions. This is a huge can of worms that demonstrates that Ahmadinejad is fundamentally not a serious politician.

Iran's vulnerability to claims that would adjust the map of Iran's own borders is substantial. If Iran were to be reduced to its Farsi speaking core it would lose a substantial amount of its territory, approximately half of its coastline on the Caspian sea (and related under-sea oil deposits).

In short, a country that is so vulnerable to border adjustment grievances, whether from within or provoked from without is best leaving the map redrawing business to others. Ahmadinejad should know that. He does not evidence it. He either needs to get a better education in the diplomatic arts or leave such statements to those who would be qualified to make them without embarrassing the country.

Towards a Sane Islam

Posted by TMLutas

The big problem with Islam is that it's wrong. The unlivable problem with Islam is that its crazies are relatively unrestrained by its moderates. Now the world can live with an awful lot of people believing in wrong things. We do so every day on all sorts of things. What we can't live with is even minor groups of people who actively war against the world order swimming in a sea of fellow believers who do not put down the extremists in their midst.

The problem of unlivable Islam seems to have a potential solution in a Malaysian initiative called Islam Hadari. Contrary to the Xinhua article, it's been kicking around for a bit but really hasn't made the front pages.

It's sounding all the right notes. It's not reacting to western pressure but is an internal development trying to further the Islamic faith and moving away from the errors of the middle east salafists and other extremists who bring Islam so much of its reputation for bloodiness and uncivilized behavior.

I wish it well and will be keeping an eye on it. So should anybody who's seriously interested in winning this WOT.

December 05, 2005

CIA Secret Prisons

Posted by TMLutas

I've been sitting on a theory (actually on several but this post is about only one of them) because I thought that speaking about it, even to my limited readership, provided enough possibility of harming our side in the war on terror that it would be better to shut up. I've reassessed and toss my two cents in. I think that the CIA runs zero prisons in E. Europe.

The prisons alleged to exist are there. The bigwig international terrorists speculated about throughout the world are there. They just simply were transferred over to the Polish and Romanian governments and, under well established cooperative agreements, the CIA et al gets access to such prisoners of international interest. No doubt, some very discreet visitors from lots of countries have been visiting.

This scenario has the benefit of everybody in all governments telling the truth. The CIA says they do not run prisons in E. Europe: Truth.
The Polish and Romanian governments say that they have no secret US prisons: Truth.

Nobody seems to be asking whether Poland or Romania hold terrorists in their own prisons. Of course they do. Everybody has some terrorists. Everybody seems to be exercised about the violation of sovereignty that US prisons would mean. But if the Poles and the Romanians already had facilities that were up to snuff in terms of security, why would it be necessary for the CIA to construct its own facilities? What would be the benefit for all that cost?

Let's even say that the CIA built it all. What's the benefit of keeping the title of the facility in the US' name? There is none.

As long as there is an agreement with these countries to turn them over elsewhere if political pressure on their governments starts to get serious, there is little risk to have the prisoners out of US custody. All that will happen is that there will be a great shell game over the years maintained by various allied governments until these prisoners die of old age.

The fact of the matter is that countries are allowed to interrogate terrorists under their own control. This is both normal and desired under any sane system. Furthermore, most national laws give much more leeway than the US with regards as to when such prisoners have to surface in the court system. I don't see any moral dilemma over Poland, Romania, Germany, the UK, France, Spain, or Italy having a go at Khalid Sheikh Muhammed. It's not a particularly nice thing to do but is hardly the stuff of moral nightmares.

The protests over extraordinary rendition have always been about sending people to countries that regularly torture their prisoners. This is because that's the easy case. It's much tougher to protest if you're rendering a prisoner to France.

The game will go on. "Human rights" campaigners will be mesmerized by the shell game while national governments pass these men back and forth on secret flights whenever the campaigners grow too bothersome or the jihadi brigades get too close to executing a successful prison break out. It's a life sentence for terrorist leaders caught up in the system, without the benefit of being able to strike propaganda blows in their trials.

December 01, 2005

How Long Does it Take to Fix an Army?

Posted by TMLutas

It's the oddest thing that Rep Murtha claims that the US Army is broken and this is viewed with great alarm and as the end of the discussion. It is no such thing. Rather, it's the beginning of one. Let's assume that Rep. Murtha is correct, how broken is broken (ie how much less capable are we now than before) and how much time and money will it take to fix it? You'd think that at a press conference, somebody would ask those very relevant questions but it seems no reporter did.

Now Rep. Murtha is an appropriator with many year's experience. He should know the answers to these questions in more detail than just about anybody in Washington, much less the rest of the country. Why wasn't he more specific? Why weren't the reporters more diligent?

It is a mystery.

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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