Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Today's Miscellany

Errors of the 9/11 Commission: Richard A. Posner, a federal appeals court judge and university law lecturer, wrote a column about the 9/11 Commission's questionable assumptions and recommendations. It may not satisfy ideological critics, but it's the most accurate and logical analysis I've seen:

For all of its genuine distinction, the report has weaknesses. Foremost among them -- a product of the blinding clarity of hindsight -- is a misplaced perfectionism that feeds the dangerous fallacy that all intelligence failures are the product of culpable, and therefore remediable, blunders. Actually, most such failures are the inevitable result of the inherent limitations of intelligence. Before the invasion of Iraq, nearly every competent observer, including the intelligence services of foreign nations opposed to the invasion, believed that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and was trying to build nuclear bombs as well. Hussein's history, and above all the logic of the situation -- surely he wouldn't risk his regime by failing to come clean if did not have such weapons -- created a presumption that he had them. The commission criticizes the intelligence agencies for embracing the presumption. But no inquiry operates without preconceptions that shift the burden of proof to the doubters -- of whom there were, in the case of the Iraqi weapons, precious few.

The Pope and Hypocrisy: Read Nicholas Kristof on the dichotomy between the way we're honoring the Pope in death and our failure to implement his moral teachings in refusing to deal with the genocide in Darfur:

President Bush and other world leaders are honoring John Paul II in a way that completely misunderstands his message. We pay him no tribute if we lower our flags to half-staff and send a grand presidential delegation to his funeral, when at the same time we avert our eyes as villagers are slaughtered and mutilated in the genocide unfolding in Darfur. ...

These days the Sudanese authorities are adding a new twist to their crimes against humanity: they are arresting girls and women who have become pregnant because of the mass rapes by Sudanese soldiers and militia members. If the victims are not yet married, or if their husbands have been killed, then they are imprisoned for adultery.

John Paul II vs. Communism: Anne Applebaum took an interesting look at how the Pope contributed to the fall of communism:

...John Paul's particular way of expressing his faith -- publicly, openly, and with many cultural and historical references -- was explosive in countries whose regimes tried to control both culture and history, along with everything else.

Economic Death Spiral: Read economist Paul Samuelson on Social Security. This is another in his series of hard-eyed, realistic columns on the subject:

The great danger of an aging society is that the rising costs of government retirement programs -- mainly Social Security and Medicare -- increase taxes or budget deficits so much that they reduce economic growth. This could trigger an economic and political death spiral. Our commitments to pay retirement benefits grow while our capacity to meet them shrinks. Workers and retirees battle over a relatively fixed economic pie. The debate we're not having is how to avoid this dismal future. President Bush's vague Social Security proposal, including "personal accounts," sidesteps the critical issues. His noisiest critics are equally silent. ...

The needed steps are clear: to acknowledge longer life expectancies by slowly raising eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare; to limit future spending by curbing retirement benefits for the better-off; to keep people in the productive economy longer by encouraging jobs that mix "work" and "retirement."


Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

All very good stuff. I agree with Posner about the limitations of intelligence. It's a very American idea to assume that all we have to do is improve our intelligence "technology" and we will be "safe." I am always amazed when people say 9/11 was "avoidable." That's true in a theoretical sense; if the intelligence apparatus had reacted in exactly the correct way to limited information. In a broader sense, intelligence "failures" are inevitable and we need to accept that there is no such thing as perfect security in a world in which people are willing to die in order to murder others.

However, what I have less tolerance for is the politicization of intelligence,which seems to have happened in Iraq. True, most intelligence people assumed that Saddam still had WMD. But the CIA made clear that its conclusions were tentative and conditional. It's up to the policymakers to use the intelligence they have in an "intelligent" way. Starting a war based on assumptions is not what I call a good use of intelligence. The uncertainty of the intelligence should have given the Administration pause if it was really interested in whether a true casus belli existed.

With respect to the Pope, nothing new there. Governments pay lip service to moral principles but generally ignore them when the costs are too high.

10:52 AM, April 06, 2005  
Blogger Danieru said...

good old john paul. helps kill of communism and then puts his mind to help killing off millions of AIDs victims in Africa. Bo!

10:32 PM, April 12, 2005  

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