Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Getting Money out of Nigeria

Previously, I speculated that all the government money stashed in secret accounts in Nigeria, just waiting for your help in getting it out of the country, would be gone by now. That may be the case, but there is apparently a new source of embezzleable (is that a word?) funds, research grants:

In February 1999, a research grant (US$12.5Million) was given to the my department with I leading a team of other clinical pharmacologist, by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria to conduct a research on the effect of a “local plant extract” on Sickle Cell Disease in Nigeria.

The research has since been concluded (specifically in August 2002). Of the total amount given to us for the research purposes we only expended US$4.623Million leaving a balance of US$7.877 Million. We are contacting you with a view to transferring this balance out for our own use.

We have put in over 25 years of our lives into working for the government and as academics we do NOT have anything to show for it, hence this opportunity we see as a God-Sent one.

The really distubing thing about these emails is that they indicate that at least one person smart enough to turn on a computer, and also able to read, fell for this.


Bush Eats the Press

Michael Crowley has a nice piece in the New York Observer on Bush’s Iraq Press Conference:

In other words: They … wuz … used! The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music. The White House sprung it on them at the last minute: The press conference was announced that very day, giving reporters little time to prepare.


In fact, the event’s only moment of candor may have come when Mr. Bush admitted during the conference that he was calling on reporters according to his pre- arranged list of names, which his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, later copped to preparing.

“This is scripted,” Mr. Bush joked.

Strangely, many reporters laughed at this remarkable joke, which had the additional benefit of being true.


On the first quote, I say any reporter who can’t come up with decent questions for the President in just one hour–on a subject that has been page one news for many months–should resign, or even better, be fired immediately. Regarding the second quote, it appears that the questions were not pre-approved, per se. Instead, reporters met with Fleischer (maybe Rove as well) in advance, and based on those meetings, the White House drew up a “script” of who to call on and when.


Slate’s Explainer has something interesting that I didn’t know

There’s an esoteric maneuver to get around a threatened veto: invoking the obscure U.N. Resolution 377, also known as the “Uniting for Peace” Resolution. In early 1950, the United States pushed through the resolution as a means of circumventing possible Soviet vetoes. The measure states that, in the event that the Security Council cannot maintain international peace, a matter can be taken up by the General Assembly. This procedure has been used 10 times so far, most notably in 1956 to help resolve the Suez Canal crisis. Britain and France, which were occupying parts of the canal at the time, vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for their withdrawal. The United States called for an emergency “Uniting for Peace” session of the General Assembly, which passed a withdrawal resolution. (A simple majority vote is required.) Britain and France pulled out shortly after.

Of course, Slate also notes that the last “Uniting for Peace” resolution was a call in 1980 for the USSR to withdraw from Afghanistan–and we know how well that worked. On the other hand, if the USSR complied (speculating wildly) then there’s no mujaheddin, fewer or less extreme madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan, no Taliban…you see where this is going.



  • Via Daily Kos:Snow claims Greenspan backs tax cuts (full story here). As I mentioned before, Snow used to be against deficits.
  • Wampum has an interesting suggestion for further de-Frenchification of the House of Representatives.
  • TalkLeft found some actual left-right bipartisanship.
  • On the subject of my Iraq post, Matt Yglesias points out that my statements that we should “maintain containment in Iraq” and that we should “improve relations with the Muslim world” are somewhat contradictory, as containment is not particularly popular among Middle Eastern Muslims. Agreed (though I did say “ideally” Bush could achieve four simultaneous objectives). Certainly, containment would mandate continued military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East more generally. Could we somehow offset the resentment created thereby? Fullfilling committments in Afghanistan would help. Engaging on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might help. Ending sanctions against Iraq might help. And for that matter, removing Saddam and financing the building of a free, prosperous, and democratic Iraq might help, but the second part seems particularly unlikley.


The Iraq Post

As I wrote before, Unlearned Hand is collecting Bloggers’ opinions for a series called “Where Do We Go From Here?” Mr. Hand is looking for posts on “fleshed-out alternatives to war” and “what would you do in Bush’s place?”

Here’s the post I submitted, edited very slightly for style.

Ideally, Bush would find a way to simultaneously

  • Maintain containment in Iraq.
  • Restore strained relations with allies–France, Germany, Mexico.
  • Improve relations with the Muslim world.
  • Preserve the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the process. This is more important than preserving Bush’s credibility.

Are there reasonable ways to achieve all of these objectives? Perhaps, though I doubt that this administration will pursue any of them. If Rove anticipates “World Makes U.S. Back Down” headlines around the globe, then backing-down is a non-starter for this administration. Imagine combining the state of the domestic economy with the Chinese/Spy Plane incident writ large, and even Dick Gephardt might beat Bush. So my focus is not particularly on what is right, but rather on strategies the administration could actually use to back down without making it seem like backing down.

On domestic policy, this administration has great success with the strategy of repeating a lie until it seems true to the general public. I doubt that would work in this instance, but it might be worth a try. The strategy in this case would be for the administration to repeat ad nauseum this story: “for twelve years and umpteen resolutions, Saddam has defied the U.N.; now the U.S. and President Bush are making him comply. The only way to prevent a war was through this administration’s credible threat of war.” To feed the outraged right, augment all statements with lines about how ineffective Clinton was in enforcing Iraqi compliance to U.N. resolutions. The story would be the “only George W. Bush could prevent war” version of “only Nixon could go to China”.

Another option is to intentionally escalate the rhetoric until Britain backs out. Then blame Tony Blair, who is then probably out as Prime Minister, but the Labor Party’s dominance likely endures. Find a way to tie this into Clinton as well. This tact would increase the global outrage, but the Republican base might enjoy the chance to further vent their outrage at the Europeans. This is unlikely.

Perhaps a better way for the administration to back down is to not back-down, but not start war either. Specifically, this involves a second UN resolution that in essence says “War starts when either or both Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei say it starts”. In this scenario, there would be two categories of reports that Blix and ElBaradei could make. The first would be regular progress updates and reports of obstruction of inspections, and on the basis of these, the UN Security Council could authorize or not authorize war. The second would be a list of trigger-items. If, at any time 14 days or more after passage of the resolution, inspectors formally report the presence of any Nuclear, Chemical or Biological weapons (and the definition of these would be clearly spelled out), only a super-majority of the Security Council (12/15, say-it would be spelled out in the resolution. I like 12/15; it means that the U.S. and Britain just have to convince one other country) can prevent war. The key is that the U.S. get a measurable and verifiable trigger along with up-front commitment to that trigger by the currently reluctant UNSC members. Kenneth Pollack might even support a plan like this.

There would need to be a face-saving quid pro quo for the administration. I think the most important would be commitments by Russia, France, and China to not use their veto power in any proceedings related to Iraq. The White House could draft appropriate spin: “Negotiating through the night with foreign leaders, President Bush reached a stunning compromise: War immediate upon discovery of WMD. France, Russia, China agree will not veto on Iraq.”

In an alternative version, replace the UN with NATO, which might make Bush’s base slightly less enraged.

Not yet addressed are the perceptions of the United States in the Muslim world. Certainly, not starting this war would be a good start on improving relations. But war or no, the administration should fulfill the commitments we made in Afghanistan, immediately.

Angry Bear

Talking Dog

I’ve often thought it would make life easier if only someone would compile a master list of blogs, complete with descriptions. As it turns out, The Talking Dog has done it and it’s available here. I’ve even made the list:

Angry Bear

is the work of a real, live slightly left leaning economist. Posts are detailed, complete with charts and actual real world justification for the positions espoused. AB also trolls the blogosphere for useful opinions and interesting commentary. Despite covering technical economics, this blog is in no sense dry, but is, dare I say it, fair and balanced. The blogroll features the majors, as well as the big-time lefties.

TD Designation: Non-Canine (Angry Bear)

I have to say that I rather like Talking Dog’s summary.


Let Freedom Ring Get Oily Hot in a Deep Frier

or be dipped in beaten eggs, placed on a griddle, and cooked until crispy on the outside and tender one the inside; sprinkle with powdered sugar or use syrup, as you prefer:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The cafeteria menus in the three House office buildings changed the name of “french fries” to “freedom fries,” a culinary rebuke of France, stemming from anger over the country’s refusal to support the U.S. position on Iraq.

Ditto for “french toast,” which will be known as “freedom toast.”

Two (gasp) Republican lawmakers (Bob Ney, R-OH; Walter Jones, R-NC) are behind the menu change.


Where do we go from here?

Unlearned Hand is collecting Bloggers’ opinions for a series called “Where Do We Go From Here?” Mr. Hand is gathering posts on “fleshed-out alternatives to war” and “what would you do in Bush’s place?” For what it’s worth, I was asked to put in my two cents, which are available here (scroll down to get to my post).