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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

SABR

I was out of town for several days last week attending the annual national conference for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). I went to a number of interesting panels -- one of the best was by Dave Smith of Retrosheet -- and the ballgame on Friday night. It was my first visit to the new Busch stadium.

Though you might not have predicted it based upon my scholarly writing, I hung around with members of the Statistical Analysis crowd and mostly attended their panels and looked at their posters. Many in that group are academics -- like David Kaplan of Wisconsin -- but many others are not. I also attended a number of other scientific panels.

The most entertaining and enlightening talk was delivered by Dr. Mike Marshall, a former Cy Young winning pitcher who has very strong theories about how to prevent pitching injuries. He wants to completely revamp pitching motions.

Aaron Gleeman's more colorful recap of the convention is here (including a picture of my friend Neal Traven. I don't know Gleeman, but many of his friends are prominent SABR-types and I saw many of the people included in his photos.


Note: My apologies to Paul for visiting St. Louis and not giving an advance heads-up.


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Threatdown: al Qaeda of Iraq

As I pointed out on Saturday, the President wants you to believe that al Qaeda of Iraq is a serious threat to US security. Not all the generals in Iraq agree. This is from a press briefing with Lt. General Odierno in Iraq on July 19:
LT. GEN. ODIERNO: What I know is there is clearly a relationship between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan or Afghanistan or wherever they are. I -- al Qaeda in Iraq, I think, is struggling as -- with its mission here in Iraq, and currently I think it'd be very difficult for them to export any violence outside of Iraq.
The Lt. General is worried that Iraq could become a safe haven training area, which would then eventually create terror risks for the homeland.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The next war

Pakistan is definitely under the spotlight right now, both on this blog and in the foreign policy world of Washington.

Sunday, the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, told Fox News that the White House might use force against Pakistan:
WALLACE: If our enemies are regenerating their safe haven in Pakistan, under the Bush doctrine of preemptive military action to take out any threat, why aren't we doing everything we can — special operations forces, pilotless drones — why aren't we doing everything we can to take out that safe haven?

TOWNSEND: Well, Chris, just because we don't speak about things publicly doesn't mean we're not doing many of the things you're talking about...Job number one is to protect the American people, and there are no options that are off the table...I will say to you there are no options off the table. The president's committed to the most effective action that we can possibly take in the FATA [federally administered tribal area] to deny them the safe haven.
In January 2006, the U.S. attacked a village in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles in an alleged effort to kill al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It turned out that he wasn't there after all, though five women and five children were among the 18 to 25 dead.

Pakistan wasn't happy about the strike. The BBC:
"We cannot accept any action within our country which results in what happened over the weekend," Prime Minister Aziz told journalists in the capital, Islamabad.

"So the relationship with the US is important, it is growing, but at the same time such actions cannot be condoned."
An unwelcome missile strike is an act of war.


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Monday, July 23, 2007

War with Pakistan



Pakistan has long been a concern on this blog -- both for its pre-9/11 ties to al Qaeda and its horrible nonproliferation record.

What should be done about Pakistan?

Like the Washington Post's editorial board, former Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton sounds like he's calling for war against Pakistan -- or at least invocation of the Bush Doctrine.

The Christian Science Monitor reported some of his recent comments on July 19:
"I think that our relationship with Pakistan needs to be reconsidered, reevaluated.… What has driven our relationship with Pakistan has been the fear that the alternative to Musharraf would be a radical government with a nuclear bomb. I think that fear is overstated…. I believe it is necessary for the United States to be able to go after the sanctuaries in Pakistan," he said.

When he was asked whether such action could cause the Musharraf government to fall, Mr. Hamilton responded, "It is a risk, and it is a risk I would be willing to take."
Hamilton continued:
"The thing that is most worrisome to me about Al Qaeda is the sanctuary. It seems to me that, if anything, we have learned that we must not permit the terrorists to have a sanctuary from which to regroup, train, plan, and launch strikes within Europe or here or elsewhere," Hamilton said.
Listen carefully and you can hear the drums of war beating.

They may not be pounding for Iran.


Note: Photo credit, US Department of State

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

The confusing war on terror: July 2007

Lately, President Bush and other members of his administration have been implying that all the foreign fighters in Iraq are al-Qaeda. Consider these consecutive sentences from his speech at the Naval War College on June 28:
Our commanders [in Iraq] tell me that 80 to 90 percent of these suicide bombings are the work of foreign fighters, people who don't like the advance of an alternative to their ideology, and they come in and murder the innocent to achieve their objectives.

And that's their strategy. Al Qaeda's strategy is to use human beings as bombs to create grisly images for the world to see
Later in that same speech, the President briefly mentioned the Taliban in Afghanistan. He called them the "one-time allies of al Qaeda."

The duplicity in these words is galling.

On the one hand, the President wants Americans to believe that the U.S. is fighting the 9/11 terrorists in Iraq. He very badly wants this as this line from his July 12 press conference makes clear:
The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that's why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.
To a degree, the President is correct. LA Times, July 15:
Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.
The senior US official claimed that "50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis."

You may recall that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

Somehow, however, I don't think the President is trying to stir up trouble against the Saudis.

Meanwhile, the attempt to delink the Taliban and al Qaeda is also very odd. After all, the administration has spent years linking the two. As recently as May 1, the President referred to "the Taliban And Its Al-Qaeda Allies."

Perhaps the President realizes that the main threat the Taliban posed was its willingness to let al Qaeda establish a terror safe haven in Afghanistan. Now, he's trying to create fear that the same thing could happen elsewhere.

On that note, The Washington Post is advocating war against Pakistan, which it says knowingly hosts an al-Qaeda sanctuary. In a strongly worded op-ed piece on July 19, the Post referred to this sanctuary an "imminent threat of a revived al-Qaeda organization able to strike the United States from a secure base"
If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil.
The National Intelligence Estimate that was released this week did refer to an al-Qaeda "safehaven" in Pakistan.

The President doesn't seem to talk about this very much, instead preferring to worry that Iraq might become such a safehaven after the U.S. withdraws. Actually, his messages about Pakistan seem kind of garbled:
Pakistan, by the way, is a -- Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists. I like him and I appreciate him. I'm, of course, constantly working with him to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Pakistan. He's been a valuable ally in rejecting extremists. And that's important, to cultivate those allies.
Bottom line: the commander-in-chief remains fixated on Iraq and his messages continue to signal a deep misunderstanding of the ongoing threat.


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Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter


Unlike my colleagues over at the Duck, I have not read the books in the Harry Potter series.

I have seen the five movies, however, and can give the latest a thumb's up with the caveat that it probably won't make much sense to anyone who has not at least watched the earlier movies.

Additionally, my household is caught up in Potter-mania as my wife has read all the earlier books to our youngest daughter and the oldest daughter has read the entire shelf multiple times. Yes, our reserved copy will be in-hand near the stroke of midnight tonight.

Once again, I'm going to hold out for the movie.

Hopefully, the family will enjoy Potter VII more than I enjoyed my latest read from a best-selling author.

Note: Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State.


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Monday, July 16, 2007

"Any time they want"


As the AP reported Saturday, the leader of the Iraqi government thinks that his country can provide for its own security:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that the Iraqi army and police are capable of keeping security in the country when American troops leave “any time they want,”
And they want.

Polls from this past month show that nearly two-thirds of Americans think that the U.S. should "set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2008."


Note: Photo courtesy U.S. State Department.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quack

Baseball fan -- do you like the designated hitter rule? Some new political science research suggests that your answer to that question might be explained by your broader socio-political makeup.

Today, I blogged about that research: "The Politics of the DH" over at the Duck of Minerva. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Arts and leisure

Sunday, I saw Sicko, which is both entertaining and eye-opening. If you haven't been paying attention, or know the film only by the associated activism, then you might not realize that this latest Michael Moore movie is NOT about the 45 to 50 million Americans who lack health insurance.

Rather, it is about the quarter billion Americans who have health care -- and pay too much, receive too little, and are incredibly vulnerable to the whims of the marketplace.

Much of the film, in fact, is about the comparatively superior health insurance systems offered in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Cuba (!).

I also watched the Venus DVD this week (thumbs up) and parts of the major league and AAA All-Star baseball games. I'm not a big fan of the All-star break, but the Ichiro inside-the-park homer was exciting and the 9th inning held my interest (despite all the walks).

Unfortunately, I missed the Futures game this year...it occurred while I was in the theater for Sicko.


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Monday, July 09, 2007

Geopolitics of Climate Change

My short piece on the "The Geopolitics of Global Climate Change" has recently been published in the Spring/Summer 2007 edition of sustain: a journal of environmental and sustainability issues. Enjoy.

Note: the editor told me it was OK to put that pdf on the web.


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Sunday, July 08, 2007

The ongoing war against Iran?


Photo credit: U.S. State Department

In January 2005, Seymour Hersh reported that President Bush had authorized the Pentagon to conduct all sorts of off-the-book ("black") operations inside a variety of Middle Eastern nations -- beginning with Iran. Hersh mentioned "commando" and other types of secret operations that would be part of the "war on terrorism," not merely intelligence-gathering.

How goes that war?

Well, in his profile of Condi Rice in the June Atlantic, journalist David Samuels noted that public "American-led effort to 'push back' Iran" such as the UN sanctions linked to Iran's nuclear program "have been accompanied by other, more active measures." His sources
pointed to an upsurge in antigovernment guerrilla activity inside Iran, including a bomb in Zahedan, the economic center of the province of Baluchistan, that killed 11 soldiers in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on February 14; the mysterious death of the Iranian scientist Ardashir Hosseinpour, who worked on uranium enrichment at the Isfahan nuclear facility; and the defection of a high-ranking Iranian general named Ali Asgari, a former deputy minister of defense who was also the Revolutionary Guard officer responsible for training and supplying Hezbollah during its war against the Israelis in southern Lebanon in the 1980s.
A bombing (campaign?) and maybe an assassination. Hmmm.

Could the "war on terror" be morphing into a "war of terror"?

Some sources attribute the alleged Hosseinpour murder to the Mossad.

Incidentally, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz pointed out to Samuels that the U.S. could wreak all sorts of havoc in Iran without too much trouble: “it’s not difficult for somebody to sabotage those refineries.” I wrote something similar in regard to Iraq's oil facilities back in January. They're relatively soft targets and could be eliminated rather easily.


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Friday, July 06, 2007

Domenici

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is no longer part of the coalition of the willing.

The Senator's official webpage quotes from his Fourth of July news conference:
"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward,” Domenici said. “I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home.”
The Senator added, "I am unwilling to continue our current strategy."

Like some other Republicans, Domenici is running for the cover of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Domenici supports legislation to implement ISG recommendations cosponsored by Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).
The bill is intended to create conditions that could allow for a drawdown of American combat forces in Iraq by March 2008. Under S.1545, the U.S. military could maintain a long-term but more limited presence in Iraq—focused on protecting American personnel and interests, training and advising Iraqi forces, and carrying out counterterrorism and special operations missions.
Other cosponsors include Republican Senators Bob Bennett (UT), Susan Collins (ME), Judd Gregg (NH), and John Sununu (NH).

Not all of these cosponsors have called explicitly for troop withdrawal from, but I'm fairly certain that more of them will. Why?

Well, it is simple, really. Many of them are up for reelection in 2008: including Alexander, Collins, Domenici, and Sununu.

Oh, and do not forget Senator Mitch McConnell (KY).


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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Duck

Need more to read?

Today, I posted "Happy fourth: worried edition" on the Duck of Minerva.

On June 25, I posted "UN poll" about the question "Does the UN still matter?"

June 14, you can find "Plan 9 from outta nowhere?" which concerns the US decision to aid Sunni insurgents who are willing to fight Al Qaeda of Iraq.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush is soft on crime

I've been interested in Scooter Libby's role in "Plamegate" since 2003. Ultimately, Libby was convicted of perjury, not leaking classified information, and sentenced to 30 months in jail, a $250,000 fine and 2 years probation.

Today, an appeals court ruled that Libby would have to start serving his jail time. Then, hours later, President Bush commuted that part of his sentence:
I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.
Given that Libby supporters have contributed $3 million to his legal defense, it seems hard to believe that a $250,000 fine is all that onerous.

My guess is that he'll get that back in a book advance and speaking fees.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, by the way, was not pleased::
“In this case an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a statement. “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals.”
The President seemingly agrees, as he declared on 6-6-06:
As Americans, we revere freedom and equality, the rights and dignity of every individual, and the supremacy of the rule of law.
Ah, hypocrisy.

Happy fourth of July everyone.


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Monday, July 02, 2007

Automakers and climate change

American automobile manufacturers are typically not viewed as "green" businesses. The manufacture of their central product requires tremendous expenditure of natural resources. The ordinary operation of autos likewise necessitates substantial consumption of petroleum -- and production of pollution.

Nonetheless, Ford and Chrysler last week joined General Motors in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has called for the federal government to enact legislation that includes mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The group represents real economic clout:
The expansion of the coalition will bring the total revenues of USCAP companies to over $1.9 trillion, with a total workforce of more than 2.3 million and operations in all 50 states and around the world. The members have a combined market capitalization of more than $1.9 trillion.
Other members include Alcoa, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and Shell.

USCAP's "A Call for Action" centered primarily on adoption of a mandatory market-based "cap and trade" system, which has the support of some Senate Republicans -- and Joe Lieberman.


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