Per Curiam
-- A man has to do something for a livin' these days

-- Bloggin' ain't much of a living, boy
Friday, April 16, 2004
 
Beauty is more than skin-deep: Every once in a while, there's an academic study that yields results that just seem right. In this case, it's from the University of Wisconsin, released with the headline "Physical beauty involves more than good looks"
:The results, which show that people perceive physical appeal differently when they look at those they know versus strangers, are published in the recently released March issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.

To systematically consider the influence of non-physical traits on how people who are familiar with each other perceive physical appeal, Kniffin and Wilson conducted three studies of beauty involving people who know each other and people who don't. For all studies, the participants were asked to rate physical attractiveness and non-physical traits such as liking, respect and talent. Strangers rated only physical attractiveness.

"In each case, non-physical traits known only to familiars, such as how much the person was liked, respected and contributed to shared goals, had a large effect on the perception of physical attractiveness that was invisible to the strangers," says Wilson.

At the end of their paper, the researchers offer this beauty tip: "If you want to enhance your physical attractiveness, become a valuable social partner."
This fits well with my experience, and I think the experience of many other people. I once dated a woman who was threatened by friends of the opposite sex, but only those that I had never dated or hooked up with. Her rationale was that if they had the attributes that made them appealing as friends, sooner or later they would come to appear physically attractive, regardless of whether I thought so at first. While her position was extreme (and led to a quick end to that relationship), it does make sense that we would associate non-physical characteristics of someone with our dominant, visual sense.

I don't think it's entirely psychological, however, either. Physical attractiveness isn't always something that can be fully recognized at first glance (that's not to say that it can't be for many other people). Like subtle inanimate aesthetics, often it takes a while to recognize the more subtle attractive elements of someone's appearance. I have a friend who believes that "90% of women are beautiful, if you give yourself time to recognize it," and I've often thought that he's right. But I suspect that both effects are at work in making that proposition a reality.

Hat tip: Rand Simberg




 
Today's top stories:

Bill Rancic is "The Apprentice": I should have placed a bet on him after the first episode (I probably would have, but this was the first reality show I ever watched directly). When the series started, Bill was the only member of the cast who I had seen before -- being interviewed (repeatedly) as part of news segments on the dot.com era explosion in luxury goods. It's possible that I even considered ordering cigars for a friend's bachelor party from his website.

Anyway, he's a deserving winner -- I continue to believe, as I did last week, that Kwame would have won if he had just fired Omarosa on the spot during the next-to-last episode. It seemed like such an obvious set-up that I was sure Trump had planned the whole thing.

And Bill definitely made the right choice of projects to work on. Just a few weeks ago in Nashville, I was talking about the Trump International Hotel & Tower -- it was originally supposed to be a 150-story behemoth (plans changed after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center), and it's received press attention (see, e.g., this New York Times story for its planned dual-function condo/hotel rooms). And Bill's style seems better suited to the project than to staging the golf tournaments that will undoubtedly be central to the strategy to attract $15 million custom home buyers.

New government job: National Intelligence Director? This proposal has been bandied about for a while. I'm skeptical. This seems likely to just create an additional level of bureaucracy in the system, creating one more master for intelligence gatherers and analysts to try to satisfy, and further watering down the value of intelligence gathered. In the past, White House czarships like the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Office of Homeland Security (pre-DHS establishment) just haven't been that successful. The National Intelligence Director, to have any real power, will need to have budgetary and personnel authority over all the intelligence agencies, which will put him constantly in conflict with the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, the military service chiefs, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, the idea of creating a separate, domestic intelligence agency, or moving domestic intelligence responsibilities into the hands of foreign intelligence gatherers, appears to be on the back burner. But a major reason that "the wall" between law enforcement and intelligence had to be built so high was their colocation in the FBI. As long as FISA and similar statutes permit proactive techniques for intelligence-gathering (as they should - I doubt anyone believes that a reactive, law-enforcement approach to terrorism will keep us secure), having the same people, or the same agency, running law enforcement investigations and intelligence operations will require special care to protect civil liberties.

Admittedly, a domestic intelligence agency raises civil liberties fears as well -- one need only remember the abuses masterminded by J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon to recognize the potential for domestic surveillance to endanger freedom. Adequate oversight, perhaps by Congress and the courts, and public disclosure of past activities, to a significant extent, will be required for people to have confidence in this solution. But it's a better one than a new "National Intelligence Director" and a staff to support such a post.





Thursday, April 15, 2004
 
What do Dick Cheney and John Kerry have in common? Both have close associations with companies that could gain a lot from their election, or reelection.

The Halliburton story has been told, both poorly and well, and it's worth remembering that VP Cheney's compensation from Halliburton is not dependent on their future performance.

Sen. Kerry's links to HJ Heinz Co., however, can't be ended by his election, and Kerry has proposed a tax plan that could be worth $832 million to the company -- $33 million to his family alone, according to Kevin Hassett of the nonpartisan American Enterprise Institute:
The Kerry team clearly recognized the possibility that [their tax plan would cause] significant harm, because they added a loophole. If a U.S. multinational produces a product in a foreign country for consumption in that country, then they will continue to allow the firm to avoid U.S. tax until the money is mailed back home.

Think of all of the needless and duplicative activity this will generate. Multinationals will be forced, in pursuit of tax savings, to introduce newer and smaller production facilities in every country they serve. Transportation costs are low enough, and scale economies large enough, that most multinationals operate a few production facilities located in attractive hubs around the world.

So why would anyone propose such a thing? Some industries, like food production, already operate that way. Because of local food regulations, and concerns about spoilage, it is often the case that food companies locate a separate plant in each country that they serve. Chief among these is Heinz, which owns 57 plants outside of North America that, as the company states, "provide products to consumers in those markets." . . .

[A]ccording to form 10-K, almost 84 percent of its income from continuing operations came from foreign markets in 2003. Accordingly, the impact of the Kerry plan on that company's value would be tremendous. If we assume that deferring U.S. tax on their foreign income saves them the difference between the U.S. tax and the average foreign tax, then that adds up to annual savings of about $43 million. With a P/E ratio of 19.35, that means that absent the loophole, the firm's market value would drop by about $832 million upon passage of the Kerry tax plan. Assuming that the Kerry-Heinz family's share of the company is four percent, which is the upper limit of what has been reported, then this loophole saves Mr. Kerry's family around $33 million. It is easy to see why they might support this loophole, but hard to see why anyone else would.
Elsewhere, Hassett analyzes the likely consequences of the Kerry tax plan, in light of his recent study showing that U.S. corporate taxes are 18% higher than the average in comparable countries. Under his plan, when a U.S. company earns money abroad,
it must pay U.S. taxes immediately. This will make the negative impact of high U.S. taxes impossible to avoid and force U.S. firms to significantly increase prices. That should lead to sharp reductions in market share and employment both at home and abroad, and a likely wave of foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies.
That's the context in which the Heinz loophole is set. In other words, Sen. Kerry's populist, anti-corporate instincts may punish American companies, workers, and the world economy, while protecting his own (well, his wife's) pocket from much of the harm. While I'm a believer that presidential elections (and the president in general) have little influence over the economy, remember this the next time Kerry claims that he'll be bringing back Clinton's economic policies. "Punish American companies, except Heinz" wasn't a battle cry that we heard during the 1990s. Of course, when Bill Clinton began his quest for the presidency in 1991, Teresa Heinz was still married to a Republican.



 
"Winner" Martha Burk: As the world debates whether she or Hootie Johnson has won the showdown over women at Augusta National (today's issue of GolfWorld speculates that Nancy Lopez will be admitted - but not until 2006, at the earliest), she's won this round in the courts. In what looks to be a good First Amendment decision, the 11th Circuit has struck down the Augusta County law imposing a licensing requirement for "political protests" as a content-based speech restriction. Greg is likely to have more, soon.



Wednesday, April 14, 2004
 
DDT, lice, and common sense from the New York Times: Far Outliers follows up the stereotype-defying New York Times story on the need to overcome prejudice against the use of DDT, with a firsthand account of its effectiveness:
On one occasion in 1976 when I left my New Guinea village to make a trip into town, my host family asked me to get medicine to kill the head lice their son had picked up while away at school. I did so, and he rubbed it into his hair and then tried to refrain from scratching his scalp as the lice ran around in their death throes. I think he may have had to "lather, rinse, repeat" to get the remaining nits after they hatched, too. It seemed to be effective, but I was horrified at the time to read on the label that the active ingredient was DDT.
Even after several years of New York Times activism on the DDT subject (see, e.g. a 12/23/02 editorial declaration that "The developed world has been unconscionably stingy in financing the fight against malaria or research into alternatives to DDT. Until one is found, wealthy nations should be helping poor countries with all available means -- including DDT." They steadily gloss over the fact that this position puts them on the side of what's right, but against what they usually support.

Environmentalists have bullied most countries into signing a treaty, the Stockholm Convention on POPs, committing them to the phase-out of DDT use and its eventual ban. Indeed, its use is presently banned, except for malaria-fighting programs. But this ban makes it hard to convince countries to use it (e.g. by provoking charges that the U.S. just wants to sell them chemicals we won't use for ourselves), and makes it vulnerable to radical protesters (one factory now makes most of the DDT for worldwide use, and Greenpeace and other radical environmentalists have repeatedly tried to force it to close down).

Because of the treaty, arguing for increased DDT use in "the national interest" of tropical countries is an argument for unilateralism, for undermining the international order, and the whole host of terrible outcomes that the Times has steadily accused the Bush Administration of fostering by its withdrawal from other, bad, international agreements (and note that in those situations, the U.S. had not ratified the treaties in question).

South Africa itself, the subject of the Times article, ratified the treaty in 2002. Roger Bate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has long been a voice of reason regarding the anti-DDT campaign, and he has repeatedly pointed out how successful DDT was against malaria, and how close the world came to actually eradicating malaria during the 1960s, at least in many places where it persists today (in India, for example, malaria cases fell from 1 million per year to a few thousand, but with the ban on DDT, have risen back into the millions). Few realize that malaria used to be a problem as far north as the Arctic Circle, and throughout Europe and North America -- it was DDT that solved this problem.

Nonetheless, plaudits to the Times. They may be wrong on Kyoto, the Land Mine Ban, and other idealistic ventures, but they're on target on malaria.



 
What constitutes a conflict of interest? Dwight Meredith reports that Jamie Gorelick has links to Saudi Arabia. Gorelick, of course, sits on the 9/11 Commission, examining the circumstances giving rise to the attacks:
Gorelick is a litigation partner in the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering... Gorelick's firm has agreed to represent Prince Mohammed al Faisal in the suit by the 9/11 families. The families contend that al Faisal has legal responsibility for the 9/11 attacks....

Given that the 9/11 families' suit charges the client of Ms. Gorelick's firm with responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, it is completely inappropriate for her to remain on the 9/11 commission.

It is outrageous that her firm would have accepted the representation of a defendant in the suit while Gorelick sat on the commission. It is more outrageous that she did not immediately resign from the commission.

She must immediately resign the commission. No excuses. No delay.
Meredith also criticizes a lengthy list of other political leaders who are connected to the Saudi defense.

Should we take this charge seriously? I haven't studied professional responsibility yet, but a quick perusal of the DC Bar Association's rules of professional conduct suggest that there probably is a problem.

Rule 1.7 reads:
(a) A lawyer shall not advance two or more adverse positions in the same matter.
(b) Except as permitted by paragraph (c) below, a lawyer shall not represent a client with respect to a matter if:
(1) That matter involves a specific party or parties and a position to be taken by that client in that matter is adverse to a position taken or to be taken by another client in the same matter even though that client is unrepresented or represented by a different lawyer;
(2) Such representation will be or is likely to be adversely affected by representation of another client;
(3) Representation of another client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by such representation;
(4) The lawyer's professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer's responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer's own financial, business, property, or personal interests.
(c) A lawyer may represent a client with respect to a matter in the circumstances described in paragraph (b) above if each potentially affected client provides consent to such representation after full disclosure of the existence and nature of the possible conflict and the possible adverse consequences of such representation.
Meanwhile, Rule 1.10 states that "While lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly represent a client when any one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so by Rules 1.7, 1.8(b), 1.9, or 2.2."

I think it's clear that representation of a rich, powerful client like Saudi Arabia creates serious financial and business interests on the part of the lawyer, especially in a lawsuit of the magnitude of the 9/11 suit. The fact that most people don't expect the lawsuit to be successful shouldn't change the equation.

More importantly, it's not unimaginable that poor intelligence-sharing by the home country of most of the 9/11 terrorists could have played a role in the intelligence failure on 9/11. Such a finding by the Commission would almost certainly "be adverse" to the Saudis, as clients of Ms. Gorelick's firm.

And it seems impossible for "each potentially affected client" to "provide consent" after full disclosure in this matter. The entire purpose of the 9/11 Commission is to provide an independent, outside review of the events for the benefit of the American people. It seems unlikely that a conflict of interest wouldn't undermine that mission. Could Congress vote to "provide consent" to the Commission's membership? Hmm.

It's bad enough that members of the Commission are suspected of partisanship and playing presidential politics (another charge leveled at Ms. Gorelick, who has been one of Al Gore's close advisers). But the American people are used to dealing with partisan politics, and I trust people to take this factor into account. I also think that some of the Commissioners, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton, have done an excellent job of putting partisanship aside. I don't think the same thing holds true for financial and legal interrelationships, however: few people seem to have an adequate understanding on how much to distrust Vice President Cheney's motivations because of his past associates with Halliburton, for example.

I suspect that many of those criticizing Gorelick are only doing so for partisan purposes. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that there's nothing to those charges.

Update: Eric Muller (IsThatLegal?) observes that the Commission actually has a recusal policy. Clearly by those standards as well, Ms. Gorelick should have recused herself from yesterday's hearings, and many other parts of the investigation:
1. Financial Interests

Commissioners and staff will recuse themselves from participating in matters as to which they have a financial interest.

2. Conflicts Arising from Prior Government Service

Commissioners and staff will recuse themselves from investigating work they performed in prior government service.




Tuesday, April 13, 2004
 
Car taxes, and a roads report: Greg - You're right on the money with your criticism of the "automobile excise tax", although it's existence is hardly limited to "Taxachusetts." It's really just a different label for the tax that proved a key issue in the California recall election, as well as in Virginia gubernatorial politics, where James Gilmore was elected in 1997 by promising a repeal, then blasted for failing to keep his promise. Even Georgia has a similar tax.

Yahoo's Tax Center suggests that about 1/3 of states have a value-based personal property tax on cars, or its equivalent, and points out that you may be able to deduct the tax paid on your federal income tax return (although I think this only applies to those itemizing deductions).

Incidentally, don't fall for the "privilege of using the roads of Massachusetts" baloney. Like most explanations of "what is this tax for?", it's a phony. According to Secretary of the Commonwealth Galvin's website(isn't "secretary of state" so much easier), "the revenues become part of the local community treasury." Yep, just like most taxes, the money flows into the general treasury, not some special account.

If your fiance lives in Somerville, the city actually is spending tremendous amounts of money on the roads - just not to repair potholes. Somerville is criss-crossed by railroad lines, as I'm sure you've noticed, and over the last several years, the city has been engaged in projects to prevent their collapse. Next up: the Lowell Street bridge. If your fiance is in Cambridge, I'm not sure what to tell you, except that progress is finally planned on some of the worst streets: in theory, JFK Street and Wendell Street (the two I rate as worst) are on the list for this spring.



 
Reason #415 Why Massachusetts Sucks: Before I moved here to attend an illustrious legal institution, I had heard things about the "commonwealth" in which Boston sits. I had read about Dukakis, heard the "Tax-achusetts" label, seen Ted Kennedy rant on issues. But this state (commonwealth, whatever) never ceases to amaze me.

Yesterday, my fiance received a notice from the great Mass folks charging an "automobile excise tax." I said, what is that? Two hundred bucks for what? So, we called and asked. The answer: "for the privilege of using the roads of Massachusetts." Wow, that set me straight. Thank you, Massachusetts, for granting me the incredible privilege of using the roads. Thank you for the lovely potholes every 50 yards that turn roadways into obstacle courses. Thank you for not cluttering up the light poles with signs identifying the names of the streets. Thank you for not defacing the streets with silly things like "lane markers" so I know if there should be one lane or three. I am so sorry that I even questioned the tax -- the benefits are so obvious.

But, just for the hell of it, let me raise one issue. The tax is for the "use of the roadways," which I suppose, is for the wear and tear cars cause on the streets. So, naturally, the tax is based on the weight of automobiles, because naturally heavier cars inflict a greater toll on the infrastructure than do lighter cars. Right? Wrong. No, instead the tax is based on the value of the car. Thus, the $80,000 Mercedes two-seater is taxed four times as much as the $20,000 half-ton pick-up. Now, I have no evidence of this, but I am sure that the potholes on the road do far greater damage to the Mercedes than that car does to the road. And I am sure that large trucks also inflict more damage.

In reality, this tax "to use the roadways" is just another way to get money from the wealthy. It is a backdoor method for collecting revenue, and it is obvious that the money in no way is being used to improve the roadways. It's not corruption, but it sure seems dirty.



 
My initial impression of yesterday's release of the reform proposal for the First-Year Lawyering program was that it was a sound one, addressing many of the problems. Instead of offering my own perspective, let me suggest that you read the thoughts of an expert: someone who consistently criticized the course as we took it. Waddling Thunder outs himself as a credible critic of the FYL program, as one of only 8 students to be graded "low pass" in the first two years FYL has been offered:
I think they're basically moves in the right direction, as evidenced by the fact that I've actually complained about many of the problems before.
I recommend reading the whole post, replete with quotes from his posts from last year.



 
How to get a bonus vacation day: A contest at KPRC-TV in Houston will replace sports anchor Chris Wragge for one day with the winner of a reality competition they call the "Sports Apprentice."

While the Houston Chronicle suggests that this is a combination of "Dream Job" and "The Apprentice", contestants shouldn't get their hopes up. While Wragge is leaving his job, it appears the prize is limited to a one-day stint - a little less rewarding than the ESPN and Trump/NBC competitions.

Perhaps Wragge is just looking for an excuse to extend his Memorial Day weekend.



 
Justice Scalia's "rights": The New York Times blasts Justice Scalia for asserting a First Amendment right not to be recorded. David Bernstein criticizes their attack, writing that:
Justice Scalia has no obligation to give any public speeches. A fortiori, he has the right to condition his willingness to speak at a given venue on the absence of audio and visual coverage. (Edit: Of course, Justice Scalia could not stop a t.v. or radio station from airing footage of one of his speeches, if they acquire it. But he certainly could refuse to go ahead with a talk if he sees microphones or t.v. equipment present.)
I think a case can be made that both Prof. Bernstein and the Times are correct - that it's just a matter of how you define the right. Justice Scalia clearly has a First Amendment right to maintain his silence, or to not speak. See, e.g., Riley v. National Federation for the Blind ("[T]he First Amendment guarantees "freedom of speech," a term necessarily comprising the decision of both what to say and what not to say."). But is his ability to leverage that right, to "condition his willingness to speak," in Prof. Bernstein's account, still a First Amendment right, or is it simply a right of contract that happens to be dependent, in this case, on his First Amendment right. Consider, for example, the inverse situation. Justice Scalia is planning to write a book on the Second Amendment. The NRA, concerned that Justice Scalia might then recuse himself from future Second Amendment cases, offers him a set of Smith & Wesson Model 500s to postpone publication of the book until his retirement from the Court. Does he now have a First Amendment right to possess those handguns, in addition to his Second Amendment rights?





Monday, April 12, 2004
 
The Masters -- Pure sport, no commercials: Like many other members of the blogosphere, the panel at Per Curiam agrees that this year's Masters was a marvel of sports entertainment. Writers of a Hollywood script could not have sculpted this masterpiece any better. You had the protagonist, beloved by many but to date unsuccessful in his quest to win the "big one." You had the amazing run by Els, who would have been the crowd favorite had he not been up against Mickelson. Lefty had the lead, Els made a run with a pair of eagles, but Mickelson, undaunted and smiling the entire time, birdied five of the last six holes to claim the Green Jacket. The golf gods seemed to smile on Lefty as they kept his final putt on the lip of the cup before allowing it to drop in. Combine this with back-to-back holes-in-one on 16, an amazing eagle by Choi on 11 and a 19-year old college freshman shooting 31 on the back nine and you had one of the best Sundays in Masters history.

Besides the great golf, viewers also enjoy the Masters for a reason that may allude some: there are no commercials. In response to threats last year to lead a boycott of Masters sponsors, Augusta National elected to end all commercialization at the tournament, including television advertising, rather than placate the critics by admitting women to the club. Even before this, the club restricted the number of advertisers to two or three, and also limited the amount of commercial time to a few minutes per hour. Augusta picked up the rest of the tab with private funds.

Thus, many viewers may not realize it, but the Masters is more fun to watch because of the dearth of loud, annoying and mood-breaking commercials. CBS was allowed to set the scene for Mickelson's run, building drama without interruption by flatulating horses advertising beer, or imaginary Microsoft users celebrating fifteen minutes without a reboot.

The difference from normal television is startling. Studies show that viewers are being inundated by more and more commercials and "clutter" during television programming. Twenty years ago, the FCC deregulated restrictions on commercialization, eliminating the 16 minutes per hour limit. As one of its reasons, the FCC stated that networks showed only 11 minutes of commercials per hour. In the past two decades, though, this number has risen to 16-20 minutes per hour, including 17 minutes per hour during prime time on the four main networks. Thus, nearly one-third of all television time consists of car ads, promotions for the latest sitcom and plugs for the "most important news story of the year - film at 11."

Applied to entertainment programming, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Lengthier commercials may increase the social value of reality television series, by permitting more opportunities to discuss whether Versacorp is pursuing the right strategy in the latest episode of The Apprentice. Similarly, increased minutes of commercial time may permit the broadcast of shows with higher production values, like "The X-Files" or "24." At the same time, of course, the more frequent or lengthier interruptions also erode the immersiveness and continuity of the television narrative, so many would argue that the rise in commercials degrades the television-viewing experience.

The opposite may be true in sports broadcasting, however. Commercials during The Masters would not greatly affect the competition itself: as Brian Murphy pointed out today, The Masters broadcast is all about cutaways to action that's already happened: "This was a moment ago" is an essential part of the experience. But sports that are broadcast as live action see the actual competition altered by television's need for commercials. When the NBA playoffs begin in a few days, we'll see momentum-altering "TV timeouts," and the sluggishness of baseball games has been worsened by lengthier breaks for TV commercials between every half-inning. Maybe we should wish that Ms. Burk and Howell Raines had targeted basketballl's all-male coaching ranks...

So, should anything should be done to limit commercials? And if so, what? When most American households received only the broadcast networks, if commercial times grew too onerous, demand would decrease, forcing the networks to respond. But now that the vast majority of Americans have subscribed to cable, purchased VCRs and DVD players, and connected to the Internet, demand can more easily shift elsewhere: to recorded programming, or to premium channels such as HBO. Or perhaps consumer preferences have evolved: rather than committing themselves to watching one channel continuously, they may choose to flip between channels, with transitions triggered by commercial breaks. Or maybe networks have pulled a fast one: viewers might notice if commercial time suddenly jumped from 15 minutes to 25, but by gradually increasing the "clutter" time over twenty years, maybe people have unknowingly accepted a change that they they wouldn't voluntarily choose. [Think height: when you were growing up, your parents did not notice your growth, but Aunt Sue always said "You've gotten so tall" when you saw her every six months.]

Could the government re-regulate the commercialization of television? The broadcast spectrum is held in the public trust - the individual stations do not own it, nor does the government. The Supreme Court has often held (most famously in FCC v. Pacifica), that content on networks can be regulated to meet the public interest. How many commercials can be broadcast before the networks have failed to live up to their responsibility to broadcast "in the public interest?" Could they broadcast a 24-hour commercial channel and still satisfy this standard? And should the "public interest" continue to be the standard when viewers have so many other choices?

So this year's Masters is one for the books. Remember it during the NBA Western Conference Finals when you're watching Kerri Walsh and Misty May hit the volleyball into the icy water for the eighteenth or nineteenth time.



 
The Iran connection: Ralph Peters discusses attacks by Iranian agents on American troops:
O[n] Saturday, Iranian agents ambushed an American convoy on the road between Mosul and Akre in Iraq. The attack did not go as planned: Our troops responded sharply, killing two Iranians, wounding a third and capturing two more.

They were carrying their identity documents...

As this column reported last week, the extent of Iranian involvement in the recent revolt goes very deep. The facts that follow have been confirmed by at least two sources exclusive to The Post.

Moqtada al-Sadr is Iran's man in Shi'a Iraq. Several months ago, he slipped across the border to meet with Hezbollah terror chiefs that Teheran had invited from Lebanon. The factions struck a deal to cooperate against the Coalition in Iraq.

Hundreds of Iranian agents and fighters have been confirmed to be in Iran. The actual number is probably in the thousands. They've swelled the ranks of Sadr's "Mahdi Army" and stiffened its backbone.
The case for a tempered response against Iran has long been strong. There is a strong opposition movement to the dominating theocrats, who appear to be undermined by any expression of American support. The Iranian government is respected by Iraqi Shiites (although not viewed as a model for a future Iraqi government), and so a stronger Iranian policy may pose challenges to Iraqi reconstruction.

The time seems to be coming for a shift in direction, however. Quite simply, overt attacks by official Iranians on Americans cannot be ignored. We know that al Qaeda was emboldened by our failure to respond to their attacks in Mogadishu, in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, in Aden. Much ink has been spilled postulating that toothless American responses to Iraqi intransigence caused similar effects. Are we making the same mistake regarding Iran? It seems we are.

Not only have we been silent about the links described by Peters, but we're allowing Iran to play Saddam's game with WMD programs (Iran is likely in violation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons treaties): making strong statements, then making concessions, then barring inspectors, then allowing them in. We know that our allies and other countries are suckers for this sort of endless series of unmet promises. Today, nuclear inspectors arrived for another go-around - anyone want to bet that they'll get just enough cooperation to forestall stronger action again?

Despite overwhelming evidence indicating that Iran was behind the Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia (Louis Freeh testified to this fact just a few months ago, and repeats the evidence on today's WSJ editorial page), Iran has never faced a forceful reprisal. Iran continues to support Hezbollah in its attacks on Israelis as well, and is one of the leading terrorist sponsors in the world. Yet despite the evidence of their direct involvement in terrorist attacks on Americans, and their continued support for terrorism, under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Iran has been allowed to escape paying any price for this attack.

Iran has proved itself a master of avoiding responsibility. Indeed, Al-Jazeera reports that Iranian leaders are now trying to distance themselves from violence within Iraq. It seems, as Peters pointed out, the White House will play along. But allowing them to continue to attack Americans with impunity will not only reinforce their actions, but will likely inspire others to play the same games and hope to achieve the same results. Our security from both terrorists and rogue states depends on our willingness to take the tough actions required to respond to the targeting and killing of Americans.



Sunday, April 11, 2004
 
Biological weapons against his own people? In response to the hypothetical presented by Greg and Gregg, commenter Jacob notes:
One small nit with your article. I don't think Hussein ever used biological weapons against his own people. While he did use chemical weapons against the Kurds (e.g. mustard gas at Hallabja) I don't know of any case where he used biological weapons. I'm not an expert on this though and if you have evidence to the contrary, I'd gladly retract this.
I'm not aware of any hard evidence of bioweapons testing either, but I know that rumors of it were widely reported in the media during the 1990s. See, for example, the Chicago Tribune, on Jan. 31, 1999, reporting:
[UN weapons inspectors had] a document, forwarded to them by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, summarizing an interview with a high-level Iraqi defector in Europe. He described the activities of a secretive Iraqi intelligence cadre, Unit 2100, which he said took Iraqi political prisoners from Abu Ghraib to a military post at Al Haditha, 115 miles to the northwest.

"The unit conducted experiments on human subjects using chemical and biological warfare agents," states the document. "Prisoners who were sent to Unit 2100 did not return."

The defector's account and the accuracy of his past information had all but convinced the inspectors that Iraq had used the political prisoners to advance their most heinous weapons in 1994 and 1995. The inspectors hoped to find prison records to confirm that story.

But once inside the prison, they found that the records for 1994 and 1995 were missing. When they asked for the documents, Iraq effectively ended United Nation's inspections in Iraq, leaving the suspicion of human testing just that--a suspicion.
Before the war, these accounts were reinforced by sources like the notes of Iraqi Dr. Rihab Tahah, one of the directors of Iraq's biological weapons program before the first Gulf War, chronicling extensive testing of biological weapons on non-human targets.

Given the widespread accounts of chemical weapons use that Jacob mentions and these incomplete accounts of biological weapons, I find it highly plausible that the claims of biological weapons testing fit within the hypothetical.

The Tribune account is also noteworthy because it highlights just how Saddam's persistent obstruction of the UN and weapons inspections prevented the use of good intelligence when we had it, afforded him the opportunity to destroy evidence, and helped create concerns that he was preserving stockpiles of weapons, and not just the robust capacity to create stockpiles that he apparently retained.



 

D.V.I. Watch


Over spring break, I snapped the above photo of the U.S. Courthouse in St. Thomas, some students' "dream destination" for a clerkship. Perhaps that image doesn't say as much as the view from the courthouse steps.

HLS students take heart: President Bush has nominated alumnus Curtis Gomez, a former AUSA in St. Thomas, to sit on the district court bench. Clerkship applicants take note: Gomez is not just some carpetbagger, but a St. Croix native. Something tells me that "I'm looking for better weather" isn't going to be a satisfactory answer to questions about why you want to clerk for him.

Before you apply, you might want to read about what it's like to relocate to the Virgin Islands (sample hint: "Get good [medical] insurance"). And it's not exactly cheap: This cost-of-living calculator suggests that Charlotte Amalie is a more-expensive place to live than Boston.



 
In honor of...: Because of a case better left to the Sports Law Blog, former Rockets forward Matt Bullard became the color commentator for the Rockets.

And he is colorful.

In less than two weeks, Bullard's ascension has sparked a pair of great news items.

First comes an item from Ric Bucher at ESPN the Magazine, describing how Bullard met his future wife: "asked by then-coach Rudy Tomjanovich why he blew a post-timeout diagrammed play, [he] admitted that he was trying to memorize the phone number written in lipstick on a piece of paper by a woman behind the Houston bench." Yep. A Hollywood story, only in the NBA. (Steve Rushin can only wish that he had met Rebecca Lobo in a comparable way. Perhaps if he'd attended a WNBA game before they met...

Second, the Houston Chronicle's Ken Hoffman observes that "in video games, he's Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe all rolled into one," regardless of whether Bullard, kids at a deli, or Darius Miles is playing the game. It reminds me of 1995, when Indianapolis native Lamont Warren was an untackleable superstar in Madden football, but rushed for only 152 yards in the regular season as a backup to Colts star Marshall Faulk. While Warren did turn in a pivotal performance (20 rushes, 76 yards) in the Colts' playoff victory over the Chiefs that year, like Bullard, he never really lived up to the expectations raised by his electronic avatar.

If Bullard adds half as much color to his broadcasts as to the news pages, he'll be a big success.