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Saturday, August 03, 2002

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
Tony, it's been a hectic week, but I'm safely back in Richmond, just in time for tomorrow's Punditwatch.

I left Upstate NY at the crack of dawn on Friday and drove to my mother's house in Manassas, VA. This was the weekend she moved from her home of 38 years to a retirement home. My sister and I moved her stuff to the new apartment Friday night and this afternoon. Only a tiny subset of all her stuff fits, but it was enough for four loads in my little pick-up truck. Moving is never pleasant, but this move was also heavy with the emotion that comes with wondering if you are doing the right thing for your parent, as well as the realization that liquidating the house and all the rest of her "stuff" will mark the transition with a bittersweet finality.

There was one pleasant interlude--I slipped away this morning for brunch with Dodd Harris, proprieter of the excellent Ipse Dixit and the incomparable Caption Contest. He's an impressive guy and I enjoyed our meal, especially since he treated. I accused him of patronizing me by choosing my entry as the winner of the latest contest, but he denied it, although not convincingly.

I need to read up on Gilbey ....

Friday, August 02, 2002

Short Title: Report of the Minority in re Gilbey

and for other miscellaneous purposes...
Tony Adragna
Ginger, who has no problem telling us "what she really thinks", offers a cogent response to Mark Steyn:
Ginger: Let me put it in short words: Deena Gilbey, and/or her attorney, is lying. Either that, or her attorney is incompetent, I can't quite tell which. And it's inconceivable to some folks that the INS might be telling the truth and the so-called victim might be lying.
Ginger has some experience with that body of knowledge called immigration law, so I'll defer to her judgement about the specific case.

But, the underlying point I was making in the argument below is still valid: laws, and the instutions that apply them, are only as effective as the people who apply them, and are wholely ineffective when people seek either improper application, or are able to circumvent laws. -- that holds for both agencies and individuals the agencies serve.

Let me put it in short words: It's not the law, it's the people!

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Old Mindsets & New Laws...

Tony Adragna
In recently discussing actual effects of the House enacted "Homeland Security Act of 2002", I made the following observation:"You can change the regs to allow for -- even require -- a different way of doing business, but entrenched cultures aren't so easily moved: they'll find a way to apply old mindsets to new rules." Glenn points to a story that illustrates the point:
[...]The USA Patriot Act allows foreign-born widows and children of 9/11 to apply for permanent residency -- the famous "green card." But Mrs. Gilbey was told by the INS she didn't qualify because "her paperwork had not reached a certain level of the process." Look at that phrase. Cut it out. Enlarge it. Pin it to the wall. Suspend it from the ceiling, lie on the carpet and try to figure out what it means. It is, as they say in Mrs. Gilbey's native land, bollocks. It is bollocks forward, sideways and back-to-front. It does not address the reality of the situation -- that Mrs. Gilbey is the mother of American citizens, that her husband died saving the lives of American citizens, that he is buried in a vast mass grave on American soil, that his relict is no threat to anyone and that the sensible thing to say is, "Oh, let's just stamp the thing and give it to her. Every minute we waste on Deena Gilbey is a minute we could be devoting to the guys we should really be looking into."
This story inspires not confidence in attempts to address problems either legislatively or structurally without first identifying the problem and its cause[s].

I've argued in re The USA Patriot Act:, "I'm hoping that the obvious failures of September 11th have been enough to convince the agencies of what they need to do. I'm skeptical of 'legislative fixes' [of the USA-PATRIOT Act type]: history proves that they either go too far, or simply don't work at all -- the USA-PATRIOT ACT may be guilty of both failings " Unstated in that assertion is an argument -- which I made elsewhere -- that much of the authority The Act purports to grant is authority that in practice, and recognized at caselaw in national security matters, was authority that already existed prior to The Act.

The precedents -- both in practice and at law -- are important: they show the assertion that our government's failures were due to limitations imposed by law is counterfactual.

In the instant case we have a law that explicitly purports to reach the desired effect of allowing victims' survivors to remain in the United States permanently, yet the bureaucrats needed quite a bit of prodding to get over their "business as usual" mindsets.

The case also evidences proof of my assertion that the "failures" weren't failures to obtain information ("intelligence failures"). Rather, what we see is government failure to act on information in the government's possession: The INS knew that Mrs. Gilbey was a victim's survivor -- herself a victim...

Mark Steyn goes on to say:
We talk about government "intelligence failure" as if it's something to do with misreading satellite intercepts between Peshawar and Aden. But the "intelligence failure" of September 11th is more basic than that, a failure of intelligence in the moderately-competent grade-school sense. And nothing we've learned in the last 10 months -- from Mohammed Atta's posthumous flight-school visa to last week's belated termination of the Saudi fast-track -- suggests that Federal officialdom has changed or is even willing to change. Paul Gilbey is buried in the dust of Ground Zero. At the very least America should also bury with him the bureaucratic inertia symbolized by his decade-long green-card application.
I want to deal with what Mark Steyn says about "intelligence failures". He doesn't say there was no "intelligence failure" other than in the "more basic" sense, but I will. Fact is that the Intelligence Community was getting data from all over the place -- including from foreign sources -- pointing to intentions harmful to the United States. What the Intelligence Community didn't have were details of a specific plan: That is in fact "failure", but it's a failure that should be viewed in the context that details of specific plans are very rarely the fruit of intelligence gathering. It's even rare to get whole pieces of the puzzle, what is usually gotten are slivers of a piece of a puzzle.

The trick is in deciding whether it's worth looking for the other slivers of that piece -- which may be part of that big blue part of the puzzle that leads nowhere -- or dropping that search in favor of looking to put together more revealing pieces.

Sometimes, though, we do get a whole piece dropped in our laps. I assert that prior to September 11th we had such a piece in our possession. But, somebody decided -- contrary to opinions coming from agents working the case -- that information coming in from the field was either unreliable, or insufficient cause to act. Would pursuing that lead have gotten us a solution to the puzzle? Probably not, but it was the best lead we had.

In both instances above, the "failure" wasn't at getting "intelligence", but a failure to act intelligently. Neither a change in law, nor a structural reform, can address this problem and its cause.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

If Only Tony Were Conservative!

Will Vehrs
Tony, I was amused at Guy's mischaracterization of your half of Quasipundit's politics. Rather than set the record straight, I thought I'd let you find it and respond in your inimitable style ....

Greetings from Upstate New York! I drove 500 miles to get here on Monday. Yesterday I spent the day with three teens, a 12 year old, a 7 year old, and an ex-wife at a water park in Canindaigua. I'm amazed I still remembered my QP password after that.

The local papers here are terrible and I'm not getting much news on TV or radio, so thank goodness I could review the blogs for a few minutes today to catch up. Of course, I had to battle AOL's billing department before I could log on.

Surprisingly, to this political junkie, I'm not seeing much evidence of interest in the McCall-Cuomo gubernatorial primary. Maybe the people around here are looking to Washington and Senator Clinton for their needs; Hillary promised to bring prosperity to Upstate during her campaign. From what I can see, they're still waiting.

A plot is being hatched for me to meet the proprieter of the Caption Contest on my way home. Maybe I'll finally get a chance to air my beefs about his selection process personally, instead of through anguished emails.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Them's Fightin' Words

Tony Adragna
Guy Cabot says, "Their politics tend conservative" in talking 'bout your QuasiPundit team -- Mr. Cabot don't know me too well, do he?

For the record, myself: is a left-coast liberal from the Berkeley area; can't stand heading into Virginia ('less it's to make money, or to eventually visit Will); will move back in The District if Ehrlich wins the Maryland Governor's race (OK, that's a bit extreme, but you get the point)...

What I don't do is toe anybody's line. I can be extremely ideological about "ideals", but at heart I'm a relativist and a pragmatist -- so are my ideological allies on The Hill. Unfortunately, rhetoric -- whether it be that of our [Fair Weather]"Federalists" on the conservative side of the aisle, or [Nanny State]"Liberals" on the liberal side -- often gets in the way of honest public debate.

What Congress gets done is less informed by public debate than it is by perceptions about public opinion. The legislative process itself depends more on persuasion in cloakrooms [often involving legislative quid pro quo] than bringing members over on the merits of argument in Committee or on The Floor.

But, thank God we have The Pundits, right?

Wrong!! As Guy notes, sometimes Dean Broder doesn't even get it right (though, I think Broder is usually on target).

So, we exist here in the blogosphere, doesn't matter which hemisphere of the blogosphere, to make sure there's at least a semblance of honest discussion.

All I ask is that you don't confuse me for a conservative...

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Ciao, America!

Tony Adragna
Just watched Brian Lamb interviewing Beppe Severgnini (Madonna mia, is that an Italian name, or what!!) talking about his book Ciao, America: An Italian Discovers the U.S.

Beppe makes some observations about his paisans. Anything from America that can be gotten easily -- that is, bought instead of worked at -- is very popular: ie. blue jeans, music, movies, etc.

Anything that's gotta be worked at, the Italians don't want. He gives three examples, and I'll add my own comments:
Patriotism -- makes sense to me.. kinda hard to get all patriotic 'bout a nation that's only been beaten out in the number of government changes it's had since the end of WWII by, well, nobody.

Besides, has Italy ever really been a nation? I always thought that Italy was just a bunch of casale connected by the autostrada but divided by dialect, food traditions -- especially sauces -- and local wine choices.

Personal responsibility -- I hafta take exception here: It's really only Italian men who have problems with responsibility. That's 'cause were all momma's boys (even me -- I don't know what I'd do without my surrogate momma). Can't say Italian women are lacking on this point... I rememberly my own nonna taking care of herself, my nonno, my papa, momma and all of us children. She was four foot nothing, but the biggest person I've ever known.

I can't remember the third example...[Update:The interview was rerun... third item was: Optimism -- I advert to my comments above...]
One other thing I disagree with Beppe about is his criticism over choice of cereal in U.S. stores. He say's there are too many -- used the number 54 during the interview, but the exceprt from the book uses 50. Beppe couldn't be any further from the truth: We don't have too many cereal options, what we've got is not enough milk!

Coffee Trumps Partisanship

Will Vehrs
I'd probably really enjoy having a morning cup of coffee with Guy Cabot at his favorite place, Misha's. "Route 66" sounds like my kind of blend.

Guy needs a cup of Joe before he starts eviscerating conservatives; I need one before that approach raises my hackles. We'd have a few minutes to enjoy civility ....

Punditwatch is Up! to Coin a Phrase

Will Vehrs
The last pundit weekend before the dog days of August is complete, and Punditwatch covers it all. There's resignation in the air, for Paul O'Neill especially, and maybe even Colin Powell. David Brooks says hate doesn't work, William Safire has a Watergate quip, Doris Kearns-Goodwin gets a little help for her condition, and Robert Rubin remains unquestioned. It's all in there!

Politics As Usual, Too!

Tony Adragna
Here's the point of my post below.

The president is threatening to veto "the" Homeland Security bill, and blaming Senate Democrats for not giving him what he wants. But, where does he stand on the House version? -- it isn't what he asked for either.

The Senate Democrats are claiming that the House version strips federal employees' civil service protections and whistrleblower protections. But, the bill reported out of committee includes exactly those protections, subject to exclusions that already exist at law.

Who wins the debate? The GOP, because even though both versions leave protections in place, Senate Democrats screwed the pooch by making a counter-factual argument rather than supporting House language on the provisions in question. If the bill dies, either through inability to reconcile the two versions or through presidential veto, the GOP can claim that the bill died because the Dems wouldn't give the president what he wanted - even though the GOP wouldn't give the president what he wanted either.

Politics as usual, and both parties are playing...