Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The New York Times trumpets a nonsensical study

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about a study of the death penalty in Harris County, Texas. The article began as follows:

About 1,100 people have been executed in the United States in the last three decades. Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, accounts for more than 100 of those executions. Indeed, Harris County has sent more people to the death chamber than any state but Texas itself.

Yet Harris County’s capital justice system has not been the subject of intensive research — until now. A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising

The unexceptional finding is that defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. More than 20 studies around the nation have come to similar conclusions.

But the new study also detected a more straightforward disparity. It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.

The last sentence (which I have highlighted in bold) is the main point of contention. The article eventually quotes someone who is suspicious of the study's methodology. But a reader would have to go deep into the article to see that quote. And the article fails to point out the worst flaws in the study.

To see what is really going on, you need to look at the study itself. You can find it here. A few facts jump out:

First of all, as the article notes, of 100 defendants indicted for capital crimes in Harris County, 27% of the blacks and 25% of the whites were sentenced to death. No bias there.

However, after controlling for the mitigating and aggravating factors such as the heinousness of the crime, the study found bias.

But the study measured the mitigating and aggravating factors by looking at newspaper coverage of the case! So what if the newspaper coverage depends on the assailant's race? Many people have complained that a murder in a white area is big news, while a murder in a black area is not. So if the white area murderers get more thorough newspaper coverage than the black murderers, the study is going to find more aggravating factors, which makes the white murderers appear "worse" than the black ones, which in turn makes it appear unfair that they are sentenced to death at an equal rate.

That's not all. The study also reports that there were plea bargains in 38% of the cases with white defendants, and only 28% of the cases with black defendants. In capital cases, it is common for the defendant to agree to plead guilty if the prosecutor is willing to take the death penalty off the table. The statistics suggest (but do not prove) that the white defendants are more willing to plea bargain. Now, all other things being equal, a group of defendants that is more willing to plea bargain should be sentenced to death less often. But this is a result of the decisions of the defendant's themselves.

So you have a study which started with a situation that looks raceially neutral (27% of black capital defendants sentenced to death vs. 25% of whites). There are several confounding factors. Based on the newspaper coverage, the heinousness of the murders committed by whites appears to be worse than the heinousness of the murders committed by blacks. So the study controls for heinousness. Based on plea bargaining data, whites appear to be more willing to plea bargain than blacks. But the study's author, who realizes that a conclusion of racial bias will get more press than a conclusion of no racial bias, elects not to control for the defendant's willingness to plea bargain. And lo and behold, the study ends up concluding that there is racial bias.

The study's author is rewarded with coverage in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Find me one

Find me one liberal with a detailed analysis of the Iraq war. Just one.

What do I mean by a detailed analysis?

I mean an analysis that answers the basic and natural questions. Questions like these.

Who are the suicide bombers? Where do they come from? Why do they go to Iraq?

Whom do they target? Why do they target those people? Why do they believe those people are legitimate targets? What do they hope to accomplish by murdering those people?

If you do any serious investigation of these issues, you will learn the following:

The suicide bombers of Iraq come from all across the Arab world. The most common countries of origin are Sauidi Arabia and Libya. Their most common targets are innocent Shiite civillians.


If you think like a liberal, you now have a problem. These people are so outraged by the American invasion of Iraq that they go there to blow themselves up and kill . . . American soldiers?


Innocent Shiite civillians.

Once you understand that fact, you are on the path to realizing that withdrawal is not an option.

And that is why there are no detailed liberal analyses of Iraq.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New York Times is at it again, with a twist.

Here is the New York Times describing Al Qaeda in Iraq [or Mesopotamia] today:

American intelligence says the group is homegrown but foreign-led.

This is a new twist. Previously, they always said something like this:

the homegrown Sunni militant group that American intelligence believes has foreign leadership.

So now the Times is attributing both the "homegrown" and "foreign led" to American intelligence. Is this simply an editing error? Or has the Times changed its line?

Meanwhile, in case you are still unclear on whether or not the "homegrown" descriptor is accurate, I decided to take a look at a few homegrown organizations here in the USA to see how many of them have foreign leadership:

United States Golf Association
American Contract Bridge League
United States Army
National Restaurant Association

After perusing all four websites for a while, I found names, addresses, and biographies of leaders of each of the four organizations. Strangely, not one of these four homegrown American organizations has any foreign leadership at all. Not only could I not find any top leaders who were from (say) Canada or England, but even when I looked at the second tier, I couldn't find any foreigners there, either.

In case you are still in doubt, here is some more evidence. The Islamic Army in Iraq was a legitimately homegrown Iraqi insurgent group. I haven't heard much from them lately. I'm not sure if joined the Awakening Councils, or even if they are still active at all. At any rate, back in 2007, they broke relations with the Islamic State in Iraq, an Al Qaeda front group. This conflict is described here. The two organizations had a shooting war back in 2007. Now that in and of itself doesn't prove anything. It is perfectly possible for two groups of Iraqis to have a war.

But what is interesting is the nature of the Islamic Army's complaints about the Islamic State. From the link above:

• al Qaeda in Iraq has divided the Iraqi people, failed to protect the Sunnis and brought the Shia death squads down on the Sunnis by inciting sectarian violence through mass suicide attacks.
• The Islamic State of Iraq in Iraq wants the Sunni groups to "pledge allegiance" to leaders, ministers and emirs whose identities are unknown, including Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
• Islamic State of Iraq has continued to conduct an extensive campaign of assassination against rival sheikhs, emirs and insurgent group leaders, and in many cases added insult to injury by failing to give the bodies back to the families. One of al-Jabouri's own messengers was executed.
• The Islamic State of Iraq has no system of law or justice.
• Weapons and ammunition are being confiscated from insurgent groups that do not support the Islamic State.
• al Qaeda in Iraq is intentionally targeting members of the Iraqi Army and police forces, who al-Jabouri and other insurgents believe are acting in the best interest of Iraqis.
• The goal of the Islamic State of Iraq is to serve as a stepping stone to attack other nations, which endangers the Iraqi people.

Notice that several of these complaints are basically saying that the Islamic State is not working for Iraqis at all. The last two points are particularly notable in this regard.

It would be strange for a "homegrown" Iraqi insurgent group, which the New York Times wants us to believe Al Qaeda is, to do things like that. Very strange indeed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More on the Big Lie Technique

Following up on the investigation described in my previous post, I did a search for articles published in the New York Times during the last week that contained the phrase "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" but not the word "homegrown". Google had some hits which it thought were dated during the past week, but upon closer examination, they all referred to older articles. A few were from earlier in April, and others were from 2006 or 2007.

So in the past week, the New York Times has published 11 articles which refer to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. All 11 times, the Times asserts, without evidence, that the group is "homegrown". And all 11 times, it ignores the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, described here and here.

The Big Lie Technique at the New York Times

I did a google search for New York Times articles containing the word "homegrown" and the phrase "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia". Google says there are "about 3,190" hits! It seems that the New York Times describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia [or Iraq] as "homegrown" very often.

That many hits are unwieldy. For one thing, it is difficult to tell how many articles generated all those hits. To get a sense of what is really going on, I did an advanced search limited to the past week.

At first, Google said there were "about 177" hits. But when I looked at them more closely, it turned out that there were 12 [correction: 11 -- one of the 12 is old.] articles and one photo description published during the past week containing the word "homegrown" and the phrase "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia." These articles are all linked below:

24 Iranians, Held for Illegal Entry, Escape from Iraqi Prison by Alissa J. Rubin
Accounts Differ Sharply on U.S. Attack in Iraq by Alissa J. Rubin
Attacks Kill 39 in Iraq; Massacre Details Emerge by Alissa J. Rubin
Bomb Kills Dozens at Iraqi Funeral by Erica Goode
Bomb Kills U.S. Soldier in Baghdad by Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell

Bush Sees Iraq Progress From Troop Buildup by Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Dozens Killed in Bombings in Four Iraqi Cities by Alissa J. Rubin
Execution Case Tests Iraq's Bid to Ease Divide by Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and Alissa J. Rubin
Joint Chiefs Nominee Questioned on Iraq by Mark Mazzetti
McCain, Iraq War, and the threat of 'Al Qaeda' by Michael Cooper and Larry Rohter

Pictures of the Day, April 18
Two Different Accounts of Deadly Airstrike in Baghdad by Alissa J. Rubin
U.S. Investigates Civilian Toll in Airstrike, but holds Insurgents Responsible by Paul von Zielbauer

I've listed the author next to each article. As you can see, five of the twelve articles were written by Alissa J. Rubin. Two were written by Rubin and someone else, and the remaining five were all written by different reporters. In all, a total of nine different reporters contributed to the twelve articles. So whatever is going on, it's not limited to a single reporter, or even to a small group.

Next, I took a look at the sentence which made the Al Qaeda reference. Below, I have reproduced the sentence of each article which refers to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as "homegrown".

They said that the Iraqis who were killed were trying to defend their town from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni militant group that American intelligence believes has foreign leadership.

The group, a homegrown Sunni Arab insurgent organization with some foreign participation, had previously effectively controlled the neighborhood.

American military forces have engaged in major operations in the province for the past month and have succeeded in dislodging from Baquba Sunni extremists associated with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a home-grown group with some foreign involvement that has claimed a loose affiliation with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Sheik Amir Habeeb al-Khaizaran, a member of Parliament whose brother is the head of the Azawi group, said that the two men mourned at the funeral were killed by other members of their tribe who were loyal to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia , the homegrown Sunni insurgent group.

The American military warned Friday that intelligence reports indicated that “numerous” members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says has foreign leadership, “have entered the Baghdad area with the purpose of carrying out vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or suicide-vest attacks.”

But he argued, as he has in the past, that reconciliation was taking place at the local level, and that Shiite and Sunni leaders were beginning to cooperate with one another to fight against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group that American intelligence agencies say is foreign-led.

“The security forces in the province are very good, but their biggest challenge is that they are fighting Qaeda, insurgency and other gangs and armed groups,” said Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie, the chief of operations for Diyala Province, referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group.

If the government executes him, it risks alienating potential allies in the fight against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is foreign-led.

The officers said the American and Iraqi militaries had made gains against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led.

It is a largely homegrown and loosely organized group of Sunni Arabs that, according to the official American military view that Mr. McCain endorses, is led at least in part by foreign operatives and receives fighters, financing and direction from senior Qaeda leaders.

American forces also announced that they had killed a man they described as a senior terrorist in an airstrike in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, on Tuesday. The military said that the man, Abu Osama al-Tunisi, was a leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence.

The military said that the man, Abu Osama al-Tunisi, was a leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence says is foreign led.

In each case, I have put the group's description in boldface. Interesting, isn't it? Every time, Every time, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, is described as "extremist", not "terrorist". Every time, the times claims without evidence that it is "homegrown", without supplying any supporting evidence, and also without mentioning the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And if the patently obvious fact that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is foreign led is mentioned at all, it is attributed to "the American military" or "American intelligence" -- thereby allowing a reader who is suspicious of the American military and intelligence to doubt the truth of that assertion.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The New York Times repeats a nonsensical claim

In yesterday's front-page article about John McCain and Al Qaeda in Iraq, the New York Times published the following passage:

The entity Mr. McCain was referring to — Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq — did not exist until after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The most recent National Intelligence Estimates consider it the most potent offshoot of Al Qaeda proper, the group led by Osama bin Laden that is now believed to be based on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

It is a largely homegrown and loosely organized group of Sunni Arabs that, according to the official American military view that Mr. McCain endorses, is led at least in part by foreign operatives and receives fighters, financing and direction from senior Qaeda leaders.

Let's take a look at this, piece by piece:

According to the NYT, Al Qaeda in Iraq is "largely Homegrown." This is a claim the NYT has made before. It is contradicted by overwhelming evidence that Al Qaeda in Iraq was created at the direction of Osama bin Laden and shares the same philosophy, goals, tactics, and methods as the rest of Al Qaeda. This evidence is summarized here.

Then there is the statement that that Al Qaeda in Iraq is "loosely organized". Strangely, the NYT does not say exactly what it means by this. I guess it is supposed to give the reader the impression that Al Qaeda in Iraq consists of a bunch of Iraqis (since it is "largely homegrown") who don't like the US. Since the NYT does not say exactly what it means by "loosely organized", this phrase doesn't really mean much. But it helps the article's reader to believe the NYT's preferred vision of the nature of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

We also have the true statement that Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist before 2003. The liberal reader who reads this can easily jump to the conclusion that this, together with the allegedly "homegrown" nature of Al Qaeda in Iraq, makes its existence the fault of George Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

Then there is the last phrase:

according to the official American military view that Mr. McCain endorses, is led at least in part by foreign operatives and receives fighters, financing and direction from senior Qaeda leaders.

By describing this as the "official American military view", the NYT makes it easy for its readers, many of whom don't trust the American military, to distrust this view. But again, if Al Qaeda in Iraq and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda share the same philosophy, goals, tactics, and methods, that is awfully strong evidence that the "official American military view" is correct.

UPDATE: In the same article, the New York Times had the following passage:

But some students of the insurgency say Mr. McCain is making a dangerous generalization. “The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting Iraqis,” said Juan Cole, a fierce critic of the war who is the author of “Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam” and a professor of history at the University of Michigan. (emphasis added)

It was amusing, therefore, that this article just appeared on CNN:

Al Qaeda in Iraq calls for offensive against U.S.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A man claiming to be the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq mocked the death toll of American troops and urged his fighters to launch an offensive against U.S. forces in the next few weeks.

Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

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The speaker was identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, on several Islamist Web sites that posted the recording.

"The reason I give this speech is that the enemy declared -- even though it might be lying -- that its death toll in Iraq has reached 4,000," he said.

"So we call upon our heroes ... to ask every group within a month from the time it hears this, to offer the head of an American as a gift to the deceitful [President] Bush," he continued.

According to his Wikipedia article, Al Masri is from Egypt.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The latest mass murder in Iraq

You may have read about this:

Car bombs kill nearly 60 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — Car bombs and a suicide attacker struck crowded areas in Baghdad and former insurgent strongholds to the north and west of the capital on Tuesday, killing nearly 60 people and breaking a recent lull in violence in the predominantly Sunni areas.

The attacks were a deadly reminder of the threat posed by suspected Sunni insurgents even as clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S.-Iraqi forces continued elsewhere.

The first blast Tuesday occurred in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a car parked in front of a restaurant exploded just before noon across the street from the central courthouse and other government offices.

Many of the victims were people visiting the government offices, petition writers helping people with documents in stalls outside, or the occupants of cars that were caught in the explosion as they passed through the area, witnesses said. Several cars and minibuses were set ablaze, while more than 10 shops and the restaurant were heavily damaged.

The article blames "suspected Sunni insurgents." Is that really a fair description? Who are their targets? "Many of the victims were people visiting government offices, petition writers . . ." That sounds more like terrorists.

Furthermore, this bombing bears some of the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.

The victims were mainly civillians (and not, for example US soldiers).
The means was a car bomb

Typically, al Qaeda targets Shiite civillians. From the article, it is unclear how many of the victims of this latest outrage were Shiites. But it is clear that they were largely people who had business before the Government. If you have been following the news from Iraq, you are aware that there has been a falling out between al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunnis who have decided to throw their lot in with the government. This time, the victims here were largely people with business before the government. Has al Qaeda, in its anger at losing the support of many Sunnis, decided that they are legitimate targets as well?

I suspect the answer is yes, but I don't really know. At any rate, I wish the article would have pointed out the similarities between this bombing and typical al Qaeda attacks -- as well as the one possible difference. It's something the reader deserves to know.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Human Intelligence and the war on terror

The CIA helped, a lot, in winning the cold war. What about the war on terror?

A spy could be absolutely devestating to a group like al Qaeda. This is especially true if the spy were able to reach the highest levels of the target. Operation after operation would be busted, and al Qaeda would have no idea why.

There is a problem. To penetrate to the inner reaches of al Qaeda, the spy would have to participate in terror attacks. To really get their trust, it would have to include attacks that kill many people.

What should be done? Should the American people authorize this? The life lost could be yours or mine. But so could the life saved -- if we are really able to penetrate them deeply.

Not a pleasant question. But if we are serious about winning the war on terror, it's the type of question we have to confront.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed to the Law of Supply and Demand?

From a recent news story:

. . . . Clinton has taken to lashing out at the Bush administration's oil policy.

"The president is too busy holding hands with the Saudis to care about American truck drivers who can't afford to fill up their tank any longer," she said.

Obama, meanwhile, said Monday a crackdown is needed on oil companies.

"[We] need a president who can stand up to Big Oil and big energy companies and say enough is enough," Obama said Monday

I've got some news for both of them. We have pretty much the same oil industry that we had back in 1998, when crude oil traded at an average of about $12 a barrell -- about one eighth of today's price.

The current spike in oil prices has very little to do with the oil industry or the Bush administration. It is part of a major worldwide rise of the prices of many basic commodities, including gold, silver, oil, and steel. The cause of this spike is a combination of still-high oil consumption in the USA and rapidly rising consumption in booming Asian economies, particularly China.

Heck even the Onion understood perfectly well what was happening -- back in 2005.

I have a feeling that both Clinton and Obama know perfectly well what is going on, too. I suppose I can't blame them too much for playing to their audience. But it sure makes them look stupid.

As for the Saudis, they could probably lower prices by increasing production. But they don't appear to be inclined to do this. And even if they were, would they really be doing the world a favor?

English Mullah says that killing of non-Muslims is legitimate

This has got to be seen to be believed.