Monday, December 31, 2007

Tyrants, the law, and history

This is important reading. Sorry I forgot to send it sooner. Happy New Year!

The President Tyrant
By Scott Horton
December 9, 2007 |

The irreplaceable Fritz Stern reminds us that as a democracy with two-hundred thirty years of experience, America is better situated than most to weather the storms of a wannabe tyrant. "But that," he adds, "would presuppose that such a nation really understood its heritage and had a genuine historic sense." We live now with a Government that shamelessly fabricates and alters history—both from the last two hundred years and from the last six years. It does so with a purpose—making its outrageous deeds seem perfectly reasonable and in tune with the past.

But the Founding Fathers had a very profound sense of history. As I have noted before in discussing the influence of Virgil's writings on some of the founding precepts, most of the Founding Fathers were classics scholars. They knew their Virgil, Ovid and Horace, and traded quips, indecipherable to most of us today, based on their readings. And they especially knew the historians—Livy, Tacitus and Sallust. If there was one epoch in the history of Rome that held them captive, then it can quickly be identified—it was the long descent of the Roman Republic into empire and tyranny. How did a state blessed with the republican institutions they spilled blood to gain come to lose them? What was this process? How could it be guarded against? These were questions that preoccupied them. Questions, moreover, that stand in the shadows behind the debates over the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and much of the genesis of our modern institutions. It is of course no coincidence that much of the nomenclature of the new republic can be drawn from the pages of Livy's Ab urbe condita : president, senate, congress… and even some now-lost offices such as censor and auditor.

Distilling that historical experience to its essence, however, we come to a consensus on the threat to the republic. It is internal, and it is the risk that one man aided by a clique will assume tyrannical authority and end the republic. As Livy reminds, the citizens of the nascent republic "valued their liberty so much precisely because their last king had been so great a tyrant." And if there was one essential principle which stood as the republic's bulwark against tyranny, then it was this: that "no man stood above the law." Both of these phrases appear in the second book, in which Livy lays the foundation stones of the new republic, and repeatedly warns that deviation from these precepts will mean ruin.

It is common for people today to question how any leader can be a tyrant who achieves office through popular election, and, indeed, who remains popular. But such talk is foolish and betrays an ignorance of the origins of the term and the historical context of its use. Throughout history, tyrants came to power through means of control and manipulation of popular opinion. This was so familiar a feature to the thinkers of antiquity, that Aristotle charts it as a characteristic of the tyrant. And in the history of the dark, past century, how many little men in search of a balcony came to power on the back of a jubilant and cheering mob? And indeed, no less a man that Thomas Jefferson was quick to remind his fellow citizens of this principle. And it was Jefferson who raised the cry of "tyrant" against the president, when he proceeded in disregard of the constraints of Constitution and law, setting into play a plan of persecution targeting his political opponents and the poor, downtrodden and defenseless immigrants. Jefferson spoke sharply and loudly because the republic was under siege by a popularly elected (and popular) government. He was right to have done so, and he is vindicated by history for it.

The question was whether the president has put himself above the law and assumed powers far beyond those the Constitution measured to him.

And today, America faces precisely this question. We have a president who acts in shameless disregard of the Constitution's restraints upon his office, and who feels himself above the law, and who constantly seeks to manipulate and mislead the public. How many times just in the last week have we witnessed this?

On Monday, the White House announced a National Intelligence Estimate, which has been available for half a year and whose release Vice President Cheney has vehemently fought. It tells us that Iran packed in its nuclear weapons program under the pressure of sanctions in 2003. Bush tells us that he learned about this "only the prior week." But the lie is quickly exposed as McConnell acknowledges having briefed him at least in August, and other intelligence figures note that the basic information on which the intelligence assessment rested was in hand since June. Nevertheless, let's recount some of the statements that a president who fully understood what the intelligence assessment on this issue was made to the American public in a predictable effort to build sentiment for a war which his Vice President was busily plotting:

March 31st: "Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon…"

June 5th: Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons…"

June 19th: "consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon…"

July 12th: "the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons…"

August 6th: "this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon…"

October 17th: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War Three, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon."

Is this the language of a president concerned for the defense of his country and determined to act against a threat, or is it the language of a man exploiting a more remote threat for purposes of petty fear-mongering? If the latter, this is the classic behavior of a tyrant, who as Aristotle reminds us, always dangles the threat of war from abroad in order to still dissent within his people through fear and to aggrandize his own powers as the warrior-leader.

I am not saying that the developments in Iran present no threat, nor that inaction is appropriate. But ask yourself: how would Winston Churchill, how would Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Harry S Truman have acted armed with the same facts and threat? I am calling Bush out on conscious fear-mongering to propel the nation to unwarranted and unwise tactical blunders—just the sort of thing which has marked his presidency from its inception. And I am saying that the essence of his conduct is tyrannical: it is pursued to tighten his grip on extra-Constitutional powers and authority.

On Thursday, we learned that the CIA had destroyed hundreds of hours of taped footage that showed CIA agents, and perhaps psychologists who work with them, engaging in the torture and abuse of two detainees. This is the "Program," which President Bush first denied for years, and then claimed proud ownership in a White House press conference on September 16, 2006. A "well informed source" told CBS News the perfectly obvious: the tapes were destroyed because the officials in question fully realized that they would figure as evidence in the ultimate prosecution of the authors and agents of the torture program. CIA Director Hayden is brought out to assert that everything was perfectly legal. Then in the face of a public storm, Dana Perino goes before the cameras to mouth a line from "Hogan's Heroes," namely the "President knew n-o-t-h-i-n-g." That of course is completely incredible. And now we see another gesture of the tyrannical leader who disrespects the law. When the deeds are noticed, sacrifice up some lackey to quiet the masses. That process is in full gear right now.

On Friday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse went to the well of the Senate to deliver a speech. I very rarely quote from floor debate and speeches in the Senate. Frankly that's because there is only very rarely anything worth quoting. But listening to and watching Senator Whitehouse, I saw the spirit of a modern-day Cicero rising to defend the life of the republic against the encroachments of a man who would be dictator. It is not just Whitehouse's rhetoric which commands respect and attention, but also the evidence he musters.

Whitehouse used his position on the intelligence committee to gain access to the Justice Department's new torture memoranda and to summarize their reasoning and content. And, exactly as we have long suspected, the essence of the reasoning latent in the legal infrastructure of torture is simple:

The word of the president is the law. The president defines the law. The president stands above the law and cannot be made accountable under it.

In order words, George W. Bush has asserted precisely those powers and prerogatives for which King Charles I lost his head. He has laid claim to a measure of power far beyond anything that the U.S. Constitution accords. He has even claimed more power than the British monarchs against whom the Founding Fathers fought the Revolution.

Senator Whitehouse is a former prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney, former Attorney General of Rhode Island, and former legal advisor to the state's governor. He is a man with a long and honorable tradition of law enforcement. Here's how he summarizes the situation:

In a nutshell, these three Bush Administration legal propositions boil down to this:

1. "I don't have to follow my own rules, and I don't have to tell you when I'm breaking them."

2. "I get to determine what my own powers are."

3. "The Department of Justice doesn't tell me what the law is, I tell the Department of Justice what the law is."

When the Congress of the United States is willing to roll over for an unprincipled President, this is where you end up. We should not even be having this discussion. But here we are. I implore my colleagues: reject these feverish legal theories. I understand political loyalty, trust me, I do. But let us also be loyal to this great institution we serve in the legislative branch of our government. Let us also be loyal to the Constitution we took an oath to defend, from enemies foreign and domestic. And let us be loyal to the American people who live each day under our Constitution's principles and protections.

Important words. An important call. And who was listening?

And another lesson flows from this. Is it any wonder that torture lurks in the background behind all these suggestions of the paramount power and authority of the president? Torture is inevitably and inextricably bound to tyranny. It is an attribute of a tyrannical system, and it is anathema to democracy. We are living this proposition today, in these weeks.

These are the headlines of one simple week, the first week of December 2007. We watch as our republic fades and erodes. And the public continues in its consumer glee, not oblivious to the disasters unfolding about it—it recognizes that something horrible is happening—but feeling powerless to stop it.

What's needed? First, the power of memory. To recall our own history, the sacrifices of those who went before us, and the dream of democracy and informed citizenry upon which the nation was founded. Second, the realization of danger that is present in a Government which disrespects the ideals and institutions upon which the nation was built. Third, action—demands upon those who have acquiesced in this conversion of power that they restore the constraints of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson formulated the call perfectly:

Let him say what the government is, if it be not a tyranny, which the men of our choice have conferred on our President… In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poll: 2/3 of Israelis reject attack on Iran

Some dishonest anti-Iran hawks have warned that if the U.S. doesn't attack Iran, that Israel will -- with or without us. Don't be deceived. This is ludicrous. Israel's government won't attack anybody without prior approval from the White House, despite President Bush's dishonest claims to the contrary. Moreover, this latest poll shows that the Israeli people themselves are afraid to attack Iran without American "air cover."

Two-thirds of Israelis oppose attack on Iran: poll
Agence France-Presse
December 6, 2007

Bloomberg: More military families reject Bush, Iraq war

Military Families Question Iraq War as Support for Bush Slips

By Christopher Stern
December 7, 2007 |

Fair & balanced FOX report on Iran NIE

This report is fairly "fair & balanced," although... who cares what Rush Limbaugh thinks of the NIE? That's just FOX throwing a bone to its readers. But anyway... this is worth a read.

Bush Administration Credibility Suffers After Iran NIE Report
By Greg Simmons
December 07, 2007 |

The new National Intelligence Estimate — which says Iran had a nuclear weapons development program, but halted it in 2003 — made President Bush's week play out like a sad country song.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was smiling and called the report a victory. Rush Limbaugh blasted the report as a product of administration sabotage. And Democrats were accusing the president of being a flip-flopper.

The NIE drew fire from nearly all sides, including anti-war Democrats in Congress, foreign leaders the administration needs to hold the line against Iran, and conservatives usually supportive of the administration.

The root issue for many critics comes down to credibility: Credibility of the estimate, credibility of the intelligence community that developed it and the credibility of the administration for whom those agencies work. Bridging that credibility gap might prove difficult for an administration heading into its final months.

The administration remains resolute in its position that policy toward Iran shouldn't change. This is because while the NIE said with "high confidence" that the program halted in 2003, the estimate only says with "moderate confidence" that it had not started up again earlier this year, and "moderate-to-high" confidence that it remained off-line as the report was being released.

Because the report also says Tehran maintains a civilian nuclear program, and the estimate is silent on whether Iran intends to start up its nuclear weapons program again, U.S. officials say this means the United States and other countries must be ever-vigilant against the possibility.

But convincing people here and abroad of that argument now appears to be more difficult.

U.S. hardliners on Iran are saying the intelligence document is too ridden with internal political squabbles to be credible.

"That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling," John Bolton, one of the chief proponents of sanctions to stop the Iranian weapons program, wrote Thursday's Washington Post.

Republican presidential contender Fred Thompson drew his line in the sand, issuing a statement saying: "The accuracy of the latest NIE on Iran should be received with a good deal of skepticism. Our intelligence community has often underestimated the intentions of adversaries, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea."

Saying the report is "awfully convenient for a lot of people," Thompson continued, "the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary. Who benefits from all this? Iran."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page — one of many conservative opinion-makers to question the report authors' credibility — wrote Wednesday: "Our own 'confidence' is not heightened by the fact that the NIE's main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as 'hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.' " The Journal named former State Department officials Tom Fingar, Vann Van Diepin and Kenneth Brill.

Conservative talk radio, which is widely credited with helping destroy support for the immigration reform bill supported by the president last year, is also less than glowing toward the report. "I guarantee there's more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration," Rush Limbaugh said of the State Department.

International troubles were just as quick to appear.

The Associated Press quotes a top Czech official saying it is now harder to do his job explaining the need for a U.S. missile defense system, which U.S. officials say is needed to ward off attack from Iran.

"Czech newspapers are full of headlines saying there is no longer a need for missile defense. ... It is hard for complex arguments to win against simple headlines," said Tomas Klvana, according to the AP.

The administration has dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others to try to allay European allies over the meaning of the report — chiefly Russia, which already his highly suspicious of the U.S. missile program, and other top allies France, Germany and the U.K.

Israel — constantly in the bull's eye of Iran's militaristic rhetoric — was no more heartened by the report.

"We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the Earth, even if it is from our greatest friend," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday, according to the AP. A statement from Israeli President Simon Peres' office said intelligence assessments from around the world have later proved faulty — but did not specifically mention the 2002 U.S. NIE on Iraq, which has since been almost entirely discredited.

Democrats who are always on the lookout for a good shot at Bush took no time in using the new NIE as their latest talking point to show the administration doesn't know which way is up.

At Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama said: "I think Iran continues to be a threat to some of its neighbors in the region. ... But it is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. "

Sen. Hillary Clinton said: "I'm relieved that the intelligence community has reached this conclusion, but I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing's changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change."

And former senator John Edwards: "What I believe is that this president, who just a few weeks ago was talking about World War III, he, the vice president, the neocons have been on a march to possible war with Iran for a long time. ... It's absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq, where they were headed."

Capitol Hill Democrats were no less sympathetic, and several complained that Bush was speaking out of turn in October when he suggested Iran was still a threat. Opponents say he was first told about a possible reversal in August and should not have been ratcheting up the rhetoric between then and now.

"I am growing increasingly concerned about the White Houses inconsistent explanations of when the president was told about important new intelligence information regarding Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday. "It appears the president and vice president were briefed in August on this information, before both the president and vice president began to ratchet up their increasingly-heated rhetoric on the threat of Iran."

And House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday the report just proves that "The last seven years in the Mideast by this administration have been the lost seven years when you see on every front a reversal."

Defending the Report

For its part, the administration is standing firmly behind the document's findings.

"I appreciate the work of our intelligence community in helping us better understand Iran's past and present nuclear activities. Their information is critical in increasing our understanding and helping us develop a sound policy," Bush said, speaking to reporters in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday.

Bush said the NIE shows Iran "has more to explain" about its nuclear program, and called on Tehran to "come clean with the international community."

On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino continued to take on critics, saying the president has been consistent, both with the threat posed by Iran and his responses to questions about that threat in the facing of new intelligence.

"We just found out that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program. It proved that we were right and that international pressure is what caused them to halt it," Perino told FOX News. "The criticism (of Bush) is completely misplaced. The liar is (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. He's the one who has hidden the program."

A number of observers say the report's intentions are true, and it is credible enough to use in determining U.S. policy toward Iran.

FOX News military analyst Ret. Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan said he thinks the report is basically credible — but acknowledges credibility is a problem for the administration. The problem lies in the fact that the two reports — the one from 2007 and the one from 2005 — are so drastically different.

Leading up to Monday's report, he said, "We've got all this stuff about they're two years away from bomb, they're two weeks from a bomb. ... And suddenly, they're not even making a bomb."

"All of a sudden, you know, in one day, we have a new NIE comes out that really flip-flops one-eighty, and says they quit working on it back in '03. I would say we have a major credibility issue,"
Cowan said.

But he said — in contradiction to those like former U.N. Ambassador Bolton — that doesn't mean the report itself is flawed. He said he has faith in National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell to put together a good report, and he credited efforts to bring in non-consensus opinions — an effort intelligence officials say is to try and prevent another situation like the infamous 2002 Iraq NIE.

Cowan said he believes the administration, with new NIE in hand, needs to go back, vet past reports and re-evaluate its policy. He said he thinks the NIE means policy will change, but not dramatically.

"Some of the rhetoric is going to have to change, and like the president said, we're going to have to keep the international pressure on the Iranians, but maybe the U.S [will] back off a little bit," and rely more the United Nations and foreign allies, he said.

Ellen Laipson, a former member of the National Intelligence Council who now is president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C., defense policy think tank, also vouched for the authenticity of the report in a column posted on her group's Web site.

"Clearly, the methodology that produced these new judgments about Iran's nuclear weapons activity was subjected to months of scrutiny and debate," Laipson said, adding that the "intelligence community had the courage and intellectual honesty to compare its new conclusions to past judgments."

In her article, Laipson said the NIE will result in making diplomacy "the only acceptable tool" for dealing with Iran, as opposed to military intervention. "This is a net win for international peace and security," she said. Laipson was not immediately available to comment Thursday.

Joshua Muravchik, an Iran policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said the report basically only shifts out the problem of Iran possibly having a nuclear weapon — it doesn't show the problem has disappeared.

"I don't think this whole thing really changed the picture in any way," Muravchik said.

He said he doesn't believe there is any more of a credibility issue with this latest NIE as there was with any others.

"NIE is the highest product of their intelligence community. ... The fact that it's our highest product does not mean at all that they're flawless," he said, pointing to another NIE in 1950 that all but ruled out the chance that North Korea would invade South Korea. Later that year the Korean War broke out.

Most of the reports' critics are missing the point, a former national security official who has served in previous administrations, told, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Critics seem "to have overlooked the importance of the fact that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, and Iran continues to be advancing along the path most critical to the earliest acquisition of those weapons" — that critical path being the continuation of uranium enrichment.

"They're reacting to one element of the report rather than analyzing the whole thing, and figuring out what the implications are," the official added.

The official said that, contrary to what some are saying, the report "argues for maintaining a very focused, concentrated, determined effort" to stop Iran's march toward nuclear weapons, adding: "There is no basis in my view for relaxing or for believing that the Iranian nuclear program is less worrisome, or less requiring of urgent attention than before."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

New Iran NIE 'a piece of crap'

This flabbergasts me. But I know it shouldn't. The neocon right's response to the new NIE estimate on Iran has been swift and fierce.

Here is just one example of neocon spin control by Human Events' Jed Babbin.

Babbin says we can't believe the CIA or the State Dept's Bureau of Intel and Research because they're so hopelessly incompetent. And now they're "anti-Bush." So that leaves us... where? Neocons respond: Iran is an enemy, a danger, a threat, and America should treat them as such, despite what our intelligence community tells us.

Here's one particularly shocking excerpt:

"Let's face facts: six years after 9-11, four years after the invasion of Iraq, US intelligence community is still unable to tell the president most of the things he needs to know about Iran, North Korea and the other nations that pose a danger to American security. That lack of knowledge heightens the danger created by reports such as the new NIE."

Did you catch the logical fallacy? If U.S. intelligence is so awful, how can we "know" that Iran and North Korea pose such a danger in the first place? Are we supposed to take it on faith, like we did with Saddam? Neocons respond: In the absence of reliable information, you gotta go with your gut -- or their gut, rather. And their gastric rumblings tell them to gear up for WWIII, with or without a reason.

Bush adviser: 'New Deal for Globalization' needed

This is from one of Bush's former economic advisers, not some mushy-liberal Nobel economist like Joseph Stiglitz. But Matthew Slaughter's proposals for "big gubument" to ease the pain of globalization may surprise you! I add my 2 cents at the end.

Faculty Opinion:
A New Deal for Globalization*

by Matthew J. Slaughter, Professor of International Economics and Senior Associate Director, Center for International Business
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

In March, I returned to Tuck from Washington, D.C., where since the fall of 2005 I had been serving as a member on the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) in the Executive Office of the President. In this Senate-confirmed position, I held the international portfolio, advising policy makers—the president, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson [D'68], Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and others—on issues including international trade and investment, currencies, and the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

Since my return, the most common question I have gotten is, "So, how was it?" I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, it was great. Created in 1946, CEA has a long history among academic economists as a forum for applying academic scholarship and teaching to provide nonpartisan, nonpolitical input to the important policy challenges facing the country. I deeply appreciated Tuck's granting me the ability to take a leave of absence for this service, and I am now enjoying bringing that service back to Tuck—through enriched teaching, new research ideas, and a broadened outreach to the business-policy community. But on the other hand, measured in terms of policy outcomes, my CEA tenure was not so great. In case you haven't noticed, U.S. economic policy is becoming more protectionist by the day.

Trade Promotion Authority for the president expired on June 30, with no prospect for renewal. The 109th Congress introduced 27 pieces of anti-China trade legislation; the 110th introduced over a dozen in just its first three months; and more than one is likely to be law by year's end. The Doha Development Round of WTO trade negotiations—the centerpiece of global trade liberalization—is years behind schedule and now on the brink of collapse. Scrutiny of inward foreign direct investment has risen. And efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, which would have expanded inflows in many ways, collapsed in July.

At first glance, this protectionist drift is puzzling. We economists are justly chided for disagreeing on many questions, but nearly to a person, all economists agree on the merits of open borders. Global engagement has generated, and has the potential to continue generating, very large gains for the United States overall and for the rest of the world as well. Living standards in the United States today are upward of $1 trillion higher per year in total than they would have been absent decades of trade, investment, and immigration liberalization. Looking ahead, annual U.S. income could be upward of $500 billion higher with a move to global free trade and investment in both merchandise and services.

These gains arise through many important channels. Globalization matches savings pools and investment opportunities around the world, it transfers ideas and technology to firms and people everywhere, and it frees countries from needing to produce what they consume. The net result is higher productivity and higher average living standards. A good snapshot of this appears in the words on the back of any iPod: "Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China."

So what explains the protectionist drift? It is commonly blamed on narrow industry concerns, or a failure to explain globalization's benefits, or the war on terrorism. These explanations miss a more basic point: U.S. policy is becoming more protectionist because the American public is becoming more protectionist, and this shift in attitudes is a result of stagnant or falling incomes. Public support for engagement with the world economy is strongly linked to labor-market performance, and for most workers labor-market performance has recently been poor.

The key issue here is not the number of jobs. The dynamic and flexible American economy continues to create jobs with a very low unemployment rate. Rather, it is incomes. In the last several years, a striking new feature of the U.S. economy has emerged: real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) income growth has been extremely skewed, with relatively few high earners doing well while incomes for most workers have stagnated or, in many cases, fallen. Only 3.4 percent of workers were in educational groups that enjoyed increases in mean real money earnings from 2000 to 2005 (the most recent year of data): mean real money earnings rose for workers with doctorates and for workers with professional graduate degrees (such as MBAs, JDs, and MDs) and fell for all others. In contrast to earlier decades, today it is not just those at the bottom of the skill ladder who are hurting: even college graduates and workers with nonprofessional master's degrees saw their mean real money earnings decline. By many measures, inequality in the United States is greater today than at any time since the 1920s.

The American public is increasingly skeptical about whether globalization benefits them. Today many American workers feel anxious—about change and about weak or nonexistent income growth. These concerns are real, widespread, and legitimate. What role the forces of global engagement have played in this recent poor labor-market performance of most Americans remains an open question. But whatever the answer, in the current political discourse on this question globalization is front and center.

So, what to do? The two most commonly proposed responses—more investment in education and more trade-adjustment assistance for dislocated workers—are very important to pursue. But given the scope of the problem at hand, they alone are nowhere near adequate. Significant payoffs from educational investment will take decades to be realized, and adjustment assistance is too small and too narrowly targeted on specific industries to have much effect.

Truly expanding the political support for open borders will require a significant increase in redistribution that guarantees that globalization's gains are widely shared—a New Deal for globalization. The most promising first piece of this new deal would be to link trade and investment liberalization with building greater progressivity into the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll tax for social insurance. By virtue of being both a flat rate on a largely capped base (in 2005, a flat 15.3 percent tax on the first $94,200 of gross income for every worker, with then just a 2.9 percent flat tax for the Medicare portion on any gross income beyond), FICA [aka 'payroll tax' -- J] is a regressive tax that tends to reinforce rather than offset the pretax inequality associated with globalization and other forces. And this regressive tax is nearly as big as the progressive income tax is: in fiscal 2005, $760 billion versus $1.1 trillion. FICA taxes should be cut for lower-earning Americans. Cuts could then be paid for by raising the FICA cap, raising FICA tax rates on higher earners, or some combination of the two.

What else might this new deal entail? Combine Unemployment Insurance and the current Trade Adjustment Assistance program into a broadened, integrated adjustment assistance program that offers a menu of features to all displaced workers. Create a federal insurance facility that permits communities to insure their tax base against sudden economic dislocation. Allow individuals to deduct the full cost of education and training expenses from their gross income for tax purposes, even when those expenses are directed at preparation for an entirely new career.

Determining the right scale and structure of all these policies (in particular, tax reform linked to liberalization) would require a thoughtful national discussion among all stakeholders. But this should not obscure the essential idea: to be politically viable, efforts for further trade and investment liberalization will need to be explicitly linked to fundamental reforms of tax and other policies aimed at distributing globalization's aggregate gains more broadly.

I have long been the first person in the room to extol the benefits of globalization. But there are many, many American workers, firms, and communities that are hurt, not helped, by globalization's forces. Left unchecked, today's emerging protectionist drift may end up eliminating the gains from globalization for everybody. Earlier this year, the 20 CEOs of the commercial banks, investment banks, insurers, and investment firms of the Financial Services Forum were polled about threats to global economic growth and their businesses. What threat topped the list of responses? Not Sarbanes-Oxley, or inflation, or the yen carry trade. Protectionism.

We in America face a stark choice: shore up support for an open global system by ensuring that a majority of workers benefit from it, or accept the protectionist drift wherever it may take us. Given the aggregate benefits of open borders, the preferable option is clear. Whether this option is chosen remains perilously unclear.


Financial services CEOs are love globalization because it means higher profits for them and their companies earned abroad, brought back to the U.S. and kept and concentrated as wealth among a small percentage of the U.S. population. U.S. workers rightly fear globalization because it's exporting higher-paying jobs to Asia.

Slaughter's analysis overlooks that "trade liberalization" can't continue to be a one-way street, whereby the U.S. opens up its markets while China, Japan, India, and the EU maintain significant restrictions on theirs in response. In a world where most countries or economic blocs are relatively protectionist, it is national suicide to pursue unilateral trade liberalization. In that context, the U.S. should not further liberalize trade until formal agreements of reciprocity, like Doha, are made with other major players. So, big government programs to ease workers' pain may help to "sell" globalization in the U.S., but it won't affect the fundamental unfairness of a relatively open, liberal, and developed economy like America's trading with relatively closed, underdeveloped, and opaque economies.

And as Stiglitz writes: "It is no accident that these countries [India, China] that had not fully liberalized their capital markets have done so well. Subsequent research by the IMF has confirmed what every serious study had shown: capital market liberalization brings instability, but not necessarily growth. Of course, Wall Street (whose interests the US Treasury represents) profits from capital market liberalization: they make money as capital flows in, as it flows out, and in the restructuring that occurs in the resulting havoc."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Krugman: Making the sub-prime mess

The making of a mess
By Paul Krugman
December 3, 2007 | New York Times

The financial crisis that began late last summer, then took a brief vacation in September and October, is back with a vengeance.

How bad is it? Well, I've never seen financial insiders this spooked - not even during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, when economic dominoes seemed to be falling all around the world.

This time, market players seem truly horrified - because they've suddenly realized that they don't understand the complex financial system they created.

Before I get to that, however, let's talk about what's happening right now.

Credit - lending between market players - is to the financial markets what motor oil is to car engines. The ability to raise cash on short notice, which is what people mean when they talk about "liquidity," is an essential lubricant for the markets, and for the economy as a whole.

But liquidity has been drying up. Some credit markets have effectively closed up shop. Interest rates in other markets - like the London market, in which banks lend to each other - have risen even as interest rates on U.S. government debt, which is still considered safe, have plunged.

"What we are witnessing," says Bill Gross of the bond manager Pimco, "is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August."

The freezing up of the financial markets will, if it goes on much longer, lead to a severe reduction in overall lending, causing business investment to go the way of home construction - and that will mean a recession, possibly a nasty one.

Behind the disappearance of liquidity lies a collapse of trust: Market players don't want to lend to each other because they're not sure they will be repaid.

In a direct sense, this collapse of trust has been caused by the bursting of the housing bubble. The run-up of home prices made even less sense than the dot-com bubble - I mean, there wasn't even a glamorous new technology to justify claims that old rules no longer applied - but somehow financial markets accepted crazy home prices as the new normal. And when the bubble burst, a lot of investments that were labeled AAA turned out to be junk.

Thus, "super-senior" claims against subprime mortgages - that is, investments that have first dibs on whatever mortgage payments borrowers make, and were therefore supposed to pay off in full even if a sizable fraction of these borrowers defaulted on their debts - have lost a third of their market value since July.

But what has really undermined trust is the fact that nobody knows where the financial toxic waste is buried. Citigroup wasn't supposed to have tens of billions of dollars in subprime exposure; it did. Florida's Local Government Investment Pool, which acts as a bank for the state's school districts, was supposed to be risk-free; it wasn't (and now schools don't have the money to pay teachers).

How did things get so opaque? The answer is "financial innovation" - two words that should, from now on, strike fear into investors' hearts.

O.K., to be fair, some kinds of financial innovation are good. I don't want to go back to the days when checking accounts didn't pay interest and you couldn't withdraw cash on weekends.

But the innovations of recent years - the alphabet soup of CDOs and SIVs, RMBS and ABCP - were sold on false pretenses. They were promoted as ways to spread risk, making investment safer. What they did instead - aside from making their creators a lot of money, which they didn't have to repay when it all went bust - was to spread confusion, luring investors into taking on more risk than they realized.

Why was this allowed to happen? At a deep level, I believe that the problem was ideological: Policy makers, committed to the view that the market is always right, simply ignored the warning signs. We know, in particular, that Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from Edward Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, about a potential subprime crisis.

And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation - but added, "I don't think we'd want it the other way around." Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?

Now, Paulson's new proposal to help borrowers renegotiate their mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure sounds in principle like a good idea (although we have yet to hear any details). Realistically, however, it won't make more than a small dent in the subprime problem.

The bottom line is that policy makers left the financial industry free to innovate - and what it did was to innovate itself, and the rest of us, into a big, nasty mess.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Courtney Martin: News makes me sad. - OMG, ME 2

Some people watch Friends; I read Courtney Martin. She's like, you know, so a voice for my generation, or whatever.

Part of me knows her whole sincere liberal chick schtick is keck, but part of me knows she's on to something. In any case, I give her credit for trying to articulate (in her own sighing, post-adolescent way) a feeling that a lot of younger folks have nowadays, but don't know how to act on.

All the News That's Fit to Depress

By Courtney E. Martin
December 3, 2007 |

It is Saturday. I am at a coffee shop in Brooklyn with my boyfriend and one of our best friends -- nice guys, guys who care deeply about what is going on in the world beyond fantasy football, music, and their motley crew of friends. We're drinking coffee, eating bagels, and reading my New York Times.

I tend to stick to a quick perusal of the Times online, in addition to a half dozen blogs and online news sites (like this one) during the week, but on the weekends I like to hold the paper in my hands, let my fingertips get blackened, really immerse myself in what's been happening. When I was just out of college and had very little money, I used to wait until late Sunday evening and then scour my neighborhood for discarded papers. When I finally started making money from my writing, one of my first "indulgences" was a weekend subscription to The New York Times. (So fancy, I know.)

Reading it each weekend has become more than an attempt to stay informed. It has become an exercise in witnessing, an act of pure will. Some weekends it feels like a masochistic, last-ditch effort to keep myself from going numb. Some weekends, I can hardly read the headlines without feeling myself being pulled into a morass of 21st century existential pain over the challenges of living aware in a globalized world with so much violence, soulless bureaucracy, and disappointing leadership.

This weekend is no different. As the boys and I flip through the paper, we find the following headlines:

Market Bomb Shatters Lull for Baghdad

Bombs in Northern India Kill 13 Near Courthouses

Barely Getting By, Too Proud to Seek Help and Facing a Cold Maine Winter.

After awhile we look up and get engrossed in a conversation that will last long after our coffee has gone cold -- what, in God's name, are we supposed to do with this information? What are we -- three well-educated, big-hearted, human beings -- supposed to do when we get up from these tables and discard this paper, knowing about the dead people and dreams in Iraq, the injured in India, the starving and old in Maine?

There is so much talk in schools, think tanks, even on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, about how pathetically uninformed the American public is about world affairs. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports that "a solid majority of the public (61 percent) continues to track international news only when major developments occur, while far fewer (37 percent) are consistently engaged by international news coverage."

But what about those of us trying to keep our ears, eyes, and hearts open? There is so little public dialogue about what an empathetic person is supposed to do with the information they gather, about what an emotional experience it can be to just read the morning's paper or peruse your favorite Web sites.

It's as if we have declared knowing a virtue in itself, without recognizing what a great and potentially painful responsibility knowing is. Knowing is supposed to lead to action. That's what keeps compassion from rotting into hopelessness -- being empowered to do something about the feelings you are experiencing. But in our current climate, the news serves to depress us instead of galvanize us. Staying informed has become -- for so many of us -- a moral obligation that feels like hell.

It seems to be that we haven't figured out systems -- educational, governmental, non-governmental -- for actualizing the inevitable outrage, sadness, and empathy that we feel as a direct result of contemporary world news. Some blogs have created associations between news and action -- links to online petitions or nonprofit organizations directly after a post. But traditionally, journalists are taught to see reportage as their sole role. We provide you with the facts, you figure out what to do about them. There are a few exceptions; newspapers and magazines certainly encourage letters to the editor. And when I write for the Christian Science Monitor, for example, the editors always push me to come up with a solution-oriented ending to my op-eds. But most of these efforts -- with the exception, perhaps, of the great outpouring of relief that followed the tsunami in Indonesia (30 percent of American households gave, according to Bill Clinton's new book, Giving) or Hurricane Katrina -- feel more like satiation for the consumer as opposed to a real, fundamental opportunity to make change.

And it's taking a powerful psychic toll. I've heard otherwise politically active people say -- more often than I can count -- "I can't handle keeping up with the news these days. It's just too depressing." Surely, some of those who aren't informed are actually psychically protecting themselves. The Pew Center also found that 42 percent of those with a moderate to low interest in international news report avoiding it because there is "too much war/violence" and 51 percent avoid the news because "nothing ever changes."

I also can't help but wonder if the average liberal American's love for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert isn't a direct result of the emotional relief that comes from being told: "This is the news. Now laugh at it." The action becomes the laugh. The instinct to torture yourself over how to respond to the situation in Sudan is displaced by a chuckle at how badly other people -- namely our eternally comic president -- are responding.

I enjoy those shows too, but it's not enough. We can't settle for laughing our outrage away when there is so much violence in the world -- some of which we are directly responsible for. We also can't keep shoving the lesson of informed citizenship down good people's throats -- Do your duty! Stay informed! -- if we aren't going to create new ways of responding to all that information. It's actually a destructive recommendation in many ways -- pushing people to grow accustomed to disaster, disconnected, numb, and ethically dumbfounded. At the very least, it's breaking our hearts.

It's certainly breaking mine, and I even have the great fortune of being able to write in response to some of the deep sadness I feel over the state of the world. This column, in part, is my attempt to process those feelings so I can continue to have them. Without writing, I grow desperate -- I imagine getting on a plane to Darfur with no thought of how I might actually be useful there, or quitting writing and going to medical school even though I've never wanted to be a doctor. I know these are haphazard, ineffective thoughts on how to respond to the world's problems, but I can't help it. I just need to stop feeling, stop thinking, and start doing.

Too many of us are experiencing the rotting sensation of so many thoughts with no cathartic action. My friends around the coffee shop table express it as an acute and ever-present pain. In fact, we're all hung over from the night before. [Ross, Phoebe, Joey, et al were never hung over at the coffee shop, they just hung out! -- J ] That too, we decide, has something to do with this unsolvable angst; there are plenty of ways that people try to numb themselves so they don't have to process the same powerless feelings. It's as if we are well-educated, empathic Frankensteins, created by our own country's privilege and civic dogma, but all we feel is monstrously ineffective.

This has to change. There must be some method whereby we can become informed and inspired to action. Maybe the answer lies in retraining journalists to go one step beyond reporting. Get the story, and also seek information about how a reader might constructively respond to it. This, of course, would require increased support for the work of investigative journalists. It would also require strategic partnerships between the professional media and nonprofit worlds, links that already exist between journalism and international affairs schools like those at Columbia University.

Maybe the answer lies in citizen journalists -- folks who often abandon the old-school idea of objectivity and tackle local issues with a verve for making change, not just reporting on it. This trend is already on the rise, and while it makes traditional journalists wince, maybe it could actually serve to empower some of the country's currently disenchanted readers.

Maybe the answer lies in the readers themselves. Sometimes I can't help but feel like we are on the verge of some new paradigm shift with regard to attention and connection. As technology changes and the world becomes smaller, isn't it inevitable that we will develop new emotional and cognitive ways of processing it all? Our survival depends on our capacity to live consciously and interdependently. Perhaps this ache is our hearts playing catch-up to globalization.

I'm not too cynical yet to believe that this impotence is a natural part of being human. We're too complex and connected and creative. Maybe it's the strong coffee and the good conversation with friends I love, but I just know that there's got to be a better way.

[Cue music: "I'll be there for youuuuuu, when the rain starts to faaaall ...." - J]

Monday, December 3, 2007

U.S. Intel: Iran halted nuke program in 2003

This is very good news. But as I've said before, it's hard to make predictions about another country's secretive nuclear program. In any case, this report should silence any talk of pre-emptive military strikes on Iran in the near future. This latest N.I.E. report could be wrong, but it certainly does not give Bush-Cheney any excuse to hastily attack Iran without threat or provocation.

U.S. says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to be a major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program. Concerns about Iran were raised sharply after President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to "World War III," and Vice President Dick Cheney promised "serious consequences" if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

The finding also come in the middle of a presidential campaign during which a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear program has been discussed. The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran's ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran's "decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

[In other words, Iran's leaders are not crazy. They think and act rationally. -- J ]

"Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program," the estimate states.

The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program. The report led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the N.I.E.'s conclusions turned out to be wrong. The estimate does say that Iran's ultimate goal is still to develop the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

The national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, quickly issued a statement describing the N.I.E. as containing positive news rather than reflecting intelligence mistakes. "It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons," Mr. Hadley said. "It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem."

"The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically — without the use of force — as the administration has been trying to do," Mr. Hadley said.

Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the international Atomic Energy Agency, had reported that Iran was operating 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges, capable of producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

But his report said that I.A.E.A. inspectors in Iran had been unable to determine whether the Iranian program sought only to generate electricity or also to build weapons.

The N.I.E. concludes that if Iran were to end the freeze of its weapons program, it would still be at least two years before Tehran would have enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. But it says it is still "very unlikely" Iran could produce enough of the material by then.

Instead, today's report concludes it is more likely Iran could have a bomb by the early part to the middle of the next decade. The report states that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013, "because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems."

The new assessment upends a judgment made about Iran's nuclear capabilities in 2005. At the time, intelligence agencies assessed with "high confidence" that Iran is determined to have nuclear weapons and concluded that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program.

Since then, officials said they have obtained new information leading them to conclude that international pressure, including tough economic sanctions, had been successful in bringing about a halt to Iran's secret program.

"We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren't misleading ourselves," said one senior intelligence official during a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a separate statement accompanying the N.I.E., Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald M. Kerr said that given the new conclusions, it was important to release the report publicly "to ensure that an accurate presentation is available."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bush seeking permanent Iraq bases w/out Senate approval

Keep your eye on this in the coming months!...

Bush's Next Preemptive Strike

As far as Bush is concerned, he doesn't need Congress's approval to make an enduring commitment of American force, treasure and lives in Iraq.

Harold Meyerson | November 29, 2007 |

George W. Bush is focusing now on his legacy. Duck. Run. Hide.

Some of his legacy-building, I'll allow, is commendable, if overdue -- most particularly, his efforts to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he ignored for seven long years. But the linchpin of Bush's legacy, it appears, is to make his Iraq policy a permanent fixture of American statecraft.

On Monday, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration pledging that their governments would put in place a long-term political and security pact sometime next year. "The shape and size of any long-term, or longer than 2008, U.S. presence in Iraq will be a key matter for negotiation between the two parties, Iraq and the United States," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House official in charge of Iraq war matters, said at the briefing unveiling the agreement.

What Bush will almost surely be pushing for is permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, enshrined in a pact he can sign a few months before he leaves office. And here, as they used to say, is the beauty part: As far as Bush is concerned, he doesn't have to seek congressional ratification for such an enduring commitment of American force, treasure and lives.

"We don't anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress," Lute said. The administration is looking to sign a status-of-forces agreement, which requires Senate ratification if it's classified as a treaty but not if it's classified as an executive agreement. One need not be able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to guess which of those classifications the Bush White House will go for.

But if Bush tries to lock the next president into permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, he may also be locking in a Democrat as the next president. Ironically, just when events on the ground in Iraq aren't looking as disastrous as they did six months ago, Bush's efforts to make the U.S. presence permanent would drape the necks of the Republican presidential and congressional candidates with one large, squawking albatross.

Having to defend permanent U.S. bases in Iraq would be difficult enough for Republicans on the 2008 ballot. There are a few major differences, after all, between Iraq and states such as Germany, Japan and South Korea, where we've stationed forces for more than half a century. For starters, those countries are internally peaceable, and their governments are recognized as legitimate by their citizens. Nobody is setting roadside bombs or shooting at our troops or contesting the authority of their government to govern.

But imagine the political dilemma for Republican candidates if Bush argues that he can put such an agreement into effect without getting Congress's approval. A lame-duck president with a 30 percent approval rating would be claiming that he alone has the authority to keep our Iraqi occupation going for years to come, preempting the power of both Congress and the next president to chart a different course. What would nominee Romney or Giuliani or McCain have to say about that? What would the Republicans in Congress do? Thus far, they've all proven themselves utterly incapable of breaking with Bush on the war.

By negotiating such an accord, Bush would in fact ensure that the 2008 election becomes the last thing the Republicans can afford: a referendum on Bush and his war. If the dividing line between the two parties is that one backs Bush on Iraq and the other does not, the Republicans might as well give up the ghost and nominate Dick Cheney as their presidential standard-bearer. Bush's policy legacy, in short, poses a serious threat to what one presumes he wishes his political legacy to be -- a thriving Republican Party.

I am presupposing here that the Democrats have both the gumption and the sense to oppose a pact with the Maliki government that commits our forces to an open-ended presence in a nation of unreconciled sects. The party's leading presidential candidates have managed to be both reticent and confusing when it comes to their ultimate vision of the U.S. role in Iraq. The Bush-Maliki negotiations should concentrate the Democratic mind on the inadvisability of keeping U.S. forces indefinitely in a land where instability and civil strife will go on indefinitely as well.

The president who waged a preemptive war now wants to lock in place a preemptive occupation. Only this time, instead of preempting a foreign nation, he is seeking to preempt Congress and his successor. It's the logical conclusion for his misshapen and miserable presidency, and I doubt the American people -- if they have any say in the matter -- will stand for it.

Bush to cut homeland security budget

Is this Bush's idea of fiscal discipline?!

Indeed, the Iraq occupation, the cost of which is $275 million per day, or $3,749 per Iraqi, in FY 2006, also has opportunity costs. Unfortunately, protecting the U.S. homeland seems to be one of them.

Strong criticism over proposed homeland security cuts

By Andrew Strickler

December 2, 2007 |

State and city leaders lined up yesterday to bash a White House proposal that would gouge federal homeland security grants in New York and nationally and provide no money to protect the city's ports, subways, and bus terminals.

"You scratch your head and wonder, is the White House on the same planet as the rest of us? Homeland security doesn't matter?" New York Sen. Charles Schumer said to reporters at his Manhattan office yesterday.

According to budget documents obtained by The Associated Press, the Bush administration is not convinced that the money has been well spent and thinks the nation's highest-risk cities have largely satisfied their emergency need to boost security.

The plan, which was first leaked in a memo Friday, would reduce grant money for states and cities from $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $1.4 billion in 2009. In its present form, the plan calls for a radical restructuring of how such grant money is doled out and would force local and state governments to shoulder a much larger share of expenses.

The proposal would also provide no funding specifically for port and transit security, a provision that drew particular ire from Schumer. "To say no port security, no transit security, when we know that our ports and our transits are targets for terrorists ... makes no sense if you want to protect America," he said.

White House Office of Management and Budget officials said the president's budget proposals have yet to be finalized.

"Protecting the homeland continues to remain a top priority for the administration and although no final budget decisions have been made, we are confident future funding levels will appropriately reflect our dedication to homeland security," White House spokesman Trey Bohn said.

In a letter sent to President George W. Bush, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called the proposed cuts "unconscionable."

"Securing our homeland requires constant vigilance, and we must do everything within our power to improve our level of preparedness. These reported cuts undermine those efforts," the letter states.

State and city officials also balked at the idea yesterday.

The proposal "represents a 'bean counter' approach to protecting our homeland when sound policy is what's required," said Paul Larrabee, spokesman for Gov. Eliot Spitzer. "The president must act to ensure that those on the front lines in states like New York have the resources they desperately need."

John Gallagher, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said, "It's stunning that the federal government would consider cutting New York City's homeland security funds from the already inadequate level that currently exists."

Schumer addressed a statement in the memo that questioned how well $23 billion in federal money earmarked for homeland security since Sept. 11, 2001, has been spent by state and local governments.

"I haven't found a single legitimate question about how the money is being spent in New York and I haven't heard of one instance in which people can say, 'This money is being wasted,'" he said.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Buchanan: Blowback from Russia

Blowback From Moscow
Our next president will likely face a Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, determined to stand up to a West that Russians believe played them for fools when they sought to be friends.

Americans who think Putin has never been anything but a KGB thug will reject accusations of any U.S. role in causing the ruination of relations between us.

Yet the hubris of Bill Clinton and George Bush I, and the Russophobia of those they brought with them into power, has been a primary cause of the ruptured relationship. And the folly of what they did is evident today, as Putin's party, United Russia, rolls to triumph on a torrent of abuse and invective against the West.

Entering the campaign's final week, Putin, addressing a rally of 5,000, ripped the Other Russia coalition led by chess champion Gary Kasparov as poodles of the United States, "who sponge off foreign embassies ... and who count on the support of foreign resources and governments, and not of their own people."

"Those who oppose us," roared Putin, "don't want our plans to be completed. They have completely different tasks and a completely different view of Russia. They need a weak, sick state, a disoriented, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense."

Putin is referring to the time of the "oligarchs" of the Yeltsin era, who looted Russia when its state assets were sold off at fire-sale prices.

Putin is also accusing his opponents of attempting to use the Western-devised tactics of mass street protests to bring down his government. "Now that they have learned some things from Western specialists and tried them in the neighboring republics, they are going to try them on our streets."

Putin is talking here about the "color-coded" revolutions that the U.S. and NATO embassies, the National Endowment for Democracy, and allied foundations and front groups engineered in Ukraine and Georgia. Governments tilting toward Moscow were dumped over and pro-Western regimes installed -- to bid for membership in NATO and the European Union.

Blowback is a term broadly used in espionage to describe the unintended consequences of covert operations. The revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power is said to be blowback for the U.S.-engineered coup to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 and install the Shah.

The nationalism and anti-Americanism rife in Putin's Russia is blowback for our contemptuous disregard of Russian sensibilities and our arrogant intrusions into Russia's space. How did we lose a Russia that Ronald Reagan and Bush I had virtually converted into an ally?

We pushed NATO into Moscow's face, bringing six ex-Warsaw Pact nations and three ex-Soviet republics -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- into our Cold War alliance and plotted to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.

We financed a pipeline from Baku through Georgia to the Black Sea to cut Russia out of the Caspian oil trade. After getting Moscow's permission to use old Soviet bases in Central Asia to invade Afghanistan, we set about making the bases permanent. We pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty over Moscow's objection, then announced plans to plant ABM radars in the Czech Republic and anti-missile missiles in Poland.

Putin has now responded in kind, and who can blame him?

As we tried to cut him out of the Azerbaijan oil with a Black Sea pipeline, he is slashing subsidies on Ukraine's oil and colluding with Germany on a Baltic Sea pipeline to cut Poland out of the oil trade with Western Europe.

As we moved our alliance and bases into his front and back yard, he has entered a quasi-alliance with China and four nations of Central Asia to expel U.S. military power from the region.

As we abandoned the ABM Treaty, the Duma, in November, voted 418 to 0 to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which restricts the size of the Russian army west of the Urals.

If we recognize Kosovo as independent, at the expense of Serbia, Putin is now threatening to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway republics of Georgia and Transneistria, claimed by Moldova.

Where we backed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, Russia backs its favorites in Kiev and supports street protests in Tbilisi against the pro-American regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, whom the United States now seems powerless to help.

It was not NATO that liberated Eastern Europe. Moscow did -- by pulling out the Red Army after half a century. Why, then, did we think moving NATO into Eastern Europe was a surer guarantee of their continued independence than the goodwill of Russia? Many among our foreign policy elite now talk of a Second Cold War. John McCain wants Russia kicked out of the G-8.

But do we not have enough enemies already that we should add the largest nation on earth?