Friday, October 29, 2010

And your point is?

“This so-called climate science is just ridiculous,” said Kelly Khuri, founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s all cyclical.”

“Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” Ms. Khuri added. “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

(See the full article)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Matter of Priorities

F-15 Armament Load
According to an article in the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States spends substantially more on military endeavors than any country in the world. If war spending and allocations to the “Global War on Terror” are excluded, the U.S. military budget is still more than seven times that of its next closest competitor, China. If you include those other expenditures, U.S. military spending surpasses that of all other countries in the world combined.

Now there is some debate on whether or not defense spending, specifically spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurts or helps the U.S. economy. Certainly, the military-industrial complex feels strongly that defense spending helps the economy. Building guns, tanks, planes, and ships creates jobs, after all. And the more we blow up, use up, have shot down, or see that military equipment sink to the bottom of the sea, the more we have to manufacture, and that makes for steady employment, if not great longevity for our troops. It's also interesting to consider that in addition to all the money we spend on blowing things up (shock and awe), we spend another bundle paying major U.S. corporations like Halliburton, to "reconstruct" them (all in the interests of "nation building").

One quarter of each dollar we pay in taxes (actually twenty-six and a half cents) goes to the military (not including veteran's benefits). But that doesn't tell the whole story. Because we've had to borrow money to pay for our wars, we pay another five cents of every dollar to service the debt; a debt by the way, whose interest accounts for the third largest portion of our tax dollar.

It seems to me that the question comes down to priorities; could we be creating jobs by spending our [borrowed] money on something more permanent, such as modernizing our deteriorating infrastructure, i.e., domestic reconstruction, or on improving our inner city schools (two cents of our tax dollar goes to education), or, god forbid, on health care?

What do you think?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Demise of a Thoughtful Republican

George W. Bush, Donald Rusfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz announcing Joint Resolution to authorize force against Iraq.

By J. Phillips

The Iraq War is an utterly depressing subject. My upbringing as a military brat and career as an international nuclear security expert and weapons inspector in Iraq between the two wars cast this unnecessary foreign adventure in a grave, unflattering light. This war alone broke me out of a lifelong tradition of support for the Republican Party. In the history of strategic blunders, this war may prove to be much worse than Vietnam from the perspective of our nation’s place in the world.

Charles Duelfer, chief U.S. investigator on
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, confirming
there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq.
The lack of a persuasive casus belli in the case of Iraq, and the predictable distraction that resulted, interfered with the proper execution of justifiable military and nation building efforts in Afghanistan.

Success in that endeavor is now imperiled.

The military difficulties of defeating the Taliban and other tribal coalitions, on Afghani terrain, are well understood. Afghanistan has a storied history of ruining all invaders going back many centuries and they have not been successfully administrated by an external power since Timur’s conquest 600 years ago. The dramatically punctuated Afghani terrain and its finely parsed tribal feudalism is a simile of Russian winter and its regional partisans in the annals of military history. It’s a place where invaders have gone to die a slow death. The combination of that difficult, but justifiable proposition with the coincident invasion and occupation of Iraq, arguably the Yugoslavia of the Middle East and the primary foil of Iranian ambitions, was pure Bush Administration folly.

All but seven of 272 Republican legislators lent active support to Bush’s destructive foreign policy. The Democrats, cowed by a nationalist spin machine wrapped in the flag, voted tepidly against the war 147 to 111. The neocon spin machine had convinced a willfully ignorant electorate that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the ready to use against us, was complicit in 9/11 and was in league with Al Qaida. These assertions were patently false. It’s not possible that the Bush Administration was uninformed. The lack of justification for war was simply an inconvenient truth standing between them and their ideological goals.

No less than Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to George HW Bush during the First Gulf War, opined against the imminent invasion in the Wall Street Journal in an attempt to divert the Titanic from its tragic course, but Bush’s neocons and the Republican Party would have none of it. After witnessing these events I could not, in good conscience, support a political party that actively promoted and participated in this ill-fated national decision. It became the demise of a thoughtful Republican.

Though I did not respect the pack of craven Democrats who supported the Iraq invasion, over half did not support the Iraq War – including then Senator Obama. They bucked the popular view as a matter of principle. Ironically, cleaning up this horrendous mess, left by the previous Republican Administration, has now fallen to President Obama’s Administration along with an extensive laundry list of other messes.

Recent estimates of the direct losses of the Iraq War on the larger U.S. economy range as high as $3 trillion all said and done. This does not include opportunity costs, which are the “unknowable unknowns” – the might have beens. The related increment in the national debit will exceed $1 trillion. Your personal share of the U.S. economic losses of the Iraq War will total roughly $10,000. That comes to a U.S. “investment” of roughly $150,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child, spent thoroughly eviscerating their nation in a blender as it were. If it’s not obvious to the reader, this is an inconceivably large figure in contrast with the extremely limited means of an average Iraqi citizen.

We have spent our national treasure destroying another country without justifiable cause and then trying to contain the consequence of the ensuing chaos. It has been a war funded entirely on debit from day one and has been a significant contributor to the destruction of our economy, but speaking from the heart, the wasted treasure is so much less compelling than other things.

I feel familial grief for the uniformed services that have suffered in the aftermath of that thoughtless decision. To date, in excess of 4,400 U.S. soldiers have died and roughly 30,000 suffer with combat injuries. Thousands suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, chronic depression and related substance abuse. Many thousands of marriages have been destroyed by deployments without end – remember the “Stop Loss policy?” Their children join the swollen ranks of the progeny of broken homes. Suicides among military personnel have soared. All of these casualties of war have families and extended families that bear the brunt of our unfortunate nationalist excess.

The tragic legacy of the Iraq War is only beginning to unfold within the military community. Knowledge that it is a rear guard effort to try and recover from a disastrous Republican Administration decision only makes these losses more intolerable. In a nation whose conscience has become seared by an outbreak of neoconservative nationalism, it’s not even worth raising the hundreds of thousands of casualties on the Iraqi side including the uncounted multitude of innocents killed, maimed and displaced after the fact by the sectarian conflict we unleashed. How many innocents will die and be maimed before Iraq is stabilized? Do we even care?

Most Americans are either ignorant of the facts or can’t find the personal courage to stare into that dark abyss and contemplate whether they bear a share of indirect responsibility for that disaster through their voting decisions. They would rather sit in church pews, watch football games and go to barbecues – so would I. But we can rest assured that more than one generation of Iraqis will not forget this. It is now burned into their national consciousness and it will increase the danger of terrorism we face for the foreseeable future.

So where’s the honor to be found in this debacle? I propose that these good soldiers and their families are worthy of double honor, respect and support from the American people for toiling to stabilize Iraq. Thereby saving the United States from the utter disgrace and disrepute that would have been ours if Iraq were allowed to spin out of control into a sectarian genocide of our making. The Bush Administration, the voters that put them in power and a minority of craven Democrats that supported it, started this war, but the U.S. military is now compelled to finish it.

To those arm chair generals out there that have been supportive of the Iraq War from its inception, please find the personal courage and humanity to see the brilliant film The Messenger. Its heart-felt portrayal of the ocean of grief unfolding in my “home town” stuns one into a holy silence – as the commanding officer in the film states: notification of the first of kin is a sacred duty. While you’re at it view The Hurt Locker for its depiction of the chaos and inhumanity of the sectarian violence that you and I elected to unleash. Those so certain of their point of view should not be afraid to be students of its actual consequence.

The suffering of military personnel and their families coping with death, physical maiming and mental injuries from this elective war is beyond my ability to impersonally dismiss as a usual outcome that the military will have to tolerate for the greater good of the country. There’s nothing usual about this situation.

And what of the flood of Iraqi war refugees, many of whom are Christians, killed or forced from their country by the Islamic fundamentalism that we elected to unleash? Iraq, despite its notorious dictatorship, was a secular state that protected its Christian minority. What of the other minorities who are now crushed under the wheels of majority groups fighting to fill the power vacuum that we elected to create? Apparently, “freedom is an untidy business” as Mr. Rumsfeld so casually stated.

But does taking responsibility in Iraq mean that the electorate should now have corporate amnesia and absolve the Republican Party for making this disastrous decision before they have fully appreciated the consequence and reformed their perspective? This is about political tough love that only an educated electorate can administer to the proper measure. I voted for them all my life before they did this terrible thing, but I can have the personal integrity now to admit my error, change my mind, and vote against them until their last nationalist neocon has been sent packing.

Adolf Hitler was a nationalist neocon. He was a German populist elected in reaction to the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at liberal representative democracy. That ideological path is spawned in economic hardship and riven with danger and infamy. God help us if we cannot find the strength to resist that path.

As in the time of FDR and Truman, the Republicans have lost their way. They’re in desperate need of an extended retreat to the political wilderness to find themselves again and cast off the radical influences of populism and neoconservatism. If they don’t accomplish this painful task of reform, they will not be in a position to help build a positive future. They will cease to be the worthy inheritors of the proud legacy of Lincoln, TR and Eisenhower – all of whom would be labeled “RINO” by populist Republicans today.

America’s future needs Republicans, but this batch is defective. Believe in an America that’s a force for good in the world rather than a force for greed, destruction, war and fear. Send the Republicans away until they get it right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Unfair Game

Maureen Dowd
Washington, October 12, 2010

As Barack Obama struggles to rekindle the magic, one of the most pathetic headlines was the one on a CNN poll last week: “Was Bush Better President Than Obama?”

“Americans are divided over whether President Barack Obama or his predecessor has performed better in the White House,” the CNN article said.

So now the Republican president who bungled wars and the economy and the Democratic president trying to dig us out are in a dead heat?

America’s long-term economic woe has led to short-term memory loss. Republicans are still popular, and the candidates are crazier than ever. And crazy is paying dividends: Sharron Angle, the extreme Republican candidate for the Senate in Nevada, vacuumed up $14 million in the last quarter in her crusade to knock out Harry Reid — the kind of money that presidential candidates dream of collecting.

Karl Rove has put together a potent operation to use anonymous donors to flood the airwaves with attack ads against Democrats. And a gaunt-looking Dick Cheney is out of the hospital and back to raking in money defending torture and pre-emptive war. He, Lynne Cheney, Rove, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Laura Bush drew more than 10,000 people at $495 a pop to a conference in Bakersfield, Calif., last weekend.

Republicans are also gearing up to start re-sliming Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson when “Fair Game,” the movie based on their memoirs, opens next month. Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Rove who considered Plame collateral damage and labeled her “fair game,” dismissively told Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The Times that the Wilsons are “a little past their ‘sell-by’ date.”

CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband Iraq War critic Joe Wilson
It’s hard to believe that it was seven years ago when the scandal of the Glamorous Spy and Showboating Ambassador exploded. Joe Wilson first accused the Boy Emperor of not wearing any clothes on the Iraq W.M.D.’s, and then charged the Bush White House with running a “smear campaign” against him and outing his wife as a CIA spy.

He was right on all counts and brave to take on a White House that broke creative new ground in thuggery and skulduggery.

But it was child’s play for the Republicans to undermine the former diplomat and the spy who loved him. Wilson was “pretty widely known as a loudmouth,” as the movie’s director Doug Liman put it, and overstepped at times, posing for Vanity Fair in his Jaguar convertible with his wife coyly cloaked in scarf and sunglasses.

While her husband was in his promotional whirlwind, Plame was in her reticent cloud, her air of blonde placidity belying her anguish at being betrayed and her disgust that Cheney Inc. bullied the CIA, overriding skepticism about Saddam’s weapons system and warping intelligence. “It’s called counterproliferation, Jack,” Naomi Watts’s Plame says to her superior. “Counter.”

The movie makes clear that Plame was not merely “a secretary” or “mediocre agent” at the agency, as partisan critics charged at the time, but a respected undercover spy tracking Iraqi W.M.D. efforts. And it reiterates that Plame did not send her husband, who had worked in embassies in Iraq while Saddam and Bush Senior were in charge and was the ambassador in two African countries, on the fact-finding trip to Niger about a possible Iraqi purchase of 500 tons of yellowcake uranium. She merely acted as an intermediary when a colleague threw his name into the hat for the unpaid gig.

The film creates composites to heighten the tension and suggests that Plame’s Iraqi contacts and their families were murdered once she was outed — a subplot Variety called “apocryphal and manipulative.”

But the movie is a vivid reminder of one of the most egregious abuses of power in history, and there are deliciously diabolical turns by actors playing Scooter Libby, David Addington and Rove. Plame’s CIA bosses are portraits in cravenness, cutting her loose at the moment she starts receiving death threats and her Iraqi sources become endangered.

Liman, who grew up watching his father Arthur’s Buddha-like interrogations during the Iran-Contra hearings, does not use an Oliver Stone sledgehammer on history. He views the scandal through the lens of the Wilsons’ marriage, which snaps for a time under the strain of being hounded by the most powerful men on earth. As Valerie writes in her book about Joe’s demand to see Rove “frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs”: “Husbands. What can you do?”

Costumed with lush mane and round paunch, Sean Penn is well suited to capture Wilson’s arrogance and mouthiness, while also showing his honesty, brazenness, sly charm and fierce love of wife and country.

They were the Girl and Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and we should all remember what flew out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond

Washington Post
By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
Sunday, September 5, 2010; B04 

Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration's 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war's broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.
Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict's most sobering expenses: those in the category of "might have beens," or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only "what if" worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources -- including both money and attention -- are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.

The Iraq invasion diverted our attention from the Afghan war, now entering its 10th year. While "success" in Afghanistan might always have been elusive, we would probably have been able to assert more control over the Taliban, and suffered fewer casualties, if we had not been sidetracked. In 2003 -- the year we invaded Iraq -- the United States cut spending in Afghanistan to $14.7 billion (down from more than $20 billion in 2002), while we poured $53 billion into Iraq. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, we spent at least four times as much money in Iraq as in Afghanistan.

It is hard to believe that we would be embroiled in a bloody conflict in Afghanistan today if we had devoted the resources there that we instead deployed in Iraq. A troop surge in 2003 -- before the warlords and the Taliban reestablished control -- would have been much more effective than a surge in 2010.

When the United States went to war in Iraq, the price of oil was less than $25 a barrel, and futures markets expected it to remain around that level. With the war, prices started to soar, reaching $140 a barrel by 2008. We believe that the war and its impact on the Middle East, the largest supplier of oil in the world, were major factors. Not only was Iraqi production interrupted, but the instability the war brought to the Middle East dampened investment in the region.

In calculating our $3 trillion estimate two years ago, we blamed the war for a $5-per-barrel oil price increase. We now believe that a more realistic (if still conservative) estimate of the war's impact on prices works out to at least $10 per barrel. That would add at least $250 billion in direct costs to our original assessment of the war's price tag. But the cost of this increase doesn't stop there: Higher oil prices had a devastating effect on the economy.

Federal debt
There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn't include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.

As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis -- and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn.

The financial crisis
The global financial crisis was due, at least in part, to the war. Higher oil prices meant that money spent buying oil abroad was money not being spent at home. Meanwhile, war spending provided less of an economic boost than other forms of spending would have. Paying foreign contractors working in Iraq was neither an effective short-term stimulus (not compared with spending on education, infrastructure or technology) nor a basis for long-term growth.
Instead, loose monetary policy and lax regulations kept the economy going -- right up until the housing bubble burst, bringing on the economic freefall.

Saying what might have been is always difficult, especially with something as complex as the global financial crisis, which had many contributing factors. Perhaps the crisis would have happened in any case. But almost surely, with more spending at home, and without the need for such low interest rates and such soft regulation to keep the economy going in its absence, the bubble would have been smaller, and the consequences of its breaking therefore less severe. To put it more bluntly: The war contributed indirectly to disastrous monetary policy and regulations.

The Iraq war didn't just contribute to the severity of the financial crisis, though; it also kept us from responding to it effectively. Increased indebtedness meant that the government had far less room to maneuver than it otherwise would have had. More specifically, worries about the (war-inflated) debt and deficit constrained the size of the stimulus, and they continue to hamper our ability to respond to the recession. With the unemployment rate remaining stubbornly high, the country needs a second stimulus. But mounting government debt means support for this is low. The result is that the recession will be longer, output lower, unemployment higher and deficits larger than they would have been absent the war.

* * *
Reimagining history is a perilous exercise. Nonetheless, it seems clear that without this war, not only would America's standing in the world be higher, our economy would be stronger. The question today is: Can we learn from this costly mistake?

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, was chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001. Linda J. Bilmes is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. They are co-authors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fear and Favor

October 3, 2010

A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you’re starring in “The Birth of a Nation,” but you’re actually just extras in a remake of “Citizen Kane.”

True, there have been some changes in the plot. In the original, Kane tried to buy high political office for himself. In the new version, he just puts politicians on his payroll.

I mean that literally. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.

Arguably, this shouldn’t be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

And these organizations have long provided havens for conservative political figures not currently in office. Thus when Senator Rick Santorum was defeated in 2006, he got a new job as head of the America’s Enemies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that has received funding from the usual sources: the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and so on.

Now Mr. Santorum is one of those paid Fox contributors contemplating a presidential run. What’s the difference?

Well, for one thing, Fox News seems to have decided that it no longer needs to maintain even the pretense of being nonpartisan.

Nobody who was paying attention has ever doubted that Fox is, in reality, a part of the Republican political machine; but the network — with its Orwellian slogan, “fair and balanced” — has always denied the obvious. Officially, it still does. But by hiring those G.O.P. candidates, while at the same time making million-dollar contributions to the Republican Governors Association and the rabidly anti-Obama United States Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox, is signaling that it no longer feels the need to make any effort to keep up appearances.

Something else has changed, too: increasingly, Fox News has gone from merely supporting Republican candidates to anointing them. Christine O’Donnell, the upset winner of the G.O.P. Senate primary in Delaware, is often described as the Tea Party candidate, but given the publicity the network gave her, she could equally well be described as the Fox News candidate. Anyway, there’s not much difference: the Tea Party movement owes much of its rise to enthusiastic Fox coverage.

As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox” — literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.

So the Ministry of Propaganda has, in effect, seized control of the Politburo. What are the implications?

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind “grass roots” right-wing action, it’s not just about ideology: it’s also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules.

Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch’s papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story. Now the editor who ran the paper when the hacking was taking place is chief of communications for the Conservative government — and that government is talking about slashing the budget of the BBC, which competes with the News Corporation.

So think of those paychecks to Sarah Palin and others as smart investments. After all, if you’re a media mogul, it’s always good to have friends in high places. And the most reliable friends are the ones who know they owe it all to you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Russia in Heat

In the summer of 2010, the Russian Federation had to contend with multiple natural hazards: drought in the southern part of the country, and raging fires in western Russia and eastern Siberia. The events all occurred against the backdrop of unusual warmth. Temperatures in parts of the country soared to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

The map above shows temperature anomalies for the Russian Federation from July 20–27, 2010, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2000 to 2008. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Areas with above-average temperatures appear in red and orange, and areas with below-average temperatures appear in shades of blue. Oceans and lakes appear in gray.

Globally (see map below), June through August of 2010, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis, was the fourth-warmest summer period in GISS’s 131-year-temperature record. The same months during 2009, in contrast, were the second warmest on record. The slightly cooler 2010 summer temperatures were primarily the result of a moderate La Niña (cooler than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) replacing a moderate El Niño (warmer than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean).