Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Minimum Wage

From Max Sawicky. We have, in relative terms, cut the minimum wage enormously over the past generation (and have not seen any significant improvement in employment). The question is whether we should continue to let inflation and productivity growth cut the relative value of the minimum wage further, or be satisfied with the relative cuts we have already seen.

Max Sawicky quotes Dean Baker:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: ARE YOU NEED ARE TWO SENTENCES: Courtesy of Deano, apparently posted at 5:16 a.m. (was this before he went to bed, or after he got up?), why we should raise the minimum wage:

The minimum wage bill currently being pushed by Senator Kennedy would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 by 2009. By comparison, the minimum wage was almost $8.00 an hour (in 2006 dollars) in the late sixties. This means that if Kennedy's bill were approved, the real value of the minimum wage in 2009 would still be more than 10 percent lower than it was in the late sixties, even though productivity will have increased by more than 120 percent over this period...

Cage Match! Pass the Popcorn!

The New Republic launches a four-front offensive against weblogs in general, and Markos Moulitsas i particular:

The New Republic's Lee Siegel:

Lee Siegel on Culture: It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. It radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination.... It puts some people, like me, in the equally bizarre position of wanting desperately for Joe Lieberman to lose the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont so that true liberal values might, maybe, possibly prevail, yet at the same time wanting Lamont, the hero of the blogosphere, to lose so that the fascistic forces ranged against Lieberman might be defeated...

The New Republic's Jason Zengerle:

The Plank: Are Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas (of the famous Daily Kos) engaged in a pay-for-play scheme in which politicians who hire Armstrong as a consultant get the support of Kos?... Why the strange silence in the face of such damning allegations? Well, I think we now know the answer. It's a deliberate strategy orchestrated by Kos.... [W]what was Kos's message to this group that secretly plots strategy in the digital equivalent of a smoke-filled backroom?... So far, Kos's friends in the fiercely independent liberal blogosphere seem to have displayed a sheep-like obedience to his dictat.... [W]hy did so many... follow Kos's orders to stay silent?... Kosola allegations.... [L]et's not underestimate their financial allegiances.... Kos runs... Advertising Liberally... gets to decide which blogs belong--and don't belong--to Advertising Liberally, which means a lot of these blogs' financial health hinges upon staying in Kos's good graces. Is it any wonder they're so obedient?...

The New Republic's Jon Chait:

Daily Kos excommunicates TNR--again: Markos Moulitsas Zuniga says nice things about Mark Warner, which means he's really just a pragmatist (or easily co-opted, but the effect is the same). All this is mostly true. What this interpretation misses, however, is that the radicalism of the lefty bloggers lies not so much in their ideological platform but in their ideological style. They think like sectarians.... More than two years ago, Kos launched what he called his "anti-TNR campaign," in which he declared us to be enemies of the people. Wait, sorry, wrong jargon...

The New Republic's Martin Peretz:

Forgive me. But I never read Daily Kos until today. Well, now that I've read it, the first thought that came to me is how illiterate Kos is, just plain illiterate. There has been other not-with-a-pick-axe-but-with-a-bludgeon left-wing journalism in the English speaking world, the American PM, for example, or the British Tribune. If you look them up (they must be some place on the Web), you'll see how elegant surgical argument can be. OK, that's not what the Daily Kos is. Daily Kos is actually a rant, Kos's own rant and then his comrades. And his rant against us, well, borders on a nut case's. When a high-minded or, rather, high-strung moralist is accused by The New York Times of journalistic hanky-panky and then by TNR of running an ideological censorship bureau, reminiscent of the old Catholic Legion of Decency, he will go off the rails. And he did.

Matthew Yglesias looks on with bemusement, and gives this round of the cage match to Markos:

TAPPED: The really great thing about the Daily Kos versus New Republic war is that the more each side opens their mouths, the worse you think of them. Markos's initial impulse to stay silent in the face of Chris Suellentrop's allegations seemed sound. Suellentrop didn't really have the goods. Let some time pass and the goods would either surface or not and there was nothing worth saying about it. But then Jason Zengerle started spinning a rather implausible conspiracy theory. Folks were rising to Kos' defense, but then Kos chose to ruin everything by penning a laughably self-regarding response (as I've been muttering around the office, the only real scandal in Kosland is that Markos is a bit of an egomaniac, but I assume you'd have to be in order to succeed in creating a massive online community) in which the key metric for judging TNR's degree of progressivism isn't their warmongering, but... their opinion of Markos.

As of late afternoon yesterday, I was ready to declare TNR the winner on points for having been less embarrassingly ridiculous about this, but then this morning I saw Lee Siegel's contribution to the debate explaining that not only Markos but "the blogosphere" generally is -- wait for it, emphasis will be added -- "hard fascism with a Microsoft face." Because, of course, Mussolini was well known for posting strident critiques of his political foes on the internet. Or maybe that was Hitler? Franco? Who knows. And what's soft fascism anyway?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Dialogue on the Anthropic Cosmological Principle

Zoticus: What is this Anthropological Cosmological Principle?

Paracelsus: You mean "Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

Zoticus: I do? Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

Paracelsus: Did you see the sun rise this morning?

Zoticus: I did. 5:45. Rising over the north part of the Diablo Ridge. The dog is always puzzled by the sunrise. She stops and looks around, as if the sudden increase in brightness conveys some opportunity or threat...

Paracelsus: OK. The sun rose the furthest north it ever does--in your experience at least--right?

Zoticus: Yes.

Paracelsus: And 5:45 is the earliest the sun ever rises, at least around here, yes?

Zoticus: Yes.

Paracelsus: And if I asked you to explain to me why it was that the sun rises earliest, 5:45, and furthest north on June 21, and does this every year, what answer would you give?

Zoticus: Well, I would say that humans could only evolve on a planet of roughly 4,000 miles in radius in an orbit roughly 93 million miles from a G-type star.... That we could only evolve on a planet that was rotating, hence days and nights.... That the axis of rotation would not be perfectly aligned with the normal to the plane of earth's orbit, hence sometimes the days are longer. And June 21 just happens to be the day that the earth's axis of rotation points closest to the sun.

Paracelsus: So days are of different length--with June 21 the longest--because?

Zoticus: Spontaneous symmetry breaking--some day has to be the longest.

Paracelsus: And 5:45?

Zoticus: No significance: it depends on exactly how tilted the earth's axis of rotation is and what latitude we are at.

Paracelsus: So in answer to the question, "Why does the sun rise at 5:45 on June 21, which is the longest day of the year?" you give an answer that relies partly on spontaneous symmetry breaking, partly on chance and accidents, and partly on the Anthropic Sunrise Principle: Sunrises are very rare in this universe--go to a point at random and you will have to wait a long time to see one--but sunrises are common in places where humans have evolved. Hence given that we are humans who have evolved here, we should not be surprised to see a sunrise once a day.

Zoticus: But this doesn't explain why the sunrise is something that everybody sees...

Paracelsus: But "everybody" doesn't see the sunrise, if by "everybody" you mean "observers at every point in space." Only a very few observers in very particular places see the sunrise--hence the right explanation has to be one in terms of chance, contingency, and the Anthropic Sunrise Principle.

Zoticus: But that is unsatisfying.

Apollonius: Permit me, then, to interrupt. June 21 is the longest day of the year because that is the day the sun enters the constellation of the Dioscuri. The stars Castor and Pollux have a unique attraction to Helios--remember, Castor was the horse-tamer, and they were both sons of Leda the Swan, and brothers of Helen of Troy. Helios--the sun--gathers strength from proximity to Castor and Pollux, and so June 21 is the day that the sun stays up the longest because it is the strongest. Our trained astrologers are hoping to find a way to renormalize our calculations so that we will be able to post-dict your 5:45 number, but there are a substantial number of technological mathematical problems yet to be resolved. We hope that new developments in mathematics--the "zero" it is called--will improve the accuracy of our calculations.

Paracelsus: But that's completely false!

Apollonius: It is, however, satisfying in a way that the Anthropic Sunrise Principle is not.

Zoticus: And the relevance to the Anthropological...

Paracelsus: Anthropic

Zoticus: Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

Paracelsus: Just this: the answers to the big questions physics is now asking may be equally unsatisfying--that the laws of nature are very different elsewhere in places beyond are vision, and are what they are by chance and contingency, and we're here to see them via evolution and the environment we need to survive.

Zoticus: But that's very unsatisfying...

"Some [of those in Guantanamo]... are Cold-Blooded Killers"

Duncan Black has passed beyond shrill into calmness:

Eschaton: Some. I was struck by these comments by Bush for rather obvious reasons:

Mr Bush forestalled the Europeans by raising the issue of Guantanamo Bay at the summit, saying that he understood their concerns. He spoke of his "deep desire to end the program", adding: "I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with."

Some of the inmates would be returned to their home countries, he said. But "there are some that need to be tried in US courts. They are cold-blooded killers. They will murder someone if out on the street."

So, presumably Bush believes that "some" or even "most" are not "cold-blooded killers." In fact, it sounds like they haven't even committed offenses which would merit being tried in a court.

How long have they been there?

Four years.

Impeach George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley, and the rest of them. Do it now.

The Minimum Wage: Some Aircover for Gene Sperling...

Gene Sperling could use some aircover. Greg Mankiw writes:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Sperling on the Minimum Wage: Gene Sperling, former economic adviser to Bill Clinton, tries to get President Bush to endorse a minimum-wage increase. Gene dismisses worries about adverse effects on employment. He writes:

No one has yet rebutted convincingly David Card and Alan Krueger's study that compared fast-food jobs on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and found no decrease in lower-wage jobs after New Jersey raised its state minimum wage.

The key word here is "convincingly." Gene is, apparently, not convinced by the Neumark-Wascher study that reevaluated the Card-Krueger work.... To me, Gene looks like a doctor prescribing a drug relying on a single controversial study that finds no adverse side effects, while ignoring the many reports of debilitating results.

Some air cover is provided by two non-big-fans of the minimum wage whose take on the evidence on employment effects coincides with Gene's:

Some more air cover if provided by Card and Krueger. I, at least, thought the issue was settled in Card and Krueger's favor by their rebuttal of Neumark and Wascher.

And Jason Furman tells me to go read Daron Acemoglu and Jörn-Steffen Pischke on the minimum-wage-and-training issue:

Daron Acemoglu and Jörn-Steffen Pischke (2001), "Minimum Wages and on-the-Job Training (Bonn: IZA Working Paper 384):

Becker’s theory of human capital predicts that minimum wages should reduce training investments for affected workers because they prevent these workers from taking wage cuts necessary to finance training. In contrast, in noncompetitive labor markets, minimum wages tend to increase training of affected workers because they induce firms to train their unskilled employees. We provide new estimates on the impact of the state and federal increases in the minimum wage between 1987 and 1992 on the training of low wage workers. We find no evidence that minimum wages reduce training, and little evidence that they tend to increase training. We therefore develop a hybrid model where minimum wages reduce the training investments of workers who were taking wage cuts to finance their training, while increasing the training of other workers. Finally, we provide some evidence consistent with this hybrid model.

And also Daron Acemoglu, “Good Jobs vs. Bad Jobs”:

Daron Acemoglu (2001), "Good Jobs versus Bad Jobs," Journal of Labor Economics 19:1, pp. 1-21:

This article develops a model of noncompetitive labor markets in which high-wage (good) and low-wage (bad) jobs coexist. Minimum wages and unemployment benefits shift the composition of employment toward high-wage jobs. Because the composition of jobs in the laissez-faire equilibrium is inefficiently biased toward low-wage jobs, these labor market regulations increase average labor productivity and may improve welfare.

Department of "Huh?"

A commentary on the Enron case:

White Collar Crime Prof Blog: A Hint About How Causey's Guilty Plea Affected the Skilling Defense: Count 14 charging Skilling with securities fraud... how the guilty plea of former Enron chief accounting office Richard Causey right before trial affected [Skilling's] defense. The government's evidence of fraud included the so-called "Global Galactic" memo handwritten by former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow and purportedly initialed by Richard Causey... who apparently planned to question at trial whether the initials on the document were his.

Once Causey entered a guilty plea to a single count of securities fraud, he was no longer available to dispute the authenticity of the document or question his connection to it. Right before trial, Judge Lake denied Skilling's motion to have an expert review the original of the memo to determine whether the initials really were Causey's, on the ground that the motion was untimely. At trial, Fastow testified that Skilling orally acknowledged the "Global Galactic" memo that set forth side deals (including the infamous Nigerian Barge transaction with Merrill Lynch) removing certain risks from Enron's balance sheet, the cornerstone of the government's securities fraud charge.

According to Skilling's motion, this was a material variance from the indictment that misled him as to the importance of the "Global Galactic" memo because the indictment only charged him with liability as a conspirator and not as a participant in the transaction. Therefore, the denial of the motion to have an expert examine the document meant he had no effective defense to the government's evidence to support a different theory of liability...

An interesting question is why, if Skilling's lawyers really believed the initials of Causey were forged, the defense did not call him as a witness....

It seems clear that the defense strategy before Causey's guilty plea was to make Fastow the focus of the case and raise questions about the authenticity of the only document close to being a contemporaneous "smoking gun." Once Causey switched sides, the defense was left with rebutting Fastow through cross-examination and the testimony of Skilling and Ken Lay, which did not appear to have much beneficial effect. The "Global Galactic" memo stood out as one of the few pieces of documentary evidence linking Skilling to improper accounting at Enron...

For the defense to call Causey to the stand and ask him whether the initials are in fact his would seem to be a very "effective defense"--in the counterfactual world in which Skilling is in fact innocent, in which Causey's initials are forged, and in which Skilling did not verbally OK the deals, that is.

Larry Summers on the International Financial Situation

John Berry reports on Larry Summers's views of the international financial situation:

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said last week that the $800 billion U.S. current account deficit represents a risk to the global economy and that if its decline isn't carefully managed, it could lead to a world recession.... In contrast, several of the other conference speakers, including Harvard economist Richard N. Cooper and economist Peter Garber of Deutsche Bank, portrayed the deficits as relatively benign....

Summers was skeptical about both the smoothness of the adjustment and its timing. In recent years, numerous economists have predicted the foreign investors and central banks whose purchases of U.S. stocks and bonds, direct investments in companies and bank loans have financed the current account deficits would become reluctant to continue doing so. That could have forced up interest rates and caused the deficits to decline. That hasn't occurred, of course, and now some of those economists are wondering if it ever will....

"Since the conventional view hasn't been right, that's evidence that view is wrong," or so that argument goes, Summers said. To the contrary, there's "more risk now" than previously that a crisis could erupt, he said.

On June 15, the Boston Federal Reserve Bank's president, Cathy E. Minehan, asked how many of the participants expected a smooth correction of the deficits at some point. So many hands went up that she didn't ask who disagreed. The next day, the bank's research director, Jeffrey C. Fuhrer asked how many thought there was at least a 10 percent to 20 percent probability that a financial crisis would force the adjustment to occur. A similarly large majority held up their hands to that as well.

I put the probability of something going wrong much higher than 20 percent because so many things have to happen to avoid a crisis.

Either way, smooth or rough, American households are going to feel a lot of pain when the adjustment does occur. It isn't going to be much comfort either that the pain elsewhere, particularly in Europe, is likely to be worse...

You have to look at the whole distribution. We are probably going to be OK--although other countries may not be. There is a chance--I would put it at 25%--that we are going to have a serious financial crisis.

Michael Berube Is Shrill

No, he is not shrill because of the Bush administration--not right now. He is shrill because Noam Chomsky says that those primarily responsible for the Srebenica Massacre are... the Dutch government:

Michael Berube: My friend Danny Postel, senior editor of OpenDemocracy, calls my attention to this recent interview with Noam Chomsky in the New Statesman. Specifically, to this passage:

"Remember, the Milosevic Tribunal began with Kosovo, right in the middle of the US-British bombing in late '99 . . . Now if you take a look at that indictment, with a single exception, every charge was for crimes after the bombing.

"There's a reason for that. The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit [that] it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did. Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings. In fact, if you look at the British parliamentary inquiry, they actually reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.

"So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn't going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible--their troops were there--and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick."

OK, this kind of thing really has to stop. Now.

For three reasons: one, because it is a pack of lies, and as a wise man once said, the job of the intellectual is to tell the truth and expose lies.

Two, because the defend-Milosevic crew has been getting more and more outlandish and bizarre every year, and, like unto loony LaRouchies, they have sometimes been discovered messing with legitimate progressive organizations. If real progressives don't speak out on this, it won't be long before we'll be hearing that poor Slobodan cried bitter tears of sorrow when he heard about the massacre of Srbrenica, even though it never really happened in the first place. And, insult upon injury, we'll be hearing about this from so-called "leftists."...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Revolt of the Fiscalists, Continued...

Kevin Hassett draws a line in the sand: unless Judd Gregg's resurrection of Gramm-Rudman--Gregg's Stop Over-Spending bill--becomes law before congress recesses at the end of September, Hassett says there is no reason for him or any other conservative to vote for this bunch of Republicans ever again:

AEI - Short Publications: Republicans Have Last, Best Chance to Limit Pork. By Kevin A. Hassett: For the past six years, the federal government has spent with more reckless abandon than a drunk with a platinum credit card. Between the 2000 and 2005 fiscal years, real spending increased an astonishing $415 billion, a 23 percent increase. Under the latest projections, by 2015 government outlays will be almost $2 trillion more than when President George W. Bush took office....

So what can they do about it?

In Homer's Odyssey, when Odysseus sailed past the sirens, he had his crew put wax in their ears and lashed him to the mast so he could listen to the song without being lured to his doom. In the past, politicians have enacted budget rules... 1985... Gramm-Rudman-Hollings... 1990... Budget Enforcement Act... pay-as-you-go rules... discretionary spending caps. These provisions were allowed to expire in 2002.

Did those budget rules work?... James Poterba concluded that budget rules do work. While Congress could in principle ignore budget rules, in practice they have tended not to do so, which have historically led to smaller deficits....

The most important feature of [Judd Gregg's] bill is that it gives the president a line-item veto.... Why would any senator or representative take all the negative publicity about a ``bridge to nowhere'' if the president is going to nix it? After that, the bill establishes a goal of reducing the deficit to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product.... Should Congress be unable to control itself... the bill would require that virtually all spending be reduced across the board.

The bill addresses the profusion of emergency spending bills by capping emergency spending at a low level....

[S]ome of his colleagues might not be rejoicing about his skillful budget play. The problem is, Gregg may force the hand of big government Republicans, and put them on the record before the next election.... Should these reforms become law, then Republicans may yet convince voters to continue to support them.

But if, because of their appetite for pork, they torpedo these reforms, then it is hard to imagine why any conservative would support this particular cast of characters in November -- or ever again, for that matter.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Outsourced to the Horse's Mouth:

The Horse's Mouth: TIMES SHAFTS KERRY. Today's Times front-page piece about Democratic debate over Iraq is quite a piece of work. First it bungles a key fact.... Kerry repeatedly described the war as a mistake.... What really happened was that he "supported" the President's request for the authorization to use force in Iraq if the President deemed it necessary. Then Kerry repeatedly criticized the President's use of that authorization to invade the way he did as a mistake. Is it too much to ask from The Times that they make this not-terribly-complex distinction?

Then the paper indulges in some highly questionable sourcing as it strains mightily to portray Kerry as calculating and political:

Senate Democrats have been loath to express their opinions publicly, determined to emphasize a united front. But interviews suggest a frustration with Mr. Kerry, never popular among the caucus, and still unpopular among many Democrats for failing to defeat a president they considered vulnerable. Privately, some of his Democratic peers complain that he is too focused on the next presidential campaign. (Emphasis added.)

Interviews "suggest" a frustration; his "peers" say he's political, though no "peer" is quoted saying so, even anonymously. Meanwhile, the piece also adds high up in the story that Kerry's position leaves Dems "open to Republican taunts that they are `cutting and running' in Iraq" without letting any Dem rebut that argument until the end of the piece. And of course the story features an obligatory reference to Kerry's "I was for it before I was against it" campaign gaffe.

This is really cheap stuff -- thinly sourced, factually questionable and bordering on snide -- and it's truly surprising that it got past any Times editor.

--Greg Sargent

UPDATE: In their piece on Dem division, The Washington Post does The Times one better, literally reprinting a GOP press release: "GOP leaders took obvious pleasure in the Democrats' disarray, issuing a stream of press releases with headlines such as, `Democrats Divided On The Meaning Of Their Own Amendments.'"

When I tell my children that there was a time when saying you worked for the Washington Post or the New York Times added rather than subtracted from your credibility, they refuse to believe me...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Dorkface?

Just why did George H.W. Bush ever imagine that it would be a good thing for him to give his oldest son his rolodex and his blessing to run for president?

The Carpetbagger reports:

Carpetbagger Report: Diplomacy still isn't his strong point: At a press conference in Vienna, Austria, this morning, a reporter, speaking to the president, noted that only 14% of Austrians believe the United States is good for peace and more British citizens see Bush's policies as a destabilizing force in the world than Iran's. The reporter asked Bush to explain why, from his perspective, he's failed to win over the Europeans' "hearts and minds."

Time for the president to go into diplomatic mode, right? Turn on the charm? Well, not exactly.

"Look, people didn't agree with my decision on Iraq. And I understand that. For Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us it was a change of thinking.... "I believe in the universality of freedom. Some don't. I'm going to act on my beliefs so long as I'm the president of the United States. Some people say, 'It's OK to condemn people to tyranny.' I don't believe it's OK to condemn people to tyranny, particularly those of us who live in the free societies."

He's quite a diplomat, isn't he?... He uses the exact same baseless, straw-men demagoguery against his critics in Europe as he does against his critics in the U.S. If you disagree with Bush, you don't understand 9/11 and you want to condemn people to tyranny. Where have I heard that before?

As for Bush's standing in Europe, I had foolishly assumed that he couldn't get any less popular. The president, once again, is able to go well beyond my expectations.

The Financial Times Is the Best Newspaper in the World

I agree:

Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed: Redesigned FT is a Winner: As a quasi-journalistic aside, the Financial Times site has been redesigned and I like it. While the WSJ still beats the FT for breaking business and financial news, the FT does a better job of context and commentary, and the new site makes that even more obvious.

No Native Criminal Class Save for Congress

David Leonhardt has a good piece on credits for fuel-efficient vehicles:

U.S. Hybrids Get More Miles Per Congress - New York Times: David Leonhardt: [H]ybrid cars have basically been a luxury item. If you owned one, you could feel good about using less gasoline and being a trendsetter, but you couldn't expect the fuel savings to make up for the thousands of extra dollars that the hybrid cost.... But in the last few months, something important has changed. Gas prices have settled in at close to $3 a gallon, which is enough to make a few hybrids almost worth it, if not quite. And since the start of the year, the federal government has been giving generous tax credits to hybrid buyers.... If you're deciding between a Prius and a regular Camry, the Prius, which gets a $3,150 credit, will start saving you money in just a few years.

The point of a tax policy like this -- the point of a lot of tax policy, in fact -- is to give people an incentive to change their behavior, and persuading Americans to use less oil certainly sounds like one of Washington's priorities these days. Yet, astoundingly, many of the tax credits are about to be taken away. So if you are thinking of buying a Prius or Camry Hybrid, do it soon, as in this month or maybe next.... [T]he hybrid tax credit... was never really intended to reduce oil imports from the Middle East or slow the effects of global warming. The credit was created to prop up Detroit while giving conservation a nod.

Last summer... it was clear that any tax credit would go overwhelmingly to buyers of Japanese cars. So members of Congress, with help from Detroit's lobbyists, came up with an ingenious solution. They created a cap, a maximum number of hybrids that any single manufacturer could sell -- 60,000 -- before a clock started ticking, causing the credits for that carmaker to begin disappearing two quarters later. The idea, Mark Kemmer, a G.M. lobbyist, told Automotive News, was to keep any one company from getting "a runaway benefit."

Toyota hit the 60,000 mark last month, less than five months after the Jan. 1 start of the program, and the credits for its hybrid buyers will be cut in half on Oct. 1.... Honda... will probably hit the cap next year. And the Big Three? Combined, they have sold fewer than 15,000 eligible vehicles so far, all by Ford.... Come next year, then, the government will pay you to buy a Silverado hybrid (which gets about 16 miles per gallon) or a Ford Escape Hybrid (which gets about 26, according to Consumer Reports), but not a Prius (44)....

But I think there is a larger lesson here.... What the government can do that nobody else can, however, is set up a simple system of rewards and penalties -- with the single goal of reducing oil use, regardless of the means -- and then let the marketplace work it out. Economists tend to prefer a gas tax, but it's not the only option.... Google has a nice template: it gives $5,000 to employees who buy a car that gets at least 45 m.p.g. in the government's ratings, a threshold that only the Prius and two Honda hybrids now meet.

I know this might sound like one more nail in Detroit's coffin, but it doesn't have to be one. The Big Three have the engineering expertise to build vehicles that can go a long way on a gallon of gas. If Washington would only nudge people to buy cars like that, Detroit would start making them.

The implications with respect to the congressional leadership are obvious: vote them out of office; vote them out of office as soon as possible.

Does Insanity Run in the Hitchens Family?

The answer appears to be yes. Peter Hitchens believes that the West lost the Cold War:

Mail online - Peter Hitchens: British passport? That won't do nicely: Nothing does more to bring a holiday to an abrupt end than arrival at one of Britain's grim airports, especially the ones surrounding London. The windowless corridors with their low ceilings are like the reception halls of some vast liberal prison, which in a way they are.

But the experience is also interesting, if you are observant. For years, the passport gates have been divided between "EU Passport Holders" and "Non-EU Passport Holders". This distinction made it rather too plain that there is now no such thing as a British subject, that we do not control our borders and that former British subjects now have no more right to enter their own country than the citizens of nearly three dozen assorted countries, some of them until recently Communist dictatorships. Commonwealth citizens are even worse off.

As in all socialist paradises, only money or privilege can get you past these clogged queues. If you aren't able to get into the 'fast track', you must wait for ages while parties of retired Estonian KGB colonels are waved into the country ahead of you...

Musing About "Hard Landing" Scenarios

Brad Setser muses about the sitch:

RGE - A hard landing in 2006 -- just not in the US?: Brad Setser | Jun 18, 2006

Nouriel and I postulated back in early 2005 that there was a meaningful risk that the next "emerging market" crisis might come from the US -- and it might come sooner than most expected.... Why the emphasis on central banks? Simple: they have been the lender of last resort for the US, financing the US when private markets don't want to.... [A] truly bad scenario for the US seemed to require a change in central banks' policies.... It sure doesn't look like sudden stops in financial flows and sharp markets moves have been banished from the international financial system. Certainly not this year. They just didn't strike the US, but other countries with large and rising current account deficits.

Iceland's currency is way down.... The Turkish lira is way down....

Currency collapses do not necessarily translate into economic slumps. That was a key point that the Federal Reserve has made in response to fears about a US hard landing. A fall in the currency doesn't always translate into higher interest rates, at least in post-industrial countries.... The US, thankfully, has financed itself by selling dollar-denominated debt, pushing currency risks onto its creditors....


My hypothesis is threefold.

In April, the G-7 communique triggered a fall in the market's willingness to finance US deficits.... Central banks financed the US when markets didn't want to. In May and early June, folks who borrowed dollars and yen to buy emerging market equities... sold their emerging market equities... deleveraging. The net effect has been to help finance the US....

My question: What happens once this process is over?...

If I had to guess, I would say Bill Gross (quoted in Business Week) is right.
It's like Peter Pan who shouts, "'Do you believe?' And the crowd shouts back, in unison, 'We believe.'" You can believe in fairy tales and Peter Pan as long as the crowd shouts back, "we believe." That's what the dollar represents, a store of value that people believe in. They can keep on believing, but there comes a point that they don't.

Greenspan was here two months ago and talked with us for two hours. The most interesting point was his comment that there will come a time when foreign central banks and foreign investors reach saturation levels with their dollar holdings, and so he sort of drew his hand across his neck as if they've had it. Why can't they keep on swallowing dollars? Logic would suggest that these things start to fray at the fringes. Once the snowball starts it can really get going....

A big fall in the dollar isn't bad for the US. A big fall in financial inflows that led to a rise in US interest rates though is another story. A 200 bp move is not so big for emerging economies, but it is big for the US. And because the US financial system is much more leveraged, it would also have much bigger consequences...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO:

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 101: The first application of the new rules... would be to Zubaydah.... [T]he value of his capture had already been oversold... and Zubayda wouldn't talk. Tenet was pushing... for a surprise... which he could then deliver to Bush--evidence that would, after the fact, support [Bush's] public statements....

"Around the room a lot of people just rolled their eyes.... Bush and Cheney knew what we knew about Zubaydah.... It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," said one top CIS official.... What they'd soon realize was that this was [Bush's] management style. A way, as he would often quip, to push people "to do things they didn't think they were capable of."

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Where Oh Where Are the Cedars of Lebanon?

James Wimberley writes:

The Reality-Based Community: Dem dry bones: James Wimberley: In Sunday's C of E lectionary, Ezekiel sees cedar trees like this in Israel (KJV):

17:22 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:

17:23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.

God's silviculture here is peculiar.

You can't grow a cedar from a cutting.... [T]he natural reading is that... Ezekiel... went into exile in Babylonia with King Jehoiachin. The trees available in [Babylon] place were... fruit trees - olives, apricots - which can reproduce from cuttings.... It seems likely that Ezekiel (writing from 592 to 570 BCE) and his audience had never seen a forest of cedars; probably any forest.

Deforestation in the Near East started long before the time of Ezekiel. Richard Cowen of UC Davis tells the story.... I'll only lift two standard references from him.

In the world's oldest book... Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE), the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on a destructive logging expedition to Anatolia.... Princes like Gilgamesh and Solomon needed timber for prestige buildings, but the real damage was done by inefficient charcoal smelting on a huge scale....

Plato showed a melancholy understanding of the changes in the Critias:

[T]here are remaining [in Attica] only the bones of the wasted body.... But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains... were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain....

The typical Mediterranean mountain landscape left by Bronze and Iron Age asset-stripping is denuded to Plato's skeleton.... Old forests are rare in the region - the Trodos forest in Cyprus was saved by a combination of conservative monkish landowners and a British colonial ban on goats; those of inland Sardinia by remoteness. The cedars of Lebanon are reduced to a few small stands.

Reafforestation in these conditions is painful and expensive.... A word you don't hear much in the climate change debate is hysteresis. Going back on a big environmental change is very hard work...

The Bush Doctrine: Make Enemies Who Broadcast 24/7 Worldwide

The Bush doctrine: make as many enemies with 24/7 access to communications satellites as possible:

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 137: Tapes were delivered directly to Al Jazeera.... Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda, were showing that nonstate actors could also mount a kind of message power... speaking in elegant Arabic about the challenge Muslims now face from the American Goliath, was too good a show....


Tenet pressed [al-Thani]--to rein in [Al Jazeera]. The emir explained... a hard-and-fast rule to never get involved in issues of coverage. There was nothing he could do.

The CIA saw its options more broadly. As Krongard sais, "It came down to a principle you'd hear again and again.... Talk to them in a way they understand."

On November 13... a U.S. missile obliterated Al Jazeera's [Kabul] office.... "This office has been known by everybody, the American airplances kno the location of the office," said Al Jazeera's managing director, Mohammed Jasim al-Ali. "They know we are broadcasting from there."

All that, in fact, was correct.

Inside the CIA, and White House, there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al Jazeera.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine"

Ron Suskind (2006), The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies since 9/11 (New York: Simon and Schuster: 0743271092).

The opening of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine:

Ron Suskind: The "what ifs" can kill you.... [I]n terms of the tragedy of 9/11, a particular regret lingers for those who might have made a difference. The alarming August 6, 2001, memo from the CIA to [Bush]--"Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US"--has been widely noted in the past few years. But also in August CIA analysts flew to Crawford to personally brief the President--to intrude on his vacation with face-to-face alerts.

The analytical arm of CIA was in a kind of panic mode.... They didn't know place or time... but something was coming. The President needed to know.

Verbal briefings of George W. Bush are acts of almost inestimable import... more so than... for other recent presidents. He's not much of a reader... never has been... not a President who sees much value in hearing from a wide array of voices.... But he's a very good listener and an extremely visual listener. He sizes people up swiftly and aptly... and trusts his eyes. It is a gift, this nonverbal acuity.... What does George W. Bush do? He makes it personal.... The expert... has done the hard work... [Bush] tries to gauge how "certain" they are of what they say....

The trap, of course, is that while these tactile, visceral markers can be crucial... they sometimes are not. The thing to focus on, at certain moments, is what someone says, not who is saying it, or how they're saying it.

And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice.

He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer.

"All right," he said. "You've covered your ass, now."

One thing in Suskind's picture is very different from what I hear. Suskind says that Bush has "a gift, this nonverbal acuity." That's not what my sources who have dealt with Bush say. They say, by contrast, that Bush is quite bad at sizing people up--unable to distinguish who is telling him pleasing lies from who is telling him the truth. In fact, uniquely bad. Vastly worse than any previous president in living memory. And stubborn too: once Bush has made a bad decision, he will not even think of reversing it.

What is The One Percent Doctrine about? It is the CIA-view account of the first three years after 9/11. It tells the story of the War on Terror fought by the CIA. It tells the story of the War on Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld convinced Bush had to be fought--although it never explains why they thought it had to be fought, and why they thought it had to be fought with too few and the wrong kind of forces. And it tells the story of the War on the CIA waged by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, and Rice--a war that in the book's view has left us far less able to fight the real War on Terror than we should be today.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

To Rumsfeld, Al Qaeda Is the Adversary and CIA Is the Enemy

To Donald Rumsfeld, Al Qaeda is the adversary and CIA is the enemy:

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 77: Rumsfeld told a group of senior Pentagon aides, "I never again want our army to arrive somewhere and meet the CIA on the ground." to a gathering of top generals in "the tank," the Joint Chiefs' secure conference room, he was even more succinct: "Every CIA success," he told them, "is a DoD failure."...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

More Illusions of George Tenet

Slam dunk:

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 188: Bush then turned to Tenet and said, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"

Tenet, according to Woodward's account, then rose, threw up both arms in the air, and said, "It's a slam dunk case!"

The account of the meeting... was provided to Woodward by White House officials.... [Bush]... extensively briefed before his sit-down meeting with Woodward... told [Woodward]... that Tenet's reassurance "was very important."...

Tenet and McLaughlin don't remember the meeting very well. Tenet... doesn't actually remember ever saying "slam dunk." Doesn't dispute it. Just doesn't remember it. McLaughlin said he never remembered Tent saying "slam dunk" either... doesn't recall Tenet ever... jumping up and waving his arms.

He and Tenet have both told close friends that it was a marketing meeting, not about the actual research, but about presentation. This may be a fine point ofr distinction, but... context is important.... [Bush's] question, McLaughlin recalled, was "whether we could craft a better pitch than this--a PR meeting--it certainly wasn't about the nature of the evidence."

There's one other thing McLaughlin remembers clearly.... McLaughlin said something he'd said several times: "George, sometimes I think we need to be very careful about what we say in that room."

Tenet disagreed. "No, what we say in there won't come back to haunt us. It's what we write down. That's the permanent record. That's what'll count."

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

The Illusions of George Tenet

The cossacks--in this case, Condi Rice--work for the Czar--George W. Bush

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 248: Tenet continued to search for a way to absolve Bush of any involvement. He'd say, several times, to aides and close associated that "this is being driven by Condi" and that "this isn't the President."

Time and again, the same response would come back: "Jesus, George. She works for him."

Greg Mankiw Refers Everyone to Jason Furman on Health Insurance

Greg Mankiw approvingly cites Jason Furman on health insurance:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Furman on Health Insurance: Economist Jason Furman, a frequent adviser to Democratic candidates, has a new article on health insurance that is well worth reading. In this excerpt, Jason points out that our tax code leads to excessive use of health insurance:

[I]f your employer pays $1,000 in premiums to your insurance company, that money is effectively tax deductible to you. But if your employer raises your salary by $1,000 and you use the extra money to pay for medical bills, you generally will not get a tax deduction. As a result, many people end up with more-generous health insurance plans than they would otherwise choose to have. These plans have lower deductibles, lower co-payments, and lower co-insurance and are often focused around providing first-dollar coverage for routine medical expenses, rather than genuine insurance. As a result, individuals in the health system are often spending someone else's money, which is never a recipe for cost consciousness. Unfortunately, ultimately it is not really someone else's money: the cost is paid in higher premiums, which in turn are reflected in lower wages.

Most economists agree with this analysis (see my previous post on health insurance).

Jason suggests several policy responses, such as limiting the amount of health insurance that is tax-deductible. That proposal has my vote.

Here is Jason's close:

Jason Furman: Congress could cap the amount of health insurance that is tax-deductible... limiting the deductibility of employer-premium contributions to... $7,500 for a family policy.... Those savings, in turn, could be used to expand coverage in a variety of ways, such as by guaranteeing Medicaid to all Americans below the poverty level (or an even higher threshold), by providing progressive tax credits to strengthen the weakest link in the employer-sponsored system (coverage by small businesses) or by funding subsidies for new mechanisms to make insurance affordable for all Americans, such as allowing them to buy into a plan like the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP), the same health plan available to members of Congress.

In such a scenario, there is little risk of undermining the employer-sponsored health system, because the proposal would retain the current structure of tax subsidies for employer-sponsored insurance.... It is also unlikely that a generous employer who contributes $10,000 toward annual premiums would drop coverage altogether just because the employee’s tax benefit is trimmed....

This approach would buy the health care system some time, but would not cure it. To do that, policymakers should consider scrapping the deductibility of health insurance entirely and replacing it with a progressive tax credit. Individuals could count the value of their health insurance as part of their income when calculating their taxes, but they would get a new progressive tax credit instead of a deduction. The tax credit would be the reverse of the current system, more like $4,000 going to the cleaner and $1,000 to the investment banker.... This could create the basis for a simpler, fairer system of universal health insurance. Although health benefits might be slightly less generous, higher out-of-pocket costs would be offset by higher wages.

Ultimately, the best plan might include many elements from the recent health reform in Massachusetts while also addressing that scheme’s biggest shortcoming, its lack of sufficient funding. Under a plan of this type, people would have the responsibility to ensure that their families are insured.... [T]he federal government would have the responsibility to make insurance affordable for all through a combination of progressive tax credits, employer mandates (or penalties for firms not offering insurance), a new pooling mechanism for small businesses and higher risk individuals, and expansions in Medicaid. The money saved by ending the tax deductibility of health insurance, plus the existing funding for Medicare and Medicaid, might be enough to pay for a well-designed, universal health-insurance plan....

The principal goal of universal insurance is to provide more health care for the uninsured and to reimburse them for more of the costs they are currently paying themselves.... [T]he total bill for universal insurance is likely to be anywhere from $50 billion to $200 billion....

Nevertheless, there are many areas in which our tax code’s perverse incentives take us in the wrong direction, wasting money and exacerbating inequality.... Progressives should focus more on efficiency, not just in the traditional economic sense but also in terms of ensuring that our limited resources are put to the best use in achieving those social goals–-like helping families pay for college or health care–-that are increasingly being funded through the tax system. There is no better place to start than with our number-one national problem: health care. And if we cure what ails our tax code, making it more progressive and fair, we can put health care within reach for all Americans.

Edmund Burke: "A War of a Peculiar Nature"

Edmund Burke:

Burke, "Letters on a Regicide Peace": We are in a war of a peculiar nature. It is not with an ordinary community, which is hostile or friendly as passion or as interest may veer about; not with a State which makes war through wantonness, and abandons it through lassitude. We are at war with a system... with an armed doctrine.... It has, by its essence, a faction of opinion, and of interest, and of enthusiasm, in every country.... Thus advantaged, if it can at all exist, it must finally prevail...

The Bells of St. Martin's

Boing Boing gives a rave review to Jo Walton's very good Farthing:

Boing Boing: Farthing: Heart-rending alternate history about British-Reich peace: Jo Walton's new alternate history novel Farthing manages the incredible, heart-rending trick of being a quiet little story about quiet, brave people while simultaneously conjuring the kind of haunting dystopia that rips your guts out.

In the Farthing timeline, Britain made peace with Hitler, through the intervention of a faction within the Tories called "the Farthing set," for the Farthing manor house on which they gather. Hitler has taken Europe and is warring on Russia, while Britain barely tolerates the Jewish refugees that have come to its shores.

The story opens with a weekend on the Farthing estate in 1949, and Lucy, the sole surviving child of the family that owns the estate, has come back to her girlhood home with her husband, David, a Jewish banker who escaped Hitler's France. David is cordially loathed by all present -- the Farthing set -- who nevertheless tolerate him with hypocritical good cheer.

Then the architect of the peace with Hitler is found murdered in his bed in Farthing manor, and all suspicion turns to David. Even those who suspect that this is a setup nevertheless choose to believe that it isn't, preferring to blame the interloping Jew to one of their number.

The story proceeds in chapters told by Lucy and chapters told by a likable, sharp Scotland Yard detective, but this is no detective story. It's a thorough study on evil, a meditation of how people betray that which is good for that which is expedient, or self-serving. It is never cynical -- the world of Farthing has at least as many heroically selfless angels as cheap sellouts, but where this book really goes on a tear is in showing how even the good can be easily boxed into doing ill.

Farthing is clearly a parable about Britain and America in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, when commonsense, humanism, and a commitment to liberty and justice has been easily set aside in a fury of bloodlust and a dismal, shrugging apathy. Walton's deft touch is like Orwell's, tender but unflinching, and it's easy to see why she won the Campbell Award and the World Fantasy Award.

Once I hit the home stretch, the last hundred pages, I couldn't put this down. Like the last act of 1984, Farthing's conclusion inspires a simultaneous round of dread and hope that I couldn't walk away from. Few books have moved me as much as Farthing, it's one of those novels I'll be recommending to friends and returning to many, many times.

As a political novel, it is superb. As a novel novel, it is--I found, YMMV--a hair below Jo Walton's other (excellent) work: the principal narrator grows a bit too much a bit too fast during the course of the book, and while my disbelief remained suspended there were some red lights on the control board and some stomach-unsettling fluctuations in the local antigravity field.

Nevertheless, highly recommended.

From TOR, as is an increasingly large proportion of high-quality smack-for-the-eyes-and-brain these days.

Eric Umansky: Opportunity Cost Check-in

>[Eric Umansky: Opportunity Cost Check-in]( Opportunity Cost Check-in Two years ago, James Fallows wrote about the things the administration chose not to do in lieu of invading Iraq: The first front in the war on terror, Afghanistan, was left to fester, as attention and money were drained toward Iraq. This in turn left more havens in Afghanistan in which terrorist groups could reconstitute themselves; a resurgent opium-poppy economy to finance them; and more of the disorder and brutality the United States had hoped to eliminate. With that in mind, I bring you the A.P.'s latest dispatch from that first front on the war on terror: BAGHRAN VALLEY, Afghanistan, June 18 (AP) %u2014 United States soldiers descended on a mountain ridge on Sunday, quickly setting up fortified posts and mortar positions overlooking a major transport route used by insurgents linked to the Taliban, as the American-led coalition pressed a major offensive that has killed dozens of suspected militants. It was the first time in several years that soldiers from the coalition had ventured into the Baghran Valley, in the northern part of Helmand Province. If that's true, well, consider that the Bagrhan Valley has long been considered a Taliban stronghold and reported home of Mullah Omar. (Remember that guy?) Seems like it would have been a good place to put to some troops, eh? ---- >>[MarsEdit: Easy weblog editing](

Judd Gregg Tries to Revive Gramm-Rudman

The problem with Judd Gregg's proposal is that Gramm-Rudman didn't work when we tried it in the 1980s. It, I think, made matters worse--members of congress became more eager to vote for budget-busting measures when they could claim that Gramm-Rudman placed a cap on the total deficit, and then the congress was unwilling to apply the cap medicine when the dose turned out to be unexpectedly high, and so the process died.

The Budget Enforcement Act framework seemed to work much better in the 1990s than Gramm-Rudman worked in the 1980s.

The shift to two-year budgeting, however, does seem like a very good idea.

House Panel Approves Line-Item Veto Bill: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., unveiled a broader budget overhaul plan. In addition to a similar mechanism to require revotes on projects deemed wasteful by the president, the bill would revive the old Gramm-Rudman mechanism of setting hard deficit targets and requiring across-the-board cuts if they are not met. The measure sets a target of a reducing the deficit to .5 percent of the size of the economy within six years.

"It will lead to a balanced budget for sure by 2012," Gregg said.

Unlike the Gramm-Rudman law, the across-the-board cuts would apply not just to programs passed by Congress each year but also to benefit programs such as Medicare, welfare and unemployment insurance.

Gregg's proposal, which is likely to clear the Budget Committee but stall thereafter, would also put Congress on a two-year budget cycle and establish a commission to make recommendations to keep Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid solvent...

The Cheney Supremacy

Dan Froomkin on The Cheney Supremacy:

The Cheney Supremacy: By Dan Froomkin: [T]he longer-term significance of [Ron] Suskind's new book... how it documents Vice President Cheney's singularly dominant role in the foreign policy and national security decisions typically attributed to President Bush.

Where other journalists smarmily imply that Cheney is in charge, or credulously relate White House assurances that he's not, Suskind appears to have gotten people with first-hand experience to actually describe how Cheney operates -- and what he has wrought.... Writes Suskind on his Web site:

What is the guiding principle of the world's most powerful nation as it searches for enemies at home and abroad? The One Percent Doctrine is the deeply secretive core of America's real playbook: a default strategy, designed by Dick Cheney, that separates America from its moorings, and has driven everything -- from war in Afghanistan to war in Iraq to the global search for jihadists.

Time magazine this week is running an excerpt from Suskind's book. In an introduction, Time writes:

Two months had passed since 9/11, and at the highest levels of government, officials were worrying about a second wave of attacks. CIA Director George Tenet was briefing Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room on the agency's latest concern: intelligence reports suggesting that Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had met with a radical Pakistani nuclear scientist around a campfire in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat -- what he called a 'low-probability, high-impact event' -- and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined,' writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

And then Cheney defined it: 'If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis.... It's about our response.' Suskind writes, 'So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come.'

In an appearance on NBC's Today Show this morning, Suskind had this to say about the "one percent doctrine" -- which he also calls the "Cheney doctrine": "What it does is it embraces suspicions as a threshold for action."...

[H]ere's another telling scene: When Tenet and some of his briefers initially headed over to the White House to tell Bush about the new threat, Tenet has to go first, to "prebrief Bush for four or five minutes," which Suskind writes is "common practice" so that "Bush could be authoritative and updated when others arrived."

This is Suskind's second major book-length contribution to understanding the Bush White House. His first... "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill."... Its two main themes: 1) That the president was disengaged ("like a blind man in a room full of deaf people") and managed by his staff (encircled by "a Praetorian guard"); and 2) That the White House was intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein long before 9/11 ("It was all about finding a way to do it.") Both of those points slowly but surely made their way to becoming conventional wisdom in Washington.

Dan Froomkin on Tony Snow talking to Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: The Washington Post published a fascinating cable today, a report written by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to the State Department -- it was signed by Ambassador Khalilzad -- in which it painted a very, very grim -- you read this cable.

SNOW: Yes.

BLITZER: ...Let me just read a line for you. 'Beginning in March and picking up in mid-May, Iraqi staff in the public affairs section have complained that Islamists and/or militia groups have been negatively affecting their daily routine,' and it goes on to the harassment and the threats and the killings that have been going on. It's a pretty damning indictment of the current situation.

SNOW: No, it's actually a reflection of the realities there. And....

BLITZER: And the reality is gloomy.

SNOW: Well, that's taken in mid-May.

Snow thinks things have gotten better in the past month?

Dan Froomkin on Tony Snow II:

One of my readers, Derek Todd, recently pointed out that Snow complains about negative coverage in Iraq -- except when he complains there isn't enough.

Case in point: Snow's June 8 briefing. First came the standard line: "We have been crushing the opposition, but what happens is the opposition has been controlling the airwaves with scattered, fragmentary acts of violence."

But then came reversal: "Now, I think it's important for the American people to understand the nature of what's going on in Iraq, which is -- this gives us a chance to illustrate it -- nobody carried a big story over the weekend about the fact that Zarqawi's people had deposited eight or nine heads in a box -- I say eight or nine because the press accounts vary. That's grotesque. It had enormous effect there, didn't get reported here."

Says Todd, my reader: "You guys can't win." No kidding.

Odious Governments...

Odious governments. Tim Burke muses on how the world should treat thieves who hold nations hostage--and on what duties we owe to their hostages:

Tim Burke: Rentiers of Sovereignty: I've had to deal with a situation this week that involves some complicated transactions over the title to a used car, on behalf of someone else. The mechanisms of title transfer are a hassle, but I'm also largely glad that we have them. This seems to me a function of a modern state that even a libertarian has to love: mechanisms ensuring that people who claim and transfer expensive property are entitled to those claims and rights....

[Y]ou may have seen a story about Angola... conforming to the conventional wisdom that Africa defines the worst of the human condition in the 21st Century. I wouldn't challenge that conventional wisdom in this case, or many others. Angola's tiny governmental elite is raking in huge sums from smaller multinationals involved in pumping out offshore petroleum, and virtually none of that money is going to any public function of any kind....

Angola is the kind of situation that made me think very differently about sovereignty, and about the kinds of politics, both conservative and leftist, that mark the achievement of sovereignty as the initial and necessary condition of achieving prosperity and freedom. Sovereignty is the material resource that the Angolan elite controls and sells, not oil. They are rentiers who extract wealth from selling permission for extraction... no different than a car thief who hotwires a car parked outside a suburban home, drives it fifty miles, and then sells the car on eBay.... The car thief is going to run into trouble establishing a title that can be transferred legitimately. The Angolan elite has no such difficulty.

All the international institutions which exist recognize them as possessing title to sovereignty.... That's not a conservative or liberal thing... [but] an indictment of the entire interstate system built up over the course of the 20th Century, in all its parts and particulars. That system gives titles and ownership to thieves, and allows thieves to sell their goods to supposedly legitimate businesses....

I can't buy a hot car and expect the government to sanction my ownership. If I pass cash under the table to get the car, the car stays hot, and I can expect it to be taken from me at any time to be returned to its rightful owner. All the petroleum that comes out of Angola today is equally stolen. The people who peddle Angola's sovereignty have no right to sell it, and those who buy it know that perfectly well. We need some kind of global system that refuses that transfer of title.

I still feel, for all the water that has flowed under this particular bridge, that this is one case where dissatisfactions with sovereignty on both the right and the left ought to be able to meet productively. The problem of Angola and the problem of Iraq before the war have some real resemblances, and in both cases, passive defenses of sovereignty are unacceptable answers. The war in Iraq wasn't the right alternative; neither would be an extensive ambition to govern Angola through international institutions in productive ways that its own elite will not. The gut-wrenching truth of the human condition in the 21st Century is that some suffering cannot be easily abated or forcibly relieved. But we should imagine what we can do, not merely accept what we cannot. I think that the beginning of a new era of action involves a steady contempt for sovereignty and the claims made in its name, and the construction of a new international system that reflects that contempt. Let's call Angola's elite what they are: thieves. Let's call the companies pumping oil out of Angola what they are: the purchasers of stolen property. Let's make it as difficult as we can for thieves to fence stolen sovereignties, and for purchasers to buy the same.

The question is: How far do you go? What do you do with somebody like Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria--ex-dictator, called by some (according to Wikipedia) the most corrupt man in Africa, who stole more than $10 billion from Nigeria for himself and his cronies? What do you do with those who worked for him? With their families? With those who advocate "culturally sensitive account[s]" of Babangida's rule "as a corrective to standardized journalistic and political science cliches"?

I might be in favor of a system in which by unanimous vote the UN Security Council could declare governments to be "odious" and to put those who lend to or trade with them on notice that recompense will someday be demanded. But would this do much to help the people who are victims of such governments? I might also be in favor of a system in which by unanimous vote the UN Security Council could call for theoverthrow of governments--and assemble coalitions to do the job. But trade embargoes are dangerous things, and often counterproductive. Who has gained, really, from the U.S. decision that Castro's regime in Cuba was odious?

And wars are terrible things.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Joe Klein Edition)

John Cole finds himself amazed by journamalist Joe Klein:

Balloon Juice: Joe Klein Makes No Sense By: John Cole: When I see that the President's polling numbers are stuck in the mid-30's, I scratch my head in disbelief when I read stuff like this:

Why Bush Is (Still) Winning the War at Home [by Joe Klein]: "I was up there in the cockpit of that airplane coming into Baghdad," the President told the press corps assembled on the White House lawn after his dash into and out of the war zone last week. "It was an unbelievable, unbelievable feeling." In fact, George W. Bush's body language--let's call it the full jaunty--was reminiscent of his last, infamous cockpit trip, onto the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 to announce the "end" of major combat operations in Iraq, beneath a mission accomplished sign. His public language is more cautious than it used to be, but he seemed downright frothy in a private session with the congressional leadership after his press conference.

He called the new Iraqi Defense Minister an "interesting cat" and Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the deceased al-Qaeda leader, "a dangerous dude." Bush had reason, finally, to strut. The al-Zarqawi raid had netted valuable intelligence data that were enabling U.S. and Iraqi forces to roll up al-Qaeda cells--the best haul since the capture of Saddam Hussein, which made it possible for U.S. forces to disable much of the dictator's inner circle in early 2004. What's more, the first elected Iraqi government was finally fully in place. Back home, Karl Rove was officially unindicted in the cia leak case, and the Democrats were busy being Democrat--divided, defensive and confused about the war, with Bush's favorite punching bag, Senator John Kerry, leading the charge.

Bottomed out in the polls, a government is finally in place months (years) after it should be, troops abducted, chaos everyday, and the White House is "celebrating" the fact that the President's closest advisor was not indicted.

Ron Suskind's New Book

Ron Suskind has a new book. Barton Gellman reviews it:

The Shadow War, In a Surprising New Light: By Barton Gellman: THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 By Ron Suskind: This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before.

One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah.... Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations... shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here. Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill... nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be... appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like.

That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

How could this have happened? Why are we learning about it only now? Those questions form the spine of Suskind's impressively reported book....

[T]he intelligence and counterterrorism professionals whose point of view dominates this book... came to believe, Suskind reports, that "their jobs were not to help shape policy, but to affirm it." (Some of them nicknamed Cheney "Edgar," as in Edgar Bergen -- casting the president as the ventriloquist's dummy.)...

Tenet and his loyalists also settle a few scores with the White House here. The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."...

Tora Bora... Henry A. Crumpton... was blunt: The surrogate forces were "definitely not" up to the job, and "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful."...

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each... target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

Two points in Barton Gellman's review cannot be allowed to pass without comment. The first is his description of how Abu Zubaydah was treated:

...water-board[ing], which reproduces the agony of drowning.... threatened... with certain death... withheld medication... bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep... he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty...

Yet Gellman cannot write the word "torture." The most he can bring himself to write is "harsh interrogation methods."

The second is Barton Gellman's question:

How could this have happened? Why are we learning about it only now?

I know that I am not learning about "this"--if the "this" is the Bush administration's inept, cruel, and immoral botching of the War on Terror--now, and I don't think Barton Gellman is learning about it now. He may be pretending to be learning about it now. But the big picture has been clear for years.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Spencer Ackerman writes:

The Plank: on Friday the Pentagon finally declassified a missing piece of the grim portrait of American torture: a November 2004 report about detainee abuse by Special Operations Forces in Iraq... conducted by Brigadier General Richard Formica.... Formica opted to investigate specific allegations of abuse about certain units rather than the broader conduct of Special Operation troops who seize detainees.... He told reporters on Friday that it was "regrettable" that the troops he did investigate had inadequate guidance about detention policy, but singled out no one as ultimately responsible. Indeed, going by The New York Times, there are some serious questions about Formica's judgment here:

General Formica found that in the third case at a Special Operations outpost, near Tikrit, in April and May 2004, three detainees were held in cells 4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide, except to use the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that two days in such confinement "would be reasonable; five to seven days would not." Two of the detainees were held for seven days; one for two days, General Formica concluded.

Here are two such questions you can puzzle over from your home or office. Take all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days--or authorized doing so--what should happen to that person?

They do realize that every Iraq detainee so treated--and all their relatives--are now supporters of Al Qaeda, don't they?

Impeach George W. Bush. Do it now.

More AEI-Quality Reasoning...

Mark Kleiman looks at the latest from the anti-immigration right, and laughs:

The Reality-Based Community: Not that I really feel sorry for the Beloved Leader, but being accused of "demagogy" by the likes of Bennett, Bork, and Schlafly is like being called ugly by a warthog. This may also be the first time in history that refusal to appeal to ethnic hatred has been used as a demagogic device. It's true: Rove and his sock puppet really are fiendishly clever...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?

Worst administration ever. Emptywheel surveys the blowback from the lies to motivate the Iraq war:

The Next Hurrah: Crying Wolf: Laura Rozen offers a long excerpt from Chris Nelson on North Korea. Nelson seems to be describing what happens to a country's foreign policy when a country has fluffed the intelligence too many times.

S. Korean officials had spent the past couple of weeks, since the rumors began, sounding both tougher and more upset at N. Korean behavior than has been their norm. But as the weekend progressed, there began to be news stories indicating doubts that US-supplied intelligence was 100% reliable...that is, that perhaps what is on or close to the launch pad is NOT actually a Taepodong-2 ICBM, but perhaps even just another Nodong.

That’s worth noting, as some non-government but expert US sources, themselves up to speed on the available classified intel, have been warning for more than a week that we should not jump to conclusions about what the DPRK is prepared to launch, and specifically hinting (can one hint specifically? Oh well...) that the rocket may turn out to be less than a Taepodong-2, when all the smoke clears.

Today, there were hints from S. Korea officials they may be starting to doubt the key parts of the story, at least as it has been spun by US “official sources”, specifically challenging “intel” that fueling has been completed. And one Korean “source who asked not to be named” in a Korea Times story went to far as to charge ulterior motive in all the US-based leaks, “Frankly speaking, aren’t the United States and Japan in a position that could enjoy the current situation?” [emphasis mine]

So let's see. The US announces that North Korea will test a long-range missile, one that could reach the US. It gets South Korea on board to support the threats it is issuing against North Korea. And then...

And then the questions come. North Korea isn't testing a long-range missile, it's testing the same old missile it has had. North Korea isn't launching a missile, it's launching a satellite (followed by assertions that even a satellite launch is a nuclear threat to the US).

And then, our allies the South Koreans, begin to doubt. Um, maybe not, they say.

Now frankly, I don't know whether the apparent preparation to launch something is a threat or not. Though I tend to trust William Arkin when he notes that launching a missile is one thing, and scaling down a nuclear bomb sufficiently to fit in that missile is entirely a different issue.

Much ado about nothing I say.

North Korea, starved for attention and with its own fish to fry domestically and in its own region, may or may not be preparing some rocket for launch, and it may or may not be attempting to use its missile as a bargaining chip or a PR stunt, and it may just be attempting to put its own satellite into space. What should crystal clear though in a world of risks and balances is that North Korea's missile, even if it exists, is hardly a threat to us.


The suggestion is that a nuclear weapon could be place on the Taepo Dong 2. It would indeed be a grave and provocative act, one that would be technically feasible by, say, 2016 at the earliest. And that's if we did nothing between now and then to help North Korea along in changing the situation.

Also, I hate to say it, but I've begun instinctively distrusting stories leaked to the NYT--Oh how the Grey Lady has fallen. But this story is as much about the US' credibility as it is about the NYT's diminishing credibility. South Korea was cooperating in our stern stance. And then it began to doubt us. Not only doubt us, but suggest that the warmongering obviously served US (and Japanese) purposes. It gave the US reason to dump more money into its defense contractor friends to develop a missile defense shield. And it gave Japan one more excuse to reconsider its non-nuclear stance.

You see, gaming intelligence does have consequences. It has the consequences of the 2500 numbers service men and women who sacrificed their life based on a lie. And it makes us absolutely untrustworthy with some of our closest allies.

Thanks Dick, for crying wolf.

Monday, June 19, 2006

That Triangulating B------ Grover Cleveland...

Paul Krugman thinks about class-war politics in American history:

Class War Politics - New York Times: By PAUL KRUGMAN: In case you haven't noticed, modern American politics is marked by vicious partisanship, with the great bulk of the viciousness coming from the right. It's clear that the Republican plan for the 2006 election is, once again, to question Democrats' patriotism.

But do Republican leaders truly believe that they are serious about fighting terrorism, while Democrats aren't? When the speaker of the House declares that "we in this Congress must show the same steely resolve as those men and women on United Flight 93," is that really the way he sees himself? (Dennis Hastert, Man of Steel!) Of course not.

So what's our bitter partisan divide really about? In two words: class warfare. That's the lesson of an important new book, "Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches," by Nolan McCarty of Princeton University, Keith Poole of the University of California, San Diego, and Howard Rosenthal of New York University.... What the book shows... is that for the past century, political polarization and economic inequality have moved hand in hand. Politics during the Gilded Age, an era of huge income gaps, was a nasty business -- as nasty as it is today. The era of bipartisanship, which lasted for roughly a generation after World War II, corresponded to the high tide of America's middle class. That high tide began receding in the late 1970's, as middle-class incomes grew slowly at best while incomes at the top soared; and as income gaps widened, a deep partisan divide re-emerged....

When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class, however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top -- including repeal of the estate tax -- became the party's highest priority. But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless....

Pre-New Deal G.O.P. operatives followed the same strategy. Republican politicians won elections by "waving the bloody shirt" -- invoking the memory of the Civil War -- long after the G.O.P. had ceased to be the party of Lincoln and become the party of robber barons instead. Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate, was defeated in part by a smear campaign -- burning crosses and all -- that exploited the heartland's prejudice against Catholics.

So what should we do about all this? I won't offer the Democrats advice right now, except to say that tough talk on national security and affirmations of personal faith won't help: the other side will smear you anyway.

But I would like to offer some advice to my fellow pundits: face reality. There are some commentators who long for the bipartisan days of yore, and flock eagerly to any politician who looks "centrist." But there isn't any center in modern American politics. And the center won't return until we have a new New Deal, and rebuild our middle class.

Perhaps the advice Paul should give Democratic politicians seeking national office is that they should emulate the triangulating b------ Grover Cleveland--who pursued free trade and regulation of railroad monopolies, navy modernization and avoidance of foreign entanglements, attacked "unworthy" Republican clients--union army veterans who were claiming pensions for non-war related disabilities--and had his own Sister Souljah moment by using the U.S. army to break the Pullman strike over the objections of Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld.

Perhaps not: I've always thought Gilded Age America would have been a better place had the Eugene Debs-led Pullman strike succeeded. I've always been on the side of John Peter Altgeld and Clarence Darrow and Jane Addams.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Zalmay Khalilzad Is Shrill

While George W. Bush says:

I was impressed with [Malaki] the [new] Prime Minister [of Iraq], the team he has assembled, and the plan he has set for his government. I appreciate his determination, and the determination of his Cabinet, to make his agenda work. I told them that the future of Iraq is in their hands. And I told them that America is a nation that keeps its word, and America will stand with them as we work toward our shared goal: a free Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. By seizing this moment of opportunity, we will defeat our common enemies and build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and that will make Americans, Iraqis, and the world more secure.

U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has a very different view of the situation: in a cable from Baghdad he joins the shrill unbalanced critics of the just-enough-troops-in-Iraq-to-lose grand strategy of George W. Bush.

Zalmay Khalilzad is perhaps the only person working for the Bush administration who has a chance of emerging from it with an undiminished reputation.

The Situation in Iraq

Digby writes:

Hullabaloo: Iraqi Nervous Breakdown

Al Kamen:

Hours before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees. This cable, marked "sensitive" and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines in spare prose the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government.

In a very straighforward descriptive style, Khalilzad writes that Iraqis must hide the fact that they work for the US or face ostracism or worse. Women are being treated only slightly better than if they were living under the Taliban in 1999 --- and they are being asked to wear clothing that Khalilzad admits was not even required by the most repressive Iranian Ayatollahs. They are losing their driving privileges and are considered suspicious if they use a cell phone -- they might be calling a lover, you see. (This is your fundamentalist religion working to "free" women from the burden of being full citizens.)

People are being gouged for electricity, to which they barely have access anyway (in 115 degree heat!) They face kidnappings and violence every day of their lives. Sectarian divisions are showing up in all their social interactions, even among families. They must adopt separate customs, dress and manner of speaking to travel freely through various neighborhoods in Baghdad or risk violence. They cannot trust the security forces, who seem to be getting more hostile to the population, especially those who work for the US. Their anxiety is palpable as they feel their lives are hurling out of control.

Did I mention that the people he is talking about in this cable are all employees of the US embassy in Baghdad? That's right. These are the highly privileged, educated elite who work inside the Green Zone. Imagine what it's like out in the hinterlands.

He does touch upon this with one very disturbing observation:

One colleague beseeched us to weigh in to help a woman who was uprooted in may from her home after 30 years on the pretext of some application of a long-disused lawy that allows owners to evict tenents after 14 years. The woman, who is gayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go, no other home, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprooting may be a response by new Shiite government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. (Note: an arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq. One editor told us that the KDP is planning to set up tent cities in Irbil, to house Kurds being evicted from Bagdad.)

The country has obviously already spiraled into a state of civil war. It's not surprising that it's taken on this character of secret informants, ethnic cleansing, paranoia and neighborhood militias because the whole society was shaped by an authoritarian police state. But civil war it is, and from the sound of this cable, it's happening on a far more fundamental level than we knew. The whole society is breaking down from inside out.

Although out staff maintain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent. We see that their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us toward news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate.

He pretty much says that he doesn't know if he can trust his own employees much longer because they are being driven a little bit crazy by fear and paranoia. Heckuva job, there, Uncle Sammy.

This seems like a pretty interesting document. I have to wonder why it was merely linked by pdf in a throwaway paragraph in Al Kamen's Sunday column...