Saturday, July 30, 2005
Thursday, July 28, 2005
I've been looking at a new study of international differences in working hours by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, at Harvard, and Bruce Sacerdote, at Dartmouth. The study's main point is that differences in government regulations, rather than culture (or taxes), explain why Europeans work less than Americans.
If you actually read the study though, you will find he is leaving out a rather important step. It wasn't government regulations that just spontaneously caused this phenomenon, it was the government acting in response to pressure from unions, who advocated this in a failed attempt to increase employment.
In this paper, we argue that European labor market regulations, advocated by unions in declining European industries who argued "work less, work all" explain the bulk of the difference between the U.S. and Europe. These policies do not seem to have increased employment, but they may have had a more society-wide influence on leisure patterns because of a social multiplier where the returns to leisure increase as more people are taking longer vacations.
Why is this small distinction important? Well partly because he certainly doesn't want to point out the failure of union and government intervention in the economy, but also because Krugman has been pressing the "government is good" and "Republicans hate government" therefore "Republicans are bad" argument in many of his recent columns.
Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution. In practice, this doctrine translates into policies that make low taxes on the rich the highest priority, even if lack of revenue undermines basic public services. You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed. Corporate leaders understand quite well that good public services are also good for business. But the political environment is so polarized these days that top executives are often afraid to speak up against conservative dogma.
Above all, we need to put aside our anti-government prejudices and realize that the history of government interventions on behalf of public health, from the construction of sewer systems to the campaign against smoking, is one of consistent, life-enhancing success.
Krugman can't portray government acting in response to social or organizational pressure, especially in a case where its action did not achieve the desired results, it has to be shown acting out of its own wisdom to fit his worldview, otherwise he might have to admit that our present government, is just the result of the constituency, the American people, who continue to vote it in.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour sentenced Ahmed Ressam to a 22-year prison term yesterday for attempting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the millennium's eve, and used the occasion to unleash a broadside against secret tribunals and other war on terrorism tactics that abandon "the ideals that set our nation apart."
"The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism," said Coughenour in a voice edged with emotion. "Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. ... If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won."
I would like Judge Coughenour to explain, how Miranda rights, habeas corpus, and other niceties of the judicial system are supposed to be carried out on stateless terrorist extremists captured on foreign battlefields, not in Port Angeles. Just do your job judge, leave it up to the lawmakers, and the judges ruling on the cases to decide it, if it comes to that. If you want to editorialize, quit your job and write for the Times.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The part I found most interesting was where he compared the labor participation rate, which was the crux of Krugman and DeLong's argument. Yes, it is in fact down slightly, although not as much as they would like you to think, but in which demographic was it down? Quoting from Scrivener:
labor force participation, age 20+
prior: 67.8% (unemployment rate 5.0%)
this: 67.8% (unemployment rate 4.5%)
Whoa! Surely when the bears talk of millions of people abandoning the search for work they give the impression that they are talking of adults supporting themselves and their families. But it's not so.The entire drop in the labor force participation rate has been among teenagers -- something I've never seen any bear note even once.
It is not the family breadwinners who are out of the labor force it is teenagers. So let's go to the charts and look at the trends. (click on the pictures to enlarge them)
Here is the overall participation rate, yes it is down slightly from October 1994.
But here it is for males over the age of 20.
And women over the age of 20.
So it looks like the men's rate, in keeping with a long term trend is down, while the increase in the female rate has basically leveled off, although compared to 1994 it is actually up, essentially offsetting the men's rate.
So where was the drop in participation rate? Well, as previously stated, in fact it is among teenagers:
Continuing a long term trend, the 16-19 participation rate is down significantly. Maybe they have decided to go to college or sit at home playing X-box, who knows, but they aren't out looking for jobs. You will never hear Krugman or DeLong even look into this, but it looks like the change in participation rate is caused by long term changes in demographics more than a "weak job market". There is nothing magical about a year 2000 67% participation rate, anymore than picking and choosing any other piece of data.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sony Pictures is negotiating to acquire film rights to the first novel from Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism expert who accused the Bush administration of ignoring the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks.
His novel, "The Scorpion Gate," will be published in October by Putnam Adult. The studio hopes the film adaptation will be the first in a series of John Clancy-style political thrillers. The project will be produced by former studio chief John Calley.
The realistic geopolitical thriller is set five years in the future as oil-hungry forces in Washington are ready to reshape the map of the Middle East to further their own ends by launching a global nuclear war. The plot involves a fictional takeover of the House of Saud by extremists.
Who the hell is "John Clancy"?
Now I must confess he does start off well, pointing out the fact that there are other factors in production besides labor costs. This would explain to the "fair trade" crowd how we managed to survive against low wage competition like Japan in the 70's. Mexico in the 80's, and China now.
But last month Toyota decided to put the new plant, which will produce RAV4 mini-S.U.V.'s, in Ontario. Explaining why it passed up financial incentives to choose a U.S. location, the company cited the quality of Ontario's work force.
What made Toyota so sensitive to labor quality issues? Maybe we should discount remarks from the president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, who claimed that the educational level in the Southern United States was so low that trainers for Japanese plants in Alabama had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech equipment.
Whether this is true or not, I will leave for others to discuss, but it is at least logical economically. But from here he goes downhill.
But education is only one reason Toyota chose Ontario. Canada's other big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.
You might be tempted to say that Canadian taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing Toyota's move by paying for health coverage. But that's not right, even aside from the fact that Canada's health care system has far lower costs per person than the American system, with its huge administrative expenses. In fact, U.S. taxpayers, not Canadians, will be hurt by the northward movement of auto jobs.
To see why, bear in mind that in the long run decisions like Toyota's probably won't affect the overall number of jobs in either the United States or Canada. But the result of international competition will be to give Canada more jobs in industries like autos, which pay health benefits to their U.S. workers, and fewer jobs in industries that don't provide those benefits. In the U.S. the effect will be just the reverse: fewer jobs with benefits, more jobs without.
So what's the impact on taxpayers? In Canada, there's no impact at all: since all Canadians get government-provided health insurance in any case, the additional auto jobs won't increase government spending.
So Krugman insists that the government picking up the tab for health care is not a subsidy. Now this sounds like a subsidy to me, but what do I know? I am sure I could find an award winning economist who would say that the government picking up health care costs for private corporations is a subsidy though. Hmm, where could I find this? How about this May 23rd article by MIT educated award-winning economist Paul Krugman, in which he states that the government is subsidizing WalMart by paying for the health care of some of their uncovered workers.
True, there are limits on what state governments can do: they fear that if they do too much for workers, they'll drive business and jobs away. I'd argue that the fear is often exaggerated. For example, Wal-Mart may avoid states that force it to provide health insurance, but given the hidden subsidies the company receives - one way or another, taxpayers end up paying a lot for uninsured workers - this may not be such a bad thing. Still, any major strengthening of the safety net will have to come at the federal level.
So I guess when the government pays all the expenses it is not a subsidy, but when the government pay some of the expenses it is. Sounds like voodoo economics to me.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, said the two met at a diplomatic party in 1997.
"But I didn't know what she did until we were well along in our courtship," he said, adding that her public outing continues to ripple through her private life.
"People she has known for upwards of 20 years have all sort of had to go through this period of adjusting to who is the real Valerie Wilson."
But two years ago Wilson told Maureen Dowd that she told him early on, about the time of their first kiss, because he had a security clearance.
"I saw this striking blonde," he recalled, still sounding smitten six years later. At first she said she was an energy analyst, but confided sometime around the first kiss that she was in the CIA. "I had a security clearance," grinned Wilson, then a political adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Europe.
Now I know men are pigs, and always forget those little relationship details like anniversaries and such, but wouldn't you remember when you first found out your wife was a covert CIA agent? Hell, I still remember when I first found out my wife was a Democrat.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Just one thought on this, isn't it nice to have a president, that when you hear heavy breathing coming out of the oval office, you know it is from him doing push-ups?
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has more on this moonbat and the article.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
The folly of buying lottery tickets.
In the state lotteries the tickets are really not worth the price which is paid by the original subscribers, and yet commonly sell in the market for twenty, thirty, and sometimes forty per cent. advance. The vain hope of gaining some of the great prizes is the sole cause of this demand. The soberest people scarce look upon it as a folly to pay a small sum for the chance of gaining ten or twenty thousand pounds; though they know that even that small sum is perhaps twenty or thirty per cent. more than the chance is worth.
Why lawyers are paid so much. An attorney friend of mine really liked this one.
The counsellor at law who, perhaps, at near forty years of age, beginsto make something by his profession, ought to receive the retribution,not only of his own so tedious and expensive education, but of that ofmore than twenty others who are never likely to make any thing by it.How extravagant soever the fees of counsellors at law may sometimesappear, their real retribution is never equal to this.*18 Compute inany particular place, what is likely to be annually gained, and whatis likely to be annually spent, by all the different workmen in anycommon trade, such as that of shoemakers or weavers, and you will findthat the former sum will generally exceed the latter. But make thesame computation with regard to all the counsellors and students oflaw, in all the different inns of court, and you will find that theirannual gains bear but a very small proportion to their annual expence,even though you rate the former as high, and the latter as low, as canwell be done. The lottery of the law, therefore, is very far frombeing a perfectly fair lottery; and that, as well as many otherliberal and honourable professions, is,*19 in point of pecuniary gain,evidently under-recompenced.
The benefits of free trade This one is often quoted, I am hardly being original
What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom. If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry employed in a way in which we have some advantage.
Accountability on the maintenence of roads. The "no new gas tax" people should sympathize with this one.
At many turnpikes, it has been said, the money levied is more than double of what is necessary for executing, in the completest manner, the work which is often executed in very slovenly manner, and sometimes not executed at all. The system of repairing the high roads by tolls of this kind, it must be observed, is not of very long standing. We should not wonder, therefore, if it has not yet been brought to that degree of perfection of which it seems capable.
Rules for proper taxation. Congress should read this part.
I. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.
II. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary.
III. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it.
IV. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state.
The most ironic section is the last chapter on public debt, in which Smith suggests that a land tax should be levied on the American colonies to help retire the debt of the British Empire. The Americans are portrayed pretty much as freeloaders (yeah, we won, get over it). The debt was over 120 million pounds, while the entire tax system was bringing in less than 10 million a year (and people complain about our debt) so this probably was a major issue. Given that this book was published in the fateful year of 1776 though, I don't think his idea got too far.
While representing the mining industry, Roberts opposed clean-air rules.
Oh my God! A lawyer who represents the views of his clients! This could change the legal profession as we know it. The next thing you know they will be defending guilty people or something...
In 1993, Democrat Bill Clinton faced an opportunity to nominate a replacement for retiring "conservative" Supreme Court Justice Byron White. There were no calls from the wacky left that Clinton was obligated to replace White with a conservative to satisfy some recently contrived status-quo requirement on the court. Clinton replaced White with an activist ACLU lawyer, well-known for her leftist positions, by the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
So for all you liberals out there trying to invent some non-existent excuse to attack Bush's nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor: Get over it.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Wilson is a political independent: He gave to both the Bush and Gore campaigns in 2000 and is an admirer of George Bush Sr.
Implying somehow that if you donate money to more than one party, or admire a figure from another party that somehow makes you independent. This got me thinking about another prominent figure who has donated money to more than one campaign, former Enron executive Ken Lay, who donated significant sums of money to both George W. Bush and Ann Richards in 1994. Based on this logic then I should be able to find a Joel Connelly editorial praising the independence of Ken Lay, who unlike Joe Wilson has never made any overt political moves.
No such luck. Just rants about how Bush and Ken Lay are in bed together. How can that be? Lay gave money to more than one campaign!
Monday, July 18, 2005
Two years ago, Ambassador Joe Wilson chose a forum in Seattle to suggest that presidential strategist Karl Rove was the leaker who had "outed" Wilson's wife as a CIA agent in retaliation for the ambassador's criticism of White House Iraq policy.
First paragraph and already the Democrat talking points begin. The information that Rove mentioned "Wilson's wife" came up only because the reporter, who called about a welfare reform story brought up the Wilson issue. Rove merely responded that Wilson was untrustworthy and lied about the fact that he was given his assignment by the Vice President's office and not his wife, which in fact was true. Rove was not calling up reporters trying to get them to retaliate against Wilson, he merely stated a completely true fact in response to a question. Also it was not a "leak" he found out from the press in the first place!
Starting with The New York Times, news organizations disclosed on Friday that Rove was a source -- although likely a secondary source -- for rightist pundit Robert Novak. Novak revealed in a 2003 column that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is an undercover CIA agent.
Bzzzzz Thanks for playing. Novak did not reveal that "Plame is an undercover CIA agent" merely that she was a "CIA operative". Neither Novak nor Rove knew that she was undercover, if in fact she was at all. It would actually be illogical for them to assume that she was covert, if she were a covert spook in deep cover somewhere, then how could she be hanging around Langley recommending her husband for trips to Africa? The first reporter to suggest that Plame was a "covert agent" was actually "leftist pundit" David Corn in the Nation.
Wilson was sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate the claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in the African country.
The claim proved bogus. It didn't stop President Bush from asserting, in his 2003 State-of-the-Union speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
On July 6, 2003, Wilson published an opinion column, "What I didn't find in Africa" in The New York Times.
Hardly, it should have been titled "What I lied about in Africa". In the bipartisan Senate committee investigating Iraqi intelligence, they reported that Wilson actually came back and told them that the former PM of Niger thought that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger. Furthermore, the committee found Wilson's testimony at odds with both his previous reports and the reports of the CIA and had the following to say.
When the former ambassador spoke to Committee staff, his description of his findings differed from the DO intelligence report and his account of information provided to him by the CIA differed from the CIA officials' accounts in some respects. First, the former ambassador described his findings to Committee staff as more directly related to Iraq and specifically, as refuting the possibility that Niger could have sold uranium to Iraq and that Iraq approached Niger to purchase uranium. The intelligence report...did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium.
Additionally the British government did a review of the intelligence the famous 16 words were based on, called the Butler report, and found it credible. In addition to that (Wilson lies so many times I am running out of segues) the committee also found that Wilson lied about his wife helping him get the job, and the forged documents that he never actually saw, which he euphemistically said he "misspoke about". Yeah, Wilson sounds really vindicated.
What were the consequences for Plame?
"Well, clearly she cannot do things she was able to do before," Wilson said.
What, like pose for pictures in Vanity Fair? What is with that? Did she want to make sure all her double top secret undercover contacts who might have forgotten her name now know what she looks like?!
Wilson is a political independent: He gave to both the Bush and Gore campaigns in 2000 and is an admirer of George Bush Sr.
This is a ridiculous howler. Connelly can only hope that we are too distracted to miss his ridiculous lie. For all of those who can remember way back to last year, Wilson was a John Kerry advisor, who had his "Restore Honesty" website paid for by the Kerry campaign. He only quit the position when his presence became too embarrassing.
UPDATE: To my surprise I actually received a response, the following erudite analysis:
Standard issue right-wing blather from the sort of people who enjoy smearing the reputation of someone who really did stand up to Saddam. jc
I don't quite get the "really did stand up to Saddam" part. The last I checked Bush really stood up to Saddam, and the liberals aren't too happy about that...
It appears I am not the only one.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Mr. Wilson presented himself as a courageous truth-teller who was being attacked by lying partisans, but he himself became a Democratic partisan (working with the John Kerry presidential campaign) who had a problem with facts. He denied that his wife had anything to do with his assignment in Niger, but Senate investigators found a memo in which she recommended him.
Karl Rove's version of events now looks less like a smear and more like the truth: Mr. Wilson's investigation, far from being requested and then suppressed by a White House afraid of its contents, was a low-level report of not much interest to anyone outside the Wilson household.
So what exactly is this scandal about? Why are the villagers still screaming to burn the witch? Well, there's always the chance that the prosecutor will turn up evidence of perjury or obstruction of justice during the investigation, which would just prove once again that the easiest way to uncover corruption in Washington is to create it yourself by investigating nonexistent crimes.
For now, though, it looks as if this scandal is about a spy who was not endangered, a whistle-blower who did not blow the whistle and was not smeared, and a White House official who has not been fired for a felony that he did not commit. And so far the only victim is a reporter who did not write a story about it.
It would be logical to name it the Not-a-gate scandal, but I prefer a bilingual variation. It may someday make a good trivia question:
What do you call a scandal that's not scandalous?
Friday, July 15, 2005
Now a former CIA agent goes on record saying that she was not "covert".
"She made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat," Fred Rustmann, a covert agent from 1966 to 1990, told The Washington Times.
"Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his friends knew this. A lot of blame could be put on to central cover staff and the agency because they weren't minding the store here. ... The agency never changed her cover status."
Joe Wilson himself even says in his book that they had not been stationed overseas for 6 years.
On CNN Wilson admits she was not a covert agent when this happened "WILSON: My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."
Wilson tells Maureen Dowd that she revealed her status with the CIA to him "about the time of their first kiss". (Even James Bond could make it through sex without giving away his undercover status)
Nearly 2 years ago Clifford May pointed out that it was common knowledge in the press community that she worked for the CIA.
So the question is, who didn't know? May also has a good article in today's NRO speculating (but logical speculation) that it was Wilson who himself outted his wife. Neither Rove nor Novak said, or apparently even knew that Plame worked in a covert capacity (if in fact she did). It was David Corn, writing in the Nation who first speculated on that, and only after talking with Wilson.
One more thing on this. If someone claimed that your wife was a covert agent, wouldn't the first thing you do is deny it. "What Valerie a spook? No way! She is just a marketing manager for an import export business. Don't be ridiculous!" Both Wilson and the CIA take the opposite approach. "They outted her as a covert agent. I can't believe that they pointed out the fact that Valerie Plame is a covert agent working in deep cover intercepting transactions of WMD all over the world using cover stories and bogus front companies. This could compromise every source that she worked with. Once again, her name is Plame P-L-A-M-E. For interviews you can contact my agent at..."
Just seems a little odd, that's all.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The good professor continues his rants, this time against Karl Rove (who else?). In 500 words he manages to set new highs (lows?) for viciousness, misrepresentations of fact, and just plain hypocrisy.
Every time I read a lament for the post-9/11 era of national unity, I wonder what people are talking about. On the issues I was watching, the Republicans' exploitation of the atrocity began while ground zero was still smoldering.
Mr. Rove has been much criticized for saying that liberals responded to the attack by wanting to offer the terrorists therapy - but what he said about conservatives, that they "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war," is equally false. What many of them actually saw was a domestic political opportunity - and none more so than Mr. Rove.
Of course far be it to actually provide an example of such heinous "exploitation", but in Krugman's world when you can't argue the facts just disparage the motives of the person. For example why trouble with arguing the merits of social security reform when you can just claim that people who are trying to reform it are just pretending so they can secretly plot to destroy it.
But Mr. Rove understood that the facts were irrelevant.
Uh, excuse me? Have you read any of your editorials lately?
Mr. Rove also understands, better than anyone else in American politics, the power of smear tactics. Attacks on someone who contradicts the official line don't have to be true, or even plausible, to undermine that person's effectiveness. All they have to do is get a lot of media play, and they'll create the sense that there must be something wrong with the guy.
Uh, excuse me? Have you read THIS editorial lately?
And now we know just how far he was willing to go with these smear tactics: as part of the effort to discredit Joseph Wilson IV, Mr. Rove leaked the fact that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the C.I.A. I don't know whether Mr. Rove can be convicted of a crime, but there's no question that he damaged national security for partisan advantage. If a Democrat had done that, Republicans would call it treason.
Now I am sure that more is still waiting to come out on this story, but the latest news is that Rove did not "leak" the fact that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA from some secret document, he merely heard it from a journalist and repeated it to another reporter. So now Krugman is accusing him of treason for the capital crime of repeating a story from one journalist to another! A crime that Krugman has been committing twice a week for the last 5 years. Gee, you wouldn't want to wait until all the facts were out before smearing a political opponent, would you?
Most of all, it's about what has happened to America. How did our political system get to this point?
I just want to know how did the journalism of the "newspaper of record" get to this point? How did an MIT educated award-winning economist get to this point? What has happened to America?
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
As shown in this post:
The work of the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, is the best antidote to the mindless violence of yesterday's murderous assault on London commuters. Uniting to fight poverty and disease pushes back hard against terrorism.
Now of course it comes out that the bombers in London were most likely British citizens, not some third worlders, impoverished or otherwise.
I wonder if the Times will now argue that the best antidote for terrorism is British public school reform?
What I Didn't Find in Africa
by Joseph C. Wilson 4th
Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
We have the first bait and switch, he says "exaggerate" which may be a legitimate argument, but that later morphs to basically "make up".
For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.
It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.
Yes, he had experience in Africa, but what led him to this role was the fact that his wife worked for the CIA. The administration didn't seek out this former diplomat, Democrat, anti-war activist, and ardent Kerry supporter for a sensitive collection mission just because he had been to Africa before.
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
Once again, this did not originate at the VPs office, his wife recommended him, this is what Rove was trying to explain.
After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.
In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-70's and visited as a National Security Council official in the late 90's. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal winds had clogged the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge), the setting sun behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their faces to protect against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.
What is this, the Travel channel?
The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her arrival.
Another bait and switch, the allegations weren't about "sales" to Iraq, it was about Iraq "attempting" to purchase the uranium, two completely different things.
I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.
He drank tea! Gee, what an thorough indepth investigation. Too bad he couldn't find bin Laden while he was at it. And think about it if any (highly illegal) transactions had taken place, would those officials confess to it, over tea? And once again, the allegation wasn't that there was a transaction, but that Iraq attempted to buy the yellowcake.
Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.
Arggghhh!!! Nobody ever claimed the transaction "transpired"! Can you say strawman argument?
(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government — and were probably forged. And then there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)
Here Wilson pulls some time travel magic, since the memos with the "glaring errors" did not show up until 8 months after he made the trip. Simply put, Wilson is lying.
Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.
Of course Wilson leaves out the fact that what he told the CIA, according to the bipartisan Iraq Intelligence committee, bolstered their contention that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium! Joe Wilson lied about his own report.
Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.
I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.
And Britain also did an review of this intelligence, known as the Butler Report, and they still stand by it! I guess due to his week of sipping tea Wilson had suddenly become an expert on MI-5 intelligence.
Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.
Yes, and the Brits still stand by this. Is this somehow Bush's fault?
The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.
Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
So Wilson is the end all and be all of Niger intelligence? What an ego.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It's worth remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.") At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president's behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.
Or how about a third option, his limited report supported the possibility that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger.
I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.
But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.
Actually a reasonable ending, unfortunately his argument does not support the conclusion.
Joseph C. Wilson 4th, United States ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995, is an international business consultant.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Meanwhile, outraged Iraqi exiles report that there won't be any equivalent of postwar de-Nazification, in which accomplices of the defeated regime were purged from public life. Instead the Bush administration intends to preserve most of the current regime: Saddam Hussein and a few top officials will be replaced with Americans, but the rest will stay. You don't have to be an Iraq expert to realize that many very nasty people will therefore remain in power — more moral clarity! — and that the U.S. will in effect take responsibility for maintaining the rule of the Sunni minority over the Shiite majority.
Of course only a year later when the administration had carried out their "de-Nazification" Krugman criticizes them for doing that very thing!
And this problem was compounded by a chain of blunders: doing nothing to stop the postwar looting, disbanding the Iraqi Army, canceling local elections, appointing an interim council dominated by exiles with no political base and excluding important domestic groups.
I guess you can have it both ways.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
July 11th is the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. The worst mass slaughter to take place in Europe since the Second World War. Last year I served with SFOR XV, the last rotation before the mission was handed to the European Union, EUFOR, often mockingly referred to as Euforia by cynical Bosnians. The Europeans were there as peacekeepers during the massacre, specifically Dutch troops at Srebrenica, so needless to say the Muslims were rather suspicious of the whole thing. Fortunately, after 10 years of peacekeeping, the mission was going quite well. Bosnia is still a poor nation, split by ethnic divides and recovering from the destruction of the war, but largely peaceful. I personally spent a lot of time in Srebrenica, so it always posed a special interest for me. Here are a some pictures that I took, along with some relevent comments.
This is the robna kuca, which is roughly a chain of department stores, in Srebrenica. During the seige it was used to hand out humanitarian aid. As you can see, there are a lot of repairs still needing to be done. The international community has helped build new houses and public buildings (including a brand new mosque donated by Malaysia) but there are few jobs, and the population is still only a fraction of its prewar size.
Overlooking the town, including the aforementioned mosque.
Graves of the victims at the Potocari cemetary. Most of the remains have not yet been identified, therfore only a small number of the 7,000 plus dead have been buried. At the time of this picture a little over 900 if I remember right. The gravesites are grouped, so oftentimes you will see all the male members of one family right together.
A more artistic view of the memorial. The covered area is actually an outdoor mosque. Across the road on the left you can see the battery factory where many of the killings took place.
Crni Vrh, a hilltop between Zvornik and Tuzla, site of the largest mass grave found thus far. Over 700 bodies were excavated. To this day it is not uncommon to be driving along and see new sites being worked on.
This isn't from Srebrenica, but I always thought it well represented the impotence of the UN,who stood by and watched all this happen.
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment, and I will try and answer them as best as possible.
Update: Christopher Hitchens has a great editorial on Srebrenica and genocide on Slate in From Srebrenica to Baghdad
Friday, July 08, 2005
The work of the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, is the best antidote to the mindless violence of yesterday's murderous assault on London commuters. Uniting to fight poverty and disease pushes back hard against terrorism.
Now there are a lot of reasons Islamic fascists like Al Qaeda are at war with us, religious, cultural, political, but somehow I don't think it is over debt relief for Africa! Remember, the 9/11 hijackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia, a rather rich country, and were living in relatively good conditions in the US and Europe. It isn't poverty stricken Ugandans or Haitians who are bombing the US, they just want to move here and get jobs. If we want to change the conditions that precipitate terrorism, we need to attack the roots of the hate and corruption in the Islamic world caused by their political, economic, and cultural backwardness maintained by a web of vicious dictatorships. Democracy and freedom in Iraq, Lebanon and other countries in the region will fight terrorism way more than malaria vaccinations in the Congo (not that this is a bad idea). Now why can't the Seattle Times get behind those causes?
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
And the spectacle was impressive, so much so that Chris Martin of Coldplay declared it "the greatest thing that's ever been organized probably in the history of the world." (You've heard of the Normandy invasion, the Manhattan Project, the Marshall Plan, various moon landings, the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church? Impromptu flea markets! We've got a major-league telecast here.) Passing over Martin's slight overstatement, no harm will come from conceding that it was a very nice concert for those interested in such things.
But tell me, how exactly was Live8 a monumental demonstration of support for helping Africa?
Don Luskin goes one step further and links to an interview with an African economist, who maintains that this type of foreign aid actually hurts more than it helps.
SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.
Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. ..., and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa.... A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous [sic] politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle.
You would think after decades of failure of the international aid programs it would somehow sink in that things aren't working right. Sure, some things can be done, but what Africa needs to lift itself out of poverty is political and economic reform, not just food shipments and pop concerts. This same thing happened in Somalia during the armed intervention in the 90s (see the book Somalia on Five dollars a Day for an excellent description of this). When the UN came in and passed out all the food, they did two things, they distrupted the local power structure, which is why Aidid attacked them, and they put the farmers out of business. Famine for the most part, unfortunately, is caused by politicians and generals, not by nature.
Many of those land-use and zoning rules were established at a time when Oregon led the nation in farsighted environmental planning. With the state reeling from rollbacks in education finance, unemployment and attacks on land-use laws, it is good to be able to add a recommendation to those who wonder how to fight a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood.
In addition to "organize," perhaps I should be adding, "Oregonize."
Yeah, their environmental planning was so "farsighted" that it led to a "state reeling from rollbacks in education finance, unemployment and attacks on land-use laws". Let's keep it up!
Monday, July 04, 2005
Hey, I am not making that claim, Krugman is.
I know, I am a very bad boy....
I suppose I should put up some picture of me looking studly in uniform now...
It looks like all those $1.20 sell orders are kicking in. Robert Musil has an interesting update on the legendary Warren Buffett from a couple of days ago.
Scrivener also has a good post on more bad economics reporting from the New York Times. Apparently we have moved beyond Keynesian or supply side economics, to an economics system based purely on the envy of people who have money. Well except for those politically correct upper west side liberal and Hollywood types, the good rich people
Friday, July 01, 2005
There is no freedom of the press, without the right to own the press.
There is no freedom of religion, without the right to build your church, synagogue, or temple.
There is no right to be secure in your home against illegal search and seizure, unless you have a right to your home.
There is no right to keep and bear arms, unless you have somewhere to keep those arms!
Q Could you talk about this decision? What you think of it?
Ms. Pelosi. It is a decision of the Supreme Court. If Congress wants to change it, it will require legislation of a level of a constitutional amendment. So this is almost as if God has spoken. It's an elementary discussion now. They have made the decision.
Hey, I have an idea for a constitutional amendment. Oh sure, it has been tried before, but maybe if we put it in really BIG BOLD LETTERS they will pay attention to it this time.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Hat tip Michelle Malkin and the National Review