Category Archive for: Terrorism [Return to Main]

Monday, August 14, 2006

Paul Krugman: Hoping for Fear

Paul Krugman says "the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever," and that the public is beginning to see through the administration's use of fear to gain political advantage:

Hoping for Fear, by Paul Krugman, Using Fear Commentary, NY Times: Just two days after 9/11, I learned from Congressional staffers that Republicans on Capitol Hill were already exploiting the atrocity, trying to use it to push through tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. ... We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited. The story of the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever.

Fecklessness: ...Now we learn that terrorism experts have known about the threat of liquid explosives for years, but that the Bush administration did nothing..., and tried to divert funds from programs that might have helped protect us. “As the British terror plot was unfolding,” reports The Associated Press, “the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent ... developing new explosives detection technology.”

Cynicism: Republicans have consistently portrayed their opponents as weak on terrorism, if not actually in sympathy with the terrorists. Remember the 2002 TV ad in which Senator Max Cleland of Georgia was pictured with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Now we have Dick Cheney suggesting that voters in the Democratic primary in Connecticut were lending aid and comfort to “Al Qaeda types.” There they go again.

More fecklessness, and maybe more cynicism, too: NBC reports that there was a dispute between the British and the Americans over when to make arrests in the latest plot. Since the alleged plotters weren’t ready to go ... British officials wanted to watch and wait, hoping to gather more evidence. But according to NBC, the Americans insisted on early arrests.

Suspicions that the ... administration ... had political motives in wanting the arrests made prematurely are fed by memories of events two years ago: the Department of Homeland Security declared a terror alert just after the Democratic National Convention, shifting the spotlight away from John Kerry — and, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, blowing the cover of a mole inside Al Qaeda.

But whether or not there was something fishy about the timing..., there’s the question of whether the administration’s scare tactics will work. If current polls are any indication, Republicans are on the verge of losing control of at least one house of Congress. ... Can a last-minute effort to make a big splash on terror stave off electoral disaster?

Many political analysts think it will. But even on terrorism, and even after the latest news, polls give Republicans at best a slight advantage. And Democrats are finally doing what they should have done long ago: calling foul on the administration’s attempt to take partisan advantage of the terrorist threat. ...

Above all, many Americans now understand ... Mr. Bush abused the trust the nation placed in him after 9/11. Americans no longer believe that he is someone who will keep them safe, as many did even in 2004; the pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in Iraq have seen to that.

All Mr. Bush and his party can do at this point is demonize their opposition. And my guess is that the public won’t go for it, that Americans are fed up with leadership that has nothing to hope for but fear itself.


Update: In a follow-up in Money Talks, Krugman says this appears to be right -- the public is not buying the administration's fear tactics this time around:

Fighting Fear With Fear: Paul Krugman responds to readers' comments on his Aug. 14 column, "Hoping for Fear"

Paul Krugman: I can't resist a comment on political analysis: as soon as Ned Lamont won the Connecticut primary, and even more after the terror story, the papers were full of political analyses about how this was going to be a big help to Republicans. Nobody seemed to remember that pundits have been predicting a big Bush comeback ever since the failure of Social Security privatization, spinning everything that happened as good news for the president. (David Broder even had a piece published as New Orleans was drowning, asserting that the disaster would put Bush back in "command.") And it just keeps not happening.

So, are last week's events finally producing the elusive "Bush bounce"? Not so far, according to the new CBS News poll neither Bush's overall rating, nor his approval rating on terrorism, have budged.

Score one for my guess that the public is fed up with scare tactics.

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Previous (8/11) column: Paul Krugman: Nonsense and Sensibility
Next (8/18) column: Paul Krugman: Wages, Wealth and Politics

Friday, August 11, 2006

Let's Talk

Is it possible to have a rational conversation about this without having your patriotism and commitment to make America safe questioned?:

Unsafe at Any Price, by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker: A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee did something unusual: it actually said no to the Defense Department, trimming next year’s requested defense budget by a small amount. In practice, the cuts will likely be quashed by Congress; as Representative Christopher Shays said, ... “We’re at war, and I’m saying I’m not going to look military personnel in the eye and say I voted against their budget.” That’s understandable, but it helps explain why we have a defense budget that is over half a trillion dollars, forty per cent higher than it was in 2001. More than half the federal government’s discretionary spending goes to the military, and, while a sizable chunk goes toward the fight against terrorism and the Iraq war, too much has nothing to do with the demands of a post-9/11 world.

Over the past five years, we’ve heard a lot about the rise of what Donald Rumsfeld likes to call “asymmetric warfare,” and about the need to equip our military to fight “nontraditional” enemies. But a look at the defense budget shows that we’re building a new military while still paying for the old one. Money is going into Special Operations and intelligence, but far more is being spent on high-tech weapons systems designed to fight enemies (like the Soviet Union) that no longer exist—eighty billion dollars on attack submarines, three billion apiece on new destroyers, and hundreds of billions on two different new models of jet fighter. Advocates insist that we need to be able to contest any “near peer” rival. But the U.S. has no near-peers—or, indeed, any distant peers, as we now spend more on defense than the rest of the world put together.

Not only are we buying stuff we don’t need; we’re buying it badly. Astonishing budget overruns are routine. The Future Combat System, for instance—designed to remake the battlefield with robot vehicles and networked communications systems—began as a ninety-billion-dollar project, ... a recent Pentagon estimate suggests [it] will eventually cost three hundred billion dollars. Such inefficiency is seldom punished ... and is tolerated by regulators. Although government agencies have been required to produce an annual audit of their operations since the late nineties, the Defense Department’s operations are so confused that it has never been able to produce a successful audit. A few years ago, the Pentagon’s own Inspector General found that more than a trillion dollars in spending simply couldn’t be explained.

Of course, people have been decrying Pentagon waste and inefficiency for decades. But things have got significantly worse over the past five years, because Congress and the Bush Administration have thrown so much money at the Defense Department so fast. Studies of corporate behavior show that when companies are flush with cash they are more likely to make acquisitions that reduce their over-all value. The defense industry today, in fact, is much like Silicon Valley in the late nineties—when you give lots of money to an industry with no audits and no supervision, people lose discipline. They spend on bad ideas, gild every surface, and cheat. Is it really a surprise that billions of dollars meant for private contractors in Iraq seems to have been stolen? ...

The fiscal consequences of this are obviously dismal, but, even worse, there’s a strong possibility that giving the military a blank check is actually making us less safe. To begin with, ... often in recent times expensive weapons projects have been given priority over mundane improvements that would help the military here and now. Earlier this year, for instance, the Senate cut funding for night-vision goggles for soldiers, while adding money to buy three new V-22 Ospreys, a plane that Dick Cheney himself tried to get rid of when he was Secretary of Defense. Similarly, we might have been able to afford appropriate body armor for the troops, and plates for the Hummers in Baghdad, if we were building only one new model of multi-billion-dollar jet fighter, instead of two.

Even more strikingly, while we pour money into all these new projects we’re underfunding crucial homeland-security programs. In the past few months, Congress has eliminated six hundred and fifty million dollars for port security. ... And we cut nearly a hundred million from the requested budget for preventing the use of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Those cuts were considered necessary for budgetary reasons, yet the price of all of them together was less than a third of what it will cost to build a single destroyer. That ship will offer us not a whit of protection in the war on terror. But we can be sure it will keep the seas safe from the Soviet Navy.

I don't want to sacrifice security, quite the opposite, and the rise of China and other countries needs to be factored in as we look ahead and prepare for contingencies. That means maintaining traditional capabilities as well as being prepared to fight newer threats on terrorism and other fronts. But to do that we will need to spend our defense dollars wisely and efficiently, more so than we have in recent years, and recognize that budgetry realities require that choices be made on where the government spends its money.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Economic Sanctions

Do economic sanctions work?:

Thanks for the Sanctions, by Jacob Weisberg, Slate: When trying to rein in the misbehavior of roguish regimes, be it nuclear proliferation, support for terrorism, or internal repression, the United States increasingly turns to a policy of economic sanctions.

A quick survey: We began our economic embargo against North Korea in 1950. We've had one against Cuba since 1962. We first applied economic sanctions to Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979 and are currently trying for international sanctions aimed at getting the government there to suspend uranium enrichment. We attached trade sanctions to Burma beginning in 1990 and froze the assets of Sudan beginning in 1997. President Bush ordered sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003 and against Syria beginning in 2004. We have also led major international sanctions campaigns against regimes since brought down by force of arms: Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Saddam's Iraq, and Taliban Afghanistan.

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense, admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations... But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Sanctions tend to fail as a diplomatic tool for the same reason aerial bombing usually fails. As Israel is again discovering in Lebanon, the infliction of indiscriminate suffering tends to turn a populace against the proximate cause of its devastation, not the underlying causes. People who live in hermit states like North Korea, Burma, and Cuba already suffer from global isolation. Fed on a diet of propaganda, they don't know what's happening inside their borders or outside of them. By increasing their seclusion, sanctions make it easier for dictators to blame external enemies for a country's suffering. And because sanctions make a country's material deprivation significantly worse, they paradoxically make it less likely that the oppressed will throw off their chains.

Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalize on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, as in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, sanctions themselves afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help clever despots shore up their position. Some dictators also thrive on the political loneliness we inflict and in some cases appear to seek more of it from us. The pariah treatment suits Bashar Assad, Kim Jong-il, Robert Mugabe, and SLORC just fine. Fidel Castro ... has flourished in isolation. Every time the United States considers lifting its embargo, Castro unleashes a provocation designed to ensure that we don't normalize relations...

Constructive engagement, which often sounds like lame cover for business interests, tends to lead to better outcomes than sanctions. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raises a society's expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes. Though each is a separate case, these forces contributed greatly to undermining dictatorships and fostering democracy in the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. The same process is arguably under way in China. Contact also makes us less clueless about the countries we want to change. It is hard to imagine we would have misunderstood the religious and ethnic conflicts in Iraq the way we have if our embassy had been open and American companies had been doing business there for the past 15 years

As another illustration, take Iran, which is currently the focus of a huge how-do-we-get-them-to-change conversation. Despite decades of sanctions, Iran is full of young people who are culturally attuned to the United States. One day, social discontent there will lead to the reform or overthrow of the ruling theocracy. But there is little reason to think that more sanctions will bring that day any closer. The more likely effect ... that it will push dissatisfied and potentially rebellious Iranians back into the arms of the nuke-building mullahs.

The counterexample always cited is South Africa... In his new book The J Curve, Ian Bremmer argues that South Africa was unusually amenable to this kind of pressure because it retained a functioning multiparty democracy and because, unlike many other pariah states, it didn't actually like being a pariah. Even so, sanctions took a very long time to have any impact. It was nearly three decades from the passage of the first U.N. resolution urging sanctions in 1962 to Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990.

If they are so rarely effective, why are Western governments pressing for sanctions more and more often? In a world of trouble, it is partly an exercise in frustration. We often have no good options and need to feel that we're doing something. Sanctions are a palatable alternative to military action and often serve to appease domestic constituencies as well. ...

Dan Drezner weighs in:

Drezner on Weisberg on sanctions, by Dan Drezner: ...Weisberg makes a valid point -- as a general rule, applying sanctions against rogue states unless and until there is regime change tends not to work.

However, against this important point, let me throw in a few modifiers ...  The constructive engagement approach rests on an odd assumption -- that the leaders of a rogue state are somehow unaware that they will become trapped in a web of economic interdependence. The truth is that applying constructive engagement ... as a means to induce economic and political change tends not to work either. Put crudely, if a regime wants to stay in power at all costs, all of the economic openness in the world is not going to make much difference, because the government that wants to stay in power will simply apply strict controls over trade with the outside world... This doesn't mean that the engagement strategy is always for naught -- but there are failures...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Free Market Shock and Awe

Part of what went wrong in Iraq, "ideology trumping commonsense":

Bush's Iraq: A Bloodbath Economy, by Joshua Holland, AlterNet: Iraqis have been brutalized not only by bombs and bullets; they've also been the victims of economic violence in the form of the free market "shock therapy" cooked up by a firm in Virginia on a $250 million no-bid contract before the U.S. invasion. Transforming Iraq's economy overnight was a matter of ideology trumping commonsense, and it's killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and shattered a way of life for hundreds of thousands more.

That the radical restructuring of Iraq's political economy has received so little critical attention -- even as Iraq's nascent government threatens to crash and burn -- is a testament to how deeply indoctrinated we are --especially our media -- in the narrative of what "American-style" capitalism is. It was taken as a given that after knocking off Saddam, we'd rapidly privatize huge swaths of Iraq's national companies, get rid of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, completely restructure the country's tax and finance laws and throw Iraq's economy wide open for foreign multinationals. File it under bringing "democracy and capitalism" to the poor, backward Arabs.

The reality is that the economic policies we imposed on Iraq were not some generic form of "capitalism"; they included the most radical business-state rules imaginable -- policies that developing countries have vehemently resisted for over a decade. ... And while "democratization" and "free markets" supposedly go hand-in-hand, the truth is that Iraq's economic transformation was mutually exclusive with the goal of forming a legitimate government, and the Bush administration knew it well in advance of the occupation.

That's because it's universally accepted -- even among the most vocal proponents of the very model of corporate globalization that inspired Iraq's new economy -- that in the short-term those policies create economic pain, displacement, anger and civil unrest, as well as a lack of faith in government. That's no way to win hearts and minds.

Even the man who implemented the shock therapy, coalition boss L. Paul Bremer, understood this quite well. Before his installation as "the dictator of Iraq" ... Bremer was a risk management consultant. In 2002, he wrote in a report to his corporate clients: "The painful consequences of globalization are felt long before its benefits are clear… Restructuring inefficient state enterprises requires laying off workers. And opening markets to foreign trade puts enormous pressure on traditional retailers and trade monopolies." Bremer noted that corporate globalization is "good for the economy and society in the long run, [but has] immediate negative consequences for many people," and concluded that those consequences cause "political and social tensions."

Pushing those policies in a country like Iraq was a matter of ideological preference and greed, not necessity. A good example is Iraq's new flat-tax, established by Order #37 (now Law #37). As the Washington Post reported: "It took L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, no more than a stroke of the pen … to accomplish what eluded [Republicans] over the course of a decade and two presidential campaigns."

Former Reagan and Bush 41 official Bruce Bartlett said with no small amount of envy that an occupation government doesn't have to "worry about all the political and transition problems that have made adoption of fundamental tax reform here so difficult" ...

Putting "free-markets" before what are recognized as "best practices" in post-conflict reconstruction had an immediate relationship with Iraq's insurgency. Consider the impact of two of Bremer's 100 Orders. Order #1 was the "De-Ba`athification of Iraqi Society." It laid off 120,000 senior civil servants (and a half million Iraqi soldiers and officers), ostensibly to clean out the government of holdovers from Saddam's Ba'ath party. But you had to be a Ba'athist to get those civil service jobs in the first place. Antonia Juhasz, author of The Bush Agenda, told me in a recent interview that "it wasn't an indication that they were a party to Saddam Hussein's crimes ... they were fired because they could have stood in the way of the economic transformation."

When I say "civil servants," don't think about the pasty men and women down at the Social Security office. Think about mostly Sunni civil servants -- men accustomed to influence -- fresh out of a job, with few prospects and facing a new order of Shi'ite rule, and remember that they all had compulsory military training and a collection of automatic weapons.

Now look at Order #1 in relation to Order #39, which made it a violation of Iraqi law for the government to favor local Iraqi businesses or Iraqi workers for reconstruction work, meaning that all those pissed off, heavily-armed and newly unemployed men could not be put to work rebuilding their country.

That killed the State Department's own exhaustively prepared plans for post-war Iraq -- plans that the administration had announced they'd follow prior to the invasion. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (PDF):

The Administration … announced plans to employ the bulk of Iraq's regular army to rebuild Iraq's critical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, after a conflict. The United States would pay the salaries of Iraqi soldiers to perform this work, thereby ensuring - at least in the immediate term - against their return to civilian life without any gainful employment.

We'll never know how differently things might have turned out if the administration had listened to its own experts instead of the Chamber of Commerce's lobbyists.

That's not to say these policies caused the insurgency -- it's not that direct -- but they created circumstances in which it could flourish and guaranteed it would have some popular support. This was, after all, an economic order that had led people living in much better circumstances in places like Seattle, Geneva and Montreal to riot. ... Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution was right when he called post-conflict Iraq "a debacle that was foreseeable and indeed foreseen by most experts in the field."

Much of this policy mix also violated international and U.S. law. It's no small irony given that one of the reasons given for the invasion was to confront a "rogue" regime that scoffed at international law.

Article 43 of the Hague Convention says that an occupying power must "take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." The only law that the American forces left standing was Saddam Hussein's ban on public-sector unions.

Article 55 says an occupying force can only serve as the "administrator" of "public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates." As the Guardian pointed out, those rules also "apply to structural changes to a public resource or service." Naomi Klein asked: "what could more substantially alter 'the substance' of a public asset than to turn it into a private one?"

The questionable legality of the policy was also well understood. Just a week after the bombs started falling on Baghdad, Britain's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith sent a memo to Tony Blair (PDF) warning that "the imposition of major structural economic reforms would not be authorized by international law."...

The Bush administration -- dominated by Big Business ideologues -- went ahead with the plan nonetheless, and the consequences have been wholly predictable. After all, we've seen them before, in the former Soviet states after the USSR's collapse.

The administration actually cited Russia's economic transition as a model for Iraq. But the University of North Carolina's Jonathan Weiler, an expert on Russia and author of Human Rights in Russia: A Darker Side of Reform told me that ... "Russia's transition to a market-based economy was anything but smooth, and Weiler says "it's certainly not a model that's compatible with trying to create a broadly legitimate government in a country that's been torn up by war and years of dictatorship. ...[W]hen you look at Russian human rights since 1991, you see that the victims have changed--to the socially disadvantaged rather than the politically suspect--but the realities of life for many vulnerable Russians have in fact become worse."

None of this is to suggest that Iraq's economy didn't have serious inefficiencies or wasn't in need of deep structural reform. But what economists call "inefficiencies" are most commonly someone's job, or a farmer's subsidy -- people's livelihoods. The reforms could have been phased in over a long period, or, better yet, started after an Iraqi government was established.

Common sense should have dictated that, after the destruction of its infrastructure and the dismantling of its (brutal but stable) government, Iraq didn't need to become a laboratory for neoliberal economics. It needed jobs and basics like electricity, water and sewage systems, and it needed them quickly.

That meant local firms, local workers and small, local projects -- which make less juicy targets for saboteurs -- to rebuild the country's public infrastructure. Development experts call that "local ownership," and consider it crucially important for good outcomes.

But commonsense has always been in short supply in the Bush administration, and they chose to make the country into a trough full of slop for the big multinationals. Make no mistake about it, Iraq's economic transformation is an example of war profiteering by other means, and the disastrous results are plain to see.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Paul Krugman: March of Folly

Paul Krugman wonders why the views of some commentators on Middle East policy are given credence given how far off their analysis has been in the past:

March of Folly, by Paul Krugman, Neocons Commentary, NY Times: Since those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it — and since the cast of characters making pronouncements on the crisis in the Middle East is very much the same as it was three or four years ago — it seems like a good idea to travel down memory lane. Here’s what they said and when they said it:

“The greatest thing to come out of [invading Iraq] for the world economy .... would be $20 a barrel for oil.” Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation (which owns Fox News), February 2003

“Oil Touches Record $78 on Mideast Conflict.” Headline on www.foxnews.com, July 14, 2006 ...

“Peacekeeping requirements in Iraq might be much lower than historical experience in the Balkans suggests. There’s been none of the ... ethnic militias fighting one another that produced so much bloodshed ... in Bosnia.” Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and now president of the World Bank, Feb. 27, 2003

“West Baghdad is no stranger to bombings and killings, but in the past few days all restraint has vanished in an orgy of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ .... Mosques are being attacked. Scores of innocent civilians have been killed, their bodies left lying in the streets.” The Times of London, July 14, 2006

“Earlier this week, I traveled to Baghdad to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq.” President Bush, June 17, 2006.

“People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse. ... These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.” Ayad Allawi, Mr. Bush’s choice as Iraq’s first post-Saddam prime minister, November 2005

“Iraq’s new government has another able leader in Speaker Mashhadani. ... He rejects the use of violence for political ends. And by agreeing to serve in a prominent role in this new unity government, he’s demonstrating leadership and courage.” President Bush, May 22, 2006

“Some people say ‘we saw you beheading, kidnappings and killing. In the end we even started kidnapping women who are our honor.’ These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew.” Mahmoud Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, July 13, 2006 ...

“Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region. ...Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates ... would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.” Vice President Cheney, Aug. 26, 2002

“Bush — The world is coming unglued before his eyes. His naïve dreams are a Wilsonian disaster.” Newsweek Conventional Wisdom Watch, July 24, 2006 edition

“It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, Dec. 6, 2005

“I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now.” Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, on the campaign against Slobodan Milosevic, April 28, 1999

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Previous (7/14) column: Paul Krugman: Left Behind Economics
Next (7/21) column: Paul Krugman: The Price of Fantasy

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why People Distrust the Media

This is the current headline and story summary for the lead article on CNN.com:

'Real deal' tunnel plot foiled, CNN.com, updated 4:38 a.m. EDT, 7/8/06: U.S. and international authorities say they disrupted a plot by eight terrorists to blow up a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, the FBI announced Friday. FBI Assistant Director Mershon said the target was one of the PATH rail tubes running under the Hudson River. He added the plan was "what we believe was the real deal," a scheme involving al Qaeda on three continents.

The CBS News blog, Public Eye, has some questions about the hype behind the latest roundup of suspected terrorists. This was posted at 3:04 p.m. on 7/7/06, which is before the time the CNN story was posted (9:58 p.m), and long before the time the headline summary above and accompanying story were still featured on the CNN web site:

The Plot Against America, by Brian Montopoli, Public Eye: "TUNNEL BOMB PLOT" trumpeted the New York Daily News this morning on its cover, the words printed in big bold white letters against a black background. Jihadists, said the paper, had a "serious" plot to flood lower Manhattan by bombing the Holland Tunnel, "to drown the Financial District as New Orleans was by Hurricane Katrina."

Frightening? Sure. "Serious?" Well, the jury is still out. The "largely aspirational" plot never went beyond e-mails, there was no credible link to Al Qaeda, and there was no specific mention of the Holland Tunnel, just the mass transit system more generally; additionally, sources say "no one in the United States ever took part in the Internet conversations and…no one ever purchased any explosives or scouted the transit system."

The plot as the Daily News conceived it seemed absurd enough that one would have thought it would have given editors pause – how does one flood lower Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel, seeing as the island is above the level of the river? But that didn't stop the paper from rushing its inaccurate story into print and trumpeting it with BIG BOLD LETTERS, and it didn't stop other news organizations from turning the alleged plot into a huge story. That's no surprise, of course. When people speak of bias in the press, they tend to talk abut political bias, but the more serious bias is towards sensationalism, which tends to sell better. (It's safe to say the Daily News moved a few more copies this morning than usual.)

The press isn't the only party with an incentive to play up these kinds of stories. Look at the last major terror bust, of a Miami-based group allegedly plotting to take out the Sears Tower in Chicago. The government trumpeted the arrest as evidence of its success in fighting terrorism, and there's no doubt the bust was a good thing. But Andrew Cohen read the indictment, and wrote that "nothing in [it] convinces me that these guys were legitimate terrorist wannabes as opposed to a bunch of angry bozos looking lazily for al Qaeda to hook them up with all sorts of goodies." Cohen cites a series of government charges that turned out to be less than they first appeared -- John Lindh, Zacarias Moussaoui, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Jose Padilla – to explain his cynicism.

The truth is that it's difficult to tell how serious the Miami plot was, just as it's difficult to judge the seriousness of this most recent case. But because the parties involved – the media and the government – often have an incentive to assume (and trumpet) the worst, news consumers should be particularly careful to look beyond the headlines and the crawl when it comes to these kinds of stories. The media is almost never at its best when reporting on terror plots, and today brought us one more example of how restrained, accurate reporting can go out the window when journalists are given the choice between healthy skepticism and reckless sensationalism.

Here's CNN's story for comparison. As it says above, "the jury is still out," but the jury would have a hard time finding anything to deliberate in this story:

FBI: Three held in New York tunnel plot, Kelli Arena contributed, CNN.com: U.S. and international authorities disrupted a plot by eight terrorists to blow up a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, the FBI announced Friday. ... FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon told reporters... the plan was "what we believe was the real deal," a scheme involving al Qaeda members on three continents.

Mershon said none of the suspects has been to the United States. ... "They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks," Mershon said...

Although Mershon would not divulge extensive details of the plot, law enforcement sources said the suspects wanted to cross the Canadian border into the United States.

Once in New York City, they would board trains with backpacks full of explosives, which they planned to detonate when the trains passed through a tunnel under the Hudson River. The suspects discussed how much explosive material would be needed to breach the thick bedrock lining of the tunnels, the sources said.

Assem Hammoud is the only suspect who has been formally charged; he is in custody in Lebanon. Hammoud, who claims to be an al Qaeda member, has admitted to being the group's ringleader and has professed his loyalty to the terror network's leader, Osama bin Laden, Mershon said. Hammoud, who also goes by the name Amir Andalousli, is a professor of computer studies at a private university in ... Beirut...

The FBI began investigating Hammoud and his alleged cohort about a year ago, when talk of a tunnel attack popped up in Internet chat rooms and in e-mail discussions... The FBI helped track the chatter to Hammoud, who admitted to sending detailed maps of the targeted Port Authority Trans-Hudson, or PATH, tunnel and plans for the attack to his co-conspirators, he said. ...

Although the plot was in its preliminary stages, Mershon said the attack was slated to take place in October or November. Investigators moved in because they believed the suspects were about to begin assessing the target and obtaining explosives and other materials for the attack, he said. Mershon would not name the specific tunnel but said it was one of the PATH tubes running under the Hudson River. ...

The New York Daily News broke the story Friday morning, and Mershon expressed disappointment at what he called the "unprofessional behavior" of whomever leaked it to the paper.

The leaker was "clearly someone who doesn't understand the fragility of international relations," he said, adding that there have been a "number of uncomfortable questions" from the foreign intelligence services that participated in the investigation. ...

Whatever respect I had for CNN's journalistic abilities and as a news organization has diminished considerably in recent years. Update: More here (AlterNet) and here (CBS).

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Echoes of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

The resolution introduced into the House of Representatives for debate along with other condemnations of the press for reporting on bank spying brings this to mind. From the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Jefferson:

With a quasi-War with France underway (that is, an undeclared naval war), the Federalists under John Adams started a navy, built up the army, levied new taxes, readied for war and enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.

The background for the act is:

With many Federalists advocating war against a major power, France, Federalists in Congress, in 1798, passed the laws which they asserted would protect national security in the United States and which sought to silence internal opposition. ... Jeffersonians, however, recognized that the laws were to be used as a tool of the ruling Federalist party to extend and retain their power, silencing any opposition. ... Under the Alien and Alien Enemies Acts, the president could deport any "dangerous" or "enemy" alien — a law that is still in effect in 2006.

Here's a shortened version of the act itself from an April entry in the Republican Study Committee blog:

THE SEDITION ACT OF JULY 14, 1798 ...

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or publishing, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or ... for opposing or resisting ... any act of the President of the United States, ... or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years. ...

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer...

JONATHAN DAYTON, Speaker of the House of Representatives. THEODORE SEDGWICK, President of the Senate, pro tempore.

APPROVED, July 14, 1798: JOHN ADAMS, President of the United States.

The language and meaning of the Acts:

Under the Sedition Act, anyone "opposing ... any act of the President of the United States" could be imprisoned for up to two years. It was also illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything critical of the president or Congress. It was notable that the Act did not prohibit criticism of the Vice-President. Jefferson held the office of Vice-President at the time the Act was passed so the law left him open to attack. ...

Jeffersonians denounced the Sedition Act as a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, which protected the right of free speech. ... Subsequent mentions of the Sedition Act in particular in Supreme Court opinions have assumed that it would be unconstitutional today. For example ..., the Court declared, "Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history." 376 U.S. 254, 276 (1964).

From the Wkipedia entry for Jefferson:

Jefferson interpreted the Alien and Sedition Acts as an attack on his party more than on dangerous enemy aliens. He and Madison rallied support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that declared that the Constitution only established an agreement between the central government and the states and that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it. Should the federal government assume such powers, its acts under them could be voided by a state. The Resolutions' importance lies in being the first statements of the states' rights theory that led to the later concepts of nullification and interposition.

And, back to the Wikipedia entry on the Alien and Sedition Acts:

At the time, the redress for unconstitutional legislation was unclear and the Supreme Court openly hostile to the anti-federalists. The Alien and Sedition Acts were not appealed to the Supreme Court for review...

In order to address the constitutionality of the measures, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison sought to unseat the Federalists, appealing to the people to remedy the constitutional violation, and drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, calling on the states to nullify the federal legislation. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions reflect the Compact Theory, which states that ... States ... agree to cede some of their authority in order to join the union, but that the states do not, ultimately, surrender their sovereign rights. Therefore, states can determine if the federal government has violated its agreements, including the Constitution, and nullify such violations or even withdraw from the Union. ...

Although the Federalists hoped the Act would muffle the opposition, many Democratic-Republicans still "wrote, printed, uttered and published" their criticisms of the Federalists. Indeed, they strongly criticised the act itself, and used it as an election issue. The act expired when the term of President Adams ended in 1801.

Ultimately the Acts backfired against the Federalists; while the Federalists prepared lists of aliens for deportation, and many aliens fled the country during the debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams never signed a deportation order.

Twenty-five people, primarily prominent newspaper editors but also Congressman Matthew Lyon, were arrested, but it appears only eleven were tried (one died while awaiting trial) and ten were convicted of sedition, often in trials before openly partisan Federalist judges. Federalists at all levels, however, were turned out of power, and over the ensuing years Congress repeatedly apologized for or voted recompense to victims of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

It all sounds very familiar. Déjà Vu, Again and Again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Is Jon Stewart Bad for America?

I received an email saying if I wanted to keep younger readers, I should post Jon Stewart videos. But I would never pander like that:

Jon Stewart 'Hurts the Country,' Science Finds, by Andrew Ferguson, Bloomberg: ...[A] pair of political scientists from East Carolina University released the results last week of their 18- month study of the influence that Jon Stewart, the TV comedian, has on U.S. democracy. The report's conclusions about the effect of Stewart and his Comedy Central ''Daily Show'': not good. ...

Baumgartner and Morris cite data from the Pew Research Center that show almost half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 watch the ''Daily Show'' at least occasionally. This is also the age group that is most averse to consuming ''hard news'' from newspapers, magazines or TV. Only one in four of Stewart's regular viewers report following hard news closely, while, in 2004, more than half said they got some information about the campaign from Stewart. ... Now Baumgartner and Morris come to confirm what should be obvious... This isn't good news at all.

''Jon Stewart,'' they write, ''may have a unique effect on young viewers.'' With a barrage of jokes that require almost no contextual knowledge to understand, he flatters his viewers' sense of superiority even as he makes them more cynical -- and cynical not just about individual politicians but about the processes and possibilities of self-government.

Newspaper readers, who are much better informed, also show a slight increase in cynicism, the researchers found, but they ''do not display cynicism toward the system in the same manner as watchers of the 'Daily Show.'''

Meanwhile, despite their lack of knowledge, ''Daily Show'' viewers ''reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics.'' Stewart is raising their self-esteem at the same time he makes them dumber.

Now, this is a familiar phenomenon in the contemporary U.S. -- rising ignorance accompanied by rising self-regard. We can't blame Stewart for it all by himself... But the study does raise the question: Who's hurting the country now? ...

Just because the truth hurts is no reason to stop telling it. Here's a recent example of Stewart in action:


[Video -WMP Video -QT]

TDS: The Miami Seven: Jon Stewart takes a look at the case known to many as "The Miami Seven." He examines the careful and decisive evidence told to us by Alberto Gonzales:

Gonzales: These individuals wish to wage a quote: "full ground war against the United States."

Stewart: Seven guys? I’m not a general. I am not anyway affiliated with the military academy, but I believe if you were going to wage a full ground war against the United States, you need to field at least as many people as say a softball team.

Please Alberto, don’t take any questions-you were doing just fine up until then. That was followed up by some careful analysis of the men involved in the plot.

A: One of the individuals was familiar with the Sears Tower- had worked in Chicago and had been there-so was familiar with the tower, but in terms of the plans it was more aspirational rather than operational.

Stewart: No weapons, no actual contact with al-Qaeda, but one of them had been to Chicago…

Cynical in the sense of "skeptical of the motives of others?" Let's hope so.

Friday, June 16, 2006

News Coverage Granger Causes Terrorism

Bruno Frey and Dominic Rohner find bi-directional causality between newspaper reports of terrorism and acts of terrorism:

What's Black and White and Red All Over?, by Richard Morin, Washington Post: More ink equals more blood, claim two economists who say that newspaper coverage of terrorist incidents leads directly to more attacks. It's a macabre example of win-win in what economists call a "common-interest game," say Bruno S. Frey of the University of Zurich and Dominic Rohner of Cambridge University.

"Both the media and terrorists benefit from terrorist incidents," their study contends. Terrorists get free publicity... The media, meanwhile, make money "as reports of terror attacks increase newspaper sales and the number of television viewers."

The researchers counted direct references to terrorism between 1998 and 2005 in the New York Times and Neue Zuercher Zeitung, a respected Swiss newspaper. They also collected data on terrorist attacks around the world during that period. Using a statistical procedure called the Granger Causality Test, they attempted to determine whether more coverage directly led to more attacks.

The results, they said, were unequivocal: Coverage caused more attacks, and attacks caused more coverage -- a mutually beneficial spiral of death that they say has increased because of a heightened interest in terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

One partial solution: Deny groups publicity by not publicly naming the attackers, Frey said. But won't they become known anyway through informal channels such as the Internet? Not necessarily, Frey said. "Many experiences show us that in virtually all cases several groups claimed responsibility for a particular terrorist act..."

The CBS blog Public Eye adds:

Economists: Print The News, Pay The Price, by Brian Montopoli, Public Eye: ...First off, I'm not sure why one needs a PhD in economics to determine what appears to be common sense: More people are interested in the news when there's a terror attack, pushing newspaper sales and television viewership higher, and terrorists become better known when they commit such attacks.

As for the Granger Causality Test itself, it entails a complicated regression analysis... I am not qualified to dispute the economists' conclusions. But ... This, in particular, struck me: "The results, they said, were unequivocal..." Unequivocal? That's quite a determination for a study with what to me seems a relatively small sample size... I am skeptical of the notion that that were enough data to prove an unequivocal correlation, particularly in light of all of the other variables at play.

Frey suggests a solution to the problem he identifies: Don't publicly identify terrorists, at least until after their conviction. Of course, as [the Washington Post story] points out, the Internet would complicate any such an attempt. And there's also the matter of the value of the self-censorship – would it be worth it to deny people such information? If the correlation is unequivocal, as the researchers claim, you could perhaps make the case that it is a worthwhile trade-off. But I think we should be extremely hesitant to embrace the idea that refusing to publicly acknowledge the identity of our attackers will somehow make them go away.

Unequivocal is too strong a word for a statistical outcome, there is always room for questions when causality tests are conducted, but the intent is to convey that the results are highly significant.

Like all of us, I've wondered if the news media causes crime, copycat crime in particular, and also wondered if it would continue of it weren't reported. But I am not in favor of restricting what can be published in the news.

Newspapers don't kill people. People kill people.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Judith Miller: The 9/11 Story That Got Away

In case you missed this like I did, here is an interview with Judith Miller published today where she discusses being tipped off by sources within the administration about a large impending atttack by Al Qaida in July 2001, just two months before the 9/11 terrorism attacks. I cut a lot of the parts where she justifies not following the story up with more vigor to overcome the objections of her editor about running it in The New York Times. Explaining why she didn't follow up seems to be a big part of her motive for giving the interview:

The 9/11 Story That Got Away, by Rory O'Connor and William Scott Malone, AlterNet, May 18, 2006:  ...Enter Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-New York Times reporter at the center of the ongoing perjury and obstruction of justice case involving former top White House official I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Miller spent 85 days in jail before finally disclosing that Libby was the anonymous source who confirmed to her that Valerie Plame was a CIA official, although Miller never wrote a story about Plame.

Now, in an exclusive interview, Miller reveals how the attack on the Cole spurred her reporting on Al Qaida and led her, in July 2001, to a still-anonymous top-level White House source, who shared top-secret NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) concerning an even bigger impending Al Qaida attack, perhaps to be visited on the continental United States.

Ultimately, Miller never wrote that story... But two months later -- on Sept. 11 -- Miller and her editor at the Times, Stephen Engelberg, both remembered and regretted the story they "didn't do."

Continue reading "Judith Miller: The 9/11 Story That Got Away" »

Monday, May 08, 2006

Would You Hire Donald Rumsfeld to Plan and Run Your War?

I wouldn't. I don't think Joseph Nye would either. Judge for yourself in "Donald Rumsfeld and Smart Power" from Project Syndicate:

The good news is that Rumsfeld is beginning to realize that the struggle against terrorism cannot be won by hard military power alone. The bad news is that he still does not understand soft power – the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. As The Economist commented..., “until recently he plainly regarded ... ‘soft power’ as, well, soft – part of ‘Old Europe’s’ appeasement of terrorism.” ... Rumsfeld, when asked about soft power in 2003, replied “I don’t know what it means.” A high price was paid for that ignorance... [read more].

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Extraordinary Complicity?

There are too many questions here about the U.S. implicitly sanctioning torture through a policy of extraordinary rendition that need answers, e.g. see "America kidnapped me" and "London suspect in CIA torture claim" for accounts of two instances, one is the el-Masri case described below. I agree with Bob Herbert, this needs a very thorough airing to find out exactly what we are involved in with respect to extraordinary rendition and if we are involved, put a stop to it. I also would go a step further than Herbert calls for and hold those responsible accountable for their actions:

Our Dirty War, by Bob Herbert, Commentary, NY Times: ...Mr. Goering is the senior deputy executive director for policy and programs at Amnesty International USA. We were discussing a subject — government-sanctioned disappearances — that ordinarily would repel most Americans. ... But times change, and we've lowered our moral standards several notches ... people are disappearing at the hands of the U.S. government. "Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and 'Disappearance' " is the title of a recent Amnesty International report on ... extraordinary rendition, a highly classified American program in which individuals are seized — abducted — without any semblance of due process and sent off to be interrogated by regimes that are known to engage in torture.

Some of the individuals swept up by rendition simply vanish. ... There is no way to know how many people have been seized, tortured or killed. Since there are no official proceedings, there is no way to know whether a particular individual ... is a legitimate terror suspect or someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing. But we have learned, after the fact, that mistakes have been made.

You may not be familiar with the name Khaled el-Masri... Mr. Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was arrested while visiting Macedonia in December 2003. A few weeks later, he was handed over to a group of masked men dressed all in black — in the so-called ninja outfits frequently worn by the rendition cowboys. Mr. Masri's clothes were cut off and he was drugged, put aboard a plane and flown to Afghanistan, where he was held in a squalid basement cell for five months.

It turned out, as noted by Dana Priest of The Washington Post, ... "the C.I.A. had imprisoned the wrong man." Ms. Priest wrote: "Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the C.I.A.'s counterterrorist center's Al Qaeda unit 'believed he was someone else,' ... 'She didn't really know. She just had a hunch.' "

Someone had a hunch that Maher Arar was a terrorist, too. A Canadian citizen ... born in Syria, he was snatched by American authorities at Kennedy Airport ... on Sept. 26, 2002, and shipped off to a nightmare in Syria that lasted nearly a year. He was held for most of that time in an underground, rat-infested cell about the size of a grave. No one, not even among the Syrians who tortured him, was ever able to come up with any evidence linking Mr. Arar to terrorism. He was released ... Shunned and emotionally shattered, he seems a ruined man at just 35 years of age. ...

The Amnesty International report describes various acts of torture and other forms of mistreatment that are alleged ... According to the report, Vincent Cannistraro, a former director of the C.I.A's Counterterrorism Center, said the following about a detainee who had been rendered to Egypt: "They promptly tore his fingernails out and he started telling things."

The Bush administration will never do the right thing when it comes to rendition. Congress needs to step in and thoroughly investigate this program, which is nothing less than a crime against humanity. Congress needs to investigate it, document it and shut it down.

I don't believe anyone should be subjected to torture, guilty or not. But if I was held in "an underground, rat-infested cell about the size of a grave" and subjected to the other things described in the reports, and I was innocent of any wrong doing as many of these people apparently are, I would want someone held accountable. Wouldn't you?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's Our Next Move?

This is Richard Clarke, former national coordinator for security and counterterrorism and Steven Simon, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council warning that a war with Iran would be disastrous. There is also a second editorial noting the shift in foreign policy over the last four years from realists such as Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft who advocated balancing world stability and the promotion of democracy toward the Neo-Con idealists:

Op-Ed Contributors Bombs That Would Backfire By Richard Clarke and Steven Simon, Op-Ed, NY Times: ...We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been. A brief look at history shows why.

Continue reading "What's Our Next Move?" »

History of the Car Bomb: "The poor man's air force" Part 1

Though not the most pleasant of topics, I thought this detailed history of the car bomb was interesting and helpful in understanding today's use of car bombs as an instrument of terror:

A History of the Car Bomb Part 1: The poor man's air force by Mike Davis, TomDispatch.com:

You have shown no pity to us! We will do likewise. We will dynamite you! - anarchist warning (1919)

On a warm September day in 1920 in New York, a few months after the arrest of his comrades Sacco and Vanzetti, a vengeful Italian anarchist named Mario Buda parked his horse-drawn wagon near the corner of Wall and Broad streets, directly across from J P Morgan Company. He nonchalantly climbed down and disappeared, unnoticed, into the lunchtime crowd.

Continue reading "History of the Car Bomb: "The poor man's air force" Part 1" »

History of the Car Bomb: "The poor man's air force" Part 2

Here's part 2 of "Car Bombs with Wings" (Part 1):

TomDispatch.com: Car Bombs with Wings A History of the Car Bomb (Part 2), by Mike Davis:

The CIA's Car Bomb University (the 1980s)

The CIA officers that Yousef worked with closely impressed upon him one rule: never use the terms sabotage or assassination when speaking with visiting congressmen.-- Steve Coll, Ghost Wars

Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon, but the Reagan administration and, above all, CIA Director William Casey were left thirsting for revenge against Hezbollah. "Finally in 1985," according to ... Bob Woodward ... "he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill [Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Fadlallah who they determined was one of the people behind, not only the Marine barracks, but was involved in the taking of American hostages in Beirut… It was Casey on his own, saying, ‘I‘m going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon -- the car bomb.'"

Continue reading "History of the Car Bomb: "The poor man's air force" Part 2" »

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Barriers to Entry: Terrorism Tariffs

For people who cross the U.S.-Canadian border as tourists or to purchase goods and services, and for manufacturers who ship across the border, the new rule requiring a passport that goes into effect in 2007 and other security measures will act like a tariff due to increased crossing times and the time and monetary cost of obtaining a passport. Not everyone is happy with the reduction in trade such 'terrorism tariffs' are expected to bring about:

A Tightening Border Has Canadians Worried, by Ian Austen, NY Times: As theater, the "Oh Canada Eh?" dinner show and the Shaw Festival, whose current season includes an Ibsen play, have little in common. But ... the two theaters have the same worries about a relatively recent American law that will require anyone crossing the United States-Canadian border to show a passport or a still undetermined equivalent.

"It's become the war on tourism, not the war on terrorism," said J. Ross S. Robinson, the ... owner of the "Oh Canada Eh?" revue. He said the new rules had already led to cancellations from the United States even though they do not go into effect for land travelers until the end of 2007.

Nor are owners of tourist destinations the only critics of the new rules... Manufacturers who ship parts and finished products across the border worry about further slowdowns at already congested crossings. While museums, professional sports teams and store owners in Western New York all rely on Canadian visitors ..., it appears that the Canadian tourism industry will bear the brunt of the new regulations.

At the moment, a smaller percentage of Americans (about 24 percent) than Canadians (about 39 percent) hold passports. ... Mr. Robinson said he was concerned that relatively few people in the United States would spend the $97 and complete the passport paperwork simply to travel to Canada. ... the show relies heavily on bus tour operators for business. Such travelers, Mr. Robinson said, are often elderly and price conscious. "A huge majority don't have passports and won't get them," ... "We'll never replace the loss of a large number of Americans with tourists from Australia or England."

While the legislation allows the American government to create a new border crossing card, it is expected to cost about $50, involve paperwork similar to a passport and, in the view of Mr. Robinson and others, be equally unattractive to casual travelers.

While there is less of a panic at the Shaw Festival, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a prosperous tourist town, ... a spokeswoman ... said there was nevertheless concern. .... Ms. Yazbeck said the festival's research showed that Americans who are repeat visitors either own a passport or have the financial means and inclination to acquire one. But, she said, the increasing tendency of Americans to make last-minute travel plans through the Internet does not fit well with a passport requirement. ...

[This week, the Vancouver-based Jim Patterson Group, citing the new regulations, canceled plans for a new aquarium that would cost 100 million Canadian dollars. The aquarium was to be operated by its Ripley Entertainment division.]

Jim Bradley, Ontario's minister of tourism, has been emphasizing ... that Canadians made about 36 million nonbusiness visits to the United States in 2004, the equivalent of more than one visit a year by every single resident of that country, while American trips north totaled 34 million. "So much of this is done on a casual basis," Mr. Bradley said. "We're going to see a huge decline on both sides of the border."

Representative Don Manzullo, Republican of Illinois..., said he was concerned ... "We're taking our closest trading partner and slapping them in the face," Mr. Manzullo said. "It's a constant fight down here not to treat Canadians like terrorists."

Although many truck drivers now carry special border crossing cards, Perrin Beatty, the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, ... is concerned that tighter border controls would disrupt the tight parts delivery schedules now common in factories. "We have visions of severe bottlenecks at the border," Mr. Beatty said. ...

But Mr. Beatty, a former Conservative member of Canada's Parliament and cabinet, said that he objected to the American plan for more than business reasons. "Do we want to put barriers between our two people that prevent them from getting to know each other?" he said. "I would think post-Sept. 11th, building North American unity should be priority No. 1."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Report: Cheney, Rumsfeld Sanction Use of Iraqi Terror Group in Iran

I am going to stay with the Iran war story because it may have large economic impacts through oil prices and other channels, and because it is such an important issue more generally. This is an article from Raw Story describing operations already underway within Iran in conjunction with "a right-wing terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)." I don't know anything about the source of this story, but it certainly raises questions about how far we've already gone down the path towards war:

On Cheney, Rumsfeld order, US outsourcing special ops, intelligence to Iraq terror group, intelligence officials say, by Larisa Alexandrovna, Raw Story: The Pentagon is bypassing official US intelligence channels and turning to a dangerous and unruly cast of characters in order to create strife in Iran in preparation for any possible attack, former and current intelligence officials say.

One of the operational assets being used by the Defense Department is a right-wing terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), which is being “run” in two southern regional areas of Iran. ... a Sunni stronghold, and ... a Shia region where a series of recent attacks has left many dead and hundreds injured in the last three months.

Continue reading "Report: Cheney, Rumsfeld Sanction Use of Iraqi Terror Group in Iran" »

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Rumsfeld: The Media War on Terror

[Updated (4/10) on continuation page] Donald Rumsfeld defends "buying news" in Iraq and the use of electronic communications more generally as an important weapon in the war effort:

The Media War on Terror, by Donald H. Rumsfeld, Project Syndicate: “More than half of this battle is taking place on the battlefield of the media, [for] we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of [Muslims].” The speaker was not some public relations executive, but Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Continue reading "Rumsfeld: The Media War on Terror" »

The "Bad Guy List"

Is there any reason not to conclude that the "Bad Guy List" is useless?:

Hit-and-Miss List If You're in This Directory, Forget Shopping, by Don Oldenburg, Washington Post: You know this is happening at the airports, where security pulls some guy out of the boarding line. You've heard about the feds being on the lookout for money launderers in high-stakes financial transactions. But a car dealership? Hey, how about the 7-Eleven? ...

Continue reading "The "Bad Guy List"" »

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse


Click to enlarge

AsiaPundit: No car bombs or trishaws are permitted near the Great Hall of the People while the NPC is in session.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Ports in the Storm?

Jim Hamilton at Econbrowser, Ben Muse, and Movie Guy have questions about how Homeland Security tallies ports slated for takeover by DP World:

Homeland Security's curious "fact sheet", by James Hamilton, Econbrowser: Ben Muse and Econbrowser reader Movie Guy ... have been investigating some information disseminated by the Department of Homeland Security that appears to be misleading or inaccurate. Ben Muse was the first to call attention to a ... Department of Homeland Security ... Fact Sheet... This document makes the following statement:

DP World will not, nor will any other terminal operator, control, operate or manage any United States port. DP World will only operate and manage specific, individual terminals located within six ports. ...

Movie Guy noted in comments the apparent inconsistency between this statement from the Department of Homeland Security and this story from UPI dated Feb. 24 which claims that the DP World takeover would involve 21 rather than 6 U.S. ports. ... Movie Guy writes:

I have verified that the sale of P&O to DP World will include the acquisition of ALL existing operations of P&O Ports North America. ... There is no question that the acquisition involves all P&O North America activities and operations on the East Coast and Gulf Coast. Therefore, the acquisition will include the transfer of operations at 22 U.S. ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, not 6 ports as stated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security...

The acquisition will involve, at a minimum, the transfer of P&O North America operations at 55 terminals, not 11 or 16 terminals as stated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Eliminating from consideration the cruise ship terminals .., the number ... is reduced to 49 terminals. DHS has failed to acknowledge the sale and transfer of 39 to 44 of the East Coast and Gulf Coast terminal operations of P&O North America.

Now, I'm wondering what this means. Perhaps ... DHS is drawing a distinction between the kinds of activities performed by P&O in these 22 ports and the activities in the 6 U.S. ports that they highlight. ... Hence there may be an intended interpretation to DHS's use of the phrase "operate and manage specific, individual terminals" for which the press release is technically accurate, though the interpretation that a reader might naturally draw ... could easily be different from the true meaning. Another possibility is that DHS honestly believes that P&O is only involved in the seven ports mentioned in the press release, in which case it would seem to provide ammunition for those claiming that the review of the security issues was less than thorough. Either way, in my opinion it does not reflect well on DHS.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You're in Good Hands with Homeland Security?

I am not an expert on port security. I have to place my faith in others. President Bush says, under the threat of his first veto, that we should allow a state-owned company from Dubai to take control of port terminals in six eastern cities. The Homeland Security Administration has checked this out thoroughly I am told, so there's no need to worry. Still, I wonder:

'Security' Without Sense, by Scott Wallace, Sunday Outlook, Washington Post: It has been almost two months since I resigned from the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I had served as a security screener at Dulles International Airport for more than three years. Even now, I can scarcely believe some of the absurdities I experienced as a screener. ... the TSA's policies regarding what is acceptable to carry onto an airplane mock security rather than enhance it. ...

Visitors to Dulles see posters at the checkpoints with the word "WARNING" in large red letters, followed by the information that "passengers are advised that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has determined that Bandara Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, and Port au Prince International Airport, Haiti, do not maintain and administer effective aviation security measures." That's good to know, but what about Washington Dulles International Airport?

At Dulles, an entry point to the "sterile" area, the part of the airport supposedly restricted to those who have gone through a security check, is known as the SIDA door (SIDA stands for Security Identification Display Area). Workers with airport badges can pass through this door with knapsacks, book bags, you name it, without going through the TSA checkpoints upstairs. But pilots, flight attendants and TSA employees -- all of whom have passed background checks before being hired -- are not permitted to access the sterile area through the SIDA door. They must go through the same TSA checkpoints used by passengers.

The Department of Homeland Security might want to address an issue such as the SIDA door at Dulles before warning travelers about Bali and Port au Prince. At the TSA, truth indeed is stranger than fiction.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

In DHS We Trust?

I don't know if this compromises national security or not. What I do know is that I am no longer comforted by the assurances of Michael Chertoff:

White House defends ports takeover stance, by Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Financial Times: The White House is embarking on a vigorous defence of its decision to approve Dubai Ports World’s ... takeover of P&O, the UK ports operator, in the face of mounting congressional opposition... by... lawmakers ... – both Republican and Democratic – that the deal, which will give Dubai-owned DP World five terminals along the east coast of the US, compromises national security.

A Treasury official said the White House would call on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assure critics on Capitol Hill that the deal was thoroughly investigated ... and that DP World had a long standing relationship with DHS. “You can be assured that before a deal is approved we put safeguards in place, assurances in place, that make everybody comfortable that we are where we need to be from a national security viewpoint,” Michael Chertoff, DHS secretary, said yesterday. ...

It is unclear, however, whether the White House will be able to assuage an angry group of lawmakers who have expressed incredulity.... Republican senator Lindsey Graham ... said ... “It’s unbelievably tone deaf politically ..., four years after 9/11, to entertain the idea of turning port security over to a company based in the UAE who avows to destroy Israel,” ... He joins ... Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who ... is calling a hearing to discuss the issue, and Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is also expected to voice concern on the issue. Senator Barbara Boxer of California ... said she would support a proposal by ... Hillary Clinton to pass legislation to block the transaction. ...

In an interview published in the Washington Post, Michael Brown says:

I don't think people outside the Beltway grasp how scripted this town is. People don't tell the truth; people feel boxed in so they can't tell the truth; people get dismissed for telling the truth. . . .

And, on Chertoff in particular, Brown makes it very clear he's willing to carry the ball for the administration:

I expect him to dump things on me. That's the way this town works. I'm very disappointed. ... I'm not sure it's the right thing to do, but it's the task he's been given.

Is what Chertoff says on this the truth, or a "task he's been given"? With national security at stake, that's a question we should not have to ask. Even Republicans think a hearing is necessary to find out the true risks from the proposed takeover.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Who Profits from War?


Source

Do corporations have any responsibility besides the maximization of profit?

Diplomat Without Portfolio in Davos, by William J. Holstein, NY Times: Dr. Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, attracted attention in Europe when he questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ... at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He asked whether the United States was "playing into the hands of enemies" through its tactics in fighting terrorism. Here are excerpts from a recent conversation with him:

Q. Are there winners and losers in the process of globalization? A. The concept of winners and losers is wrong. If one looks at economic growth, child mortality and other factors, which you can take as the measure of a country's health, you can see that the number of people living on less than $1 per day has declined steadily, from 38 percent of the world's population in 1970 to 20 percent today. But there has been a very different evolution of various parts of the world. ... The advanced countries have benefited more. If you look at Latin America, East Asia and South Asia, their average income per capita has increased significantly. There is one remarkable exception, where we see stagnation, which is Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, there has been very slow and poor development.

Q. Do you think the distribution of wealth needs to be improved? A. There is a maldistribution in the sense that we have about 20 percent of the richest 6.1 billion people in the world getting 74 percent of the income... If you take the poorest 20 percent, they only have 2 percent of the income. So there is no way we can say it is well distributed.

Q. Why would you, as a chief executive, raise these issues with Secretary Rice and other world leaders? A. The first responsibility of a C.E.O. is to run his company successfully and generate products which are useful to your customers, resulting in economic value creation. We also have to act responsibly, respecting not only the law, but also fulfilling legitimate expectations that society has of us. Today these expectations in most instances go beyond short-term profit maximization. What people want is that businesspeople behave in a responsible way in communities in which they live, that they treat employees fairly, respect the environment and demonstrate sensitivity to the problems of other, disadvantaged people in the world. I think corporate social responsibility has taken a much more important role than it used to.

Q. What did you say to Secretary Rice about the war on terror? A. It is not a question of whether one should fight terror or not fight terror. Terror is absolutely unacceptable. What we have to stand for is to create and maintain a free and open society. With terror, you destroy open societies.

But in an open society, there must be a place for expressing one's opinion. Critiquing is in some ways an expression of respect. If you do not respect somebody, you do not bother to critique them. Having said that, I do believe that if you are economically, politically and militarily a superpower, then you have to be a role model for the world. If you talk about values and you stand for democracy and respect for human rights, then you have to act accordingly. The world will look very closely to see if there is consistency between what you say and how you act. You will empower your enemies and weaken your supporters if you deviate from your values and principles.

Q. What do you mean specifically? A. You cannot fight a war without casualties and without taking prisoners. But other questions remain, like, Do you torture? We, the open societies in the world, have to apply the strictest standards. We need to treat people with respect. We need to be very thoughtful about not offering ground for anybody to be against us. We have to be thoughtful about the fact that poverty and the lack of education are excellent breeding grounds for terrorists. They can indoctrinate children. That's what's happening in many countries. The perception in people's minds about who we are gets very distorted.

Q. So you're suggesting that there is a connection between poverty and terrorism? A. No question. You are more willing to risk one's life and one's family when you have nothing to lose. People become more thoughtful when they have something to lose. ...

Q. Why do you think American chief executives are so reluctant to talk about poverty and the roots of terrorism? A. I don't know. You will have to ask them. I know that some of my fellow C.E.O.'s believe they should not express themselves on political issues at all. They should just do business. I think that is not the right attitude. First of all, we are citizens of whatever country we are from. We have a citizenship responsibility. Secondly, I do believe we have to examine our own beliefs and value systems regularly. We cannot act in a void. I think there is very clear responsibility.

Q. Might expressing your views hurt your business in America? A. I don't believe so. I believe the Americans are tolerant and self-assured enough to stand up to these questions. ...

Q. But do you think any American chief executive would publicly confront Secretary Rice on these issues? A. Why not? It depends on the understanding of your role as a business leader. Do you just have responsibility for your business and just your people?

Or if you are given this kind of job as a result of fate, your skills or whatever circumstances, do you have also to take stands on subjects that are not directly linked to your business but are important? Many think that politics have supremacy over business, but does this also imply that business is just a tool for government? On this, history teaches us some interesting lessons.

See here for more on the povery-terror connection from Alan Krueger.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Alan Krueger: Civil Liberties and Terrorism

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger finds an interesting connection between civil liberties and terrorism that undercuts the idea the economic conditions are the driving force behind terrorist acts:

Murdercide, by Michael Shermer, SciAm Skeptic: ... The belief that suicide bombers [murdercide] are poor, uneducated, disaffected or disturbed is contradicted by science. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, found in a study of 400 Al Qaeda members that three quarters of his sample came from the upper or middle class. Moreover, he noted, “the vast majority—90 percent— came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5–6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.” Nor were they sans employment and familial duties. “Far from having no family or job responsibilities, 73 percent were married and the vast majority had children. . . . Three quarters were professionals or semiprofessionals. They are engineers, architects and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion.” ...

[A] necessary condition for suicide is habituation to the fear about the pain involved in the act. How do terrorist organizations infuse this condition in their recruits? One way is through psychological reinforcement. ...[T]he celebration and commemoration of suicide bombings that began in the 1980s changed a culture into one that idolizes martyrdom and its hero. Today murderciders appear in posters like star athletes. Another method of control is “group dynamics.” Says Sageman: “The prospective terrorists joined the jihad through preexisting social bonds with people who were already terrorists or had decided to join as a group. In 65 percent of the cases, preexisting friendship bonds played an important role in this process.” Those personal connections help to override the natural inclination to avoid self immolation. “The suicide bombers in Spain are another perfect example. Seven terrorists sharing an apartment and one saying, ‘Tonight we’re all going to go, guys.’ You can’t betray your friends, and so you go along. Individually, they probably would not have done it.”

One method to attenuate murdercide, then, is to target dangerous groups that influence individuals, such as Al Qaeda. Another method, says Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger, is to increase the civil liberties of the countries that breed terrorist groups. In an analysis of State Department data on terrorism, Krueger discovered that “countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn suicide terrorists. Evidently, the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.” ...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

While We Weren’t Looking

While LeakyGate, Social Security reform, Supreme Court nominations, and other political struggles dominate our attention, a Chinese general speaks out on China's willingness to use nuclear weapons in a conflict with the U.S.:

Continue reading "While We Weren’t Looking" »

Thursday, July 07, 2005

We Too Mourn with all Those Affected by This Horrid Act

We also wish to express out condolences as we mourn with all those affected by this horrid act.  We will do everything in our power to help to find those involved and to bring them to justice, though justice seems too soft a word to apply to the what those involved deserve.