Post-9-11 events and analyses
Ken Novak's Weblog
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Uncle Sam: Jekyll or Hyde? "I think that the Bush administration has a Jekyll-and-Hyde problem—a contradictory attitude toward the war on terror. On the one hand it has wholeheartedly embraced the view that America must change its image in the Muslim world. It wants to stop being seen as the supporter of Muslim tyrants and instead become the champion of Muslim freedoms. President Bush and his secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, are transforming American policy in this realm, and while some of the implementation has been spotty, the general thrust is clear and laudable. ..
But while Dr. Jekyll makes speeches by day on Arab liberty, some nights he turns into Mr. Hyde. There is within the Bush administration another impulse, a warrior ethos that believes in beating up bad guys without much regard for such niceties as international law. Excessive concern for such matters would be a sign of weakness, the kind of thing liberals do. Men like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld see themselves above all else as tough guys. ..
Tough tactics in a darkened room in Abu Ghraib are not going to stay dark in a world of tiny cameras and recorders. And it's not just technology that's different, it's human attitudes. Today, when you release prisoners from Guantanamo, they don't return quietly to their villages in Waziristan. They hire lawyers, talk to human-rights organizations and organize public protests. And in a war for hearts and minds, the benefits of the intelligence gained might well be outweighed by the cost to America's image. Dr. Jekyll needs to explain this to Mr. Cheney, I mean Mr. Hyde. .. " 10:36:21 PM
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Firm to use PR methods on online media and the blogosphere: I've been wondering when blogs and new media would attract PR professionals and political money. In this case, it's someone from Fox and Cato. "Next Generation Advertising has opened its doors in D.C. to produce online "virtual" public policy campaigns. Founder Richard Pollock says the goal is to use what is known as "rich media," video/flash, audio and animation for "entertaining, compelling and interactive" campaigns that can be posted on a variety of online sites. Pollock says Next Generation will also turn to influential Web-log sites run by bloggers, podcasters and video bloggers. Broadband now permits downloadable video to move around the Internet in a matter of days. In an online campaign, Pollock says, policy advocates are free of the time limitations of 30- to 60-second TV spots and can reach out to specific audiences by advertising precisely where they visit.
Pollock is a former Washington producer for ABC's Good Morning America and in 1993 won a daytime Emmy. He also was a senior producer for Fox News Sunday. Before founding Next Generation, Pollock was executive vice president of Shandwick Public Affairs and vice president of communications for the Cato Institute." [Via John Furrier] 12:04:19 AM
Monday, May 23, 2005
Fundable: A web site for pooling money in small groups. "Get it to happen or get your money back." Could be great for non-profits, open-source coders or freelancers wanting to get paid for making a contribution, fans raising money to fund a concert, bulk buying, school projects, and more. (How about a private lottery: if we all chip in, one of us gets to go somewhere amazing..) [From Hugh Pyle] 11:35:26 PM
Friday, May 20, 2005
China spending estimate reduced: Reminds me of how DoD estimates of the Soviet military were overstated. "The RAND Corporation, a research group that studies many issues for the Pentagon, estimated China's military spending totaled $31 billion to $38 billion in 2003, which it said was the most recent year for which full data was available. By contrast, the Defense Department has put the 2003 figure as high as $65 billion, 71 percent greater than the high end of RAND's estimate..
RAND estimated China's defense spending at 2.3 percent to 2.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2003. Using what it called newly available Chinese-language primary sources, it said this was 1.4 to 1.7 times the official Chinese number. By comparison, U.S. defense spending was 3.8 percent of GDP in 2003, or about $417.5 billion. " 12:09:37 AM
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Retirement at 70
: Calculations of effect of gradual increases in retirement age for social security and medicare. " Under present law, it reaches 67 in 2027. That's too slow. Increasing it gradually to 70 by 2030 would require annual increases of about two months a year." Adjusting early retirement from 62 to 66, and slight increases in progressivity of benefits, saves 3.5% of GDP by 2030. 12:49:41 AM
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Gallup: 50% of Americans Now Say Bush Deliberately Misled Them on WMDs
: "Half of all Americans, exactly 50%, now say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Gallup Organization reported this morning.
"This is the highest percentage that Gallup has found on this measure since the question was first asked in late May 2003," the pollsters observed. "At that time, 31% said the administration deliberately misled Americans. This sentiment has gradually increased over time, to 39% in July 2003, 43% in January/February 2004, and 47% in October 2004."
Also, according to the latest poll, more than half of Americans, 54%, disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 43% approve. In early February, Americans were more evenly divided on the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq, with 50% approving and 48% disapproving. " 12:14:08 AM
Friday, May 13, 2005
Chalabi returns as Deputy PM
: "King Abdullah of Jordan has agreed to pardon Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi political leader, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for fraud after his bank collapsed with $300m (£160m) in missing deposits in 1989. Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, asked the king to resolve the differences between Jordan and Mr Chalabi, now Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq
,.. Again Mr Chalabi has escaped not only political annihilation, but has emerged from a crisis with his power enhanced." 11:59:43 PM
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Pakistan agrees jet deal with Chinese: "Pakistan and China have agreed to start joint production of a new fighter aircraft intended as a replacement for the ageing French and Chinese aircraft used by Pakistan's air force, a senior Pakistani air force officer said yesterday.
The agreement comes only two months after the US offered to sell F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, reversing sanctions applied almost 15 years ago over Islamabad's nuclear weapons programme. The move also comes as the US voices concern about the rise of the Chinese military. .. Tom Donnelly, defence analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the new JF-17 would enhance China's ability to intimidate Taiwan and mount an air campaign following a missile attack on the island. ..
The first four of the JF-17 "Thunder" aircraft would be delivered to Pakistan next year for trial flights, while the supply of 150 aircraft would begin in 2007." Total 150 are planned for Pakistan, 250 for China, with half produced in each country. 8:33:17 AM
Monday, May 09, 2005
What the American Civil War can inform us about Iraq: An American Army conference draws parallels: "The Civil War, like the invasion of Iraq, was a war of transformation where the victors hoped to reshape the political culture of the vanquished. But as McPherson tells the story, reconstruction posed severe and unexpected tests: The occupying Union army was harassed by an insurgency that fused die-hard remnants of the old plantation power structure with irregular guerrillas. The Union was as unprepared for this struggle as was the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad in 2003. The army of occupation was too small, and its local allies were often corrupt and disorganized.
Reconstruction suffered partly because of a mismatch between a transformational strategy and haphazard tactics. Northern radicals like Representative Thaddeus Stevens wanted to break the old slaveholding aristocracy and remake the South into a version of New England, with former slaves and poor whites dividing up the plantations. But only weeks after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson was moving to protect the privileges of the old regime. ..
For a time, it still seemed that reconstruction might work. "In 1870, things looked pretty good - if not rosy, at least optimistic," says McPherson, who won a Pulitzer for his 1988 narrative, "Battle Cry of Freedom." A black man was serving in the U.S. Senate and Northerners were investing in what they believed would be a new South. But the insurgency was potent and took more than 1,000 lives. Along with the Ku Klux Klan, there were underground groups such as "The White Brotherhood" and "The Knights of the White Camellia," determined to preserve the old regime's power. White insurgents staged bloody riots in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. The rebels also drew support from the remnants of irregular Confederate units such as Quantrill's Raiders, which spawned the outlaws Frank and Jesse James. "It was a matrix of lawlessness," says Oregon law professor Garrett Epps, who chronicles the period in a forthcoming book, "Second Founding."
The poison that destroyed Reconstruction was racial hatred. The white elite managed to convince poor whites that newly freed blacks were their enemies, rather than potential allies. There's an obvious analogy to the Sunni-Shiite divide that has poisoned postwar Iraq. In the South, the die-hard whites began to believe that if they held tough, the North would eventually abandon the campaign to create a new, multiracial South. And it turned out they were right. By 1877, says McPherson, the North essentially gave up. ..
What lessons does this dismal history convey for American forces in Iraq? First, what you do immediately after the end of hostilities is crucial, and mistakes made then may be impossible to undo. Don't attempt a wholesale transformation of another society unless you have the troops and political will to impose it. Above all, don't let racial or religious hatred destroy democratic political institutions as in the post-bellum South." 9:20:51 AM
Saturday, May 07, 2005
The Perfect Storm to Drown the Economy: Speculation on how an economic crisis might unfold. ""There's a pattern that is familiar from so many other countries that have gotten into debt problems," said Jeffrey A. Frankel, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "A simultaneous rise in interest rates, fall in securities prices and depreciation of the currency."
Of course, economists, always armed with bandoliers of caveats, are quick to warn that the economy is relatively healthy. .. That said, how might a perfect storm be created? It would likely gather overseas. .. If the Bank of China, which has been accumulating dollars at the rate of $200 billion a year, decides to cut back on new purchases, either to diversify or to let its currency appreciate, the United States would quickly have to offer sharply higher interest rates to retain existing investors and entice new ones. Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, estimates that if China cut its rate of accumulation by half, long-term interest rates in the United States could rise by 200 basis points over a few months and the value of the dollar would fall.
Such a rising tide - the yield on the 10-year bond shooting from 4.25 to 6.25, the average 30-year mortgage rising from 6 percent to 8 percent - would mean instantly higher borrowing costs for the government, businesses and consumers. It would drench Wall Street, soaking the stocks of giant interest-rate-sensitive blue chips like Citigroup and making life difficult for speculative, debt-ridden companies. .. "The result would not be a full-blown financial crisis most likely, but it would still be a major recession," said Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California at Berkeley.
What's more, a recovery would be comparatively slow in coming. When the global economy came to a screeching, synchronous halt in 2001, the United States led much of the world back to growth because the federal government went on a stimulus binge for several years: Congress significantly increased government spending while cutting taxes, and the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to historic lows, and held them there. But in the perfect economic storm, none of these three powerful levers would be readily available. Today's deep budget deficits make both significant tax cuts and spending increases unlikely. And rising interest rates would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Federal Reserve to reduce the cost of borrowing. ..
[But,] adds Jeffrey Frankel, "some of us have been warning of this hard-landing scenario for more than 20 years."" 11:04:18 PM
Captured Al-Qaeda kingpin is case of 'mistaken identity' - Sunday Times:
"THE capture of a supposed Al-Qaeda kingpin by Pakistani agents last week was hailed by President George W Bush as “a critical victory in the war on terror”. According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists’ third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as “among the flotsam and jetsam” of the organisation. .. the backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI’s most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department “rewards for justice” programme. Another Libyan is on the FBI list — Anas al-Liby, who is wanted over the 1998 East African embassy bombings — and some believe the Americans may have initially confused the two. When The Sunday Times contacted a senior FBI counter-terrorism official for information about the importance of the detained man, he sent material on al-Liby, the wrong man.
“Al-Libbi is just a ‘middle-level’ leader,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, a French intelligence investigator and leading expert on terrorism finance. “Pakistan and US authorities have completely overestimated his role and importance. He was never more than a regional facilitator between Al-Qaeda and local Pakistani Islamic groups.” .. Although British intelligence has evidence of telephone calls between al-Libbi and operatives in the UK, he is not believed to be Al-Qaeda’s commander of operations in Europe, as reported.
The only operations in which he is known to have been involved are two attempts to assassinate Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, in 2003. Last year he was named Pakistan’s most wanted man with a $350,000 (£185,000) price on his head. .. A former close associate of Bin Laden now living in London laughed: “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.” ..
Some believe al-Libbi’s significance has been cynically hyped by two countries that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing Bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years. Even a senior FBI official admitted that al-Libbi’s “influence and position have been overstated”. 10:51:01 PM
Thursday, May 05, 2005
The Christian Complex
: Factoid from George Will: "According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Americans who answer "none" when asked to identify their religion numbered 29.4 million in 2001, more than double the 14.3 million in 1990. " 8:40:30 AM