Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Free Trade: Low prices benefit claim is no longer valid

Free trade will and does keep prices low for goods from Wal-Mart. However, is there a threshold below which lower prices for these goods does nothing to benefit even the lowest wage earners? I suggest that there is a price point below which it may even harm US consumers (witness the glut of clothes and toys, so much so that even many Goodwill stores will no longer accept clothes as donations).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sherri Shepherd The world is flat

I like this. A new co-host of The View affirms her belief in the Bible, rejection of Evolution, and skepticism about the shape of the Earth. You have to admire her consistency.

Fascinating.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Abizaid: World could abide nuclear Iran

Fascinating.

Abizaid: World could abide nuclear Iran
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
Monday, September 17, 2007

Every effort should be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but failing that, the world could live with a nuclear-armed regime in Tehran, a recently retired commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Monday.

John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed Central Command for nearly four years, said he was confident that if Iran gained nuclear arms, the United States could deter it from using them.

"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."

The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability.

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

He stressed that he was expressing his personal opinion and that none of his remarks were based on his previous experience with U.S. contingency plans for potential military action against Iran.

Abizaid stressed the dangers of allowing more and more nations to build a nuclear arsenal. And while he said it is likely that Iran will make a technological breakthrough to obtain a nuclear bomb, "it's not inevitable."

Iran says its nuclear program is strictly for energy resources, not to build weapons.

Abizaid suggested military action to pre-empt Iran's nuclear ambitions might not be the wisest course.

"War, in the state-to-state sense, in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it — in my mind — to every extent that we can," he said. "On the other hand, we can't allow the Iranians to continue to push in ways that are injurious to our vital interests."

He suggested that many in Iran — perhaps even some in the Tehran government — are open to cooperating with the West. The thrust of his remarks was a call for patience in dealing with Iran, which President Bush early in his first term labeled one of the "axis of evil" nations, along with North Korea and Iraq.

He said there is a basis for hope that Iran, over time, will move away from its current anti-Western stance.

Abizaid's comments appeared to represent a more accommodating and hopeful stance toward Iran than prevails in the White House, which speaks frequently of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions. The administration says it seeks a diplomatic solution to complaints about Iran's alleged support for terrorism and its nuclear program, amid persistent rumors of preparations for a U.S. military strike.

Abizaid expressed confidence that the United States and the world community can manage the Iran problem.

"I believe the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran — that the United States can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that makes it clear to them that while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons they'll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power," he said.

He described Iran's government as reckless, with ambitions to dominate the Middle East.

"We need to press the international community as hard as we possibly can, and the Iranians, to cease and desist on the development of a nuclear weapon and we should not preclude any option that we may have to deal with it," he said. He then added his remark about finding ways to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Abizaid made his remarks in response to questions from his audience after delivering remarks about the major strategic challenges in the Middle East and Central Asia — the region in which he commanded U.S. forces from July 2003 until February 2007, when he was replaced by Adm. William Fallon.

The U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Iran shortly after the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Although both nations have made public and private attempts to improve relations, the Bush administration labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil," and Iranian leaders still refer to the United States as the Great Satan.

Iraq expels American security contractor Blackwater

Blackwater was used in New Orleans after Katrina. For more on Blackwater, see the work done by The Nation's Jeremy Scahill.

Also see:
Private Contractors Outnumber US Troops in Iraq by T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times.

Reasons contractors in Iraq are bad news:

  • Questionable jurisdiction...no wait, completely free from any legal jurisdiction, according to Order 17 Paul Bremer put in place just before leaving.

  • Hides true number of troops and casualties from American public

  • Breaks down military order...can refuse to provide troops needs when under fire

  • Morale buster. Minimum wage troops performing alongside contractors performing similar duties for much more money.





Iraq expels American security firm By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
Monday, September 17, 2007



The Iraqi government Monday ordered Blackwater USA, the security firm that protects U.S. diplomats, to stop work and leave the country after the fatal shooting of eight Iraqi civilians following a car bomb attack against a State Department convoy.

The order by the Interior Ministry, if carried out, would deal a severe blow to U.S. government operations in Iraq by stripping diplomats, engineers, reconstruction officials and others of their security protection.

The presence of so many visible, aggressive Western security contractors has angered many Iraqis, who consider them a mercenary force that runs roughshod over people in their own country.

Sunday's shooting was the latest in a series of incidents in which Blackwater and other foreign contractors have been accused of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens. None has faced charges or prosecution.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki late Monday and the two agreed to conduct a "fair and transparent investigation" and hold any wrongdoers accountable, said Yassin Majid, an adviser to the prime minister. Rice was expected to visit the Mideast on Tuesday.

Majid made no mention of the order to expel Blackwater, and it was unlikely the United States would agree to abandon a security company that plays such a critical role in American operations in Iraq.

A State Department official confirmed the call but said he could not describe the substance. The U.S. clearly hoped the Iraqis would be satisfied with an investigation, a finding of responsibility and compensation to the victims' families — and not insist on expelling a company that the Americans cannot operate here without.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when contractors believed to be working for Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians Sunday in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Mansour in western Baghdad.

"We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities," Khalaf said.

He said witness reports pointed to Blackwater involvement but added that the shooting was still under investigation. One witness, Hussein Abdul-Abbas, said the explosion was followed by about 20 minutes of heavy gunfire and "everybody in the street started to flee immediately."

U.S. officials said the motorcade was traveling through Nisoor Square on the way back to the Green Zone when the car bomb exploded, followed by volleys of small-arms fire that disabled one of the vehicles but caused no American casualties.

According to TIME.com, which obtained a U.S. incident report, a separate convoy arriving to help was "blocked/surrounded by several Iraqi police and Iraqi national guard vehicles and armed personnel."

American officials refused to discuss Iraqi casualties, nor would they confirm that Blackwater personnel were involved. They also refused to explain the legal authority under which Blackwater operates in Iraq or say whether the company was complying with the order. It also was unclear whether the contractors involved in the shooting were still in Iraq.

While Blackwater has recently undertaken an effort to improve its image by emphasizing its humanitarian efforts and vision for "a safer world," it didn't immediately step forward to defend itself Monday. Several messages left with officials were not returned, and vice chairman Cofer Black, a former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center, declined to comment when reached at his Virginia home.

The incident drew attention to one of the controversial American practices of the war — the use of heavily armed private security contractors who Iraqis complain operate beyond the control of U.S. military and Iraqi law.

The events in Mansour also illustrate the challenge of trying to protect U.S. officials in a city where car bombs can explode at any time, and where gunmen blend in with the civilian population.

"The Blackwater guys are not fools. If they were gunning down people, it was because they felt it was the beginning of an ambush," said Robert Young Pelton, an independent military analyst and author of the book "Licensed to Kill."

"They're famous for being very aggressive. They use their machine guns like car horns. But it's not the goal to kill people."

In one of the most horrific attacks of the war, four Blackwater employees were ambushed and killed in Fallujah in 2004 and their charred bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

But Iraqis have long complained about high-profile, heavily armed security vehicles careering through the streets, with guards pointing weapons at civilians and sometimes firing warning shots at anyone deemed too close. And Iraqi officials were quick to condemn the foreign guards.

Al-Maliki late Sunday condemned the shooting by a "foreign security company" and called it a "crime."

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani described the shooting as "a crime about which we cannot be silent."

"Everyone should understand that whoever wants good relations with Iraq should respect Iraqis," al-Bolani told Al-Arabiya television. "We are implementing the law and abide by laws, and others should respect these laws and respect the sovereignty and independence of Iraqis in their country."

Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi told Iraqi television that "those criminals" responsible for deaths "should be punished" and that the government would demand compensation for the victims' families.

Despite threats of prosecution, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Alhurra television that contractors cannot be prosecuted by Iraqi courts because "some of them have immunity."

In April, the Defense Department said about 129,000 contractors of many nationalities were operating in Iraq — nearly as many as the entire U.S. military force before this year's troop buildup.

About 4,600 contractors are in combat roles, such as protecting supply convoys along Iraq's dangerous, bomb-laden highways.

Blackwater, a secretive North Carolina-based company run by a former Navy SEAL, is among the biggest and best known security firms, with an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq and at least $800 million in government contracts.

In May 2007, a Blackwater employee shot and killed a civilian who was thought to be driving too close to a company security detail.

Last Christmas Eve, an inebriated Blackwater employee shot and killed a security guard for an Iraqi vice president, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The contractor made his way to the U.S. Embassy where Blackwater officials arranged to have him flown home to the United States, according U.S. officials who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The contractor has been fired and Blackwater is cooperating with federal investigators, company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell has said.

___

AP correspondents Deborah Hastings in New York, Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Contractor Help Wanted Ads


'Help Wanted' Ad Belies Report on Iraq Security

By Walter Pincus
Monday, September 17, 2007; A17



A week ago today, Gen. David H. Petraeus started his rounds on Capitol Hill, reporting that security in Iraq was improving to the point that a small number of troops could begin coming home by year's end.

But 10 days ago, his commanders in Baghdad began advertising for private contractors to work in combat-supply warehouses on U.S. bases throughout Iraq because half the soldiers who had been working in the warehouses were needed for patrols, combat and protection of U.S. forces.

"With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties," according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq.

All of the small logistics bases, called Supply Support Activities, or SSAs, are "currently using about 50% of their assigned (currently less than 100% strength) military personnel for other required duties (force protection, patrols, escort duties, etc. along with performing 24 hour combat operations)," the statement says.

The contract proposal covers 10 of the logistics bases and another warehouse with chemical protective items. Although the initial request is for 101 individuals qualified in warehouse operations, "additional manning may be required and the contractor should anticipate possible increases," according to the proposal. Some locations may end up being "completely manned by contract personnel," the statement says.

The Supply Support Activities support day-to-day combat operations by providing parts and ensuring that stocks are received and distributed "in a timely manner." In addition, the statement notes that "tanks, aircraft, wheeled vehicles and other equipment" are getting increased use and require more repair parts than are typically available in the warehouses. The increased contract personnel will allow the parts to get back to a central depot and returned to troops more quickly. The proposal, which is for six months and has a six-month extension option, calls for some personnel to be familiar and experienced with "hazardous/radioactive material handling." At the same time, it states, "Contractor personnel are not required to have a security clearance to perform duties in the SSA." A comment on the Web site version of the proposal adds, "Ensure this is correct."

Many of the stocks involved are maintained in mobile vans on bases, and so "the majority of the work will be performed outside," the statement says.

The various bases hosting the warehouses will supply military transportation for the contract workers from their living area to the work site, but the personnel "will never be allowed to travel alone and will never be authorized use of a tactical or non-tactical vehicle for travel outside the base without a military escort and required force protection measures."

The work schedule proposed is "ten hours per day, six days a week to include holidays" with a lunch period of one hour. Living space will be provided by the military, though "in the short term that may be a tent with cots and shower and toilet facilities." When "living containers or hardstand buildings" exist, the contractors will be moved along with military.

Military dining facilities and bottled water will be free for contractors. They will also have access to the PX and any local recreation facilities on the bases.

Military medical facilities, however, are available only when "life, limb, or eyesight is jeopardized and for emergency medical and dental care" such as "broken bones, refills of life-dependent drugs such as insulin or broken teeth." Military medical facilities will not be authorized for "routine medical and dental care."

As noted in an earlier Fine Print column, the Army is exploring the possibility of hiring a private health-care provider to take care of its roughly 129,000 contract personnel in Iraq and lighten their use of military medical facilities.


Clinton was in fact All That Good

Listen up, all you Libertarians. Clinton finally gets his due from the Economics profession.


Greenspan Is Critical Of Bush in Memoir
Former Fed Chairman Has Praise for Clinton

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 15, 2007; A01



Alan Greenspan, who served as Federal Reserve chairman for 18 years and was the leading Republican economist for the past three decades, levels unusually harsh criticism at President Bush and the Republican Party in his new book, arguing that Bush abandoned the central conservative principle of fiscal restraint.

While condemning Democrats, too, for rampant federal spending, he offers Bill Clinton an exemption. The former president emerges as the political hero of "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World," Greenspan's 531-page memoir, which is being published Monday.

Greenspan, who had an eight-year alliance with Clinton and Democratic Treasury secretaries in the 1990s, praises Clinton's mind and his tough anti-deficit policies, calling the former president's 1993 economic plan "an act of political courage."

But he expresses deep disappointment with Bush. "My biggest frustration remained the president's unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending," Greenspan writes. "Not exercising the veto power became a hallmark of the Bush presidency. . . . To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake."

Greenspan accuses the Republicans who presided over the party's majority in the House until last year of being too eager to tolerate excessive federal spending in exchange for political opportunity. The Republicans, he says, deserved to lose control of the Senate and House in last year's elections. "The Republicans in Congress lost their way," Greenspan writes. "They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither."

He singles out J. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was House speaker until January, and Tom DeLay, the Texan who was majority leader until he resigned after being indicted for violating campaign finance laws in his home state.

"House Speaker Hastert and House majority leader Tom DeLay seemed readily inclined to loosen the federal purse strings any time it might help add a few more seats to the Republican majority," he writes.

He adds three pages later: "I don't think the Democrats won. It was the Republicans who lost. The Democrats came to power in the Congress because they were the only party left standing."

Greenspan, 81, indirectly criticizes his friend and colleague from the Ford administration, Vice President Cheney. Former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill has quoted Cheney as once saying, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

Greenspan says, " 'Deficits don't matter,' to my chagrin became part of the Republicans' rhetoric."

He argues that "deficits must matter" and that uncontrolled government spending and borrowing can produce high inflation "and economic devastation."

When Bush and Cheney won the 2000 election, Greenspan writes, "I thought we had a golden opportunity to advance the ideals of effective, fiscally conservative government and free markets. . . . I was soon to see my old friends veer off to unexpected directions."

He says, "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences." The large, anticipated federal budget surpluses that were the basis for Bush's initial $1.35 trillion tax cut "were gone six to nine months after George W. Bush took office." So Bush's goals "were no longer entirely appropriate. He continued to pursue his presidential campaign promises nonetheless."

Greenspan was intensely criticized for endorsing a large tax cut in 2001 in congressional testimony during the first weeks of the Bush administration. He notes that he was recommending any tax cut, even a smaller one proposed by some Democrats. But he acknowledges that those who had warned him about the perception he was backing Bush's plan were right. "The tax-cut testimony proved to be politically explosive," he writes.

Yet, he adds: "While politics had not been my intent, I'd misjudged the emotions of the moment. . . . Yet I'd have given the same testimony if Al Gore had been president."

By the end of last year, Greenspan writes with some bitterness, Washington was "harboring a dysfunctional government. . . . Governance has become dangerously dysfunctional."

However, he calls Clinton a "risk taker" who had shown a "preference for dealing in facts," and presents Clinton and himself almost as soul mates. "Here was a fellow information hound. . . . We both read books and were curious and thoughtful about the world. . . . I never ceased to be surprised by his fascination with economic detail: the effect of Canadian lumber on housing prices and inflation. . . . He had an eye for the big picture too."

During Clinton's first weeks as president, Greenspan went to the Oval Office and explained the danger of not confronting the federal deficit. Unless the deficits were cut, there could be "a financial crisis," Greenspan told the president. "The hard truth was that Reagan had borrowed from Clinton, and Clinton was having to pay it back. I was impressed that he did not seem to be trying to fudge reality to the extent politicians ordinarily do. He was forcing himself to live in the real world."

Dealing with a budget surplus in his second term, Clinton proposed devoting the extra money to "save Social Security first." Greenspan writes, "I played no role in finding the answer, but I had to admire the one Clinton and his policymakers came up with."

Greenspan interviewed Clinton for the book and clearly admires him. "President Clinton's old-fashioned attitude toward debt might have had a more lasting effect on the nation's priorities. Instead, his influence was diluted by the uproar about Monica Lewinsky." When he first heard and read details of the Clinton-Lewinsky encounters, Greenspan writes, "I was incredulous. 'There is no way these stories could be correct,' I told my friends. 'No way.' " Later, when it was verified, Greenspan says, "I wondered how the president could take such a risk. It seemed so alien to the Bill Clinton I knew, and made me feel disappointed and sad."

Known for his restrained if not incomprehensible public statements over the past several decades, Greenspan's direct criticism of Bush and his economic policies comes as the economy is emerging as an issue in the 2008 presidential race. And the man Greenspan praises so highly for fiscal probity is married to the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

The politically charged observations are scattered through the first half of the book, in which Greenspan offers a standard memoir covering his birth in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City in 1926 through his years as Fed chairman, from when he was appointed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan to his retirement in 2006. His theme is the unequaled power of free-market capitalism; Greenspan calls himself a "libertarian Republican."

The second half offers a graduate education in global economics that is at times lucid and at times dense. Greenspan occasionally slips into his notoriously complicated Fedspeak, touring the world with detailed analysis of the global economy and the prospects in Japan, Britain, France, China, Russia, India and just about everywhere else.

He clearly considers China the big economic question of the future. "I have no doubt that the Communist Party of China can maintain an authoritarian, quasi-capitalist, relatively prosperous regime for a time. But without the political safety valve of the democratic process, I doubt the long-term success of such a regime," he writes.

"The Age of Turbulence" is likely to be mined word by word on Wall Street, where the Masters of the Universe will seek clues to how to make billions. Greenspan dives deep into his economic data, his experiences, his philosophy and meetings with world political and economic leaders.

He explains how an advanced economy hinges on property rights, the rule of law, a culture of trust, contracts, debt, reputation, self-interest and "creative destruction" -- the scrapping of old technologies and processes.

He argues, for example, that the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States -- from the steel, automobile and textile industries to computers and telecommunications -- "is a plus, not a minus, to the American standard of living." He maintains that immigration reform, "by opening up the United States to the world's very large and growing pool of skilled workers," will help reduce the inequality of incomes.

Without elaborating, he writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Looking ahead to 2030, he predicts that the U.S. gross domestic product will be 75 percent larger than it is now. His most dire forecast is that if the Federal Reserve is prevented from constraining inflation, the 10-year Treasury note would be "flirting with a double-digit yield sometime before 2030, compared with under 5 percent in 2006."

Greenspan has nothing but praise for hedge funds, which he describes as "a vibrant trillion-dollar industry dominated by U.S. firms." He claims that hedge funds help eliminate inefficiency in the markets. "They are essentially free of government regulation, and I hope they will remain so." He scoffs at proposals to regulate them, declaring, "Why do we wish to inhibit the pollinating bees of Wall Street?"

For all his wonkish ways, Greenspan writes with delight about his marriage to journalist Andrea Mitchell and their travels, friends and mutual love of classical music. He knows how to enjoy a good Vivaldi cello concerto in Venice.

Though cautious about the coming decades, Greenspan ultimately shows a flash of hope at the end of his memoir. "Adaptation is in our nature," he writes, "a fact that leads me to be deeply optimistic about our future."

Brady Dennis and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.



EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, is author of "Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom," published in 2000. In his book, Greenspan acknowledges that in writing "The Age of Turbulence," he used interviews he had given Woodward.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Report: Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction

from http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2007/09/06/bush_wmd/print.html


Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
Salon exclusive: Two former CIA officers say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.
By Sidney Blumenthal

Sep. 06, 2007 | On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.

On April 23, 2006, CBS's "60 Minutes" interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. "We continued to validate him the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller's account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri's intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.

Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam's WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell's speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.

Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid Sabri hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam's WMD programs. "The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissile material, which they didn't, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons," one of the former CIA officers told me.

On the eve of Sabri's appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam's case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a "cutout" who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was "excited" about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri's information was at odds with "our best source." That source was code-named "Curveball," later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.

The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."

But the CIA officers working on the Sabri case kept collecting information. "We checked on everything he told us." French intelligence eavesdropped on his telephone conversations and shared them with the CIA. These taps "validated" Sabri's claims, according to one of the CIA officers. The officers brought this material to the attention of the newly formed Iraqi Operations Group within the CIA. But those in charge of the IOG were on a mission to prove that Saddam did have WMD and would not give credit to anything that came from the French. "They kept saying the French were trying to undermine the war," said one of the CIA officers.

The officers continued to insist on the significance of Sabri's information, but one of Tenet's deputies told them, "You haven't figured this out yet. This isn't about intelligence. It's about regime change."

The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. "It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted," one of the officers told me.

That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was "aggressively and covertly developing" nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. "Totally out of whack," said one of the CIA officers. "The first [para]graph of an intelligence report is the most important and most read and colors the rest of the report." He pointed out that the case officer who wrote the initial report had not written the preamble and the new memo. "That's not what the original memo said."

The report with the misleading introduction was given to Dearlove of MI6, who briefed the prime minister. "They were given a scaled-down version of the report," said one of the CIA officers. "It was a summary given for liaison, with the sourcing taken out. They showed the British the statement Saddam was pursuing an aggressive program, and rewrote the report to attempt to support that statement. It was insidious. Blair bought it." "Blair was duped," said the other CIA officer. "He was shown the altered report."

The information provided by Sabri was considered so sensitive that it was never shown to those who assembled the NIE on Iraqi WMD. Later revealed to be utterly wrong, the NIE read: "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

In the congressional debate over the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, even those voting against it gave credence to the notion that Saddam possessed WMD. Even a leading opponent such as Sen. Bob Graham, then the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had instigated the production of the NIE, declared in his floor speech on Oct. 12, 2002, "Saddam Hussein's regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity." Not a single senator contested otherwise. None of them had an inkling of the Sabri intelligence.

The CIA officers assigned to Sabri still argued within the agency that his information must be taken seriously, but instead the administration preferred to rely on Curveball. Drumheller learned from the German intelligence service that held Curveball that it considered him and his claims about WMD to be highly unreliable. But the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) insisted that Curveball was credible because what he said was supposedly congruent with available public information.

For two months, Drumheller fought against the use of Curveball, raising the red flag that he was likely a fraud, as he turned out to be. "Oh, my! I hope that's not true," said Deputy Director McLaughlin, according to Drumheller's book "On the Brink," published in 2006. When Curveball's information was put into Bush's Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address, McLaughlin and Tenet allowed it to pass into the speech. "From three Iraqi defectors," Bush declared, "we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs ... Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them." In fact, there was only one Iraqi source -- Curveball -- and there were no labs.

When the mobile weapons labs were inserted into the draft of Powell's United Nations speech, Drumheller strongly objected again and believed that the error had been removed. He was shocked watching Powell's speech. "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails," Powell announced. Without the reference to the mobile weapons labs, there was no image of a threat.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, and Powell himself later lamented that they had not been warned about Curveball. And McLaughlin told the Washington Post in 2006, "If someone had made these doubts clear to me, I would not have permitted the reporting to be used in Secretary Powell's speech." But, in fact, Drumheller's caution was ignored.

As war appeared imminent, the CIA officers on the Sabri case tried to arrange his defection in order to demonstrate that he stood by his information. But he would not leave without bringing out his entire family. "He dithered," said one former CIA officer. And the war came before his escape could be handled.

Tellingly, Sabri's picture was never put on the deck of playing cards of former Saddam officials to be hunted down, a tacit acknowledgment of his covert relationship with the CIA. Today, Sabri lives in Qatar.

In 2005, the Silberman-Robb commission investigating intelligence in the Iraq war failed to interview the case officer directly involved with Sabri; instead its report blamed the entire WMD fiasco on "groupthink" at the CIA. "They didn't want to trace this back to the White House," said the officer.

On Feb. 5, 2004, Tenet delivered a speech at Georgetown University that alluded to Sabri and defended his position on the existence of WMD, which, even then, he contended would still be found. "Several sensitive reports crossed my desk from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as established and reliable," he said. "The first from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle" -- Naji Sabri -- "said Iraq was not in the possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon."

Then Tenet claimed with assurance, "The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons." He explained that this intelligence had been central to his belief in the reason for war. "As this information and other sensitive information came across my desk, it solidified and reinforced the judgments that we had reached in my own view of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein and I conveyed this view to our nation's leaders." (Tenet doesn't mention Sabri in his recently published memoir, "At the Center of the Storm.")

But where were the WMD? "Now, I'm sure you're all asking, 'Why haven't we found the weapons?' I've told you the search must continue and it will be difficult."

On Sept. 8, 2006, three Republican senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss and Pat Roberts -- signed a letter attempting to counter Drumheller's revelation about Sabri on "60 Minutes": "All of the information about this case so far indicates that the information from this source was that Iraq did have WMD programs." The Republicans also quoted Tenet, who had testified before the committee in July 2006 that Drumheller had "mischaracterized" the intelligence. Still, Drumheller stuck to his guns, telling Reuters, "We have differing interpretations, and I think mine's right."

One of the former senior CIA officers told me that despite the certitude of the three Republican senators, the Senate committee never had the original memo on Sabri. "The committee never got that report," he said. "The material was hidden or lost, and because it was a restricted case, a lot of it was done in hard copy. The whole thing was fogged up, like Curveball."

While one Iraqi source told the CIA that there were no WMD, information that was true but distorted to prove the opposite, another Iraqi source was a fabricator whose lies were eagerly embraced. "The real tragedy is that they had a good source that they misused," said one of the former CIA officers. "The fact is there was nothing there, no threat. But Bush wanted to hear what he wanted to hear."


-- By Sidney Blumenthal

Monday, September 10, 2007

Will the rich save the economy?

While waiting hours for my Microsoft developer software to update, I came across this:


Hey, Big Spenders
Will the rich save the economy?
By Daniel Gross
Posted Friday, Sept. 7, 2007, at 1:18 PM ET
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


For the last several years, personal consumption has accounted for about 70 percent of gross domestic product. This decade, Americans' preternatural ability to spend has rested on the following legs: 1) the strong housing market, which allowed people to tap into home equity; 2) cheap and plentiful credit for people at every rung of the economic ladder; and 3) job growth.

As the first two legs were sawed off earlier this year, economists argued that so long as Americans had jobs and steady incomes, they'd spend and keep the economy humming. Friday morning's disappointing employment report, which shows that the economy lost payroll jobs in July for the first time in four years, indicates that a beaver is gnawing through the last leg.

So, should we fear an impending collapse in consumer spending? Recent sales figures from retailers like Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Dollar General, and Sears have been less than encouraging. But the huge mass retailers may not be the best indicators of overall spending. Instead, we should probably focus on the what the rich are doing. After all, the high and mighty account for a hugely disproportionate chunk of consumer activity. As Citigroup equity strategist Tobias Levkovich noted in a recent report: "The top 20 percent of American income earners spend more in a given year than the bottom three quintiles combined. Thus, they have far more influence on economic direction." Levkovich points us to the Consumer Expenditure Survey data on quintiles, which indeed shows that in 2005, the average family in the top 20 percent spent $90,469 on consumer expenditures. The average families in the bottom three quintiles spent a combined $87,139.

And how are the rich doing? Quite well, thank you. Median income has been stagnant lo these many years, as the Census Bureau reported last month, and it is still below the level of 1999. But as David Cay Johnston reported (article purchase required) in the New York Times last month, people making more than $1 million "reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000" and "received 62 percent of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends that President Bush signed into law in 2003." Jonathan Chait's excellent new book, The Big Con, smartly argues that such outcomes are the intentional results of economic policies designed to redistribute income upward. (Few members of the Bush economic team will cop to the intent.)

In theory, the rich, and the ultra-rich, are subject to some of the same economic woes that trouble the middle class: the slumping housing market, the rising cost of credit, and job insecurity. But they aren't showing many signs of stress. Some hedge funds have imploded, and a few investment bankers have lost their jobs, but financial-services job losses have thus far been contained to the rank-and-file employees of subprime lenders. Bonuses at Wall Street may be down this year, but many investment bankers are clearly still spending last year's haul.

At Saks, same-store sales in August were up a stunning 18.2 percent; at Tiffany, same-store U.S. sales rose 17 percent in the second quarter. Indeed, luxury retailers are in an expansive mood. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week (subscription required) that "this year, some 30 high-end retailers have opened boutiques in Austin [Texas], including Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, David Yurman, Louis Vuitton and Burberry." These stores are located in a new mall anchored by Neiman Marcus, where same-store sales rose a healthy 4.6 percent in August. Among the strongest performers: "designer handbags, shoes, designer jewelry, women's fine apparel, and men's."

Nationwide, the housing sales market may be a bust. But the Journal reports (subscription required) Friday morning that while many California housing markets suffer, "[e]ye-popping sales are spreading along a 40-mile stretch of southern Santa Barbara County." In July, sales in the area, "the only region of California where the median sales prices surpassed $1 million," rose nearly 28 percent. Publicly held home builders that cater to middle-class buyers are faring poorly. But the very wealthy are still building. This 50,000-square-foot home under construction in West Hartford, Ct., is worth 20 starter homes—and probably more, given the amenities. Or take personal transport. While auto sales are down, "the market for private jets is stronger than it has ever been," said Richard Aboulafia, analyst at the Teal Group. Economically speaking, a Gulfstream G550, which is made in the United States and goes for $48 million, is worth the equivalent of 3,200 Ford Focus coupes, which go for about $15,000 each.

Given the top-heaviness of the economy, one could make the case—one could, but I'm not—that the continuing upward redistribution of income is good for the economy and good for all of us. As they earn more, and keep more of their income, the rich and the very rich spend more, thus keeping the growing number of residents of Richistan gainfully employed. The fact that the rich are getting richer is one of the reasons that federal tax revenues—which are much less progressive than they were in 2000 but still somewhat progressive—are growing so smartly, up 7.4 percent year over year. Today, analysts are likely sifting through the jobs report and ratcheting down their forecasts for the Christmas season. It may well turn out to be a glum one for many retailers. But as long as the lights are on in the mansion on the top of the hill, the growing number of stores and businesses that cater to their residents will be busy.

Daniel Gross is the Moneybox columnist for Slate and the business columnist for Newsweek. You can e-mail him at moneybox@slate.com. He is the author of Pop! Why Bubbles Are Great for the Economy.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2173456/



This reminds me of what was the final emotional straw for me in grad school, which was the lecture in which our professor stated quite matter of factly that it really behooves us economists to focus mainly on the economic habits of the wealthy, as opposed to the non-wealthy, since after all, it is their behavior that really determines what happens in the economy.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Supply Driven Demand

How many consumers are aware that manufacturing widescreen monitors is cheaper than standard aspect ratio monitors? They are pushed with all the flash of cool ("watching widescreen movies on your computer!!!") marketing can muster.

I had a good discussion today with colleagues about the impact of widescreen monitors on application and web design. I am skeptical about the usability of widescreen monitors for readability (due to the well known design principle of narrow text columns increasing readability). I've also noticed that generally stores are discounting widescreens below the cost of standard aspect ration monitors. For all I know, this is because they are having trouble getting rid of them.

Then, seemingly explaining all this, I came across this tidbit:

Philips: Widescreen adoption in LCD monitors not as quick as expected

By: Calvin Shao, Taipei; Carrie Yu, DIGITIMES [Friday 20 January 2006]
Friday, January 20, 2006 15:23

Although panel makers have aggressively pushed widescreen LCD monitor panels, the adoption rate is not expected to proceed as fast as expected, with the penetration rate of the segment now set to increase from 2% in 2005 to 9.8% in 2008, according to Sara Liu, assistant manager of market intelligence, Philips CEBLC-MMFD, Royal Philips Electronics.

Panel makers have rolled out various widescreen monitor panels, as it is more cost-efficient to cut glass substrates from later generation panel plants into widescreen models, rather than into standard (4:3 ratio) panels, sources said.

For example, a sixth-generation (6G) LCD substrate can output four more widescreen 20.1-inch panels than standard 20.1-inch panels. In addition, the utilization rate of the substrate would increase by 15 percentage points to over 90%, the sources indicated.

However, when purchasing monitors, consumers tend to judge the size of a monitor by the height of the model. As a result, widescreen models, which look smaller, may not end up being as attractive to customers, Liu said. In fact, a 16:9 20-inch LCD monitor has a 182 square-inch viewing area, compared with 194 square-inches for a 4:3 20.1-inch model, she added.

Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO) was the main producer of 19-inch widescreen LCD monitor panels as of the end of last year. ViewSonic, Acer and CMV all use CMO panels in their 19-inch widescreen LCD monitors.



And I thought it had to do with pushing users to view movies on their computers. Instead, it looks like the marketplace is trying to push users to want to view movies on their computers so that they can sell them the less expensive widescreens.
Or something like that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bush Goes Heh heh


September 2, 2007
In Book, Bush Peeks Ahead to His Legacy
By JIM RUTENBERG
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 — When President Bush is asked what he plans to do when he leaves office, he often replies curtly: “I don’t have that much time to think beyond my presidency” or “I’m going to sprint to the finish.”
But in an interview with a book author in the Oval Office one day last December, he daydreamed about the next phase of his life, when his time will be his own.
First, Mr. Bush said, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”
Then he said, “We’ll have a nice place in Dallas,” where he will be running what he called “a fantastic Freedom Institute” promoting democracy around the world. But he added, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.”
For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”
But fully aware of his standing in opinion polls, Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could.
In his nearly seven years as president, Mr. Bush has rarely let his guard down with journalists to reveal much of his personal side. But over the course of six roughly hourlong interviews with Mr. Draper, Mr. Bush shared his inner life at the White House. He at times mused philosophically and introspectively, and at others spoke forcefully about his confidence in his own decisions.
Mr. Draper agreed to share parts of his transcripts from those interviews, and the book itself, with The New York Times under the agreement that they would not be published until shortly before the book, “Dead Certain” (Free Press), is officially released on Tuesday.
The transcripts and the book show Mr. Bush as being keenly interested in what history will say about his term despite his frequent comments to the contrary; as being in a reflective mode as his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue dwindles; and, ultimately, as being at once sorrowful and optimistic — but virtually alone as commander in chief, and aware of it.
Aides said Mr. Bush agreed to speak so freely with Mr. Draper only after years of lobbying, in which Mr. Draper said he finally convinced Mr. Bush and his aides that he was writing about him as “a consequential president” for history, not for the latest news cycle. And aides said they saw the book as the first effort to write about Mr. Bush in the context of nearly his entire presidency.
The lobbying culminated at a meeting at the White House last August in which Mr. Bush grilled Mr. Draper on why he should cooperate with him of all the authors likely to come knocking. Mr. Draper replied that his book could provide “the raw material” for others after him, a point Mr. Bush apparently came to embrace.
Mr. Draper, a Texan like Mr. Bush and a former writer for Texas Monthly, spent hours interviewing Mr. Bush and his close circle of aides in 1998, when he wrote an early, defining article on Mr. Bush’s budding presidential candidacy for GQ magazine.
Mr. Draper’s family also has a history with Mr. Bush’s. Mr. Bush’s father in 1982 was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Mr. Draper’s grandfather, Leon Jaworski, a special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.
As Mr. Draper described it, Mr. Bush began the interview process over lunch last Dec. 12, in a week when he suddenly had free time because his highly anticipated announcement of a new Iraq strategy had been postponed.
Sitting in an anteroom of the Oval Office, he eschewed the more formal White House menu for comfort food — a low-fat hotdog and ice cream — and bitingly told an aide who peeked in on the session that his time with Mr. Draper was “worthless anyway.”
But as Mr. Draper described it, and as the transcripts show, Mr. Bush warmed up considerably over the intervening interviews, chewing on an unlit cigar, jubilantly swatting at flies between making solemn points, propping his feet up on a table or stopping him at points to say emphatically, “I want you to get this” or “I want this damn book to be right.”
Mr. Bush went on to share private thoughts that appeared to reflect a level of sorrow and presidential isolation that he strongly implied he took pains to hide, a state of being that he seemed to view as coming with the presidency and with which he professed to be at peace.
Telling Mr. Draper he likes to keep things “relatively light-hearted” around the White House, he added in May, “I can’t let my own worries — I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve; I don’t want to burden them with that.”
“Self-pity is the worst thing that can happen to a presidency,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Draper, by way of saying he sought to avoid it. “This is a job where you can have a lot of self-pity.”
In the same interview, Mr. Bush seemed to indicate that he had his down moments at home, saying of his wife, Laura, “Back to the self-pity point — she reminds me that I decided to do this.”
And in apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq, he continued, “This group-think of ‘we all sat around and decided’ — there’s only one person that can decide, and that’s the president.”
Mr. Draper said Mr. Bush took issue with him for unearthing details of a meeting in April 2006 at which he took a show-of-hands vote on the future of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was among his closest advisers. Mr. Bush told Mr. Draper he had no recollection of it, but he said he disagreed with the implication that he regularly governed by staff vote. (According to Mr. Draper’s book, the vote was 7 to 4 for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster, with Mr. Bush being one of the no votes. Mr. Rumsfeld stayed on months longer.)
In response to Mr. Draper’s observance that Mr. Bush had nobody’s “shoulder to cry on,” the president said: “Of course I do, I’ve got God’s shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot.” In what Mr. Draper interpreted as a reference to war casualties, Mr. Bush added, “I’ll bet I’ve shed more tears than you can count as president.”
Yet Mr. Bush said his certainty that Iraq would turn around for the better was not for show. “You can’t fake it,” he told Mr. Draper in December.
Mr. Bush conveyed a level of sanguinity with his unpopularity. Mr. Draper recalled that in their last meeting, in May, Mr. Bush pointed outside to his dog, Barney, and said, “That guy who said if you want a friend in Washington get a dog, knew what he was talking about.”
He otherwise addressed his unpopularity as a tactical issue. For instance, in May he said that this fall it would be up to General Petraeus to convince the public that the Iraq strategy is working.
“I’ve been here too long,” Mr. Bush said, according to Mr. Draper. “Every time I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized and then it doesn’t make it on the news.”
But he said he saw his unpopularity as a natural result of his decision to pursue a strategy in which he believed. “I made a decision to lead,” he said, “One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?”
Mr. Bush has often said that will be for historians decide, but he said during his sessions with Mr. Draper that they would have to consult administration documents to get to the bottom of some important questions.
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”
But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.
Mr. Bush said he believed that Mr. Hussein did not take his threats of war seriously, suggesting that the United Nations emboldened him by failing to follow up on an initial resolution demanding that Iraq disarm. He had sought a second measure containing an ultimatum that failure to comply would result in war.
“One interesting question historians are going to have to answer is: Would Saddam have behaved differently if he hadn’t gotten mixed signals between the first resolution and the failure of the second resolution?” Mr. Bush said. “I can’t answer that question. I was hopeful that diplomacy would work.”
It did not, but soon enough, somebody else will make the decisions on Iraq. And then, Mr. Bush said, he would still be pursuing his “freedom agenda” at his institute, modeled on Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where young democratic leaders from around the world would study.
“Sixty-two is really young,” Mr. Bush said, “and yet I’ll be through with my presidency.”