Monday, November 29, 2004

Sweet Logic and Reason!

Amen and Hallelujah! The Deptartment of Defense's Defense Science Board released a report last week on Strategic Communication that contains some of the most incisive and cogent analysis of the War on Terror produced by any part of the government to date. The report is 111 pages long and is a remarkable work. The Christian Science Monitor has a roundup of coverage, you can find the actual report here. I have to restrain myself from blockquoting the entire thing, but here are some tasty excerpts (and these are from the beginning of the paper, I haven't finished reading it yet):

"To succeed, we must understand the United States is engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West and Islam. It is more than a war against the tactic of terrorism. We must think in terms of global networks, both government and non-government. If we continue to concentrate primarily on states (...), we will fail."


"Policies, diplomacy, military operations, and strategic communication should not be managed separately. Good strategic communication cannot build support for policies viewed unfavorably by large populations. Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility and underlying message authority."


"A year and a half after going to war in Iraq, Arab/Muslim anger has intensified. Data from Zogby International in July 2004, for example, show that the U.S. is viewed unfavorably by overwhelming majorities in Egypt (98 percent), Saudi Arabia (94 percent), Morocco (88 percent), and Jordan (78 percent). The war has increased mistrust of America in Europe, weakened support for the war on terrorism, and undermined U.S. credibility worldwide. ... Negative attitudes and the conditions that create them are the underlying sources of threats to America’s national security and reduced ability to leverage diplomatic


"There is consensus in these reports that U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis. Missing are strong leadership, strategic direction, adequate coordination, sufficient resources, and a culture of measurement and evaluation. ... The number and depth of these reports indicate widespread concern among influential observers that something must be done about public diplomacy. But so far these concerns have produced no real change. The White House has paid little attention. Congressional actions have been limited to informational hearings and funding for Middle East broadcasting initiatives, Radio Sawa and Al Hurra.


"Frames simplify and help to communicate complex events. But like the Cold War frame, the terrorism frame marginalizes other significant issues and problems... Often the terrorism frame directs attention to tactics not strategy. The focus is more on capturing and killing terrorists than attitudinal, political, and economic forces that are the underlying source of threats and opportunities in national security.


"Information saturation means attention, not information, becomes a scarce resource. Power flows to credible messengers. Asymmetrical credibility matters. What's around information is critical. Reputations count. Brands are important. Editors, filters, and cue givers are influential. Fifty years ago political struggles were about the ability to control and transmit scarce information. Today, political struggles are about the creation and destruction of credibility."


Update: Holy crap, IT GETS BETTER. I'm reading Chapter 2 - The New Strategic Environment, and my jaw is on the floor. Great Scott, man, who wrote this thing?!!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

More Questions on the Dollar Decline

There is a fascinating article on Asia Times by W Joseph Stroupe predicting doom for the dollar. I'm not sure who the guy is, and his web site looks pretty sketchy. But he throws out a ton of data, I just wish he would have cited his sources. Some of the interesting bits apparently come from this Japan Times story, but even there are only cited back to Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Roach. So, while I take little of this at face value, the article suggests a number of interesting points to investigate.

  • Stroupe asserts that the Fed is printing $1.5 trillion per year. This seems like an absurd amount of money. Is it true? How much does this vary from traditional levels?
  • Stroupe adds $44 trillion in obligations to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government spending to the existing $7 trillion national debt to come up with a "total national debt" of $51 trillion. He cites this number to Fortune magazine. I posted a story here some time back about a treasury department study (initiated by Paul O'Neill, before he got the boot) which found that the US had $44 trillion in unfunded obligations over the next four decades or so, which is probably where the $44 trillion comes from. This is a frightening number, but it strikes me as unfair to count long term obligations directly as existing debt.
  • The article states that including off-budget items the current federal deficit is nearly $1 trillion per year. That sounds high to me. My impression has been that this number would be somewhere in the $500-700 billion area.
  • Mentions heavy investment ($180 trillion) in derivatives as unstable investments. I have no idea what he's talking about here, but I'd like to find out.
  • The article states that US consumer debt is $8 trillion. I was searching for this number myself a couple weeks back, without success. I'm curious where he got it.. Also what is the level of US commercial and business debt?
  • Then there's the quote from Stephen Roach stating that the US currently has $38 trillion in debts. What exactly is being counted in this number?
  • The article states that Warren Buffet has mostly pulled out of the US stock market. I know that he published an article a couple years back explaining, in great depth, why he was for the first time investing outside the US, citing many of these concerns about debt and the trade deficit. But has he really pulled out all of his US investments?
  • One of the best parts of the article was the discussion of Russian economic policy. Here he talks about the possibility (which has been discussed here before) that the global oil market may shift from dollars to euros, with disatrous effects on the value of the dollar. Stroupe makes assertions about statements by Vladimir Putin hinting that this change is imminent. I should certainly like to see those statements. He also asserts that Russia has substantially shifted their currency reserves out of dollars. It would also be nice to verify that..

Anyway.. there are some very powerful numbers and assertions here, and if this guy is not a complete nut (which it's quite possible he is), disaster may be nearer than I expected.. There are also numbers published in another Asia Times story showing US personal savings as a percentage of income dropping over 15 years from about 7% to 0.2% (again without any cited source). Consumer spending may have kept our economy afloat so far, but that ride looks to be nearing its limit. We live in interesting times...

Update: I went hunting for more info on Stephen Roach's $38 trillion figure, and while I didn't find it, I did find an insightful recent column by Roach analyzing the economic prospects for the Bush administration's second term.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Body Politic Has Got A Cancer

It's amazing that there's still so much resistance to serious campaign finance reform. The case for spending limits and public financing seems obvious and critical. Particularly when you have a Senator like Fritz Hollings commenting in this Time Magazine interview:

"The body politic has got a cancer of money. I ran in 1998, and I raised $8.5 million. That's about $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. If I missed Christmas and New Year's weeks, I'm $100,000 in the hole. So the race begins the next day [after your election]. We're collecting for six years out. That means we don't work on Monday. We don't work on Friday. I've got to get money, money, money, money. And I only listen to the people who give me money. With the shortage of time and everything else, you've got to listen to the $1,000 givers. I mean, no individual is corrupt, but the body has been corrupted."

"...Money, money. That's got to be excised. I don't have any time for the people. I don't have any time for the Senators. I just got time for money. Hurry up and get the money so I can get on that TV to get re-elected."

And we wonder why they vote on bills without taking the time to read them...

Re: Spending Addicts

I was not surprised at the news Congress was raising the debt ceiling, as that was a necessary consequence of the policies the Bush administration and the Republican Congress agreed to long ago (and it was not the first time in the last four years we had to raise the debt ceiling). What concerns me more is the fatalism with which most politicians approach the spending glut.

The notion that Democrats are the tax-and-spend party should be laid to rest--unless one is making the point that when Democrats spend, at least they have the courtesy of taxing to pay for it.

Michael Kinsey of the Washington Post crunched some numbers a few months back to explode the myth that Democrats are the bigger spending party.

I also came across this graph showing the national debt across presidential terms. I have no idea whether the data is reliable.

Glad to see a post from you, Ryan!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Iranians: Evil, or Smart?

Richard Cohen has a brilliant column on Iran's quest for nukes in the Washington Post. When I say brilliant, what I mean is that he writes what I've been saying since IAEA first started to be concerned about Iran's nuclear facilities :). From Iran's perspective it's the obvious and rational thing to do...

Monday, November 22, 2004

With Arafat Gone, Hamas Ready To Go Political

As the Palestinians prepare for new elections, Hamas plans to run candidates for municipal and legislative positions. This is the best news for the prospects of peace in Israel in a long time...

re: Spending Addicts

By the way, Ryan, nice to have you back! Robert Samuelson has a Washington Post column discussing the possibility of precipitous drop in the dollar. He absurdly dismisses the impact of budget deficits, and focuses purely on the $665b trade deficit (he still ends up with a scenario not so different from those theorized on at Boys' Weekends). When you consider that somewhere around half the $500b budget deficit is being financed by foreign investors (not to mention commercial and private debts), we're dumping nearly a trillion dollars (10% of GDP) onto the global markets each year. That is just unbelievable. Meanwhile, Bush claims he is going to fight for a strong dollar, not surprisingly the currency markets think he's full of shit.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bad Advice

The Washinton Post has a column on attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales's work writing execution summaries for review by George Bush when they were in Texas. Author Alan Berlow is not exactly impressed by Gonzales's efforts.

Election Over, We Can Stop Pretending...

...that we care about Sudan. A Washington Post editorial takes the Bush administration to task for "shrugg[ing] its shoulders last week at the genocide". The U.S. led a special meeting of the U.N. security council to a toothless and largely meaningless resolution, then held press conferences to declare victory.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

About Scott Castle

Since this came up in an offline conversation today, here's a little background on Scott Castle, former General Counsel for the CPA in Iraq (and former UVA grad). The article, written back in June, also mentions Brett McGurk, who is an adjunct professor at UVA right now, and who was also at the lunch session last week (although he didn't have as much to say).

Friday, November 19, 2004

Spending addicts

I am now convinced that the whole of Congress needs to be admitted to a rehabilitation program for spending addicts. They have just agreed to raise the debt limit for the government by another $800 billion, making the total allowable debt a whopping $8.18 trillion. Meanwhile, Mr. Greenspan is warning that the continuing trade deficit is likely to have dire consequences for the US economy and recommends reducing the federal budget deficit as a key component in stabilizing the economy. Not that his opinion matters; he is only the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Interestingly, the Democrats now appear to be taking up the cause of fiscal responsibility in asking for pay-go rules.
Apparently all of this extra spending is necessary to secure the American people in the war against terrorism. It looks like economic security has been left out of the equation.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Insurgent and the Aid Worker

Slate is running a well-written piece by Owen West and Phillip Carter defending the actions of the now famous marine in Fallujah who executed an apparently defenseless insurgent. Their arguments are sound, and I agree with them that the case for charging and convicting this marine is far from clear. They move on from there to draw comparisons to brutal killing of Margaret Hassan. Again they reach some valid and important conclusions. Margaret Hassan was a noncombatant aid worker. The man shot by the marine appears to have been an insurgent combatant. The insurgents kill indiscriminately, the U.S. takes care to try and limit civilian deaths. The American soldiers are generally honorable. The insurgents are not.

These are good points. And yet I can't help but feel that something is lost in this discussion. The arguments advanced by Carter and West feel very familiar from the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians go out and intentionally kill score of civilians. The Israeli military is only trying to engage militants, and if a few civilians are collaterally killed, well they tried their best to avoid it. But at the end of the day, everybody is just as dead as everybody else. And at the end of the day there are more than twice as many dead Palestinians (approximately half of them noncombatants) as there are Israelis, and orders of magnitude more dead Iraqis than Westerners. When some Israeli kid shoots somebody in self defense who turns out to be a noncombatant, surely his action is more morally defensible than the action of a Palestinian suicide bomber. But who sent a scared 18 year-old into a Palestinian neighborhood armed with the most powerful weaponry money can buy? Can Westerners disavow the impact of widespread slaughter of civilians with the defense that our military personnel try to conduct themselves honorably? Is there no moral culpability for manufacturing a situation where it is highly probable that innocent civilians will be gunned down? And isn't it a bit trite to hold comparisons of the honorable conduct of the world's mightiest military against the conduct of desperate rag-tag insurgents? Honor is a luxury afforded by superior firepower. Did we expect them to line up in formation like a Napoleonic army so that we can massacre them with a single daisy cutter? Of course they use stealth and blend in the population. Of course they like to attack soft targets. How could we have expected otherwise?

None of this is to attempt to draw a conclusion that the Iraqi insurgents are morally equivalent to the U.S. occupiers, or even to the Palestinian militants for that matter. Clearly no good would come of the Iraqi insurgents prevailing against the occupation. The U.S., however ham-handed the effort has been, is really trying to create a functional democracy and improve the lot of Iraqis. Ultimately (not passing judgment on the decision to invade in the first place), the U.S. has the right of this conflict. But that's not my point. The point is that it is foolish to view this conflict and actors in the conflict by falling back on these notions of honorable conduct to justify and defend U.S. actions and to prove our moral superiority. These terms miss the point of what is happening on the ground and wall-paper over decisions which predictably lead to the deaths of many innocent civilians. And it causes us to see events in a distinctly different light than they are seen by Iraqis and other arabs. They are painfully aware of what we are not: that we made the choice to put thousands of scared soldiers with itchy trigger fingers into the places where they live, where they work, where their children go to school. Until we can see things from this perspective we will be forever perplexed by how our actions are being interpreted by the Iraqi public.

This perspective sheer hurts us by leaving the U.S. unable to effectively communicate a meaningful response to Iraqis when an event occurs like the killing in Fallujah. The arguments advanced by West and Carter probably resonate strongly with Americans, but, I think, much less so with Iraqis. What they want to hear is that we understand what a burden it is for them to have all these troops wandering around blowing things up, the checkpoints, the nighttime raids, the airstrikes, the mass detentions. They want to know that we feel their pain and are doing everything in our power to put an end to the chaos, give them a functional country, and get the hell out. The point is not that the marine was probably justified in shooting the insurgent, the point is that it's regrettable that the marine had to be there in the first place.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Democrats Learning Yet? Of Course Not...

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was defeated in his reelection campaign largely because he was torn between the conservative tendencies of his South Dakota constituency and the liberal demands of party leadership. He tried to take a middle line and failed on both counts. How did the Democrats respond to this loss? By nominating another conservative senator from a red state to serve as the new minority leader. Brilliant.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

November 2004, Quote of the Month

It's old, but so worthy:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

--H.L. Menken

Just What We Needed

I really don't have the time nor energy to give this a proper response, but this is one of the most absurd and stupid things I've seen on the Washington Post for some time (probably since the last time they ran a Krauthammer column). Why, why, why? Do we need to spend a crapload of money and open up an ugly diplomatic can of worms in order to blow shit up better? Isn't that the only thing we're really, really good at as is? I mean, is this really our problem in the war on terrorism, we can't blow stuff up well enough? So stupid...

The Man of the Hour

Introducing James "If I go down, I'm taking the Republican party with me" Dobson. Leader of the religious right, instigator of the effort to block Arlen Spector from taking over the judiciary committee, crusader against gays everywhere. Democrats need to shine a spotlight on this guy and not take it off until he has driven all moderates from the Republican party or forced Bush to divorce religious right. As long as he sticks to his values, and there is every indication he will, he can only hurt the Republicans.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Had Enough

Let the speculation end, Colin Powell is out. Looks like damned near the entire cabinet is being replaced.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My Job Here Is Done

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his resignation today, declaring: "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." Whew! Good job! Speculation has Ashcroft planning to end global warming and cure cancer as an encore.

Re: Securing Their Gains

I've heard the claim all too frequently over the last week that President Bush received "the largest number of votes ever received for president," and I am disappointed to see it echoed by Newt in his article. As Josh Marshall notes, John Kerry got the second larges number of votes in history, followed by Ronald Reagan and Al Gore. It has nothing to do with popularity but has everything to do with population. A better measure of "mandate" is the number of electoral votes, and in that department, according to this post (again, Josh Marshall), President Bush obtained the lowest number of those since Woodrow Wilson beat out Chales Evans Hughes (a lifetime member -- dikaia upotheke).

I agree that health care reform presents one of the biggest challenges this country faces on the domestic front, and if Republicans are perceived as making strides that will help in the mid-terms. But health savings accounts alone will accomplish squat. Those who can already afford decent health coverage have the funds to take advantage of such a program, while the rest will be left to fight over the HMO scraps. Only a fundamental restructuring of America's health industry will cause real change -- and that just won't happen under Republican leadership (especially with Frist running things at the Senate).

In my view, the lasting Republican control depends more upon what happens outside the Republican party. The Democrats is adrift so I don't expect much from them until they can straighten up their act. The biggest immediate challenge comes from the growing discontent among fiscal conservatives that may lead to a formation of a viable independent or libertarian candidate in '08.

Some are waiting to see whether President Bush tries to reach out to the moderates to secure a lasting Republican legacy. I predict the only "reaching out" will be with fear -- fear of terrorists and fear of those who are different from the "mainstream" America. That agenda will succeed or fail depending on whether any other party presents a better message. A message of hope rather than despair.

Securing Their Gains

Newt Gingrich has an interesting column in the Washington Post laying out his strategy to extend Republican dominance.

Let the Good Times Roll

Good to see that Bush isn't going soft in his second term. Here and I was worried that reality might start to intrude on his fantasy land...

Monday, November 01, 2004

Experts to Investors: Dump Your Dollars

It has been a while since we've heard anything on this front, but The Christian Science Monitor has an article advising investors to buy up foreign currency, citing higher interest rates and declining dollar values. Here I was worried about foreigners not wanting dollars any more. We may beat them to it.