2005 January 31 Monday
Many Companies Move To Ban Hiring Of Employees Who Smoke

Employers are banning smoking by employees even off of work sites.

In fall, Union Pacific Corp., an Omaha, Neb.-based transportation company, stopped hiring smokers in seven states. Company officials said the move was made to help quell employee health costs, which have jumped more than 10 percent each of the past three years.

Weyco Inc., an employee benefits company with 200 employees in Okemos, Mich., began random drug tests for nicotine on Jan. 1, saying it would fire workers who failed the test or refused to quit smoking.

Note the parallel with employers who fire workers who fail tests for illicit drugs. The difference here is that smoking nicotine-carcinogen combo sticks is legal. But what if an employee was using Nicorette or other non-smoking form of nicotine? They'd be fired anyway. Though I could imagine the development of blood tests that would detect the toxic chemicals that come in with the nicotine in the cigarette smoke.

The President of Weyco doesn't want to pay for the costs of smoking.

Weyco Inc. administers benefits plans for other companies. Its president, Howard Weyers, wants it to be a role model for them as they aim to keep health costs low. He says, "I don't want to have to pay for the results of smoking."

Hey, I don't either. I also do not want to pay for the illegitimate kids of others, the abandoned kids of others, the kids born messed up by drug addict moms, or alcoholics crippling people for life in car accidents. Some more things I don't want to pay for: poorer health outcomes from others eating lousy food and from others not getting enough exercise. Oh, and this is motivated by someone I know: People who would rather buy themselves a new truck or take vacation trips than buy health insurance for their kid (I picture a tax on parents who do not have health insurance for their kids). I could go on. The list is long. The more society as a whole pays for irresponsible behaviors the more at least some people will behave more irresponsibly.

Plus, the responsible (and more capable) end up getting less as a result of the irresponsibility of others. Imagine everyone took far better care of their health. Then medical costs would be lower and health insurance costs would be lower and more employers would find medical insurance affordable. So more people who are now behaving responsibly but who can not afford medical insurance would have medical insurance.

6% of Weyco's workers quit smoking in response to the ban.

Among the company's 200 workers, about 12 kicked the habit before the ban.

Some workers quit their jobs in response to the ban rather than quit smoking (such is the power of the demon weed). But other workers responded to the greatly increased cost of their habit by breaking the habit. If more of the costs of irresponsible behavior were levied on those who act irresponsibly then there would be a lot less irresponsible and costly behavior.

Weyco uses a large array of carrots and sticks to get their employees to be more responsible about their health.

Clearly, smoking is dangerous to smokers and others. In fall 2003, we decided that, as of Jan. 1, 2005, we would no longer employ smokers. Since then, we've assisted employees through a series of meetings about the program, as well as supportive efforts including smoking-cessation classes, medication, and acupuncture. We've implemented the change gradually, encouraging smokers to become healthier and remain WEYCO employees.

We also provide employees with a $35 monthly incentive to use a fitness facility, another $65 for meeting modest fitness goals. We created and use walking trails on our campus.

While trying to be sensitive to smokers' personal predicament, we're also saying, "You can choose to smoke after Jan. 1, but if so, you'll need to find other employment."

Some call this a violation of privacy, pointing to the principle that "what you do in your own home is your own business." But they forget the part about "so long as it doesn't harm anyone else."

Michigan businesses have the right to protect themselves from the enormous financial harm that smokers inflict upon society. So do individual employees and taxpayers.

As another way to cut costs one can easily imagine employers making rules about being overweight with too much body fat. Ditto for the use of blood tests for nutrient levels to detect whether someone is pigging out on junk food.

Less than half the states allow total smoker bans by employers but some big population states including California are in the list of states that allow such bans.

Moreover, they argue, it monitors what people do outside the workplace and discriminates against their lifestyles, a practice that is banned in 29 states that have smokers' rights statutes, also known as "lifestyle rights laws," which prohibit employers from discriminating against smokers.

Michigan is one of 21 states that do not have such laws. Others include California, Florida, Ohio and Texas.

About 1% of employers in one poll were found to ban smokers from their work forces.

A study conducted this month by the Society for Human Resource Management found that about 32 percent of the employers polled offer stop-smoking programs, 12 percent prefer not to hire smokers, nearly 5 percent charge higher health care premiums for smokers and 1 percent have a formal policy against hiring smokers.

Note that the current tax laws regarding medical insurance and medical costs makes the cost of medical premiums less for employers who pay in pre-tax dollars than for employees and the self-employed who pay in post-tax dollars. Whether a person smoked or not would matter far less to employers if medical insurance was just as easily purchaseable by individuals. However, if insurers are allowed to charge higher prices to smokers then the smokers are still going to pay financially for their habit.

The move of employers to get tough with employees who smoke comes in the face of medical insurance premiums that are becoming incredibly expensive.

Washington, DC – Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums increased an average of 11.2% in 2004 -- less than last year’s 13.9% increase, but still the fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth, according to the 2004 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET). Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose at about five times the rate of inflation (2.3%) and workers’ earnings (2.2%).

In 2004, premiums reached an average of $9,950 annually for family coverage ($829 per month) and $3,695 ($308 per month) for single coverage, according to the new survey. Family premiums for PPOs, which cover most workers, rose to $10,217 annually ($851 per month) in 2004, up significantly from $9,317 annually ($776 per month) in 2003. Since 2000, premiums for family coverage have risen 59%.

The survey also found that the percentage of all workers receiving health coverage from their employer in 2004 is 61%, about the same as in 2003 (62%) but down significantly from the recent peak of 65% in 2001. As a consequence, there are at least 5 million fewer jobs providing health insurance in 2004 than 2001. A likely contributing factor is a decline in the percentage of small employers (three to 199 workers) offering health insurance over this period. In 2004, 63% of all small firms offer health benefits to their workers, down from 68% in 2001.

As health becomes an increasing portion of total costs employers are increasingly incentivized to lean on employees in an increasing number of ways to get employees to eat and behave in more healthy fashions. In some cases we may also see changes to internal and external work site layouts to increase the amount of exercise employees get in the course of workdays.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 31 11:15 PM  Economics Health
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2005 January 29 Saturday
War Nerd Predicts Bush Will Attack Iran

Pseudonymous Gary Brecher (who may actually be two editors at eXile) predicts that Bush will attack Iran because he doesn't have a lick of sense.

So Khameini's right; we can't attack Iran. But that doesn't mean we won't. Khameini was making the same mistake everybody's been making: assuming Bush and his cronies have a lick of sense.

The best way of guessing what Bush will do is asking, what's the worst thing he could do to America? Whatever it is, that's what he'll do. I think he's been possessed by bin Laden, because everything he's done has been exactly what Al Quaeda hoped for. Right now, bin Laden is praying to Allah that we'll be stupid enough to attack Iran. That would be the cherry on his halal sundae, the one thing that could actually finish us off as a Superpower.

Brecher predicts an invasion. I do not see how that is physically possible. Where would the troops come from? The US miltiary is increasingly hard put just to maintain current troop levels in Iraq. By the time the Iraqi government might become a sufficiently efficient police state to lock up all the families of the insurgents Bush's days in office are going to be numbered. Bush couldn't set up an attack on Iran in 2008. I have a hard time imagining he could get approval for an attack through Congress in 2006 (a Congressional election year) and in 2007 seems iffy too.

A bunch of air strikes are, however, are doable logistically. If Rumsfeld's intelligence agency can get enough special forces guys into Iran and find a bunch of nuclear weapons labs and factories to hit then the US Air Force will have a big target list and lots of JDAMs to use. But can Bush get approval for such strikes through Congress? Bush is going to become less popular, not more. Why would Congress want to go along with him? The Senate in particular has some moderate Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee) who'd probably balk at such a prospect. Some moderate House Republicans would balk as well. To compensate for Republican defections would Joseph Lieberman support air strikes in order to prevent Iran from some day pointing nuclear weapons at Israel?

I think Brecher is right to argue that an invasion of Iran would have some large negative unintended consequences. Iran's kids want looser rules to live by far more than they want democracy. A substantial portion of the Iranians would resent foreign invaders kinda like the Sunnis do in Iraq. But the Iranians would be more competent in resistance and there would probably be an order of magnitude or more larger resistance movement in Iran.

Bush squandered the political capital he needed for his big plan for preemptive intervention to stop nuclear proliferation by choosing Iraq (oops, no nukes and no real effort to develop them) as his first target. The US can't financially afford a bigger war without a huge tax increase and cuts in social spending. Well, neither of those sources of more military funding are in the cards. At the same time, even US allies are feeling very (make that extremely) reluctant to get involved in another military adventure.

My take: an invasion of Iran is unlikely. Bush may do air strikes. But can he get together the political support domestically (forget about international) to carry out air strikes? If so, how?

Thanks to Steve Sailer for the reference to War Nerd's latest.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 29 11:24 PM  MidEast Iran
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2005 January 28 Friday
Will Massive Arrests By Police State Stop Iraq Insurgency?

General George Casey, top commander in Iraq, says the Iraqis may never be able to defeat the insurgency on their own.

"Can I sit here and look you in the eye and say that the Iraqi security forces guaranteed 100 percent are going to be able to defeat this insurgency by themselves? Of course not," Casey said.

"From what I've seen in the seven months that I've been here, I believe that we can achieve capable Iraqi security forces over a period of time that can deal with the Iraqi insurgency that's here."

He's hedging but at the same time trying to sound optimistic.

General Casey also says that US forces definitely can't defeat the insurgency on their own either.

"We can't stay in front of this over the long haul and be successful," Gen. George Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, said this week.

"We're an outside force and we're viewed by the people ... as an occupation force," Casey added. "We've got to get the Iraqis in front to ultimately prevail here."

Think about that for a second. Effectively Casey is more optimistic about Iraqi government military forces prevailing than about US forces prevailing. But he has no other choice given the constraints he is under. There has to be a solution (so sayeth Dubya). US forces can't be scaled up high enough to be the solution and they are seen as outsiders and can't speak the local language well enough anyway. So Casey has to see Iraqi forces as the eventual solution. This has been the official Pentagon message ever since capturing Saddam and establishing a semi-sovereign appointed government did not help. Expect this solution to continue to be pushed when the elections aftermath produces little change in insurgency activity. What, democracy isn't the solution?

We are supposed to believe that the unenthusiastic locals and the resented outside forces together can march to victory. Well, maybe. But count me pessimistic. Still, I see one way the Iraqi government may yet prevail. Read on.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe has an excellent article about Iraqi security forces that are claimed to have over 120,000 on paper but which disintegrate very easily.

On election day, Osama's unit must back up newer, untested Iraqi forces, including a brand-new Public Order Battalion that had more than 200 men until half failed to show up after a recent home leave.

"They'll stand and fight -- as long as we're with them," Captain Adam Wojack, the US adviser to the 150-man commando team, said of Samarra's fledgling forces as he rested after the auto-shop mission at Patrol Base Razor, on the edge of this Sunni Muslim city 60 miles north of Baghdad. Extra cement barriers have ringed the US outpost since July 6, when a suicide car bomber, wearing an Iraqi police uniform, killed five US troops and three Iraqi National Guardsmen there, scaring all but 50 of the town's 500 guardsmen off the job.

...

The problems began, Schacht said, on April 11, when the 202d Battalion of the Iraqi National Guard, mainly from Samarra, disintegrated as uprisings broke out in Fallujah, Samarra, and other Sunni Muslim areas. The battalion had 750 soldiers, but under insurgent pressure, Schacht said, "in eight hours it went to 40."

A few batallions in Samarra brought in from other areas are holding together. But even though those batallions of course speak very fluent Arabic and supposedly belong to the same country (calling Iraq a country at this point is a bit of a stretch) they are not getting any help from the locals in identifying insurgents. Why? Barnard says that family ties trump other considerations. But of course. Among many Iraqis feelings of loyalty are felt much more strongly toward tribal networks anchored by consanguineous marriages than they are toward the new Iraqi government.

Numbers on the size of Iraqi security forces have to be taken with a very large grain of salt. (same article here)

Building a security force from scratch under current conditions is a mind-boggling venture. Before Petraeus arrived, the Pentagon claimed the Iraqi security force numbered 200,000, a bogus figure it has since dropped.

The bulk of the current 50,000 soldiers are poorly trained national guard battalions that have been subsumed into the army this month. Even regular army soldiers get only an eight-week course. Their fighting abilities are only beginning to be tested.

Also, note that police are often included in numbers for "Iraqi security forces". But police are not equipped to fight insurgencies and police have lots of normal policing work to do for which they are understaffed. So they shouldn't be counted in official totals of Iraqi forces available to fight against the insurgency.

That previous article starts out describing how fairly peaceful conditions were established in Mosul until a withdrawal of two thirds of the US forces there gave insurgents room to build up. Among the results was the collapse of the police force, assassinations of dozens of politicians, and an angry populace. Bush and the neocons have given the United States a bad case of imperial overreach.

So can the Iraqi government assert effective control of the country? I see one way it may be possible. A DOD video conference from Iraq of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih shows that massive arrests may be the preferred tactic of the Iraqi government.

Q Sir, Joe Tabet, from Al Hurra TV. My first question is, Iraq's military chief of staff, General Zebari, said that 2,000 insurgents had been detained in the past three weeks, including some from Syria. Are those detainees -- do you think they are working alone, acting alone, or linked to any network outside Iraq? And who do you think is still financing those people?

MIN. SALIH: The intelligence assessment and estimate that we have of the security environment in Iraq and based on many debriefings that we have reviewed points to the fact that we're talking about the former regime loyalists. Having reorganized certainly the former intelligence, special forces, Saddam loyalists have reorganized and are working hard to destabilize the security environment. And they have entered into a lethal alliance with the Zarqawi and al Qaeda affiliates that are operating in Iraq. We certainly know of the existence of many senior leaders from the former regime, beyond the borders of Iraq, financing terrorist operations inside Iraq and directing terrorist operations inside Iraq.

But as I said, the arrests that we have made, whether they are with the Zarqawi group or the former regime loyalists, have been significant, and we hope that we have been able to erode their capability to inflict damage upon the Iraqi people. We are talking to neighbors as well to restrict the movements of these former regime loyalists and to bring them to justice before long.

They may not all be insurgents. But if these people are even related to insurgents then massive numbers of arrests might be an effective tool in getting the insurgents to stop fighting. Picture how this is going to work: Either provide information and stop fighting or your cousin or uncle or mother is going to get tortured in jail. This sort of tactic worked for Saddam Hussein. Surely the Iraqi government in power now will not shrink from copying Saddam's techniques. Oh, I know what you are thinking: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss". No, it is not going to be just a brutal police state. Iraq is going to get a democratically elected brutal police state. I predict we will end up spending about $600-700 billion and a few thousand Americans dead plus tens of thousands permanently mained to achieve this outcome.

Check out this interview between Tim Russert and US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. Iraq is going to be a corrupt democratically elected police state too.

MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi national security adviser said, "corruption is worse now than under Saddam Hussein."

AMB. NEGROPONTE: Well, I just--I simply can't accept that or can't agree to that allegation. I would also point out that while he may still carry the official title of national security adviser, he is, in fact, a candidate for political office and not carrying out the national security adviser function at this time. But when you think of the corruption in the Saddam regime, the oil-for-food scandals, the billions of dollars that were smuggled out of the country, I think those levels of corruption simply pale in comparison to anything that might possibly have been happening in recent months.

With so much stuff getting wrecked and so much economic activity being disrupted (e.g. oil production still at less than half the pre-war production level) by the insurgency there is not as much to steal as there could be. If the insurgency is eventually put down then more wealth can be accumulated to steal and corruption will be able to be much greater.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 28 12:54 PM  Mideast Iraq
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2005 January 27 Thursday
Thinking About Economic Development And Pollution

The industrialization of China and India pose a significant threat to the world's environment because a large number of people in those countries are going to pass through a phase where they are engaged in enough industrial activity to generate pollution but where they are going to have earnings per person so low that they will not be strongly inclined to make political demands for reduction of pollution.

Economists have noted (and, yes, I need to go dig up some links in support of these points) that there are threshold levels of per capita GDP where populaces begin using different types of products. So, for example, there is a per capita GDP level at which laundry detergent demand becomes noticeable and other per capita GDP levels at which the demand for replaceable blade shavers and electric shavers start to be felt. This phenomenon is found for a large variety of products and services. Consumer goods companies such as Procter & Gamble use this knowledge as a guide for when to try to introduce various products and types of packaging in different countries. Even the sizes of portions sold change as people become more affluent.

Economists even argue that there is a level of living standard at which populaces will begin to make substantial demands of political systems to reduce pollution. As living standards continue to rise the demand for cleaner environments inevitably becomes stronger as people reach the point of having satisfied other desires. Among industrialized countries living standards had some influence on which countries developed environmental movements first. The United States, with a higher per capita GDP than Europe, adopted many environmental regulations before European countries did and, for example, banned the use of lead in gasoline many years before most European countries did. Also, leaded gasoline continue to be used in Mexico many years after it was banned in the United States. This makes sense. Mexicans were poorer and were more concerned about getting cheaper gas and cheaper cars than in getting cleaner air.

This brings us to China and India. When the United States and Britain went through their industrial revolution they had smaller populations than they have today. But China and India are each multiples larger than the current US population. So this strikes me as a problem. A few billion people are going to go through a stage where they generate more pollution but where they are not going to be making enough money to care all that much.

Will the economic development of India and China inevitably lead to massive increases in the amounts of air and water pollution coming from these countries? Well, we have a few things going for us I think.

One factor that weighs against a worst case scenario for increased pollution is an uneven rate of development in different regions in each country. The Chinese coastal provinces could conceivably reach average living standards high enough to trigger adoption of local area environmental regulations before the hundreds of millions of inland Chinese start to engage in much pollution generating economic activity.

Also, technologies that are cleaner ways to do various industrial processes exist today and have come down in price since first being developed. For example, the cost of reducing car emissions is much lower than it was in the 1970s. So resistance to environmental regulations based on costs should not be as great in China and India was it was in the United States.

Plus, the threats to human health and to the environment that are posed by pollution are much better understood today than they were 50 or 100 years ago. So arguments for economic benefits from pollution reduction are easier to make.

Still, China and India have a lot of people. Various types of pollution seems likely to increase in both countries for at least the next couple of decades. Will these sources of pollution become a serious problem for the rest of the world? Any educated guesses with real facts to back them up?

By Randall Parker 2005 January 27 02:31 AM  Economics Development
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2005 January 25 Tuesday
Feminists Undermining Reading Development Of Boys

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky have an article in the Washington Post about how feminist changes in school books are turning boys off from reading.

The other report, "Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women: 2004," is from the Education Department. Between 1992 and 2002, among high school seniors, girls lost two points in reading scores and boys six points, leaving a 16-point differential in their averages on tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In the fall semester of kindergarten in 1998, on a different test, girls outperformed boys by 0.9 points. By the spring semester, the difference had nearly doubled, to 1.6 points.

Read the whole article for more depressing trends in education.

Why the widening gap? Feminists have gotten control of the curricula of grade schools and high schools and removed books that have stories that appeal to boys.

Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.

Boys are not allowed to read stories of boys being boys or men being men. Instead they are given books that portray ethnic group oppression, stories on how to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and other politically correct nonsense. The result is a decline in reading ability.

This brings to mind dizzy feminist MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins who reinforced stereotypes about women recently when, near fainting, she fled from a talk by Harvard President Lawrence Summers on why women do not do as well getting tenured positions and advancing in the elite universities (great coverage here. The idea that there are, on average, biological differences in how male and female minds work or that the statistical distribution of ability is different in males and females are taboo facts in much of academia. Never mind that these are real facts. Never mind that brain differences in the sexes stretch all the way back to gene expression in early fetal development. Ideologues reject empirical results that clash with their secular religion. Though perhaps Hopkins' near fainting is understandable because any news that might undermine the feminist extortion racket would be costly to those who benefit so much from it. But that racket is exacting a high cost including fear on the part of more inquisitive and empirical academics who hesitate to put forth theories that clash with the assertions of feminist ideologues (and Pinker really is pulling his punches in his responses at that link). Oh, and also see Jane Galt on the reaction to the Larry Summers comments.

In an earlier and more realistic era in all likelihood an obviously very sensitive woman such as Ms. Hopkins would have been protected from upsetting discussions about serious facts of life by Victorian gentlemen who, aware of the need to shelter and protect the fairer sex, would have avoided discussing the harsh facts of life in her presence. The gentlemen would have been as quick to catch her when she fainted as they would have been to open physical doors for her. Plus, they would have had smelling salts ready to revive her. Those Victorian gentlemen also would have made sure that the local headmaster provided plenty of appropriate reading for young boys with stories of brave men exploring distant continents, defending the honor of women, hunting lions, battling seastorms, and riding into battle. Biographies of men who lived challenging lives would have inspired the boys to read and to strive in their own lives. But today we live in an increasingly feminized culture where boys are made to feel that there is something deeply wrong with their very nature while they are simultaneously told that they are not different from girls in any way outside of how they are socialized.

Patti Hausman has some great comments on the Larry Summers flap.

What is it like right now to be a student of Nancy Hopkins? To see your dissertation advisor as so fragile that she walks out of an academic meeting because she can't stand hearing an idea? What are students to do if they reach conclusions at odds with her thinking? What is it like to attend a university where the committee on the status of women feels free to chastise the president for discussing a legitimate topic supported by decades of peer-reviewed scientific research? What does his willingness to back off when confronted with their pressure say to students who want to pursue research on that topic? Or to students who want to pursue research on any controversial subject?

Invariably, many will argue that Summers upset female students by broaching the issue of whether males, as a group, have an edge in the cognitive abilities needed to succeed in science and engineering. Granted, this sounds like concern for the students, and perhaps it is. Regardless, it is wrongheaded. A university does not educate its students by insulating them from well-documented facts that some may find disturbing. Moreover, the notion that discussing group differences will affect the choices made by individuals is purely speculative. I have yet to see evidence that a woman with the ability and interest to pursue a career in physics will be deterred upon learning that such a pattern is relatively rare.

Of course, the conventional wisdom has long been that female students have not chosen science as a career because they have lacked female scientists as role models. Actually, what male and female students alike need as role models are people who act like real scientists.

Nancy Hopkins, Lawrence Summers, and members of Harvard's Standing Committee on Women have let them down. Bigtime.

Students are being let down from grade school onward by ideologues intent upon suppressing the truth about human nature. The damage the ideologues are causing is real and manifests in a variety of ways including declining reading test scores of boys illustrate. Another way the damage is being felt is in highly politicized tenure decisions that effectively place a big weight in favor of tenure candidates who have the right sex, ethnicity, or ideological beliefs. Also, the truth of what is known about human nature is being hidden from students. Our schools have been broken by ideologues promoting intellectual frauds. Our schools need to be fixed.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 25 12:47 PM  Education
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Bush Administration Asks For Another $80 Billion In War Funds

The cost of the war in Iraq is rising.

The Bush administration soon will ask Congress for about $80 billion in additional funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional sources said Monday.

If anyone comes across a breakdown on that number for how much goes to Iraq and how much goes to Afghanistan please let me know. I checked a number of stories on this and couldn't find more details.

Add in the $25 previously approved for 2005 and the total is $105 billion.

The package, which administration budget officials were expected to unveil as early as Tuesday, would be in addition to $25 billion already approved for 2005.

Over $160 billion was spent on Iraq through the end of 2004. By the end of 2004 the burn rate in Iraq had risen to $5.8 billion per month. Since Afghanistan is a fairly small operation in comparison my guess is the bulk of the $105 billion figure is for Iraq and that therefore the monthly burn rate in Iraq may be rising to $8 billion.

The monthly burn rate in Iraq has gone up.

Keep in mind that these numbers understate the total costs in at least 3 ways:

  • Equipment used in Iraq is wearing out at faster rates and will have to be replaced sooner.
  • Permanently injured soldiers coming back will necessitate medical and nursing costs for decades to come.
  • The Bush Administration is looking for ways to cut new weapons programs in order to free up money for operations. So future capabilities are being sacrificed for current needs.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, claims it would take $500 billion and a draft to field a US military force large enough to secure Iraq.

The neocons in the Defense Department originally projected that there would be only 30,000 US troops left in Iraq by the end of 2003 and that all the troops would leave by the end of 2005. Instead we have to wonder by the end of 2005 how many billions of dollars and lives will be lost per month and how many permanently injured will be coming back.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 25 11:00 AM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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2005 January 24 Monday
US Health Savings Accounts Starting To Grow In Popularity

Teresa Chovan and Hannah Yoo of the Center for Policy and Research of an organization called America's Health Insurance Plans have written a brief report on the growing popularity of Health Savings Accounts to pay for medical care. (PDF format)

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are designed to give consumers financial incentives and information to choose their health care providers and manage their own health expenses. HSAs were created in December 2003 as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, and regulatory guidance was released by the Internal Revenue Service mid-year 2004. Modeled after Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), individuals’ HSAs must be coupled with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) to cover current and future health care costs.

...

Responding companies reported a total of 346,000 people covered by individually purchased HSA/HDHPs in September 2004. A subgroup of companies reported the percentage of policies that were sold to previously uninsured people, compared to those that were replacement policies. For those providing this data 3 , the survey showed that 30% of policies were purchased by individuals who previously did not have coverage.

If you know anything about the rules for health savings account eligibility (e.g. can self-employed people create HSA accounts at places like Fidelity or Schwab? or how much money do you need to put in to get started or how much can you deduct from income each year to put in an HSA?) then place post in the comments. I haven't had time to check out the HSADecisions web site which AHIP co-sponsors with the US Small Business Association. It might provide useful information for the self-employed.

Found that previous link on the Heritage Foundation Policy Weblog. (which really ought to put names on posts) Heritage Foundation wonks are fond of HSAs.

So what does this all mean? First, HSAs help to make health care affordable; in a broader point, cutting down on disintermediation, the basic idea of consumer-directed health care, really does work.

Second, HSAs aren't just for the young, the healthy, and the wealthy. They work for almost anyone.

Third, these numbers show that HSA plans are affordable for working Americans and that a refundable tax credit for health care, such as Stuart Butler proposes here, would be sufficient to help many of the working poor leave the ranks of the uninsured.

In my view there is an urgent need for changes in the tax treatment of medical spending to reduce the ranks of the uninsured and uninsurable. People need to be encouraged to save for major illnesses and for retirement medical costs. The current US system of health care that ties health care so heavily to employers causes lots of people to lose coverage between jobs (when they can least afford to pay medical expenses) and to find themselves in the ranks of the uninsurable when they develop a chronic medical condition. It should be possible to pay ahead in pre-tax dollars on long term catastrophic care insurance policies when employed and to have that coverage continue when unemployed.

The other compelling argument for tax-advantaged medical savings accounts is that the medical care market suffers from the distorting effects of too many intermediate agents between providers of services and recipients of services. A person who goes in for medical care under their employer's medical insurance gets the services from the provider but the provider is paid by an insurance company that is paid by an employer. The provider is therefore too disposed toward serving the interests of parties other than the patient. With HMOs the problem is made even worse as the provider comes out best by avoiding provision of services. The interests of the patient are not always well served by such arrangements.

Medical savings accounts in which most services are paid for directly but where catastrophic illnesses are paid for by insurance both increase market forces and provide funding for medical care when the costs are too high for most people to be able to afford to pay. Such accounts also make it easier for the self-employed and the unemployed to have medical coverage.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 24 12:25 PM  Economics Health
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2005 January 23 Sunday
Pentagon Creates Clandestine Human Intelligence Agency

The Strategic Support Branch will compete with the CIA. (and go click thru and read the whole article)

The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.

Some may cast a skeptical eye at this move because Donald Rumsfeld is the driving force behind it. However, I think it has merits on several grounds. First of all, competition between government agencies is a good thing when it can be set up. If we are to believe a large variety of media reports (and I'm inclined to believe these reports) the CIA for years has done an inadequate job of human intelligence. Of course some of the CIA's inadequacies are no doubt due to causes external to itself. However, that is besides the point. The CIA has not been doing a good enough job and, in all likelihood, will continue to do an inadequate job. So why not bring a competitor onto the stage?

Another argument for bringing the US Defense Department on as a competitor is that the DOD has more resources (read: more allies in both Congress and industry and in the public at large) to protect itself from left-leaning folks who think a national intelligence capability is a bad thing and that the CIA is full of incarnated sons of the devil. Intelligence gathering is serious business. We need for it less easily blocked by the whims of various fools.

Another argument for a competing intelligence agency is that it creates barriers between various operations so that a traitor in the US government would be less able to give up the whole list of recruited foreigners which covert field operatives have managed to recruit.

Yet another argument for a specifically DOD-based clandestine service is that the DOD has larger missions and putting intelligence agents under the direct supervision and tasking of the Secretary of Defense will cause those agents to operate according to the priorities of the DOD. At the same time, having the CIA operate by a different set of priorities is also a good thing since there are priorities at the level of grand strategy which may not be recognized as important by a more narrowly focused military which is more concerned about situations where soldiers may be deployed.

We can't expect this Strategic Support Branch (SSB) to achieve a high level of competence right away. Recruitment and training of clandestine agents takes years. Former head of the CIA's paramilitary division and former clandestine field agent Howard Hart estimates that it takes the CIA 6 to 7 years to train an agent for their clandestine service. Likely the DOD SSB will face shorter timelines for training if they can move special forces guys with foreign language and culture skills into spy jobs.

At that previous link Howard Hart made the point that the CIA has a hard time recruiting good people into their clandestine service. Another potential advantage of the DOD's creation of the SSB is that the SSB may be able to recruit from talent pools not as easily available to the CIA (notably all the people who think they might want to become soldiers).

A final argument for the SSB is that the military really needs a highly integrated intelligence collection capability with a faster interaction between the various components of organizations that collect and use intelligence. Time scales are shrinking. As John Boyd argued, decision-making cycles are accelerating. Big bureaucratic divisions between US agencies are unnatural left-overs from a previous era that are not appropriate for fighting a target that can be attacked only with a tight coupling between intelligence collection and military operations.

Whether a clandestine spy capability will be used wisely by the US Department of Defense in the long term is not so much a function of the capability as it is of the goals set by policy makers. We need the capability. Therefore even though I think the grand strategy of the Bush Administration toward terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the Muslims is unsound I still think the creation of a clandestine service inside the DOD is a good idea.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 23 07:36 PM  Military Capabilities
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2005 January 20 Thursday
US Officers In Iraq Want More Troops

Writing for the Washington Times (a conservative newspaper) Rowan Scarborough (who also can't be labelled and dismissed by war optimists as a left-liberal) reports on US military officers in Iraq who are telling their colleagues back home that the US needs more soldiers in Iraq.

Officers in Iraq are telling colleagues back in the United States that they disagree with the official Pentagon position and think they need more troops on the ground.

Retired and active-duty personnel who have received such e-mails say they are not couched as gripes. Rather, the shortfall is explained in terms of, "If we had more soldiers, we could be in two places at once," said a retired four-star Army general. This source said he has received such unofficial communications from a crosssection of commanders in the Army.

...

He said the most-often repeated figure is six to eight more brigades, or more than 50,000 more troops.

The official US military position is that the number of soldiers in Iraq is sufficient. This would be fortunate if it was true since there are no extra soldiers available to send. The official position is that the Iraqi military is going to be built up to do the job that the US military is incapable of doing. That build-up looks to be about 45% complete, at least on paper.

The U.S. goal is for a nationwide security force of 273,000 Iraqis. About 122,000 are now in the field.

But then there are the not so small problems that A) the Iraqi soldiers have to not desert when faced with a real battle and B) that they have to fight for the side of the US and the Iraqi government when the battles come. If anyone comes across statements of US officers on when exactly the Iraqis are supposed to have 273,000 soldiers fieldable please let me know either here in the comments or by email. We should keep track of these projections to see how (un)realistic the official statements turn out to be.

Something I'd like to see: Iraqi National Guard units killing more insurgents/rebels/resistance fighters (and what is the best name for those people?) than the US military does in some substantial sized engagement. Not expecting that to happen this year. Will it ever?

By Randall Parker 2005 January 20 12:00 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs
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Lowered Death Rate From Wounds Understates Iraq Conflict Violence

An article in the Harvard Gazette reports on how medical progress has reduced death rates from wounds sustained in combat. The good news is that far fewer wounded US soldiers die as compared to previous conflicts. The bad news is that a lot more people come back blind or otherwise maimed.

Better, faster medical care has reduced deaths from the more than 10,000 war injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan to the lowest percentage of any war in American history. In World War II, 30 percent of U.S. soldiers died from wounds received in combat; in Vietnam, 24 percent of the wounded died. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the horrific increase in the destructibility of weapons, mortality has dropped to 10 percent.

...

But that's not entirely good news for the survivors. Injuries from suicide bombs and land mines often leave lifetime disabilities. Surgeons report a depressingly high incidence of blindness. Amputations, seen almost weekly on television, raise distressing questions about how survivors and their families will adapt and function.

One big surprise is that there was little improvement from Vietnam to Gulf War I.

Both sides of the story are told in an article in the Dec. 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine written by Atul Gawande, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who gathered data on casualties and talked with surgical teams that served near the front lines. He concludes that the "military medical system has made fundamental - and apparently effective - changes in the strategies and systems of battle care, even since the Persian Gulf War." In that 1990-91 conflict, 24 percent of the wounded died, or more than twice the rate in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

That is surprising and disappointing to me. Sounds like the US military's medical treatment capabilities must have been lagging the civilian state of the art back in 1991.

Also keep in mind that the soldiers have much better armor on their own bodies and on their vehicles. So even the total casualty rate, if compared to other wars, understates the level of daily violence that US soldiers in Iraq are experiencing.

Also see my previous post "Death Rates Of US Soldiers Understate Intensity Of Iraq Fighting".

By the way, if anyone comes across figures for the rates of various types of maiming for US soldiers injured in Iraq please post in the comments or send me an email. For every US soldier killed in Iraq how many have lost a limb, an eye, or been paralyzed or suffered brain damage? How many US soldiers are being permanently (at least until stem cell therapies and tissue engineering make such wounds repairable) injured per month or since the war began?

By Randall Parker 2005 January 20 11:20 AM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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2005 January 19 Wednesday
China Seeking Indian Ocean Oil Sea Route Naval Bases

Bill Gertz reveals some of the details of a report entitled "Energy Futures in Asia" about China's naval strategy written by Booz Allen Hamilton for the US DOD.

The internal report stated that China is adopting a "string of pearls" strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.

...

China is building naval bases in Burma and has electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands in the Bay of Bengal and near the Strait of Malacca. Beijing also supplied Burma with "billions of dollars in military assistance to support a de facto military alliance," the report said.

The report projects world oil demand growing from 75 million barrels per day currently to 120 million barrels per day by 2025 with 80% of that increase going to Asian customers. Suppose that is correct. It suggests that approximately 80% of all economic growth in the next 20 years will be in Asia. Though possibly the existing Western nations will experience economic growth that provides a higher ratio of increased output to increased energy use. As it stands now China's ratio of economic output to energy use is lower than America's (sorry no cite for this which is from memory). But I would expect their efficiency of energy use to increase with time.

But I have a more basic problem with a projection of such a large increase in oil production. For too many countries oil field production is declining. Between now and 2025 more countries will reach their peak oil production and their production will begin to decline. So the remaining countries (chiefly in the Middle East) will have to massively expand their production. A production increase of 45 million barrels per day is more than 4 times total current Saudi production. So how is such an increase in the cards? I'm skeptical.

Oil is China's Achilles Heel from the standpoint of military strategy. Even if they use their massive economic growth rate to build a much larger blue water navy (and I expect they will do exactly that) it is far easier to deny the use of the oceans to some nation than to protect the sea lanes. On the other hand, even if the US and China clash over Taiwan the US would have a difficult time denying oil to China while still allowing oil to get through to other nations in East Asia. Though conceivably the US could allow tankers with carefully selected crews of known loyalties to go around New Guinea headed toward Japan and South Korea.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 19 03:23 PM  Politics Grand Strategy
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2005 January 18 Tuesday
CIA Sees Iraq Conflict As Training Ground For Terrorists

A new CIA report Mapping The Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project not surprisingly contains a section about terrorism. Also not surprisingly the CIA sees the conflict in Iraq as a training ground and recruitment lure for terrorists.

A Dispersed Set of Actors. Pressure from the global counterterrorism effort, together with the impact of advances in information technology, will cause the terrorist threat to become increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of groups, cells, and individuals. While taking advantage of sanctuaries around the world to train, terrorists will not need a stationary headquarters to plan and carry out operations. Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will increasingly become virtual (i.e., online).

The core al-Qa’ida membership probably will continue to dwindle, but other groups inspired by al-Qa’ida, regionally based groups, and individuals labeled simply as jihadists—united by a common hatred of moderate regimes and the West—are likely to conduct terrorist attacks. The al-Qa’ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq. We expect that by 2020 al-Qa’ida will have been superceded by similarly inspired but more diffuse Islamic extremist groups, all of which will oppose the spread of many aspects of globalization into traditional Islamic societies.

  • Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are “professionalized” and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself.
  • Foreign jihadists—individuals ready to fight anywhere they believe Muslim lands are under attack by what they see as “infidel invaders”—enjoy a growing sense of support from Muslims who are not necessarily supporters of terrorism.

Even if the number of extremists dwindles, however, the terrorist threat is likely to remain. Through the Internet and other wireless communications technologies, individuals with ill intent will be able to rally adherents quickly on a broader, even global, scale and do so obscurely. The rapid dispersion of bio- and other lethal forms of technology increases the potential for an individual not affiliated with any terrorist group to be able to inflict widespread loss of life.

By overthrowing the Taliban the US knocked out a recruitment and training area. At that point the US was ahead. But the Bush Administration reversed at least some of those gains with its Iraq misadventure. We would benefit if terrorists made some huge miscalculations and mistakes in order to cancel out our biggest mistakes. What would be the biggest mistake that the global jihad terrorists could make? (and I use the term "global jihad terrorists" to distinguish them from, say, terrorists in Sri Lanka or in the West Bank who are pursuing rather local goals)

By Randall Parker 2005 January 18 11:58 AM  Terrorists Activities
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2005 January 17 Monday
Seymour Hersh On Bush Plans Against Iran And Terrorists

Seymour Hersh has a new article out in The New Yorker about aggressive Bush Administration second term plans against terrorist networks and Iran. (worth reading in full!)

The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books—free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees.

What Hersh says explains something that has been puzzling to me: Former CIA agent Howard Hart sees covert operations undertaken by the US military as riskier and harder to deny for the United States than the same sorts of operations undertaken by the CIA. So Hart argued against moving paramilitary capabilities from the CIA to the US military. Yet here we see at least one reason why it was done: the movement of those operations (relabelled "black reconnaissance" to avoid the loaded term "covert ops") to the DOD removes the need to tell Congress or ask Congress for permission.

Hersh says Iran is the next target.

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’” the former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there.”

But what does that mean? Covert ops? An attempt to overthrow the regime? Or preparations for an invasion? How much do Bush's people think they can accomplish in Iran without invading the place?

I do not think the Iranians can be induced to enter into a negotiated deal to stop their development of nuclear weapons. Also, in spite of the aggressive attitude within the Bush Administration that Hersh reports I continue to be skeptical that there is a viable covert or overt military option that can stop Iran's nuclear program. Possibly the reconnaissance operations that Hersh claims US special forces (Hersh refers to them as commandos) are carrying out in Iran will allow precise targetting of all Iranian nuclear facilities for a massive set of airstrikes. But I'm not confident that the top management running this show will be able to recognize whether their intelligence is sufficiently complete and accurate to guide an air strike campaign.

Hersh says neoconservative Douglas Feith, number 3 man in the Defense Department, is coordinating cooperation with Israel in conducting operations in Iran. That is not exactly confidence-inspiring.

So are the neocons still foolish? Might they actually know what they are doing now having had Iraq as a huge mistake to learn from? Here comes the worse part: Nope, not a chance. They think they can bomb Iran to loosen the control of the mullahs and bring about a secular revolution.

The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership.

I have a bridge to sell to anyone who believes that one.

I agree with the expert that Hersh quotes who argues the nuclear weapons program in Iran is widely popular and that the country is not in any way pre-revolutionary. See my previous posts "Iranian People Not In Pre-Revolutionary Frame Of Mind" and "Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Seen As Broadly Popular".

Bush's latest pronouncement on Iraq shows that he's still supremely confident that he knows what he's doing, that his basic strategy is sound, and that he believes the populace of the United States support him in his plan to democratically and culturally transform the Middle East. Bush thinks his reelection signals that he has made no major mistakes.

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

I'm reminded of my favorite line from a friend: "There's no stopping the invincibly ignorant."

By Randall Parker 2005 January 17 02:29 AM  US Foreign Weapons Proliferation Control
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2005 January 16 Sunday
Desertion By Right Wing Driving Big Media Leftward?

Stanley Kurtz says we are caught up in a cycle where as conservatives and other non-left-liberals abandon the major media organizations those organizations are driven their remaining viewers to be more biased in favor of the preferences of those viewers.

When the Rather affair broke, I suggested in “From Biased to Partisan” that the controlling business dynamic of the media would make network news more liberal, not less. Media bias has become self-reinforcing. As the public turns to alternative and more conservative outlets, the mainstream media’s audience grows more liberal. That puts on pressure for more bias, not less. Now Peggy Noonan has also predicted more, and more open, media bias, not less.

I think greater openness of bias is refreshing. I hate to see journalists and commentators pretend that they are not motivated by partisan concerns when they so clear are. On the other hand, we may be entering a period where there is simply less effort by reporters to try to be objective. Though on the bright side the power of search engines and the massive internet make it easier for the rest of us to check the facts behind media reports.

Stanley's refers above to a previous article of his reflecting on the RatherGate affair and what he sees as a trend in the media toward greater bias. The RatherGate affair you might ask? Oh you know, it was seen as an important story before the 2004 Presidential election by some media types and bloggers and involved hardcore liberal staffers on the CBS 60 Minutes show so eager to help John Kerry get elected that they were suckered in by bogus a document unlikely to have been written on a rare IBM Selectric typewriter with proportionate font support. Excuse me if I'm so automatically bored by that sort of story to recall any details that don't involve computer tech. I think it was relating to the something involving George W. Bush in the National Guard. Yawn. Swift Boats and National Guard: Who cares? The candidates were both nauseating choices for President. The South Park episode involving the school mascot election between the Turd Sandwich and Giant Douche sums up my view of Bush and Kerry quite succinctly.

Anyway, the election and that media scandal might have been worth it because they caused Stanley to think through what he sees as a trend in the MainStream Media (or MSM if you want to go read conservative sites that do a lot of criticism of liberal media and are confused about why they are talking about Methyl Sufonyl Methane - well they aren't being that practical). I think Stanley is correct and

What's more, the cycle of division is self-reinforcing. First came the of the movements of the 60s. Then the media was captured by the Left. Then the conservatives started to exit, building up alternative outlets as they went. As the fundamental cultural and political issues dividing the country sharpened, more and more people started flooding to the alternative media. This self-selection process began to turn the mainstream audience into a self-consciously liberal audience. So even as complaints about liberal media bias escalated, the mainstream media was bound to become more liberal, not less liberal — because that's what was happening to its audience. What all this means is that, given its audience, CBS News is no longer concerned about preserving it reputation for fairness. On the contrary, CBS now wants and needs to preserve its reputation for liberalism.

One way to see this trend is that America is becoming more like Britain with newspapers that are aimed clearly and openly at political and class factions. But I see this trend as part of a bigger trend where people segment themselves into communities (both real and virtiual) of kindred spirits. People within America are migrating to be near people more like them. White Flight is just one part of a larger shuffling of people to be near people with whom they have more affinity. The utopian notion that we are all going to come together due to advances in communications technology does not strike me as correct. I see greater divisions in all sorts of ways. Media is increasingly narrowcasted at smaller groups of people because there are more channels. The internet makes the number of channels enormous. Look at you ParaPundit readers. I'm narrowcasting to you small number of the few, the proud, the brave. Oh wait. those are the Marines. Not sure what you guys are. But you are rare and self-selecting.

How about election campaigns that do computer-driven phone bank calling aimed at very small segments of populations to push their buttons on issues hot for them while not letting the rest of the populace know this is happening? Does that bring people together? Homey doesn't think so. Or how about cable TV's rarely mentioned effect on racial relations? Well, I remember that ancient historical period of like 15 or so years ago when Bill Cosby had a hit TV show among both blacks and whites. Now with so many more channels and more shows the shows can be tailored to all sorts of different demographic profiles. The races are now thoroughly divided on what their favorite shows are. The top ten shows among blacks and among whites had no overlap a year or two ago when I saw some charts on this. It was not always thus. As a result blacks and whites have far fewer common experiences with the media than they used to. No doubt this is happening with other was of slicing up the population as well.

Stanley says at this point the effect of media criticism over charges of bias is to drive viewers and readers more rapidly toward outlets that reflect their biases. The criticism tells the conservatives and moderates that they do not share the same values and goals as the people who are producing liberal newspapers.

The purpose of media-bias stories is now different than it once was. The goal is no longer to reform the mainstream media, but to expose it for the partisan political player it is, so as to pull as many doubters as possible into alternative outlets. Is this good for the country? I doubt it. It would be far better to have a fair and trusted mainstream media to present the news, flanked by thoughtful journals of opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. But sadly, that is not where we are.

So if you point out lies and misleading coverage in The Grey Lady (which one blog I encountered has the NY Times in its links list as Liberal Death Star) you are being divisive and driving people apart. Yes, criticism of the liberal mainstream media publications undermines a sense of shared community and common interests. Taken to an extreme this could eventually lead to civil war. Think about that the next time you carp and complain about CBS News and the New York Times.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 16 01:49 AM  Media Critique
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2005 January 13 Thursday
Heather Mac Donald: How to Interrogate Terrorists

In the Winter 2005 edition of City Journal Heather Mac Donald says that in response to the Abu Ghraib abuses of prisoners by prison guards even previously acceptable interrogation techniques were ruled off-limits in the US government. Even before the Abu Ghraib scandal the existing approved and accepted interrogation techniques were totally failing against Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners.

The interrogation debate first broke out on the frigid plains of Afghanistan. Marines and other special forces would dump planeloads of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners into a ramshackle detention facility outside the Kandahar airport; waiting interrogators were then supposed to extract information to be fed immediately back into the battlefield—whether a particular mountain pass was booby-trapped, say, or where an arms cache lay. That “tactical” debriefing accomplished, the Kandahar interrogation crew would determine which prisoners were significant enough to be shipped on to the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba for high-level interrogation.

Army doctrine gives interrogators 16 “approaches” to induce prisoners of war to divulge critical information. Sporting names like “Pride and Ego Down” and “Fear Up Harsh,” these approaches aim to exploit a detainee’s self-love, allegiance to or resentment of comrades, or sense of futility. Applied in the right combination, they will work on nearly everyone, the intelligence soldiers had learned in their training.

But the Kandahar prisoners were not playing by the army rule book. They divulged nothing. “Prisoners overcame the [traditional] model almost effortlessly,” writes Chris Mackey in The Interrogators, his gripping account of his interrogation service in Afghanistan. The prisoners confounded their captors “not with clever cover stories but with simple refusal to cooperate. They offered lame stories, pretended not to remember even the most basic of details, and then waited for consequences that never really came.

The US military interrogators in Afghanistan were expected to follow Geneva Convention rules in their treatment of prisoners even though the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters did not qualify to be treated according to Geneva rules.

The Geneva conventions embody the idea that even in as brutal an activity as war, civilized nations could obey humanitarian rules: no attacking civilians and no retaliation against enemy soldiers once they fall into your hands. Destruction would be limited as much as possible to professional soldiers on the battlefield. That rule required, unconditionally, that soldiers distinguish themselves from civilians by wearing uniforms and carrying arms openly.

Obedience to Geneva rules rests on another bedrock moral principle: reciprocity. Nations will treat an enemy’s soldiers humanely because they want and expect their adversaries to do the same. Terrorists flout every civilized norm animating the conventions. Their whole purpose is to kill noncombatants, to blend into civilian populations, and to conceal their weapons. They pay no heed whatever to the golden rule; anyone who falls into their hands will most certainly not enjoy commissary privileges and wages, per the Geneva mandates. He—or she—may even lose his head.

I personally see no advantage to the US in forgoing the practice of torture against terrorists. The only reason I'd hesitate would be in the cases where the prisoners might not really be terrorists. I would have imposed tough criteria for identifying someone as a potential Al Qaeda member. However, once such an identification was made with a high degree of certainty then I do not see a moral reason for refraining from torture. Though there is a practical reason to refrain from torture. See my previous post about Mark Bowden's writings on torture for an explanation of why the infliction of pain should be refrained from as long as possible. In a nutshell: some people who fear pain will be unbearable find that they can bear it once it is inflicted. So best to hold off on inflicting pain. But the possibility of infliction of pain has to be made credible for the fear of it to be effective.

US military terrorist interrogators decided that anything the US Army inflicted on US soldiers was acceptable to do to terrorists. This decision provided a fairly large set of unpleasant and stressful interrogation techniques.

Even so, terror interrogators tried to follow the spirit of the Geneva code for conventional, uniformed prisoners of war. That meant, as the code puts it, that the detainees could not be tortured or subjected to “any form of coercion” in order to secure information. They were to be “humanely” treated, protected against “unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind,” and were entitled to “respect for their persons and their honour.”

The Kandahar interrogators reached the following rule of thumb, reports Mackey: if a type of behavior toward a prisoner was no worse than the way the army treated its own members, it could not be considered torture or a violation of the conventions. Thus, questioning a detainee past his bedtime was lawful as long as his interrogator stayed up with him. If the interrogator was missing exactly the same amount of sleep as the detainee—and no tag-teaming of interrogators would be allowed, the soldiers decided—then sleep deprivation could not be deemed torture. In fact, interrogators were routinely sleep-deprived, catnapping maybe one or two hours a night, even as the detainees were getting long beauty sleeps. Likewise, if a boot-camp drill sergeant can make a recruit kneel with his arms stretched out in front without violating the Convention Against Torture, an interrogator can use that tool against a recalcitrant terror suspect.

Did the stress techniques work? Yes. “The harsher methods we used . . . the better information we got and the sooner we got it,” writes Mackey, who emphasizes that the methods never contravened the conventions or crossed over into torture.

It says something about the Geneva Convention that what the US Army can legally do to US soldiers is, strictly speaking, a violation of the Geneva rules.

Under a strict reading of the Geneva protections for prisoners of war, probably: the army forbids interrogators from even touching lawful combatants. But there is a huge gray area between the gold standard of POW treatment reserved for honorable opponents and torture, which consists of the intentional infliction of severe physical and mental pain. None of the stress techniques that the military has used in the war on terror comes remotely close to torture, despite the hysterical charges of administration critics. (The CIA’s behavior remains a black box.) To declare non-torturous stress off-limits for an enemy who plays by no rules and accords no respect to Western prisoners is folly.

One has to wonder what the CIA is up to. Heather quotes one source that claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to dunking under water and that is supposedly the most extreme measure being used by the CIA in conducting interrogations.

The most important point that Heather makes is that what military police did at Abu Ghraib is unrelated to the rules that were governing interrogators at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But the political reaction to Abu Ghraib caused further restrictions on real interrogators working on real Al Qaeda terrorists.

The idea that the abuse of the Iraqi detainees resulted from the president’s decision on the applicability of the Geneva conventions to al-Qaida and Taliban detainees is absurd on several grounds. Everyone in the military chain of command emphasized repeatedly that the Iraq conflict would be governed by the conventions in their entirety. The interrogation rules that local officers developed for Iraq explicitly stated that they were promulgated under Geneva authority, and that the conventions applied. Moreover, almost all the behavior shown in the photographs occurred in the dead of night among military police, wholly separate from interrogations. Most abuse victims were not even scheduled to be interrogated, because they were of no intelligence value. Finally, except for the presence of dogs, none of the behavior shown in the photos was included in the interrogation rules promulgated in Iraq. Mandated masturbation, dog leashes, assault, and stacking naked prisoners in pyramids—none of these depredations was an approved (or even contemplated) interrogation practice, and no interrogator ordered the military guards to engage in them.

The invasion of Iraq, by leading to the events of Abu Ghraib and the resulting political fall-out and further restrictions on interrogators, has hampered the fight against terrorists. Of course the invasion of Iraq has also harmed US interests in other ways related to the battle against terrorists. Also, even without Abu Ghraib the rules controlling interrogators were far too limiting. So the Iraq invasion made a bad situation even worse.

Restrictions on interrogation techniques in Iraq are surely costing many American lives and Iraqi lives as well.

That experiment is over. Reeling under the PR disaster of Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon shut down every stress technique but one—isolation—and that can be used only after extensive review. An interrogator who so much as requests permission to question a detainee into the night could be putting his career in jeopardy. Even the traditional army psychological approaches have fallen under a deep cloud of suspicion: deflating a detainee’s ego, aggressive but non-physical histrionics, and good cop–bad cop have been banished along with sleep deprivation.

Can the US government stop terrorism without getting useful information from terrorists via interrogation? I guess we are going to find out.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 13 07:27 PM  Terrorists Western Response
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2005 January 12 Wednesday
Bush Vows To Push For His Illegal Immigrant Amnesty

Bush says he plans to treat his horrible illegal immgrant work permit program as a high priority.

Asked whether he will move forward this year with his immigration-reform plan which critics say amounts to amnesty for an estimated 8 million illegal aliens in the United States Mr. Bush said: "Yes. Yes, I will." And asked where his proposal ranks in a second-term agenda already overflowing with big-ticket issues from reforming Social Security to overhauling the U.S. tax code, he said: "I think it's high. I think it's a big issue."

On the bright side Bush's low approval ratings limit his power to push big initiatives through Congress.

President Bush's lackluster job-approval rating will make it harder to push through his second-term tax and Social Security reforms, and could undermine House conservatives' uphill battle against runaway spending, some lawmakers say.

...

Mr. Bush's job rating dipped below 50 percent in a new Associated Press poll and registered 52 percent in a Gallup poll last week. That is well below what re-elected presidents in the past have scored before being sworn in for their second terms.

Unless Al Qaeda manage to pull off another big terrorist attack in the US I do not see how Bush can recover in popularity at all. Events in Iraq are going to continue to hurt how he is seen by the American populace. The huge federal budget deficit effectively prevents him from using increased spending to try to appeal to many sectors of the American populace. If an Al Qaeda attack takes place in America then even though Bush's popularity would soar (human nature being what it is) the public would also become far more fearful of foreigners and would want to see policy changes aimed at preventing illegal aliens from entering the United States. So I do not see how Bush can get into a strong position for pushing his incredibly bad immigration proposal.

Bush has already committed to a very large effort to push his Social Security privatization effort through Congress. I hope that effort will absorb so much political capital that he won't have any left over to push through his potentially very harmful immigration initiative. Bush's second fiscal policy priority after Social Security is tax reform. Will he have much political capital left over after dealing with those two?

In fact, Bush may wound his party badly with his Social Security plan. Newt Gingrich sees Bush's Social Security plan as potentially disastrous for the House Republicans.

Outside Congress, several party activists are sounding similar alarms after word spread last week that Bush is planning to reduce future benefits as part of the restructuring. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is warning that Republicans could lose their 10-year House majority if the White House follows through with that proposal.

Bush may so frighten the House Republicans that they might dig their feet in against his policies across a large range of issues. On immigration Bush might make common cause with a mix of some Republicans and some Democrats while stiffening a substantial portion of the Republican House members over immigration. But will any Democrats be willing to sign on in support of Bush's immigration initiative? It is not the sort of amnesty that generates Democrat voters right away. So the Democrats might hold out for their preferred form of amnesty that puts millions of future Democrats on the fast track to US citizenship and voting rights.

See my previous post Thinking About Bush's Less Than Half-Baked Worker Permit Proposal for lists of points to keep in mind about why Bush's proposal will make America's immigration problems worse, not better.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 12 01:33 AM  Immigration Politics
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2005 January 11 Tuesday
Iraq: El Salvador On The Euphrates With Death Squads?

Newsweek is reporting that the creation of paramilitary forces in Iraq patterned after the paramilitaries the US supported in the 1980s in Central America is being seriously debated in the Pentagon.

What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon's latest approach is being called "the Salvador option" - and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can't just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November's operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency - as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time - than in spreading it out.

Some people (notably on the American and European political Left) thought right wing paramilitary death squads used against communists in Central America were ethically unacceptable or even much worse. Justin Raimondo certainly sees the battle against communism in the 1980s as a bad thing not to be copied in Iraq. The whole approach of using what effectively would be paramilitaries supervised by US Special Forces is going to be something a lot of Bush's critics will jump all over in ways reminiscent with US politics in the 1980s.

Being somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan I see the tactics used by Reagan against communism as necessitated by too-left Congress that was intent on sabotaging the containment policy against communism. Central America is right next door to Mexico and Mexico is next door to the US of A. We could not afford to allow communist guerillas to take over border states with Mexico and to possibly destabilize Mexico. The regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua thoroughly deserved to be overthrown. The Marxist guerrillas deserved to die. Yes, lots of innocents died too. But the death tolls under communist rule would have been high and for a much longer period of time.

I state all this to establish to anyone who happens to be new to the ParaPundit blog that I'm not exactly a left-liberal pacifist. If absolutely brutal tactics can stop the spread of a malignant ideology then I'll support the tactics. However, even if the Bush Administration manages to form and support paramilitary groups or otherwise engage in highly unconstrained efforts to use Iraqis to battle Iraqis I'm skeptical that this strategy can succeed. But first let us briefly examine why such a gambit is under consideration.

First off, if the Bushies seriously thought that the regular Iraqi police and national guard were about to become tough effective forces willing and able to take on the insurgents then "the Salvador option" wouldn't be up for serious consideration. So we know what the Bushies think of the Iraqi National Guard and whatever passes for Iraqi government intelligence agencies: Either not terribly well motivated or thoroughly infiltrated by insurgents or both. Well, at they are being realistic.

Another thing consideration for "the Salvador option" tells us is that the Bush Administration isn't about to go to Congress and ask for another $100+ billion per year to build up new US Army divisions in sufficient quantity to send to Iraq and get effective control of the terrain. Where do I get the $100 billion per year figure? $3 billion per year for 30,000 additional soldiers works out to about $100,000 per soldier per year.

The question is being raised: How does the military retain an all-volunteer force at the current level of U.S. commitment overseas?

One way, a senior Army official suggested, would be to spend an additional $3 billion a year to expand the Army by 30,000 soldiers.

An additional million soldiers would cost easily that amount and probably more. Why an additional million soldiers? So that one third can be deployed to Iraq at any given time in order to maintain a half million troops there. Why a half million? Because that is probably about what it would take to properly occupy the country and get control of it from an insurgency. Even that would require years to put down the insurgency once the US force is big enough.

The cost would probably be more than $100 billion per year because in order to recruit that many volunteers the level of salaries in the US Army would need to be raised substantially. So all the existing soldiers would cost more as well.

Building up a volunteer Army big enough to effectively handle Iraq would be a politically and economically expensive option with all sorts of nasty consequences (can you say "tax increases"? sure Mr. Rogers, I can!) that Bush most definitely wants to avoid. He wants to do a huge push for Social Security reform and probably a push for more open borders with Mexico. So there is a limit to the political price that Bush will pay for bending Iraq to his will and that limit is pretty low at this point. Still, Iraq is a problem and he needs to do something about it. He's definitely looking for a bargain basement political and military solution to his problems in Iraq. Note that I say his problems because Bush brought this on himself by deciding that he had to invade Iraq in the first place.

The US military is predictably denying that it intends to create Iraqi forces that would operate under a much looser set of rules against the insurgency.

"The U.S. military does not take part in or train other forces to undertake illegal actions, assassinations or torture. All training and advising our Special Operations forces conduct with Iraqi security forces is done in full compliance with the laws of war," said a Pentagon spokesman.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is also denying the Newsweek report of a plan for death squads.

"But everyone's talking about it, and it's nonsense," he told reporters, after raising it himself at a press conference with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

"The reality is that the responsibility of the commanders there and the coalition and the Iraqi government is to see that the Iraqis are trained up to provide security for that country," he said.

Once the Shias are elected into power I expect the new leadership to support the creation of special Iraqi forces for hunting insurgents. But one huge challenge they are going to have is in recruiting loyal fighters. Can they manage to do that to an extent that insurgent infiltrations will be rare enough not to blow the secrecy of most operations? That strikes me as a questionable proposition.

The other big problem is with intelligence. Insurgents can not be hunted down and killed unless their identities can be discovered. But how can that intelligence be gained against very tribal networks of fighters? Is we manage to recruit Arab Shias to become paramilitary secret warriors against the Sunni insurgents they will at least share a common language with the Sunnis. But southern Iraqi Shias are not going to have the right blood connections to infiltrate Sunni Triangle kin networks. Besides, even if the bomb planters and ambushers could all be identified what could usefully be done with that information? Kill them all? That would just pull in more Sunni relatives to fight to avenge their killed brothers and cousins and uncles.

Of course there is no master org chart of the insurgency with a list of all its members hidden somewhere waiting to be discovered. Breaking into those networks is going to be very difficult. The communist insurgencies in Central America were less based around blood relations and had more concentrated formal lines of command and control. They were easier to identify and single out.

Another way to state the difference in divisions between Central America and Iraq was that in Central America the divisions were more along class and ethnic lines. Upper class white Spaniards were fighting against a lower class and more native and mestizo insurgency. The rulers were smarter and accustomed to rule. The group accustomed to ruling in Iraq are Sunnis. The Shias do not appear to have any advantages in attitudes toward rule or in native cognitive ability. Also, while the Shias are more numerous they also as yet do not appear to be angry enough at the Sunni insurgency to fight them to any appreciable extent.

While I think "the Salvador option" is unlikely to work in Iraq I hope the Bush Administration manages to implement it. The faster the Bushies go down the list of semi-plausible solutions to the problem of Iraq the quicker the top people in the Bush Administration will figure out that easy ways to prevail aren't going to work. Then they can move on to the choices of unilateral withdrawal, partition and withdrawal, or a massive and expensive scaling up of the US military. I do not expect that last option to be chosen. But once the options aimed at achieving their preferred outcomes are seen to have failed these other options will finally get the debate that they deserve.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for pointing out the Newsweek article.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 11 10:42 PM  Mideast Iraq
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2005 January 10 Monday
Toyota Opts For Robots As Japan Rejects Unskilled Immigrants

With Japan's population projected to shrink Toyota is embracing more advanced robots as the solution to a dwindling work force.

Toyota plans to become the first in the industry to use the advanced robots in all production processes, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported Thursday.

The newspaper said the move is aimed at improving production efficiency as the automaker foresees anticipated labor shortages in Japan due to the country's declining birthrate.

Toyota is going to partner with Yaskawa Electric Corp. to develop more advanced robots and Toyota expects to develop robots to do tasks which have been too complex for existing robots.

The new robots would also be used in finishing work, such as installation of seats and car interior fixtures, that have been too complex for conventional robots up to now, the daily said.

Toyota is also going to redesign parts to make robotic placement easier.

Necessity is the mother of invention. (same article here)

"We aim to reduce production costs to the levels in China," the daily quoted an unnamed company official as saying.

...

Japan has so far rejected calls to open up to large numbers of unskilled immigrants, fearing the effects on the country's social framework.

The future for advanced economies is not in importing large amounts of cheap low-skilled labor. Companies that most competently pursue the development of robots and other forms of automation can ultimately achieve lower production costs than can companies that focus on chasing sources of lower priced human workers. If American companies use low-skilled imported labor as a crutch they will eventually be beat in the market by companies that aim to lower costs by putting far greater emphasis on reducing the amount of labor need to manufacture and service products.

Necessity really is the mother of invention. Import of low-cost low-skilled labor reduces the sense of urgency that firms feel to cut costs and hence functions as a disincentive for innovation.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 10 02:52 AM  Immigration Economics
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2005 January 07 Friday
Will Iraq Election Aftermath Be Like Tet Offensive?

The Viet Cong Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a strategic success for the communists because it greatly undermined the credibility of US officers and the Johnson Administration. At the time the US government had been painting an excessively optimstic picture about how much damage had been done to the enemy before the Tet Offensive kicked off. The Tet attack showed the US government to be either mendacious or incompetent in its evaluation of the enemy (my take after reading a lot of history books on Vietnam is that it was a mixture of both). LBJ should have been painting a less rosy picture of progress and emphasizing the potential of the enemy to conduct attacks. Then the sudden large scale offensive by the VC would not have been such a shock and disappointment to the American people. In fact, Johnson should have been saying all along was that the VC might decide to coordinate their attacks in a massive push which the US hoped for since it would be a great opportunity for the US to damage an more exposed VC. Such a pitch in advance of the offensive would have allowed Johnson to spin a more favorable twist to the US response. In fact, the VC did suffer huge losses from the Tet Offensive and only the response of the US public to the unexpected nature of the offensive turned the Tet Offensive into a victory for North Vietnam.

Watching Bush trying to continuously spin conditions in Iraq as being more promising than they really are I'm constantly reminded of LBJ's big strategic mistake. In both cases an emphasis on presenting a positive face in order to achieve short-term political goals has worked against being able to sell the policy in the longer run. An excessively optimistic official position also makes it more politically costly to back away and settle for a less successful outcome that minmizes losses. Well, Bush is at it again in responding to comments made by Bush Sr's former National Security Council chief Brent Scowcroft. Here are two profoundly different predictions on the effects of the upcoming Iraq elections.

"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said at the New America Foundation luncheon, expressing a view increasing shared by both Democratic and Republican foreign policy specialists.

Asked if he shares Scowcroft's concerns, Bush told reporters today, "Quite the opposite. I think elections will be such a incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."

Bush is setting himself up for being discredited in the minds of a larger number of people who are now looking at US involvement in Iraq more skeptically. The war camp is hurting their cause by continuing to offer Panglossian interpretations on Iraq.

Scowcroft is obviously putting his loyalty to America ahead of his loyalty to the Bush clan. One has to wonder what Bush Sr. thinks of this. Maybe he thinks his son is causing such damage that Scowcroft's public statements are necessary. Surely Bush Sr. has to appreciate the extent of the damage being done to US interests by the Iraq fiasco.

Zbiggy thinks the US would need a half million troops to properly occupy Iraq.

With the Iraqi election less than a month away, top former officials and other foreign policy analysts are increasingly skeptical in public about Iraq. Scowcroft shared the podium with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now," Brzezinski said. "If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated." He said it would take 500,000 troops, $500 billion and resumption of the military draft to ensure adequate security in Iraq.

Of course a half million troops are not in the cards. George W. Bush's fans can proclaim all they want that the man is determined to prevail in Iraq. But Bush is not determined enough to go to Congress and ask the million man increase in the US Army that would be needed to maintain a half million soldiers in Iraq.

Zbiggy's number of needed troops for Iraq matches with Rand Corp analyst James James Dobbins' half million estimate and similar numbers based on Rand researcher James Quinliven's calculations. Note the formulas for how many soldiers needed for a population were around before the Iraq war and the larger estimates for how many soldiers were needed to occupy Iraq were not just pulled out of the air.

You can listen to the remarks by Scowcroft and Brzezinski on Iraq in a few different media formats

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says only the Iraqis can defeat the insurgents.

He warned against allowing the Iraqis to become too dependent on the U.S. military. More independence is what’s needed, he said.

“That’s the only way,” Rumsfeld said during a meeting with top U.S. commanders in Tikrit, at the northern tip of the so-called Sunni Triangle that had been deposed President Saddam Hussein’s bedrock of support. He called it the key to eventually getting the 151,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Let me translate that: The US is not going to institute a draft to build a force large enough to defeat the insurgents. The political and economic costs in the US for Bush would be too great. So he won't try to do that. Therefore only a civil war between the Shias and Sunnis can lead to the defeat of the Sunni insurgents. But the Shias so far have shown themselves unwilling to put down the Sunnis. Interesting spin by Rumsfeld though. From there it is a short step toward saying that if democracy in Iraq fails then the Iraqis just weren't willing to try hard enough to make it work. But Bush, firm in his faith in both God and the universal appeal of democracy, is not willing to entertain such a notion.

The commander of the US Army Reserve says his force is degenerating.

The US Army Reserve is 'degenerating into a 'broken' force' due to current deployment policies relating to the Iraq war, said Lt. General James Helmly, 'I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern.'

Helmly thinks his bosses are not adjusting to reality.

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

It is obvious that the regular Army is not big enough for the tasks currently assigned to it. Reserves will make up about half of the troops now being sent to Iraq.

About 40 percent of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq have come from reserve ranks. That number will grow to 50 percent in the fresh group of forces deploying at the moment -- the third rotation of troops since the invasion in the spring of 2003. But with this rotation, the official said, the Army will have used all of the National Guard's main combat brigades.

But in the fourth cycle of deployment there are not enough reserves to maintain that high level of deployment for reserve units. So how will 150,000 troops be maintained in Iraq come the summer of 2005 and beyond?

The election will be held. The violence will not abate. The Pentagon will pull out more stops to try to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq for months and years to come. Hundreds and perhaps even thousands of more American soldiers will die. But illusions will die and some part of reality will sink through eventually.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 07 04:45 PM  Mideast Iraq
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2005 January 06 Thursday
Principles For Debating Immigration Policy

Tom Krannawitter has a Claremont Institute review of Otis L. Graham Jr's Unguarded Gates: A History of America's Immigration Crisis. In the review Krannawitter argues that Graham fails to lay down some basic principles about immigration that are needed for analyzing any arguments on the subject. Krannawitter offers a list of principles that serve as a necessary starting point in any debate on immigration.

  • First, the United States is a sovereign nation. American sovereignty derives from the social compact—the voluntary consent of the men and women who live under its laws, the only legitimate source of sovereignty. Our government rests on our social compact, and its only purpose is to protect the rights of those who have given their consent to the compact. As our Declaration of Independence states, "that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
  • Second, intrinsic to the idea of sovereignty is the distinction between those who are and those who are not part of the social compact. We may invite others from around the world to join our compact, and in fact America has a long and noble tradition of welcoming millions from around the globe who have come in search of civil and religious liberty and economic prosperity. But whether we admit one person or one million persons is a question to be answered entirely at our discretion. We certainly wish the best for the people of the world—and we have left for them the premier example of what free government looks like, and the sacrifices required to found and sustain free government. As our Declaration says, any people finding themselves under tyrannical government possess the natural right "to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." But Americans are under no obligation to offer asylum or refuge to anyone from anywhere outside the United States, just as no nation had a responsibility to house oppressed Americans in 1776.
  • Third, the distinction between those we welcome and those we want to keep out—say, terrorists whose purpose is to kill Americans—requires first and foremost that the American government secure our borders. The border must be real, and it must be able to protect American citizens from immigrants who enter our country illegally, a growing number of whom come armed and with criminal records (in some cases violent crimes committed here in the U.S.). Without secured borders, the American people cannot decide who will partake in the social compact they formed among themselves for their mutual protection.

Obviously some people will reject these principles. But then some people reject national sovereignty. The virtue of listing these principles is that they provide a list of basics to debate before moving on to debates about particular proposed immigration policy changes.

Debates over American immigration will not be serious until these principles are understood and accepted by the American people and the policymakers they elect to office. When Restrictionists such as Graham cite the economic costs, cultural costs, and environmental costs of immigration, these may all be true—but they are not principles. They are only practical considerations Americans should take into account when formulating policy. Sound policy cannot be reached without starting from right principles.

I'm a nationalist. I favor national sovereignty and a well defined and protected group that possesses citizenship. So Krannawitter's list appeals to me. How about you? Do you want defended borders, a distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and limits and restrictions on who can come here and gain citizenship?

My guess is that the debate about national sovereignty and immigration is eventually going to be decided in favor of having well-controlled borders and stricter criteria for who is eligible for citizenship.

By Randall Parker 2005 January 06 03:55 AM  Immigration Policy
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2005 January 03 Monday
Former CIA Agent Howard Hart On The Agency

Howard Hart, former CIA clandestine service officer, said on C-SPAN 2 that there are far far fewer clandestine service officers serving abroad than there are faculty members at the University of Virginia. He also said there are fewer than there are FBI agents serving at the FBI NYC office. He was speaking at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at University of Virginia on Dec. 3, 2004 for a seminar entitled Futre of CIA Espionage Operations.

Hart expects many more countries to develop nuclear weapons in the future.

Hart says it is extremely difficult to recruit people into the clandestine service of the CIA. It is hard to reach them to recruit them in the first place. The universities with the highest concentrations of talent are hostile toward the CIA.

CIA's intake of junior officers every year is low. 1995: 25 junior trainee case officers for the year. More died that year. Same happened during the Carter Administration. He said Stansfield Turner, DCI under Carter, was a disaster. He said it wasn't until the Iranian embassy seizure that Carter realized the world is full of bad people and that the CIA needed the capability to defend against those bad people.

The most interesting point Hart made: Because so few are taken in as clandestine agents lousy ones are retained. I didn't get the whole quote but in explaining the effects of this he said "And someone like Aldrich Ames which we already figured out was not an acceptable officer....". So if the clandestine service had recruited more people each year then a guy like Aldrich Ames would have been fired before he became a traitor who betrayed the United States to the Soviet Union.

The point he made about clandestine service staffing struck me as his most important point. The problem with the level of competence of CIA clandestine agents is two fold. First off, not enough talented people try to apply for jobs as agents. Also, there are so few openings that anyone who gets hired is unlikely to get fired. So the clandestine service has severe quality problems. How to address that problem?

Hart is not exactly optimistic: "Can CIA meet the on-going threat? and my answer is No".

He says to train someone to the point of being a journeyman case officer takes 6 to 7 years. So the CIA lacks the ability to scale up rapidly in response to a sudden crisis. If we need a bigger clandestine spy capability (and I think we do) then we must commit to a longer term project to make the CIA more capable. We need more people out there who are trying to recruit people in key positions in other governments and other kinds of organizations to provide information.

Hart thinks former CIA Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) John Deutch was an idiot as a CIA chief. You may remember that Deutch was discovered to be very careless with protecting a laptop that had secrets on it.

Hart has contempt for "the new crowd" that came in when Porter Goss recently replaced George Tenet as DCI. He says graduate business schools should study Porter Goss and his associates for a case study in how not to take over an organization. He says Goss's crowd is unnecessarily arrogant toward and insulting toward the people in the CIA. From my own reading of what is being said by people who are leaving the CIA and others in positions to know this sounds about right.

Hart says the 9/11 Commission gave a pass to the FBI and criticised the CIA more heavily even though the FBI was more culpable for letting 9/11 happen (and I agree). He does not understand why the FBI did not come in for more criticism. I don't either. Maybe it is because plenty of liberals and conservatives are loathe to admit that the FBI needs to have a stronger domestic surveillance capability. So no one is going to criticise the FBI for not doing enough spying on groups on the home front that are more likely to have hostiles in them.

Hart thinks the recent decision to turn the CIA's paramilitary operation over to the military is a mistake. The ability to avoid engaging American military personnel avoids the commission of an act of war. It avoids the level of legal and political flap that can come from the use and discovery of the use of soldiers. The spies are more expendable and deniable. His opinion on this seems wise. Since George W. Bush has demonstrated a tendency to make monumentally wrong decisions based on a gut instinct that ignores pertinent facts this particular decision is not particularly surprising.

Hart talked about how back in the 1960s the Ivy Leagues (and he is a Cornell grad from the mid 1960s) supplied a disproportionate number of CIA officers. Now recruits from the Ivies are rare. He sees this as a problem that is a result of the hostility of the liberal professors at those universities. People are being recruited from the Midwest, South and Southwest. But the CIA can't find enough good people. Lack of patriotism hinders recruitment. I agree. The Ivies have become too much the enemies of the rest of America. It is time the elite educational institutions were either restructured or their standings lowered by boosting up other universities with a big shift in money flows.

Nowadays a lot of applicants to the CIA clandestine service are rejected due to the drug issue. Also more are lost over theft, fraud, deceit. The CIA uses polygraphs (and I'm guessing some of the more effective methods) to question applicants.

Hart says that Bush wants to boost the clandestine service intake by 50% but that this can not be done without lowering quality. He says that as recently as 5 years ago the clandestine service was recruiting only 25 people per year. So the clandiestine service really is small. On top of that it suffers quality problems.

Also, I just saw Newt Gingrich on C-SPAN 2 Book TV being interviewed by Norm Ornstein about Gingrich's new book Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract with America. Gingrich commented that the intelligence budget needs to be about 3 times bigger than it currently is. My guess is that Gingrich is correct and that the balance of money flowing to improve military capability versus intelligence capability is out of whack. We have more military capability than we have intelligence to direct it or to stave off a threat at an earlier stage so it never becomes a military threat.

Update: Here is some background information on Hart's years of CIA service.

Howard Hart spent 25 years in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. He was the operations officer in both Calcutta and New Delhi, India; chief of station in Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Bonn, Germany, among other assignments. He also served as chief of the Paramilitary Division at the CIA’s headquarters. He was awarded one of the CIA’s 50 “Trailblazer” Awards and has received numerous intelligence medals from the Agency.

Hart correctly called the fall of the Shah of Iran and he was ignored.

Some of Hart's reports in the spring of 1978 were so pessimistic that the CIA's chief of station refused to send them on to Washington, where he knew they would arouse fury in the White House. For more than three months during the summer of 1978 the CIA labored to write up a special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the strength of the Shah's government. But the estimators could never agree on what was increasingly obvious: the Ayatollah had won control of the streets and the royal palace was next. Eventually the CIA's director, Admiral Stansfield Turner, shelved the NIE because it was politically too divisive. The result: official shock when the Shah's government collapsed, and bitter enmity for the United States from the Islamic activists who seized power in Iran.

It is no wonder he speaks poorly of Stansfield Turner.

Back in 2002 he was forecasting the eventual overthrow of the Arab oil regimes in the Persian Gulf.

Having seen the fall of one regime built on sand, Hart is convinced that bin Laden, following a strategy similar to Khomeini's in the 1970s, can do it again. Whatever happens in the current American effort to hunt him down, he says, bin Laden has now been transformed into a hero of the Arab world. If he lives his charisma will shine all the brighter; if he is imprisoned or killed, others in the al-Queda network will carry on in his name. "The governments of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are also built on sand," he says.

Does Hart still believe this analysis?

Update: The Miller Center has a viewable video of Hart's presentation in Real Player format. I will update this post with more dialog from Hart. The presentation is 1 hour and 6 minutes.

Excerpts:

"You may all remember the CIA experienced a terrible spy case internally, a guy named Aldrich Ames turned out to be a spy working for the Russians. Aldrich Ames who we should have sorted out because he had all manner of personal deficiencies that we did pick up. For some reason the system let him get thru and all of a sudden he had access to our most sensitive Soviet operations. I was chief of station in Germany based in Bonn at that time and all of a sudden because we were running 3 of these most sensitive operations those operations started going bad. How can this happen? No one in my station knew about the operations, knew the identity of this man except two of us. Anyway, we did not know this. We went to every kind of precaution, we said is this our fault? Have we done something here to compromise this man? It turned out it was Aldrich back in Washington passing stuff along in empty beer cans to a guy in the Soviet residentura downtown in Washginton Soviet embassy. That man, one of those cases, the man who was compromised, had been working for us for almost 14 years. He was Russian employed in the Mikhoyan Design Bureau. Mig 21, Mig 27, that's Mikhoyan Design Bureau. He handed us every one of those 11 years the Soviet's complete test results of all their fancy new airplanes, the status of all of their research, on and on and on and this information enabled us, us US government, to not have the Air Force discover fleets that are in the skies are black with Soviet bombers went there weren't any bombers, etc etc. Saved us umpteen billions of dollars. I mean more, and gave us a very serious sense of confidence because we knew precisely what they could do."

...

"And I want to make this clear. I didn't join the CIA after getting out of college. I joined the clandestine service. There are all those other folks who are in the CIA. But the service was my business.

"There are far far fewer clandestine service personnel serving overseas as I speak now than are on the payroll of the faculty of the University of Virgina. Lets get it in perspective. Far far fewer. The New York field station of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is bigger than our entire overseas world wide presence."

By Randall Parker 2005 January 03 03:28 AM  Intelligence Capabilities
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