Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Completion of nuclear weapons material security upgrades under the Bratislava Initiative

White House: Statement by Press Secretary Dana Perino.

December 23, 2008

Today, President Bush received a report from the Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and the Director General of Russia's Rosatom State Nuclear Corporation Sergey Kiryenko announcing the completion of nuclear weapons material security upgrades under the Bratislava Initiative.

On February 24, 2005, President Bush and then Russian President Vladimir Putin announced from Bratislava a series of measures to prevent nuclear terrorism and proliferation. These included upgrading the physical security of nuclear material, accelerating the conversion of research reactors from highly enriched uranium fuel to low enriched uranium, enhancing the security culture of those responsible for guarding nuclear material, and improving emergency response capabilities. Most significantly, the Bratislava Initiative accelerated the pace and scope of efforts to secure nuclear weapons and material in Russia.

The completion of the Bratislava Initiative nuclear material security upgrades, and the ongoing work in related areas, significantly improve U.S., Russian, and international security. The President congratulates both our Russian partners and our fellow Americans for their hard and vital work in making this achievement possible.

Defense Spending Would Be Great Stimulus

In the WSJ: Defense Spending Would Be Great Stimulus, by Martin Feldstein
All three service branches are in need of upgrade and repair.

Dec 23, 2008, 10:04 P.M. ET

The Department of Defense is preparing budget cuts in response to the decline in national income. The DOD budgeteers and their counterparts in the White House Office of Management and Budget apparently reason that a smaller GDP requires belt-tightening by everyone.

That logic is exactly backwards. As President-elect Barack Obama and his economic advisers recognize, countering a deep economic recession requires an increase in government spending to offset the sharp decline in consumer outlays and business investment that is now under way. Without that rise in government spending, the economic downturn would be deeper and longer. Although tax cuts for individuals and businesses can help, government spending will have to do the heavy lifting. That's why the Obama team will propose a package of about $300 billion a year in additional federal government outlays and grants to states and local governments.

A temporary rise in DOD spending on supplies, equipment and manpower should be a significant part of that increase in overall government outlays. The same applies to the Department of Homeland Security, to the FBI, and to other parts of the national intelligence community.

The increase in government spending needs to be a short-term surge with greater outlays in 2009 and 2010 but then tailing off sharply in 2011 when the economy should be almost back to its prerecession level of activity. Buying military supplies and equipment, including a variety of off-the-shelf dual use items, can easily fit this surge pattern.

For the military, the increased spending will require an expanded supplemental budget for 2009 and an increased budget for 2010. A 10% increase in defense outlays for procurement and for research would contribute about $20 billion a year to the overall stimulus budget. A 5% rise in spending on operations and maintenance would add an additional $10 billion. That spending could create about 300,000 additional jobs. And raising the military's annual recruitment goal by 15% would provide jobs for an additional 30,000 young men and women in the first year.

An important challenge for those who are designing the overall stimulus package is to avoid wasteful spending. One way to achieve that is to do things during the period of the spending surge that must eventually be done anyway. It is better to do them now when there is excess capacity in the economy than to wait and do them later.

Replacing the supplies that have been depleted by the military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good example of something that might be postponed but that should instead be done quickly. The same is true for replacing the military equipment that has been subject to excessive wear and tear. More generally, replacement schedules for vehicles and other equipment should be accelerated to do more during the next two years than would otherwise be economically efficient.

Industry experts and DOD officials confirm that military suppliers have substantial unused capacity with which to produce additional supplies and equipment. Even those production lines that are currently at full capacity can be greatly expanded by going from a single shift to a two-shift production schedule. With industrial production in the economy as a whole down sharply, there is no shortage of potential employees who can produce supplies and equipment.

Military procurement has the further advantage that almost all of the equipment and supplies that the military buys is made in the United States, creating demand and jobs here at home.

Increased military spending should involve more than just accelerated replacement schedules. Each of the military services can identify new equipment and additional quantities of existing equipment that can improve our fighting ability in Afghanistan and our ability to protect our military forces while they are in combat.

Military planners must also look ahead to the missions that each of the services may be called upon to do in the future. Additional funding would allow the Air Force to increase the production of fighter planes and transport aircraft without any delays. The Army could accelerate its combat modernization program. The Navy could build additional ships to deal with its increased responsibilities in protecting coastal shipping and in countering terrorism. And all three services have significant infrastructure needs.

Although some activities like ship building cannot be completed in the two year stimulus period, the major part of the expenditures can be brought forward in time by acquiring components and materials quickly and holding them in inventory until they are needed in the ship building process. Such a departure from just-in-time inventory management would be wasteful under normal conditions, but makes economic sense when there is temporary excess capacity.

Now is also a good time for the military to increase recruiting and training. Because of the current very high and rising unemployment rates among young men and women, it would make sense to depart from the military's traditional enlistment rules and bring in recruits for a short, two-year period of training followed by a return to the civilian economy. As a minimum this would provide education in a variety of technical skills -- electronics, equipment maintenance, computer programming, nuclear facility operations, etc. -- that would lead to better civilian careers for this group. It would also provide a larger reserve force that could be called upon if needed by the military in the future.

The budgets for homeland security, for intelligence activities, and for the FBI have increased substantially during the past decade. The greater terrorist threat fully justifies these additional funds. The current two-year stimulus period provides an opportunity for additional temporary spending increases with high payoffs.

Investments in port security would reduce a major homeland vulnerability. Expanding the government's language training programs for new intelligence community recruits would provide more translators who can monitor the terrorist communications that we are able to intercept. Additional infrastructure for the FBI would remove an important constraint on the number of new FBI agents.

The Obama team's goal of sending a stimulus package to Congress before the end of January may not leave enough time to work out the details of expanded military and intelligence budgets. If so, the stimulus plan should ask the Congress to provide a total of at least $30 billion a year of increased outlays in these budget categories. A substantial short-term rise in spending on defense and intelligence would both stimulate our economy and strengthen our nation's security.

Mr. Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, is a professor at Harvard and a member of The Wall Street Journal's board of contributors.

Applebaum: Venting in Athens

In the WaPo: Venting in Athens. By Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fires burned in courtyards, shops were looted and Molotov cocktails whistled through clouds of tear gas. Hundreds of schools and campuses were occupied by students and, for more than two weeks, riots brought a major European capital to a halt. The police seemed powerless, the politicians helpless, the media confused.

No, I am not talking about Budapest in 1956 or Paris in 1968. I am talking about Athens over the past two weeks. Since Dec. 6, when Greek police shot and killed a 15-year-old boy, Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities have been consumed by apparently unstoppable, violent demonstrations. Unlike the French riots of 2005, which were mostly led by disaffected immigrants, the participants in these Greek riots appear to be middle-class university students. They weren't smashing up shops in impoverished suburbs, either: These self-styled anarchists are based in a "bohemian" neighborhood of central Athens called Exarchia, and at a nearby university campus whose unused buildings cannot, according to a rather extraordinary Greek law, be entered by the police. So far, the rioters have done some $1.3 billion worth of damage.

Not, I'm guessing, that you've read all that much about the riots: Certainly their relative absence from European and North American front pages proves that, the rhetoric of European unity aside, not all European countries are taken equally seriously. Though Greece is a member of the European Union, its major contribution to European foreign policy is its stubborn insistence (for reasons truly too complex to explore here) on blocking international recognition of the Republic of Macedonia, unless it changes its name to FYROM--the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"--an acronym that everybody else finds laughable. On the domestic front, the Greeks are best known for having faked the economic data they needed to join the euro currency.

If you don't have the political vocabulary to explain what's wrong with your country's economy, perhaps random violence seems a plausible response.

There may also be other, more local explanations as to why these riots feel as if they are taking place far away from mainstream events. One Greek political scientist, Stathis Kalyvas, argues brilliantly that they are facilitated by Greece's unique political culture: In the years since the overthrow of military rule, the Greek political class has come to treat civil disobedience, even violent and destructive civil disobedience, as "almost always justified, if not glorified." Rioting is a "fun and low-risk activity, almost a rite of passage"; the anarchist subculture that thrives in central Athens is "abetted, and in some instances endorsed" by Greece's left-wing parties and mainstream newspapers.

And yet--even if Greece is unserious, even if anarchist subculture has uniquely deep roots in Athens, even if Greek corruption and youth unemployment are unusually high--it's a mistake to dismiss these riots as peripheral. If nothing else, they show what can happen to a highly developed, post-ideological society whose organized politics no longer interest large groups of people. One sympathizer says the rioters can be divided into three groups: communists, anarchists and "younger people who like to think that they are anarchists but they don't know what they stand for. They are the ones who have been looting. . . . They feel the only way to make themselves heard is to do these things."

Another describes the anarchist world of Exarchia, approvingly, as "a parallel society with parallel values and parallel ideas." Yet another told a reporter that the tiny shops near the university deserved to be looted because they represent "the corporate machine." The thinking here isn't exactly sophisticated: This is a revolution, among other things, being conducted to the strains of Pink Floyd ("We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control").

Some are also blaming the weakness of Greece's mainstream social democrats, who, like social democrats elsewhere in Europe, have lately lost ground to the further left and are having trouble attracting young people. But I'm guessing the problem runs even deeper: The fact is that political parties in general are weak, everywhere, and democracy is therefore weak, too.

Which isn't that surprising: After all, we are heading for a global recession, the causes of which may lie far away from Athens--or Paris or Cincinnati--and the solutions to which may not lie in the hands of Greek, French or Ohio politicians. Nobody much admires powerless leaders, and nobody much sees the point in voting for people who can't do anything, anyway.

Hence the riots in Athens, and maybe elsewhere soon: If you aren't sure why you are unemployed, you don't have the political vocabulary to explain what's wrong with your country's economy, and you don't have leaders who seem able to fix it, perhaps random violence seems a plausible response.

Anne Applebaum is an adjunct fellow at AEI.

NY: Tax Millionaires, Not Sodas, Poll Concludes, City Room Blog: Tax Millionaires, Not Sodas, Poll Concludes
December 24, 2008, 9:17 am — Updated: 9:17 am

New York State voters oppose the so-called “obesity tax” on nondiet soft drinks by a resounding margin of 60 percent to 37 percent, but support, by an even more overwhelming margin of 84 percent to 13 percent, raising the state income tax on people who make more than $1 million per year, according to results of a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday.

Even those who prefer diet sodas — which would be exempt from the proposed 18 percent sales tax — said they opposed the measure (58 percent to 39 percent), while drinkers of regular sodas opposed the idea by an even stronger margin (64 percent to 31 percent). Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents surveyed all opposed the proposed tax, though by varying margins.

(In an amusing aside, the Quinnipiac poll noted, “Independent voters are the most weight conscious on the political spectrum as 37 percent prefer diet soft drinks, compared to 27 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats.”)

Meanwhile, support for the so-called “millionaires’ tax” extended even to Republicans, who favored the measure, by a margin of 72 percent to 27 percent. Gov. David A. Paterson has expressed opposition to raising taxes on wealthy voters, but has suggested that there might be no other option if the state budget crisis continues to fester.

The survey was conducted from Dec. 17 to 21 among 834 New York State registered voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In other findings, New York State voters said they approved of the job Governor Paterson is doing, by a margin of 53 percent to 29 percent, but disapproved, by a margin of 46 percent to 40 percent, of the way he is handling the state budget. Still, voters agreed, 54 percent to 33 percent, that Mr. Paterson has the leadership ability to solve the state’s budget problems.

Voters agreed, 88 percent to 8 percent, that the state had a budget crisis, and 96 percent of voters agreed that the state’s budget problems were “somewhat serious” or “very serious, with only 3 percent saying the problems were “not too serious.”

Still, by a margin of 53 percent to 36 percent, voters said they would rather cut services than raise taxes. When asked to select from a list of choices, the most popular service to cut was economic development aid, and the most popular tax or fee to raise was auto registration fees. Those surveyed expressed strong preference for raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol rather than soft drinks.

“Voters aren’t swallowing the proposal to tax nondiet soft drinks, the so-called fat tax,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a former reporter for The Times. “But Governor David Paterson has won the bigger argument: Almost everyone agrees the state is in lousy shape. Overwhelmingly, they buy the governor’s characterization: We’re in a ‘crisis.’”

Mr. Carroll added: “Remember that verse: Don’t tax you; don’t tax me; tax the guy behind the tree? Particularly if the guy behind the tree has a lot of money, we say: Go for it.”