Thursday, April 2, 2009

U.S. Gives $9.3 Million to Help Displaced Pakistanis

U.S. Gives $9.3 Million to Help Displaced Pakistanis
Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC, April 2, 2009

The United States government is pleased to announce a new contribution of $9.3 million to help Pakistanis displaced by conflict in their country. The money will support emergency operations in Pakistan managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). With this contribution, the U.S. government has contributed $14.6 million to relief efforts for displaced Pakistanis since October 1, 2008.

Counter-insurgency operations by the Pakistani armed forces and ongoing extremist violence in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas have resulted in the displacement of approximately 550,000 persons since August 2008, with the continued displacement of an estimated 100 additional families per day. An additional 20,000 Pakistanis have sought refuge in Afghanistan.

UNHCR will use the U.S. contribution to house refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) with host families, to establish and manage IDP camps, and to take care of the most vulnerable displaced people (women, children, the disabled, and the elderly). The contribution to ICRC will provide clean water, medical care and housing for the displaced. The Pakistan Red Crescent will receive money to expand its programs to train doctors and nurses, and to rehabilitate disabled veterans.

The United States encourages other donors to respond to the United Nations and the ICRC’s emergency appeals with substantial contributions of their own.

PRN: 2009/284

Conservative about Dahlia Lithwick on Harold Koh

More on Dahlia Lithwick on Harold Koh. By Ed Whelan
Bench Memos/NRO, Thursday, April 02, 2009

A follow-up to my post agreeing with Dahlia Lithwick that those of us who are alarmed by State Department nominee Harold Koh should not base our case against Koh on a remark that Koh allegedly made about the possible application of sharia law in cases in U.S. courts:

Let me briefly discuss just a couple of the many things that Lithwick gets wrong in her essay. (I’ll leave aside Lithwick’s ongoing effort, which Jonathan Adler has aptly remarked on before, to reposition herself from her previous role as a perpetrator of the “vicious slash-and-burn character attack” to her new role as a hypersensitive bemoaner of any criticism of nominees.)

Lithwick contends:

The underlying legal charge from the right is that Koh is a "transnationalist" who seeks to subjugate all of America to elite international courts. We've heard these claims from conservative critics before. They amount to just this: The mere acknowledgment that a body of law exists outside the United States is tantamount to claiming that America is enslaved to that law. The recognition that international law even exists somehow transforms the U.S. Supreme Court into a sort of intermediate court of appeals that must answer to the Dreaded Court of Elitist European Preferences.

Set aside Lithwick’s apparent insinuation that “transnationalist” is an epithet invented by conservatives to stigmatize folks like Koh, when in fact Koh himself, as author of articles like “Transnational Public Law Litigation” and “Why Transnational Law Matters,” has championed the label. As she often does, Lithwick, rather than accurately presenting and engaging opposing arguments, proceeds with argument by wild distortion. The italicized passages are an absurd misrepresentation of conservative critiques of Koh. (See, for example, my post here and John Fonte’s post. And for conservative critiques of transnationalism generally, see the article by John Fonte linked to in his post and John Bolton’s recent Commentary essay, “The Coming War on Sovereignty.”)

Lithwick also asserts:

Harold Koh is not a radical legal figure. He has served with distinction in both Democratic and Republican administrations (under Presidents Clinton and Reagan), and in that capacity he sued both Democratic and Republic [sic] administrations.* He was confirmed unanimously 11 years ago, and yet this time around, he is a threat to American sovereignty.

Here Lithwick resorts to insipid makeshift arguments that she herself would not apply to others. So what that Koh was a junior career lawyer in OLC during the Reagan Administration? Is that evidence that he is not now a radical legal figure? Well, then, I guess that Lithwick has never attacked, and would never attack, Samuel Alito as extreme, since Alito served with distinction as a career prosecutor in the Carter Administration. And how does Koh’s confirmation 11 years ago foreclose examination of what we have learned about him, and about the transnationalist threat, in the meantime? Again, would Lithwick maintain that because, say, Justice Scalia was confirmed unanimously, she couldn’t and wouldn’t oppose his elevation to Chief Justice? Ridiculous.

* I have no idea what the second half of this sentence is supposed to mean. I’ll presume an editing glitch.

Existential Crisis at the G20 Summit

Existential Crisis at the G20 Summit. By Ruth Conniff
The Progressive, April 2, 2009

The global financial crisis has created an existential problem for American capitalism. The theory that deregulation, free markets, and policies that serve the interests of big banks and multinational corporations are best for all of us has never looked so weak. Protesters at the G-20 summit in London are driving home this point.

As the activist group G20 Meltdown puts it: "While two million are now out of work in Britain alone, the G20 ministers still resist nationalizing the banks, instead continuing to pour trillions into the black hole of bankers' bad gambling debts." Various groups, from Save the Children to the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition are pushing to expose the global trade club as the insider group for the wealthy that it is. And they are insisting on democratic policy changes that put needs of people--especially the poor and vulnerable-- ahead of the needs of hedge fund managers and corporations.

Talking openly about class is not as taboo in the rest of the world as it is here in the United States. Americans have been living for decades with what European Marxists like to call "class transference": the idea that the interests of multimillionaire bankers and businessmen are exactly the same as the interests of line workers and school teachers. After all, we all plan to be millionaires one day, right? This mentality allows us to accept the idea that a CEO who presides over the collapse of a major corporation should be "punished” by being pushed out with a $35 million golden parachute, but family-supporting wages and benefits are "fat" that needs to be trimmed so companies can become more competitive and profitable.

Favoring Wall Street at the expense of Main Street is nowhere more obvious than in our government's very different treatment of the banks and GM. Why is it that we see the need to spend tax money to protect bondholders from losing money on risky bets, but massive job loss from the collapse of the auto industry is an acceptable price to pay for GM's poor management?
Why is AIG "too big to fail," but the entire American auto industry is not?

Don't get me wrong. There is no greater example of American hubris than the story of GM. It reads like Shakespearian tragedy--the rise and fall of this giant company that once bragged, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." That our country was still building giant showrooms for Hummers and consumers were blithely trading in 10-mile-per-gallon SUVs for newer models even as war raged in Iraq is incredible. At some point we were going to start paying for this monumental shortsightedness. It turns out that point is now.

But there is a lot that government can do to decide who will suffer the most from the excesses and hubris of unsustainable business practices. Businesses can be counted on to look out for their own interests: to seek higher profits and to push and lobby federal and international government for the best possible deal. But it is government's job to look out for the taxpayers, homeowners, line workers, and school children who are going to bear the brunt of the financial crisis. The more we recognize that our interests as human beings are not the same as the interests of the big companies that want to maximize their profits, the more effective we can be as citizens pushing our government to change its ways.

The Obama Administration needs to be held to account.

As mutual fund manager John Hussman puts it: "Make no mistake - we are selling off our future and the future of our children to prevent the bondholders of U.S. financial corporations from taking losses. We are using public funds to protect the bondholders of some of the most mismanaged companies in the history of capitalism, instead of allowing them to take losses that should have been their own. All our policy makers have done to date has been to squander public funds to protect the full interests of corporate bondholders. Even Bear Stearns' bondholders can expect to get 100% of their money back, thanks to the generosity of Bernanke, Geithner and other bureaucrats eager to hand out the money of ordinary Americans."

Meanwhile, by threatening GM with bankruptcy, the Obama Administration is toying with massive job loss throughout the industrial Midwest. With hundreds of billions already pledged to save the banks, there is neither political nor economic capital left for a massive bailout of the bloated auto industry. Still, human needs--and protecting the homes, health care, retirement funds, and childrens' future of the auto industry's workforce--must come ahead of a toxic asset plan that protects investors against feeling the downside of their risky bets.

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. By Glenn Greenwald
Cato, Apr 2, 2009

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were "decriminalized," not "legalized." Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

While other states in the European Union have developed various forms of de facto decriminalization — whereby substances perceived to be less serious (such as cannabis) rarely lead to criminal prosecution — Portugal remains the only EU member state with a law explicitly declaring drugs to be "decriminalized." Because more than seven years have now elapsed since enactment of Portugal's decriminalization system, there are ample data enabling its effects to be assessed.

Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists" — has occurred.

The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.

This report will begin with an examination of the Portuguese decriminalization framework as set forth in law and in terms of how it functions in practice. Also examined is the political climate in Portugal both pre- and postdecriminalization with regard to drug policy, and the impetus that led that nation to adopt decriminalization.

The report then assesses Portuguese drug policy in the context of the EU's approach to drugs. The varying legal frameworks, as well as the overall trend toward liberalization, are examined to enable a meaningful comparative assessment between Portuguese data and data from other EU states.

The report also sets forth the data concerning drug-related trends in Portugal both pre- and postdecriminalization. The effects of decriminalization in Portugal are examined both in absolute terms and in comparisons with other states that continue to criminalize drugs, particularly within the EU.

The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.

Download the PDF (4 MB)

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer and a contributing writer at Salon. He has authored several books, including A Tragic Legacy (2007) and How Would a Patriot Act? (2006).

Afghanistan Is Not Iraq - Propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding

Afghanistan Is Not Iraq. By Stephen Schwartz
Propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding.
The Weekly Standard, Apr 01, 2009

Many of the initiatives by President Obama in the Middle East and Muslim countries rest on unrealistic expectations--desert mirages, one might say--surrounding the motives of terrorists and other enemies of freedom. The most obvious example has been Obama's flattery toward the Iranian dictatorship, expressed in his address to the authorities of the "Islamic Republic" on March 20, in which he offers friendship to the Iranian clerical tyrants while they torture dissenting intellectuals, and repress protesting students and spiritual Sufis.

On its face, this immoral option resembles the old "realism" toward China--and, lately, Putinite Russia--that puts "stability" in relations with authoritarians and mass murderers ahead of democratic principles. Let the Tibetans and Uighurs be subjected to cultural genocide, Falun Gong be brutally persecuted, and individual Chinese dissidents--some of the bravest of the brave--be tormented in horrific ways, the argument seems to go, as long as Washington can claim a "breakthrough" in relations. But other, and much more dangerous tendencies, are also evident in recent U.S. outreach to the Muslim world. To flirtation with Tehran, the attempted installation of Chas Freeman, a prime apologist for Saudi Wahhabism, as head of the National Intelligence Council, and the hallucinated concept of a "unity" government comprising the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, critical observers of American official initiatives toward Muslim countries may add a new gimmick: the search for "the moderate Taliban."

This latest delusion is often promoted by the State Department's Richard Holbrooke. Afghanistan, we are told, may become the scene of a "civilian surge" comparable to the strategy that diminished terrorism in Iraq. The "moderate Taliban" could furnish the Afghan equivalent of the Sunni Awakening, which provided allies for the U.S.-led coalition and the Baghdad government in fighting the so-called Iraqi insurgency.

But the differences between the Iraqi death squads that eventually split and produced partners for the battle against brutalization, and the Taliban, are unarguable.

* The Iraqi malcontents comprised an assortment of the disaffected--secular Baathists, Sunnis suddenly deprived of long-held privilege and power, simple religious bigots (rather than committed doctrinal fanatics, and there is a difference), and, to be honest, Iraqis who merely resented the 2003 intervention. Notwithstanding Beltway blather denying its existence--some emitted by now vice-president Biden--an Iraqi national identity, however limited, exists.

* The Sunni Awakening was encouraged when the Iraqis found their alleged "resistance" increasingly dominated by Saudi Wahhabis who had come over the long Saudi-Iraqi border in the "second Iraq intervention," as detailed here, here, and here. When "Al Qaeda in Iraq" manifested its Taliban characteristics--executing women caught without covered faces, possessors of music CDs, Sufis, and others they deemed apostates--the anti-coalition combatants perceived that the United States and Baghdad authorities were a preferable alternative to governance by lynching.

Wide as the horizons of their global ambition doubtless were, and dedicated as they were to using Iraq as a platform for reinforcement of Wahhabism in their own country, the Saudi radicals who streamed north were primarily interested in striking at the coalition, to stimulate new support for their perverse cause, and did not aim at immediate expansion into Jordan or Kuwait.

By contrast, the Taliban is not a mélange. They include no secular types comparable to the Baathists and few "Afghan patriots." Afghan national identity is much weaker than that found even in Iraq. The Pashtun base of the Taliban is tribal, but they have a lesser presence in local history than the Iraqi Sunnis that usurped power in Mesopotamia. The Taliban embody monolithic radicalism in the Wahhabi style, rooted in the Deobandi school of fundamentalism, and consider all Muslims who fail to share their ideology to be unbelievers deserving liquidation. The Iraqi Arab Sunnis, even at the height of their influence under Saddam, could not wipe out the Iraqi Shias or the Kurds, but the Taliban massacred the indigenous Hazara Shias in Afghanistan, effecting a nearly-successful genocide.

Further, the Taliban have demonstrated that their current goal, rather than mere power in Afghanistan, is the "Talibanization" of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed failing state. This would provide the running dogs of al Qaeda with unconcealed weapons of mass destruction as well as millions of fresh foot-soldiers in an environment that, along with its large and problematical diaspora in Britain, has become the main breeding ground of Islamist extremism worldwide.
Where, then, are the "moderate" Taliban? The Taliban themselves, and their Pakistani promoters, scorned news reports about the Obama conception of a "civil surge," in Urdu and Pashto comments translated and posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute. History affirms that there were moderate Italian fascists but no moderate German Nazis; moderate socialist labor radicals but no moderate Stalinists. Moderate Taliban, like "moderate Nazis" or "moderate Stalinists," are a fantasy. The only and unavoidable response to such extremists is to defeat them.

The Obama administration seems to have fallen back into American thinking about the Muslim world before the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Like Bill Clinton and his cohort, they see Islamist violence as an expression of protest against Western policies rather than as a manifestation of a very real and threatening phenomenon called radical Islam. To the new president, neither Ahmadinejad, nor Hamas, nor the Taliban represent an ideological movement capable of wholesale bloodshed and long-term atrocities. This misapprehension defies the knowledge shared by every ordinary Muslim in the world. Rather than a step toward a new and more benevolent relationship, propagating the myth of the "moderate Taliban" is a leap backward in American understanding. But the American way has always put freedom before peace, and Afghanistan should offer no exception to this rule.

The Afghan war cannot be won by trying to factionalize an ideological hard core or, as President Obama has lately suggested, by recruiting malcontents and deserters. Victory must be clear and be seen to be clear.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

Estate tax: Spend It in Vegas or Die Paying Taxes

Spend It in Vegas or Die Paying Taxes. By Arthur B Laffer
A 0% tax on carousing, but 55% on thrift.
WSJ, Apr 02, 2009

In most cases, people who inherit wealth are lucky by an accident of birth and really don't "deserve" their inheritance any more than people who don't inherit wealth. After all, few of us get to choose our parents. It's also arguable that inherited wealth sometimes induces slothfulness and overindulgence. But the facts that beneficiaries of inheritances are just lucky and that the actual inheritance may make beneficiaries less productive don't justify having an estate tax. Chad Crowe

These same observations about serendipitous birth can be made for intelligence, education, attractiveness, health, size, gender, disposition, race, etc. And yet no one would suggest that the government should remove any portion of these attributes from people simply because they came from their parents. Surely we have not moved into Kurt Vonnegut's world of Harrison Bergeron.

President Barack Obama has proposed prolonging the federal estate tax rather than ending it in 2010, as is scheduled under current law. The president's plan would extend this year's $3.5 million exemption level and the 45% top rate. But will this really help America recover from recession and reduce our growing deficits? In order to assess the pros and cons of the estate tax, we should focus on its impact on those who bequeath wealth, not on those who receive wealth.

Advocates of the estate tax argue that such a tax will reduce the concentrations of wealth in a few families, but there is little evidence to suggest that the estate tax has much, if any, impact on the distribution of wealth. To see the silliness of using the estate tax as a tool to redistribute wealth, realize that those who die and leave estates would be taxed just as much if they bequeathed their money to poor people as they would if they left their money to rich people. If the objective were to redistribute, surely, an inheritance tax (a tax on the recipients) would make far more sense than an estate tax.

Indeed, from a societal standpoint, inheritance is an unmitigated good. Passing on to successive generations greater health, wealth and wisdom is what society in general, and America specifically, is all about. Imagine what America would look like today if our forefathers had been selfish and had left us nothing. We have all benefited greatly from a history of intergenerational American generosity. But just being an American is as much an accident of birth as being the child of wealthy parents. If you are an American, it's likely because ancestors of yours chose to become Americans and also chose to have children.

In its most basic form, it's about as silly an idea as can be imagined that America in the aggregate can increase the standards of living of future generations by taxing individual Americans for passing on higher standards of living to future generations of Americans of their choice. Clearly, taxing estates at death will induce people who wish to leave estates to future generations to leave smaller estates and to find ways to avoid estate taxes. On a conceptual level, it makes no sense to tax estates at death.

Study after study finds that the estate tax significantly reduces the size of estates and, as an added consequence, reduces the nation's capital stock and income. This common sense finding is documented ad nauseam in the 2006 U.S. Joint Economic Committee Report on the Costs and Consequences of the Federal Estate Tax. The Joint Economic Committee estimates that the estate tax has reduced the capital stock by approximately $850 billion because it reduces incentives to save and invest, has excessively high compliance costs, and results in significant economic inefficiencies.

Today in America you can take your after-tax income and go to Las Vegas and carouse, gamble, drink and smoke, and as far as our government is concerned that's just fine. But if you take that same after-tax income and leave it to your children and grandchildren, the government will tax that after-tax income one additional time at rates up to 55%. I especially like an oft-quoted line from Joseph Stiglitz and David L. Bevan, who wrote in the Greek Economic Review, "Of course, prohibitively high inheritance tax rates generate no revenue; they simply force the individual to consume his income during his lifetime." Hurray for Vegas.

If you're rich enough, however, you can hire professionals who can, for a price, show you how to avoid estate taxes. Many of the very largest estates are so tax-sheltered that the inheritances go to their beneficiaries having paid little or no taxes at all. And all the costs associated with these tax shelters and tax avoidance schemes are pure wastes for the country as a whole and exist solely to circumvent the estate tax. The estate tax in and of itself causes people to waste resources.

Again, a number of studies suggest that the costs of sheltering estates from the tax man actually are about as high as the total tax revenues collected from the estate tax. And these estimates don't even take into account lost output, employment and production resulting from perverse incentives. This makes the estate tax one of the least efficient taxes. And yet for all the hardship and expense associated with the estate tax, the total monies collected in any one year account for only about 1% of federal tax receipts.

It is important to realize that less than half of the estates that must go through the burden of complying with the paperwork and reporting requirements of the tax actually pay even a nickel of the tax. And the largest estates that actually do pay taxes generally pay lower marginal tax rates than smaller estates because of tax shelters. The inmates really are running the asylum.

In 1982, Californians overwhelmingly voted to eliminate the state's estate tax. It seems that even in the highest taxed state in the nation there are some taxes voters cannot abide. It shouldn't surprise anyone that ultra-wealthy liberal Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, supporter of the estate tax and lifetime resident of Ohio, where there is a state estate tax, chose to die as a resident of Florida, where there is no state estate tax. Differential state estate-tax rates incentivize people to move from state to state. Global estate tax rates do the same thing, only the moves are from country to country. In 2005 the U.S., at a 47% marginal tax rate, had the third highest estate tax rate of the 50 countries covered in a 2005 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP. A full 26 countries had no "Inheritance/Death" tax rate at all.

In the summary of its 2006 report, the Joint Economic Committee wrote, "The detrimental effects of the estate tax are grossly disproportionate to the modest amount federal revenues it raises (if it raises any net revenue at all)." Even economists in favor of the estate tax concede that its current structure does not work. Henry Aaron and Alicia Munnell concluded, "In short, the estate and gift taxes in the United States have failed to achieve their intended purposes. They raise little revenue. They impose large excess burdens. They are unfair."

For all of these reasons, the estate tax needs to go, along with the step-up basis at death of capital gains (which values an asset not at the purchase price but at the price at the buyer's death). On purely a static basis, the Joint Tax Committee estimates that over the period 2011 through 2015, the static revenue losses from eliminating the estate tax would be $281 billion, while the additional capital gains tax receipts from repeal of the step-up basis would be $293 billion.

To counter the fact that economists such as I obsess about the deleterious effects of the estate tax, advocates of the estate tax note with some pride that 98% of Americans will never pay this tax. Let's make it 100%, and I'll get off my soapbox.

Mr. Laffer is the chairman of Laffer Associates and co-author of "The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen" (Threshold, 2008).

Obama Administration to Release Bin Laden Associate from Gitmo

Obama Administration to Release Bin Laden Associate from Gitmo. By Thomas Joscelyn
The Weekly Standard blog, March 31, 2009 01:30 PM

The U.S. Justice Department has decided to release another detainee from Guantanamo, a Yemeni named Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi. It is not entirely clear why Batarfi has been cleared for release. But we can be reasonably sure, based on Batarfi’s own freely given testimony, that he was no innocent swept up in the post-9/11 chaos of Afghanistan, as his lawyers claim.

Batarfi first traveled to Afghanistan in 1988 to fight the Soviets. The government claims he was trained at the Khalden camp, which graduated hundreds of al Qaeda members, but Batarfi denies this. Batarfi has admitted to participating in at least one nighttime raid against Soviet forces. This is important because it shows that he was willing to participate in hostilities from a young age--and was not merely a humanitarian adventure seeker in Afghanistan.

Batarfi then went to Pakistan, where he became an orthopedic surgeon. From there, things get really interesting.

There are at least three aspects of Batarfi’s testimony given before his administrative review board hearings at Gitmo that are noteworthy. Keep in mind that these hearings were not interrogations, and the detainees had the option of not participating, or simply issuing blanket denials, as some detainees did.

First, Batarfi admitted that he was an employee of al Wafa, a charity that has been designated a terrorist organization. Al Wafa is discussed in brief in the 9/11 Commission’s report as an al Qaeda front. The unclassified documents released from Guantanamo are littered with references to the organization. It is clear that al Wafa actively supported al Qaeda and the Taliban in a variety of ways--from transporting jihadists to Afghanistan (often through Iran) to purchasing sophisticated weaponry. Al Wafa was not a real charity--it was a terrorist front group, and Batarfi admitted to working for the group for several months in 2001. He says he left the organization after it was designated as a terror-supporter, but this was most likely just Batarfi’s way of trying to explain away his al Wafa ties. As we will see below, he was at Tora Bora after the designation on al Wafa came down.

Second, Batarfi admitted that he met with a “Malaysian microbiologist” and authorized the purchase of medical equipment for this individual. As I have written previously, this microbiologist is most certainly Yazid Sufaat. Batarfi denies knowing that Sufaat was working on anthrax when they met in 2001. Over and over again, Batarfi claimed that he just happened to run into and consort with terrorists without knowing who they were.

Third, the best example of this last point is Batarfi’s admitted ties to Osama bin Laden. Batarfi admitted that he met with bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains in November 2001. But he claimed that he sent a letter to someone (he does not say whom) asking to meet with the “head of the mountain” and, somewhat magically, he just happened to get a face-to-face sit down with the world’s most wanted terrorist…at Tora Bora…in November of 2001…you know, when the whole world was looking for him. This was the second time Batarfi claims to have accidentally met bin Laden. The first time came at a funeral in Kabul when, again, bin Laden just happened upon the scene.

Batarfi and his attorneys have apparently been able to sell this story to the DOJ. On its face, it does not make any sense. And there is much more to Batarfi’s story and the unclassified files on him. He admitted he purchased cyanide, but claims it was for dental fillings. He admitted he stayed at various al Qaeda and Taliban guesthouses, but says he didn’t realize they were facilities associated with Osama bin Laden at the time. Batarfi met the Taliban’s health minister in 2001 because, well, that’s just the sort of thing an al Wafa employee would do.

Remember, all of the above comes from his hearings at Guantanamo, not his interrogations. He could have just said, “I deny everything.” But he didn’t. He came up with not-so creative excuses instead. (For an analysis of excerpts from his hearings, go here.)

Batarfi has been cleared for release even though the Obama administration is not sure where to send him. They are still looking for a host country. This is eerily similar to the president’s ordering Guantanamo shuttered by January of 2010 before his administration had even reviewed any of the detainees’ files. That is, the president and his staff were not even sure who is down at Guantanamo when the president ordered the facility closed.

Batarfi’s case was reportedly reviewed by a DOJ board that is going through all of those files. I think it is safe to say the board is off to an inauspicious start.

Libertarian: FDA Regulation Threatens Cigarette Alternatives

FDA Regulation Threatens Cigarette Alternatives. By Jacob Sullum
Reason, April 1, 2009, 1:14pm

This evening the House of Representatives is expected to approve a bill authored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that would let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products. The bill, which is supported by Philip Morris but opposed by its smaller competitors, is also supported by the leading anti-smoking groups but opposed by some of their smaller competitors. Recently the dissenters in the anti-smoking movement have been highlighting one of the bill's major flaws: It would grandfather in all current cigarettes (except for those with politically incorrect flavors) while making it virtually impossible to introduce and promote safer alternatives.

One of those alternatives is snus, Swedish-style oral snuff, the health risks of which are negligible compared to those of cigarettes. The Waxman bill would not ban snus, but it would prohibit manufacturers from informing consumers about oral snuff's dramatic safety advantages. Another cigarette alternative, one that probably would be kept off the market altogether under the bill's regulatory standards, is electronic cigarettes, battery-powered devices that deliver odorless nicotine vapor instead of smoke, avoiding all the hazards associated with tobacco combustion products. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) wants the FDA to take electronic cigarettes off the market "until they are proven safe." Even if the FDA does not ban e-cigarettes under its existing drug authority, their manufacturers probably would not be able to meet the test established by the Waxman bill for products that compete with cigarettes.

One anti-smoking group that supports snus, e-cigarettes, and other harm-reducing alternatives to standard cigarettes is the American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP), which says (PDF):

A variety of non-pharmaceutical alternative nicotine delivery products are already on the market or in various stages of development and market testing. These include sticks, strips, orbs, lozenges and e-cigarettes. The information available suggests risk and benefit profiles similar to widely accepted pharmaceutical nicotine replacement products.

Holding the snus and alternative nicotine delivery to the research standards of pharmaceutical products would cost the manufacturers millions of dollars per product and would deny current smokers the benefits of these products for a decade or more. Furthermore, such studies probably could not be conducted at current American academic centers because Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines would likely prohibit case/control studies on products with no therapeutic benefit. Thus, the seemingly reasonable research standards in the Waxman bill would likely result in a de-facto ban on all such products. AAPHP therefore favors the research guidelines from the Buyer bill [alternative legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.)].

Since both the Waxman and the Buyer bills would approve currently marketed cigarettes, the most hazardous of all tobacco products, the standard for lower risk products for use by current smokers should be the hazard posed by cigarettes, not a pharmaceutical safety standard.

Bill Godshall of Smokefree Pennsylvania (who alerted me to the AAPHP statement), tobacco policy blogger Michael Siegel (who clued me in to the e-cigarette controversy), and the American Council on Science and Health also worry that FDA regulation could stifle the market for cigarette alternatives. I explain why the Waxman bill is bad for smokers here, here, and here. I discuss snus here, here, and here.

Injecting New Dynamism in US-Australia Ties

Injecting New Dynamism in US-Australia Ties. By Rajaram Panda and Pranamita Baruah
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, April 1, 2009

Labour Party Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has been in office for nearly one and a half years after his unexpected victory over John Howard in late 2007. For almost three decades after World War II, Australia systematically repudiated the idea of being identified as an Asian country, until the resource boom in the early 1970s that catapulted Australia as one of the major resource exporters to resource-importing countries such as Japan and now China. Since then, Australia’s external orientation has undergone a profound change. Though various political parties have remained at the helm at different periods, the fundamental approach to foreign and foreign economic policies has remained unchanged.

How is Rudd different from his predecessors? Rudd has brought a unique style of governance by either floating new ideas and concepts or re-looking at Australia’s priorities in foreign relations. Not long after he came to office, he floated a new concept for evolving a new kind of security architecture for the Asia-Pacific without spelling out clearly its purpose, aims, structure and objectives. He even sent his marketing manager, Richard Woolcott, the man who mid-wifed the birth of APEC in 1989, to sound out member countries of the region envisaged to be members in Rudd’s proposed architecture. The vagueness of the idea might render it to remain buried for ever and can only be resurrected in the unlikely event of changes of attitude and policies in many of the Asia-Pacific countries in the future.

Rudd is known for his soft attitude towards China. After assuming office, he made his first major overseas visit to China, much to the annoyance of the Japanese, who felt that their bilateral relationship was undermined by Rudd’s preference for China. A Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, Rudd made his open preference for China over Japan known when he, during his meeting with President Barack Obama on March 23, 2009, said that the US and Australia should work together to integrate China into global governance and called the Asian power a “huge opportunity”. He also said that China should feel it has a stake in world politics, most notably the International Monetary Fund where its voting power is now minimal. Rudd was probably exploiting the Obama administration’s vow to pursue common goals with China such as reviving the global economy despite longstanding concerns on human rights and other issues. Rudd seems not worried about China’s pursuit of sophisticated weaponry, which is altering Asia’s military balance.

While Australia and the United States are longstanding allies, Rudd had a visibly uneasy relationship with former President George W. Bush. However, Rudd 51, and Obama, 47, both come from humble backgrounds and lived for years overseas. Politically, each changed his country’s course upon taking office by ordering troops out of Iraq and vowing action on climate change. According to Alan Dupont, Director of the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, both are “ideological soul mates” and that both will be able to “connect intellectually”. Indeed, two months into office, Obama has extended only select invitations to foreign leaders to come and see him in Washington. Before Rudd, Obama has met at the White House only with the leaders of Japan, Britain, Brazil and Ireland, along with China’s foreign minister and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Obama also flew to Canada to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On his part, Rudd has made efforts to cushion the economy against the global credit crisis to bolster Australia’s financial system. While praising Obama’s plan to finance as much as $1 trillion in purchases of illiquid real-estate assets, besides the plan to establish a fund to lend directly to companies should foreign banks fail to roll over as much as $75 billion of maturing debt, Rudd said that these would not work unless it is globally coordinated. Rudd also rejected the idea of a global reserve currency since the dollar’s position remains unchallenged. The global economic crisis dominated discussions and both leaders agreed on what needed to be done. Obama envisaged a world-wide job boom in clean energy technology as one way to restore employment and the economy once the crisis was sorted out. Obama said all nations would be challenged “in finding new areas of economic growth” that are going to be necessary to “replace some of the financial shenanigans that have taken place over the past couple of years.” Clean coal technology is one area of job creation in which both Obama and Rudd found common ground to work on.

Viewed broadly, Rudd has two aims in shaping Australia’s relationship with the US under the Obama administration. The first is to maintain the robustness of the Australia-America alliance and wants to leverage closeness to Obama for promoting Australia’s middle-power diplomacy. The other aim is to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to join Obama in the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Notwithstanding dwindling public support at home for sending more troops to Afghanistan Rudd’s boldness in joining the US in its campaign against terrorism has endeared him to the US. At present, Australia has 1100 troops in Afghanistan and the US is expected to ask Australia to increase that number. At the personal level, Rudd is still haunted by the September 11 attacks on the United States and the Bali bombings. The Newspoll published in The Australian just before Rudd left for Washington found 65 per cent of respondents against increasing Australia’s commitment. Both the US and Australia, however, do not want Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists. If Australia sends extra help only to concentrate on training Afghanistan’s security forces, Rudd probably can sell the idea positively to the Australian public. Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan is, however, not a blank cheque, Rudd explained.

Rudd is aware that the alliance is fundamental for Australia’s national security. His international profile has been to work closely with Australia’s old “great and powerful friends” and to make new friends. That explains his fondness for China, an emerging Asian power, projected to play a decisive role in global politics in the coming decades and his focus on strengthening the economic ties with that country. Similarly, from the early days of the global financial crisis, Rudd liaised closely with Britain’s Gordon Brown. We can expect a great deal of similarity in focus between Rudd and Brown and Rudd and Obama in this week’s G-20 meeting in London and a conference on climate change in Copenhagen later this year. The Copenhagen meeting is designed to establish new global standards for emission reduction after the expiry of the Kyoto protocol in 2012. Rudd warned that the G-20 leaders must act jointly to clean up the banking sector, improve financial regulation, stimulate the economy and fight protectionism. He warns that a meeting in London in 1933 designed to find a consensus on ending the Great Depression failed because individual nations were not prepared to put aside their own interests in favour of global economic stability. In 1933, every nation put its own interests first. World leaders today are challenged not to repeat the mistakes made three-quarters of a century ago.

Indeed, the world faces a 1930s-style recession unless world leaders put their agenda for a common program that will help address this burning issue that plague the world at present. The economic turmoil has increased the “challenge of statecraft and diplomacy” and reduction of carbon emission is one such problem that demands early action. After more than a year of planning and consultation with industry, Rudd plans to introduce an emission trading scheme from July 2010. However, the mining industry already shedding jobs and world trade collapsing under recession, the Opposition, parts of the business sector and some Labor right-wingers want the plan shelved. However, the cost of not acting on climate change is seen to be greater than the cost of acting soon.

Traditionally, US Presidents go out of their way to ensure that the first encounter with Australian Prime Ministers is positive because of their close and solid partnership. Therefore, analysts would tend to compare the relationships between John Howard and George Bush and whatever develops between Obama and Rudd. The only starting point for that comparison is that Howard and Bush became close only after they faced a crisis – 9/11 terror attacks. Rudd and Obama have now come together during another crisis. This one is global recession. It would be interesting to see in the coming years what kind of bond both leaders develop that can sustain their common interests bilaterally and globally.

Dr. Rajaram Panda is Senior Fellow, and Pranamita Baruah is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Not one, but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy in The Boston Globe

Camelost, by Philip Terzian
Not one, but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 30, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 27

Last Lion
The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, by the Boston Globe
edited by Peter S. Canellos
Simon & Schuster, 480 pp., $28

Ted Kennedy
Scenes from an Epic Life, by the Boston Globe
Simon & Schuster, 208 pp., $28

It is, perhaps, fitting that, as metropolitan newspapers fade from the scene, the Boston Globe should remind us why this is happening by producing not one but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy. The 77-year-old Kennedy is mortally ill, and certainly entitled to the victory lap he is taking in the political culture; but these two portentous volumes--the dimensions of the second, Ted Kennedy: Scenes from an Epic Life, are ideal for coffee tables--tell us considerably more about the Globe than about Senator Kennedy.

First, there is the "last lion" business. Kennedy has long since grown accustomed to being referred to in the press as the "liberal lion" of the Senate--fair enough--but now that his days in office are numbered, the cliché machine has anointed him the "last lion," the last of a vanishing breed, the last giant to stalk the corridors of the Senate, we shall not see his like again, and so on.
Oh, please. The last time this phrase was employed in a book title, by the late William Manchester, the subject was Winston Churchill. Surely the Globe isn't drawing a comparison? More to the point, when Leverett Saltonstall, a far more distinguished representative of Massachusetts, retired from office in 1967 after 30 years' service as governor and senator, and at the same age as Kennedy, the Globe failed to serve up a worshipful account of his career. Of course, Saltonstall was a Republican.

Moreover, since the dawn of the republic, the Senate has been routinely populated with "last lions," many of whom--Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, John Sherman, Robert La Follette, Henry Cabot Lodge, George Norris, Richard Russell, Hubert Humphrey, et al.--left a far more significant mark on the politics of their times than Edward Kennedy. In statesmanship, as in life, there is a qualitative difference between longevity and distinction, and Edward Kennedy's primary distinction--apart from his ex officio fame as a Kennedy--has been his election, and subsequent multiple reelections, by the voters of Massachusetts.

Then there is the fundamental dishonesty of the Globe's approach. Ted Kennedy is what used to be called a lip-reader's book--lots of pictures and informative captions, separated by easy-to-read blocks of anodyne text--and certainly slick by the standards of the trade. But Last Lion purports to be a serious account of Kennedy's career, and his impact on American history. This would have been easier to accomplish if the Globe writers had undertaken an objective assessment of their subject, but that is not the intent here. The point of Last Lion is to transform Kennedy's undistinguished tenure in the Senate, and his thwarted ambition in national politics, into a kind of virtual triumph. To be sure, to pull it off would require the narrative skills of a gymnast--to twist the facts to shape the thesis--and the Globe writers are only newspapermen.

Edward Kennedy was the youngest of the nine children of Joseph and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and lost in the family shuffle, below the radar of his father's maniacal ambition. He was famously expelled from Harvard for hiring a substitute to take a Spanish exam; but unlike his elder brothers, he held his own on the football team. In 1962, having barely reached the constitutional age to serve, he was elected to his brother John's Senate seat, which had been kept warm during the intervening two years by a faithful family retainer. In the general election he defeated the estimable George Lodge, a victory for the Irish mafia over Brahmin Boston; but it was in the bitter Democratic primary that his rival, Edward McCormack, pronounced the words that would haunt Kennedy ever afterwards: "If your name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, your candidacy would be a farce."

The great fulcrum of Kennedy's career, of course, is Chappaquiddick. Before 1969 he was a plausible Democratic aspirant for the presidency, and was climbing the greasy pole of Senate influence. After 1969 he was demoted in the Senate hierarchy by, of all people, Robert Byrd; and his 1980 campaign against a sitting Democratic president remains a classic in the annals of political egotism and self-destruction.

Here is where the Globe's ingenuity is put to the test. Instead of recognizing that Kennedy's political future perished with Mary Jo Kopechne, and that's that, Last Lion argues that the death of his presidential ambitions "liberated" Kennedy to dominate the Senate--and by inference, his times.

This is complete nonsense. Kennedy's rear-guard warfare against a resurgent conservatism in the 1980s and '90s--most notably his personal assault on Judge Robert Bork--was purely reactionary. There is no major legislation, certainly nothing resembling a political philosophy, associated with Kennedy's name. And for all his passion in repeating Theodore Sorensen's sonorous prose, his most famous pronouncement is his incoherent response to Roger Mudd's innocuous question, "Why do you want to be president?"

Philip Terzian is the literary editor of The Weekly Standard.

Will renewables become cost-competitive anytime soon?

Will renewables become cost-competitive anytime soon?
The Siren Song of Wind and Solar Energy
IER, April 1, 2009

Despite advocates’ claims to the contrary, wind and solar continue to be the most expensive sources of electricity. The New York Times recently reported that “wind power is currently more than 50 percent more expensive than power generated from a traditional coal plant.” [1] Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told the New York Times that solar technology would have to get five times better to be competitive in today’s energy market.[2] In spite of these reports and admissions, the public relations campaign for wind and solar powered electricity marches on.

For decades, representatives and advocates of wind and solar have claimed that their technology was near a competitive tipping point—but just needed a bit more subsidies, set-asides, and government aid to succeed. But even after 30 years of massive subsidies, wind and solar continue to be more expensive and contribute only a small amount of electricity. In 2008, wind produced 1.3% of the electrical generation in America and solar produced a meager 0.02%.[3]

The quotations below highlight the errant predictions of near-term viability (with the predictions bolded for emphasis). These are just some of the examples of over 30 years of claims that wind and solar will soon be cost competitive.

Overly Optimistic Wind/Solar Claims

In 1983, Booz, Allen & Hamilton did a study for the Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association, and Renewable Energy Institute. It stated: “The private sector can be expected to develop improved solar and wind technologies which will begin to become competitive and self-supporting on a national level by the end of the decade [i.e. by 1990] if assisted by tax credits and augmented by federally sponsored R&D.”[4]

In 1986, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute lamented the untimely scale-back of tax breaks for renewable energy, since the competitive viability of wind and solar technologies was “one to three years away.”[5]

In 1990, two energy analysts at the Worldwatch Institute predicted an almost complete displacement of fossil fuels in the electric generation market within a couple decades [i.e. 2010]:
Within a few decades, a geographically diverse country such as the United States might get 30 percent of its electricity from sunshine, 20 percent from hydropower, 20 percent from wind power, 10 percent from biomass, 10 percent from geothermal energy, and 10 percent from natural-gas-fired cogeneration.[6]

Overly Optimistic Wind Power Claims

In 1986, a representative of the American Wind Energy Association testified:

The U.S. wind industry has … demonstrated reliability and performance levels that make them very competitive. It has come to the point that the California Energy Commission has predicted windpower will be that State’s lowest cost source of energy in the 1990s, beating out even large-scale hydro.

We are not quite there. We have hopes.[7]

Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute has been predicting competitive viability since the 1980s. In 1984 he wrote:

Tax credits have been essential to the economic viability of wind farms so far, but will not be needed within a few years.[8]

In 1985, he wrote:

Although wind farms still depend on tax credits, they are likely to be economical without this support within a few years.[9]

In 1986, he wrote:

Early evidence indicates that wind power will soon take its place as a decentralized power source that is economical in many areas…. Utility-sponsored studies show that the better windfarms can produce power at a cost of about 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with conventional power sources in the United States.[10]

Overly Optimistic Solar Power Claims

In 1976, solar advocate Barry Commoner stated:

Mixed solar/conventional installations could become the most economical alternative in most parts of the United States within the next few years.[11]

In 1987 the head of the Solar Energy Industries Association stated:

I think frankly, the—the consensus as far as I can see is after the year 2000, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of our energy could come from solar technologies, quite easily.[12]

In 1988, Cynthia Shea of the Worldwatch Institute wrote:

In future decades, [photovoltaic technologies] may become standard equipment on new buildings, using the sunlight streaming through windows to generate electricity.[13]


Wind and solar should not be thought of as “infant industries” but as government-dependent industries that penalize consumers and/or taxpayers. “Buyer beware” should also apply to the purveyors of political energy. Self-interested consumer decisions in the energy marketplace should be respected—and false promises about inferior energies exposed—for good public policy outcomes.