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Friday, November 25, 2005

Bad for the Country by PAUL KRUGMAN

November 25, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Bad for the Country
By PAUL KRUGMAN

"What was good for our country," a former president of General Motors once declared, "was good for General Motors, and vice versa." G.M., which has been losing billions, has announced that it will eliminate 30,000 jobs. Is what's bad for General Motors bad for America?

In this case, yes.

Most commentary about G.M.'s troubles is resigned: pundits may regret the decline of a once-dominant company, but they don't think anything can or should be done about it. And commentary from some conservatives has an unmistakable tone of satisfaction, a sense that uppity workers who joined a union and made demands are getting what they deserve.

We shouldn't be so complacent. I won't defend the many bad decisions of G.M.'s management, or every demand made by the United Automobile Workers. But job losses at General Motors are part of the broader weakness of U.S. manufacturing, especially the part of U.S. manufacturing that offers workers decent wages and benefits. And some of that weakness reflects two big distortions in our economy: a dysfunctional health care system and an unsustainable trade deficit.

According to A. T. Kearney, last year General Motors spent $1,500 per vehicle on health care. By contrast, Toyota spent only $201 per vehicle in North America, and $97 in Japan. If the United States had national health insurance, G.M. would be in much better shape than it is.

Wouldn't taxpayer-financed health insurance amount to a subsidy to the auto industry? Not really. Because most Americans believe that their fellow citizens are entitled to health care, and because our political system acts, however imperfectly, on that belief, tying health insurance to employment distorts the economy: it systematically discourages the creation of good jobs, the type of jobs that come with good benefits. And somebody ends up paying for health care anyway.

In fact, many of the health care expenses G.M. will save by slashing employment will simply be pushed off onto taxpayers. Some former G.M. families will end up receiving Medicaid. Others will receive uncompensated care - for example, at emergency rooms - which ends up being paid for either by taxpayers or by those with insurance.

Moreover, G.M.'s health care costs are so high in part because of the inefficiency of America's fragmented health care system. We spend far more per person on medical care than countries with national health insurance, while getting worse results.

About the trade deficit: These days the United States imports far more than it exports. Last year the trade deficit exceeded $600 billion. The flip side of the trade deficit is a reorientation of our economy away from industries that export or compete with imports, especially manufacturing, to industries that are insulated from foreign competition, such as housing. Since 2000, we've lost about three million jobs in manufacturing, while membership in the National Association of Realtors has risen 50 percent.

The trade deficit isn't sustainable. We can run huge deficits for the time being, because foreigners - in particular, foreign governments - are willing to lend us huge sums. But one of these days the easy credit will come to an end, and the United States will have to start paying its way in the world economy.

To do that, we'll have to reorient our economy back toward producing things we can export or use to replace imports. And that will mean pulling a lot of workers back into manufacturing. So the rapid downsizing of manufacturing since 2000 - of which G.M.'s job cuts are a symptom - amounts to dismantling a sector we'll just have to rebuild a few years from now.

I don't want to attribute all of G.M.'s problems to our distorted economy. One of the plants G.M. plans to close is in Canada, which has national health insurance and ran a trade surplus last year. But the distortions in our economy clearly make G.M.'s problems worse.

Dealing with our trade deficit is a tricky issue I'll have to address another time. But G.M.'s woes are yet another reminder of the urgent need to fix our health care system. It's long past time to move to a national system that would reduce cost, diminish the burden on employers who try to do the right thing and relieve working American families from the fear of lost coverage. Fixing health care would be good for General Motors, and good for the country.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Um, About That Dirty Bomb?

November 23, 2005
Editorial
Um, About That Dirty Bomb?

Almost three and a half years ago, the Bush administration announced that it had arrested a Chicago-born man named Jose Padilla while he was entering the United States to explode a "dirty bomb" and blow up apartment buildings. The attorney general, John Ashcroft, said Mr. Padilla was a Qaeda-trained terrorist so dangerous that he was being tossed into a Navy brig and the key was being thrown away.

The administration hotly defended its right to hold Mr. Padilla without legal process because he was declared an unlawful enemy combatant, one of the new powers that President Bush granted himself after 9/11. The administration fought the case up to the Supreme Court. Mr. Padilla's plot was thwarted, the Justice Department claimed, only because of the government's ability to hold suspected terrorists in secretive prisons where they were sweated, to put it mildly, for information. The "dirty bomb" plot supposedly was divulged by a top Qaeda member who had been interrogated 100 times at one such location.

Never mind. As of yesterday, Mr. Padilla stopped being an unlawful combatant, and the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, refused even to talk about that issue. Mr. Padilla is not going to be charged with planning to explode bombs, dirty or otherwise, in the United States. Just in time for the administration to prod Congress on extending the Patriot Act and to avoid having to argue the case before the Supreme Court, Mr. Padilla was charged with aiding terrorists in other countries and will be turned over to civilian authorities.

Mr. Padilla was added late in the game, and in a minor role, to a continuing case against four other men. He faces serious charges that carry a possible life sentence, but they do nothing to clear up the enormous legal questions created by this case, nor do they have the remotest connection with the original accusations.

The Padilla case was supposed to be an example of why the administration needs to suspend prisoners' rights when it comes to the war on terror. It turned out to be the opposite. If Mr. Padilla was seriously planning a "dirty bomb" attack, he can never be held accountable for it in court because the illegal conditions under which he has been held will make it impossible to do that. If he was only an inept fellow traveler in the terrorist community, he is excellent proof that the government is fallible and needs the normal checks of the judicial system. And, of course, if he is innocent, he was the victim of a terrible injustice.

The same is true of the hundreds of other men held at Guantánamo Bay and in the C.I.A.'s secret prisons. This is hardly what Americans have had in mind hearing Mr. Bush's constant assurances since Sept. 11, 2001, that he will bring terrorists to justice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

George Bush's Third Term By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

November 23, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
George Bush's Third Term
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
President George W. Bush has just entered his third term. That's right. He's a three-term president. His first term was from 2001 to 2004, and it was dominated by 9/11, which Mr. Bush skillfully used to take a hard-right Republican agenda on taxes and war with Iraq, which was going nowhere on 9/10, and drive it into a 9/12 world.

His second term was very brief. It lasted from his re-election in November 2004 until Election Day 2005. This was an utterly wasted term. It was dominated by an attempt to privatize Social Security, which the country rejected, political scandals involving I. Lewis Libby Jr., Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, a ham-fisted response to Katrina and a mishandling of the Iraq war to such a degree that many Democrats and Republicans have begun to vote "no confidence" in the Bush-Cheney war performance. If ours were a parliamentary system, Mr. Bush would have had to resign by now.

So now begins Mr. Bush's third term. What will he do with it? The last time Mr. Bush hit rock bottom - then from too much drinking - he found God and turned his life around. Now that he has hit rock bottom again - this time from drinking in too much Karl Rove - the question is whether he can find America and turn his presidency around.

When I watch Mr. Bush these days, though, he looks to me like a man who wishes that we had a 28th amendment to the Constitution - called "Can I Go Now?" He looks like someone who would prefer to pack up and go back to his Texas ranch. It's not just that he doesn't seem to be having any fun. It's that he seems to be totally out of ideas relevant to the nation's future.

Since there is no such clause, Mr. Bush has two choices. One is to continue governing as though he's still running against John McCain in South Carolina. That means pushing a hard-right strategy based on dividing the country to get the 50.1 percent he needs to push through more tax cuts, while ignoring our real problems: the deficit, health care, energy, climate change and Iraq. More slash-and-burn politics like that will be a disaster.

Indeed, at a time when a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible and we are at the most important political moment in Baghdad - the first national election based on an Iraqi-written constitution - it was appalling to watch Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney using their bully pulpits to act like two Rove attack dogs, accusing Democrats of being less than patriotic on Iraq.

For two men who have fought this war without deploying enough troops, always putting politics before policy, without any plans for the morning after and never punishing any member of their team for rank incompetence to then accuse others of lacking seriousness on Iraq is disgusting. Yes, we need to stay the course for now in Iraq, but we can't stay the course alone or divided. That's the point.

We are about to produce the most legitimate government ever in the Arab world, and the Bush-Cheney team - instead of acknowledging its errors on W.M.D., seeking forgiveness and urging the country to unite behind the important effort to defeat the jihadist madness in Iraq - does what? It starts slinging mud at Democrats on Iraq. Sure, some Democrats goaded them with reckless remarks - but they are not in power. Where are the adults? We can't afford this nonsense, while also ignoring our energy crisis, the deficit, health care, climate change and Social Security.

"We are entering the era of hard choices for the United States - an era in which we can't always count on three Asian countries writing us checks to compensate for our failure to prepare for a hurricane or properly conduct a war," said David Rothkopf, author of "Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power."

"If President Bush doesn't rise to this challenge, our children and grandchildren will look at the burden he has placed on their shoulders and see this moment as the hinge between the American Century and the Chinese Century. George W. Bush may well be seen as the president who, by refusing to address these urgent questions when they needed to be addressed, invited America's decline."

Truly, I hope Mr. Bush rises to the challenge. We do not have three years to waste. To do that, though, Mr. Bush would need to become a very different third-term president, with a much more centrist agenda and style. If he does, he still has time to be a bridge to the future. If he doesn't, the resources he will have squandered and the size of the problems he will have ignored will put him in the running for one of our worst presidents ever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sudan's Department of Gang Rape by Nicholas D. Kristof

November 22, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Sudan's Department of Gang Rape
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Kalma Camp, Sudan

When the Arab men in military uniforms caught Noura Moussa and raped her the other day, they took the trouble to explain themselves.

"We cannot let black people live in this land," she remembers them telling her, and they used racial epithets against blacks, called her a slave, and added: "We can kill any members of African tribes."

Ms. Noura is one of thousands of women and girls to be gang-raped in Darfur, as part of what appears to be a deliberate Sudanese government policy to break the spirit of several African tribes through mass rape.

This policy is shrewd as well as brutal, for the exceptional stigma of rape here often silences victims even as it terrorizes the entire population and forces people to flee.

Ms. Noura, 22, expected to be married soon, and the neighbors said she probably would have received a bride price of 30 cows. These days, they say, she will be lucky to find any husband at all - and will not get a single cow.

This is the first genocide of the 21st century, and we are collectively letting the Sudanese government get away with it. Sudan's leaders appear to have made a calculated decision that some African tribes in the Darfur region are more of a headache than the international protests that result when it depopulates large areas of those tribes. In effect, it is our acquiescence that allows the rapes and murders to continue.

The solution isn't to send American troops. But a starting point is to convey American outrage - loudly and insistently - and demonstrate that Darfur is an American priority.

Ms. Noura's saga began when the Sudanese Army and janjaweed militia burned down her village a year ago and killed her father. She and her family fled here to Kalma, but she is the eldest child and needed money to support her younger brothers and sisters.

So she ventured out of Kalma to cut grass in the nearby fields to sell. That was when the men raped and beat her, leaving her unable to walk home.

Rape leads to particular injuries in Darfur because many girls, as part of female circumcision rites, have their vaginas sewn shut with a wild thorn. The resulting physical trauma from rape%2

Monday, November 21, 2005

Time to Leave By PAUL KRUGMAN

November 21, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Time to Leave
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Not long ago wise heads offered some advice to those of us who had argued since 2003 that the Iraq war was sold on false pretenses: give it up. The 2004 election, they said, showed that we would never convince the American people. They suggested that we stop talking about how we got into Iraq and focus instead on what to do next.

It turns out that the wise heads were wrong. A solid majority of Americans now believe that we were misled into war. And it is only now, when the public has realized the truth about the past, that serious discussions about where we are and where we're going are able to get a hearing.

Representative John Murtha's speech calling for a quick departure from Iraq was full of passion, but it was also serious and specific in a way rarely seen on the other side of the debate. President Bush and his apologists speak in vague generalities about staying the course and finishing the job. But Mr. Murtha spoke of mounting casualties and lagging recruiting, the rising frequency of insurgent attacks, stagnant oil production and lack of clean water.

Mr. Murtha - a much-decorated veteran who cares deeply about America's fighting men and women - argued that our presence in Iraq is making things worse, not better. Meanwhile, the war is destroying the military he loves. And that's why he wants us out as soon as possible.

I'd add that the war is also destroying America's moral authority. When Mr. Bush speaks of human rights, the world thinks of Abu Ghraib. (In his speech, Mr. Murtha pointed out the obvious: torture at Abu Ghraib helped fuel the insurgency.) When administration officials talk of spreading freedom, the world thinks about the reality that much of Iraq is now ruled by theocrats and their militias.

Some administration officials accused Mr. Murtha of undermining the troops and giving comfort to the enemy. But that sort of thing no longer works, now that the administration has lost the public's trust.

Instead, defenders of our current policy have had to make a substantive argument: we can't leave Iraq now, because a civil war will break out after we're gone. One is tempted to say that they should have thought about that possibility back when they were cheerleading us into this war. But the real question is this: When, exactly, would be a good time to leave Iraq?

The fact is that we're not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we'll stay until the American military can take no more.

Mr. Bush never asked the nation for the sacrifices - higher taxes, a bigger military and, possibly, a revived draft - that might have made a long-term commitment to Iraq possible. Instead, the war has been fought on borrowed money and borrowed time. And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970's.

So the question isn't whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.

Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we're better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose."

And there's a good case to be made that our departure will actually improve matters. As Mr. Murtha pointed out in his speech, the insurgency derives much of its support from the perception that it's resisting a foreign occupier. Once we're gone, the odds are that Iraqis, who don't have a tradition of religious extremism, will turn on fanatical foreigners like Zarqawi.

The only way to justify staying in Iraq is to make the case that stretching the U.S. army to its breaking point will buy time for something good to happen. I don't think you can make that case convincingly. So Mr. Murtha is right: it's time to leave.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

One War Lost, Another to Go By FRANK RICH

November 20, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
One War Lost, Another to Go
By FRANK RICH

IF anyone needs further proof that we are racing for the exits in Iraq, just follow the bouncing ball that is Rick Santorum. A Republican leader in the Senate and a true-blue (or red) Iraq hawk, he has long slobbered over President Bush, much as Ed McMahon did over Johnny Carson. But when Mr. Bush went to Mr. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania to give his Veterans Day speech smearing the war's critics as unpatriotic, the senator was M.I.A.

Mr. Santorum preferred to honor a previous engagement more than 100 miles away. There he told reporters for the first time that "maybe some blame" for the war's "less than optimal" progress belonged to the White House. This change of heart had nothing to do with looming revelations of how the new Iraqi "democracy" had instituted Saddam-style torture chambers. Or with the spiraling investigations into the whereabouts of nearly $9 billion in unaccounted-for taxpayers' money from the American occupation authority. Or with the latest spike in casualties. Mr. Santorum was instead contemplating his own incipient political obituary written the day before: a poll showing him 16 points down in his re-election race. No sooner did he stiff Mr. Bush in Pennsylvania than he did so again in Washington, voting with a 79-to-19 majority on a Senate resolution begging for an Iraq exit strategy. He was joined by all but one (Jon Kyl) of the 13 other Republican senators running for re-election next year. They desperately want to be able to tell their constituents that they were against the war after they were for it.

They know the voters have decided the war is over, no matter what symbolic resolutions are passed or defeated in Congress nor how many Republicans try to Swift-boat Representative John Murtha, the marine hero who wants the troops out. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey last week found that the percentage (52) of Americans who want to get out of Iraq fast, in 12 months or less, is even larger than the percentage (48) that favored a quick withdrawal from Vietnam when that war's casualty toll neared 54,000 in the apocalyptic year of 1970. The Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs, found that "if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline." He observed that Mr. Bush was trying to channel L. B. J. by making "countless speeches explaining what the effort in Iraq is about, urging patience and asserting that progress is being made. But as was also evident during Woodrow Wilson's campaign to sell the League of Nations to the American public, the efficacy of the bully pulpit is much overrated."

Mr. Bush may disdain timetables for our pullout, but, hello, there already is one, set by the Santorums of his own party: the expiration date for a sizable American presence in Iraq is Election Day 2006. As Mr. Mueller says, the decline in support for the war won't reverse itself. The public knows progress is not being made, no matter how many times it is told that Iraqis will soon stand up so we can stand down.

On the same day the Senate passed the resolution rebuking Mr. Bush on the war, Martha Raddatz of ABC News reported that "only about 700 Iraqi troops" could operate independently of the U.S. military, 27,000 more could take a lead role in combat "only with strong support" from our forces and the rest of the 200,000-odd trainees suffered from a variety of problems, from equipment shortages to an inability "to wake up when told" or follow orders.

But while the war is lost both as a political matter at home and a practical matter in Iraq, the exit strategy being haggled over in Washington will hardly mark the end of our woes. Few Americans will cry over the collapse of the administration's vainglorious mission to make Iraq a model of neocon nation-building. But, as some may dimly recall, there is another war going on as well - against Osama bin Laden and company.

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

"The Next Attack" is prescient to a scary degree. "If bin Laden is the Robin Hood of jihad," the authors write, then Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "has been its Horatio Alger, and Iraq his field of dreams." The proof arrived spectacularly this month with the Zarqawi-engineered suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman. That attack, Mr. Benjamin wrote in Slate, "could soon be remembered as the day that the spillover of violence from Iraq became a major affliction for the Middle East." But not remembered in America. Thanks to the confusion sown by the Bush administration, the implications for us in this attack, like those in London and Madrid, are quickly forgotten, if they were noticed in the first place. What happened in Amman is just another numbing bit of bad news that we mentally delete along with all the other disasters we now label "Iraq."

Only since his speech about "Islamo-fascism" in early October has Mr. Bush started trying to make distinctions between the "evildoers" of Saddam's regime and the Islamic radicals who did and do directly threaten us. But even if anyone was still listening to this president, it would be too little and too late. The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on.

Mr. Bush is incapable of such candor. In the speech Mr. Santorum skipped on Veterans Day, the president lashed out at his critics for trying "to rewrite the history" of how the war began. Then he rewrote the history of the war, both then and now. He boasted of America's "broad and coordinated homeland defense" even as the members of the bipartisan 9/11 commission were preparing to chastise the administration's inadequate efforts to prevent actual nuclear W.M.D.'s, as opposed to Saddam's fictional ones, from finding their way to terrorists. Mr. Bush preened about how "we're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes" even as we were hearing new reports of how we outsource detainees to such regimes to be tortured.

And once again he bragged about the growing readiness of Iraqi troops, citing "nearly 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists alongside our forces." But as James Fallows confirms in his exhaustive report on "Why Iraq Has No Army" in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, America would have to commit to remaining in Iraq for many years to "bring an Iraqi army to maturity." If we're not going to do that, Mr. Fallows concludes, America's only alternative is to "face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."

THAT'S the alternative that has already been chosen, brought on not just by the public's irreversible rejection of the war, but also by the depleted state of our own broken military forces; they are falling short of recruitment goals across the board by as much as two-thirds, the Government Accountability Office reported last week. We must prepare accordingly for what's to come. To do so we need leaders, whatever the political party, who can look beyond our nonorderly withdrawal from Iraq next year to the mess that will remain once we're on our way out. Whether it's countering the havoc inflicted on American interests internationally by Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo or overhauling and redeploying our military, intelligence and homeland security operations to confront the enemy we actually face, there's an enormous job to be done.

The arguments about how we got into Mr. Bush's war and exactly how we'll get out are also important. But the damage from this fiasco will be even greater if those debates obscure the urgency of the other war we are losing, one that will be with us long after we've left the quagmire in Iraq.